Top Ten Albums 2012

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1. good kid, m.A.A.d. city- Kendrick Lamar: The last time a rap debut was crowned as an instant classic on this scale was Nas’ 1994 masterpiece Illmatic. This year’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city, in my opinion, doesn’t deserve the title because it hasn’t stood the test of time. Kanye West’s 2010 My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, garnished so much more buzz than this album, and is already nearly forgotten. Don’t let my words mislead: “good kid” is a perfect ten, but we need to give it time. Lamar and his extensive list of producers create a “short film” on a grandiose scale. When the message machine cuts off on “Sherane AKA Master Splinter’s Daughter” and the opening two seconds of “B***h Don’t Kill My Vibe” begin, the houselights cut out and the picture begins. The story follows Kendrick struggling as a youth in Compton and becoming the King of his city. It’s honestly really cliché, but daring for a rap artist. Today’s rap world is polluted with aging legends finally succumbing to their ego (see: Cruel Summer), autotuned-crooners with no exact direction (see: Future), and “feat.” artists getting their big break (see: 2 Chainz & Big Sean), but most importantly, the lyricists finding their voice. That is what is happening here. Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city, is where the politically-minded-gangsta’s-poetic-cousin rapper we heard on Section.80, becomes the politically-minded-gangsta’s-poetic-cousin rapper that knows Dr. Dre. The little things star power can do. Anyway, this album is a turning point in the rap industry as a whole and will more than likely earn the “classic” status it so rightly deserves ten or twenty years from now. Until then, all hail King Kendrick Lamar.

 

2. channelORANGE- Frank Ocean: channelORANGE will always be known for its genius content, but mostly for the events preceding its release. A week before it was rushed to iTunes, Frank Ocean came out as bisexual. Good marketing strategy? Yes. Is that what was going on here? I don’t know. I would like to believe that Ocean was being serious, and from the track “Bad Religion” it assures me that Ocean isn’t out to win people over. Then Target refused to carry the album, but who cares? Go to Best Buy! Back-story over, lets get to what matters. “Thinkin Bout You” the lead single, will go down as the most misinterpreted song of the year (next to “Swimming Pools” (Drank)). The song is about a guy thinking about how an ex-lover thinks about him. It’s not some sex-ballad that its feel would lead you to believe. The album is split up by little under-to-one minute interludes, which come off like commercials. Which lead me to believe: “Is the title alluding to Ocean’s bisexuality working like a television viewer? When we get bored we change the channel?” The only person who can answer that is Ocean himself. That is how personal he gets on this album.

 

3. The Money Store & NO LOVE DEEP WEB- Death Grips: Yes, there is a male genitalia on the cover of NO LOVE DEEP WEB, with the album’s title written on it just to mention. If you can’t handle it turn away, but know your missing out. Death Grips emerged in 2010 with Exmilitary, which went unrecognized, but 2012 was a different story. Death Grips went big time, they were signed to Epic after L.A. Reid found similarities between MC Ride’s paranoid rambles and Mariah Carey(?). This is a duo that WILL be only remembered for what happened in the year they released two albums. The duo in sequence 1. Requested to release a second album in 2012 2. Were never contacted back by Epic 3. Checked into the Chateau Marmont 4. Zach Hill snapped a questionable “selfy” 5. Leaked NO LOVE DEEP WEB through their website 6. Had the website shut down 7. Got dropped from Epic 8. Blew their entire contract advance at the Chateau Marmont 9. Now homeless? When everyone thought it was a publicity stunt, the duo posted private emails between them and Epic Records regarding the second release, to their Facebook page. Talk about making a name for yourself, but they live up to their hype. The music is an experience. The Money Store, the first album released, is the more “fun” album. Zach Hill pounds on his drums, while MC Ride screams and shouts over these “beats.” “The Fever (Aye Aye)” is the best introduction to the band, it is intense and you usually don’t know what MC Ride is shouting. While “I’ve Seen Footage” sounds like what I imagine a Cro-Magnon rave to sound like. The Money Store is the house party that starts five minutes before the parents get home. NO LOVE DEEP WEB is the punishment. From the first second of opener “Come Up and Get Me” you know this is a much different ride than the one you experienced on The Money Store. No pun intended. The album is confrontational, personal, and couldn’t get much more stream-of-consciousness. The bass is harder, and more distorted than in The Money Store. On would-be lead single “No Love” (eye roll), the beat sounds like a marching band in a swarm of bees, while the chorus sums up the whole album “Your fit to learn about the meaning of the beat down, madness, chaos of the brain.” He’s not lying. After being fed a barrage of profanities and occasional breathlessness from MC Ride, you arrive at “Deep Web” one of the standout tracks. The beat sounds like DJ Screw on speedballs instead of codeine, and features lyrics that would make even those with the dirtiest of minds blush. Why are they at number 3 then? Because although the beats and lyrics are crude and more than often offensive, the aggression becomes meditative. The static of the bass goes from annoying to lovable, MC Ride’s delusional shouts take him from whacked out sociopath to, well, relatable sociopath. Everything is personal and up-front, no backing down. Sadly, the events surrounding the releases will force the actual material into their shadows. I’m just hoping that this isn’t the end of Sacramento’s resident weirdoes.

 

4. Bloom- Beach House: Eight years in and Beach House still aren’t a household name? Unlike how the Beach Boys captured the sound of the real California, Beach House have crafted the sound of what California sounds like in my dreams. Lush, slow and repetitive. Repetitive is a good thing here, its what’s known in the critical world as “consistency.” Bloom is repetitive in the sense of sound, but where it differs from past releases from the duo, is that it demands repeat listens, some 2010’s Teen Dream both possessed and lacked at the same time. Bloom is an easier album to sit through than the ones preceding it. Opener “Myth” is packed with layered instrumentation, and creates a lush atmosphere to support its lyrics about denial. Victoria Legrand’s voice has never sounded better than it did on Bloom. The magic of production was used to great effect. Her smoked-lathered voice fits perfect to the style, it makes her sound older than she actually is, which adds a sense of truth to their music: she’s lived through all the good times and turmoil their music contains.

 

5. Lonerism- Tame Impala: Breaking away from the garage-psych aesthetic of 2010’s Innerspeaker, Tame Impala go full blown “trippy” on Lonerism. Trippy guitars, trippy synths, trippy bass, trippy everything. The band has reinvented psychedelic rock, a revival I didn’t think I would want to happen. “Be Above It” is the trippiest of all. Every element of the song, including the titular mantra, except for Kevin Parker’s “Paul McCartney reincarnate” vocals, get sucked into the synths, and then spit back out. It sounds pretty cool. From the sound of the synths on this album it makes me wonder, was Wayne Coyne in the studio for the making of this album? No, but it would make it more awesome. The lyrical content is not trippy all of the time. For instance, “Feels Like We Only Go Backward”, while the title sounds drug related, is just about a relationship that doesn’t work. If you’re in for a psychedelic album where every track is drug-induced, pull your head out the gutter, and then go spin Surrealistic Pillow by Jefferson Airplane or some Ultimate Spinach, but if you want an honest band making an honest attempt at psychedelic, and succeeding at it, please put this on and enjoy the trip.

 

6. The Seer- Swans: Michael Gira has been at for thirty years now, he’s 58 years old, and is better than ever. Swans are a post-punk band that spawned from the same scene as Sonic Youth. Totally different bands though. Swans are known for their confrontational live show, usually involving the A/C turned off in the venue to simulate a Native American sweat lodge, a move made to “break down the body and awaken the spirit”, stomping on the fingers of those who rest their hands on the stage, hair pulling, and volumes so loud some audience members would vomit. The Seer is a very long record (two hours), over two discs, but it is an excellent record all the way through. The album works best when it is at its most unconventional. “Mother Of The World”, the standout track, comes in at ten minutes, four-and-a-half of which are Gira panting to the rhythm. A lot of droning goes on in this album, but it is so meditative that you forget some of these songs are ten, twenty, even thirty-two minutes long. “The Seer Returns”, another highlight, is the easiest song to listen if you want a preview, and it’s about an apocalyptic orgy. Yeah, so you can guess The Seer isn’t a fun album, but it is a pretty astonishing accomplishment. It is by far the best album Swans have produced, even surpassing 1996’s Soundtracks For The Blind. In the end, this album has that “sweat lodge” experience to it. It tests your patience, and in the end, while you will want a break from music, you will cherish the two hours you spent listening to this album.

 

7. Gossamer- Passion Pit: This is the hardest working band in music as of right now, seriously look at their tour dates. Touring is not the word I like to use for Passion Pit right now, lets say “victory lap.” This band found its identity this year on Gossamer, a full exorcise of personal demons and an expansion on the sound they created on 2009’s Manners. Michael Angelakos has found a way to be open about his Bipolar Disorder in a way to keep him from sounding open about his Bipolar Disorder: make synthpop. Gossamer showcases this ideal on tracks like “I’ll Be Alright” and “Mirrored Sea”, danceable tracks about depression. Indefinite standout “Constant Conversations”, however, sounds so different from the other tracks, that it doesn’t sound like it belongs on the album, sound-wise. The track is a haunting blue-eyed soul ballad, that turns the pink album cover violet and Angelakos crying-falsetto up a few octaves. Passion Pit has developed a formula similar to that of Joy Division: danceable instrumentation, while the singer retains distinctiveness. In a way, Gossamer reminds me a little of Joy Division’s Closer, and Angelakos could hold the title of “our not-as-depressed Ian Curtis.” To be honest, I haven’t a synthpop this good, since the This Is Happening by LCD Soundsystem from 2010. Passion Pit have truly shown their potential on this album, I hope more like these are yet to come.

 

8. The Idler Wheel…- Fiona Apple: Fiona Apple has had her fair share of ups-and-downs, but no matter what, she always produces quality music. Her music blends acoustic jazz and pop music in a fascinating way. The Idler Wheel… documents bad break-ups and personal crisis in a way only Apple could. “One thing leads to another, and you’ve made an island of me.” A line that truly says a lot, without saying too much. The bare-bones arrangements are key to what makes this album work: a showcase of Apple’s vocal ability. The way she belts, whispers, mumbles, and yells really set the album apart from her past work. Compared to 1999’s When the Pawn, Apples more pop-oriented album, this album is far more personal, and it ought to be. This is an album that Apple kept hidden from Epic Records for six years, literally. After the release of 2005’s The Extraordinary Machine, Apple began secretly recording material for a fourth album. For producing the album, she ditched well-known collaborator Jon Brion and chose touring drummer Charley Drayton. Epic didn’t become aware of the new material until 2011. Then delayed a year, so Epic could find a new President, it was finally released, and has made it’s way to my record collection. Permanently.

 

9. Swing Lo Magellan- Dirty Projectors: Dave Longstreth makes music that is a lot to take in. His music makes use of polyrhythm like no one else’s; it is the sound I imagine Fela Kuti/Slint collaboration would sound like, but way wimpier. On Swing Lo Magellan, it continues, but also has some pretty “out there” touches. On “Offspring Are Blank” sings over a beat that goes from a Timbaland beat to The Who when the chorus kicks in. Odd? Yes. Very odd, but it works somehow. The bongos on “About To Die” will make anyone bob their head. The album is strongest where it’s most experimental. That statement is nothing out of the ordinary when talking about this band. From the surprising easiness of “Swing Lo Magellan”, the titular track, to the reggae-influenced “Dance For You” and Amber Coffman vocal-showcase “The Socialites” this is a different Dirty Projectors, from the ones we heard on 2009’s Bitte Orca. Regardless, of your preference in music, anyone could, and should, enjoy this album.

 

10. R.A.P. Music- Killer Mike: Killer Mike is obviously isn’t afraid to speak his mind. This is a guy who said about the murder of Trayvon Martin: “[The shooting was] an assassination…He was killed by a terrorist; there is no other way to put it.” On “Reagan”, he also says he’s glad Ronald Reagan is dead, but he just hates government in general. He is the Ice Cube of Grand Hustle Records, an afro-centric-political-minded-gangster with a very short fuse, which seems to get lit by anything. He is also a master wordsmith. “Reagan” is a track where every single line is quote-worthy; he states that mainstream rappers are “advertisements for agony and pain.” R.A.P. Music is overtly political and self-aware. Killer Mike is paranoid (“Reagan”), mournful (“Willie Burke Sherwood”), and violent (“Big Beast”). This album marks the first team-up of veteran Company Flow MC/Producer El-P and Killer Mike, which really needs to continue. There isn’t a single track where Mike doesn’t get his point across, and where El-P’s beat isn’t on point. Six albums in, and Mike finally found his breakthrough, I guess politically charged anthems and an election year go hand-in-hand though. I would say “better late than never”, but it is far too late for people too just start knowing of this man, he has a lot to say.