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!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Kyle's Top 50 Albums of 2012: 30-11

As I was finishing up my year end list, I noticed I was moving some of my favorite records further back in the list - Joyce Manor, Screaming Females - and moving records that are extremely difficult to get into, ostensibly due to my proclivity for the most difficult path, higher up on the list. Some, heck, most of these records, numbers thirty through eleven, I didn't necessarily like at first. But with the fifth, sixth, and seventh listen through, I realized their importance. I noticed again that my favorite Electronic releases tend to float toward this middle list, the meat of the pack, and I really can't explain that - maybe because my love of Electronic music is still burgeoning, I'm not sure. These are all very solid albums that I will continue to enjoy throughout my life, even though I had trouble liking some of them in the first place.

30. Menomena - Moms

I really like Menomena, so when Brent Knopf announced he was leaving the band last year, I figured they were dead and I would have to find a new band to listen to that designed their own software so they compose music. Great. Thankfully I was wrong. So when the band announced they were releasing an album in 2012 now as a duo, I was nervous. Then they announced the album would be about "mothers," I was even more worried the album would be bad. But, boy, is the way-too-obviously-titled Moms great. Definitely a grower, Menomena's latest effort is their most aggressive and boldest so far. I don't like to proclaim anything as "feminist" due to the false, negative connotations that term has somehow accrued over the years (feminazi), but Moms is, in an academic sense, a feminist album, focusing on the regaling of one man who lost his mother and another who was raised by a single mother. The first time this album clicked for me was on a plane for my first business trip; admittedly, I was unsure of my career path, but if Menomena could continue being a great band after losing a member, then, by some convoluted metaphor, maybe my life would be okay.

29. Nachtmystium - Silencing Machine
[Century Media]

Nachtmystium produce a very specific kind of Black Metal, one with a patina of psychedelica. During the instrumental movements of these songs, you'll hear whining guitars that evoke the same fear and uneasiness that you felt when you first saw what the Ringwraiths looked like underneath their cloaks. I've never fully immersed myself in Black Metal, but if Nachtmystium accomplishes anything for the genre, it's creating more exposure, inciting music lovers everywhere to go deeper into the music. The songs on Silencing Machine all exceed the four and a half minute mark, so when you start the album, you're in for a long death march of a listen, which may turn some people off. Those who do stick around for the entire hour will be rewarded heavily. Each song has enough time to make departures and arrivals of brutality, so the hour does pass rather quickly. Being their sixth studio album, Silencing Machine has incited me to check out previous releases and look for other Black Metal albums to download, so this make a great point of ingress for the genre and band: a victory for both.

28. Julia Holter - Ekstasis

Ekstasis is a glacial album. It won't impact you instantly, but each listen uncovers a new layer of electronic bliss. It's a journey inward, as deep as you can get before coming out on the other side. Holter's expertly crafted loops dance and die with each other throughout the lengthy songs. This was my go-to album to fall asleep to, and that is in no facet an insult toward Holter; it's a relaxing, light album, though its wake is expansive, intimidating  When the album finally clicked, I found myself only listening to it. It has an ineffable quality that draws you in, keeps you there, safe. Because all of the songs are builders, Ekstasis comes with a learning curve. Her mix of electronic and organic instruments is progressive and brilliant, especially when she combines the too, such as the vocals in "Goddess Eyes II". And even with just a bare-bones rhythm section, Holter does sometimes achieve a dancability in her music, well, more of a slow head nod. Even though the production and backing arrangements are wondrous, Ekstasis shines most when Holter's voice is naked, unrestrained. For those who were fans of James Blake's debut album, Ekstasis is in many ways its sister - Minimalist Electronic swirling around a fantastic singing voice.

27. Chromatics - Kill for Love
[Italians Do It Better]

I did not like this album, at all, when I was first exposed to it. I expressed my dislike to Ben Goodheart who assured me it was good - well, I didn't see it on his list, but he did convince me to give it another listen for which I am happy he did. Maybe I was bitter Kill for Love starts out  with a Neil Young cover or maybe the snail's pace build of these songs, and length of the album, did not sink in at first. Yes, that opening cover of "Hey Hey, My My (Out of the Blue)", which Chromatics have renamed "Into the Black", is excellent, presenting an alternative history where Grunge never took hold, leaving an almost Gothic Pop in the wake of Disco - this is where Kill for Love thrives, an America untouched by Nirvana. These songs are cinematic in scope and execution; heck, even the record's package is modeled after a film's. You might not love the slow-burn of Kill for Love the first time around, but the flame is consistent, true, and it will eventually reach your heart.

26. Nas - Life Is Good
[Def Jam]

Nas is a Hip-Hop legend. He has fake t-shirts made of his face daily. He also hasn't had a solid record since 2006's Hip Hop Is Dead. I have heard countless time how Nas's penchant for not picking the greatest beats has been his weakness since Illmatic, hen its rough and tough (mostly) New York beats accompanied the rapper so perfectly. Well, Illmatic is behind Nas and, with the divorce from his wife, he finally has something other than the current rap game or Jay-Z to talk about. I remember that with each single from this album coming out, garnering positive attention, and my confidence that Life Is Good would be a great record - well, it is. With his beat selection on Life Is Good, Nas finally finds a cadre of great producers to match his talents as a rapper, choosing Hip Hop legend No I.D. to take the lion's share while sprinkling in Swizz Beats and Drake darling Noah 40 Shebib. Nas also picks some excellent guest R&B singers to work on some hooks: Miguel, Anthony Hamilton, and the late Amy Winehouse included. What makes Life is Good so damn good is the variety. It's a great major Rap album from front to back, with plenty of styles to entertain all music fans.

25. John Talabot - ƒIN
[Permanent Vacation]

Repetition, repetition, repetition, until your zombied body sways under the music's direction. John Talabot's debut album is nothing short of spectacular. Fans of Caribou and house music will find comfort and familiarity with this album. And I have never heard anyone use loops so effectively, to the point where each time a loop comes around it sounds just different enough to sound the same - yeah, that is confusing, so I guess you'll have to listen to ƒIN to find out. I hear a lot of Gold Panda's Lucky Shiner in Talabot's music, but with many more influences from Jungle Music, adding an otherworldly feel. It may be impossible to not bob your head while listening to this album, due to the infectiousness of the melodies, not necessarily the drums; this being where Talabot shines most: his selection of when to use which melodies, at any given time during ƒIN.

24. Perfume Genius - Put Your Back N 2 It

If you wanted honesty in a record, Perfume Genius give you honesty to the point where you are uncomfortable, but he also offers nothing but support for your differences. Mike Hadreas, the man behind Perfume Genius, is a beacon of openness; he would wear his emotions on his sleeve, if he didn't feel more comfortable bearing his naked arm and body instead. Hadreas's promotional video for Put Your Back N 2 It featured him embracing a male pornstar in just their underwear, wholly representative of the record. YouTube effectively banned the video, deeming it inappropriate. I guess the irony here would lie somewhere in the face that there are probably hundreds of videos featuring the songs from this album posted all over YouTube. These songs are delicately created, the harshest touch will disintegrate them, destroying something truly beautiful. Although I love every song on this record, I only wish "No Tear" had been a few seconds longer, which creates a "what if" moment in the album - exactly how every moment on Put Your Back N 2 It is lived: "What if?"

23. Beach House - Bloom
[Sub Pop]

When I heard guitarist Alex Scally's response to people who said Bloom sounded exactly like Teen Dream, it was something along the lines of "Are you people even fucking listening to the songs or just the sound?" A clever response to lazy criticism, Scally's confrontational side is never thrust into the light on Beach House records, so I was delighted hear such a witty quip. I was expecting something similar to Teen Dream, so I enjoyed it from the start of "Myth" until the end of the hidden song, "Wherever You Go". I didn't expect a new sound or something drastically different from anything else in the Beach House discography - their career wouldn't hint at this, if you were paying attention the whole time. Yes, Dream Pop does tend to blend into the background a bit, but if you're paying attention, actually listening, it captivates. This is also the best album to recover to, allowing the listener to relax as sonic waves wash over him or her. No, this isn't a huge departure from Teen Dream, though why would you tamper with such a successful way of writing great songs?

22. Roc Marciano - Loaded

Following up his auteured debut from 2010, Marcberg, Roc Marciano only produced two-thirds of Loaded, and, oh no! he also featured two other rappers - you mean he didn't do everything on this album? what a shame. I'm being overly sarcastic and improper here, if you couldn't tell. I have trouble believing there is someone this talented in rap, both in production and rapping; even Kanye gets by with ridiculous features and huge budgets. Roc's precious time must be well-invested, at all times, in order for him to be so productive. And these are some of the best blunt-infused raps I have ever heard, the perfect toking record. If Action Bronson draws comparison to a new Ghostface, then Roc Marciano is surely his Raekwon, not in voice similarity but style and innate grace. With Marciano controlling almost every aspect on this record, Loaded is clear and personal, a true voice in an age of Hip Hop where there are more characters than actual people. This is a cinematic epic, referencing a lot of what Nas did with Illmatic. But all classic comparisons aside, Loaded is what real Hip Hop fans live for, a great album built to last.

21. Torche - Harmonicraft

"Can Metal be fun?" posed fellow Flatted Third writer Gerry D'Apollo in his review of Baroness's Yellow & Green. Yes, it can, and boy did Torche have fun with this record. If the cover does anything, it prepares the listener for a remodeling of the Stoner Metal band's meat and potatoes. Meanderthal was a slow crawl at most points, and Harmonicraft never fully commits to being that kind of record, not until it's nearly over, exhausted. Converge's Kurt Ballou takes on mixing duties again, which is definitely an overlooked, essential part to Torche's sound - Sludge Metal can often have overpowering mixes, so a balanced mix is integral. An album highlight, "Reverse Inverted", is a perfect example of how Torche has cultivated their sound to come off as this catchy, a perfect blend of the clean and the dirty. This is a fun Metal album, but it's also a really good one.

20. Ty Segall - Hair / Slaughterhouse / Twins
[Drag City] / [In The Red] / [Drag City]

The above listing is sorted in ascending order, worst to best, though none of these releases should be considered the "worst" on any list. I would also like to point out that, yes, these releases are all extremely different, but by grouping them together it displays just how busy Ty Segall was this year: busy and successful. While Twins' psychedelic musings of a headcase was my favorite, Slaughterhouse is a close second. And although I consider Hair to sound a bit unresolved, it should still be ingested in the same sitting as the other two, to better give the listener insight to the Garage Rock stalwart's diversity and creative talents. I don't think it's possible for Segall to repeat his production from this year, even though I say that every year and he continues to amass material quicker than conspiracy theories on the internet. For fans of Garage Rock, Segall is a household name, though it should be in every Rock fan's vernacular by now; and if it isn't after 2012's three excellent releases, it's time to dig your head out of the sand.

19. Actress - R.I.P.
[Honest Jon's]

I was introduced to Actress in 2010, whilst on an Electronic binge, right when Splazsh came out. Now I thought that record would be the highlight of Actress's career, and even though I still believe Splazsh is his best album, R.I.P. got Actress a lot more exposure and is easier to swallow than his previous two releases. The beats here shimmer more than the dark, spinning beats of the Actress I was first introduced to. "Jardin" has a skittering, static-filled beat with plucked, brittle notes transposed on top. This is the perfect music to accompany any Sci-Fi; it's the speculative fiction of music. Actress did inch away from the bass-heavy sound that is trending in Electronic music on R.I.P., moving toward a more ambient sound. He seems to mirror Flying Lotus's move away from the crowded, into the simple, which is a smart move as Bass music continues to homogenize, or be umbrella'd under the "Dubstep" genre. This isn't an in-your-face record, but its little intricacies will keep you listening closely each time, trying to form your own narrative.

18. Mount Eerie - Clear Moon
[P.W. Elverum & Sun]

Phil Elverum is sort of a savant when it comes to building records around nature. Ostensibly due to his woodsy surroundings in Washington, both his Mount Eerie and Microphones projects have all gravitated around forces of nature and the human reaction. Clear Moon represents the unclear, something just out of focus, a constant uneasiness. You can hear Elverum's surroundings imbedded in the recordings, instilling a sense of place in the music, which is appropriate, as it's easy to loose yourself into the world of Clear Moon. 2012 also saw another Mount Eerie release, Ocean Roar, a record I felt wasn't as focused as this one, despite still being pretty good, though it does make a great companion piece to Clear Moon. And with two Mount Eerie albums in the same year, Elverum has opened two doors into his otherwise reclusive life, an opportunity that is worth taking advantage of every time.

17. ScHoolboy Q - Habits & Contradictions
[Top Dawg Entertainment]

The first in the initial wave of major-label debut solo albums from Black Hippy, Habits & Contradictions is a rapper exceeding major expectations that has crippled the likes of Kid Cudi, Wale, and Wiz Khalifa, just to name a few. From the opener, "Sacrilegious", it's clear ScHoolby is intent on impressing, and opening the door wide for his fellow Black Hippy members, an introduction none of them really needed but benefitted from. Q continues to be the goofiest member of Black Hippy, with the funniest reference and rhymes. Habits & Contradictions also has some of the best party songs from this year: "Hands on the Wheel", "There He Go"; and it has some of the best Gangster Rap songs of the year: "Nightmare on Figg St.", "2 Raw". One of the most unappreciated aspects of this album is how the production uses Q's voice - I don't know whose idea all the little voice modulations were, but they are easily the most valuable of the producers, adding little Easter eggs all over the album. At the end of the day, this is a great Rap album crafted by an inspired rapper with something to say, and finally the platform to say it all.

16. El-P - Cancer 4 Cure
[Fat Possum]

I've heard Cancer 4 Cure called El-P's best album, and when you have a discography as dense as El-P, this is a bold claim. But it's not wrong, or entirely right for the sake of subjectivity. It makes a great jumping-in point for the rapper/producer, showcasing his consistently aggressive and progressive style. Also spearheading the Killer Mike album, R.A.P. Music, El-P had a fantastic year in 2012. With each release, you can hear El-P's productions become more and more refined, steam-lined to break the sound barrier. One of the biggest changes from 2007's I'll Sleep When You're Dead is how clean the production sounds, coming off expensive.  Cancer 4 Cure is a tortured venture into a dystopian future - a future where drug dependencies are high, surveillance is everywhere, and no escape present. Taking cues from Kid A and The Fat of the Land equally, El-P's production might be the best of year, but his rapping has made great strides as well, sounding as discontent and funny as ever.

15. Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory

"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.

14. The Men - Open Your Heart
[Sacred Bones]

Open Your Heart could have just as easily been named Why I Love Rock and Roll. I hear people say how they hate Revivalist Rock all the time because it doesn't do anything for music: just a repetition of the past. I like to imagine these are the same people who were fooled by "New Coke," exclaiming "NEVER AGAIN" realizing they were duped by Coke. Why should it be called "Revivalist?" Just because a genre is aging, never really leaving the peripherals of new music, does it lose the ability to become hip? Hip isn't what's hip forever. So The Men use rock history to their advantage; because The Men had so much Rock and Roll to go through and study, Open Your Heart is very diverse, ready to shift to any point in time. At the center of Open Your Heart is the great college album, properly warranting the comparisons to The Replacements - not just because of "Candy", well, obviously because of "Candy". It's mature, but with years of living to harden and sour from, never feeling fully satisfied or happy.

13. Andy Stott - Luxury Problems
[Modern Love]

Andy Stott finally released a full-length album in 2012, after years of EPs and remixes, and it reset the standards of ambient, lo-tempo Electronic. Where silence has its own notes and scales, Luxury Problems waits patiently, thriving off emptiness. This is a dense album, so when I was recommending it to a friend I started with "Sleepless" because of its deep House break, one of the unexpected turns Luxury Problems unveils from the mist. When it comes to album covers properly representing the music featured on a record, this album is perfect: it's the highest point of potential energy, painted in black and white. Using a single vocalist, Stott implements Burial's manipulation and contortion of the human voice to the point of alienation. Luxury Problems cites drone, bass, and experimental influences heavily, while maintaining its own originality to the point where I can see this record being cited itself as an influence to an entire class of Electronic producers. It truly is groundbreaking.

12. Miguel - Kaleidoscope Dream

Never have I had so much fun listening to an R&B album. Miguel is the perfect blend of talent and humor, a true showman. And then I heard him on the radio. I was shocked, then people were shocked I didn't know Miguel from the radio. One of the defining traits of a hipster is that they are always quick to give up on something that's mainstream - one fault among many. Did the fact that I had been enjoying a radio artist bother me? No. I'm not trying to refute any accusations of being hipster, there is an actual point behind this: It makes total sense Miguel is on the radio, he's great. Everything about him is marketable, but most of all, everything on Kaleidoscope Dream is top-tier music. Even with radio exposure, which will hopefully translate to album sales and further exposure, Miguel has a song like "Pussy Is Mine" on his album, a half-joking, half-sad song that could never be played on the radio. He made this album for a major label, but he only put out what he was confident in. I don't think there were any eye-rolling moments on this album because Miguel is so believable in every hat he puts on, a veritable pop chameleon.

11. Swans - The Seer
[Young God]

This album. It's nearly two hours long, a triple LP. The go-to Michael Gira quote about The Seer is that is took thirty years to make. Totally believable. This album is massive in length and sound, a juggernaut. At first, I didn't want to like it, but that as because I was severely intimidated by it. I was scared. And after listening to it a handful of times -- really, how many times can you listen to it all the way through in just one year -- it still scares the heck out of me; Drone music will do that, especially when it's coupled with anxious Post-Rock. The titular track is a half an hour long and composed in an ersatz sonata-allegro form. The Noise movements are vast and complex, never overstaying their welcome, even when every possible sound is identified. I struggled with where to place this album: In the Top Ten or just outside it? I chose the latter because this is my opinion, though it's completely understandable how this album took so many Album of the Year titles. The Seer will see many plays in its future in my iTunes - for those days when I can spend two hours on music.

Tomorrow, if everything goes the way it should, will see my Top Ten Albums of 2012. Tune in to see what my number one is!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Kyle's Top 50 Albums of 2012: 50-31

The best of the best from 2012's music are here. This is the first of three lists, covering numbers fifty through thirty-one. 2012 was my favorite year in music, but since I started documenting my favorite records of the year in 2008, each following year has been my favorite. This part contains everything from rappers that have blurred the lines between mixtapes and albums to noise bands that are more brutal than a thousand nails on a thousand chalkboards. So, without further preface, here are albums 50 through 31.

50. Sleigh Bells - Reign of Terror
[Mom + Pop]

Music should be fun; Sleigh Bells know how to have fun. Though it isn't as instant as 2010's Treats, Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss crafted an excellent, saccharine piece of Noise-Pop with Reign of Terror. "End of the Line" might end up being my favorite Sleigh Bells' song, sounding like the title song for a John Hughes movie. There are still the bent strings and Krauss's dreamy vocals, but now the band has added more cheering, much like The Go! Team. Things have slowed down on Reign of Terror, and Sleigh Bells have successfully avoided a sophomore slump.

49. Moonface - with Sinai: Heartbreaking Bravery

Spencer Krugg joined Finnish band Sinai to produce this well-executed Post-Punk album. The eponymous track is what hooked me on this album, a creaking, slow-burn of an opener. Krugg has never sounded as helpless as he does on Heartbreaking Bravery; he sounds just as brooding, too.
This is an evil record, though it's extremely inviting. Maybe it's the experience I had with Heartbreaking Bravery, coming down from a day on Sleeping Giant Mountain with some of my closest friends, but with each listen I love this record a little bit more, adding to that dear memory. I can say I am not the biggest Interpol fan, so thanks to Moonface I can enjoy some new Post-Punk in the year 2012

48. Joey Bada$$ - 1999

Yeah, it is a mixtape, though I am giving up on discerning between mixtapes and albums, as they blur more and more each year. A nod to classic 90s Hip Hop, 1999 is an album well beyond the years of its seventeen year-old MC. The Pro Era crew might be the reason this is so damn good - and it's very disheartening to hear member Capital STEEZ recently took his own life - as this record feels like the first round of Wu-Tang solo albums, having multiple members on a number of tracks. Bada$$, the de facto leader of the Pro Era crew and a great one at that, brings everything together with production from MF DOOM, Statik Selektah, and J Dilla, deepening the 90's pastiche. With a recent feature in an A$AP song, it won't be surprising to see Bada$$ and the Pro Era crew rise exponentially on the up-and-coming rap spectrum this year.

47. Jessie Ware - Devotion
[PMR; Island]

Calling Devotion "emotional" would be the laziest description of an album since someone dubbed Modest Mouse "indie." This is more an album detailing the macabre, lonesome aftermath of a life-defining breakup. Ware's ghostly vocals tweak heartstrings, while floating on top of airy production that owes a lot to 80s soul. In a year in which R&B saw a surge of popularity, Ware's efforts are defined by the longing and unrequited love aspect of R&B, carving out her own niche. I've heard people call this album boring, but I honestly can't see how, unless those are the same people who have never gone through a serious breakup, or lack empathy altogether. This is a sleek throwback to the days when R&B's sole purpose was to capture, or recapture, someone's heart.

46. Grimes - Visions
[Arbutus; 4AD]

I have yet to hear someone say they just kind of enjoyed Visions or just kind of hated it; it's a polarizing album, not much middle ground, though maybe with time the divide won't be so apparent. It is clear how much effort went into Visions' layers and melodies. Each song sounds like a week, nearly a year in internet time, went into its construction, even though the entire album was recorded in just three weeks using GarageBand. I can see where Claire Boucher's voice could rub people wrongly, but she implements so many different deliveries and styles, so her higher register voice never really grates. Boucher is certainly orbiting a different planet, but the alien tracks on Visions somehow still retain a familiar feel.

45. Ab-Soul - Control System
[Top Dawg Entertainment]

Definitely a fan favorite rapper, Ab-Soul delivered one of the weirdest Rap albums of 2012, a year many people though would see the end of the world - having heard Control System, maybe the world could end because I never thought I'd hear another rapper as weird as Kool Keith and his many identities. Due to his varied influences, Control System thrives on instability; no single theme or idea is ever repeated, a remarkably refreshing aspect. "Illuminate", "SOPA", and "Terrorist Threats" feature guest spots from Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, and Danny Brown, and although the first two are part of Black Hippy, it shows how well Ab-Soul uses his friends to add more dimensions to his work. Although it's the least effective in the first wave of official Black Hippy solo albums - Jay Rock's album yet to be released - it's still a strong, completely different Rap album, in a genre inundated with staleness.

44. Aesop Rock - Skelethon

I don't think I have ever heard anyone defend Ian Bavitz's lyrics as meaningful or pointed; that isn't what Aesop Rock is about. Skelethon is Bavitz's most direct, and recent, album since 2001's Labor Days. The five year hiatus in between records saw Aesop Rock move from the Def Junx label to Rhymesayers, a move surprising yet unquestioned. The production on this album is up to Rock's high standards, with each beat catered perfectly to his flow and nonsensical lyrics, though on Skelethon, the lyrics don't seem like total gibberish - this is the main departure from None Shall Pass, Bavitz's last album. Aesop Rock tries a lot of new tricks on this album and most of them succeed in sounding just as fresh and innovative as the first day I heard the rapper spit.

43. High on Fire - De Vermis Mysteriis

Metal is certainly seeing its highest point of division, spanning itself across a multitude of sub-genres, though High on Fire hasn't shirked its Stoner Metal title it helped establish. Matt Pike is still a modern-day guitar god who writes phenomenal songs about a time traveling sibling of Jesus who died at birth so Jesus could live - yeah, he definitely did invent the Stoner Metal genre. De Vermis Mysteriis is a crushing boulder of a Metal album that helps Metal keep its identity during its recent identity crisis, with more bands reaching for a more melodic, softer sound. Even six albums into its career, High on Fire is still the best Stoner Metal band, well, ever, and shows no signs of stopping or aiming for a trendier sound.

42. Baroness - Yellow & Green

How fortuitous that Baroness's third installment of the colored records would follow High on Fire's in my list, as they are one of the aforementioned bands aiming for a softer sound. This is still Metal, though, don't misread anything on here; there's a sharpened edge to each song defining it as Metal. Yellow & Green isn't as instant as Blue and Red were: it's a grower. And the best way to understand it is to translate "Little Things", what ended up being my favorite song on the album. "Little Things" sounds like a Metal song, save for the drums, which are light and spacey compared to the heavy guitar riffs. But as the song comes to a climax, everything falls into place, and Baroness sound more like the expected progression from Blue. And even when songs like "Twinkler" don't quite work, Yellow & Gold is still a rewarding listen, though it may be largely confounding at first.

41. Action Bronson - Blue Chips

Another mixtape that blurred lines, like 1999, Action Bronson's Blue Chips helped, for me at least, separate him completely from Ghostface - "Don't ever say my fucking music sound like Ghost's shit" Bronson raps on "Ron Simmons". Once I was able to define Action as his own entity, I found myself playing Blue Chips any chance I got to, in order to introduce a friend to a new rapper. Bronson is hysterical - his lyrics are a mixed bag of fine food references, hockey players, and with Party Supplies aiming the production finely in the direction of polished nostalgia, Blue Chips doesn't seem to ever miss. With only three features, Blue Chips is the work of a dedicated producer and talented rapper sitting down together, collaborating thoroughly, and succeeding in spades.

40. White Suns - Sinews

Hot damn! Does this record rip. Blast beats, drone noise, and feedback swathed in aggression, Sinews is a thousand nails dragging on a thousand chalkboards until only bloody nubs remain. Underneath all the noise is, well, another layer of noise, but that layer is coated with a malcontent's complaint list read by someone in a mental institution. This is the second full-length from the Brooklyn Noise/Drone outfit, their best. For those who like their music structured and tight, Sinews is not for them, but for those who embrace the chaotic and spontaneous, White Suns have the perfect album. Album opener "Fire Sermon" is more like a trial by fire: high-pitched feedback drones, testing the listener's patience and tolerance, though, if you can make it through the fire though, there's plenty to enjoy.

39. Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan

Dave Longstreth and company were not going to write Bitte Orca 2 and thankfully they didn't. I don't think a sequel would have worked, also, it isn't a Dirty Projectors' move - they are always changing the sound of their music from record to record. And although it does have some of the mathy guitar riffs, Swing Lo Magellan is its own record, a new flavor in the already great Dirty Projectors' discography. If I were to pitch the overly-pretentious genre of Art-Rock, Swing Lo Magellan would be my choice to lead. This record is catchy, bubbly, and most of all fun. There isn't much heavy lifting, the mood extremely light - "When should we bust into harmony?" on "Unto Caesar" is reminiscent of a Broken Social Scene hiccup from recording left in the recording. Longstreth said he wanted to focus on making the best pop album he could and Swing Lo Magellan is that and more.

38. Earth - Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II
[Southern Lord]

Earth released the second Angel of Darkness, Demons of Light record in 2012, finishing the two part series, even though both were recorded at the same time. There is a distinct difference from the first record, mainly in the lighter sound presented. II is a sadder album than it is dark. Instrumental Rock is usually sorted in Post-Rock, Drone, or Math, while Earth define their own experimental path. Even though they are on a primarily Metal label, Southern Lord, Earth have departed from any traditional definition of the Metal genre, and have focused more on a classical stylings. Dylan Carlson's electric guitar is the only consistently used instrument throughout the record, providing a stable base for the light percussion, cello, and bass to fall onto. This might sound like the perfect relaxation record on the surface, but the further you get into it, it begins to incite a deep rumination, and not one that can be shirked after tuning out.

37. Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light
[Double Six]

This is one of the worst album covers of the year. It's awful - completely unrepresentative of the record. That's a shame because Sweet Heart Sweet Light is good, really good. Though it never reaches the epic levels Ladies and Gentlemen... has the band known for, there is no shortage of highs. "Hey Jane", the album's first single, is also the album's highlight, though it's only the second song, so the rest of the record rides out the wave of momentum - Jason Pierce knows how to craft an album, so Sweet Heart... is best experienced all the way through. Implementing a beautifully crescendo of a chorus, "Too Late" might be the best of the shorter tracks, only a little over three and a half minutes - the songs range from nine minutes to a little over three, creating a perfectly uneven listen, in the terms of time not wavering quality. If you enjoy the Psych-Rock of The Beatles, you should definitely check out this album, if not, you should still definitely check out this record.

36. Deftones - Koi No Yokan

"They can do no wrong," a friend of mine, a long-time Deftones fan, said after I asked him what he thought about Koi No Yokan, the seventh album from the Sacramento Alternative-Metal band. He may be right, though I still can't understand how - didn't this band start out as a Nu-Metal band, an overly tired and played-out genre? Regardless of where they started, Deftones continue its winning streak with Koi No Yokan, which translates to "premonition of love" in Japanese. As tender as it is powerful, through eleven tracks this album drives using its own momentum. "Entombed" uses programmed drums and meaningful finger tapping to pull off one of the most earned choruses on this album. With Koi No Yokan, Deftones furthers its legacy as one of the best modern rock bands.

35. Flying Lotus - Until the Quiet Comes

Where was Flying Lotus going to go after the maximalist perfection of Cosomogramma? The Los Angeles producer decided to strip things back on his 2012 record, a move  both wise and mature. The songs on Until the Quiet Comes are allowed to grow more. Joined again by bassist Thundercat, Ellison has crafted yet another fantastic Electronic Jazz album. The Pattern+Grid World EP FlyLo released after Cosmogramma now makes perfect sense in the already impeccable discography, bridging the gap between records perfectly. Though I'm not the biggest fan of "DMT Song" and its overt drug influences, it's nice to see the producer experimenting even more with melody and voice - Flying Lotus even has a Rap moniker with Captain Murphy. And just like everyone expected, FlyLo has reinvented a genre, making it impossible to guess what his next move might be.

34. Pallbearer - Sorrow and Extinction
[Profound Lore]

The Little Rock, Arkansas, doom quartet was signed to a label after releasing a three song demo, which sounds unbelievable, but that demo was over twenty minutes long. Bringing plenty of comparisons along with them - especially to early Sabbath, as the vocals sound much like Ozzy's youthful moan - Pallbearer definitely fight their way into any conversation about talented, young Metal bands today. Lacking a permanent place on the internet - their website is a tumblr page, their last.fm nearly description less - Sorrow and Extinction echoes the "here today, gone tomorrow" mentality, with each song sounding like an obituary. Each riff is purposeful and takes its time sinking in through the listener's ear. With such a successful debut, we now look to see if Pallbearer can repeat Sorry and Extinction's victories, which after every listen becomes harder and harder to do.

33. Sharon Van Etten - Tramp

I originally thought this record would be on my "Honorable Mentions" list, but after considering the advanced musicianship and song-construction, it was nearly impossible to demote it anywhere past being the thirty-third best record of 2012. Tramp wastes no time in establishing itself as an intensely personal record. This will also be one of the records cited when detailing Aaron Dessner's accomplished production discography, featuring that buzzing, omnipresent apparition Dessner's records are all somehow haunted by. Tramp features a litany of experienced artists collaborating with Van Etten, including Zach Condon from Beirut, both Dessners from The National, Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner, and The Walkmen's Matt Barrick. Tramp is the product of a skilled musician from Brooklyn, with a little help from her friends, musing about the decay of emotional openness throughout your twenties. And to think it was predestined to be an "Honorable Mention."

32. Screaming Females - Ugly
[Don Giovannai]

Castle Talk was one of the best Hard Rock albums from 2010, no doubt, even though it never fully garnered the accolades it deserved -- I guess that proves how misguided music criticism is. Critics' main reservation with Screaming Females is that their records never quite synch up with how powerful a live performance they put on. Tragic, though that's offensively unfair. Screamales - probably the best shorthanded for a band ever - requested the use of Steve Albini's Electrical Audio studio in Chicago, getting the sound of this record as close to their live show as possible. Ugly opens with "It All Means Nothing" featuring one of Marissa Paternoster's best lead riffs, which is quite an accomplishment considering how many memorable riffs she has crafted over the years. From the opening track to the end, Ugly is a phenomenal, straight-forward Rock album, not disappointing in the slightest.

31. Joyce Manor - Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired
[Asian Man]

Another band refusing to find a permanent space on the internet - their website a blogspot - Joyce Manor haven't forgotten what made Pop-Punk so enjoyable: memorable melodies and lyrics. Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired is here just as quickly as it departs, a flash of youth and confused virility. Though some of the band's fan-base were upset with the length of the record - a little over thirteen minutes - the Californian band didn't need to make anyone happy with this record, just themselves; and it's this selfishness that, even with a cover song, albeit an excellent cover of "Video Killed the Radio Star", make Joyce Manor successfully sound cool, fresh. And yes, maybe I am sore it's a little short, but that allows the band to take whatever ideas didn't translate well onto this release and work it into new material - material that will certainly satisfy its voracious fan-base, right? RIGHT? I guess shitty fans come with the territory.

Thursday will see records #30-11, Friday #10-1. Stay tuned.