Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

by Jim Testa

If you’re old enough to remember life before the Internet, then you’ll recall that lists like “Top 10 Albums Of The Year” used to appear in February and March, when they were mostly delivered in magazines and fanzines with long lead times. Nowadays they start popping up online in mid-November, and you can already read Top 50 Album lists from the likes of Rolling Stone, Spin, NPR, and the music blog Stereogum. What these lists tell us, more than anything else, is that we’re living in an age without consensus; whereas half a dozen big-name, big-selling artists would dominate these lists year after year, today you’re lucky to even recognize many of the names of each publication’s favorites.

To wit: On NPR’s Top 50 list, which is heavily loaded with classical and jazz, there are 23 artists I’ve never heard of; not albums I haven’t listened to, but musicians that I never knew existed. On the more indie-oriented Spin and Stereogum lists, there were 10 unknowns on each. Pop Matters stumped me an impressive 14 entries out of its Top 75.

Just to prove I didn’t spend the entire year living under a rock, I did recognize all 50 of the names on the more mainstream Rolling Stone Top 50. Interestingly, only one of those other Top 50’s included Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball besides Rolling Stone – who had it at #1. There were several artists who overlapped quite a few lists - Frank Ocean, Taylor Swift, Bob Dylan, Grimes, and Japandroids, to name a few. But I don’t think I saw two of these lists that came anywhere near real agreement if you simply compared the respective Top 10’s.

Now that’s not to say that Bomba Estereo, Karriem Riggins, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, or The Toure’-Rochelle Collective (#34 on Pop Matters’ list, well ahead of Bruce, Sleigh Bells, Bob Mould, and the David Byrne/St. Vincent album) didn’t release excellent albums last year; it’s simply that so much new music is released every year, and delivered to us in so many different channels – from the barely-hanging-on retail CD and terrestrial radio, to iTunes and, to Internet radio like Pandora and Spotify – that it’s impossible to hear (or even know about) even a fraction of it. And you always have to wonder – since these lists are compiled by traditionally underpaid music journalists – how the number of promos a band (or label) sends out affects voting. Sure, you can African jazz and Israeli world music on Internet radio if you have the time to search it out, but aren’t you more likely to vote for the three or four Ty Segall albums that got stuffed your inbox this year?

There is an upside to the fact that so many artists get singled out at the end of the year on these lists, though, alerting us to what’s out there, perhaps prodding us into checking out new music we might have otherwise missed. But to pretend that any of these lists actually represent the “best” of the year amounts to little more than pretentious sophistry.

Was there any overlap at all? A bit. Fiona Apple, the Japandroids, Cat Power, and Frank Ocean proved critic’s favorites, making all of the lists I examined. (They all also have excellent publicists.) Taylor Swift and fun. made three of the four. But given that we’re talking the top 50 albums of the year – not just the top 10 – makes this seem more like coincidence than consensus.

But let’s be honest, we should start calling these things the “Top albums I liked most this year” list. So here are my 25, the ones I listened to the most, the ones which (perhaps) I will still cherish five or ten or twenty years from now. I decided this year to skip over the consensus biggies. If you’re reading Jersey Beat, you already know that Dylan and Neil Young and Frank Ocean and Bruce Springsteen made very good albums this year. So I let those hits fend for themselves and just focused on my favorite records that you may not have heard.

You might – in fact, almost certainly do – have 25 favorites of your own, that will forever and always represent the last 12 months to you, the music you listened to day by day. And they might be completely different than my 25; in fact, they probably will be. That’s the nature of the listening experience today. So to borrow a line from Lester Bangs, I will not now say goodbye to 2012, I will say goodbye to you… and hope that our tastes and interests intersect and bring us back together again in 2013.

1.Screaming Females – Ugly
2. The dB’s – Falling Off The Sky
3. Bad Books – Bad Books II
4. Bouncing Souls - Comet
5. The Great American Novel – Kissing
6. Redd Kross – Researching the Blues
7. Bob Mould- Silver Age
8. Ghost Pal – Nathan Jones Is Dead
9. Soul Asylum – Delayed Reaction
10. Goodman – What We Want
11. Craig Finn – Clear Heart Full Eyes
12. River City Extension – Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Your Anger
13. Harmonica Lewinskies – Octopus Wallstreet
14. Thomas Wesley Stern – American Pain
15. Big Dipper - Crashes On The Platinum Planet
16. The Dopamines - Vices
17. Peachcake – Unbelievable Souls
18. The Everymen – New Jersey Hardcore
19. Tim Fite – Ain’t Ain’t Ain’t
20. Black Wine – Hollow Earth
21. Dr. Skinnybones – Bad Education
22. The Men – Open Your Heart
23. The-All-About – Winterpop
24. Palomar – Sense & Antisense
25. Loudon Wainwright III - Older Than My Old Man Now

Honorable Mention:
Those Mockingbirds – “Fa Sol La” EP
Val Emmich – Bulldozzer
Worm Quartet – Songs Of The Maniacs
The Ugly Club – You Belong To The Minutes
Boy Things – “Equation” EP


Zee Whitesides

Top Albums 2012

Before I get into to listing my actual albums, I want to name one artist who is basically my Top Everything for the year - the person I listened to the most, thought about the most, spent the most time tracking down unreleased tracks and bootlegs from. I know that this person is one many Jersey Beat readers (and music critics in general) may some some antipathy for; but I think she’s important.

My Top Everything of 2012 is Lana Del Rey. She didn’t have the best album (by a long shot), she didn’t write the best lyrics, she wasn’t the best musician. (That being said, I do certainly enjoy her albums and unreleased tracks a lot on a musical level.) But she’s one of the greatest performers I’ve seen in music recently, not in terms of live performances, but in terms of performance art. Whether intentional or not, her entire persona really indicts and dissects so many kitsch and suppressive elements of both American identity and femininity. The fragmentation of her song’s ideas makes pomo professors look like amateurs. It’s a small step to turn her declaration in the music video for “Ride” that “I was always going to be the other woman,” into “I was always going to be the Other, woman,” or “I was always going to both be a woman and an Other.” And yet she really seems to identify with and want so many of the things she shows to be artificial. She knows femininity is a performance, being American is a performance; but she also knows how pleasurable it can be to perform these things.

I realize none of this may sound very compelling to a cisgender, heteronormative man, but who cares? You’ve got enough music, bros. I can’t relate to some dude singing about how much he desires women; for me, Lana is absolutely necessary. She’s someone else who knows what’s expected of her but doesn’t know how much she wants it.

Now on to the actual albums:

TOP 10:
1. Toys That Kill -Fambly 42
2. Frank Ocean - channelORANGE
3. Screaming Females -Ugly
4. White Lung - Sorry
5. Death Grips - The Money Store / NO LOVE DEEP WEB
6. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw...
7. Cloud Nothings -Attack on Memory
8. Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music
9. Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d. city
10. Lana Del Rey - Born to Die / Paradise

And a lot of honorable mentions, in no particular order:

* Willis Earl Beal? Acousmatic Sorcery (A lot of the songs are really rough, but the good ones are near-perfect.)
* Nachtmystium - Silencing Machine
* The Coup - Sorry to Bother You
* Classics of Love - Classics of Love (Haven’t heard much coverage anywhere of these guys, but their music is like pop-punk Minor Threat with occasional ska-ish guitar. Good stuff!)
* Japandroids - Celebration Rock (Unlike everybody else in the world, I actually was disappointed in this compared to their debut. Other than “The House That Heaven Built”, I thought the music got kinda same-y after awhile and the Gun Club cover just reminds me that I like the Gun Club better than them.)
* The Men - Open Your Heart
* Ghost Pal - Nathan Jones Is Dead
* War on Women - Improvised Weapons
* The Great American Novel - Kissing
* Rick Ross - Rich Forever (2nd best rap concept album of the year, most surprisingly intelligent rap concept album of the year.)
* Swans - The Seer
* Daughn Gibson - All Hell
* Swearin’ - Swearin’
* Blut Aus Nord - ?777: Cosmosopy
* Sundials - When I Couldn’t Breathe
* Baroness - Yellow & Green
* Mykki Blanco - Cosmic Angel: The Illuminati Prince/ss (Really inconsistent but also fascinating.)
* Cat Power - Sun
* Muncie Girls - Revolution Summer EP
* Converge - All We Love We Leave Behind (I honestly didn’t really listen that much to this album, but it’s still a Converge album.)

Paul Silver - Top 10 Albums and More

It’s that time of the year again, folks. The time has run out, and just like on the old “What’s My Line,” the host has flipped all the cards. That can mean only one thing: it’s time for all us music critics to produce our “top 10” lists. Now, don’t be fooled by year-end list inflation. The traditional top 10 list has fallen victim to an escalating arms race that’s infected even our fearless editor, who is now pushing out a top 25 list. I refuse to fall victim! My list has been and shall remain a top 10 list – but with bonus items, of course.

This year saw an increase of good music over past years, in my opinion, but a decrease in truly great music worthy of “top 10” status. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I guess that depends on your point of view. I enjoy good music, but I get really excited by great music, so to me, this trend is a bit dismaying.

As usual, my list is based off the music I’ve reviewed over the course of the past twelve months. A new twist I’m adding this year is that I’ll also toss extra memorable live shows into the mix. And, as always, the order has nothing to do with ranking and everything to do with the order in which I encountered said recording or live show.

BOY THINGS – “Growing Up” – Way too short 3-song EP with the dichotomy of tight, bubbly music and dark lyrics captured my attention early in the year.

PERFUME GENIUS – “Put Your Back N 2 It” – Gorgeous, quiet, and sad. Too sad. Epic, yet simple. Plain, but shimmering. This floors me every time I listen to it.

SCREAMING FEMALES – “Ugly” – An even stronger release than their last album. Awesome post-punk-post-grunge with the mesmerizing guitar and vocals of Marissa Paternoster.HEYWARD HOWKINS – “The Hale & Hearty” – Quiet, understated, and quirky music with guitar and strings, plus Howkins’ buttery smooth voice equals a very enjoyable release.

SMOKING POPES – “Complete Control Sessions” – A double 7” live/studio recording that’s classic Smoking Popes, with crooning vocals and awesome power pop music.

BUST! – Live at Awesomefest 6
– This was my number one set of the festival, with fast, tight, intense post-hardcore.

THE BERTOS – “Burrito Flavors” – An actually unnamed CD wrapped in burrito paper from a local San Diego punk band that gets better and better every time I see them live. This CD is chock full of awesome.

THE SEE – “Pretending and Ending” - Catchy, edgy, diverse, energetic – these are just a few of the words that come to mind while listening to this.

SWANS – “The Seer” – Less noisy, yet less accessible than their previous release, this is smooth melodies and purposeful noise that combine to make great music.

AMERICAN LIES – Live at VLHS – I’ve seen this band multiple times, and they’ve rapidly become one of my favorite SoCal bands. They blend the best aspects of pop-punk and a sort of post-emo sound. Tight, intense and very melodic.

RVIVR – Live at VLHS and Che Café – Pop-punk-emo music that glides and soars, played by the nicest, most positive people you could hope to meet.

MUHAMMADALI –Self-titled LP – Super big sound, a sonic assault of massive guitar and vocals. “Exploding Ego,” the third track, just may be one of my favorite tracks of the year.

JABBER – “Too Many Babes” – Ramones style pop-punk sung by women in three-part harmony. You can’t get any better than this! One of the best debuts ever. EVER.

FOUR LETTER WORDS, BIG EYES, AUDACITY, PANGEA, SLFM – Live at VLHS – OK, I’m cheating. I didn’t review this show earlier, but I should have. This was probably one of the coolest line-ups of the year for a live show! SLFM is a woman (Jessica) playing ukulele and singing, and this is an absolute must see/listen! She is a virtuoso and the songs are so punk! ( Audacity was also pretty awesome, with a great raucous garage punk sound, and Four Letter Words is just one of the most fun bands I’ve seen in a long time.

AUDACITY / BIG EYES – Fall Tour 2012 Limited Tour 7” – It’s only two songs, but I’m putting it here because it’s so good, especially “Bottle It Up” from Audacity. Pure garage punk goodness.

LISA GERMANO – “No Elephants” – Germano’s simple, intimate soundscapes, this time coupled with background sounds, samples, and ambient noises to punctuate the music. Astoundingly gorgeous, lush music.

So there you have it, my “top ten” for 2012. This year I’m down to 11 albums (from 14 last year and 17 the year before that). Like I said, even though there was more good music this year, there was less truly great stuff. But what’s here is truly worthy of your hard earned dollars and precious listening time. And the live bands listed should keep you on the lookout for tours. And, hey, you need to come to San Diego for Awesomefest, anyway (Labor Day weekend). After three years of glowing reviews, I hope you’re getting the idea that it’s not to be missed. Plus, VLHS is probably one of the coolest DIY venues today.

Before holiday shopping season is over, go out and buy a few more gifts off the above list – this time, for yourself.

 is an independently published music fanzine covering punk, alternative, ska, techno and garage music, focusing on New Jersey and the Tri-State area. For the past 25 years, the Jersey Beat music fanzine has been the authority on the latest upcoming bands and a resource for all those interested in rock and roll.

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