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!

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