Listmania 2012: Best Albums Of The Year 10-1
As pop culture aficionados, your friends at Culture Blues are not immune to the end-of-year lists currently overwhelming the internet. Welcome to Listmania, where Culture Blues ranks their favorite shit in a handful categories. Yesterday we began 2012's Listmania with the first half of our 2012 Albums Of The Year list. Today we bring you the top ten!
Beach House has become the model of consistency. Since the release of their self-titled debut back in 2006, this elegant duo from B-more have crafted and, yes, even perfected, a sound akin to sublime euphony. Their latest record, Bloom, showcases the newest, and in many cases shiniest, fruits of the majestic, love-infused labor which Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally engage in, to wondrous effect. This album is vaster than anything Beach House has ever recorded; it’s also far more polished, and may very well be a catalyst for the new level of success and fame which has been unquestionably earned at this point in their career.
Centipede Hz absolutely haunted my 2012. I spent an incalculable amount of time reading, researching, dreaming, and speculating about this album, all while trying my best to not be driven mad by the unscratchable itch that is anticipation. Hell, I even suffered through an awful two-state Greyhound ride to be home in time for the album’s global listening party, which streamed live via the magic of the internet, and was accompanied by impossibly trippy visuals. So what came of it all? Well I think this record is fantastic, though many of my critiquing peers do not. Of course their opinions aren’t important here, and the reality is AnCo released a dense, adventurous, kaleidoscopic, and daring record, which is a joy to experience. Trust me.
Essential Tracks: Monkey Riches, Amanita, Wide Eyed (Alas, Animal Collective's music was not available for your consumption, which frankly disappoints me. Let's move on!)
The two men who make up Japandroids (these duos are everywhere these days!) make loud, passionate music, which speaks directly to the young souls inside all of us. Their songs are best enjoyed wearing jeans, sneakers, and a t-shirt, while drinking beers by the case. You should run away from home while listening to Celebration Rock and blast the songs on your iPod, or preferably car stereo, as your past becomes nothing more than a small mark in the rearview, and your ears happily succumb to the aural assault. This album may not be the most artistically ambitious on this list, but it’s the least cynical, the most honest... and fucking fantastic.
When you’ve been a highly lauded emcee as long as Killer Mike has, I’m sure you'd get very frustrated thinking about how you’d never truly crossed over. After a decade of releases, and watching lesser rappers buy Maybachs and penthouses in Miami, here you still are, for the most part, engaging in the hustle. It really must've eaten away at him! I'm happy Killer Mike never has to feel that way again, because R.A.P Music doesn't just mark his arrival, it cements his place as one of the best in the game. R.A.P Music is an album which happens to be intensely aware: it’s aware of the realities of the struggle, it’s aware of what it takes to make a killer track and a classic album, hell, it’s even aware that the number of letters in each of Ronald Wilson Reagan’s name add up to 666.
When the Grammy nominations were handed out this year, Grizzly Bear's principal artistic force, Ed Droste, took to Twitter to express his displeasure regarding Grammy's snubbing of Shields. When I wrote about this story in Clef Notes I poked a little fun at Droste, but my issue was really with his use of Twitter as a means of broadcasting his complaint, and not with the album, because the album is stunning. I was never all that into Grizzly Bear, for reasons I can’t explain, but my ears know great music when they hear it, and that is precisely what Shields is. There are many wonderful compositions on this record which are flawlessly arranged, adorned with immaculate instrumentation and, in many cases, come off as timeless. Shields doesn’t need any Grammys to prove its worth, as it does so on its own, with one eye-opening track after another.
Before I even heard a single note off The Idler Wheel... I knew this record was at least going to end in the top five of our Album Of The Year list . To be honest, there was a part of me which believed it was going to be the best album of the entire year and, though it didn’t earn that accolade, it’s still an incredibly graceful and marvelous work. By now we all know about Fiona’s phoenix-like rise from the not-quite-ashes in 2012. We saw her live, we adored her record, and we all fell in love with her once again. Frankly, what isn’t there to love? This fierce, independent, and fascinating woman creates unfiltered, unobscured, unbelievable gems of near unrivaled genius. Although it took far (FAR) too long for this album to make it into the world, we are lucky that it finally arrived... and that the immortal Ms. Apple has returned.
Try as I might, I can’t stop listening to Swans’ The Seer. This may very well be my favorite album of 2012 (and by that I mean it absolutely is), because it contains everything I could ever want from a record released in these troubled times. It’s beautiful, ugly, tense, crushing, legitimate, oppressive, cathartic and beyond all else, enormous. The six men who comprise the current lineup of one of New York's most seminal post-everything bands created such a masterful piece of art with The Seer that it feels more like a Rembrandt, with it’s amber glow and borders of unending shadow, than it does an album. It took me a long time to discover this record but, now that I have, I am certain I will be listening to it for years to come... especially if it’s raining, or late at night, or I have to summon an ancient spirit.
I suspect that to some degree Grimes became the Lana Del Rey of 2012. The analogy isn’t exactly perfect, mostly due to the fact that the proletariat has no idea who Grimes is, but all you need to do is spend a little time surfing the net to find some people irrationally hating Claire Boucher and the music she makes. Not me though... I fucking love Grimes; her absurd hair, her pussy rings, and most of all, her 2012 musical breakthrough Visions.
There are few records out there that sound like Visions. This is music being transmitted to us from Asian shopping malls in the future, and danced to by people wearing bright and perturbing outfits. Grimes herself not only wrote these songs, she produced the record herself (before you scoff at that, ask yourself this: How many other artists on this list did the same?), which certainly helped solidify her sound, and ensured the music in her head came out the way she intended it. And what awesome music it is.
Visions is an album full of fun, vivid, neon music which begs you to unlock your body within it splendors, and revel in some reveling.
If Kendrick Lamar is the future of rap music, then the genre is in phenomenally good hands. The Compton-born, self-proclaimed "black hippy" turned twenty-five this year, and also released the best rap album of 2012 bar none. This 12 track, nearly 70-minute long record is more than just Kendrick’s full-length, major label debut; it’s actually a magnum opus depicting not only the Compton of today, but the trials and tribulations of its vanguard. Good Kid M.A.A.D City showcases a young man of undeniable maturity, who comprehends the consequences of his world and possesses a confused, well-meaning conscience, which tries to shield him from the pressures of peers, ambition, and life at large.
It’s vital to point out that this album shines for more reasons than its subject matter. After all, Lamar’s flow is so tight that light cannot escape it, and the timbre of his voice is extremely versatile, with an almost chameleon-like ability to suit each track effortlessly. Beyond Lamar's rapping, the album’s production is slicker-than-slick, taking traditional West Coast elements and leans, and refocusing the whole sound with the aid of the latest wizardry and embellishments to create something new, and yet comfortably familiar.
Good Kid M.A.A.D City is more than just the life and times of Kendrick Lamar; it’s a postcard from a California you have probably never been to. You can see and feel it all: the sunlight, the heat radiating off the blacktop, the wind barely rustling through the palm trees, and the street.
In the opening paragraph of the first half of this list I tried to explain my process for ranking these twenty albums. Amid the not-funny jokes and allusions to my existential suffering over these decisions, I tried to make it clear that one of the biggest factors I take into consideration is how “Of The Year” a particular album was. It’s important to quantify the impact an album had on the entire year that passed, and whether or not it was a major part of its narrative (musically, at the very least). No album in 2012 was more "Of The Year" than Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange.
Before he released Channel Orange, Ocean posted a letter on the internet which revealed he was gay. I would like to be able to say that this confession didn’t cause much of a stir in our modern enlightened era, but we both know that’s not true. What actually happened was that, for about a month, the sky fell, and people tried to determine what kind of repercussions or change Ocean’s statements would have on the urban music world as a whole. Further fuel was added to the conversation kindling because Ocean is a member of Odd Future, the California rap-collective known for it’s intolerant and homophobic lyrics, leading many to wonder how Tyler, the Creator, specifically would react. In the end, so far as the dialogue is concerned, not much came of it, and it doesn’t matter anyway because Channel Orange is an excellent, even superb, album.
There are a multitude of divine musical flavors within Channel Orange. Over the course of these splendid tracks, Ocean channels Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Prince, and even the less-annoying qualities of R. Kelly, all while contributing his own unmistakable panache . I’m honest enough to admit I’m not the biggest fan of R&B, but this album is a work of such immense greatness that it transcends genre, and shatters all possible expectations. Nearly every choice Ocean made on this album- be they aesthetic, sonic, lyrical, or sentimental- are tasteful and progressive, and clearly showcase an ability beyond Ocean’s years (25).
Only time will tell how Ocean’s confessions regarding his sexuality will resonate with future generations, but this tremendous record could represent the watershed moment when Ocean became both hero and idol to an uncountable number of youth who had been, all unknowingly, awaiting his presence their entire lives. There is a good chance that Frank Ocean has done more than just release the best record of 2012 with Channel Orange; he may have changed lives.
Well that's it kids, another year's worth of music ranked in a fashion which I hope didn't enrage too many of you. I feel like I say this every year but, even though 2012 wasn't the strongest as far as musical releases go, it still seems like there were more than enough great tunes to get a year older to. My apologies go out to Tame Impala, Four Tet, Frankie Rose, Ariel Pink, Lotus Plaza, Ty Segall, The Oh Sees, Liars, and School Boy Q for all having records which narrowly missed this list. It's probably my fault your records didn't make it here. Who knows what's in store for us next year? My guess is that we will replace our (not all that drastic) Mayan hysteria with some nonsense about 2013 being unlucky. Whatever the case, I hope 2013 brings us all more fine examples of the world's most personal art.
So what do you think? What was the year's biggest omission? Did I overrate Centipede Hz? Are you sad I didn't mention Psy at any point during this countdown? Can you get over your hatred of Grimes to admit she put out an outstanding record? What are you looking forward to next year? Let us know below.
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