Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Bears And Bullets Albums Of The Year (#10-#1)
Continuing from yesterday, here are the top ten selections for Bears and Bullets Top Albums Of 2012:
#10: Royal Headache - Royal Headache
Two genre's effectively broke the mold to land on top this year; rap and garage punk. So to say one album effectively defined both is difficult. But among the glorious renderings that the lo-fi punk scene has offered in 2012, Royal Headache's self-titled release was perhaps the most enjoyable surprise. The Australian band coils together behind their frontman more-commonly known as Shogun, rendering warm scuzzy punk suitable for a wider audience. Other albums may have more profound moments than Royal Headache, but damn if you find another one as consistently enjoyable.
#9: How To Dress Well - Total Loss
Chilled with an echoed falsetto, Tom Krell distills romantic vision with awe-inspiring production. His voice may be the key instrument on Total Loss, but the selling point is the distant, effervescent swirls of snares, bass, and warm loops. The stellar craft allows Krell to swim between lines of pop harmony and artful songwriting, like on the perplexing track "Say My Name Or Say Whatever." It begins with a disparaging view of the world, saying, "The only bad part about flying is having to come down to the fucking world." Curiously, it then turns into a stirring track that flows without any sort of contemporary chorus. The ability to pull that off on one track is welcoming, but ebbing between the grey areas of pop and promise for a whole album is stunning.
#8: Father John Misty - Fear Fun
The stylistic rebirth of J. Tillman, former drummer for Fleet Foxes and solo artist under his real name, is a surprise in itself. In or out of the aforementioned Seattle band, Tillman amassed accolades as one of modern folk music's hardest workers, but had a base image in tact. Moving onto his ambitious Father John Misty project under Sub Pop, Tillman enhanced his world sound, adding layers of nuance to his overwhelming change in approach. He no longer remained static with his sorrowful songwriting, but rather energetic with love, humor, and ambition. The result? A modern twinge on soulful 70s story-telling inspired rock and roll that can fit at any time.
#7: Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel ...
From the first xylophone tinge in "Every Single Night," you're already transposed in Fiona Apple's melodic, warped, and wondrous world. Deftly fragile and in tune with the worst and most crippling of our senses, Apple channels childhood anxiety, demur, and languished unrequited emotions. The Idler Wheel ... , Apple's first album since 2005's Extraordinary Machine, doesn't lose any sense of connectivity. Roaming through the anxious tracks, Apple is with you and you with her. "I root for you, I love you. You, you, you," she stammers on "Valentine." Maybe it's not exactly you, but you feel like it could be. You feel like you could know Apple because there's no face she needs to put on. She's unconsciously raw and open to the point where The Idler Wheel ... becomes almost to personal; a spiral of touching romance without any necessary answers.
#6: The Tallest Man On Earth - There's No Leaving Now
Kristian Mattson, the impassioned Swedish singer-songwriter known as The Tallest Man On Earth, is flourishing with time. After every new album, his catalog of modern folk classics separates his solo career from a masses more delighted with the winded stories of Mumford and Sons. But there's a genuine sweetness that flows effortlessly with each song as Mattson's voice crackles in a sunrise of naturalistic beauty. Nearly every track of There's No Leaving Now jumps out with moments of stylistic prowess, as Mattson's voice breathes life in the dark. That remains especially true of the title track - a deeply enriching and somber piano ballad - one of 2012's most impressive moments.
#5: Japandroids - Celebration Rock
Had Celebration Rock come out six years ago, it would have been mired in the unfortunate grouping of modern emo music, simply for having a semblance for emotion in rock. The crackling of fireworks at the beginning and end of the album, the "American Girl" jolt of "Evil's Sway," and the terrifyingly good single "The House That Heaven Built" all build toward a resounding rally cry; too big for emo, too enriching for alternative. The Vancouver duo behind the release have collected themselves, shooting for a higher narrative that trumps garage rock in itself. And with just a guitar and drums, there hasn't been a more explosive sound this year.
#4: El-P - Cancer 4 Cure
In a year full of emerging rap superstars, Brooklyn veteran El-P commands a lofty presence. Cancer 4 Cure isn't as the resounding flare that good kid, m.A.A.d city is, nor the shocking blast of The Money Store, but rather the diatribe of the genre's most furious lyricist. "Tougher Colder Killer" imagines El-P as an enraged PTSD patient thrown back into the regular world, spilling on the floor before Killer Mike and Despot burst through the wall. The climbing bass builds the beat as nerves begin to twitch, with the three splitting seconds faster than the second before. But the feeling of uneasiness doesn't do El-P's bullet-fury wit justice alone. Rather, the apocalyptic production with each track compliments it better than ever, affirming El-P's status as one of indie rap's modern icons.
#3: Death Grips - The Money Store
After the beat drops in "Get Got," the lead track on San Francisco experimental rap group Death Grips' second LP The Money Store, there's an explosion. Rap as its contemporary form no longer has a mold, as the band completely shatters what a rap track can really be. The hypnotic instrumentals are jarring to say the least, and Stefon Burnett's menacing verses combine gnawing styles and virtuoso principle. It's rap music birthed of aggressive 80s American punk, if that were ever possible. The sonic infusion of acid drip sounds with Burnett's throaty grasps for sanity can be hugely off-putting for any casual listener, but wholly enlightening for any fan looking for something "new." I put that in quotes because the radical execution of The Money Store is so new, so unique that's new for literally anyone who will listen.
#2: Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE
The moment channel ORANGE cranks in the Playstation One intro, you're there. For anyone who grew up in the 1990s, it achieves a visceral feeling of newness. Although the original Sony system is outdated today, the translated feeling is the same as before: adventurous, curious, and inspiring. The jump to "Thinkin Bout You" from the PS1 charge is a deft transition, growing from childlike wonder to adult lore, but still lofty in a wondering world. Ocean's criminally good falsetto then asks, "Do you not think so far ahead?" Reminding listeners that he's still relatively young, there's a larger life ahead for him. But for now, inspiring tracks like the 10 minute bravado of "Pyramids," a marvelous contusion of experimental sprints that rivals a pop twist of "Revolution #9," will be with us for years to come.
#1: Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city
Truth be told, the decision to have good kid, m.A.A.d city over the celebrated channel ORANGE wasn't a clear one to make. Both were unanimously stellar and easily the two best from 2012. But while channel ORANGE told the story of an emerging icon, good kid, m.A.A.d city breathed much needed life in a forgotten realm of hip-hop: storytelling. Kendrick Lamar's breakthrough is as much a revelation as it is an impressive feat; selling a concept album to the masses. Too often we find the idea of concept albums buried by the weight of its ideals. However, good kid, m.A.A.d city remains lofty as the story of the genre's best new popular lyricist since Eminem.
The album is the everyday story of a kid stuck in the hood, imagining a life outside, only to get sucked into the well-known traps he sees every day. As the album goes on, from "Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe" to the emphatic "Sing About Me, I'm Dying Of Thirst," the character drifts further and further inward until he is zoned into the West coast world. The latter song doesn't end until after a 12-minute mark, but you feel the album unofficially close when Lamar says, "If I die before your album drop, I ho-" before gun shots stop him short.
Fans of The Wire will see it the whole way through. The world, for all of its shining moments and peaceful promise, is often clouded with the people that live on it. There's always a light at the end of some tunnel, but getting to the tunnel is more than just pulling oneself together. There's circumstances, mental and physical, that shut those possibilities out. And while we celebrate those that achieve the most, too often we forget those that never could. No album, song, TV show, or movie this year has conveyed the despair of reality so well as good kid, m.A.A.d city.