2012: The Best of the Year in Music in Review! – Part One

Part one of a two-part overview of the year in music through lists and commentary. Part one is from Dagger music columnist Scott Hammer and contributor Kevin Wenger. Part two will continue with lists and thoughts from other Harford County musicians and music affiliated, and a composite list of the Dagger Top Ten.

The Best of the Year in Review – Part One

2012 has been an exhilarating year in music nationally as well as locally with those lines being blurred – from J Mascis giving us arguably his best Dinosaur Jr album plus a power trio feast called Heavy Blanket of instrumental power and bliss – to that 90’s alt rock sound blowing up with local drummer, Bret Lanahan (Like Patterns) being invited to play with Baltimore’s Denny Bowen’s (Double Dagger/Dan Deacon) new band Roomrunner, gaining strong national press from Spin to Pitchfork with a fast, loud, infectious 12″ on Fan Death Records label, and a national tour culminating in Seattle with a visit to Sub Pop. Local avant stalwart Nick Podgurski had three more releases on his label New Firmament and also toured internationally with his trio Feast of Epiphany, and with New York based art rockers Extra Life.

After over five years without an indie record store, Main St. in Bel Air welcomed a new vinyl boutique that gave a hungry underground music scene a legitimate place to play at home. (Many of these bands and artists, and more from Harford County have released strong albums this year. Some The Dagger has featured over the last year). That was followed by an actual local tavern opening their doors for a clash of cultures – outsider and punk music meeting tired old grizzlers in a sports bar, thanks to a young progressive thinker named Shane McCarthy. The year ended with a show there that brought another nationally prominent Baltimore band, the sick Dope Body to blow off the doors with Roomrunner and local favorites Sea Patterns and Pipe Smoking Rabbits. That lead to Baltimore’s City Paper venturing north on a gonzo backwoods trip to Abingdon to cover it. The show also lead attendee Nolen Strals (leader of Baltimore’s nationally acclaimed defunct punkers Double Dagger, and currently with Pure Junk) to proclaim with tongue in cheek (pretty sure) that “Harford County is the new Brooklyn!”

From a local Harco scene long ago, hardcore punkers Subsist from the mid- nineties reunited as 96 Ghosts and opened throughout the year for many national punk acts in Baltimore, and ex- member of A Warm Gun from early 2000’s, Brandon David (PSR) has formed a hardcore thrash unit with local punkers called Enemy Insects, that’s been infesting Baltimore, playing a show with an ex- Government Issue membered band called History Repeated.

And in stranger happenings, Sean “Guy” Wallis who has been releasing serious music over the last handful of years released his latest and excellent project, One Watt Sun on physical product only to have the Baltimore City Paper review a laugh off he made in a day, a Lil Wayne parody Facebook digital release about cheeseburgers called Hungry D as “worst album of 2012”. As they say, bad pub is better than none.

My Lists…

Top Twenty or so lps of sweet soundz of 2012, highly recommended for holidaze parties…
– Beach House – Bloom
– Brian Eno – Lux
– Divine Fits – S/T
– Ed Shrader’s Music Beat – Jazz Mind ( alright I’m lying on this one, but if yer party needs dose of perspective, comedy, and big beats, spin this)
– Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
– Generifus – Back in Time
– Howlin’ Rain – The Russian Wilds
– Lee Ranaldo – Between the Times and Tides
– Lower Dens – Nootropics
– MV & EE – Space Homestead
– Nate Allan – When the Sun Comes Around
– Neil Young – Psychedelic Pill
– Neneh Cherry – The Cherry Thing
– Nick Waterhouse – Times All Gone
– Romantic States – A Shell is Born
– The Sea and Cake – Runner
– Sean Wilson – Chalkboard Kids (Deluxe Edition)
– Zachary Wood – Time Takes Days

So special (a dog’s life)…
Fiona Apple

Top Twenty or so challenging Albums 2012 that I love…
– Bob Mould – Silver Age
– Burnt Sugar – All Ya Needs That Negrocity
– Dan Deacon – America
– Death Grips – The Money Store
– Derek Reinhardt – Filthy Flamingo
– Feast of Epiphany – Indivinity III / Temperance
– Friend Collector – American Demos
– Hand to the Man Band (Watt, Barnes, Dieterich,Thollem) – You are Always on Our Minds
– How to Destroy Angels – The Omen
– J Masics > Heavy Blanket – S/T / Dinosaur Jr – I Bet on Sky
– Keiji Haino, Jim O’Rourke & Oren Ambarchi – Imikuzushi
– Multicult – Spaces Tangled
– Nels Cline, William Parker, Thollem McDonas – Gowanus Session
– One Watt Sun – God Wants Us to Fail
– Pig Destroyer – Book Burner
– Pipe Smoking Rabbits – S/T
– Rangda – Formerly Extinct
– Roomrunner – Super Vague
– Scott Walker – Bish Bosch
– Sea Patterns – Play Date
– Sic Alps – S/T
– Six Organs of Admittance – Ascent
– Spectrum Road – Tribute to Tony Williams
– Spiritualized – Sweet Heart, Sweet Light
– Swans – The Seer
– Thurston Moore & John Moloney – Caught on Tape
– Ty Segall – Twins / Hair / Slaughterhouse

Lost and found…
– Can – The Lost Tapes
– Unwound – Live Leaves

Most retro time spent with…
Blue Cheer
Grand Funk
Humble Pie
Status Quo

Revival time spent with…
J. B. Hutto and the Hawks

Best shows…
Bill Orcutt/Chris Corsano at Windup Space
Thurston Moore & John Moloney with Speedy Ortiz and Dope Body at Ottobar

Best local show…
Roomrunner w/ One Watt Sun, Sea Patterns & Pipe Smoking Rabbits at Swamp House

Best local show not attended by me…
Dope Body and Roomrunner with Pipe Smoking Rabbits & Sea Patterns at Longshots

Revolution on main street…
Libyan Suite and Arab Spring

Anarchy on main street…
Friend Collector and Hive Bent with Proper Procedure

Vandals on main street…
Trashkanistan and Red Exit

Ghosts of Jay Reatard downtown…
Special People and Jesus in Disguise with Seven Days left

Amber alert downtown…
96 Gosts and Carrying the Fire and Paper Daughter

Alien sighting on main street…
IED-IUD and rioLinda

Invasion coming to town…
Enemy Insects and Creepy Murdle

Strange Weather on Main….
Cloud Quality and Binari Weave

Main street politico financial district…
Failure by Design, Universal Remonster, Melon Farmers, Lonesome Depths, Whiskey Supper and Cathedral Spires

Occupying the fountain on main street…
Matt Pless with Nick Baldwin and Chris LaMartina

Paisley underground on main…
Colora, Second Self and Bloomer

Main street historical meeting…
Black Cohosh, Kagah Igasho and Of Rohan

Free jazz on main…
Sean Wilson’s Imrov Thurdays and Pallid and Rienne

Main street beats happening…
Bohemian Groove, Illusive, Xomin and Nunako

Traveler from far away on main…

Lounge lizards with. ..
Olivia Grace

Keeper of the keys, the loners…
Brittney Allen, Madeleine and Percy Shaw

Downtown dancing…
Nate Allan, Keith Tuttle Band

Sunny sounds drifting from downtown on a saturday afternoon…
Believers and Romantic States…

Top Ten or so Local with physical product out this year you need and should pay for

– Carrying the Fire – Passed On
– Feast of Epiphany – Indivinity III/Temperance
– Friend Collector – American Demos
– Hundred Yard Smash – Running in Circles
– Nate Allan – When the Sun Comes Around
– One Watt Sun – God Wants Us to Fail
– Pat Grant & The Blown Fuses – Outta Luck
– Pipe Smoking Rabbits – S/T
– Rivals – Locust
– Roomrunner – Super Vague
– Sea Patterns – Play Date
– Sean Wilson – Chalkboard Kids (Deluxe Edition)
– Seth Sherman – When the Moment is True
– Special People – Advertise b/w Eye Movement
– Whiskey Supper – Just the Tip

-Scott Hammer

Shimmering Dolphins in Space

This has been a bad year for music for me. Not because there wasn’t anything worth listening to but because my listening habits changed. Sometime around the beginning of summer I started submerging myself in sub-genres of music I previously didn’t care for. I read lists of top 100 black metal albums, top 100 thrash metal albums, top 100 N.Y.H.C./crossover thrash albums, grindcore, powerviolence, anything I made fun of people for, I forced myself to listen to it. All of that and stuff I knew I hated like Wheatus and The Bloodhound Gang. So many of my music listening pals would ask me “WHY? WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?” and I didn’t have a great answer. Part of me was trying to test the limits of my dad’s theory that I could desensitize and make myself enjoy anything if I listened to it long enough. Part of me also thought that these bands that made a name for themselves in the above genres obviously won some people over. There was an appeal there for large groups of people, and I was interested in trying to find what it was. I mean 500,000 Anthrax fans can’t be wrong, right?

No, they can be. In this downward spiral of sonic self abuse (and REAL abuse, not abuse in the music-journalist-reviewing-a-friend-collector-album positive sense of the word) I lost my sense of what I enjoyed. I spent long stretches of this past year submerging myself in genres of music that I did not care about, and what came out of it? Well, I can appreciate a handful of Slayer tracks, and if someone made me listen to Age of Quarrel all the way through, it wouldn’t be the end of the world (in fact, it made nice nap music the first time I listened to it). But I lost my focus on what I enjoyed. I didn’t enjoy music, and in some ways, I started to hate music. I had mostly a year of negative music experiences.

There were a few releases that stood out though. In the midst of all of this, there were a few things that I put on in between all the other shit as a bit of a palette cleanser.

Death Grips – NO LOVE DEEP WEB

I almost had enough enthusiasm to stay up for the release of this, but opted for sleep instead. I remember walking to class listening to NO LOVE and thinking that this was maybe one of the few songs that really dug its nails into me this year. Heavy. Dark. Angry. This album has punk in its blood, but it was shot in there with a dirty needle. The production is raw, like flatlander listened to a few wolf eyes albums. Great music to listen to while surfing the deep web.

Roomrunner – (live shows)

The best shows I’ve been to this past year have beenRoomrunner shows. I’m not much of a pit-guy anymore. I saw Lightning Bolt at Floristree with local celeb Ross Edward Miller, and explained to him at that show that it’s rare that I really get into it at shows. Even at a Lightning Bolt show, I just don’t feel moved enough to well… move. But Roomrunner shows are a different story. There is a total lack of caution both with the audience and the band. Denny plays with four or five sweaty kids a few inches from his face and pedals and still pulls off the signature riffs that make Roomrunnerthe heavy mathy mess that everyone loves. It’s going to Roomrunner shows with Ross that make me think of one of my favorite Double Dagger lines, “when we were 18, we saw our favorite band.” There is a feeling of friendship that comes with going to see Roomrunner.

Dope Body – Natural History

If you know me, you know I’m a huge Dope Body fan boy. I won’t bother repeating everything I’ve said about them before, but I will say that this release surprised me in a good way. This is the cleanest Dope Body has sounded, but that is definitely not a bad thing. The drums are crystal clear with plenty of space. I often lament when bands go high-production, but this is one of the rare cases where better production really suits the band. The guitar tone is crisper and heavier than it’s ever been which suits the bull behind the noise-gate sound of Zeke’s low end and the shimmering dolphins in space sound of his high end parts. It’s also nice that I can make out what Andrew is saying and can sing along at shows now.

ESMB – Jazz Mind

Sometime in the mid 80s Michael Gira and David Bowie secretly fathered a child (using top-secret unpublished science) and in 2012 that science child made Jazz Mind. The addition of Devlin Rice on Bass really filled out Ed’s sound and made him meaner than ever. Sermon, Rats, and Gas Station Attendant are some of the most solid heavy songs to come out of Baltimore in a while. Stripped down, drum and bass, spitting in the face of hardcore.

Swans – The Seer (and Coward Live 2012)

Too many people have written about The Seer. I’m not gonna bother. Everyone knows it’s great. If you don’t just listen for yourself. You’ll need to set aside 2+ hours, but I know you can do it. Go do it right now, I’ll wait…

So now you know what the new Swans sounds like. That really doesn’t prepare you for their live sound though. I don’t know how to begin to describe it except to say that they are THE loudest band I have seen. Really, they are THE LOUDEST. And I’ve seen a lot of loud bands. I’ve seen Lightning Bolt with their wall of Marshall cabs behind them. I’ve seen Houston Noise Rap Prodigy B L A C K I E with his custom 50,000 Watt setup (or however much it’s supposed to be). I’ve seen Shellac. I’ve seen Black Dice. None of those guys hold a candle to Swans. The high point of this year (and really my entire concert-going life) was seeing Coward performed live. It’s my all time favorite Swans song and they perfectly re-contextualized it in their new live setup.

I convulsed, I lost my sh*t. I’ve never had such a physical reaction to music. I felt like I was being beaten or whipped. The sound slammed into me; it filled up the very palpable empty space of the room created by the brief pauses of the song, and then it disappeared again. Michael Gira knows that sound is most effective when it is dynamic, and I can’t think of a better example of dynamics. Absolute quiet punctuated by bursts of absolute loud. Damn, I still get chills when I think about that.

Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan

Dave Longstreth still has it in him. The Dirty Projectors have not made a bad or boring album yet. I saw them live in DC over the summer and it was a real heart melting experience. The music was beautiful and complicated. The performers were beautiful and complicated. I had a lot of beautiful and complicated thoughts that, for undisclosed reasons, I cannot write about. But do yourself a favor and take a trip to see this band.

Why? – Mumps, etc.

Yoni Wolf never bores me. This is a solid album. He’s still rapping about his impending mid-30s death, but there are some new offerings. “Strawberries” and “Thirst” really stand out as highlights. Strawberries tops my list of catchiest song for the year. It has whistling and hand claps (move over Edward Sharpe). It’s feel good in a kind of third-life crisis kind of way. “Thirst” has the dark plodding feel of something off of Alopecia, only instead of boot-sized thumps and chains for the beat, it’s dockers and electric tambourine. But this softer sound doesn’t bother me. I occasionally really enjoy soft indie stuff. The selling point for me is if beneath the whistling and clapping, there’s some bite to it. Yoni’s never failed to deliver that. This isn’t toothless indie pop, it’s the same old Yoni Wolf, just in sheep’s clothing.

Horse Lords – Horse Lords

I’ve probably listened to this album more than anything else this year. They’ve managed to get a remarkably fresh sound out of otherwise dead instruments. Believe it or not you can still create amazing new music using bass, guitar, and percussion. There’s the occasional sax and pedal manipulation too, but most of the core of Horse Lord’s freshness is in their use of odd rhythms and just intonation tuning. At first it sounded very familiar, but when I listened closer I discovered that the intervals between notes are very unfamiliar, and despite wanting to lock my body into the beat, I couldn’t figure out what the drums were doing. It’s the perfect balance of familiarity and unfamiliarity that draws me in while never getting old. Great music for walking with a purpose.

-Kevin Wenger


  1. says

    A Special Shout Out to (Red Eye Productions) Chris Allen and Grant Pfeiffer for donating time for lights and sound for many shows and Chris Corkran for getting the events going!