2012 is all over, now, and it pretty much sucked on the whole. I don’t feel I need to elaborate why. We were all there.
I don’t know what’s to blame. My feeling is that no one alive actually gave a damn this year because we kind of all expected (or hoped) the world to end. Whatever it was it made for pretty stagnant, sour times. There must have been something good about it, though.
As ever, though, we get through such times with good music. And sometimes only the hometown heroes are providing it.
So fine, all right, yeah. I can think of two or three things that made 2012 suck less.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Faithful Man by Lee Fields
If you know me, you know I like to get funky. In fact, I do more than just get funky from time to time. I try to live the funk on a daily basis. But Lee Fields’ funk puts my funk to shame. Faithful Man is a new, old soul album by an old man written for young people to dance to in modern clubs dedicated to classic music, but so much more than that.
Faithful Man is not just one of the best soul albums I’ve heard in the last year, it’s one of the best I’ve ever heard. Lee Fields is 62 years old, and he’s been grinding his way through the soul circuit since the days of James Brown. He’s got a lifetime of soul behind every one of his songs, and a true affection for the ladies, whom he still croons to like a boy lover scorned.
No one track trumps another on this album. They’d all be soul classics had they been released 30 years ago. But they weren’t. They were released this year, and they’re timeless. If you need one track, just let Lee Fields explain to you himself his secret in “I Still Got It.” He really does.
2. The Glorious Dead by The Heavy
In 2010 The Heavy’s “How You Like Me Now” was everywhere. I was happy, because it was an awesome song, but you can only use a song in so many movie trailers before any meaning it might have had is chipped to dust and cast to the wind (see “Power,” “Run This Town,” “All Star,” etc.).
Now it’s 2012, and The Heavy have a new album, The Glorious Dead, and although there’s no real “How You Like Me Now” zinger, I kind of prefer it that way. I’ve been in love with the Heavy’s unique brand of garage-rock soul music ever since 2008 when their debut, Great Vengeance and Furious Fire, was released in the U.S.
They’ve gotten tighter, more soulful and more adventurous with each album up to the current, which is delivered with a kind of passion that’s rare on either side of the pond of late. “Be Mine” is the best love song I’ve heard in years. “The Big Bad Wolf” rediscovers the unstoppable power of a brass section. “Same Ol’” makes arena rock sound tame in comparison, while being approximately 90 percent less cheesy.
This album further cements the Heavy as one of my top artists of the millenium so far. They have yet to fail a delivery.
3. Hypnotic Nights by Jeff the Brotherhood
Here’s a band I’ve been following closely. They popped up a few years ago, they’re already three albums and a few national tours deep, and they act as Third Man Records’ house band. And they rock.
It’s punk rock, but heavier on the rock and much less serious. They sound a little bit more like Weezer with every passing album, but that’s OK, because the world needs at least one good Weezer. I think Jeff the Brotherhood can pull it off. Hypnotic Nights is a fun, irreverent rock album from start to finish.
The first lyric of track one is “I want some place where I can smoke meats,” and no, I didn’t hear it wrong. It’s called “Country Life,” and it’s really that simple, and did I say it rocks?
1. Hot Nails by Time Hammer
Full disclosure, my roommate is Travis Beck, one of the two insane blondes in front of Time Hammer. The band also practices in my basement every Tuesday and several Sundays. So this is obviously a conflict of interest on my part and I should be banned from ever writing about local music again.
Quite the opposite, actually. Time Hammer songs rumble the floors of my home on a regular basis, like right now when I’m trying to write this article. Beck plays the album for visitors in its entirety almost once per day. I’ve heard it so many times since it came out in early summer that I should be sick of every note.
But I’m not. On the contrary. It gets a little bit funkier every time I hear it. Every time I listen to Hot Nails, I’m more impressed by Stewart Hehn’s basslines, or Connor Goertzen’s deft scratching, or Joe Younglove’s real-life-white-boy raps.
This ain’t '90s rap metal. This is more Beastie Boys than Limp Bizkit (thankfully), and they rage against the machine harder than you may first think. Oh, and most importantly, it’s damn funky. Listen and listen well. Hot Nails is worth it.
2. Ice-Cold Cola Polka by foam_FORM
As the title of this album would suggest, it’s all about polka, but definitely not in any way you might think. Foam_FORM — Connor Goertzen's solo project — blew my mind this year with some of the most inventive and original electronic music I’ve ever heard.
It takes a lot to make me stop and actually pay attention to a DJ. I’ve never had high hopes for quality in electronic music, I’ve simply been exposed to an excess of really bad beats in my time. I’m jaded. But foam_FORM peaks my interest. Not content merely to sample, f_F uses samples as his instruments, bending and prying them until they become the raw stuff of his mad genius musical imagination.
And for Ice-Cold Cola Polka, the raw stuff is polka, blended and strained into a secret funk you never knew was lurking in your grandparents’ favorite genre. Throw in Goertzen playing his own invention, the dial-a-sample Mobitar, and you’ve got a recipe for a sound they haven’t invented a genre name for yet. But that’s what foam_FORM does, he invents. I’m glad someone still does.
3. Discovering and Deciphering Your Value as a Human Being by Universe Contest
My feelings on the subject of Universe Contest are already well-documented, so I won’t waste words with them here. Besides, they’re on everyone else’s lists, for good reason.
1. "Tell Me a Tale" by Michael Kiwanuka
I don’t know that I’ve heard a better song than this come out in this millenium. I’ll just get that out of the way, I could listen to this song on repeat for the rest of my life and die happy. I’ll probably get over it, but I hope not.
“Tell Me a Tale” sounds like Bill Withers singing a Nick Drake song with Fela Kuti’s horn section, and it’s actually got some depth. It’s a love song at its core, and a truly powerful one at that. This isn’t a love song you play to just any pretty face. This is a song that takes you to a higher love than any Steve Winwood ever knew, and it enthralls you with the sound along the way.
It takes you in, cradles you and tells you a tale you can always keep.
2. "Dayglo Reflection" by Bobby Womack feat. Lana Del Rey
Bobby Womack was a gravely-voiced singer of hard northern soul music in the '70s, best known for “Across 110th St.” He hasn’t really done much since, unless you count providing guest vocals to Gorillaz’ best-selling Plastic Beach and almost immediately recording a new solo album produced by Damon Albarn.
Bobby Womack is back and now he’s experienced. His new album, The Bravest Man in the Universe, is strange, yet soulful. “Dayglo Reflection” is a heady, bizarrely polyrhythmic tune about love, distance and the singer’s craft. Bobby Womack’s voice can get a bit grating in his old age, but Lana Del Rey actually impressed me with hers, which is in itself impressive, because I kind of hate everything else she has ever done. This song is really good, though.
3. "Revenge" by A Place to Bury Strangers
A Place to Bury Strangers has always rocked my world, and nothing off their latest album, Worship, rocked me harder than this tune. It’s as loud and fast and unrelenting as everything I’ve come to love them for, and then some. They always seem to be able to turn it up just one more decibel point after 11. No matter who you are or when you read this, I’ll be banging my head to this song while you do.
1. "Old Style Time" by Art School Roy
Simply put, there has never been a truer song written about the city of Lincoln, or the creatures who inhabit its urban center. Cheers, Spencer and Twist.
2. "Dying" by Universe Contest
I don’t have the lyrics memorized yet, but every attractive woman at every one of UC’s shows seems to. I’m going to have to listen to the ladies on this one.
3. "Hand Jive" by The Poet Solace Taylor
Solace Taylor may be the most prolific musician working in Nebraska today, but that’s a subject for a whole different story. What you can be sure of is that this particular tune, released in October, is one funky piece of work.
Solace already has the words, what he’s lacked before is a consistent flow, but he’s clearly been working on that. Hearing songs like this makes me hopeful that Nebraska hip-hop can rise above pandering to a dead market, and actually find a voice of its own. Jive on, Solace.
1. Universe Contest, Duffy’s, Lincoln Calling
photo by Angie Norman
2. The Show is the Rainbow’s last show
I can’t outwrite Buckley on this one.