Whoa whoa whoa whoa! What is this? Another post? THIS IS MADNESS! Just kidding! It is just fun, you guys! Let’s talk about some great albums from 2012! I might say more for some of these albums than others. We will see. Let’s gooooooooooo again!
20. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory
Attack on Memory was one of the earliest, bigger releases of 2012. Since the internet and internet culture puts a huge emphasis on lists and ranks (says the guy making a list of twenty albums from 2012 in the third month of 2013), there was an awareness of exactly when this album was released. Since it arrived early in the year, it did not have the burden list-makers might saddle it with later in the year (“Sure, but does it rock as much as Celebration Rock!? Is that more or less rock than Open Your Heart?! Metz!”). It still had baggage though. Dylan Baldi recorded this album for the first time with his touring band. Steve Albini produced. Everything is DARKER. Some of this is useful as an entry point, but if we let that cloud (HEY GUYS LOOK AT THAT) our judgment, we miss the music.
One of the things I overuse to describe additional albums in an artist or bands’ music is focus. “Their sophomore album is more focused. There is a focus he or she didn’t have last time.” It has gotten to the point where it’s just noise. Attack on Memory is not more focused than Cloud Nothings. The earlier album had some of the loveliest pop-leaning rock songs of 2011. There could be something said for getting older (Baldi singing “I always knew/ I’d follow you/ And know I know that it’s much better” vs. Baldi screaming “I thought I would be more than this” over and over again), but the albums are only separated by a year. It is more of a testament to Baldi as a songwriter capable of stretching himself and trying new stuff. Cloud Nothings are set to release a new album in 2013. It will probably sound different from Cloud Nothings and different from Attack on Memory. A lot can change in a year, but a lot can also build. Growing is change, but its change from a particular point with its own history.
19. Purity Ring – Shrines
“I think he’s just playing lights.”
People have become more forgiving about pre-recorded sounds (save vocals) in live concert settings. Especially if you are a single artist or a duo. With the amount of sampling and modulation that goes into a Purity Ring track, it would be ridiculous to expect them to recreate every sound on the fly. We only have two hands with which to mold the world. After a bunch of my co-workers saw Purity Ring, they remarked how the instruments Corin Roddick played seemed more involved with the lighting than the music. In reality, they are for both, but you can’t track lights on an album, so why not go all out during a show?
I first heard Purity Ring on a post from The Hairpin in January 2011. Their full-length came out in July of 2012 with all the previously loved tracks and a hunk of new ones. For all I joke about Purity Ring (“Hey what’s that Purity Ring song with the sampled vocals that are like, ‘Ahhh, oohh oh oh, ahh oh?'”) the way they manage to twist Megan James’ voice into shiny, electric sounds while retaining humanity is something that mainstream pop (mostly, will.i.am) has been trying to do for years. They never do it as well as Purity Ring does. Maybe it’s better just to focus on the lights.
18. Action Bronson/ Party Supplies – Blue Chips
For all the opulence in rap, there is little specific talk of food. Sure, people will go out to very nice dinners and many rappers enjoy the finer things in life, but they don’t drop names too often (I would be remiss if I did not mention Drake’s appreciation of Thomas Keller in “The Ride”). So, if you are real into the rap game and the foodie game, you adore Action Bronson. He is the only person who can make “We wildin’ in Marea” sound natural and confident without coming off like he’s pandering. That’s the problem with today’s hip-hop. Too much pandering to the commenters on Eater.com.
Bronson bounces around a bunch of similar themes on Blue Chips, but he also likes to play a game some might call “Obscure Reference Time with Action Bronson.” Within the first minute of the album, he’s talking about Buddhist temples in Nagano and fallen National League MVPs. Action Bronson whips these lines together most of the time, but he might just pull a few names from the ether to see if they stick. Bronson has so many different names for marijuana and the female anatomy, you have no choice but to keep up with him.
For all his unseemly lines (and some of the weird publicized shit he’s done over the past year), there’s a romance to Bronson. That kind of plays into his references. He’s gathering memories while recalling past loves. I’m probably overemphasizing, but with songs like “Thug Love Story 2012” and the second verse of “9-24-11” Bronson touches on the pains of nostalgia and how difficult they are to escape.
17. Diiv – Oshin
One of the cool things that happens at my job is we sometimes have bands come play for people. I’m not sure if that’s happening going forward due to some complaints from our building mates, but the second band that came to our office was DIIV. I had not heard the whole DIIV album before then. People had played a few songs here and there, but I did not pay attention. When DIIV played though, I was blown away. All of their shimmering guitar parts and ghostly vocals came through crystal-clear. That’s a feat given that they were playing in an old warehouse that used to be a pencil factory. It’s also a feat given that you don’t expect a new band to be that tight. I spend a lot of time in my office, but it is great when something like the DIIV show that takes your mind off work and responsibilities. For one night, the office was a place where a band reminded me how much of a thrill it can be when a musicians just throws themselves into it and completely captivate the audience.
16. Tanlines – Mixed Emotions
Tanlines like the Mets. Goodnight! That is the reason they are on the list.
Just kidding! You are glad you kept reading, I bet. Definitely didn’t see the rest of the text in this post after that abrupt misdirection, laughs out loud.
I love summer jams (stylized as SuMmAh JaMz or S*U*M*M*E*R*J*A*M*Z*). They are one of my long-standing musical niches along with that lonely hearts Valentine’s mix I have never finished, but I assure you the Spiritualized/ Mike Jones fade in will blow your mind. When Mixed Emotions came out, it was March. However, the brightness of the album stuck with me and I stuck it in the SuMmAh JaMz portion of my brain. When I write “brightness,” I don’t mean to say this is a particularly happy or sunny album. Some songs are, some songs aren’t. I mean the bouncing, brassy sounds of the synths and the way clipped guitar chords and clean lines play together without getting muddled. Also, “Lost Somewhere” draws a ton from “I Know There’s An Answer.” I know it’s up for me if you steal the sunshine from this album.
I listen to this album less than I should. Oshin and Mixed Emotions are the records I most often forget I love. Then, I am somewhere, and my mp3 player plays “Rain Delay” or I am in my office and “All of Me” starts bouncing, and I remind myself, You love this you love this you love this so much.
15. El-P – Cancer 4 Cure
El-P had a pretty good year, right? I mean, I don’t know how his year went personally, but between Cancer 4 Cure and helping out Killer Mike, he had a great year musically. We can agree on that! After the 2011 had by his compatriots Danny Brown, Das Racist, and Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire, it was nice to see El-P do so well.
This is a great album, but El-P is also on some next level late night performance shit. Bringing in Zola Jesus to perform with him on Conan and doing his track with Nick Diamonds on Letterman were unexpected fun moves. It’s nice when people you like are on television.
14. Chairlift – Something
I gushed about “I Belong In Your Arms” in the last post, but I don’t want that to pigeonhole the rest of Something. It’s an experimental pop record thrust forward by some of the best bass jams and expressive vocals in the game. “I Belong In Your Arms” might be the best love song of last year, but everything that surrounds it is just as interesting and just as sonically fulfilling.
And! Also! http://www.chairlifted.com/metbefore/
13. Chromatics – Kill For Love
Chromatics have always been cinematic (but maybe not as cinematic as the associated Symmetry’s Themes For An Imaginary Film) and Kill For Love continues that, since Chromatics’ aesthetic is sort of tied up in that now. People like things that remind them of movies. Life has many frustrations, boredoms, and disappointments. To quote perhaps the greatest songwriter of a generation, “the lows are so extreme that the good seems fucking cheap.” So yeah, I would probably trade my commute and job and life to be a John Krasinski character in a romantic comedy that opens in mixed reviews.
I used to put myself in movies a lot. And tv shows. And books. When I was reading Harry Potter, I came up with this character for me. It was an American wizard who was found and he was to matriculate at Hogwarts. He was going to be not best friends with Harry, Hermione, and Ron, but he was going to be good friends with them. He was going to musically-inclined, and play light drums (drums created out of light by magic). I’m not sure why I went with drums rather than an instrument I played, I just knew I wanted to be a part of that story. I wanted a different life.
I still daydream like that. When I am walking to buy my lunch during work, I’ll often think of a bit government worker I could be in Pawnee, Indiana. Maybe I would become friends with Andy Dwyer or maybe I would help Leslie Knope out with a city project. It is weird because these things do not make good television plots. They just make warm places.
I don’t mean to say that Kill For Love is only a soundtrack for daydream movies. You can make it that, but it is more than that. It’s the latest iteration of a hazy, electric rock opera that works for Chromatics. The back of Kill For Love plays up the movie elements that recall posters rather than trailers. There’s a little information given in type on the back of the album, and then the songs fill in the rest. We twist them and break them and misunderstand them, but we never get too far from the outline and emotion Chromatics build.
12. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
The Idler Wheel was the first Fiona Apple album I bought. Her other albums were released at various stages in my musical enjoyment life (Tidal – “I ONLY LIKE CARTOONS AND CHOCOLATE”, When the Pawn – “DJ LETHAL BRING THAT SHIT BACK”/ “I GUESS THIS IS GROWING UP”, Extraordinary Machine – “HEY HAVE YOU GUYS HEARD THE ARCADE FIRE?”) where I was listening to and really into other stuff. The Idler Wheel came out a time when I was more open to listening to different stuff (AKA stuff that every music site is talking about. I just don’t want to be left out!).
I think Fiona Apple invites fanatics. I have never seen a large campout of people waiting for a Fiona Apple concert and I’ve never seen a frenzy when Apple does not win awards, but Fiona Apple fans seem really into Fiona Apple. Maybe this was more of an issue during the Extraordinary Machine hubbub, but I always got the impression that Fiona Apple fans adore Fiona Apple in a way that few other fans do, or at least it’s more widespread with Fiona Apple. That’s the impression that I get.
It’s warranted, though. The Idler Wheel has the type of songs over which you can obsess. They are of a quality where you can have a friend who only likes one musician and that musician is Fiona Apple (NOT ME THOUGH! I LIKE AT LEAST NINETEEN OTHER MUSIC PEOPLE!).
11. Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
The Atlanta Braves are the most Atlanta team in terms of having an identity, right? The Hawks and Falcons are both very good successes recently. Their fans probably enjoy the success and are more familiar with the personalities of the players, but for the city’s vibrance, the Falcons and the Hawks seem like set pieces rather than emblems. But what if they just started playing only Killer Mike songs at Falcons and Hawks games? I would have jumped on the Falcons bandwagon if Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez, and John Abraham ran out to “Big Beast” during the playoffs. Oh my, that would have pumped everyone up.
That wouldn’t happen for a variety of reasons, but I don’t think for all his civic pride Killer Mike would let his song become part of a corporate promotion essentially. There’s a lot of anger on R.A.P. Music, but it’s warranted. There is a system and it is fucked and it’s not going to change through rap music. But it can change through, as Killer Mike rhymes on the titular track, “what my people need and the opposite of bullshit.”
El-P joins Killer Mike in production and they kill it. Killer Mike could have just taken El-P’s tracks from Cancer 4 Cure to deliver something dynamite, but together they tailor everything to fit Mike. Everything fits perfectly.
NEXT TIME: More music! . . . More rock! . . . More dancing! . . . More rap! . . . More FUN! . . . 40,000 words about Taylor Swift’s Red.