15. Schoolboy Q: Habits & Contradictions
“There’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out but I pour whiskey on him and inhale cigarette smoke.” That’s a line from the Bukowski poem, “Bluebird,” and it is the epitome of Habits and Contradictions. Schoolboy Q’s narcotic and sex-fueled habits lead to his familial and self contradictions, formulating the cause and effect pattern of the album. And on this record, Schoolboy sounds confidently destitute, incredibly driven, eager, and ready to party. Habits is a mediative record that is innovative and original, yet entirely familiar. It’s a record that can be played at your friend’s apartment party and at the library for a study session.
14. Death Grips: The Money Store
During the latter portion of 2012, experimental hip-hop outfit, Death Grips got cast into the trendy world of anti-label music when they released their not-supposed-to-be-independent, No Love Deep Web via internet. This move cloaked their ambitious music in a shroud of digital blogger hype, placing the band’s music on the back burner and their financial decisions on Pitchfork’s front page. It was a move of ironic capitalism; Death Grips allowed No Love Deep Web as a free download in protest of their label, Epic, and ultimately gained more exposure because of it. Yet, why do we even care or write about this? Shouldn’t we focus on the music? The Money Store got massive exposure for all the wrong reasons; it shouldn’t matter if a band sticks it to the man, a band should gain exposure through the merit of their music, and The Money Store won’t need to worry about that.
13. The Walkmen: Heaven
Age can kill a band. James Murphy ended LCD Soundsystem as he got caught in the middle of age’s battle with hipness, WU LYF called it quits this year citing the desire to “move on,” and Elvis went borderline insane toward the end of his career due to his struggle with flaming out. So, is it possible to become cooler with age? Yes. Heaven by The Walkmen is the band’s celebration of their long, plentiful career and it boasts the wisdom that comes along with age. Heaven plays like a really great talk with your grandpa, it’s full of wise instruction and didactic anecdotes. The Walkmen have always seem to epitomize “class,” but Heaven transcends class, it’s in a world entirely of its own, a world of J. Crew sweaters, ballroom galas, fine wine, and Van Gogh exhibits.
12. Mac Demarco: 2
There’s always that one guy at the record store that hasn’t bathed in days. He’s got on an old ratty white t-shirt and his crusty black skinny jeans fall down as he squats over the value bin, revealing the unfortunate “plumber’s crack.” Mac Demarco’s 2, is this guy’s record. It’s sleazy and lazy, full of slumbering jangle pop. 2 is heavy-eyed from oversleeping and over smoking, Demarco’s eerie crooning will put you to sleep at one point and wake you violently at another. The album is an interesting take on stoner-rock and full of catchy ganja-anthems.
11. Joey Bada$$: 1999
Joey Bada$$ has done his homework. The boy knows what the 1990’s hip-hop game was about. Pinky and the Brain, political undertones, record scratches, and chilled out production. 1999 feels like a record that Common recorded after The Resurrection and immediately after its completion, he buried it in his front yard, only to be dug up ten years after. Joey Bada$$ easily proves his worth as an MC on ambitious tracks like “Survival Tactics” and “Snakes.” Only being 17 years old, Bada$$ is nothing short of a prodigy and 1999 proves his immense worth to the rap game.
10. Father John Misty: Fear Fun
Bob Dylan once turned toward the road for answers. Highway 61 Revisited was his tale. Jack Kerouac lived a huge chunk of his life literally on the road. His story was On the Road. J. Tillman, bored with the formulaic aspects of modern American life, got in his van, tripped some mushrooms and drove down the California coast. His adventure is Fear Fun. It’s a record full of drugged out road folktales including encounters with Canadian Shamans, mental concentration camps, and riding dune buggies to Malibu. Fear Fun is contradictory to its title, it’s an incredibly fun album and an important reminder that it’s okay to break free from your 9-5’s, leave your white-picket fences, and gun your engines toward the nearest adventure.
9. The Tough Shits: The Tough Shits
Thanks to Everybody Taste, I found out about this record just in the knick of time. The Tough Shits are not your average power-pop band from Philadelphia, their eponymous debut is full of crude wit, goofy idiosyncrasy, and subtle heartfelt sensitivity. The Tough Shits would fit nicely to The Replacements records in your collection; there’s a “Gary’s Got a Boner” and an “Unsatisfied” on the record. The music contains a bit of Descendents-esque skateboard punk and a bit of Springsteen heartland rock, making the overall effort as quick and as ambitious as the Jersey middle class itself.
8. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis: The Heist
2012 has been the best year for hip-hop since the turn of the century. Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Danny Brown, and dozens of other MC’s have released solid, solid material that has been accepted by not only the independent world but by the mainstream world as well. Macklemore’s The Heist, is a perfect example of that important crossover. Hipster kids and Ivy League prepsters jammed out to the breakneck rhythm of “Thrift Shop’s” wild saxophone riff, “Cowboy Boots” told a coming of age story that all could relate to, and “Wings” shined light on America’s nationwide and CULTURE-wide materialism, yes you’re guilty too, hipsters. The Heist is a record that needs to be listened to by everyone. It contains political arguments, relationship advice, stories of addiction and struggle– Macklemore has created a hip-hop masterpiece.
7. Cloud Nothings: Attack on Memory
Rock is no longer the shape of youth culture. Let’s face it. Hip-hop and digital production have taken over rock’s sweaty swagger and replaced it with crisp air-conditioned MIDI beats– and that’s okay, music has its shifts. But at times, we all need something with more blood, sweat, and tears than a house beat. And Attack on Memory is just that. Cloud Nothings took a much more ambitious approach on this record than on their last. Instead of crafting infectious power pop songs, the band taps into their hardcore roots, drawing on inspirations like Nirvana, Fugazi, and Jawbreaker. Attack on Memory is a ferocious and wonderful attempt at a rock record and lead singer, Dylan Baldi’s voice has taken on a Westerberg-like growl, making the album even harsher. Cloud Nothings successfully return rock and punk back to the youth on this record.
6. Frank Ocean: Channel Orange
Taking a break from the horror-core, overrated hip-hop project, Odd Future, Frank Ocean released his debut solo album, Channel Orange. After its release, Ocean skyrocketed into the world of fame, he performed and was nominated at the Grammy’s, he appeared on Jimmy Fallon, and Ocean took part in other numerous forms of marketing exposure. He hit the big time, and Channel Orange proves why. It’s a lush, beautifully produced album, decked out with overly personal lyrics about Ocean’s upbringing, sexual orientation, and anxieties that make Channel Orange play like a diary. Frank Ocean has achieved something the indie world never predicted: acceptable popularity.
5. Literature: Arab Spring
This one may be a personal bias, but hey, this album is amazing nonetheless. Literature, a power pop group hailing from Austin, Texas, without a doubt win the most underrated band of the year award. Arab Spring is a semi-unheard of collection of Smiths-like jangle pop and raucous punk-rock jam sessions. Each track is different from the other, making the album an exception to the samesy issue some power pop records deal with. The melodies are made of pure bubble-gum and the vocals are masked with DIY production that adds tinges of hip coolness to each song. Overall, Arab Spring is the hidden gold of 2012.
4. Donnie & Joe Emerson: Dreamin’ Wild
Originally released in 1979, Dreamin’ Wild is a teenage time capsule of the ’79-’80 period in musical history. The Emerson’s brothers’ father sacrificed just about everything for his sons to chase their musical dream; he sold thousands of acres of land for his sons to record an album and he built an entire stage for them to perform at on his land in rural Washington– talk about world’s greatest dad. But to the Emerson’s dismay, the album was a failure and it financially ruined the family. 33 years later, the album has resurfaced, has been remastered by Light in the Attic, and Ariel Pink has covered its best song, “Baby.” Dreamin’ Wild is full of wide-eyed teenage optimism and youthful vigor. It is easily one of the most memorable albums in musical history.
3. Kendrick Lamar: Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City
Compton, CA. What a town, what a town. Is it really a terrible place to grow up in? I mean on one end of the spectrum, of course, but there are shades of grey with this town. With all the poverty, crime, and drugs it would seem like a terrible place to grow up, but when you grow up in shitty environments like Compton, you have the ability and opportunity to create a fiery drive of motivation to succeed– just like Kendrick Lamar. Good Kid is a personal meditation on Lamar’s upbringing, focusing on the pros and cons of growing up in impoverished Southern California. Lamar includes a perfectly balanced mixture of cockiness and tentativeness, making Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City not too ignorant and not overbearingly sentimental. The rapper’s struggle with peer pressure, alcohol, drugs, and violence is a heavy topic throughout the album and it shines light on the fact that America is still very much so impoverished. The recorded voicemails from Lamar’s parents add an eerie sense of voyeurism to the album, making it even more of a complex masterpiece. Good Kid should and will go down in the history of great hip-hop albums.
2. Local Business: Titus Andronicus
This album was met with mixed reviews. Some critics accused Titus Andronicus of being unsure of itself, some said the production was too clean, and some even complained about the length (which runs at around 50 minutes, a pretty regular runtime). They couldn’t be more wrong. First off, Titus has probably never sounded so sure of themselves, The Airing of Grievances and The Monitor were both filled with brilliant existential complaints and provoking philosophical tirades. Local Business begins with a self-deprecating Patrick Stickles yelling, “Okay, I think by now we’ve established everything is inherently worthless, and there’s nothing in the universe with any kind of objective purpose,” playfully mocking the thematic content of their first two records. Local Business still contains bits of existentialism, but the lyrics focus on more of America’s idea of success, cogs in the capitalist machines, and aging. Complaints about the production is absurd, Stickles still has that angry Oberst-esque growl and the band is arguably tighter than ever. Local Business can’t help but to remind me of the film, SLC Punk starring Stickles as the Matthew Lillard character. The record is about a smart and gifted punk dealing with the social pressures to conform and live a conventional lifestyle. Titus yet again prove themselves as the best rock n’ roll band out there today.
1. Chromatics: Kill For Love
2012 could be the year of electronic production. Frank Ocean’s tight 808 beats dominated the sound of R&B, loud abrasive drum rhythms were the backbone of producers like TNGHT and Disclosure. There was no sloppy experimentation or ambition to be original. Everything seemed to fall down the same Purity Ring, Andy Stott, or Frank Ocean path. But there was one exception: Chromatics’ Kill For Love, a record so drenched in fuzzy reverb and 80’s synths that it’s capable of hypnosis. Vocalist, Ruth Radelet has an ethereal voice that draws you in like a mythological siren. The synths are massive and abstract as they swoon around and around like the landscape of Blade Runner. Kill For Love is kind of like a spaceship. It takes you around from galaxy to galaxy and allows you to experience what each one has to offer. For instance, when you are taken aboard and dropped off at “These Streets Will Never Look The Same,” you are left viewing a bustling world of pulsating futuristic modernism, but when the spaceship flies to “The River,” you experience the vast isolation of a cold planet, maybe one you are left alone to inhabit. Kill For Love is not even a record, it’s more of an experience of pure science fiction.