Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Year in Music 2012: Top 20 Albums
RIYL: Tasty word salad, literate rappers, videos about ninjas and deceased cats
A new Aesop Rock album (first in five years!) is always cause for celebration. An album where Aes gives up just a little bit of his word salad in favor of some lyrical depth is cause for extreme jubilation. Mr. Bavitz did not disappoint.
RIYL: Paranoia, Someone looking over your shoulder, "them" being out to get you.
I've heard that I need to listen to R.A.P. Music by Killer Mike. That remains to be seen (though I trust everyone who has told me that this needs to happen), but El-P's production is always fascinating to me. Combined with his ever paranoid lyrics, this ended up being one of the treats of the year.
RIYL: Lovers awkwardly whispering to each other in a crowd.
I wanted to dislike this album. The first few times I heard it, I was unmoved. Over the next couple of months, it just kind of.... moved me. It's got stronger songs than I gave it credit for, and it's got more emotion, depth, and character than I would've given it credit for.
RIYL: Hitting your head against a wall of guitars and drums.
Sometimes all you want out of an album is a hammer to the face. Metz' self-titled album provided that hammer, along with enough melody and interesting rhythms to stand up to multiple listens.
RIYL: Old School Sigur Rós
Sigur Rós turned back the clock in 2012, sidestepping the pop stylings of their last album and Jónsi's solo work in favor of the laid back, beautiful post-rock arrangements of their earlier albums. It's definitely no step back, though. Rather, it's a marvelous (and underrated) step forward.
RIYL: Demon dogs haunting your sleep
This album feels completely inscrutable. It's exhausting (I'm usually only able to listen to one of the sides at any given time), and it's the furthest thing from a "catchy" album.
It's also completely awesome.
RIYL: Dark, brooding electronic beats, non-traditional female voices
I'm constantly underrating this album. Whenever I thought of my favorite albums of the year, III was never on the radar. Then, when I was constructing this list, I looked over the tracklist and found that it's absolutely packed with solid songs. There's scarcely a weak track to be found. Song for song, it might be their best to date.
RIYL: Source Tags and Codes. Yeah, I went there.
It's got to be tiresome to have everything you do compared to some previous work of yours. Ever album that Trail of Dead ever puts out will be compared (unfavorably) to their magnum opus. This one actually brings the goods, scaling back the proggy stuff from their last three albums, and ramping up the rock.
RIYL: Rock music, part one.
Attack on Memory was an early indicator this year that rock was back. I had heard their debut, and found it to be completely unimpressive.This one, though, was ferocious. It blazed and snarled and bit - exactly what music needed to start off the year.
RIYL: Lil B...without all the Lil B
I've always said that I liked the idea of 'cloud rap'. The aesthetics are great - all atmosphere and woozy bass. Unfortunately, every time I queued up Lil B or A$AP Rocky, the rapping just irritated me.
RIYL: Creepy as hell songs sung by enchantingly attractive women
When I heard Grimes earlier this year, it left me with a distinct "this is close to an album I'd really like to hear".Shrines is the album I was hoping that Visions was going to be. It's darkly, catchily awesome.
...even if half its track titles sound like Pokemon names.
RIYL: Cheerleaders with brass knuckles
Treats was such a volatile maelstrom of pop, arena rock, and hip-hop that a follow-up seemed like an impossible task. A carbon copy wouldn't have the same fresh feeling; a radical change in style would almost certainly be doomed to fail. Somehow, Reign of Terror ended up being a true step forward, without losing the special edge that made the first album so much fun.
RIYL: Chilling on the dancefloor enjoying a few (molotov) cocktails.
This album is different. At times, the 'throw it in' approach feels like it's going to overwhelm the flow and feeling of the project. So then, it's to Stef's credit that it never flies completely out of control. It's more of a "collection of songs" than Never Better was, but it's a damned good collection of songs.
RIYL: Storytelling hip-hop
It's easy to see why everyone lost it over this album. I bought it having only heard Swimming Pools when it first came out, and it didn't leave my CD player for a solid month. The stories enhance the songs (and vice versa), and everything does nothing but grow on me with each subsequent listen.
RIYL: Beach House.
The joke is that Bloom is "Beach House, part four", and it's more than a little true. There's no great leap here. If you're buying this, you know what you're getting into.
Luckily it's well worth getting into.
RIYL: Really weird album covers that are oddly fit with the music inside
Prophet is an easy album to like. It's got immediate song that still manage to have a lot of depth to them. Nearly every song has lingered throughout the year.
RIYL: Angry, but resigned women
I doesn't seem like Sharon Van Etten would really make my kind of music. I've not been incredibly fond of female singer-songwriters in the past, nor was I this year. The thing is, she imbues her music with more than she has to. Whether it's the barely contained anger of 'Serpents' or the resigned weariness of 'Ask', she makes every song worth hearing again and again. Plus it does have my favorite song of the year.
RIYL: Jay Reatard.
I didn't ever appreciate Jay Retard properly while he was alive and making music (more of a Coachwhips guy, I guess), and if I have any enjoyment of his work now (and I do), this is the album that I can thank. Bizarre final track aside, it's a short, punchy set of songs that illuminate every there is to like about lower-fi punk-inspired music.
RIYL: Burial, with a kick.
Whenever Burial is discussed, everything always seems to revolve around a couple of talking points: "is he going to make another album" and "if he does, will it sound exactly like everything else he's done?". Well, sort of and... sort of. Kindred is 40 plus minutes long, so even though it's an EP, it's longer than a number of the albums on this list. Content-wise, it's not a radical step forward, but it does have the most focused and forceful music he's ever made. It might even be better than Untrue. William Bevan might never come out with that third proper album, but even if he does, I don't know how he'll top this.
RIYL: Rock Music... part two
Just last year, I lamented that rock had fallen heavily in my listening habits. Then 2012 came around. Cloud Nothings lit the fuse, but Japandroids ended up being the explosion I kept coming back to. There are only eight songs on this album - and one's a cover, and one's a song from 2010. That doesn't really matter, in fact, the lean running time gives Celebration Rock a bite that it otherwise would've lacked. The back half of the album is completely loaded. 'Younger Us', 'The House That Heaven Built' and 'Continuous Thunder' make up one of the strongest three song cycles I've ever heard to close an album.
Most importantly, though, whenever I listen to Celebration Rock, it's an excuse to just lose myself to the "whoa-oh-oh-oh's" and forget about the idea that rock music could need saving or ever be anything less than a life-affirming thrill. Not a bad legacy to leave.