10. Tropical Popsicle Ghost Beacons Digital EP (Volar)
San Diego psychedelic. Honestly, I was a little disappointed in this release because I don’t think it’s as strong as their first 7”, “Always Awake in Shadows,” which I’ve played on my turntable for hours. It’s a dreamy little gem with a touch of menace to it that will either keep you humming through your day or haunt your insomniac hours. These songs are a bit peppier. Good, but I like my psychedelics the way I like a day at the beach: dark and gloomy.
9. Occult Detective Club Alright
Gentlemen Digital (Dirt Cult Records)
Three-chord, retro-punk hurly-burly from Denton, Texas. You know how a buzz saw sounds pleasing to the ear when it sinks its teeth into the meat of the wood at just the right depth and the just the right speed? That’s Occult Detective Club. These two-minute tracks come at you fast and loose like a homemade motorcycle screaming down the street. It’s tons of fun but you know it could fall to pieces at any moment. Shout out to Ty Stranglehold for turning me onto these guys.
8. Détective Basket of
Détective (note the French pronunciation) is a new rock and roll combo out of LA with novelist and former Guided by Voices bassist James Greer and French singer-songwriter Guylaine Vivarat. They released three DIY EPs this year “Very Fallen World,” “Basket of Masks” and “However Strange.” Pleasingly off-kilter and unexpected in all the best ways.
7. Blouse S/T (Captured Tracks)
This album came out in late 2011 but I didn’t stumble upon it until last summer when I was in Lithuania. I was bored of the limited amount of music on my new laptop and downloaded the album because it was slow and dreamy and weird – the perfect music for long writing sessions. It’s a bit like the Cocteau Twins only trippier. There’s a druggy looping quality to the music that makes time feel like it’s slowing down when it’s actually speeding up. No surprise that “Time Travel” is my favorite track, which opens with the line “I was in the future yesterday but it looked nothing like this.” It seems like I listened to this record a zillion times while I was in Lithuania, and it’s become the soundtrack for my memories there.
6. Santigold Master of
My Make Believe
It finally happened: my wife’s pop diva addiction finally crept into my top 10. Depending on where you live, either you’ve never heard of her or the single “GO!” was this year’s “Paper Planes” by MIA, whom Santigold bears some resemblance to. Santigold isn’t one of those singers like Alicia Keyes where the first (only?) thing you talk about is her voice. With Santigold it’s all about energy and experimentation, a collision of styles and syncopation. The first time I heard “GO!” I immediately thought of Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s “Space Cowboy.” It’s such a strange and arresting song but there’s really nowhere to go from there, a dead end. But Master of My Make Believe is one of those balls-out records where every song is a departure. Style, tempo, instrumentation – you name it. It’s like she conceived of an album where each track draws from a half-dozen influences and those influences are different for every song. I can’t pretend to know what’s going on here, but I like it.
5. Mean Jeans On Mars
12” (Dirtnap Records)
Ultra catchy Portland pop punk. The Mean Jeans aren’t one of those bands with an endless repertoire of airtight numbers that are as bland as a beer fart. The Mean Jeans are fierce, funny, and they really like to party. The first two songs “Ready 2 Rip” and “Life on Mars” feel like they’re been on my playlist for years. Maybe it’s all the repetition in the cheesy lyrics fueled by ‘80s kitsch. Maybe its because the chord structure is straight out of the Phil Spector-era Ramones play book. Whatever it is, there’s a certain sameness to the songs, but it’s a comforting sameness.
4. OFF! S/T Digital (Vice)
Like everyone else on punk planet I got swept up in the hoopla over OFF!’s First Four EPs, but it wasn’t until I got my hands on this record that I realized how disjointed and spasmodic those initial offerings were. This record feels totally different. The songs are still super short – most clock in at around a minute, and the longest is 1:38 – but it feels more comprehensive somehow. First Four EPs was a novelty – “Hey, look, hardcore played the way it was played before it was called hardcore!” – but this is a little less straightforward, a little bit stranger, and it’s stronger for it. When frontman Keith Morris was touring with the Circle Jerks in the early part of the century (!) they always covered a Weirdos song (and not crowd pleasers like “We Got the Neutron Bomb”). That sensibility is present on songs like “King Kong Brigade,“ “Jet Black Girls,” and “Man from Nowhere.” These are songs that incorporate hardcore and venture into something new, telling the story of South Bay LA as only Keith Morris can tell it. Can’t wait to see them on their West Cost tour in February.
3. Shiva Trash S/T 7” (Cholo Punks)
San Diego pop thrash. I discovered these guys while writing for San Diego CityBeat’s annual demo review, and they really stood out from the pack. I went to see them live for the first time at the release show for this record – their first -- and had an absolute blast. The opened with The Screamers “122 Hours of Fear,” to a mostly bewildered audience, and I think the choice reflects what’s unique about their music. Sure, I could shoehorn them in somewhere between surf and punk and garage (or you could read I wrote in CityBeat) but that kind of misses the point. Shiva Trash neither looks nor sounds like anything else I listened to in 2012, and I expect great things in 2013.
2. K-Holes Dismania (Hardly Art)
No band got its hooks into me in 2012 like the K-Holes, a five-piece from Brooklyn. There are so many angles to this band I don’t know where to start. Take a post-punk trio, add a singer who could pass for Nancy Spungen’s hot hippie sister, and add a saxophone – a fucking saxophone – you’ve got all the parts and none of the essence of the K Holes. “Rats” is my favorite track on the album, but it’s their fastest song and while strange, this video, doesn’t really represent them. I’m not even sure if it’s part of their live set. (I saw them twice during their West Coast tour last year, and it would have been a third but I got to Bar Pink in San Diego too late.) K-Holes are dreamier and more disturbing, like their album title suggests. There’s a shamanistic quality that’s evocative but also a little scary. Ditto the saxophone, especially on the slower songs, which lures you in like a druggy siren. But during the faster songs the saxophone cuts loose and wails away with a fury that’s downright scorching.
1. Mind Spiders Meltdown (Dirtnap)
Earlier this year, I was bummed that I started listening to the Mind Spiders debut album too late to include it in last year’s top ten. Then Meltdown came out and blew me away. It started in the spring and continued into the summer when I interviewed Mark Ryan for this story. I learned that Ryan took the name “Mind Spiders” from a story by science fiction writer Fritz Leiber. But it’s more than a catchy name. Some of the songs are written from the perspective of desperate humans trying to escape the Mind Spiders, while others are written from the POV of their alien oppressors. The latter are my favorite. They typically feature long instrumental sections that marry distorted synthesizer effects with not one but two drummers. I think of them as “hunting for humans” songs. This video has it all: sci-fi shtick, mid-tempo rock, and synthed-out weirdness that will put an ache in your heart as you yearn for worlds that never existed.