Guitar World Staff Picks: Damian Fanelli's Top 10 Albums of 2012
I guess you could say this about any recent year, but 2012 often felt a lot like the late '70s.
We got high-profile studio releases by Van Halen, ZZ Top, Aerosmith, Neil Young, Carlos Santana, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Rush, Kiss, Joe Walsh, Asia, Ringo Starr, Alvin Lee, Jeff Lynne and two members of The Jam, plus a live Led Zeppelin album and a pair of new songs by The Rolling Stones.
But, notwithstanding the throwback angle, it was a solid, exciting year for new music, chock full of stellar guitar music in every genre, including gypsy jazz (It didn't make my list, but be sure to check out the very cool Origins album by gypsy jazz guitarist Stephane Wrembel).
Anyway, here are some of my favorite albums of the year. Note that I kept this list to studio albums only. If I were to include a live album, Led Zeppelin's Celebration Day would be in the top five for sure. The band set out to impress that fateful night in December 2007, and that's exactly what they did.
One last thing: If I were to extend this list to a top 20, I'd include albums by two former members of The Jam — frontman Paul Weller (Sonik Kicks) and bassist Bruce Foxton (Back in the Room). Foxton's album, which was recorded with Weller's assistance and at his studio, sounds like a Sound Affects-era Jam album packed with Foxton's easily identifiable bass playing.
Anyway, as fake director Marty DiBergi says in This Is Spinal Tap, "Enough of my yakkin'. Whaddaya say? Let's boogie!"
Damian Fanelli is the online managing editor at Guitar World in New York City.
08. Neil Young & Crazy Horse — Psychedelic Pill
This is a total "guitar" album — in the Iron Butterfly sense of the term. Young leads Crazy Horse on long jams (You can watch an entire episode of Webster during the album's opener, "Driftin' Back") and tight, punchy rock that echos the tone and themes of his early work.
07. Jack White — Blunderbuss
I prefer solo Stephen Malkmus to Pavement and solo Bob Mould to Hüsker Dü. So I guess it stands to reason that I find solo Jack White more interesting than the White Stripes. I love the great-sounding guitars (including pedal steel) and the melodies that crawl into my frontal lobe and never leave (I have an exterminator coming over next Tuesday). The album shows off the many moods, the many shades, the many sides of Jack White.
04. Les Trois Accords — J'aime ta grand-mère
Yes, another entry from our friends to the north, Canada! This time we head east to Drummondville, Quebec, home of the four witty gents in Les Trois Accords. Even if you can't crack the code they're singing in (It's French), you might appreciate the sound of the album, which was recorded with vintage equipment in Brooklyn using ancient tricks borrowed from the "Street Fighting Man"-era Rolling Stones.
05. Great Lake Swimmers — New Wild Everywhere
Consider this my "music to listen to on Sunday mornings while putting shrink-wrap plastic on the windows to keep from freezing my ass off this winter" entry. After all, these guys are from Canada, so they know what I'm talkin' about. The title track is pure brilliance, a melange of acoustic and 12-string electric guitars — and maybe a vintage Jazzmaster or two.
06. Robert Cray Band — Nothin But Love
Cray's signature Strat tone is all over this album, but there's no beating "Blues Get Off My Shoulder" in particular. If this song were written and released in 1968, it'd be a modern blues standard by now. Of course, that sort of thing doesn't happen in 2012.
03. Los Straitjackets — Jet Set
These 15 or so tracks by "America's instrumentalists" offer a sampling of everything these mysterious masked marauders can do. There's wet-'n'-wild surf, a splash of reggae, a touch of spy rock and a track that recalls the fun and power of Link Wray. If you haven't seen these guys play live, you're missing a bizarre, bona-fine experience. Also, best album art of the year! (P.S.: It's nice to see guitarist Danny Amis back in action!)
02. Dinosaur Jr. — I Bet On Sky
Another throwback entry, this time from venerable Massachusetts trio Dinosaur Jr. The recipe here is simple: Take a handful of catchy melodies, liberally sprinkle in some fuzzy guitar, bass and drums, then add J Mascis' one-of-a-kind vocals. Stir occasionally. Salt and pepper to taste. Serves 11.
01. Lee Ranaldo — Between the Times and the Tides
Sonic Youth aren't around anymore (Or are they? No one is saying for sure), but 2012 gave us this fine effort by Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo with a band featuring Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley and Wilco's Nels Cline, who lets loose — on guitar and Kaoss Pad — on several tracks, notably "Angles.” BTW, Thurston Moore's new band, Chelsea Light Moving, also released a pair of singles in '12.
10. Van Halen — A Different Kind of Truth
This album features three of my favorite tracks of the year — "Tattoo," "Stay Frosty" and "She's the Woman" — not to mention a generous serving of the eternally ridiculous guitar playing of the great Eddie Van Halen. The pairing of EVH and David Lee Roth is a welcome blast from the past.
09. Band of Skulls — Sweet Sour
What sets England's Band of Skulls apart from the wrist bones, knee bones and thigh bones of modern alt rock? For me, it's their crunchy sound, sparse harmonies and super-strong melodies (not to mention videos about people who are even poorer than I am). Among the standouts are the title track, "Bruises" and "Wanderluster."