1. XXX by ASIA on Frontier Records
Asia is a super group formed in 1981 with members of Yes, King Crimson, Emerson Lake and Palmer and Uriah Heep. The current members are Geoff Downes, John Wetton, Steve Howe and Carl Palmer, but the membership has seen many changes over the years. XXX, The title acknowledges the bands thirtieth anniversary, and is this lineups third album of original material since they reformed in 2006. Fans of Asia have come to expect catchy songs, but this collection really exceeds all expectations. The opening songs, like “Tomorrow the World,” and “Faithful,” are great, but the album’s set is constructed that each song keeps getting better until the closing song, “Ghost of a Chance,” which is the best song.
2. GO by Motion City Soundtrack on Epitaph Records
Gone appear to be the frequent catchy guitar riffs replaced with much more melodic verses and stanzas. One of the things I absolutely LOVE about MCS is the catchy riffs and punk-poppish music. Go, Motion City Soundtrack’s return to Epitaph Records, fits right in with that lineage of strong efforts record. Go is the Minneapolis-based quartet’s most poppy album, full of vocalist Justin Pierre hitting some very high notes over synth-and-guitar-driven melodies. Motion City Soundtrack has forever stood in some sort of corner when it comes to genre, perfectly pureeing elements of pop, punk and indie into its own nerdy mix. The delectable result is fully identifiable – you know a Motion City Soundtrack song when you hear one, and opener “Circuits and Wires” is a testament to that. It plays as a perfect continuation of the Mark Hoppus-produced My Dinosaur Life, with Pierre delivering his usual self-deprecating lyricism. This band has grown and evolved in a way that has been fascinating to watch and even more fun to witness in live performances.
3. THE STARS ARE INDIFFERENT TO ASTRONOMY by Nada Surf on Barsuk Records
Here we find the title of the album (“The stars are indifferent to astronomy”) in a declaration of the ultimate expression of individuality. This comes from the opening song Clear Eye Clouded Mind. This album is a gateway into the Nada Surf sound for friends who haven’t been around for the band duration thus far. Some of the other catchy tunes on here are Waiting For Something, When I Was Young, Jules And Jim and The Moon Is Calling. This is one of those pop treat gems that’s nice to play in your car while driving around on a beautiful day.
4. LIFE SOMEWHERE ELSE by Isidore on Communicating Vessels records.
Jeffery Cain (Remy Zero) and Steve Kilbey (The Church) credited Isidore. Much to Cain’s surprise, what was once an instrumental came requited by words and melody sung in Kilbey’s distinctive baritone to make for a great collaboration. Life Somewhere Else is a sprawling epic. Haunting and beautiful, Life Somewhere Else has a power beyond itself. This album is quite literally breathtaking! It leads you through colors, landscapes, and images of oceans, skies, dolphins, seals, death, birth and children playing. The first song, The best song is Privateer which conjures up visions of islands, oceans, sea serpents, and maps of the stars. This CD is a Masterpiece.
5. LOVE IN THE AGE OF WAR by Men Without Hats in Cobra Side Records
This is a brand new studio recordings from Canadian Ivan Doroschuk and Men Without Hats. Love In The Age of War leads you back to the bouncy synth-pop fun of Men Without Hats of the ’80s. The biggest difference between now and then is the lyrics are more introspective and mature. The strongest song is Live And Learn. It perfectly merges the ’80’s with the present. He new song Everybody Knows sounds like it could have come off of Rhythm of Youth. Actually several songs on this album are much in the style of the tracks on Rhythm of Youth which makes it that much more of a fun album.
6. THE VIEW FROM THE BOTTOM by Lit on Megaforce Records.
It’s been nearly 8 years since their last CD. Lit’s latest release is THE VIEW FROM THE BOTTOM is a great surprise. After the death of drummer Allen Shellenberger, the band found itself in a place of transition. THE VIEW FROM THE BOTTOM feels it has rejuvenated the band and you can feel it on this album. THE VIEW FROM THE BOTTOM is a straightforward rock album; it may be their heaviest to date. Many of the lyrics deal with dead-end relationships, but there’s a hint of optimism in the songs as well. This is a great forward record strong and punchy. There are a few hooks in it as well that you can get caught up into if you want to as well too.
7. INVISIBLE STARS by Everclear on Eone Music.
It’s been awhile since Art Alexakis came out with new material, but Art in is classic form creating stories from his life that anyone can relate too. It’s a simple CD, melodic, hooky, and filled with tracks that anyone can fall in love with. It’s been 6 years since Everclear’s WELCOME TO THE DRAMA CLUB. It doesn’t feel like the band has aged though. Saw them at Warped Tour and they were having a ball with the younger kids remembering their old familiar songs and were singing alone to them. INVISIBLE STARS is energetic, reinvigorated, and lively. For fans looking for a bit more, this record is a throwback to the band’s original traditional sound. Music wise it’s conventional guitar/bass/drum rock with verse-chorus structure. This makes it just a pop fun alternative rock record. So go enjoy it on a nice sunny day drive.
8. THE DOLLYROTS by The Dollyrots on Store Front Recordings.
Drummer Chris Black is not on the new self titled self released record this time around. The Dollyrots this CD makes it their fourth album to date. This CD is a mix of super-slick modern pop, classic three-chord punk rock. Every song on the album is solid and catchy, and the way they incorporate elements makes the whole thing really feel like a cohesive whole without skipping a beat. After 2012, Satellite and I Wanna Go are my favorites. if you enjoy Tsunami Bomb or The Muffs you should listening to this. By the way it might make you want to drive fast in your car, so play it loud.
9. DON’T PANIC by All Time Low on Hopeless Records.
There are few bands who consistently deliver power pop/emo like All time Low does who do it the best. The only band who left me with a great impression at this years Vans Warped our was All Time Low. With Don’t Panic this CD finds the band with the ability again to deliver pop hooks while at the same time rocking out and not abandoning the identity they established early in their career. With big guitar and massive vocal choruses, Alex Gaskarth and company embrace once again independent label status and crank out their most consistent album to date. My favorite track is For Baltimore. Give it a listen and see why these young men will crawl right into your loving ears with enthusiasm that will give the shakes of joy with ease like it did for me.
10. DEDICATED by Wilson Phillips on Master Works Records
The movie Bridesmaids got Wilson Phillips back into the spot light. So Dedicated gound it’s fans through the big screen you might say. Inspired by parents and proud musical lineage, DEDICATED is the album fans have been waited. WILSON PHILLIPS’ album DEDICATED pays homage to their shared musical heritage. Featuring faithful renditions of The Beach Boys and Mamas & The Papas songs in their unique harmony-rich sound, DEDICATED includes classic songs such as California Dreamin, Wouldn’t It Be Nice, Dedicated to the One I Love and God Only Knows. The rich harmonies is something one’s ears will cherish on this album. This is one of those have a lemon aid sipping to or play loud sing along cleaning house CD.
BEST EP 2012: There is one Ep this year that really stands out on its own. Currently between making albums and not currently tour so heavily, Placebo is back with B3. B3 is a 5 song EP. With over three years passing for new material, it might seem a let down to have 5 tracks to show for it, this means the few tracks we get to hear are something pretty special. Actually only four of them are Placebo songs. I Know You Want To Stop is a Minxus cover. the four remaining tracks actually stand up very well. The four songs portray four very different sounds. B3 is uplifting. The Extra is melancholy. The song that stands out almost by itself is IKWYL. His song is dark and sinister. Time is Money is a very slow building up track and feels more relaxed. This variety is equal by quality, even managing to put in a 7 minute album closer that doesn’t drag which Time Is Money doesn’t drag at all and would be great visual if done right live. The songs feel tight and well-formed, never outliving their welcomes.
(List compiled by Jonathan D. Wright)