Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Why Aren't You Listening to This?

Last week finally saw the release of Chance the Rapper's newest mixtape, Acid Rap. This is a free download that you can get right HERE. Seriously, that's all you have to do. Click on it. Now.

Chance the Rapper is a twenty year-old MC from Chicago -- I say "MC" specifically because Chance is the most entertaining new artist I have heard in quite some time. Where Kendrick focuses on the ever present dispositions toward violence being bred in certain geographic areas, Chance explores the same subject matter but in a much more enjoyable manner - there is more than one "Backseat Freestyle" you can enjoy on an album packed with an intelligent social conscience. And like Kendrick nearly perfected on his debut, there is a two movement song on Acid Rap, the seven and a half minute long "Pusha Man", though it's not as smooth a transition as Kendrick's "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst".

Being from Chicago obviously carries Kanye comparisons with it, West being the most notable Chicago artist in recent memory. Hearing Acid Rap for the first time did bring me back to the first time I heard "All Falls Down", The College Dropout. It's feel good music with an educated backbone. While fellow young Chicago rapper Chief Keef is very much a trap artist focusing on fully embracing gun violence, Chance has a much more cautious, controlled attitude toward gun violence - exhibited in the second half of "Push Man".

Acid Rap unfurls like a proper debut, much like how other growing rappers in this blog-heavy atmosphere's first notable mixtape felt big - the entire Black Hippy crew, the Pro Era kids, and ugh, Odd Future. Yeah, he is rapping about taking acid, drinking, and drugs, but it's self-conscious and incorporates crafty wordplay, awarding these songs a lot of stability and a projected longer lifespan. Ab-Soul, Action Bronson, Childish Gambino, and even Twista show up to expand the mixtape's voice and reach. And the beats are as well selected as the features are.

On all fronts, Chance the Rapper's Acid Rap kills it. This is a proper introduction to one of the most promising talents to debut in the past year that cannot be missed, seriously.

Check out the video for album single "Juice" below and download Chance's first mixtape #10Day HERE.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Album Review: James Blake's Overgrown

I won't shirk the claim that James Blake is my favorite artist to debut in the last couple years; that's a pretty concrete feeling I have. He seems to do everything right - his EPs allow him to experiment with new styles and sonics, his LPs are focused on furthering his songwriting and catalogue. That being said, Overgrown feels much more complete than Blake's eponymous debut. It is pure joy to pick out the little nuances Blake buries in his music, whether it be the subtle shifting of elements from foreground to background or just a noise I cannot begin to fathom constructing myself. He is at the forefront of Electronic music, passionately concerned with moving the genre forward.

Overgrown finds Blake stripping back the digital masking on most his vocals, offerring a more honest listen to his maudlin crooning. What makes Blake's second effort much better than his first is the song writing. His lyrics are tight, pensive, organic -- this is why I was rather disappointed that Blake didn't include a lyric sheet in his physical release like the debut did. I'm not just humming along to these songs anymore, but singing the lyrics clearly all day: chewing, digesting the material. The structures of these songs are complex and unique, more so as the record progresses into its increasingly experimental second half.

Enough Thunder, one of the two EPs in between the debut and Overgrown, saw Blake flirt with a Bon Iver collaboration and a beautiful Joni Mitchell cover; and even though the former wasn't anything to write home about, it allowed the artist to broaden his musical palette by including someone else in the song writing process. With this experiment under his belt, Two legendary musical figures, RZA and Brian Eno, helped James Blake with two songs on Overgrown. Both efforts are wins, the RZA song being one of the best songs Blake has done, giving hope to anyone (me) who wanted him to produce for rappers - his mix of R&B singing with stellar production dovetails RZA's heartfelt and serious lyrics pointedly.

There are more traditional songs - "Overgrown", "I Am Sold", "Retrograde" - on Overgrown than any of James Blake's previous efforts, be it EP or LP. And even though, as previously mentioned, the back half is a little experimental, there aren't any Lindisfarne ones and twos taking up record space. When it comes to a bonus track, a concept Ben Goodheart is vehemently against, "Everyday I Ran" may be the first bonus track to warrant a couple extra bucks, as it is just as good as Blake's breakthrough "CMYK".

I cannot wait to see where he goes from here; hopefully we get more experiments and new musical approaches on an EP in the near future, which isn't hard to imagine considering how dense the artist's output has been since his emergence.

Final Grade: A-

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Album Review: Comadre's Self-Titled

Whatever you want to call it, "Screamo," in its more traditional sound, is beginning to slowly rebuild its tattered image which many would attribute to the misnomering during the mid-2000s. Bands like Birds in Row, Suis La Lune, Single Mothers, and Loma Prieta focus more on musicality, ingenuity, and most importantly avoiding trends. Comadre started in 2004, right around the time where Screamo saw its bifurcation, though, admittedly, this is my first time seriously listening to the band. I checked out some of the band's previous releases, wasn't blown away, but got a better feel for where the band was coming from. Comadre's latest album, self-titled, exemplifies just how the band has been able to thrive, evolving in the most concentrated area of this Screamo revival, the San Francisco Bay Area.

What Comadre does for this band's discography should never be burdened with "Their earlier records are better," which is always the most juvenile thing anyone can say about a band from a distinct geographical sound and faithful fan base -- look at the divide Ceremony's Zoo inspired, despite clearly being a solid transitional record. The arrangements on this album are not entirely new to the genre but surprising in their efficacy, including a variety of keys, acoustic guitar, and trumpet - the last instrument eliciting Suis La Lune comparisons, "Drag Blood" being the obvious example. They do pretty much everything right on this record, rarely failing to do these instrumental forays justice. 

There is something to be said about the production of this album: it's very specific to the record. I couldn't find a version of this record without some apparent crackle and static on it, which ends up serving as sort of a bloody patina, magnifying the rough and tough sound of the band. Comadre was recorded entirely by the band, backed up by Vitriol. Some instruments peak, yet never sound out of place or like a mistake. By controlling recording, Comadre is able to watermark their sound, which gains more and more importance as the Age of Information proliferates copycat bands everywhere. Comadre furthers Screamo's reappropriation by offering the true voice of a band, one unfiltered. 

And while pretty much every song, and its placement, on Comadre is a win, there is one glaring flaw in the record: the last song doesn't close the record strongly enough. "Date Night", the album's last track, begins like a slow-building closer normally would, progresses into a stomper, but then its finale doesn't run with the momentum the rest of the record grants it. The last section of the song could have lasted another couple measures, taking a victory lap for the rest of Comadre. This record could have easily ended with "Binge" and its sampled piece of nostalgia. Although this is only one song, the opener and closer are often the two strongest, most important songs on an album. One could argue this reinvents how records are constructed, but having a weak closer leaves a bad taste in the mouth, with no exceptions.

Final Grade: B+

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Album Review: California X's Self-Titled

What should you expect from a band with a drummer nicknamed "Cool" and comparisons to Dinosaur Jr, even sharing a birthplace with the Alternative legends? Loud rock and great riffs coming fast and loose. California X deliver a winning effort with their eponymous debut album for Don Giovanni Records.

From the instant "Sucker" bombards with kick drum and heavy guitar, California X feels familiar: that heavy sound making you grit your teeth. The riffs here are catchy enough to carry entire songs, much like how Yuck was able to do so by using only a handful of licks per song, never showing their full hand. But where Yuck failed to keep up a driving momentum, writing slower songs to accentuate the quicker ones, California X focus more on keeping people moving than a shift in dynamics. Though, the songs that do yield a little bit - "Pond Rot", "Lemmy's World", "Mummy" - are the better cuts from the record, resonating more than the others. The rest of the record is consistent in building up those memorable guitar lines, sometimes making the verses feel tacked on for lyrical purposes - this is understandable due to the saccharine nature of the guitar lines, being careful not to over sweeten songs with these catchy instrumental breaks. But it ends up being the instrumental breaks on the record that serve more purpose than the lyrics do, staying with you long after the words are digested.

What helps portray the larger, louder than studio sound on California X is the production of the drums. The drums are huge, filling a lot of the space on this record - the opening to "Lemmy's World" is a salient example. The drums are, in a lot of ways, an ersatz Steve Albini recording; and anything close to Albini-level drums should be considered an accomplishment. With a lot of the songs featuring a two-chord progression, the drums help move things along and keep the songs from settling. The vocals have the same filling effect as the drums in the mix, existing mostly as ethereal musings and nothing reveling in ennui like J Mascis often does. California X sounds a lot more fulfilled, or content, than any Dino Jr releases, when it comes to the vocals.

This is a sturdy debut from a band trying to escape its influences as much as it is comfortable with them - a dichotomy more and more bands are trying to decide which side to lean toward. California X is best when it's thoughtful, though, taking its time in the muck. And I can see California X getting better with touring, allowing songs to spawn out of their live show; a band like this can only benefit from turning up the amps, beating the drums, and letting adrenaline get the best of them.

Final Grade: B

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Case Race for Party Punk

I’m calling it right now: This is the year for party punk. More red solo cups will be crushed than ever before. People will construct wizard sticks that will necessitate a new unit of measurement. People will be smoking weed by the pound and slinging coke because that will soon be their job.  And it will all be because of Party punk.

The impetus for this claim is obvious: FIDLAR is going to be the band that breaks this genre. FIDLAR’s debut, which was released on Tuesday, is loud, fast, angry, and druggy as all hell. In short, it rules. It’s no commitment, and intrinsically, it makes one want to get really drunk. 

FIDLAR - "NO Waves"

Of course, because the word “trend” exists, FIDLAR is not the only band playing this brash form of punk: there are also three power-houses of party punk around the United States.

We have Nashville’s Diarrahea Planet, the long haired southern party boys that take as many cues from tour mates Jeff The Brotherhood as much they do hardcore. Also they four guitarists. Indulgent? Exactly.  That’s kind of their whole deal. They released Loose Jewels in 2011 (a 19-minute degenerate anthematic masterpiece) and have another record forthcoming this year. 

 Diarrhea Planet - "Warm Ridin'"

Across the country, up in Oregon resides Mean Jeans; the eternally bummed but drunk disciples of the Ramones who released On Mars last year and have garnered some attention with their latest single “I Miss Outerspace.” Mean Jeans area of expertise is getting “twisted” (drunk/high), while trying to woo that cute girl who can drink you under the table.

 Mean Jeans - "Anybody Out There?"

Down in Flordia we have Too Many Daves, the most org-core of the bunch, consisting of a bunch of forty-something eternally drunks on the verge of a mid-life crisis, pushing it off one beer at a time.

Too Many Daves - "Dude's Room"

So what makes these bands party punk? And moreover what makes them good or at least worth listening to? By all acounts, these bands consist of drunks and drug addicts. (Read: All). They are all, by their own admission, pieces of shit in some compacity. They steal. They drive drunk. They are unemployed and fully unemployable. They do nothing with their lives. Yet, they write some of the catchiest music I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. Upon the first listen of FIDLAR, I was humming along lyrics and telling everyone I knew to listen to them. (Sidenote, shouts to my Creative Writing Professor for turning me on to them. Second side note, my bad for sounding like a pretentious dick.) Diarrhea Planet has that rare quality of spouting kind of depressing lyrics yet making the listener feel absolutely empowered. After hearing “Fauser” for the first time, I felt like shotgunning a beer and writing love letters to everyone I knew. Mean Jeans’ music is tailored made for a music video whose centerpiece is a keg. Too Many Daves is the drunk uncle telling you on Thanksgiving everything will be okay as he hands you a Labat Blue.

I think what’s most engaging about party-punk is that it is resurrecting pop-punk from it’s tomb of Blink-182 and Fall Out Boy rip-offs. Even in that era, pop-punk bands took themselves too seriously, to the point of ruination. Most if not all, however, started off as "just a couple of jokers" before transitioning into annoying highschool crooners. Now, the bands that I’m defending are fundamentally the same - they are, for lack of a better term, three-chord bands, or seemingly so, at least. Every pop-punk band ever has been slapped with that label, and not without reason. What seperates these bands from their predecessors is the content, the bones of the beast. They fully embrace the somewhat silliness of their genre. Whereas Blink-182 had songs about going to space that had some sort of “massive corporeal impliciations” or whatever Tom DeLonge says when he’s fucked on painkillers, Mean Jeans has songs about going to space and drinking Jaegar with aliens. Where Green Day had an entire album literally built up to “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”, Diarrhea Planet constructs an entire album dedicated to shotgunning beers and bumming cigarettes -- my hatred for Nimrod rivals my hatred for The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Say what you want about party culture, but Diarrhea Planet’s creedo is much more preferable to Green Day’s self-indulgent Pac Sun bullshit. Now of course, the Blink-182 influence is palpable in FIDLAR, but that could be attributed to location or the fact that Dude Ranch was a huge influence on them. I’m actually a huge fan of Blink-182, but even on joke songs, they faultered where FIDLAR flourishes -- seriously have you heard Buddha? that album sucks. Blink-182 took several albums to find footing and become good songwriters, where FIDLAR knocked the ball out of the park on the first swing.

A quick aside: I’m sure Wavves will enter into the conversation eventually, as FIDLAR are likely to be compared to them because of their lassiez-faire attitude, their SoCal sound, and their inclination towards weed-smoking. However, Wavves, in my opinion, is not party-punk. Wavves is yet another case of where the artists’ mental condition overrides their artistic output which, in my opinion, sucks. At the end of the day, Wavves is still shitty pop-punk for people who would otherwise be ashamed to admit they like pop-punk.

But what if the idea of a band dedicated to throwing their lives away turns you off? It’s a valid complaint, but I would still at least give some of these bands a listen; there’s a bit more of a weight here than just getting fucked up. These aren’t one dimensional lovelorn songs either. Every song, from FIDLAR to Too Many Daves, carries an emotional urgence that manifests itself in escapism and fear of death. Fear of death is, naturally, a recurring theme throughout media, but framed within this context it becomes a little more potent. “Well, we’re going to die, so we might as well be in a constant state of suspended animation and get as close to death as possible.” It’s a complex view and a complex way of coping, but an interesting view to get regardless. And the best part: The music is really fucking fun and over as quickly as it began, leaving no time for self-aggrandizing or sentimental bullshit that pop-punk magnetizes oh so easily toward and oh so often.

With that, I should remind you that this is the year party punk will break. FIDLAR is going to be huge. Diarrhea Planet is going to definitely gain some steam and some more fans with their new record. Mean Jeans will hopefully arouse some more interest around the Internet beyond the org-core reach. Too Many Daves, I suspect, will continue to operate quietly among the Florida scene while a crop of copycat bands pop-up. So, crack open a beer and get your friends together. This is going to be a fun year.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Album Review: Parquet Courts' Light Up Gold

Equal parts Pavement, Minutemen, and Replacements, Parquet Courts establish their own slacker, protester, Americana sound out of the stated influences. The kind of music your mom tells you to turn off, Light Up Gold is a sturdy gem. Their lack of effort perfectly sets out the sometimes - when the band feels like giving a shit - starkly abrasive lyrics; lines like "Socrates died in the fucking gutter" really pop in the quasi lo-fi mix. The cover of this record vaguely tells the story of the formerly Texan band relocating to New York City to try their hand at swimming in a  bigger pond: an annotated picture of a ritual often associated with Texas -- that shouldn't seem pejorative toward the band, or simliar bands, especially when they're this good at relocating, advancing their sound.

Balancing the slacker mentality with some of the aggressive political songs is what makes Light Up Gold such a treat. It doesn't dwell on anything too serious for long. The Middle America anti-fight song "Careers in Combat" is followed by the two part cool down tracks titled after the record - it's a rest, letting the band and listener let what previously transpired sink in. So, as hard as anyone tries to draw conclusions about the band sounding too much like one of its aforementioned influences, the album's track listing and composure defends its originality in spades. "N Dakota" and "Stoned and Starving", the album's two best tracks, anchor the middle of the album perfectly; so rarely do people look forward to the meat of an album, often focusing on the openers and closers too closely. The latter track is a perfect example of how the slacker and Americana influences Parquet Courts cite blend so well together, with ease. "No Ideas" feels so lazy that it sounds like the band forgot to tune their guitars, nearly achieving Sonic Youth guitar harmonies.

While many people couldn't get over The Men's recent leanings toward The Replacements, Parquet Courts' Light Up Gold does Open Your Heart a favor in distancing it from those critics, further carving out the niche this brand of music is beginning to inhabit. I can't really see this being an Album of the Year contender, but it could easily fall into the middle of my list. And while it is somewhat original, none of the tracks are going to grab you instantly - it might take a few listens to full appreciate this album. This record is one of the few moving people away from the term "Indie" when describing music, an inappropriately coined genre, though it is inching it further into the "Rock" label, a term that feels stale from too much exposure.

Final Grade: B

Friday, January 11, 2013

Kyle's Top 50 Albums of 2012: 10-1

Below are the best records of the year, the Top 10! They blend listenability and artistic integrity seamlessly. Because they are so good, I'll keep this prologue short. Cool?

10. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!

Post-Rock has seen a slow dissolve into the rest of music, almost entirely abandoning its independence. The mercurial Godspeed You! Black Emperor silently distributed this album two weeks before its release date in October at a show in Boston, their first album in a decade. What 'Allelujah... does for Post-Rock is what this year and the last did for R&B: it's a revival. Maybe we won't see a burst of Post-Rock releases immediately, but eventually you can bet it will inspire many to pick up their instruments and try the tired genre again. Due to the band's attention to the artistic importance of a physical release of music, Goodspeed packaged the shorter, Drone-based songs on a 7" record and the true Post-Rock songs on a 12", creating an interesting and content-focused vinyl release. "Mladic", which begins the album, opens with a scattered radio signal detailing what sounds to be an assassination, a possible retelling of the Bin Laden killing - it's pretty unclear and I am only speculating, but this opening shifts the interpretation of the record to a more political stance regardless of intended meaning. The arrangements on 'Allelujah... are grand, unpredictable, and move toward the epic at any random point. Though it took them a decade to release a new album, Godspeed proves Post-Rock isn't dead, and it can teach adeptly without speaking. 

9. Tame Impala - Lonerism
[Modular Recordings]

Largely recorded abroad, Lonerism assures the Australian Pyschadelic does not fall victim to the sophomore slump, and in many ways, it improves on Innerspeaker. Band leader Kevin Parker made sure to keep recording gear at his disposal at all times, ensuring no ideas would be lost in the shuffle on the tour for Innerspeaker. This album is packed with 70s era Psychedelica to the point where I question how much money the band spent on vintage gear. In a year which saw Instagram sell for $1 billion, it's a comfort to hear art that is organically vintage, not slapped with a filter after the fact. Obvious themes of loneliness are weaved throughout Lonerism, imposing a solidarity with the listener. This is the music of Nyquil dreams and sleep paralysis, at times, and other times it is a vast landscape of floating guitar tunes and marching drums. The production deserves some attention as it perfectly accentuates the shifts in moods. This is a record that gives and gives until there is nothing left but a dissonance of static and anxiety, an exhausting record to create yet boundlessly enjoyed. 

8. Japandroids - Celebration Rock

It should be harder than this to be so maturely nostalgic of youth, without pandering one bit. Japandroids record nearly all their music in one live take, sprinkling a in handful of overdubs later. It's this technique that accurately portrays their live show in recordings, something many bands fail at. Celebration Rock starts and ends with fireworks, leaving just as quickly as it came. And fireworks are often enjoyed more by the young than the old, a statement that seems to reverse itself when it comes to Japandroids. Equally influenced by Garage and Punk Rock, Celebration Rock seems even more self-aware than Post Nothing, the band's debut full-length, constantly playing with song conventions and inverting them. Only eight songs long, including one cover, Celebration Rock builds on what its predecessor did so well in 2009. I definitely feel like I have some sort of Shining with this band, but it seems that whomever they click with, that Shining is shared. The way Japandroids paint youthful lust and mistakes is beyond clever, never sounding the least bit banal. I wasn't surprised when I heard how good this record was, I was just elated that I had more Japandroids to listen to; they're the band you just want more of. 

[Clean Slate; Epic]

"Every single night's a fight with my brain," sings Fiona Apple on The Idler Wheel... opener "Every Single Night". Apple is an artist deft with the pen, and also with her simple, effective arrangements. She's not comfortable in her own skin, still, so a lot of this album is fidgety. There are few moments of repose, yet it's still fascinatingly pretty. If this is Apple's grownup album - she's now in her mid-thirties - then I can't wait for whatever stage of insecurity comes next. When she reaches her most desperate pleading on "Daredevil", she assures herself how she needs someone to watch over her, a chaperone; this is exactly how the listener feels throughout The Idler Wheel... as if they are watching someone close to them toe the line of a steep personal decline. It's not as gruesome as a train-wreck, but the closer you listen to the lyrics, the more you empathize with Apple, wanting to help her however you can. And while Fiona could care less if she has your support, she has succeeded in having you share a small portion of the everyday struggles she goes through. I love how personal this record is, without ever feeling like a sob story - Apple often takes responsibility her current problems. It's great to have Fiona Apple back making music, though after studying The Idler Wheel... closely, it's hard to say how long she will be sticking around, musically or otherwise.

6. Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music
[Williams Street; Grand Hustle; Adult Swim]

Killer Mike has always been this good. He has always been in the conversation of the best southern rappers. Mike just needed someone equally as talented as he. Enter New York's legendary El-P. A collaboration between Atlanta and New York, R.A.P. Music feels instantly familiar. Released with the help of Williams Street, this match of producer and rapper feels predestined throughout. El-P's beats now sound pointed and political under Killer Mike's aggressive assault. Like Ben Goodheart, I have heard this record is too political, but you could also argue it's too personal: Killer Mike is a humanist with progressive ideals and responsibility. "I'm glad Reagan dead" might be the funniest line on the record, though the album is chock full of witty lines like that, producing an entertaining listen each time. Nothing is half-baked on R.A.P. Music, every single idea is fully developed, its own entity. But the best part about this record is you might learn something. Mike's raps are factually correct - heck, it might even leave you enlightened. When such a talented MC and producer get together, it raises the bar for other rappers to be much wiser with their beat selections, and producers to where they lend their beats. It's this stake-raising album that makes Rap (music) better.

5. Grizzly Bear - Shields

Beautiful in respite, Shields sees Grizzly Bear throw out most of the pop-sensibility on Veckatimest and bring back in more of the seclusive elements from Yellow House, which makes a lot of sense considering most of the record recorded in the same place as Yellow House. Shields speaks a lot to location, much like how Phil Elverum is so adept at translating setting into music. Grizzly Bear is such a collaborative effort on Shields; there are no distinct band leaders, each member contributing equally. Chris Bear's effort on this record is the most noted, when it comes to critical response, but the drummer has always been one of the driving forces of the band -- I was surprised with just how many critics commented on Bear's drumming like he had never even been considered part of the band. In a year where Animal Collective faltered, Grizzly Bear might just be the new indie darling band. With three exceptional albums under their belt, the band shows no sign of slowing down, continuing onward by force of its own momentum. Shields parallels the band's success: it's a complete work, snowballing into some crescendo no one dreamed of, until this.


Converge sat down, after having molded and reshaped Metalcore a dozen times, and thought, What's next? They decided to control every aspect of All We Love We Leave Behind, from the recording process to the artwork and distribution. Everything is perfect. The vocals sound like the pleading of a lunatic, the guitars attack with mathematical precision, and the rhythm section shifts with the music restlessly. Brutality is an understatement when it comes to describing All We Love We Leave Behind - there are multiple transitions on this album where my only reaction is to laugh at how ridiculously good and unexpected they are. And Converge is writing even bigger songs than the ones featured on the band's classic Jane Doe. "Coral Blue" is one of the best songs on the album, sounding like a discontent Mastodon song mixed with Isis. I just wish this album came out when I was younger, so I could have worked out some of that teenage aggression - but that is folly, as it should take a band over two decades to sound this good. This is Converge at the top of their game, imposing their will on any band that even half-jokingly considers themselves heavy. Laugh, Converge, laugh. 

3. Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d. City
[Top Dawg Entertainment; Aftermath; Interscope]

"Instant classic" is a term thrown around in Rap far too often, but it seemed like everyone, including almost every critic, was calling Kendrick Lamar's major-label solo debut an instant classic. It is, unfortunately. Now it will carry this title, a cross to bear, for the years in which its longevity will be tested. This shouldn't be difficult for good kid, m.A.A.d. City, so no one should worry, right? Well, if this "classic" title precedes the album every time someone new is introduced to it, it's at an inherent disadvantage: all expectations are raised and the listeners raises a keener ear. Rants aside, GKMC is perpetually strong, in the now. There's no denying the purpose of this record was to receive acclaim, using every penny of its budget to fully express Lamar's visionary raps. Everything on this record works. It's extremely intelligent; the beats are all tailored to Lamar and his many flows; and it says as much about the current Rap scene as it does about how people perceive it. There is a distinct call for change on GKMC, and with such a high exposure level, Lamar's message will be broadcasted to millions. Though it is pretty foolish to claim something a classic - the definition of classic in art being defined by its timelessness - GKMC makes an educated guess that it will continue to define rap for the years to come. 

2. Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE
[Def Jam]

Pretty much every music blog this year chose either Channel Orange or good kid, m.A.A.d. city for its album of the year: both were hugely anticipated albums, major label debuts, hyped by a rap collective at the height of their popularity, and deserving of AOTY titles. I remember when Ocean made his television debut on Letterman, revealing the album was up for digital downloads a week early; "I remember, how could I forget?" I rushed to my computer and purchased it on iTunes, something I haven't done in about two years.

Frank Ocean is the perfect storm of an artist; one that comes along only once every decade, a true original, but there are definitely shades of Prince in Ocean's persona and talents, not to undermine his vision. He is constantly misquoted, concerning his sexuality and willingness to leave music altogether; misunderstood; and extremely under appreciated, despite being a critically lauded musician. I think Channel Orange doesn't begin to scratch the surface on what we can expect from Ocean. nostalgia, ULTRA was a decent prelude, though no one could predict a song like "Thinking Bout You", which is up for a Grammy -- despite Grammys becoming less and less salient. Even songs like "Sierra Leone", a song I feel never quite coalesces, is a great exercise in harmony and rhythm that hints at more excellent music, experiments, from the twenty-five year old we have yet to hear. "Pyramids" is the most epic song I heard all year, including songs from Baroness, Converge, Cloud Nothings, Death Grips - all bands that seemingly pride themselves on being larger than life; Ocean remains just one man.

Introducing sexual ambiguity and a myriad of unconventional accompaniments, Channel Orange efficiently increases R&B's clout in the ever-shifting musical landscape in the internet age; a trend put in motion by the recent emergence of Drake and The Weeknd as a radio juggernaut. Frank Ocean even uses tumblr in a way not warranting hatred and frustration with the human race, fully understanding how the internet community, though almost entirely fickle and spoiled, can receive a person who is true to his or her online avatar, which Ocean captures in spades. Channel Orange feels more like a movement toward acceptance, away from misogyny, and twirling, twirling, twirling toward deeper music broadcasted to a larger audience than just another album from 2012.

1. Death Grips - The Money Store / NO LOVE DEEP WEB
[Epic] [Self-Released]

What feels like a swift kick in the teeth, Death Grips' The Money Store is an album forged deep in the recesses of technology. Using samples from iPhones and a swathe of digital white noise, The Money Store is the masterpiece of MC Ride and Zach Hill (maybe Flatlander): their "fuck you" statement to the music industry. This is an album whose story is just as good as the music, a rare entity in the DIY era. Death Grips signed to Epic, a move into the very industry Exmilitary seemed to steer away from - who was going to sign a band who shouted incoherently over violent beats, then sell it? The music community stood nonplussed, yet foaming at the mouth to see what happened next. The Money Store comes out, it garners every critic's recommendation, and a vast tour is booked, only Death Grips now promises two releases in 2012. The tour is cancelled, production on NO LOVE DEEP WEB begins. Death Grips blow their entire advance from The Money Store at L.A.'s famously star-inhabited Chateau. They leak NO LOVE from an iPhone with a picture of Zach Hill's dick serving as the cover. I thought it was all brilliant. The band was immediately dropped from Epic, left homeless and broke, and this is all within the year of their breakthrough. This is all from a band that is increasingly reclusive, despite being one of the most sought after interviewees, and proclaimed "No representation is better than misrepresentation;" it's pretty accurate to say Death Grips functions on its own honest frequency.

The Money Store boasts forty-one minutes of brutal, often ineffable music. MC Ride is a little more coherent on here than Exmilitary, but doesn't loose his edge at all. He's also curbed back, as the songs are a bit shorter, creating a more focused album. The Money Store even features some bangers you can play whenever, not just when you want to see if you can make a Molotov cocktail; "Get Got" and "I've Seen Footage" do have some appeal, though the closer you look, the more you can see how baffling the move to Epic was. Hill bears the weight on the production - the recondite samples and beats on this album are outstandingly fresh and innovative. The album also scored two perfect ten scores from The Needle Drop and Drowned in Sound, adding to its merits.

NO LOVE DEEP WEB showed what happened when the artistic abyss that is Death Grips stared into itself. Much further down the isolationist rabbit hole The Money Store started down, this record is frightening. This might be the most artistically true record all year. Death Grips didn't capitulate to any demands on NLDW. And though it didn't receive the acclaim the former record did, it serves as an important companion piece: this album is the ultimate goal of The Money Store's unease. What this record does best is pair MC Ride's aggression with the deepest of beats, sometimes only using drums as the sole instrument. It's amazing what Death Grips does with so little. This is the record that put millions of dicks in people's iTunes.

These albums have exhausted a band who was an unorthodox entity to begin with, so maybe a complete defenestration was the band's planned future. And just an author's note these albums certainly aren't for everyone, but those who can understand their importance and originality will be perpetually rewarded with each skittishly unpredictable listen.

So that's the year in music for one self-appointed critic. You can return to the main page to view all the lists, and Flatted Third has some bonus lists geared up for next week, so don't forget to come back and check them out!