13. Literature - Arab Spring [Square of Opposition]
When discussing indie pop, the term "infectious hooks" gets thrown around a lot, but Arab Spring is the definition of the phrase. With bouncy riffs and breezy melodies that end as quickly as they begin, Arab Spring is the twenty-minute soundtrack to the perfect spring day. To attribute "pop sensibilities" to this band would be an egregious understatement. Even though this is Literature's first album, they have mastered more indie-pop in just ten songs than most bands ever master any genre. You should also keep an eye on Literature's label Square of Opposition. They were responsible for putting out the late Snowing's material and always have a solid roster of awesome, yet diverse bands.
-- Ben Goodheart
12. Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory [Carpark]
"No Future/No Past", Attack on Memory's first single, was released in November of 2011. It had everyone I knew chomping at the bits in anticipation to hear how Attack on Memory would turn out. I really enjoyed the band's previous, self-titled release and was excited to see what the rest of the Cloud Nothings band could do behind Dylan Baldi's excellent song-writing. Then I heard Steve Albini was producing; damn. About three months passed and we finally were able to experience the whole album - Attack on Memory should be considered one of Albini's best works, though hopefully it won't be Cloud Nothings'. The growth exhibited from Cloud Nothings to Attack on Memory is exceptional. These songs blister and boil over, yet also allow Baldi's bandmates to throw their hats into the ring, feeling more like a group effort than a bedroom twee-punk exercise. Attack on Memory had three singles leading up to its release, a perfect teaser to keep interest in the time preceding its release; and with each great single, Attack on Memory became more and more what it is today: entirely satisfying.
-- Kyle Murphy
This is my second time writing about this album for Flatted Third, and I want to make something clear for those who still might not understand: MUSIC IS NOT TAILOR MADE FOR YOU. Bands have no obligation to write music for their fans; if anything, we’re lucky they willingly share what they create. And while they’re doing that, we still back and criticize and nitpick whatever we think doesn’t sound good. This was a big lesson I learned while listening to Baroness’ double album Yellow & Green. Much like Mastodon’s The Hunter, Baroness drastically changed their signature sludge sounds, going for a mellower one. For those fans who miss classic Baroness, Yellow should be able to satisfy any longing, while Green shows the more adventurous side of Baroness, forfeiting the classics for a much fresher sound. When the album was released, many fans were either happy, confused, or infuriated with the new sound. Front man John Baizley stated in many interviews that they don’t write music for their fans. For Baroness, writing and playing music is what keeps them sane. They appreciate their fans, but like many great artists, no matter what the criticisms may be, this band doesn’t give a fuck about what you want. Personally, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
-- Gerry D'Apollo [Check out Gerry's full review from earlier this year!]
10. The Men - Open Your Heart [Sacred Bones]
Though admittedly a step into the realm of the Replacements after residing in the influence of Husker Du prior, Open Your Heart is as loud and furious, and emotional, as its predecessors but just in a totally different way. From the very beginning, garage-y whirlwind of "Turn It Around", to the exercise in the deliberate that is "Oscilation", around the alt-country aside of "Candy", every song on this album sounds totally different, yet retaining a style that is still so distinctly The Men. This is their third album in three years, with another one on the way, so if you haven't already started listening to this band, do so before their discography is too dense and you don't know where to start -- though I'd say start with Leave Home.
-- Ben Goodheart
9. Titus Andronicus - Local Business [XL Recordings]
“Blah blah blah the Monitor defined the past two years of my life and Local Business is a total let down because blah blah blah.” I guarantee you’ll see most every negative review of Titus Andronicus’s newest full-length Local Business begin with some variation of that line. Before I go any further, yes, The Monitor did define my freshman year of college; I played it into the fucking ground. I learned the chords to “The Battle of Hampton Roads” and played it when I was drunk. I toyed around with the idea of getting a tattoo dedicated to the band. The Monitor marks a confusing, often frustrating time in my life that I’m glad to have survived. That being said, Local Business is not The Monitor, but I don’t consider that a pejorative statement. Who wants to hear the same record twice?
Local Business, as its own entity, is a very strong release. The vision Patrick Stickles and co. puts forth is cohesive and defined. There are less instances of lyrical interpolation and more existential crises. Stickles seems even more wary and cautious of the world before him than he has previously. “Ecce Homo” kicks off the record with a confident, conversational manner. The build up for this record is deliberate, though. “Still Life With Hot Deuce on Silver Platter” is where you really have to turn the volume up, because that track rips. The momentum barrels through “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape with the Flood of Detritus”, easily the most energetic song, but with insanely bleak lyrics; arguably the darkest Stickles has written.
Local Business adds another excellent chapter in Titus Andronicus's still-shifting discography, though it certainly is not a disappointment, whatever some critics may say.
-- Ben Goodheart [Check out the original review, in its entirety, here!]
8. Flying Lotus - Until the Quiet Comes [Warp]
Flying Lotus is easily one of the most sonically interesting producers in the game and his latest release (if you don’t count Captain Murphy’s Duality) solidified his spot at the top of the “Guys who make music that hipster aliens would probably dig” list. For the first half of the record, Until the Quiet comes sounds unlike previous FlyLo releases; it’s much more ambient and the tracks have plenty of room to breathe. However, once “Sultan’s Request” hits, the bass-heavy sound that FlyLo is know for comes back in full force.
What makes this album one of the best of the year is simply that it is one of the world's greatest producers, at the top of his game, doing what he does best. Until the Quiet Comes flows beautifully from point A to point B, and although the transitions between each song feel effortless, each track is so unique and feels like its own dense landscape on the planet that is FlyLo’s mind. It’s easy to get lost in this album, but each song clearly deserves the listener's full attention to details and the care that was taken in crafting it all.
-- Kris Giordano [Check out Gerry's full review from earlier this year!]
7. Grizzly Bear - Shields [Warp]
There aren't many constants in the trendy, "hipster" classification of music -- I can't stand when people dismiss a band because they arouse associations with Pitchfork -- but, admittedly, Grizzly Bear is a trendy, cool band to listen to. This is not a result of hype but pure musicianship. Shields is a beautiful album. Its attack and release allows me to sometimes admit, yeah, maybe acoustic guitars aren't completely stale and overused.
It seemed like the Brooklyn outfit achieved the perfect balance of the dark and glistening with Veckatimest, an album that broadened my taste in music, but the band definitely did not stop growing in the three years between records. "Sleeping Ute" and "Yet Again" provided first insight as to what the rest of Shields would sound like: Would it continue to expand on the poppy aspect of Veckatimest or would it sink back into the sea like Yellow House? I could not tell, but I was happy with what I was hearing. When placed into the context of the album, the two singles stand out as highlights, not in greatness but volume; most of Shields is reserved, calm, a missive to the meek, up until "Sun in Your Eyes" releases everything witheld into the air. Sure, there are moments when the songs exhale above a murmur, but it is the quieter parts that end up being enjoyed the most. One could argue "The Hunt" is Grizzly Bear's best song to date, better than "Two Weeks" and "Colorado". It never reaches a boil; is never flashy, overzealous; and is completely confident with its current stasis. Shields is a major stride for a band that seems ever-shifting to please itself, a complete collaboration of its members; Shields proves Grizzly Bear's sum is exponentially larger than its parts.
-- Kyle Murphy [Check out Kyle's full review from earlier this year!]
6. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel... [Clean Slate; Epic]
-- Gerry D'Apollo
5. Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music [Williams Street]
Have you noticed that in the realm of retrospective album lists this year, critics have been subtly jabbing Killer Mike for being too political? Using words like "overtly" that carry the connotation of perhaps having gone too far? I am not a purveyor of this school of thought. I loved how furious and vitriolic Mr. Render was without seeming condescending. He was never apologetic. As he tore up El-P's awesome production, he attacked the political spectrum, the church, the TSA, and everything in between, seemingly without the cloud of bias. And perhaps that was what made people so uncomfortable: Killer Mike was totally unwilling to pick a delineated side, instead opting to tear everyone apart; a bold move in a culture that attacks labels rather than policy, but in my opinion, Killer Mike made the right choice both artistically and politically.
-- Ben Goodheart
4. Converge - All We Love We Leave Behind [Epitaph]
It’s been 4 years since Converge’s last album, An Axe to Fall, and with their new effort All We Love We Leave Behind, it is easy to see that this band is at the height of their career with no end in sight. With this new album, frontman Jacob Bannon said in multiple interviews that he wanted it to feel like one of their live shows: raw, heavy, full of energy. With AWLWLB topping metal charts around the country, Converge has shown that their near twenty year run hasn’t grown stale. Unlike other recent hardcore albums, All We Love We Leave Behind never becomes repetitive. Bannon’s vocals strain through focused lyrics while guitarist Kurt Ballou’s production of the album adds to the brutality and heaviness in each track. This was a labor of love for the band, and their ability to add so much energy and fun to their music after so long should be a credit to their longevity.
-- Gerry D'Apollo [Check out Gerry's full review from earlier this year!]
3. Death Grips - The Money Store [Epic]
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.
This album certainly isn't for everyone, but those who can understand its importance and originality will be perpetually rewarded with each skittishly unpredictable listen.
-- Kyle Murphy
2. Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d. city [Top Dag; Aftermath; Interscope]
The opening track, "Sherane a.k.a. Master Splinter's Daughter", is a masterful bit of storytelling which justifies the omnipresent paranoia seen in many of Lamar’s tracks, specifically those about growing up in his hometown of Compton, like “m.a.a.d city” and “Compton”. Lamar’s aforementioned self-awareness is seen most clearly in the single worthy tracks off this album; “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe”, “Money Trees”, and “Swimming Pools (Drank)” all touch on his insecurities with women, fame, success, alcohol and himself.
Although looking at this album as a complete piece makes it stand out above many of the other releases this year, there is a moment when listening to “Backseat Freestyle” when you think “Oh shit, is probably one of the greatest rap songs I’ve ever heard,” then you quickly follow up with “Oh shit, this is a parody of rap from Kendrick Lamar’s 16 year old mind,” then you think “Wait, if a song written almost as a joke is the greatest new thing in Hip-Hop, what does that say about everybody else is doing?” Shit, that's just Lamar’s subtle genius at play.
1. 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.
-- Kyle Murphy
Later this week, for about two weeks, there will be more lists posted by the individual members of Flatted Third. Happy New Year (of Music)!