My 6 Favorite New Albums Of 2012

I’m going to toss out a few caveats right at the top of this post. First of all, I’m a huge fan of Amazon’s MP3 section and how they sell 100 different albums for $5 every month. That’s where I bought all of these records except for one, which I bought from the band themselves. The only problem with this easy, cheap access to records is that I can get behind in what I’m listening too. Plus, if something might not be appropriate for tiny ears, I have to hold off on listening to that particular record. Holding off can mean I don’t listen to something nearly as much as I should or want to. As such, I haven’t given these records the attention they deserve, but I really enjoyed what I heard. As in years past, I’ll have multiple lists of favorite records. This one is albums that actually came out in 2012. I’ll also have a much longer list of New-To-Me records I bought in 2012 and even one of the best greatest hits, soundtracks and compilations I picked up and enjoyed in 2012. But now, here’s the new stuff. k'naan country god or the girlI’m not super tapped into the music world anymore. The extent of my knowledge mostly comes from reading Rolling Stone’s website, following @amazonmp3 on twitter and scoping out the new, cheap Amazon MP3 records on the site. As such, I didn’t know about K’Naan’s latest record, Country, God or The Girl until it wound up on one of those three radars (or possibly all three now that I think about it). K’Naan made the list back in 2009 with Troubador, my first exposure to his hip hop stylings and I’m happy to say that this record has more of the same absorbing, thoughtful and fun tracks. willie nelson heroesFor the longest time I didn’t have much of an opinion of Willie Nelson. Country music wasn’t really my thing, but I thought his cameo in Half Baked was pretty funny. That was the extent of my exposure. Then I listened to him in The Highwaymen and eventually picked up Stardust, a beautiful record that made the New Old list for 2010 and I was in. This year, I picked up two more of his records, The Complete Atlantic Collection and Heroes, both of which made lists. Heroes not only features Willie’s sons Lukas and Micah, but also songs that jump effortlessly from soul searching to hilarious. Snoop Dogg, Sheryl Crow, Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson also lend their considerable talents. Yeah, that’s right Snoop Dogg, marking a great Half Baked reunion on “Roll Me Up.”the hives lex hivesI wasn’t hugely into the garage revival of the early 00s. I never bought a Strokes record and the Vines ones I did buy were kind of disappointing. Others felt like three or four singles wrapped up in 8-10 extra tracks of padding. But, I really liked The Hives’ Veni Vidi Viscious. It was a rocking good time that played fast and loud and didn’t take itself too seriously. I didn’t keep up on the rest of their records, but when I saw their latest, Lex Hives, pop up for a few bucks, I had to check it out. I’m pleased to say that this record has that same energy with songs that make you want to get up and dance. Better yet? Lucy liked the jams too and danced along with me! Also, I don’t say this much anymore because I don’t see them nearly as often, but I really dig that cover. Van Halen A Different Kind Of TruthAs regular readers might remember, I saw Van Halen with my dad in March of last year. The worry going into something like that with any older band is that you don’t know if everyone still has their chops. Luckily, that was an unfounded worry when it came to the band. Even with that in mind, I had similar fears when sitting down to listen to Van Halen’s new record A Different Kind of Truth. I mean, how many records from 70s bands that have come out in the past five years do you really listen to? Again, I was happy to discover that this new record had a lot of the goodness found on classic Diamond Dave-era VH tracks. Sure, they’re often goofy tunes about tattoos and whatnot, but it’s okay to have a little fun with a record. It definitely helped that most of these songs actually have their roots in the group’s writing sessions from the mid 70s. faulkner detectives modern handshakeMy pals Alex Segura and Elizabeth Keenan-Penagos are in a band called Faulkner Detectives with Meg Wilhoite and Vanessa Lopez. Because they are my friends, I bought their seven song EP titled The Modern Handshake, but that’s not why they made the list. There’s no room for nepotism on UnitedMonkee! Alex is actually the person who, when I was a Wizard intern, got me into The Talking Heads and Elvis Costello. Not surprisingly, his band has a somewhat similar vibe to those bands, which is something I don’t have enough of in my life.bob mould silver ageI realize it might be kind of weird how I keep explaining how I came to an album. I just think the reason you buy something plays an important role in both your expectations and how you react to the material. I found Bob Mould by way of The Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light which he did one track on. That got me to Husker Du’s Zen Arcade which melted my brain last year. Then, when Bob Mould’s solo record, Silver Age, came out earlier this year and was discounted, I was sold. I just listened to this one again and I just love it. I admit, I have difficulty figuring out exactly why, I just dig it. It’s good rock and roll music by a guy who knows what he’s doing after years of experience.

I realize after writing this that nearly every album on here is by an artist or group that I was already familiar with. Most of the bands I listened to for the first time this year were older bands and will show up on my New-To-Me list later this week. A few days before the end of the year I even picked up The Vaccines’ Come of Age, but still haven’t listened to it yet and therefore it can not make the list. I also picked up the first two of Green Day’s three new albums this year, but haven’t listened to them yet. I also grabbed Soundgarden’s King Animal and while I liked it, I wasn’t as blown away as I wanted to be. Maybe I’ll have more time next year…

How Seeing Van Halen Changed My Life (For Now)

I’ve talked about this both on The Monkee Diaries and over on Pop Poppa, but my dad and I went down to Madison Square Garden on March 1st to see Van Halen play. The whole shebang was a birthday present for me that was fantastic and I thank them both for making it happen. I’ve got to say, it was kind of a revelatory experience for several reasons, not the least of which was that we got to see one of the all time greatest guitar players of all time playing better than he has in years. Eddie Van Halen has gone through some well publicized struggles with substance abuse that have turned a legitimate guitar god into a guy who can barely remember songs while playing in front of thousands of people. It seems like he’s gotten  himself cleaned up and genuinely had fun playing music with his brother, son and old pal David Lee Roth.

And that’s kind of what stuck with me after the show–in addition to the fact that he looked good with longer hair and inspired me to keep working with mine instead of chopping it all off–he was having fun. Here was a dude who’s done pretty much everything a rock and roll icon can do and he’s standing on stage in a T-shirt and jeans just killing the audience, annihilating us.

I realized that I want to do that. Not wail on a guitar, though I do enjoy turning my volume way up and banging out some tunes, but not up to his level. I want to enjoy myself through my work. One of the problems with being a freelancer for the same place for an extended period of time is that you can very easily get stuck on autopilot. When I worked at ToyFare and then later did freelance for them, I found myself falling into the same patterns of writing over and over and over again, almost like filling in the parts of an equation. But, that’s not necessary. There’s always more fun and life you can inject into something, whether it’s figuring out a new word for “said” or challenging yourself to find creative ways to stay in the present tense.

I also realized that I have a lot more control over how happy I feel on a daily basis than I was letting myself believe. I think I have a bit of Seasonal Defective Disorder and get down in the dumps during the winter without even realizing it. I think I’m feeling fine, but a few months later when the sun starts shining and the snow melts, you realize that you were not in fact feeling great. The weather has turned pretty nice where I live and it was timed perfectly with the concert. I decided that there were two many things I was letting slide in my normal life. I spent so much time focusing on the baby or work that I wasn’t taking as much care of myself as I should have. Showers would fall to the wayside as would the vitamins I take because I don’t get outside as much as I should. As regular readers here and on my other blogs will note, so would posting, which is something I do quite enjoy. So, I made a daily checklist of tasks I want to tackle and have been sticking to that pretty well. I also set up different household chores to do during each day of the week to help keep the house in better shape. These are little things and I can move them around if need be, but I do very much enjoy crossing things off lists, so this method works for me. Another key is that I don’t beat myself up too bad for not crossing something off. Failing one day isn’t failing life, you know?

But, and this is more directly related back to watching Eddie do what he loves in front of thousands of people, I realized I needed to make my creative endeavors a bigger priority in my life. A lot of that fell to the side with the baby and me being tired after a day of working and babywatching. I’ve refocused myself with much more defined goals. I want to finish the novel I’m working on. I want to edit the screenplays I’ve been sitting on for a year. I want to record at least three songs that I’ve been playing for pretty much myself for years. I want to move on to writing other ideas I’ve had forever. I want to start a podcast. There’s a lot of creative things I want to do just for the sake of being creative and getting ideas out there that I now am a lot more focused on.

And it’s all thanks to a concert. I know it sounds silly, it sounds a little silly to me too. I’ve been to lots of concerts and none of them hit me anywhere near this way. But, I think I was just in the perfect place to learn something from someone who’s lived longer than me and done a lot. So, while I know I’ll never meet Eddie Van Halen or maybe even see him again live in concert, I thank him for being a good example, sticking with what he loved and playing a mean guitar.