Top Records of 2012 Part One: 29-21
28. Dr. Dog - Be the Void (Anti-)
27. Jimmy Cliff - Rebirth (Trojan)
26. Hot Water Music - Exister (Rise)
Hot Water Music's first record in eight years shows that they haven't lost their power. The band remains tight and rhythmic and the songwriting is compelling. Memorable hooks and lyrics abound even if at times the band seems to be treading old ground. Imitators beware; the boys from Gainesville are back in town.
25. Mixtapes - Even on the Worst Nights (No Sleep)
The Mixtapes do an excellent job with the tried and true pop punk formula. They write catchy songs with confessional lyrics that appeal to the teenager in the most jaded of rock 'n' roll stereotypes. Their music recalls other poppy punk casualties, such as the Teen Idols and early Donnas. Lyrically, they are much smarter. They pair an affectation for acoustic guitars with smart lyrics about relationships and nights spent in basements and at coffee shops. Even on the Worst Nights is a fun record that will make even the most jaded hipster take note.
24. Beth Orton - Sugaring Season (Anti-)
23. Baroness - Yellow & Green (Relapse)
Gibbs isn't just another road weary troubadour from the Steve Earle / Bruce Springsteen camp, although it seems like more and more of those are making my list this year. His songs are about dissatisfaction with life and traveling; they speak to the same mythic American travelers who are looking for a place to rest. That place will never be found in Gibbs' songs. Yet we can take comfort that someone else is traveling with us. His songs are more folk than country with the requisite female backups in all the right places. He has a sharp ear for melody and an even sharper ear for a clever turn of phrase. Put "Made to Break" or "Christ Number Three" on your next mixtape and see what I mean. Or save this one for the early hours of the night after too many PBRs at the local watering hole.
Pop punk is in danger in 2012. Much of it is twee and juvenile even for a genre that prides itself on its inability or refusal to grow up. Even fifteen years ago, for every Screeching Weasel there was a Mr. T Experience or a similar band to infuse the genre with a semblance of smart dorkiness. The Menzingers might just be that band. For everyone that is sick of Billie Joe's rock star posturing or impossible attempts at relevance, try the Menzingers. They draw from a deep well of poppy punk bands that want to take it to the next level. Their album is emotional and real, transcending the tired tropes of pop punk, while still drawing from it for inspiration.