While attempting to assemble a year-end list, a few concerns immediately arise. I can showcase my favorite full albums of the year, but there will be a few outliers that deserve similar recognition, and in some cases, one song really stands out from the rest of the release. Focusing on singles released by Richmond artists is a way to acknowledge these particular tracks for how awesome they were. Also, I tend to try and keep the singles and records list separate. All this means is that a band that is featured on one list will probably not make an appearance on the other. Enjoy!
15 – Baby Help Me Forget – School
Baby Help Me Forget are acclaimed for their live performances, so it’s no surprise that a selection from their live album would make an appearance here. In the last fleeting moments of Sprout’s existence, the band rose to the occasion and delivered their best set to date. Closing out with this rendition of the Nirvana classic made perfect sense when the one thing on everyone’s mind was how to keep the utopian dream alive for just one more night.
14 – Kid is Qual – AOTY
The party anthems of Kid is Qual never disappoint. On this year’s Ladies Choice EP, Jon Sullivan and company unveiled their strongest showing yet with “AOTY.” There is nothing that sounds quite like Kid is Qual in Richmond. For that very reason, they continue to impress their fans and musical peers alike year in, year out.
13. The Garbers – Thursday Shirt
Take two parts Hot Lava and throw in one part Fuzzy Baby and you’ve got The Garbers. “Thursday Shirt” is a subtle approach for the group that is quite capable of developing captivating pop anthems. When I first heard it, what really struck me was how it existed as a mission statement for the group. Triple harmonies, the familiar melodies of Allison Apperson, and the clever instrumentation help to make a strong argument for why we should all be eagerly anticipating a proper full-length from The Garbers in 2013.
12. Hoax Hunters – In The Background
Hoax Hunters are known for being the fierce embodiment of PJ Sykes’ musical drive. Frenzied dynamic changes are executed phenomenally and they come across even stronger in a live environment. When it came to their self-titled EP, the song “In The Background” was the easy standout. As the quieter selection, it helps to pull the listener closer in. The accompanying vocals from Snowy Owls’ Matt Klimas are a nice touch as well.
11. Jonathan Vassar and The Speckled Bird – The Hanging Rocks
Whenever I am in need of contemplation, I look no further than Jonathan Vassar and the Speckled Bird. Their new LP doesn’t disappoint, especially with the addition of Paul Watson to the fold. The opening track keeps the familiar aspects of their sound, while incorporating new musical elements that seem to really push The Speckled Bird into the future. As one vignette from this LP, Vassar truly embarks in a literary direction that takes his songwriting up to a whole new level entirely.
10. Pedals on our Pirate Ships – Knives
When I think of POOPS, the first thing that comes to mind is deliberate honesty. Matt Seymour and company made a huge splash with their Say-Ten Records debut. A Place to Stay. The record was a perfect embodiment of how much the group’s sound has evolved. “Knives” was not only a stellar tune, it seemed to state the ethos of the group. By offering access to a world where you can hit the road to meet kids that care about their music scenes, the mundane day job doesn’t seem all that bad after all. Add a catchy hook and the punk delivery from Seymour, and you not only have a truly great POOPS tune. You have one of the best of the year.
9. Black Liquid – Liq Don’t Stop
Black Liquid is one of the hardest working artists in Richmond. One could make a solid argument that his latest album, The Black Experience, has helped to shape his craft, especially on the track “Liq Don’t Stop.” It’s a matter of declaring why we work as hard as we do to achieve the tiniest of goals. We dream big, yet we exist within the small victories that all add up to the glory we so desire. This is a great anthem that helps to spearhead a release by one of Richmond’s strongest MCs.
8. Anousheh – Same
As with Homemade Knives, who made it onto last year’s list after a long absence from the scene, The Trouble I Find answers the long-standing question of what Anousheh Khalili has been up to. Coming back stronger than ever, “Same” is a wonderful examination of why she has always been one of Richmond’s most acclaimed artists. Dreamy vocals tread through a delicate soundscape that knows the perfect instances in which to engage the audience with energetic outbursts and minimalist contemplations. If this is what the sound of an emotion remaining the same, then I think we can all find a means of growing content with this.
7. Navi – Black
If I had to pick one group who took Richmond by storm this year, Navi would be an easy candidate. Their thrashing, genre-bending instrumental concoctions are winning over tons of fans from scenes all around. Featured on their self-titled EP, “Black” is a grand testament to how far the bar can be raised, especially when you take two creative individuals and let them run amok with a guitar and a drum kit. It’s unpredictable. It’s fierce. It’s unrelenting. And it’s easily one of the best new sounds to emerge in 2012.
6. Big East – Knock’em Out
Rising from the ashes of Amazing Ghost, Big East splendidly emerged with the release of Fone Store Volume One. The opening track, “Knock’em Out,” feels like the perfect extension into this new hybrid group, featuring old heads from Ghost and new friends from Sports Bar and Flesh Mountain Boys. Amazing Ghost existed in a world where the nights were nonstop and the biggest concern was when the mind-altering substances would run out. Big East exists in a world where all the consequences that come along with an escalating lifestyle that sees no immediate end in sight start to catch up. Is violence the answer? Absolutely not, but when the circumstances find you in a particular situation, there might not be an easy way out.
5. The Diamond Center – California
I can’t tell you how long I have wanted The Diamond Center to sound like this. When they arrived to Richmond, the first full-length of theirs that I encountered had so many gems on it. “The Deer Pistol” and “Monsters” were great, and grand in their structure. The band had seemingly transformed away from that sound, and there had yet to be an accurate recorded representation of the change. This seven-inch release, as presented by Funny/Not Funny Records, delivered this in spades. “California” features Brandi Price’s lush vocals and a rich musical tapestry that can only be described as heavenly. With this direction in mind, the new full-length that should drop in 2013 should be phenomenal.
4. Goldrush – Settle Down
Last year, I was mesmerized with the Goldrush tune “Touch.” The humming breakdown at the end stuck with me, and it still resonates. This year, Goldrush were able to sign with MAD Dragon Records and take part in their Making Moves EP series. The A side of that EP, “Settle Down,” might be the best the band has ever sounded. The falsettos and snazzy instrumentation are the core factors that appeal to me immediately. The real key factor is the growing intensity of Prabir Mehta’s vocals towards the end. It’s what sets the song apart from your common pop song fodder. Perhaps all pop songs emerge from a place of desire–if that’s the case, the final moments of “Settle Down” presents a strong plea that is hard to ignore.
3. Dead Fame – Turning
Dead Fame may be RVA’s resident dark wave/dance pop outfit that takes their cues from the eighties, but that doesn’t change the fact that they write great songs. Their latest EP, Frontiers, seems to encapsulate what the band had been up to since their inception. While most of the songs are familiar to me, “Turning” was the song that caught me off guard. In its melancholy, the band focuses on ideas of lovers attempting to defend what means the most to them in a world that denies anything but conformity. With a subtle line like “your body wasn’t built to move like this,” it’s a statement of defiance. It’s a perspective that is reiterated as a way of self-perseverance, and never being forced to change. Its correlation to the way a pop song can transcend sonic capacity and exist on a contemplative level of its own is a beautiful reminder of the sad truth that the world can be a difficult place to find acceptance.
2. Zac Hryciak and The Jungle Beat – Wear A Helmet
Oh, how long I have waited for a studio version of this song. Zac Hryciak and the Jungle Beat might take the crown for the band that took the longest to give us a proper release. When it finally came out, It’s Not A Big Deal was anything but the minor thing its title portrayed it to be. “Wear A Helmet” is alluring in the way it takes a childish but necessary precaution and relates it to the idea of falling in love. It’s a deliberate statement that you should be careful when you adore anything… but sometimes it’s better to just leave the helmet at home. This song also encapsulates what I love about the Jungle Beat–the roaring drums, the orchestral components, and the gentle harmonies that carry us through the haphazard roads towards a home that can never lose its purity. Stick around for the absolutely wonderful ending, as its transition is the sort of thing that makes songs legendary.
1. Lobo Marino – Stay With Me
When I caught wind of Lobo Marino recording a new record, my interest was piqued. Then, when I heard that they were planning on doing it upstairs at Gallery 5 with a live audience, I was beyond excited. The release, with production quirks by Dave Watkins,ended up being Kite Festival. It’s a remarkable collection of tunes that help to display how the travels and experiences of Lobo Marino have helped to shape them as people and artists. “Stay With Me” was one of those songs that I held onto for a while after I first heard it. I kept it on repeat. I wrote down lines from the song. I was so impressed by it that it seemed like a diversion to me. I felt like the song spoke to me on a plane that, unknown to me, I was completely prepared to understand. That’s why it was my favorite song to be released by a Richmond band in 2012. Jameson Price and Laney Sullivan created a brilliant song that isn’t so much about a lover’s lament as it is about how sometimes, the easiest task can be just remaining there to support a lover. That’s all it takes–you being there. For distant travelers like Lobo Marino, the message can cut even deeper to the core.