Thursday, December 20, 2012

ST&SP Best of 2012: Top 25+ Albums

I have been making lists of things as long as I can remember. I used to write lists in my grade school yearbook of whatever I liked that particular year, and when I created this blog four years ago I continued that tradition. Partially I do it for myself so I can keep record of the music that I value but mainly I do it in hopes that a reader might discover a new artist they enjoy. This year there were some incredible records put out some that I believe will be remembered down the line as classics of their time. I created a Spotify Playlist for this list with songs from each of these artists. You can listen to it here or scroll to the bottom of this post for the embedded player. Ok. Here we go. 

1. Kendrick Lamar - Good Kid, m.A.A.d City
If you read the writing on the Polaroid cover of Kendrick Lamar's Good Kid, m.A.A.d City it says "A Short Film." That's because this record is a cinematic experience peering into Kendrick's life growing up in Compton. This album tells a story of a good kid who is tempted resists and ultimately succumbs to the terrors of gang life. This record has songs that both glorify the lifestyle ("m.A.A.d City," "Swimming Pools")  " and songs that skewer the gangster's life ("Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst," "Money Trees"). I have never been a fan of rap 'skits' but this album uses transitional dialogue better than any hip-hop record has ever done before. He uses these skits to forward the story of this troubled teen. Good Kid, m.A.A.d City is a highly personal album with a strong message that many rappers dream of creating.

2. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...
The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do or to those with shortness of breath The Idler Wheel... is the fourth studio album by the eccentric indie darling Fiona Apple. It took her seven years to write a new record mainly because she says she can't write songs when she's happy. After ending a relationship recently she returned to the studio and came out with a stripped album that's drenched in heartbreak and raw emotion. Fiona is the kind of artist who pours everything into her music. Her lyrics, singing and piano playing are drenched in feeling. She may take her time when it comes to music, but her process seems to work. The Idler Wheel... is an essential album for 2012 or any year.

3. Chromatics - Kill For Love
The indie record label Italians Do It Better has been putting out some of the best chill-pop around. They manage to mold some newer electronic vibes with a very vintage Italian discopop feel to them. They may have released their magnum-opus with Chromatics' sophomore LP Kill For Love. You might recognize this sound because frontman Johnny Jewel contributed to the Drive soundtrack. Some albums are great collections of songs, others take you on a sonic journey. Kill For Love is of the latter category. This moody monster of a record moves at a laid back pace through crafty pop songs and ambient noise. This might be up there with Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon in terms of  perfect nighttime music. It's an incredibly confident record for a relatively young band.

4. Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music 

One of OutKast's longtime compatriots, Killer Mike finally steps into the limelight thanks to stellar production by El-P. I have complained for the longest time that hip-hop has unfortunately drifted away from making important political and social observations and instead throwing focus on personal wealth and gain. Well, today I can rest in peace that my favorite kind of hip-hop is still thriving. R.A.P. Music tackles politics, religion, and social injustice with a poet's wit. He takes aim at everyone: blacks, whites, cops, thug life, the uneducated and spousal abuse to name a few. While every song is strong two really stick out in my mind. "Reagan" is the bluntest anti-politics song I have heard in years where Mike praises the death of Ronald Reagan and laments over the current state of government and America's slave-like affair with big oil. "Willie Burke Sherwood" is a song where he talks about being insecure for being into literature and enjoying school. He does all this while twisting the plot of Lord of the Flies to fit his own childhood. Yeah. That is amazing.

5. Beach House - Bloom
If you loved Beach House's previous three records then you're going to adore Bloom. If not, move along. Beach House are one of those bands that have decided what they wanted to be a long time ago and have stuck to being exactly that. They are one of the most solid groups in the indie world. Their steadfastness has paid off, this record debuted really well on the charts. They are now even a favorite among hip-hop artists when it comes to sampling. What I love about this group is though their sound is pretty much uniform, they are able to make each song unique and catchy. "Lazuli" is the centerpiece to Bloom and is quite frankly the best song the band has recorded to date. I took a drive along the PCH here in Los Angeles the other day with the windows down and this record playing. It was quite heavenly. 

6. All The Shit Ty Segall Did This Year
If you read my blog regularly you're aware that Ty Segall is my 2012 Artist of the Year. He is the most exciting thing to happen to basement fuzz punk in years. He made a splash with 2010's Melted and this year he grew immensely as an artist with not one but three albums. Hair the collaboration between he and White Fence showed Ty that adding layers added to a song's overall power. Slaughterhouse is a straightforward punk deathmobile that allowed him to bring the energy of his live shows into the studio. Twins I feel is the result of bringing these two records together to create the next chapter of the Ty Segall story. It really has been exciting to follow this guy, I cannot wait for what he does next. 

7. Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan
2009's Bitte Orca was the album of the year for most people. It was an absolute headrush of a record. They recieved much praise for slamming contradictory beats together that somehow magically worked. With this year's Swing Lo Magellan they have toned down their erratic behavior and instead focused on their songwriting. This resulted in one of the prettiest sounding psychedelic folk records in recent memory. This record features singer songwriter David Longstreth's best lyrics to date. I'm pretty sure "Impregnable Question" will be played at my wedding. It's a simple amorous record that would warm even the coldest of hearts. 

8. Death Grips - The Money Store

 Death Grips make terrifying music. That's the best way to describe this guerrilla punk hip-hop group. They make Odd Future look like The Everly Brothers in terms of being hardcore. I'm not going to like this is a tough record to get into it's very harsh on the ears for a casual listener and it has no club hits for typical hip-hop fans. However, I cannot name another group that sounds anything close to Death Grips. If this group is not the anthem that the disgruntled skater youth are flying their freak flag to then I don't know what to think anymore.

9. Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE
 When Frank Ocean breaks into falsetto thirty-five seconds into the opening track "Thinkin About You" you know channel ORANGE is going to be a classic. I can only imagine how many high-schoolers are going to be slowdancing at prom to this. Ocean has cemented himself as the best thing to happen to R&B since D'Angelo with this record. Ocean has an uncanny ability of taking R&B to new territory while still paying homage to those who came before him. channel ORANGE has several instant classic tracks on it including my #1 song of the year "Pyramids." He is the most deserving breakout artist of 2012. 

10. Animal Collective - Centipede Hz
Centipede Hz is a great record with terrible album artwork. The followup to their gigantic Merriweather Post Pavilion that brought them a whole new fanbase has created much controversy because, well, it sounds like an Animal Collective record. Whereas Merriweather was accessible Centipede is a dense challenging record that is more similar to 2007's Strawberry Jam. This record works on many levels for me. One, it's a return to having drums being what drives their songs rather than synths. This is the first Animal Collective record in a long time where it feels like they are actually a band playing together rather than putting bits and pieces together with Pro-Tools. It's still a dizzying record and I will admit that and it can be hard to grasp what makes this record important to the untrained ear. However, I applaud Animal Collective for shedding their skin of Merriweather Post Pavillion and continue to make challenging psych-pop. It's what made me a fan to begin with. 

11. Tame Impala - Lonerism
 Australia's Tame Impala return with another collection of Beatles meets Pink Floyd psychedelic rock. While keeping the hazy dreamlike state of their breakout LP Innerspeaker, Tame Impala aren't afraid to turn up the rock riffs on Lonerism. "Elephant" is a fitting title for the pounding guitar riffs while "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards" remains high up in the clouds. Tame Impala are the perfect band for someone who wants to find a new band while staying true to their classic rock roots. 

12. Japandroids - Celebration Rock
 Anthemic straight-forward rock and roll. You don't have to reinvent the wheel as long as you pour your heart and soul into your music and that's what Japandroids did with Celebration Rock. This record is the perfect soundtrack to that moment where you turn your back on everything you've ever known and head into a new frontier. That excitement, that fear is all wrapped into "The House That Heaven Built." 

13. Godspeed! You Black Emperor - Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
The indie world was overjoyed in 2011 when Godspeed! You Black Emperor emerged from their ten year hibernation. The elusive Canadian post-rock group played Coachella and a number of other shows around the globe reminding us all of why they are the most formidable instrumental post-rock band alive. These guys take the genre and give it a cinematic force. With very little warning they released Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! a record that is at times as minimal as it can get ("The Helicopters Sing") and other moments roar with a force of nature ("Mladic") I'm so happy these guys are back and continue to make exemplary music. Hopefully they stick around a lot longer this time. 

14. Jack White - Blunderbuss
  My Lord and Savior Jack White steps out for the first time in his already legendary career as a solo artist. While at first it seemed like Blunderbuss lacked direction, over the year it really grew on me. I've discovered this about Jack, whenever he starts a band it seems like the first album he puts out is a template for him to feel out what he wants the project's sound to ultimately be. With The Raconteurs he ultimately settled on being a bunch of good ol' boys from Tennessee whereas The Dead Weather are a much darker heavier band. With Blunderbuss we are subjected to literally every style of music he's ever done. Whether it be the simplistic approach of The White Stripes on "Love Interruption" to his love of Wanda Jackson style  rockabilly on "I'm Shakin" Blunderbuss has something for everyone. As always I can't wait to see where he goes next with this. 

15. Divine Fits - A Thing Called Divine Fits
What do you get when you cross Spoon with Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs? One funky-ass new wave band. Comprised of members of those bands Divine Fits are a bona fide indie supergroup that have made one crisp sounding party record. I would have never thought that Britt Daniel and Dave Boeckner would have worked well together but I was totally wrong. I hope this doesn't end up being a one time thing because this is one of the few instances where a supergroup actually works.

16. Cat Power - Sun 
 The ever erratic Chan Marshall aka Cat Power returns with one of her most consistent records to date. This record has a tremendous beginning and while it suffers a little bit in the middle the second half more than makes up for it. "Manhattan" is a perfect song for nighttime on an empty street and "Nothin But Time" features an exemplary performance by Iggy Pop. She's still depressed as ever but at least some of these songs you can dance to. 

17. Dr. Dog - Be The Void
Be The Void came out in early 2012 and while many critics seem to have forgotten it as the year went by I still find myself going back to it. Dr. Dog have already proven themselves to be great McCartney-esque songsmiths. Be The Void is slightly more varied and harder rocking than their previous record the masterpiece Shame, Shame. Some songs like "Big Girl" and "Warrior Man" are straight up T.Rex fuzz rockers.

18. The Walkmen - Heaven
 Many bands try to hide their age and escape the fact that they're getting older. The Walkmen embrace being dedicated family men and have created their most mature sounding record yet. Many of these themes are featured in the songs on Heaven

19. Thee Oh Sees - Putrifiers II
Slime rockers Thee Oh Sees record their most accessible and consistant record to date. "Flood's New Light" is the standout track that seems like a psych song straight from the 70s. If you enjoy Ty Segall but want something with a little more variety and harmony I highly recommend Thee Oh Sees. 

20. Titus Andronicus - Local Business
 Titus Andronicus go full punk Springsteen with Local Business. While this record isn't so much of a grandiose statement as their previous record The Monitor was, Local Business still is crisp collection of the kind of Jersey-punk that only Titus Andronicus can pull off. Standout tracks include "My Eating Disorder" and "In A Big City."

21. Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory
Attack on Memory is one ambitious record for the young punk artist Dylan Baldi. It features a pounding eight minute jam called "Wasted Days" as their lead single. The other track that really impressed me is the straight up sinister sounding slow build of "No Future/No Past." This album carries a certain weight that makes it very appealing.

22. The Magnetic Fields - Love At The Bottom Of The Sea
Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields challenged himself to record three albums that featured absolutely no synths. With that trilogy now complete The Magnetic Fields go crazy with synths on Love At The Bottom Of The Sea. This record seems to be a collection of songs that Merritt had in mind that didn't work with the no-synth trilogy. While this isn't their best record by a mile, even The Magnetic Fields' most mediocre is better than most other artists best. No one writes songs like Merritt does. He's a national treasure.

23. Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Psychedelic Pill
Neil Young does whatever the fuck he wants. That's what makes him so god damn amazing. This year he and Crazy Horse released an album that features American classics including "She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain," he released a stellar autobiography, and another Crazy Horse record that has an opening track that clocks in over a half hour long. While some of the tracks on Psychedelic Pill are easy to skip over, a few of the jams are some of the best he has done in a decade. The gargantuan "Walk Like a Giant" and "Ramada Inn" anchor this beast of a record. Long live Crazy Horse.

24. Daniel Rossen - Silent Hour/Golden Mile EP

When Daniel Rossen's stellar five song EP came out a few months before his main outfit Grizzly Bear released their record Shields I thought this would be a taste of what was to come. Nope. While many people adore the new Grizzly Bear I felt it didn't even come close to being as original as Veckatimist or Yellow House was. This EP on the other hand is a beautiful lush pastoral album that leaves the listener begging for more.

25. Reggie Watts - A Live at Central Park
I've said it time and time again, Reggie Watts is the most creative artist alive today. The comedian/singer/poet/beatboxer released a live album recorded in New York's Central Park. What amazes me the most about Watts is it's all improvised. You will never hear him do this material again. He makes beats and pieces together better pop hooks than most people and it's all off the top of his head. If you ever have the opportunity to see him, do it. You will never see another show like it.

Next are five albums that didn't quite make Top 25 but still good enough to mention.  The runner-ups.

26. The xx - Coexist
The xx return with a hotly anticipated sophomore LP. If you enjoyed their quite minimalistic love songs before you're going to love this one as well. More of the same and there isn't anything wrong with that. 

27. Father John Misty - Fear Fun
  Ex-Fleet Fox J. Tillman has released many solo albums before this. All filled with songs of sorrow. However last year he had an epiphany: he's not a sad guy. He released a record under the name Father John Misty filled with fun-loving characters and has now become a much more acclaimed artist. Sometimes to be yourself is to be happy. Fear Fun is a classic California folk-rock album in the making. 

28. Nick Waterhouse - Time's All Gone
Nick Waterhouse is a newcomer to the new-soul movement, although he has been a Echo Park staple in Los Angeles for years. This is the kind of old-school soul music your parents listened to back when vinyl parties were a thing. Time's All Gone can really groove.

29. Liars - WIXIW
Liars have pulled a Radiohead by completely changed their sound for the electronic WIXIW. While it features literally no guitar it's still a fascinating record that gets better with each listen. If I had stumbled upon this earlier in the year it would have probably been higher on this list.

30. BEST REISSUE: Donnie & Joe Emerson - Dreamin' Wild
 One of my favorite record labels Light In The Attic reissued 1979's Dreamin' Wild a yacht rock album filled with sexy slowjams by farmboys Donnie & Joe Emerson. This is the epitome of a lost record. The album's highlight "Baby" has been floating around the indie mixtape ether for years. Even Ariel Pink covered it for his new album. If you like lost relics add this to your Christmas list. 

Well there you have it! I can't wait to see what 2013 has in store. Feel free to comment and share with friends as well as subscribe to me on Spotify. We'll see you in the new year. 



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