Become a Writer Advertise With Us

It’s time to look back at another year in college-rock. Specifically, it’s time to look back at a year in college rock and wonder if the term even has any meaning. A lot of 2012’s hippest acts did pretty well on both the mainstream charts and the college-rock playlists. Of course, things get pretty confusing when supposedly cool outlets take the time to consider Ke$ha seriously. It’s also more difficult than ever to be a real music geek. There’s plenty of access to hot new tunes, but a lot of greatness gets lost among the general media hype. All we can think to do is offer up Five Hot 2012 College-Rock Acts That You Should Already Know–and follow that up with Five Great 2012 College-Rock Acts That Might’ve Gotten Past You. Consider it a refresher course, plus a quick chance to learn some obscure acts to namedrop. Or maybe these are just ten videos of music that at least attempt to sum up the scope of 2012…

Frank Ocean Channel Orange (Def Jam): Hard to believe than an album with this much commercial success can also still count as college-rock. Never mind that people were probably saying the same thing about Nirvana’s Nevermind back in 1991. The fact remains that Channel Orange has already been ranked as the Best Album of 2012 by folks like The Onion‘s A.V. Club, Pitchfork.com, Spin, and other tastemakers who are supposed to be outside the mainstream. We certainly don’t mind Ocean’s success. We just wish that we could be the really cool folks introducing you to “Pyramid” for the first time. The official video gets kind of explicit, so here’s Frank performing the song on Saturday Night Live

Jack White Blunderbuss (Third Man/Columbia): The first official Jack White solo album was a big commercial and critical success. A lot of outlets probably flipped a coin between White and Frank Ocean for the best album of the year. We were mostly impressed by how White still doesn’t care about being cool. He’s certainly being treated like a hipster icon, but a lot of Blunderbuss has dorky prog touches, and White isn’t afraid to embrace the more unhip aspects of classic rock. Check out the video for “Sixteen Saltines,” and marvel at how White manages to look cutting-edge while performing an old-fashioned boogie tune…

Fiona Apple The Idler Wheel… (Epic): Wha’ the…? Who let Grandma and Grandpa start programming college radio stations? Oh, we kid–but we’re also still  surprised that Fiona Apple managed to make such an impact for a gal who’d become mostly forgotten as an irritatingly fey ’90s gal. This one’s only her fourth album since Fiona’s 1996 debut, and her second one with an irritatingly long album title. The Idler Wheel… still won over plenty of folks. Maybe a lot of them were just dog lovers who were really impressed when Fiona canceled her tour so she could be with her dying pitbull. Anyway, here’s a video of Fiona with an octopus or something on her head. In related news, nobody noticed that Alanis Morissette released an album this year.

Beach House Bloom (Sub Pop): This glimmering pop duo from Baltimore has been steadily building their following for a few years now. Bloom is kind of unfortunate as their biggest breakthrough yet. It’s full of lush melodies and vocals that should appeal to older music geeks who grew up on John Hughes movies and Cyndi Lauper’s more mellow years. The album sounds more like New Age music to us. Call us crazed metalheads, but a song like “Lazuli” just seems to run a little too lite…

Swans The Seer (Young God): Hey, this act has been around even longer than Fiona Apple! In fact, our favorite Swans event of 2012 was the reissue of The Burning World, which came out in 1989–back when Michael Gira and his pals were only rivaled by Sonic Youth as indie giants making their major-label debut. Swans were actually more commercial than Sonic Youth that year, but Gira was soon back to being a cranky indie artist who frequently gave up his Swans moniker for long periods of time. He scored with this year’s comeback, though. The Seer clocks in at nearly two hours of pounding percussion, gorgeous ambiance, weird modern rock, and a few jazzy moments. Success is a relative thing for Gira, but The Seer even made it into the Billboard Top 200 Albums, peaking at #114. Gira was so happy that he didn’t even immediately announce that Swans was breaking up again. No mere video can do songs from The Seer justice, but here’s a clip of Swans doing an 18-minute version of the title track. Don’t complain. The album version is over 30 minutes long.

And now let’s look at five favorite artists who didn’t quite score the album sales or media hype. There were a lot more than five, of course, but life is just hard like that. The really amazing thing here is that there are artists who can claim that they didn’t get nearly the acclaim of Swans. As you’ll see, though, there are some pretty famous indie names amongst these forgotten heroes of 2012…

Dan Sartain Too Tough To Live (One Little Indian): He’s labelmates with Björk and toured with the White Stripes, but Dan Sartain remains a real underdog in America. He’s not even that famous in the UK. Too Tough To Live was still an amazing album, with thirteen tracks clocking in at about 19 minutes. It was a relatively commercial album for Sartain, too. He usually crams glam, rockabilly, and easy listening into any of his releases. This one concentrated on aping ’70s-styled UK punk–although this clip has Dan sounding a little more Ramones-like while he performs “Boo Hoo Hoo” at a Ramones museum…

Lindsay Fuller You, Anniversary (ATO): She ended up on Dave Matthew’s label, but Lindsay Fuller was still kind of regulated to being a second-tier Brandi Carlisle sporting the Oliver Twist clothing line. The sort-of Americana artist still made a big leap forward as a pre-punk Goth pop star. Lindsay should’ve cashed in on Nick Cave comparisons, but her mellow sounds were as radio-friendly as anything by Stevie Nicks. Here she is performing a stark solo acoustic take on the title track, because the video for “One More Song” is just annoying…

Lee Ranaldo Between the Times and the Tides (Matador)/Disappears Pre Language (Kranky): Sonic Youth broke up this year, and the two talented members were freed up to make some of the best albums of 2012. Lee Ranaldo–who’d spent his life providing SY with the band’s most memorable hooks–stepped up to make a really strong mainstream album that should’ve been more of a rock ‘n roll success story. Meanwhile, drummer Steve Shelley showed off his usual fine taste by getting together with the Chicago band Disappears for primal pounding on literary love songs. Sadly, Shelley also left the band in 2012, but here’s some 2011 footage of him with Disappears as they pounded out what would become their next album’s title track…

The Devil’s Carnival: Original Soundtrack (no label): 2008’s Repo! The Genetic Opera was a brilliant Goth-rock opera, but it didn’t really catch on like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It didn’t even catch on like Phantom of the Paradise. Songwriter/scriptwriter/actor Terrance Zdunich didn’t get discouraged, though. He got back together with his old producer and director to make The Devil’s Carnival, and toured the movie around as a traveling road show with the cast, some freakshow guests, and a Q&A session. The soundtrack has still gone undiscovered as a brilliant pastiche of sea shanties, brooding weirdness, and The Great American Songbook. Zdunich should’ve at least had a better year than Amanda Palmer. Hear for yourself with “In All My Dreams I Drown,” where a devilish Zdunich duets with Jessica Lowndes from 90210. We guarantee it’ll be the best song you heard all year from someone on The CW…

What do you think of these college rock hits and misses? Tell us below!