Welcome back for Part 3 of our 10-part series examining some of my favorite releases from Connecticut musicians over this last decade. 2012, like most years, was a bit of a blur. My wife spent most of it pregnant with our fourth (and final) child who we welcomed into the world on the same day that Sandy Hook became something more than a little known Connecticut town. I can remember trying to cram in as many shows, as many projects, and as many reviews as possible fully knowing that the first half of 2013 would be something of a lost cause. Oh, and we were all supposed to die at the hands of a Mayan calendar. So there’s that.
2012 also happened to be an absolutely stellar year for Connecticut music. But as you’ll notice perhaps also a deadly one? Without further ado here are 16 albums from 2012 that absolutely changed our music scene (and me) for the better in various ways.
Goodnight Blue Moon – How Long
The debut album from one of Connecticut’s most decorated acts. I don’t have a story about the first time I heard this record, but I can say without hesitation that I was addicted to this band right from the get-go. Their folksy New England vibe coupled with indie pop aesthetics made this album so memorable, so quickly. It all felt amazingly refreshing, yet very familiar all at the same time. The production was outstanding, but had this sort of house concert vibe to it. I’m happy to go back to this proverbial living room over and over again. Still one of the best records of the decade.
Mercy Choir – The Very Great and Horrible Harshness
Let’s get this out of the way now – Paul Belbusti is one of the most prolific and hardest working musicians in the history of Connecticut indie music. Period. His output is nothing short of monolithic and what makes it so special is that no two Mercy Choir records are alike. They are sonic snowflakes falling in this blizzard of indie rock/folk/pop, covering the musical landscape with their power and beauty. I have no ‘light bulb’ moment with Mercy Choir but I do know that this was the first of many albums that I would be somewhat obsessed with. There’s a review on this album’s Bandcamp page that describes it as something that “…plays like a half hour variety show on a pirated TV network…” That’s a perfect description and I won’t try to top it here.
Farewood – Wings of Gold
One of the longest running acts you’ll find during this exercise, Meriden’s Farewood dropped their first album in 1994, long before I ever got to Connecticut. It took until 2006 for their second record to drop and another six years before this masterwork saw the light of day. I’ve described this band as a sort of musical phoenix that keeps rising from the dead to remind us how fantastic they really are (because every one of their full-lengths has been better than the previous one). The music on this record has this dark and mysterious aesthetic, yet I can clearly remember watching them perform tracks from this record at the Meriden Daffodil Festival. It was a glorious Spring afternoon with a warm sun casting the world anew and here they were on stage, all in black, singing these songs that seemed to somehow, mystifyingly match the physical beauty of the world in that very moment. One of my all-time favorite concert memories and something I’ll always cherish.
Straight To VHS – Rewinder
I’m somewhat ashamed to admit out loud that I somehow slept on this record when it was originally dropped at the tail end of 2012. It wasn’t until almost a year later that I realized the error of my ways and I’ve been a huge fan of this band ever since. This is dirty, punk-loving garage rock at it’s absolute finest. It’s loud, it’s abrasive, and it’s so in your face you can practically smell it. Going back and listening to this album again for the first time in a long time just makes me even more mad at myself for not getting on this record sooner than I did.
Paper Hill Casket Company – Undertow
These guys were an absolute blast. Their blend of traditional folk and blues mixed with this snarling punk ‘n’ roll aura could get an entire room moving pretty quickly. Banjo, cello, and violin were mixed with guitar and drums along with multiple distinct voices to form this alternative folk sound that I’m not really sure anyone in the scene has been able to replicate since their untimely demise. Definitely one of the more unique albums on this list and one that’s held up very well over these last seven years.
The Guru – Go Easy
Is The Guru the first band to have a second record show up during this exercise? Hold on, let me check…yes, yes they are. I think I mentioned the last time I spoke about this band that these guys were absolutely huge. They pretty much owned the first half of this decade. This album was a bit of a departure from their previous effort. For example the opening track has a ton of saxophone and sounds like a lost ’70s soft rock track. The entire album has a sort of floating-on-your-yacht-on-the-lake feel to be honest. Something tells me that’s the exact vibe they were going for though. Mission accomplished.
Echo and Drake – Sundrenched Elsewhere
If I’m remembering correctly this album was teased to media types at the tail end of 2011 but didn’t have an official release until the beginning of 2012. (If I’m remembering this incorrectly…sorry?) I remember seeing these guys perform at what I think was their CD release party at this gorgeous venue in Willimantic, CT and they just crushed it. I’m going to be brutally honest here. This album is so lush and so well recorded that I was skeptical that they could pull it off live. Welp, go ahead and smear the proverbial egg on my face because they could and they did. Picture Bon Iver with more instrumentation and a better head for pop hooks and you might get a close approximation to what Echo and Drake were going for. I stood in the wings that night in Willimantic thinking, ‘Damn this band could be f@&#ing huge.’ Then they promptly vanished and I lost all track of these guys shortly after this album. Their Facebook page says their location is the dreaded “NYC/Boston” and I’m seeing they put out an EP in either 2014 or 2015 depending on which post you’re looking at. They also teased a new release coming “Summer 2019”. Let’s hope that actually sees the light of day at some point. I find this all so perplexing and it legit feels like this could be a documentary in the making.
Ferocious Fucking Teeth – Ferocious Fucking Teeth
This band was absolutely insane. Take venomous noise rock and combine it with elements of punk and doom metal and maybe that describes what New London’s heaviest band was striving for. Recording with legendary producer Steve Albini in Chicago gave this album a leg up before it ever saw the light of day. The end result was a cacophonous pummeling. Never fully accepted by the local metal scene (most likely because their sound stretches beyond metal’s parameters) this was still one of the heaviest records of this past decade. I remember inviting these guys to perform for a taping of the Live & Local TV show at Arch Street Tavern in Hartford and they cleared the room pretty quickly. One of the best ‘mistakes’ I ever made booking a show. Unfortunately this would be the last thing they would release before calling it quits.
Heirlooms – Everyone A Diver
Another band that put out a magnum opus that would wind up being their final release. (Damn, 2012, why did you have to be a vampire…) Hartford’s Heirlooms wrote gorgeous chamber folk music that just soared from your speakers and absolutely engulfed you. There was something entirely uncanny about this band and this record, this air of mystery that just kind of hovered under the surface. Yet their sound was wholly accessible as well. Another band that I honestly thought had a chance to take their game to a bigger stadium, so to speak. I know front man Jesse Stanford moved to Brooklyn and joined up with Modern Merchant (another excellent band) and I think that was all she wrote at that point. Bummer. This band had talent in droves.
String Theorie – Little Elephant
Hey look, another band that put out a fantastic record in 2012, only to have it be their last release. There was a point in time probably right around 2011 or 2012 when I was convinced that String Theorie played every single show booked in Connecticut. They were everywhere and I think part of the draw was they could fit on almost any bill imaginable and people loved what they saw. You hear the term “World Music” thrown around and personally I find it one of the laziest terms in all of music. “World Music” is a term used by white people who don’t know how to classify the varying styles of music emerging from Africa, Asia, South America, etc. If it sounds ‘exotic’ it must be “World Music”. Ugh. With that rant out of the way these guys really did take influences from all over the world and cram them into this progressive, jazzy trio featuring electric bass, percussion, and some of the craziest acoustic finger-picking you’d ever witness. This is an album you could have on in the background or listen to intently and not lose anything in the translation either way.
Jacques Le Coque – Jacques Le Coque
Debut album from this raucous Stamford act. Mixing elements of ’70s inspired punk with its garage rock brethren, this record runs right at you like an out of control bull pretty much non-stop right from the first guitar lick. I absolutely wore this record out when it first dropped at the end of 2012. My youngest son was born shortly after this album released and I’m pretty sure I used it to keep myself awake once I went back to work. Still a crowning achievement in a back catalogue filled with exceptional releases.
John Fries – U.S. 50
Man, I loved this album. You don’t get too many albums in these parts that are as drenched in the blues the way this album was. John Fries had this soulful voice that was just completely unmatched, plus he was a helluva guitar player as well. I’m not 100% sure what happened to him through the years. I lost track of his music and career after he seemingly took a bit of a hiatus. If John Fries put out another record tomorrow and it sounded anything like this gem we’d all be better for it.
Sidewalk Dave – Hard On Romance
Wait for it…another band that put out a record worth owning only to be their last release. Sidewalk Dave was the kind of indie rock/folk band that was deceptively heavy as well. I remember one time they were booked to play the Meriden Daffodil Fest and they drew an early slot on a Sunday morning at like 10:30 a.m. No one, and I mean NO ONE was ready for that wake up call. It was fantastic. This record is filled with memorable numbers complete with great riffs, biting lyrics, and a huge sound that I think too many bands of this ilk mistakenly forsake for something more tender (a.k.a. boring). Kudos to this band for taking chances in their songwriting and separating themselves from the pack.
You Scream I Scream – Zookeeper
Bandcamp says this record came out in 2013, but their bio and the review I did both say 2012 so that’s what I’m going with. Also, I’ll be damned if this isn’t yet another final (so far) album released that year. This band would take a sort of super-extended hiatus once mastermind Floyd Kellogg would start drumming for Violent Mae (We’ll get to them soon enough.) and he and his partner/drummer Audrey Sterk would have a child (not in that order). While I have no idea if this band ever plans to get back together to release new music, their back catalogue is still must-own for anyone who digs funky, electro-pop meets indie rock. There are some very danceable tunes on this album. You’ve been warned.
Parker Hu – Time and Place
Singer/songwriter Parker Hu has mastered the art of quietly dropping albums right at the very end of the calendar year, as she’s done it twice now so far this decade. This was the first and I’m willing to bet it made everyone who wrote up a year-end list at the beginning of December wish they had waited a couple weeks longer. Hu writes songs that are both poignant and touching, endearing her to both the folk crowd and those who like their music on a more indie tip. If you belong to either camp you should (re)visit this record post haste.
Giles Corey – Deconstrcutionist
Giles Corey has always been an artist that marches to the beat of a different drummer and this album would be Exhibit A. This isn’t really an album in the traditional sense or anything like the fifteen albums listed above. This is basically a 90+ minute meditation session. As the description on Bandcamp reads: “Over an hour of music, designed to induce trances, possession states, and out-of-body experiences. Not a ‘record,’ but a philosophical tool. Accompanied by booklet exploring the why and how and history of trance, the illusion of the self, and why some people commit suicide, ignore stab victims on the street, and have their consciousness shaped by light and sound.”