Well, hello! Welcome to the first column of 2012 – coincidentally, my 12th year writing this silly thing. At the end of every year, as the schedules start to implode and my pre-vacation to-do list starts to grow beyond my ability to manage it, I imagine what it would be like to just stop. To just call it a day and end TM3AM for good.
But then my customary two or three weeks away serves to clear my mind, and I find myself re-energized, ready to jump back in come January. The simple truth is, I love writing this column, and I love the musical and personal relationships it’s brought me. I’m no more ready to stop doing this than I am ready to quit buying new music. And if you know me at all, you know the likelihood of that.
It’s not just the time away that does it. Each year comes with a promise of renewal, of new projects and albums that will set me reeling. It’s rare that a year lives up to the potential that shines down on it during these early days, but astonishingly, 2011 was such a year. I had high hopes for it, and it blew those hopes through the sky. I ended 2011 happier, artistically speaking, than I’d been in a while.
So now here’s 2012, with a lot to live up to. But the early signs are good. Here now are 12 reasons to love 2012. There are plenty more, but this is enough to fill me with geeky hope.
1. Guided by Voices, Let’s Go Eat the Factory. This will be the first new album I buy this year. Robert Pollard has released more albums in the last five years than most songwriters do in their whole lives, including an astonishing double-album swan song for his Boston Spaceships outfit. But early word is that he saved some corkers for this, the first album from the reunited Guided by Voices. It’s the first effort from the so-called “classic” lineup of Pollard, Tobin Sprout, Mitch Mitchell and Greg Demos since 1996. And what I’ve heard has been classic GbV.
2. Ani DiFranco, Which Side Are You On. This is Ani’s first album in four years. That may not sound like an awfully long time, but for her, it’s an eternity. It is, in fact, the longest time between records she’s ever taken. She certainly didn’t need a hiatus to recharge – her last few albums have been magnificent. So I’m expecting wonders from this one, centered around the title track, a cover of the old Pete Seeger tune (featuring Seeger himself on vocals and banjo). However the record is, it’s going to be great to have the little folksinger back. That’s out on Jan. 17.
3. Nada Surf, The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy. I just love this band, and I love that they survived the ‘90s with their wits about them. Over a series of tremendous little pop records last decade, Nada Surf proved to be one of the most optimistic and catchy rock acts around, and this new one, out Jan. 24, promises to extend that streak. Seriously, if all you know is “Popular” and you haven’t heard The Weight is a Gift or Lucky yet, do yourself a favor.
4. Field Music, Plumb. For some reason, Field Music hasn’t gotten a lot of love in this space. I have no idea why. They’re one of the most inventive pop acts on the scene, a mix of XTC and 10CC that never fails to delight. Their last one, Measure, is amazing – 20 songs, all of them thrilling. And advance word on their fourth, out Feb. 21, is just as good. This time, I resolve to actually review the thing, because this is a band who deserves some attention.
5. The Magnetic Fields, Love at the Bottom of the Sea. Oh, Stephin Merritt. You never let me down. Just a glance at the extreme plush bird closeup on the cover of this new Magnetic Fields album, and I just know I’m going to love it. Merritt is a songwriter’s songwriter, heavily informed by the classic work of Cole Porter and George Gershwin, but armed with synthesizers and a rapier wit. Great song titles this time out: “I’d Go Anywhere With Hugh,” “Infatuation (With Your Gyration),” “I’ve Run Away to Join the Fairies,” “I Don’t Like Your Tone,” “All She Cares About is Mariachi.” Can’t wait to hear the songs they accompany.
6. Andrea Dawn, Theories of How We Can Be Friends. Andrea’s a friend, but she’s also a frighteningly good vocalist and songwriter. She funded the completion of this record – her first major statement on her own – through Kickstarter, and she describes it as dark and unsettling, which works for me. Andrea and her husband Zach have been Brian Wilson-ing this thing in their apartment for a year now, and it’s nearly done. You won’t be able to get it at your local Best Buy, but I’ll let you know when you can buy it direct from the artist herself. First single “Underground” is here.
7. A new Choir album. My two favorite bands are getting ready to release new records this year, and I couldn’t be happier. The first, the Choir, is on an absolute tear lately, giving us two of their best efforts ever in O How the Mighty Have Fallen and Burning Like the Midnight Sun, and then gifting us with an acoustic album on top of that. Now they say they may very well have their new studio record done and out by April. I call that unqualified good news. Check them out here.
8. A new Marillion album and tour. My other favorite band is gearing up to release their 17th (!) album, and they’re touring the United States for the first time since 2004 this summer. (Yes, I have tickets.) Marillion, as well, is on a roll – their 15th, Happiness is the Road, is one of their strangest and best, and their acoustic project, Less is More, is awesome. We’re getting several live albums from the band this year too, and a project from frontman Steve Hogarth with Porcupine Tree’s Richard Barbieri. It’s a great time to be a Marillion fan. You can be one too: www.marillion.com.
9. A new Early November album. Hard to explain why I love Ace Enders so much, but I do. His band The Early November flamed out in 2006, after giving us their masterpiece – the triple album The Mother, the Mechanic and the Path. I don’t expect such a grandiose statement from their reunion record, due out sometime this year. But I do expect catchy and witty songs, from a writer still tapping a deep well of potential.
10. The Shins, Port of Morrow. I’m a little worried about this one, since it’s the first with the all-new band. But James Mercer is still at the helm, and man, can that guy write a pop song. The Shins’ last one, 2007’s Wincing the Night Away, came close to topping my top 10 list that year. Can this one seal the deal? We’ll find out how it is in March.
11. Aimee Mann, Charmer. There’s no set release date for this, but it may be the album I’m most looking forward to in 2012. It’ll be Mann’s seventh, and she says it’s influenced by ’70s and ’80s pop like ABBA and the Cars. I have no idea what that means for her sound, but Mann is one of the world’s greatest living songwriters, and she’s never let me down. Every time she puts out a record, I clear a spot in my top 10 list for it, and she’s always earned that spot.
12. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Yeah, not music, but I think this is the cinematic experience I’m most anticipating next year. I spent 11 glorious hours watching all of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy (in their extended forms) over vacation, and holy hell, those are incredible movies. His two-film adaptation of The Hobbit looks to be the same, except this one has Martin Freeman, one of my favorite British actors. He’s Tim from The Office, he’s Arthur Dent from the Hitchhiker’s Guide movie, and he’s the best Dr. Watson ever on Sherlock. And now he’s Bilbo Baggins, off on an adventure. Can. Not. Wait.
So there you have it. This year’s going to be blindingly good, and I’m thrilled that I get to chronicle it here, week in and week out. I hope you’ll join me. Year 12!
See you in line Tuesday morning.