Posted on 19 December 2012

TOP 10 FOR 2012

by Mike Baron


            2012 was a great year for pop music, as are they all for those willing to listen.  Meanwhile, Big Music continues to cripple itself with irrelevant awards shows like the Grammies and the American Music Awards.  It is almost painful to watch these dinosaurs in their death throes.

The Foreign Films is still working on their follow-up to the groundbreaking Distant Star.  And Bryan Scary’s Daffy’s Elixir was never released on CD.  We love Bryan Scary but we don’t do downloads.  We the People demand something to hold in their hands, read the song titles and personnel.

Once again, the criteria were simple.  Freshness, vivacity, melodic invention and above all, how much time the tunes spent playing in our house.  The king of the hill factor.



1.         EXPLORER’S CLUB: Grand Hotel (Rock Ridge)


For sheer swooning pop glory nothing else comes close.  Drawing from the Beach Boys, Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Webb, Herb Alpert and a host of other classic influences Explorers Club has synthesized everything we love about pop into the most joyful record of the year.  Their Freedom Wind was my number one pick in ’08.



2.         DAVID MYHR: Soundshine (Lojinx)


Former Merrymaker Myhr nails the hooks on every song drawing influence from the Beatles, ELO, as well as the rich tradition of Scandinavian power pop.  Like all great records, it builds and builds to the epiphany of “Icy Tracks,” then throws in “Ride Along” as a lagniappe.



3.         WES HOLLYWOOD: Fantasy Arcade


A primer on modern power pop, constantly surprising, engaging and uplifting.  This is only available on vinyl and as a dowload.



4.         BEACHWOOD SPARKS: Tarnished Gold (Sub Pop)


Twelve years after their debut Sparks returns with an irresistible melange of chiming country rock, pedal steel, banjo and mandolin woven together behind killer hooks and harmonies.  If you love early Grateful Dead, Byrds, Poco, Burritos and Seatrain you must hear this record.



5.         THE SUNCHYMES: Let Your Free Flag Fly (Calliope)


Aaron Hemmington’s one-man west coast sunshiny pop caravan draws on the surf tradition–the Beach Boys’ influence is undeniable–but he weaves it into a uniquely charismatic tapestry that will have you humming along.  Which reminds me.  What has his pal Andy Morten been doing?



6.         SIDEWALK SOCIETY: Venus, Saturn and the Crescent Moon (Grandioso)


This psychedelic trio has an unusually robust bass.  Their music draws on the Zombies, Kinks, Small Faces, Jefferson Airplane and Spirit.  Their sound is bittersweet and instantly memorable.



7.         DARK OCEAN COLORS (Rainbow Quarts)


Former Pillbugs front man Mark Mikel teams with Scott Hunt for a richly satisfying tapestry of orchestral rock drawing on Beatles and ELO.  “Love You Much Better” is sooo later period Beatles but the record consistently maintains its own mood and charm, right up to the heavenly “Dream Away.”



8.         THROWBACK SUBURBIA: Shot Glass Souvenir


Portland quintet’s fresh power pop will knock you out from the opening “Give and Take,” which is sui generis but may cause you to think of the Raspberries.  Lead singer Jami Evans has a caramel voice.



9.         ULYSSES: Everybody’s Strange (Kool Kat)


British group draws on early Yardbirds, Blodwyn Pig, Z.Z. Topp to create their own brand of blues and boogie shot through with brilliant flashes of eccentricity.



10.       SECRET POWERS: More Songs About Her


Plus songs about “The Elephant Man,” suburbia, and leaking faucets.  There’s a pleasing eclecticism to this collection as more band members contribute memorable songs rich in melody and hooks.

13 Responses to “MIKE BARON’S TOP 10 FOR 2012”

  1. Aaron Hemmington says:

    Thanks Mike.

    I believe Andy has done a new single with Bronco Bullfrog which is coming out next year

  2. Mike Baron says:

    A single? One lousy single?! Morten! Get off your lazy bum!

  3. Dean Davenport says:

    Can’t believe you didn’t give a shout-out to Ignition by Shoes. My #1 for the year hands down.

  4. Rudolf Seiz says:

    Can’t agree with Dean; Ignition by Shoes was for me the disappointment of 2012!

  5. Mike Baron says:

    Dean– I haven’t hesrd the new Shoes. Looking forward to it. Our resources and time are limited.

  6. Ron Olcen says:

    Thanks for the great top ten list. I managed to track most of them down @ emusic………….

  7. Matt says:

    Great list. Here’s my top 25 of 2012:

    1. Cliff Hillis–Dream Good
    2. Redd Kross–Researching the Blues
    3. Shoes–Ignition
    4. Gavin Guss–On High
    5. Nada Surf–The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy
    6. Aimee Mann–Charmer
    7. David Myhr–Soundshine
    8. A.C. Newman–Shut Down the Streets
    9. The Corner Laughers–Poppy Seeds
    10. Ben Kweller–Go Fly A Kite
    11. The dB’s–Falling Off The Sky
    12, Jay Gonzalez—Mess of Happiness
    13. Sunday Sun–I, II, III
    14. Brendan Benson–What Kind Of World
    15. The Well Wishers–Dreaming Of The West Coast
    16. Bill Lloyd–Boy King Of Tokyo
    17. Hidden Pictures–Rainbow Records
    18. Chris Richards and the Subtractions–Get Yer La La’s Out
    19. Grahame Steinberg–s/t
    20. Wanderlust–Record Time
    21. Kurt Baker–Brand New Beat
    22. Throwback Suburbia–Shot Glass Souvenir
    23. Chuck Prophet–Temple Beautiful
    24. The World Record–Freeway Special
    25. Ken Stringfellow–Danzig In The Moonlight

  8. Steve Maser says:

    This is in no specific order, but these were my favorite records released in 2012:

    Redd Kross — Researching the Blues (OK, this was probably my favorite)
    Alice Cooper — Welcome 2 My Nightmare
    Nelson Bragg — We Get What We Want
    Joe Walsh — Analog Man
    David Myhr — Soundshine
    Plimsouls — Beach Town Confidential
    Van Halen — A Different Kind of Truth (much, much better than I would have guessed)
    Bill Lloyd — Boy King of Tokyo
    Nada Surf — The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy

    and tied for 10th place: Two covers albums: Juliana Hatfield’s self-titled kickstarter release and Rumer’s “Boys Don’t Cry”

  9. Gerald Still says:

    Agree with the many posted. Have not heard the Shoes new one. I did enjoy The Sea and Cake’s Runner.

  10. kim pearce says:

    Ignition by Shoes numero uno for me [along with dbs and Tommy Keene] – an absolute classic.

  11. Jon Olsen says:

    Shoes “Ignition” number 1 for me also.

  12. whitsbrain says:

    I hate to say this but your (Mike’s) statement about Big Music “crippling” itself…um, I have a 13-year old daughter and she’d argue very loudly against that remark. “Beauty is in the eye (or in this case the ear) of the beholder”.

    I’m learning how to deal with the fact that the Power Pop that I love is now very much shunned by those who influence what sells today. And that would be 13-year old girls. But I think it may have always been that way.

  13. whitsbrain says:

    It’s too bad you don’t do downloads. “Daffy’s Elixir” is pretty good. Have you ever tried a streaming service like MOG? It allows me to hear a lot of music that I wouldn’t have been able to before. I gave up trying to keep building onto a physical music collection. There’s nothing wrong with streaming or buying downloads. I can’t see how it wouldn’t be cheaper for the artist to get their music to the public.