Non-annotated edition previously published here. I hereby dedicate last year’s year-end musical bloviations to our dearly departed brother Conrad Bain, the kind, gentle, and genteel Canadian who warmed our hearts as Phillip Drummond for eight years on “Diff’rent Strokes.” We’ll probably never know for sure what Willis was talking about but it was always plain as day what his father was talking about: love, patience, understanding, ascots, and sweater vests. Thanks for your caring touch, Conrad. You made Alan Thicke look like a corny little bitch.
JG2’s TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2012
1. Future of the Left – The Plot Against Common Sense
Tart, angular punk platter targeting the banality of Hollywood (“Robocop 4 – Fuck Off Robocop”), confused trustafarians (“Sorry Dad, I Was Late For The Riots”), and the very concept of marketing (“Sheena Is A T-Shirt Salesman”). Occasionally a driving melody shines through all the caffeine-induced snot-balling, making you clench your fists for a different reason.
2. Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth
Every middle-aged rocker’s fantasy came true this year when Van Halen spit out a new record with David Lee Roth’s glitter-bespecked mitts back on the handlebars. Slight creaks could be forgiven when confronted with the fluid shuffle of “She’s The Woman” and balls-to-the-401k plan rockers like “China Town” and “Bullethead.” Eddie might not know how to manage his life or career or wardrobe anymore but the mah’fucker can still play guitar like nobody’s business. Similarly, Roth remains charming, particularly when he’s tongue-in-cheeking his band’s ultimate legacy (“Stay Frosty”).
3. ICP – The Mighty Death Pop!
ICP aren’t just rapping about graphic circus-themed murders anymore—they’re also concerned about their wives facing sexual harassment at the office Christmas party (no joke; check “The Blasta”). I guess this is growing up? As grown as an album that sounds like it was crafted on a Turbografx 16 can be, anyway. That’s not a diss; The Mighty Death Pop! has a strange texture to its head-bobbing beats that will keep you triple dipping. Check your brain at the door, of course, lest you feel like confronting the philosophical ramifications of Shaggy 2 Dope’s proclamation that his scrotum tastes like grape soda (“Juggalo Juice”).
4. Smoke Mohawk – Viva El Heavy Man
The breezy denim-clad spirit of ’70s rock runs through this Norwegian band like the mighty Miss-ah-sip. Viva has some of the best song titles of the year, including but not limited to “VCR King,” “Pirate Train,” and “Painting Outside The Lines of Perception” (can you taste the bong water?). Nothing less should be expected from the band that anthropomorphized rock n’ roll on its first album and literally reported an assassination attempt on the genre. I know that might be a hard concept to wrap your head around. Trust me, after a few spins of this tasty swirlin’ riffage, you’ll get it.
5. Kreayshawn – Somethin’ ‘Bout Kreay
America’s bitterness over Somethin’ ‘Bout Kreay’s late arrival torpedoed any shot it had at being 2012’s ultimate party record. That’s squarely on you, because Kreayshawn brings the sassy dance ruckus from beginning to end. No female rapper has given less of a fuck in a more adorable way since Missy Elliott. Case in point: Kreay talks to summertime like it’s a person and also wrote an entire song about how awesome pancakes are (“Breakfast”). If this is your average Millennial I’m ready to hand over the keys to the country.
6. Soundgarden – King Animal
Soundgarden remain a lean mean grunge machine on their comeback record, offering up the gratifying hour of down-tuned muscle car rock ’90s bros have been waiting for since Audioslave collapsed. Unlike that Bush era experiment, King Animal is the sound of every gear clicking into place, no grease or gimmicks required. Some have accused Cornell et al of reuniting just for the bread, but this record isn’t lazy enough to support that claim. Sure, maybe King Animal is too on-the-nose in places, but if the worst thing you can say about a Soundgarden record is that it sounds too much like Soundgarden, well, maybe it’s time to just shut your pie hole and listen.
7. The Men – Open Your Heart
In the spirit of minimalism I’m not going to offer any complete sentences for this entry beyond what you’re currently reading. The Mens’ Open Your Heart = immediacy, oven-at-350 warmth, lo-fi charm without lo-fi harm. Flourishes of slide guitar so inviting. Westerberg / Wilco fatigue homages happily evade corniness. Whole record occupies interesting space between the Feelies and the Supersuckers. These guys, they can maintain.
8. Kidz Bop – Kidz Bop 21
As long as albums of yard monsters reworking Top 40 hits are in existence they shall find a place on lists of mine, because the concept’s so bizarre, inane, and fun. I applaud Kidz Bop’s ability to make nonsense like “Party Rock Anthem” even more toothless while simultaneously encouraging children to sing their hearts out like Up With People! never went away. Kidz Bop records don’t need to exist, I don’t know who could possibly listen to them (except folk who champion the uncomfortably odd), but they are empowering to a segment of our population who basically have no rights so for that I say let’s go all the way up to Kidz Bop 375.
9. Die Antwoord – Ten$Ion
This is what the future’s supposed to sound like, at least the future pitched by ham-fisted pieces of insanity like Total Recall and Demolition Man. You can practically hear Schwarzennegger screaming when the pill-grinding beats on Ten$Ion reach critical mass (visions of Arnie’s gaping maw, teeth and all, become especially clear when the drums reverse in “Hey Sexy”). Die Antwoord dismiss the rap game as “one big inbred fuck-fest” (“Fatty Boom Boom”), which I’m sure is how most people view their act, but hey, at least they’re interesting—at least. At most they’re exciting, irreverent, infectious, Kaufman-esque, and worthy of several crotch pumps.
10. Baroness – Yellow & Green
Baroness make up for a long three years since Blue by giving us a double album, and to no surprise it’s like stepping inside a cocoon of warm mossy metal. The production is so full and rich, so spacious. Yellow & Green is the perfect companion piece to frustrated teenage male sexuality and hobbit-based adventures. It’s certainly the most chantable rock album of the year (see “Cocainium”). And the cover is a naked woman with candles on her head threatening to behead a black swan. In the cautious words of Fred Schneider, hel-LO!
JG2’s TOP TEN SINGLES OF 2012
A spoonful of sugar helps the unhinged cynicism go down. Is everybody in Wales this much fun?
Kreay gives all Forever 21 employees the best life advice: “Don’t be on some ho shit.” The rest of this song makes me, a thirty-four year old white man, want to twerk it. That counts for something.
So testicular in its agenda.
The sweat-soaked sex jam of the year. Extra points for smashing a pair of Beats by Dre in the video. Let us never settle for mediocre headphone technology.
The ruse was over by the time this song dropped: Krispy Kreme was no backwoods ignoramus but a high school valedictorian named Tyler. He could have given up when that secret broke. Instead, he continued undaunted, burying the lede of this John Cena ode in oodles of Yuletide atmosphere.
Just when you thought it was safe to leave the dance floor, Mystikal grabs your ass and throws you back, hollering about his collection of percussion and the greatness of James Brown. Instant A.
Just a feel good cruisin’ tune, y’know what I mean? I can throw on my jean jacket and just cruise to this bitch.
Don’t act like Fat Joe’s love affair with app-based photography didn’t mirror your own in 2012. This song is the logical follow-up to that rap Andy Milonakis did about Tweeting every single moment of his life. The line between the streets and improv comedy is once again deliciously blurred.
Old-ass rappers cop to being old, instantly validate new jamz.
Finally, Robert Zimmerman gets the slow burn from the guy who invented Crimbus. Funnier in concept than in execution maybe but still better than anything Conan O’Brien did all year. Yeah, I said it.
Viva El Heavy Man
Making no bones regarding their status as a throwback, Smoke Mohawk open their sophomore effort Viva El Heavy Man with the auspicious ode to antiquation “VCR King.” Actually, it’s kind of hard to tell if the band is clinging to this once-proud title with some sort of reverence or using it as a whimsical digital era putdown; the song’s parade-ish stomp (broken up by a handful of breezy, declarative choruses) suggests either idea is plausible. Not that you’ll be considering this to any great degree as “VCR King’s” semi-smirk hooks you in for the dirty hippie rock pleasures that make up the bulk of the album.
Everything about Viva El Heavy Man—including its blurry cover featuring some afro’d white kid in jean shorts next to a hatchback—emulates that timespan in the 1970s when psychedelia and proto-metal were brewing together in the same stew, swirling distorted riffing into a haze of ethereal keyboards, acoustic arpeggios, and other spacey effects. Singer Thomas Felberg is in proper command of these cocksure retro dips with a voice that easily alternates between soothing salve and whiskey-soaked rasp. The guy even sells me on “Squaw Woman,” a song that, while playful and catchy, could be construed as inappropriate Native American fetishization. Of course, we have no reason to believe “Squaw Woman” isn’t about a true Black Hills princess Felberg pines for, and there’s no dubious imagery outside the subject’s “buffalo skirt.”
Smoke Mohawk probably want you to notice their cover of the unexpected 1972 Osmonds hit “Crazy Horses” tucked deep into the album, but this particular run-through fails to live up to the charisma / insanity of the original. Instead, turn your attention to the sexy robo-funk of “Inspector Holmes” or the butt-shaking swagger of “Expresso,” the latter of which eschews whatever it started with mid-way through for a relaxing jam seemingly ported from Robby Krieger’s bathroom. The seven minute album closer “POTLOP” continues the atmospheric soundscapes and will surely make you wish you hadn’t gobbled up all your ‘shrooms last week.
The sweet gallop of “Sophia” stands as Viva El Heavy Man’s one perfectly aligned moment, though, a carefree jaunt with enough melody and kicks to override any hesitation concerning the root nostalgia (thereby making it a microcosm of the band itself). Hey, remember the ’70s? Smoke Mohawk do, and we shouldn’t complain about that.
FINAL SCORE: Three Beta Max dukes (out of four).
“So how are you?” I ask Danny as we take our seats at Manhattan’s Great Jones Cafe, home of the Rotten Apple’s best pulled pork sandwich.
“How do you think I am?” he says with a smirk.
My dinner companion could be making reference to several aspects of his vastly interesting life, but in this moment we both know exactly why he’s radiating. Twenty-four hours prior, Danny (who, with his thick glasses and sandy blonde hair, bears passing resemblance to Peter Billingsly) was one of the chosen few allowed inside Cafe Wha? to witness Van Halen’s exclusive 2012 tour launch performance. Fans and journalists came from all corners of the Northeast to see the ultimate ’80s party rock band play their first club gig in decades, but Danny Young was the only VH disciple to fly in from the exotic land of Norway.
“One guy in line outside said, ‘Oh, I rode the subway here.’ Another guy said, ‘I flew here from Philly.’ Yeah, okay,” Danny tells me in a playfully dismissive tone. “They couldn’t believe how far I had come. They called me ‘Norway’ for the rest of the night. ‘Hey, what did Norway think of that?'”
Certainly the most dyed-in-the-wool Van Halen fan I currently know, a connection at Universal Records London got Danny on the über-exclusive guest list. I didn’t ask, but I’m fairly certain this connection was forged somehow through the eight years Danny spent drumming for Gluecifer. Gluecifer gets my vote for best hard rock band happening in the late nineties/early aughts—on Norwegian shores or any other. They never gained much traction here in the States, but neither did the majority of their Scandinavian contemporaries (Turbonegro, the Hellacopters, et al). America at that time was preoccupied with less testicular outfits such as Jimmy Eat World and Sum 41. It is as it was, the Pope might say.
This Cafe Wha? deal was the first time Danny had ever seen his favorite band in the world, and he was was right up front, stage right, close enough to taste Diamond Dave’s sweat. By all accounts, it was an amazing show. Wolfgang Van Halen, Eddie VH’s twenty-something son who has controversially replaced original bassist Michael Anthony in the reunited Halen lineup, “held it down” and “gave it his all.” Dave Lee Roth’s vocals were low in the mix from where Danny stood but still sounded great. The only letdown was Alex Van Halen’s abnormally small drum kit.
“It was about one-fifth the size of what he normally plays with,” Danny says, making appropriate hand gestures to articulate just how tiny these drums were. “He had to play the beginning of ‘Dance The Night Away’ on the pipes above him. Dave walked over with the mic and stuck it over him.”
The influence of Alex Van Halen on Danny’s own style is discernable—both have rock solid meter and a knack for smartly complimenting whatever the guitars are doing—but there are, of course, other percussionists the man counts as heroes. John Bohnam. Joey Kramer. Peter Criss (the early stuff, before he became “a pussy wrist”). Ginger Baker. A clear pattern is emerging.
“I’ve always been a classic rock guy. The other guys in Gluecifer, they were all into punk—I never listened to that stuff, aside from the Ramones, who weren’t really a punk band, and Motörhead.”
This is reflected in Danny’s current band, Smoke Mohawk, which he started a couple years back with Gluecifer guitarist Raldo Useless. Classic rock is the only applicable genre term you could apply to the etherel take on Grand Funk they present on their debut album, The Dogs Are Turning Red. The distilled rage and chest-thumping bravado that was Gluecifer’s calling card is all but absent. I wonder if Danny’s aversion to punk or outward love of Van Halen caused any friction in his former band.
“No, but it was something I always joked about with Jon [Average, Gluecifer bassist]. He hated being called a musician. He didn’t want to think of himself that way. Total punk. So I’d tease him, ‘Oh, you’re a big time musician, you know,’ and he’d get so mad.”
Our conversation turns to the individual personalities of Gluecifer. As a fan, I’m captivated to hear this stuff. Some of it’s funny, some of it’s really disheartening. I learn that one member locked himself in his Manhattan hotel room for the entire the weekend of the band’s final show here in 2005, emerging only to take the stage. Danny still seems perplexed by this behavior.
“Maybe he was sad that the band was breaking up,” I suggest.
“Huh,” Danny responds, an expression on his face as if a cloud has lifted. “I never even considered that. I was sad too—on the cab ride to the airport afterwards, I remember feeling sentimental while I was texting with the other guys—but I had other things going on in my life. I was going to school in Los Angeles, I had just joined a band in Germany…yeah, maybe he was sad about the breakup.”
A flurry of fanboy questions shoot forth from my mouth.
“What of Gluecifer’s canon are you most proud of?”
“Yeah, your records.”
“Oh, Automatic Thrill, by far. That was our best and hardest record. I would have liked to see what we could have done after that. But when two guys in the band don’t want to go forward…”
“Is there anything you guys recorded that you’d go back and change?”
“I never thought about that…I guess maybe make some [material] more commercial, but that’s what we were trying to do anyway. So, I don’t know.”
“What’s the first thing you recorded with Gluecifer?”
“A seven inch called ‘Lard Ass Hagen.'”
“Fuck yeah, that’s a great song.”
“The guys weren’t too happy with how those songs sounded. That, ‘Mano A Mano’—we recorded those two seven inches together. I thought it sounded good, but they didn’t like it so much. I can’t remember if ‘Lard Ass’…was that actually the flip side to ‘Mano A Mano?'”
“No, ‘Mano A Mano’ was its own a-side with something else on the flip side.”
“Ah, okay. Yes.”
“Was that your real life dog in the ‘Losing End’ video?”
Danny laughs hard at this question, tilting his head back. Turns out the German Shepard who fetched his drum stick in the otherwise “serious” video was a hired hand. This makes me just as sad as the hotel story. I wanted to believe Danny Young owned that dog.
Around this time, Danny’s phone rings. It’s a member of Monster Magnet. They’re planning a meetup tomorrow before Danny flies back to Oslo. As they chat, I flip through my phone’s contact list. I have a member of GWAR’s number, but only because I interviewed him for a project some time last year. He’s not going to call me up ever and suggest we drive out to Red Bank, New Jersey to get funky.
“Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever met?” I ask Danny, the last question of the night I get off before everything becomes “off the record.”
“Dolly Parton. Her European tour manager cut her teeth managing Gluecifer. Dolly was playing somewhere, and I went. I love ‘Jolene,’ but I’m not some superfan…I went backstage anyway. We were introduced, and the manager said, ‘Danny’s a musician.’ [ADOPTS EERILY ACCURATE EFFEMINATE SOUTHERN VOICE] ‘Oh, d’ya play guh-tar and sing?’ [REGULAR VOICE] ‘No, I’m a drummer.’ [DOLLY IMPRESSION] ‘Oh, you could play with us!’ Haha, can you imagine that?”
For a moment, I do imagine the sneering blonde who pounded out “Lard Ass Hagen” holding a pair of brushes and lightly tapping out a beat behind our nation’s most buxom country treasure. It seems only slightly less ludicrous than flying eight hours from Norway on a Thursday to see the biggest heavy metal band of the Reagan Era perform in a shoebox-size tourist trap Bob Dylan made famous before anyone knew what a David Lee Roth was. Then I remember just moments ago I felt depression when I learned a dog in a music video wasn’t “real,” and life in general seems pretty funny on both sides of the coin.
For the benefit of all foodie completists reading this, yes, I had the pulled pork sandwich. Danny had the chiliburger. Both were deemed “fuckin’ great.”