Name & Position: Jim Testa, contributing writer
Best Album: Screaming Females – Ugly
Recording engineer extraordinaire Steve Albini teams with New Jersey’s most ferocious post-rock trio, resulting in the Screamales’ most complete album to date, accentuating Marissa Paternoster’s yowling vocals while paying ample homage to her elemental guitar skills and her band’s masterful control of the beat.
Best New Band: Ghost Pal (Brooklyn, NY)
In the space of year, Ghost Pal – headquartered at Mama Coco’s Funky Kitchen, a prolific DIY recording studio that’s been churning out amazing albums by some of the city’s most talented twentysomethings has matured from a mildly-interesting jam band into a spirit-lifting soul revue, fueled by baritone sax, otherworldly laments, and the charismatic vocals of ex-Hysterics frontman Oliver Ignatius.
Best Underappreciated Album: Loudon Wainwright III – Older Than My Old
Man Now (2nd Story Sound)
Wainwright brings his usual laser-sharp wit to the morose topics of aging and mortality. Who else can make getting old seem funny?
Best Reissue: Human Switchboard – Who’s Landing In My Hangar (Bar None)
Long a rock critic’s touchstone for groovy Eighties college-rock, this reissue also includes the long unheard demos Human Switchboard recorded in the band’s fruitless pursuit of a major label deal.
Best Live Band: The Feelies
Ever since reforming with its 1986 – 1990 lineup in 2010, the Feelies have provided the most consistently joyous concert experiences, mixing old songs with beloved covers with their lastest compositions, songs from the 2011 reunion album Here Before.
Best Live Audience: Maxwell’s (Hoboken,NJ)
Again and again, I’ve seen bands from Manhattan, Brooklyn, and all over the country marvel at the reception they get at Maxwell’s. There’s none of that jaded, cynical, arms-crossed “entertain me” ennui so typical of big city crowds, just a sincere appreciation of good music at every show.
Favorite Interview: The Front Bottoms (for United By Rock Science blog
(http://unitedbyrocketscience.blogspot.com/2012/09/jim-testas-interview-with-front-bottoms.html) Frontman Brian Sella proved disarmingly honest about the challenge of writing the band’s second album, about losing all their gear on tour, and on living the life of a professional rock ‘n’ roll musician on just dollars a day.
Best TV show: Dr. Who/The Walking Dead
Tie. Both have short seasons, but Matt Smith’s portrayal of the 11th Doctor brings both depth and humor to this ageless series, while The Walking Dead consistently breaks new ground in TV drama and keeps us on the edge of our seat week after week.
Biggest Surprise (Good): Obama’s re-election, and the nation’s repudiation of the GOP’s “take care of the rich first” policy. But where do we go from here?
Biggest Surprise (Bad): Hurricane Sandy. Climate change hit home when New York City’s tunnels and subway system were flooded by the worst tidal surge in history. Where do we go from here?