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 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.

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