Sunday, January 13, 2013

Best Of 2012, Part 2: Music

I've got a head full of ideas...and a mouthful of music!
Yeah, I realize we're into 2013 by 13 days now, and I still haven't finished posting my best-of lists I started at the end of last year. Honestly, I haven't been writing like I normally do, aside from songs and some poetry. I have not even been keeping my journal, which is a discipline I normally practice daily. Life has just been so full, and I've also been easily distracted by having ready access to technology and entertainment literally two feet away from my bed in my room. Sad to say, what is normally a tool, for me, too easily becomes a diversion and preoccupation. It's all too easy to get caught up in searching out BBC punk rock documentaries to watch, or Johnny Thunders bootlegs to download. Next thing you know, the coffee is drunk, time's run out, and I have to run to work!

But, to get down to the topic at hand, I have to say 2012 was a fabulous year for music. It may have been quiet about it, but I think this one fact alone bears testimony to my statement: I bought more CDs in 2012 than I have in years. And these were all CDs released in 2012. Mind you, it may have only been 12 or 13 CDs, which is nothing compared to what I used to buy in greener days. But that's significantly more than what I've picked up from 2008 (when it seems everything crashed - economically, culturally, spiritually, etc.) to the present. And...every last one is a KEEPER.

There was lots of great punk rock released last year: Riverboat Gamblers' The Wolf You Feed (Volcom), The Dogs' Detroit 2012 blast hypersensitive (Detroit Records, interestingly enough), The Hangmen's East Of Western (Acetate), even the first two releases in Green Day's much-vaunted trilogy of CDs. (SHUT UP! I DON'T WANNA HEAR IT! I LIKED THE CDs, I LIKE THE BAND, AND THAT'S THAT! The second disc is even a rockin' garage punk exercise!) And America's finest straight-up punk band, OFF!, released a self-titled second CD via Vice Records that made you thankful force-of-nature Keith Morris isn't seeing a therapist, so we can keep getting more bursts of sheer RAGE(!!!) like this. The Jim Jones Revue dropped a third full-length, The Savage Heart (Punk Rock Blues Records/PIAS Recordings), that showed them going further into varying musical dynamics and better production without loosing their rootsy savagery.
Another English band, Night Of Treason, transcended their roots as a '70s punk jukebox with a great debut CD, Gentlemen & Hooligans, that was the best 1979 English punk record released since 1979; it's chockful of passionate, committed originals that showed a firm grasp of the British kitchen sink songwriting that made The Jam, The Clash, and even The Specials great, and didn't sound the least bit nostalgic or pastiche-like. Even old school punk rock titans the Sex Pistols and Johnny Thunders' Heartbreakers weighed in with worthwhile deluxe 35th anniversary box sets dedicated to their true sole LPs, Never Mind The Bollocks and LAMF. All the required bonus demos and such are excellent, especially in the case of Bollocks: Who can resist hearing the demos of things like "Bodies" and even "Belsen Was A Gas," complete with decent Sid Vicious bass playing?

Then there are records you can't really slot in anywhere. Public Image Ltd., for one, surprisingly self-released a comeback CD that's way solid, This Is PiL. Yet it's neither a return to the furious experimentation of the classic Lydon/Levine/Wobble records, nor as pop as the music the ever-shifting post-original lineups made. But it's better than all those latter records, and almost as potent as the 1st two PiL albums. Then you have ex-Angry Samoan Gregg Turner and his first solo release, Gregg Turner Plays The Hits (White Noise): He recorded a charming set of small combo, low volume tunes with strong '50s roots that resembles nothing less than Jonathan Richman with the vicious sense of humor that drove Angry Samoans classics like "The Ballad Of Jerry Curlan." And honestly, Gregg's tunes are so catchy, you'll find yourself hours later randomly singing odd hooks like "Bobcat Bite, they kill rabbits...."

In some ways. I look upon 2012 as a fine year for roots rock rebels. Blame that, primarily, on Chaz Matthews introducing me early in the year to the charms of J.D. McPherson and Pete Molinari. (I'm listening, via Spotify, to Molinari's 2008 A Virtual Landslide, one of the finer byproducts of Liam Watson's Toerag Studios.) You might also blame this on Bob Dylan, whose fine Tempest was the best Chess Record released since the '50s (whilst neither being released on or recorded at Chess). This may be a spurious assessment at best, however: Neither McPherson nor Molinari released a note last year, aside from a better-distributed reissue of McPherson's Signs and Signifiers CD. But the record I listened to most last year was by an artist who'd normally stand toe-to-toe with those two, Dan Sartain. For years, Sartain's plied a moody rockabilly that suggested Nick Cave collaborating with Jody Reynolds, with Reynolds writing all the music. Something must have snapped within Sartain however. He began the year releasing a totally form-breaking, straight-up punk rock record, Too Tough To Live, via One Little Indian in England.

This is no joke: Sartain walked into San Francisco's Lucky Cat Studios, cranked his amp to distortion levels, and unleashed 12 songs in 19 minutes that suggested he had a brain rupture while listening to nothing but the first two Angry Samoans records and the first Saints album, with a bit of Black Flag's Damaged for an attitude check. In a year where the lyrical bile ball Keith Morris launched on the OFF! album would qualify as 2012's Most Pissed-Off Record, Sartain actually outstripped Keith: Dan is more irrationally pissed-off. Tracks like the opening "Nam Vet" and "Indian Massacre" pin you to the wall with sheer rock 'n' roll fury, and others like "Now Now Now" (a duet with Jane Wiedlin) have a sweet nursery rhyme musicality that still doesn't dull the roar. 

Enough already. I've already spent way more time writing this than I'd planned. I'm now bored and anxious to get on with my day. Coming next: I try and remember if I read any new books that stuck with me. Thank you for reading this.