Listmania 2012: Best Albums Of The Year 20-11
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. Today we begin with the Best Albums Of The Year #20-11.
One of my annual duties as Culture Blues' resident musical tastemaker is to compile a list of the year's best albums, place them in an order which reflects their aural achievements, and write clever little blurbs about each of them, wherein I try not to reiterate the opinions and ideas I expressed over the course of the year. As you can (or perhaps can't) imagine I take this responsibility very seriously, and as you all were enjoying your holidays, I locked myself in a room and tried to decide what the best records of 2012 were. There are inestimable steps to this task, but the most important part of the process involves a patented, top-secret algorithm, which I use to determine the final order. The algorithm takes many factors into account: strength of the record (including all aspects of the music), critical reception, public reception, cultural resonance, the value of the Yen, enduring appeal and, lastly, what kind of mark it had on the very fabric of the year we all just shared. The use of my algorithm keeps me from making this a list of "Giovanny's Favorite Records", helps me delineate what records are better than others regardless of genre or fidelity, and most of all keeps everything unbiased and fair. Anyway I apologize for boring you with this opening paragraph- now let's get to the albums.
I’ve been intrigued by Canada’s Purity Ring since Ungirthed made its way onto the internet back in 2011 (I even named Ungirthed one of the best tracks of last year). From their first single I was aware of the band’s promise, and excited by the possibilities. In the time which has passed since my (thinner) 2011 days, I’ve had the good fortune of seeing this enigmatic duo live (highly recommended), and the band released Shrines, a debut record which is not only good enough to crack this end of the year list, but also made Purity Ring a massively buzzed-about group with seemingly infinite potential. Shrines is numerous things at once: ethereal, haunting, modern and, above all, unique.
Fear Fun is a truly great record which almost escaped my ear’s grasp this year, but thankfully I gave it a spin a few weeks back and have been in love with it ever since. Ex-Fleet Foxes drummer Joshua Tillman left the gray skies of the Pacific Northwest behind for the sunshine of California, and in doing so managed to evolve his songwriting to the point where he never again needs to sit in the back of the stage obscured by cymbals (I suspect the prodigious amount of mushrooms ingested may have also helped). With his golden, honey-drenched voice, vivid imagination, and a sense of humor which adds a great deal of charm to the proceedings, Tillman crafted a wonderful piece of Western Americana that is folky at times, crunchy at others and, most of all, always highly enjoyable.
In an interview with Fuse, Spiritualized frontman and principal songwriter Jason Pierce revealed he was undergoing chemotherapy treatments for an unspecified malady (it turned out to be a degenerative liver disorder) while his band was recording Huh?. In my review of Huh? I made the point that I could not believe how joyous and rocking this record is, especially when you consider the struggles Pierce was going through during its creation. Now that we have had some distance from Pierce’s revelation, and he seems to be in good health, we can just focus on the record, and how exceptional- at times, even stately-it is. I’m not sure what they put in the water in England which enables their citizens to make Rock N’ Roll better than many Americans, but we need to find out what it is and import that shit.
The further we delve into the third millennium (according to some), the more and more electronic new music gets. By this point electronica comes in an infinite number of varieties, and has even made its way into myriad genres. Crystal Castles makes electronica for people who only like to wear black, and spend long periods of time sitting in the dark. Over the course of three records this Canadian duo (not to be confused with the previous Canadian duo) has created a gloomy sonic aesthetic which has no doubt soundtracked numerous smoke-filled nights, while becoming supremely influential in the process. (III) may not have been as well received as the band’s previous effort, (II), but it still contains more than enough moments which will leave you pondering the purpose of existence, and the blackness of black.
Of all the artists on this, the first half of this "Albums Of The Year" list, none received as much press in 2012 as Death Grips. Whether it be for releasing an album without their label’s permission (No Love Deep Web), having the cover-art of said album be nothing more than an erect penis, getting dropped by the label in question (Epic), or generally acting as if they’re misfits from another planet, Death Grips have been a busy bunch. It is easy to forget amidst all the hullabaloo that Death Grips’ incredibly primal, obscenely brutal, avant-garde debut album, The Money Store, dropped in April of this year, and still sounds as warped and insane as it did eight months ago. I will admit this record is not for everyone, but it’s dizzying production, forward-thinking sound, and sheer tenacity make it one of the most savage and best albums of the year
It had been nearly six years since Cat Power treated the world to an album of new music, and we needed it desperately. Power could have easily fallen back into comfortable old habits and released another record full of maudlin, alcohol-infused, piano-driven ballads; instead she decided to be bold and brave, abandoning her trademark trappings for a new sound and outfit. The results could not have possibly been better. Sun is the latest chapter in Chan Marshall's sonic life and it may very well be my favorite iteration of the Atlanta-born, smoke-voiced, goddess. There are more colors on this record than anyone could have ever expected, and they’re all presented with a modern digital sheen which takes both the music, and it’s production, into a gloriously adventurous, new stratosphere.
During my latest summertime trip to Toronto (most of you may know it as NXNE) I was lucky enough to catch Brooklyn’s The Men twice in two days. Just so we’re clear, this wasn’t some kind of accidental circumstance; in fact, after I caught their evening set at The Garrison I made a conscious decision to see them again, less than 16 hours later, at a backyard party at someplace called El Gordo’s. The band’s blistering live set was obviously part of what drew me back (they’re also pretty nice dudes), but the main draw was their killer tunes, which are recorded for posterity’s sake on the band’s third album, Open Your Heart. As far as stripped-down, no-frills, rock/punk goes, this record is a blast, and features some sweet surprises, including a nice dose of Stones-era country, and a wonderful instrumental which ranks as one of my favorite songs of the year.
Much like Fear Fun, El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure was one of those records which managed to elude my radar for the majority of the year. My oversight was not only a disservice to myself, it was also a slap in the face to 2012’s hip-hop MVP, El-P, who may very well have reached the peak of his powers this year. Cancer 4 Cure is a meticulously constructed record, which benefitted from what must be Jaime Meline’s OCD-like attention to detail, which ensures every beat is sick, every rhyme fits perfectly, and every second of music is produced unbelievably. El-P has raised the bar, not only for himself, but for other emcees in the game. It should no longer be enough to have a hot single, as your record now needs depth, meaning, and endless replayability... or else it won't be as good as El-P’s latest.
Wasted Days is such a fantastic song that its mere presence on Attack On Memory would have been enough for this record to merit number 20 on this list. My iTunes claims Wasted Days has played well over a hundred times since I acquired Attack On Memory in late January and, even though that number is a little absurd, I still think it may be a hundred plays short of the actual figure. All that being said, the other seven tracks on the record are also kinetically tremendous, and help to make Attack On Memory one of my personal favorite records of the year. If this was my own personal list this record would have been in the top five but, as I stated in my opening paragraph, it isn’t. Still, number eleven is pretty rad, right?
Godspeed You! Black Emperor didn’t care if you or I knew they released a new album this year. Initially distributed only at their concerts, 'Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! is the record which serves as a herald of the triumphant return of Canada’s most mysterious, monolithic, and glacial collective (there sure has been a lot of love for Canada on this list, huh?). 'Allelujah... is nearly an hour of gigantic music, divided up into four lengthy tracks which are comprised of numerous movements and more shifts in aural dynamics than your mind may be able to compute. A record like this truly encapsulates the power of GSYBE, and of post-rock in general, a genre which is overwhelming, suffocating, and can crush your soul into a diamond.
Well, that's the first half of the list my peeps, tune in tomorrow for the top ten albums of the year!
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