My Effin Lists: Top Albums of 2012 (Numbers 10 – 1)

EffinListsTop2012

Continuing from my last post, here are my top 10 albums of 2012.

10. Dum Dum Girls – Season In Hell

Though technically an EP, “End of Daze” has the richness and depth of a full length album. Dum Dum Girls have matured with this release. While past releases had their swirling guitars and surf-rock sensibilities, “End Of Daze” takes these ideas and gives them a sense of timelessness. The dream murmur in their cover of Strawberry Switchblades “Trees and Flowers” is a captivating haze that holds the listener in to here every breath and guitar strum. “Lord Knows” could be placed in any era and feel just as poignant. Dee Dee’s low crooning in the verses, rising to the chorus feels triumphant and crushing as she sings “Oh boy, I can’t hurt you any more.” “End of Daze” isn’t all about slow ballads, as it begins and end with  powerful rock tracks (“Mine Tonight” and “Season In Hell” respectively). Through all of its turmoil and desperation, the album ends on a somewhat hopeful note: “Lift up your gaze, it’s the end of daze.”

9. Naomi Punk – The Feeling

Naomi Punk’s “The Feeling” is right next Nirvana’s “Bleach” on my record shelf. While clearly a coincidence of alphabetization, it seems like appropriate placement. They group hails from Olympia – where Kurt Cobain spent much of his early Nirvana days digesting everything K Records. The band’s whole D.I.Y. aesthetic lines up the indie scene in the early 90s. The album sounds as if it was recorded in a basement. Guitars clash (there’s no bass) and vocals fight to be heard in the background. Bands like Best Coast have successfully imitated lo-fi Garage Rock production, but Naomi Punk lives it.

Until I actually picked up the record, I had no idea what he band was saying – another similarity with complaints Nirvana got when they first hit it big time. On “Burned Body” the vocalist (the members are virtually anonymous to the Internet) defines it best as he yells “All my words are so cryptic.” Once you get past the noise and can make out what the band is saying, it’s equally as brilliant and disturbed in simplicity. Like on the second to last track, “The Buzz,” :

“I wanna cut it out. I wanna rip it out. I wanna kill it now. I wanna feel a feeling.”

The group original released “The Feeling” on locally owned Couple Skate Records earlier this year before it was re-released on Captured Tracks. This band is moving fast but not compromising to be accessible.

8. Lana Del Rey – Born To Die

I really have no desire to write a whole think-piece about Lana Del Rey (though I already tried once, along with every other music writer ever). Aside from the “misleading” vibes and cringe-worthy SNL performances, Del Rey put out what I think is an excellent pop record for the new decade. The dramatic string arrangements put against new-school hip hop beats creates the fantastical imagery of a “Marilyn Monroe has a baby with Kanye West, Read More On Page 2!” tabloid. Del Rey is making mainstream music that’s actually more interesting than any of the other songs on Top Hit Radio Stations. Listen to Justin Bieber’s “Girlfriend” or Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” and put it against a song like “Born To Die” or “National Anthem” and tell me she’s not doing it better.

7. Wild Nothing – Nocturne

If Tanlines’ “Mixed Emotions” was 80s pop radio, “Nocturne” would be the album the “cool, misunderstood” kids would be blasting on their Walkman. Wild Nothing are writing songs in the vain of The Cure. Opener “Shadow” feels like an upbeat, summer car tune but with lyrics like “Oh why is your hate so addicting” you wouldn’t think it would be. Things don’t slow down much on this record. Jangles guitar parts and sustaining synth noise in the background makes the album feel bright and light. It’s feel good music for people who are comfortable with being sad.

6. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange

Getting past the hype is the hardest part of listening to “Channel Orange.” Frank Ocean is ending up on a lot of people’s lists and sometimes it’s hard to remember why. It’s not just because Frank Ocean is cool to like, it’s because the songwriting on this album is exceptional.

SPIN magazine recently had an article talking about how “Alt. R&B” was the trend of the year, citing Ocean as a prime example. I’d like to politely disagree. I think Ocean’s successes is less about him fronting a new genre and more so about him getting new people to listen to his genre. I’ve never really been much for R&B of the past couple decades – I found it cheesy and hard to relate to (sorry Ginuwine, I can’t connect with “If you’re horny, let’s do it. Ride it, my pony”). On “Channel Orange” Ocean tactfully discusses topics like faith and grappling with sexuality (“Forrest Gump”) but Ocean doesn’t turn his back on writing soulful love songs (“Thinkin About You”). “Bad Religion” is the emotional crux of the record, with Ocean pondering his beliefs against his sexuality in the back of a taxi. With some help from Earl Sweatshirt, John Mayer, and Andre 3000, has created a masterful transition piece for newcomers to R&B.

5. DIIV – Oshin

It’s not surprising that DIIV and Wild Nothing share a label and have collaborated in the past (well, with Zachary Smith’s other project, Beach Fossils). DIIV merges the shimmer of Wild Nothing but with the brighter parts of the 90s grunge movement (Smith is a huge fan of Kurt Cobain). Each track on “Oshin” fades into the next seamlessly, like an endless summer.

“How Long Have You Known” is playful and sways with the iconic-feeling lead guitar melody. The stuttering guitar on “Earthboy” feels spacey but never gets too weird or inaccessible. The sound of the album flows back and forth like an ocean. It wouldn’t be surprising if DIIV tracks end up in summer sale commercials sometime in the future (with the inevitable lawsuit, if 2012 has proven anything to us). “Oshin’ is definitely a singular piece. While each song sounds fine on its own, something is lost when it tracks aren’t strong together as a pulsing, sonic experience.

4. Father John Misty – Fear Fun

How did this man stay behind the Fleet Foxes drum set for so long? I’ve been listening to J. Tillman’s solo material for several years now. His albums always felt like nice companions to the Fleet Foxes records but, to be honest, I was never completely captivated. With Fleet Foxes behind him and a new name (Father John Misty), Tillman has finally delivered his most authentic and engaging work yet.

Tillman is a hilarious person. All of his interviews render on the ridiculous side of things. Instead of doing another mopey singer-songwriter album, he decided to write something that is just as ridiculous, sarcastic, and absurd as he is. The folk-rock genre has been taking itself too seriously for too long. The music is performed exceptionally but does not break new ground – Tillman does that with his lyrics instead. Not since Weird Al Yankovic has wit and humor in songwriting been so impactful (only partially kidding). In just the first few lines of “I’m Writing A Novel,” we get this gem:

“I ran down the road, pants down to my knees
Screaming ‘please come help me, that Canadian shaman gave a little too much to me!’
And I’m writing a novel because it’s never been done before”

He’s equal parts cynical and surrealist. Self-referential writing in music is usually few and far between, but at the end of “Every Man Needs a Companion,” the album closer, it feels particularly important to giving the album the proper context.

“Joseph Campbell and The Rolling Stones
Couldn’t give me a myth
So I had to write my own
Like I’m hung up on religion
Though I know it’s a waste
I never liked the name Joshua
I got tired of J”

3. The Men – Open Your Heart

Metz may have done punk and garage the loudest this year, but The Men did it the grimiest. “Open Your Heart.” The blend of country and garage rock just sets the tone for getting in trouble. The Men are carrying the torch for 80s punk bands like the Buzzcocks; rough and misunderstood by the current music climate. Nothing on “Open Your Heart” feels polished up. Listening to this album feels like being at a sweaty basement show where the band is screaming five feet away from you and diving into the crowd.

The first two songs, “Turn It Around” and “Animal,” set the stage with screams and muddy distortion. Then there’s the dramatic shift with the third track “Country Song,” which is an extended, slow trudging, instrumental with western overtones. Songs like this show that the band is not just about playing loud and goofing off. They’re listening to those same psychedelic albums Tame Impala is, but reinterpreting it through a greasy lens.

The title track “Open Your Heart” encapsulates the feeling brewing throughout the record. Optimistic through all the shit. Mark Perro doesn’t have a perfect and clean voice, but it feels so real and authentic that you want to shriek and yell with him. Still though, even though the album focuses on distortion and pummeling drums, I keep finding myself coming back to the acoustic driven track “Candy.” Hearing Perro sing “when I hear the radio play I don’t care that it’s not me” on the song feels so relevant to what the band is about. They’ve come to terms with not getting Top 40 success. The Men is about playing the music they want to and giving the middle finger to consistency.

2. Japandroids – Celebration Rock

If you start and end your album with the sounds of fireworks, you better be able to back it up.

Japandroid’s sophomore album “Celebration Rock” is the soundtrack of teen years gone, not knowing what’s coming next, and not giving a shit about any of that because tonight we’re going to fucking party. It’s not very surprising that I’ve found myself and friends around my age all resonating with this album. Most of us don’t know what we’re going to be doing next, but sometimes we just don’t want to think about that. We’re all young, so why can’t we just be okay with that and worry about the rest later on? It’s incredibly nostalgic. Even the sound of the album sounds like something I’d hear on the radio when I was a kid – big drums and even bigger guitars and shouting.

Brian King doesn’t change up his guitar effects to much throughout the record, but that only adds to the urgency of the eight track album. King and drummer David Prowse opted to record this album live in the studio as opposed to multi-tracking and doing overdubs like they did on their first album, “Post-Nothing.” The difference between these two records is incredible and most if it can be cited back to that production choice.

“Celebration Rock” is full of “Oh Oh Oh Ooooooh!” chants and King more-so shouts than sings most of the time. Japandroids are able to deliver lines that might otherwise be thought of as heavy handed and make them endearing and organic. Listening to “The House That Heaven Built” is better than any sort of motivational seminar.

“When they love you, and they will
Tell ’em all they’ll love in my shadow
And if they try to slow you down
Tell ’em all to go to hell”

Japandroids is affirmation that it’s not uncommon to be unsure of what you want to do next. For a generation facing horrendous employment rates, that’s crucial. Until then, we’re drinking.

1. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory

In 2012 Dylan Baldi turned away for his pop-punk solo  past and came out as the tortured front man of a slaughtering indie punk band.

Cloud Nothings releasing “Attack On Memory” was an incredible shock. Listening to their past material seems to provide very little clues that Baldi would make this drastic of a change in his music. Whereas before he seemed to worship at the temple of Rivers Cuomo, he now burns sage at the altar of Frank Black. Lo-fi bedroom pop-rock snippets have become Steve Albini produced guitar epics. This time around, Baldi recorded live in the studio with his band instead of by himself. Good move.

“Wasted Days” has one of the most erupting breakdowns in a rock song in 2012 (or in the past few years, for that matter). Droning on a single note for minutes can be boring, but Cloud Nothings use it tactfully to heighten the anticipation for the final repetitions of Baldi yelling “I thought I would be more than this.” Then on just the next song, we get the less doom-centered side of Baldi with the foot-tapping, rattling “Fall In.”

“Stay Useless” covers similar ground as Japandroids, but with only a few “ohhh ohhs” this time. Baldi is more desperate in his please than Japandroids’ hopeless romanticism.

“I need time to stop moving. I need time to stay useless.”

What sets “Attack On Memory” above the rest of the garage/punk albums in 2012 was its balance of grit, melody, and noise. All the factors felt incredibly balanced. It’s not an optimistic album, but it feels realistic. Even at 20 years old, Baldi knows how to vent his frustration in a relateable way and does so with annihilating guitar barrages.

On the final track “Cut You,” Baldi shows us just how twisted he is. As he mourns an ex moving on, he laments how her new lover is not as screwed up as him. On the surface, it’s sort of a disgusting song. He pleads “Does he hurt you like I do?” “like it would be a bad thing if her new boyfriend wasn’t abusive. He portrays a sense of entitlement with “I need to know, I deserve to know.” But stepping back, I can’t say that I haven’t felt he does in this song – mainly in my weakest and most regrettable moments. Its uncomfortable to hear because it’s so close to what we try to hide. In the end he confesses “I miss you cause I like damange, I need something I can hurt.” Making a revelation like that is the mark of an excellent songwriter.

Word is Cloud Nothings are working on a new album 2013 that’s going to be even noisier. If they keep with this direction and trajectory, this young band has the chance to really help propel the new punk-revival.

Honorable Mentions

Silicon Girls – Rana

Swans – The Seer

Mac Demarco – 2

Beach House – Bloom

Moon Duo – Circles

Death Grips – The Money Store

Jason Molina – Autumn Bird Songs

ExitMusic – Passage

Silversun Pickups – Neck of the Woods

Damien Jurado – Maraqopa

Lemolo – The Kaleidoscope

Stagnant Pools – Temporary Room

Pinback – Information Retrieved

Balmorhea – Stranger

Sharon Van Etten – Tramp

Jack White – Blunderbuss

Glen Hansard – Rhythm and Response

G.O.O.D. Music – Cruel Summer

Advertisements

My Effin Lists: Top Albums of 2012 (Numbers 25 – 11)

EffinListsTop2012

I know it sounds a bit over enthusiastic, but 2012 is one of the better years of music I can recall in recent memory. It felt like all the different genres and sub-genres were on the top of their game.

I don’t want to ramble too long now, but I would like to put out the disclaimer that I have not listened to every single album that came out this year. In the past, I’ve written my top albums lists for more formal publications which meant trying to create a list that was centered on importance of the albums in the scheme of the larger music community. However, since this is my personal blog, I’ve decided to order these just be my own interest and liking.

So without further ado, here are my top 25 albums of 2012.

25. Metz – [self-titled]

2012 felt like the second coming of “the year that punk broke.” Instead of describing Metz’s self-titled debut album, I might as well just describe a bulldozer or a wrecking ball. It’s thunderous, destructive, erupting, and pummels buildings into dust (well, almost). Of the raucous garage/punk albums to come out this year, Metz’ did it the loudest and maybe the harshest – citation: “Wasted.”

24. Grizzly Bear – Shields

Grizzly Bear is probably one of the most intricate and skilled groups in music right now. All too often I’ve seen group with talented members produce incredibly lackluster music because “hey lets throw in 5 time signatures and I’ll come up with some disorienting counterpoint melodies” just doesn’t usually sound very good. On “Shields,” Grizzly Bear is able to harness their abilities into a richly textured piece with inviting melodies. The lead single “Yet Again” exemplifies their tactics of throwing in unusual and galloping harmonies to produce a singular accessible track.

23. Flying Lotus – Until The Quiet Comes


Any artist who gets the Thom Yorke stamp of approval must have something going for them. “Until The Quiet Comes” has Flying Lotus prove yet again that beats don’t just have to be “cool and interesting,” they can also be moving and wraith-like. Tracks like “Getting There” find FlyLo treading ground laid down by the like of Nujabes years before. At any moment on “Until The Quiet Comes” the songs can go from fragile to an infectious groove.

22. Tame Impala – Lonerism

Tame Impala is definitely headphone music. Every listen to “Lonerism” is a new chance to discover some new guitar effect or overdub you didn’t notice before. Psychedelic-garage rock, through Tame Impala, is making a come back from the label of “high school Pink Floyd tribute band” to beautiful, intricate pop outfit. Whirring amp feedback on “Gotta Be Above” and flange accents on “Why Won’t They Talk To Me?” are wonderfully weird Easter eggs for a powerfully infection record.

21. Benjamin Gibbard – Former Lives


For those who have followed Death Cab For Cutie from the early records till now, the past few years have been confusing, awkward, and sometimes even upsetting (“IF HE DOESN’T WRITE ANOTHER SAD SONG, I’M GOING TO BURN DOWN BEN GIBBARD’S HOUSE AND SPREAD THE ASHES ALL OVER THE SET OF ‘NEW GIRL!'”).  While I wasn’t a big fan of “Codes and Keys” and struggled with half of “Narrow Stairs,” Ben Gibbard’s solo effort “Former Lives” seems to accomplish the direction those two albums were heading in.  The storytelling of “Teardrop Windows” and the self-realization of “Oh, Woe” give glimpses of ghosts of Gibbard’s past while the instrumentation shows where he’s at now.

20. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city

A hip-hop album detailing life growing up in Compton is not necessarily original on a surface level, but Kendrick Lamar is an artist who knows the importance of perspective. “good kid, m.a.a.d. city” gives Lamar’s insights on the self-destructive tendencies of his beloved hometown with spiritual and pensive overtones throughout but mostly deals with his own personal struggles. The stand out track “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” finds Lamar lifting up his music as the one thing that he wants to keep untainted, a sort of emotional core to the record.

“I am a sinner whose probably gonna sin again. Please forgive me, things I don’t understand. Sometimes I want to be alone. Bitch don’t kill my vibe.”

In just one line (on a record full of equally as brilliant one liners) Lamar weaves in art, loneliness, and faith into his own mission statement. So while Yeezy and Hova are debating whether or not their jackets are Margiela, Lamar will be out here relating to everyone else who can’t afford a yacht.

19. Alt-J – An Awesome Wave

My Effin Lists: Top Albums of 2012 (Numbers 25 - 11)

Since when did The Tallest Man On Earth start going electronic?

Vocalist Joe Newman (whom I’m still not convinced isn’t Kristian Matsson, The Tallest Man, himself) brings grit and imperfection to a genre dominated by the pristine production of experimental-electronic-rock. The songs feel like fables, drawing inspiration from elementary sources like “Where the Wild Things Are” (“Breezeblocks”) or even shapes (“Tesselate”). Alt-J isn’t the next Radiohead, they’re the next Alt-J.

18. Ty Segall Band – Slaughterhouse

The dooming, slow bass lead into “Wave Goodbye” followed by the flood of guitar distortion and a 60s pop vocal melody epitomizes Ty Segall. “Slaughterhouse” was one of three records Segall put out this year. Each one was great for their own reasons, but” Slaughterhouse” found Segall in his best stride. Beneath the layers of fuzz distortion are exceptionally melodic guitar lines. It’s as if The Beatles decided after they wrote “Helter Skelter” that they should go further and darker in that direction.

17. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Majellan

I must confess, I’ve never really been a big fan of Dirty Projectors. Most of their previous work has come off to me as pretentious and inaccessible. Coming in to “Swing Lo Majellan” I was expecting to feel the same, but wanted to give them one last shot – that was a good idea. This record finds the band toning back a bit on the overly complex song-structure and harmonic intricacies while retaining what makes them unique. “Gun Has No Trigger” and “About To Die” lean toward the grandiose spectrum of Dirty Projectors where songs like the title track and “Impregnable Question.” The fact that “Unto Caesar” features the band laughing as they try to figure out when to bring in the harmonies gives the feeling that the band is learning to let loose a bit.

16. The Tallest Man On Earth – There’s No Leaving Now

Kristian Matsson (The Tallest Man On Earth) has developed a definitive style, one that is hard to deviate from much. Instead of changing his songwriting approach on “There’s No Leaving Now,” Matsson mixes things up with the production. His past two albums have felt like creaky, old solo recordings. The new record feels like a relic from a dusty record bin. The inclusion of faintly mixed electric guitar on the tracks gives a warmth to the album. “Revelation Blues” could be a b-side to an unknown Sun Records artist and “1904” sounds like a long lost A.M. radio gem.

15. Tanlines – Mixed Emotions

“Mixed Emotions” must have escaped from a break in the space-time continuum (or maybe a Hot Tub Time Machine). Tanlines could be quiet at home with 1980s contemporaries like Tears For Fears and Simple Minds. “Mixed Emotions” is full of synth-based anthems contemplating a possible mid-life crisis. Opener “Brothers” is deliberate with execution with a swaying beat. Eric Emm’s voice sounds like it could break out into “Melt With You” at any moment. Guitars shimmer, electronic drums give their unearthly thumps, and there are even some tropical overtones. If the 80s had been more like this, maybe it wouldn’t have gotten such a bad rap.

14. Dan Deacon – America

How this album did not make a bigger impact in 2012 is beyond me. Dan Deacon’s “America” brought together electronic production with live orchestral instrumentation to create a poignant, self-aware album about, well, America. Deacon has described it in some ways as a protest record – specifically the masterful four movement USA suite at the end of the record. Songs like “Lots” are blown out in the vain of a Steve Albini record. “True Thrush” has a dream-pop vibes with rushing drums. The inclusion of real, acoustic drums gives this album punch. This album reminds us that Deacon is not just a musician, he is a composer.

13. Grimes – Visions

I wasn’t sure what to make of Grimes when “Visions” came out. Then I spent more time with it. This album captures feelings of meekness and desperation with massive production, which seems a bit contradicting at first. At the center of every track is a soft, wavering melody – everything else is just a gorgeous garnish building off of that core. “Genesis” is the perfect example of this. Beneath all of the swirling piano lines, bass thumps, and sporadic beats is the small framed Grimes saying “Oh heart, and then it falls, and then I fall, and then I know.” It’s simple, but meaningful.

12. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

The field recordings of chatter at the beginning of “Mladic,” the first track on “Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend,” set an ominous tone for this bleak and tumultuous record. Soon after a violin rises in and bending guitar notes pop in and out as the song rises to its breaking point that won’t let up for the rest of the 20 minute track. Godspeed You! Black Emperor quietly released shrieking record while on tour, keeping up with their mentality of “this isn’t business, this is art and a statement.” Many bands have popped up trying the instrumental prog-chamber rock style since GY!BE’s last recorded 10 years ago. GY!BE unintentionally prove they still do it best, but that doesn’t seem to be their primary concern. Moreover, they’re proving that the same issues we lamented 10 years ago are still relevant today and there’s no excuse.

11. Mount Eerie – Clear Moon

“Clear Moon” is an ethereal look at nature, monotony, and living through Phil Elverum’s (Mount Eerie) Walden-esque insight. At one moment Elverum might be channeling Nick Drake – picking out a delicate melody while quietly reminiscing (“Through The Trees Pt. 2”). The next thing you know, he’s turned into Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine – drowning his thoughts beneath a flood of looming guitar distortion (“Over Dark Water”). It is hard to pinpoint exactly how to classify this album with its variety noise and sounds. His narrative strings it all together – simple pondering and speculating of the world around him. It is simultaneously a call against unnatural living and doubt if that’s even possible. Elverum paints vivid pictures with his lyrics and uses the music only to texture them.