Where to begin? 2012 was surely among the most prolific years in the history of Vermont music. My desk practically collapsed under the weight of new local music flooding in all year long. Given the increasing ease of recording and distributing music, perhaps that output is to be expected. But the robust quality was just as remarkable as the quantity.
Consider the always-vital rock scene. The genre’s many derivations flourished in every corner of the state. Upper Valley label What Doth Life unleashed several choice offerings, highlighted by a ragged effort by Windsor punks the Pilgrims. Montpelier’s State Main Records had another strong year, including electro-pop goodness from Champagne Dynasty, boy-girl sweetness from First Crush and a lo-fi scorcher from new duo Bedeviled Eggs — the last on cassette.
In Barre, Teleport reeled in the year with hooky, blue-eyed soul, and Stone Bullet offered a mullet-metal soundtrack for the IROC-Z set. Rounding out central Vermont rocking, Spit Jack augmented their rep as the state’s rowdiest band with a debut that might get them kicked out of every record store in the state.
From Rutland, Split Tongue Crow offshoot Thompson Gunner delivered a dark treatise on cowpunk and gritty alt-country, while just up Route 7, Boatman’s Lament unleashed hell.
Meanwhile, in the Queen City, rock — particularly the harder varieties — once more reigned supreme. Vultures of Cult indulged their multiple personality disorder with a genre-bending take on metal and hardcore. No Submission submitted a furious debut. Doll Fight! again proved that local ladies rock as hard as the guys. Ska punks Husbands AKA picked it up one last time. Spirit Animal and Trapper Keeper crushed their 2012 releases.
Vetica and Vedora lost their V-cards with strong debuts. And high school punks Problem Child assured us that the next generation of local rock is in good hands.
Jenke Records gave voice to Burlington’s musical misfits with a slew of new releases, including from Quiet Lion, Tommy Alexander and a touching collaboration between Greg Alexander and Ryan Fauber.
As usual, indie rock was also well represented in BTV. Chamberlin kissed and made up. Hello Shark said “Hi.” Kinky Creature got kinky. And longtime indie-pop twee-ty birds the Smittens charmed all over again with a deeply nuanced record.
On the major-label front, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals got beastly with the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. And GPN guitarist Benny Yurco released an intriguing solo project.
At the rootsier end of the spectrum, Americana seemed to undergo a local rebirth. Not that Vermont ever lacks for mountain music, but 2012 saw an impressive volume and variety of twang reverberating in the Green Mountains.
The godfather of Vermont bluegrass, Banjo Dan, bid a fond farewell with (perhaps) his final record. But he leaves the local grass scene in capable hands. Transplant Bob Amos upped Vermont’s collective cred with Catamount Crossing. The Bluegrass Gospel Project helped us find religion. Releases from After the Rodeo, the Flat Top Trio, Jatoba and the Modern Grass Quintet furthered the jazzier grass varietals. Longtime sidemen Steve Light and Mark Struhsacker finally claimed a bit of the spotlight with excellent solo outings. And Gold Town put the whiskey in whiskey-grass.
Country music had us crying in our beers, thanks to a rollicking effort from rambling man Jimmy T. Thurston, an instant-classic debut from Rose and Los Cohorts, an outlaw-country-inspired debut from Joe Redding, and a sparkling gem by Katie Trautz and the Tall Boys. While not exactly country, Starline Rhythm Boys’ bassist Billy Bratcher paid homage to his heroes with a remarkable solo record.
Blues releases were few and far between. But a musical reworking of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice by David Sokol and Dennis Willmott, featuring blues-rock duo Dwight & Nicole, suggests the Bard could have been a Son house fan.
From the state’s spunky folk scene, Spencer Lewis gave us an “impressionistic folk” rumination on Tropical Storm Irene, and an ode to folkie Eric Andersen. Deb Flanders raided the archives to keep Vermont traditional music alive. Local folk guru — and 7D contributor — Robert Resnik proved he can play it, as well. And Resnik had high praise for the debut from John Gillette and Sarah Mittlefehldt.
As for jazz, the state’s hepcats were in a progressive mood this year. Eight 02 posted a clean take on postbop, the Patricia Julien Project offered a flight of flute fancy, and Soule Monde got their organ groove on. Japhy Ryder took their unclassifiable sounds to sexy new places.
It was a lean year for local hip-hop releases, but the albums we did see were impressive, including a high-minded effort from Jenke’s Mavstar and a transglobal debut from A2VT.
Old friends in new places released some exceptional work, too, including NYC transplants Rubblebucket and Anaïs Mitchell — who will forever be our favorite righteous babe. J.P. Harris made some tough choices — and a killer country record — when he moved to Nashville.
We say this every year, but trying to figure out which of these deserving candidates represented the “best” of Vermont music is a daunting task. Ask 10 different fans what the 10 best local records were and you might get 10 different lists. (Some of them would likely include albums by Swale, James Kochalka, Loveful Heights and Doug Perkins, which are among albums disqualified from my consideration due to a personal conflict of interest.)
But choose we must. So here are the 10 albums, in no particular order, which struck this critic as representing the finest music Vermonters made in 2012. Thanks for listening.