In what turned out to be a slow and quiet year for new rock music, a handful of excellent records stood out as being of a notably higher quality than much of the rest. With due respect and honorable mention to Led Zeppelin’s release of their excellent 2007 reunion show, Rage Against The Machine’s first album retrospective package, and a hit-and-miss third album from Tenacious D, the albums of 2012 that will make a lasting impact is certainly lighter than in some past years. As we look back on the highlights of this year, here’s to hoping 2013 will pick up the slack and provide the next chapters of quality rock and roll.
#5) Deftones-Koi No Yokan
If one had said, in the late 1990s, that the one “Nu-Metal” band to outlast all the others, in terms of production of quality new material, consistency in concert, and successful artistic accomplishment would be Deftones, most nu-metal fans wouldn’t have believed it. Hell, maybe Deftones wouldn’t have believed it themselves. But sure enough, that is exactly what has happened. While some of the tracks on the band’s seventh LP blend together in a predictably atmospheric way, similar to songs from the previous few albums, the agony and angst of Chino Moreno’s vocals, matched with the tones and moods that are uniquely Deftones, make for a darkly abstract musical experience. Exactly what this band does.
#4) Soundgarden-King Animal
After a 16 year hiatus, Seattle’s grunge giants returned with an album rich with their signature sound, and a number of memorably rocking riffs and songs. There is no mistaking the blend of Chris Cornell’s banshee-vocals and the brilliant guitar work of Kim Thayil. The single “Been Away Too Long” serves well as an opener and a reminder of what rock music sounded like in the now-and-soon-to-be-romanticized ’90s. This is notable, however, in an era of rock that often strays from its foundations and roots, that the melody and beauty of rock can still be combined with the power, themes, and moods of grunge and metal in a delightfully successful way.
#3) Green Day-Uno!/Dos!/Tre!
Debatably the year’s most ambitious rock music project, the San Francisco Pop-Punk veterans returned with a focus on the sounds and presentations of individual songs that juggled various themes and subjects rather than an album-length concept piece as they had done on their previous two LPs. The wealth of material the band ended up with was enough to spread out over three discs, and the precisely written, executed, and produced songs that make up this cycle deliver everything Green Day does best and many things that they do very well but for which they aren’t very well known. “Let Yourself Go” may be the closest thing to a rebellious teenage hyper-freak-out on a rock record this year.
#2) The Mars Volta-Noctourniquet
The wizardry and randomness of guitarist/songwriter Omar Rodriguez-Lopez seldom ceases to amaze or surprise, and this year’s brief return of The Mars Volta was no exception. While this album, the band’s sixth, was mostly recorded 2-3 years before its release, the sounds are futuristic in style and in the atmospheres they create. Abandoning the guitar-focused approach of previous releases for synthesizers and keyboard effects, the dark and often desperate moods of these songs musically paint an emotional collage that many attempt to represent artistically in one medium or another, but seldom successfully realize.
#1) Jack White-Blunderbuss
The year’s best album was the first solo LP by 21st Century Blues-Rock virtuoso Jack White. After splitting with longtime collaborator Meg White in The White Stripes, Jack took matters into his own hands creatively and musically to produce an album that sounds completely out of place compared to anything else going on in music today, which is what he always strives to do. Bouncing from punky garage rock one minute to bluegrass balladry the next, Blunderbuss is a mash up of sounds and styles that pull from a unique variety of moments from music’s 20th century time line. At the end of the day, however, White always returns to the blues. Whether it is a literal 12-bar blues, musically, or a heart-on-my-sleeve blues represented lyrically or emotionally via tone, White succeeds in accomplishing what the best song writers always have: singing about themselves in a way that feels like they are also singing about you.