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RDR's Top 20 albums of 2012

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
"Algiers" by Calexico, "Dr Dee" by Damon Albarn and "Traveller" by Anoushka Shankar were some of our favorite albums of 2012.
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By Andrew W. Griffin

Red Dirt Report, editor

Posted: December 20, 2012

OKLAHOMA CITY – Another year is winding down – and what a year 2012 was in the world of music – and it is time for the annual “Best of” list of our favorite albums released this year.

1.      King Animal by Soundgarden: After having “been away too long,” grunge gods Soundgarden return to form and offer up a few surprises on this heavy disc. Particularly interesting is the experimental  “A Thousand Days Before,” a song guitarist Kim Thayil called “A little Indian thing and some chicken-pickin’.” Thayil adds some mandolin while producer Adam Kasper provides the delicious tambura. This album is lean and hard and a great example of what made Soundgarden so great to begin with.

2.      Topanga Ranch Motel by Skyline Drive: As one reviewer noted, Derek Thomas’ new project, Skyline Drive, is a mix of Ryan Adams and Ryan Bingham, and definitely all California. For those looking for country with a heart AND mind, check out Topanga Ranch Motel (key tracks: “Nothing Like You,” “Rubber Bullets”).

3.      Play.Rock.Music. by Toadies: When I saw these guys open up for Social Distortion earlier this year, I was stunned by how good they were. And soon afterward, the Fort Worth foursome released this dynamite record. “Rattler’s Revival” is propulsive 90’s rock with a 2012 sheen. Vaden Todd Lewis has lost none of his aggressiveness or anti-religious overtones. And “Summer of the Strange” is as good as any of their output from their MTV heyday. (Go to for more information).

4.      Goodbye Normal Street by Turnpike Troubadours: Why Oklahoma’s Turnpike Troubadours aren’t known far and wide, beyond the borders of the Sooner State, I’ll never know. Once again the boys, led by singer Evan Felker offer up a stunner of an album with Goodbye Normal Street. The banjo and fiddle interplay on “Gin, Smoke & Lies” is remarkable, while the galloping “Before the Devil Knows We’re Dead” showcases the Troubadours at their dad-gum best!

5.      Aufheben by The Brian Jonestown Massacre: The Middle Eastern vibe of “Panic in Babylon,” the Indian-n-sitar-flavored “Face Down on the Moon” and “Stairway to the Best Party in the Universe” remind listeners why BJM’s Anton Newcombe is one of the world’s most gifted musical geniuses.

6.      America’s Son by No Justice: Been a fan of this Stillwater, Okla.-based Red Dirt band for some time now. Singer Steve Rice and drummer Armando Lopez are the only original members now but they still know how to produce well-crafted, melodic country-rock with a distinctive Okie flavor. Nice to hear “Red Dress” reinterpreted after 6 years and “Songs on the Radio” is a standout as well.

7.      Dr Dee by Damon Albarn: Elizabethan occultist John Dee gets the full-on “English folk opera” treatment with this magical collection from Blur/Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn. For pop fans looking for “Girls and Boys” or “Clint Eastwood,” well, this may not be your cup o’ tea. As for me, I’ll have another cup, love.

8.      Sunken Condos by Donald Fagen: Transitioning from a Steely Dan project to a solo project is a seamless effort for Donald Fagen. The “smoove music” of Sunken Condos is pretty much what you’d expect – awesome. Key track is the curious and cool “Memorabilia.”

9.      Silver Age by Bob Mould: “The Descent,” considered by some notable critics, is one of the best songs of 2012. With its harkening back to Mould’s mid-90’s Sugar and Workbook-era solo work, we couldn’t agree more. Silver Age, as we noted in our review, proves Mould still has a lot of rock energy left and a lot left to say.

10.  This New Morning by Luka Bloom: Many years have passed since I first heard Irishman Luka Bloom and his album Riverside. Good then. Good now. This New Morning is everything I originally liked about Luka Bloom – real, honest, raw and beautiful. “Heart Man” is far and above one of the best singles of 2012. But there are so many great songs on this album. You’ll be amazed how good it is.

11.  The Sufis by The Sufis: If a movie director is looking for a band to recreate that groovy, trippy 1967-era,  “Summer of Love” vibe for their movie, look no further than Nashville-based retro-rockers The Sufis. “Sri Sai Flora” and “Wake Up” will take you on a psychedelic trip, like it or not.

12.  Traveller by Anoushka Shankar: With the passing of Panditji Ravi Shankar, Anoushka Shankar’s father, it is more important that people take time to listen to all the beauty and wonder that can be found listening to the sitar. On Traveller, Shankar follows her father’s footsteps by embracing world-music fusion. In this case it’s the Indian sitar fused with Spanish flamenco. These sounds compliment one another beautifully throughout this 12-track album. A true gem.

13.  Algiers by Calexico: Did you catch the UFO-heavy video for the Calexico single “Splitter”? Best video of 2012. Anyway, the album  it appears on, Algiers, is yet another stellar release from Calexico’s catalogue. The Tucson, Ariz.-based band – known for their “desert rock” sound, offers up tracks like “The Vanishing Mind” which remind you that Calexico is still the same band we’ve loved after all these years. Chillingly beautiful.

14.  Tempest by Bob Dylan: I have referenced this album a lot this year. I think Dylan still has a lot to say. And on this dark disc, he is clearly in a doomy mood. Still, the songs are quite good, from “Roll On, John” (about his late friend John Lennon) to “Pay In Blood.”

15.  Psychedelic Pill by Neil Young & Crazy Horse: This is a vital album for fans of Neil Young. Still edgy and important, even at his age. Go Shakey!

16.  Boys Drool by Catnaps: Ah! A swell example of the oft-forgotten and overlooked subgenre called “cuddlecore.” It’s not rocket surgery or anything, but it does in a pinch, which is why it’s on this list.

17.  Ascent by Six Organs of Admittance: Again, a psychedelic gem for 2012. Seeing a pattern here, y’all?

18.  Wrecking Ball by Bruce Springsteen: The Boss is still in charge, for the most part, on this working-class record that features hard-luck songs like “Easy Money” and “Jack of All Trades.”

19.  Extra Virgin Olive Oil by Junebug Spade: This is my favorite local OKC band. All of the members are really cool and their band shares a name with a beloved cat that lives at our house. How cool is that? Well, this record – a five-track EP, to be precise – is dynamite. We love “My Lover” and “Public Display of Affection.” Make sure you see these guys when they play.

20.  Urban Turban (The Singhles Club) by Cornershop: This British-Indian group led by Tjinder Singh has far more up their musical sleeves than their ’97 retro hit “Brimful of Asha.” An eclectic collection worth checking out.

Also really dug the following reissues that came out this year: Leisure by Blur (out originally in 1991); Document by R.E.M. (originally released in 1987) and So by Peter Gabriel (which originally came out in 1986).

*(UPDATE: December 23, 2012 - To read our write-up on our FAVORITE album of 2012 - Between the Times and the Tides by Lee Ranaldo, go here.)

Copyright 2012 Red Dirt Report

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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