Twenty years ago I was the music director at WQAX, an ousted campus radio station that found refuge on the cable FM dial with some very minimal support from the city of Bloomington, IN. And although we most definitely had more DJs than listeners, I religiously compiled and faxed our weekly charts to the College Music Journal (CMJ) every Monday. In honour of those halcyon days, I preset my top 35 tracks of 2012, along with three adventure picks.
Tracks #7 through #1 can be heard in their entirety in Too Much Rock Podcast #231. A YouTube video playlist counting down each of these songs can be found to the right.
This Boston folk pop duo balances twee acoustics and accordion with winsome lyrics and a memorable melody. The coyly lo-fi video only makes this song more endearing.
In 2012 Belle & Sebastian's Stevie Jackson finally offered up his solo debut, delivering on the infectious pop promises of his other project. "Try Me" is a burner driven by a thudding bass guitar, yet lifted by pulsing organ, surf guitar, and joyous tambourine hits.
Vancouver's Yukon Blonde recalls the glam era when rock could be pop and vice versa. Big hooks and bigger choruses made sure this song stuck in my head all year.
For Magnetic Fields' latest album, Stephen Merrit returned to the synthesized acme of his 69 Love Songs days. This quirky pop song tells of the unintended consequences of attending a drag show.
Punk rock made a comeback in 2012, earning slots on many of my podcasts. With "West Coast," Los Angeles' FIDLAR proves that two minutes is enough time to both poke you in the eye and apply a soothing "ah ah ah ah" chorus balm.
How does The Vivian Girls' "Kickball" Katy Goodman make a return to the pre-rock period of '60s pop sound outrageous? With classic clean guitar, breathy vocals, and galloping percussive base, "Real Boy" was built for Lawrence Welk, yet somehow is exactly what I needed in 2012.
Ian MacKaye's The Evens has lasted nearly as long as his famous previous projects, and that maturity shows on the band's latest album. "Let's Get Well" is a subtle call to action that builds to a rich, satisfying explosion without ever losing control.
Brooklyn's Great Caesar feeds my love of horns, big choruses, jazz undertones, and dramatic pop. The chorus of "Rearview" will be stuck in your head all week.
The dark tension held in the Amy Farina-sung "King of Kings" is pure mastery. And if you don't find yourself nodding along with the serious downbeats of the chorus, check your pulse, you might be dead.
At only 1:48 this is the shortest song of the list, yet still it comes in three distinct movements. Ingenious! The loopy chorus says it all, so listen and let this indie pop gem lodge itself in your head for the next week.
And speaking of indie pop with infectious choruses, I give you Vermont's Smittens. Max Andrucki's rich baritone sings this sincere ditty that captures the joy of a new crush: "Bubblegum, bubblegum, panic attack, there's a cute boy who likes me back!"
While John Darnielle's Mountain Goats push forward to a still fuller sound, Darnielle remains a most consistent lyricist. Strings and horns may be the death knell for those early fans, but for the rest of us, we'll revel in the richness of this shambling slice of indie heaven.
I don't feel good about it, and I may never want to hear this song again, but dammit it is a great song that thankfully cut through commercial radio's dreck. Moving on.
London's Tigercats pay homage to the C86 scene (and its revivalists too) on this frantic guitar driven slice of pop perfection. I love the jagged guitar, the ragged vocals, and the fact that it all fits happily in your pocket.
If this song isn't selling some consumer electric device on television yet, there's no justice. By combining disparate bohemian musical elements to create something fresh and completely embraceable, Regina Spektor proves that she was always more than just a squeaky voice in the freak folk movement.
The Fresh & Onlys rises up above the beleaguered neo-shoegaze movement with this sweeping composition built on jangly guitars, blissed out vocals, a crisp guitar lead, and perfectly placed keyboard accents. Lose yourself.
I used to think I wasn't a Guided by Voices fan, but the constant output of the reunited lineup has worn me down. The entire band has writing credits on this surging slice of crashing indie rock brilliance, but it's the guitars that really crown the track.
If you're a fan of lo-fi indie rock, and you've never heard this song, you're welcome. This is your new favourite song. With subtle psychedelic touches, deadpan vocals, and a guitar that drives the point home, this is the pinnacle of the genre.
Ian MacKaye and Amy Farina trade lines in this not-so-subtle jab at club owners only out to make a buck. Odd crashing percussion, squawking horn accents, a curious halftime, and slowly rising disdain, make this off-kilter song new every time you hear it. And if you're like me, you'll be hearing this a lot.
Sun Kil Moon's Mark Kozelek is a dick. Every time I've met him, he's acted like a jackass, and this less-than-endearing tale of infidelity (and yet another STD) doesn't earn him any sympathy. However the tumbling guitar, the vivid imagery of his lyrics, and the brilliant metre of this song make it one of this year's best.
Hidden Pictures expanded its sound with this twin-guitar, power-pop track. I love the electric piano, the warm organ, the backing vocals, the swoon-worthy key change, and everything else about this two-minute masterpiece.
You'll have no problem enticing me with the promise of C86-inspired indie pop built upon sweeping strings, shuffling percussion, jangly guitar, and hand claps, but the smart romantic lyrics of the band's Elizabeth Morris elevate this song to an entirely new emotional plane.
Detroit's Alex Winston is quirky in the best possible way. In "Choice Notes" Winston places plinking keyboards alongside her high, reverb soaked vocals, to build an easily embraceable pop sound that is uniquely her own.
While Communist Daughter isn't far from the indie folk of so many artists, few of its peers can create the tension and atmosphere that dominate this track. The multitude of blended and harmonised voices is gripping and otherworldly, making this track one of my very favourite.
The ringing Rickenbacker and humming organ of this track are power pop for the soul, but its the well written and catchy chorus that elevates this song to ultimate earwig status.
Every once in a while I stumble upon a dream pop track that grabs me and refuses to let go. Despite the layers of polish heaped upon this track, vocalist Caroline Polachek's control, inflection, and warmth shine through. This might just be the galloping drums and the '80s synth talking, but I think I'm in love.
Alex Winston does wonderful things with her voice, writes smart, inventive pop songs with great melodies, and can stick a chorus in your head. All of this comes together in the driving "Locomotive."
The two-part harmonies of sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg are as good as any ever recorded. Ever. In this song the duo yearns for the connection of Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons, and then delivers it in a stirring country rock song rife with pedal steel guitar and the duo's warm vocals.
Despite a title built entirely on a pun, this rocking track contains the best chorus of the year. Built from a discarded Raconteur song, Benson grows tumbling arpeggios until they explode in a glorious refrain. I wish I wrote this one.
This is a brilliant and delicate indie pop number that brims with sincerity. Its the sort of song that needs headphones, slow walks on grey days, and a righteous dose of romantic alienation. I intend to wallow in that emotion well into my 80s.
Lest you think Too Much Rock is soft, let me present this ballsy rocker from Corin Tucker (of Sleater-Kinney). The guitars are big, the backing vocals sweet, and Tucker's warble is on the edge of explosion throughout. There's no reason not to crank this way up.
Allo Darlin' is often light and fun, but this long, pensive ukulele and vocal-only track asks serious questions about regret, longing, and convergence. It also raises the frightening thought "I'm wondering if I've already heard all the songs that will mean something." While "Tallulah" didn't hit me the way it would have when I was 21, it's definitely a song that means something.
Hidden Pictures' Richard Gintowt makes us a promise in "Solo Record Shop": He vows to never stop writing music, even if (as his off screen detractor insists) musicians only have 15-25 years of solid musical invention. We have no idea how long Gintowt will continue, but based on this brilliantly adorned power pop song, let's hope he outlasts us all.
This under-appreciated Brooklyn band has created a epic masterpiece with "Seven Years." The song starts slowly with sparse organ and worn vocals, then climbs until every last instrument in the studio is included in a banging conclusion that never releases all of its tension. This is how the last 3:14 of 2012 will be spent.
This isn't the sound of 2012. It's not the sound of Husker Du in 1986 nor the sound of Sugar in 1992 either. Bob Mould exists outside of trend where guitars are always enormous and melodic, songs are defiantly dynamic and bold, and choruses perpetually soar. If this song doesn't make you want to joyously link arms with someone then begin kicking over chairs and tables, then God help you.
And for my adventure picks I've selected three tracks that surely would have made the list last year if only I had heard them in time.
Deer Tick makes it all seem so effortless. "Miss K." is a breezy rocker with a deceptively smart arrangement, and a refrain to die for. Bar room roots rock that everyone can love.
This Norwegian band must have gone down the checklist of everything I love in a song: snappy indie pop, great horns, coed vocals, witty lyrics. The band has since refined its membership and becoming Making Marks, but this song stands as a perfect reminder of what is great about twee.
Frank Turner elevates his folk punk to the socially conscious heights of Billy Bragg, paying tribute to Joe Strummer and every punk rock troubadour along the way. Who'd have thought, that after all, something as simple as rock & roll would save us all?
It's been another good year for music. What do you think? Did I miss your favourite? If so, let me know and maybe it'll make my 2013 adventure picks.
You may also be intersted to see my top albums of 2012 list as well.