"Let us, then, be up and doing, With a heart for any fate; Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait" -Longfellow

Friday, February 1, 2013

My Favorite Music of 2012: Albums

I. Grizzly Bear Shields - BUY IT.
Disclaimer: Grizzly Bear has my undying loyalty and love. Mitigating facts: they have said loyalty and love because their sound leaves nothing in my musical appetite unsatisfied, because they know when to push and when to float, because they do not make aesthetic blunders, because their sound is defined by careful attention to detail without the baggage of needing to be innovative simply for the sake of innovation... Because they are loyal to their unique and subtly morphing vision, no matter what... And because that vision rests preposterously between limitless emotion and musical precision. Shields, Grizzly Bear's fourth album, encapsulates all of these elements and builds upon them with a disarming vocal directness and a new simplicity that shows the band realizes the beauty and penetrating quality of complexity decoded in clarity. Album closer “Sun in Your Eyes” is perhaps my favorite song from my favorite band. 
II. Woods Bend Beyond - BUY IT.
Exuberant, sweet, and bonier than you'd have ever have expected; Woods' seventh record is their most fully realized work to date. As such, Bend Beyond seems an extremely apt title for this release. Mesmerized from the very beginning by the crests and falls and washed out suns and freshwater moons of Bend Beyond's twelve tracks, I (and this is not meant to be any kind of a dig on the group's past efforts) found myself caught off guard by how perfect every note, every drum flurry, and every uncharacteristic psychedelic guitar breakdown rang in my ears starved for a taste of the great mystical summer while trapped in the frozen annals of work-a-day proceedings. Something about this album exemplifies a kind of willful vulnerability and forceful gentleness that is so important to me in my thought and endeavors. I may not have listened to Bend Beyond more than some of the eight albums below, but I was touched and inspired by it perhaps more than any other on this list. Dig the soft yellow of the title track, the smoky nervousness of “Find Them Empty”, and the smoothly jangling angles of “Size Meets the Sound”… You’ll understand.
III. Frank Ocean channel ORANGE - BUY IT.
Channel ORANGE is a huge record. This is important shit... This PoMo soul, this bright dark cityscape pastiche, this emotionally charged music for teaching our babies well. All obvious implications and think piece ruminations aside — Frank Ocean's second album (first proper), set into hot orange with the flames of an unprecedentedly candid and powerful confession, works as an album better than any offering on this list. Beginning in nostalgic noise, rising to the heights of romantic and brotherly love, and throbbing with spirit-pain and self-wisdom throughout; Channel ORANGE has something for every music lover, for everyone — in fact — who loves anything or anyone. "Thinkin Bout You", "Super Rich Kids", "Sierra Leone", "Bad Religion", and "Pink Matter" are personal favorites — but I reckon I'd be happy stranded within almost any of this album’s blood-thick and exquisitely-lit tracks. For more, peep THIS longer review I did for KINDFORM when the album came out.
IV. Grimes Visions - BUY IT.
Claire Boucher is a badass of steadily burgeoning proportions. Hers is a fairy tale that begins with bedroom dance/electro, continues with festival-sized rave-bangers clothed in the magnetic spirit of r&b, and has no end in sight. My favorite album tracks "Genesis", "Oblivion", "Eight", "Be a Body", and "Symphonia IX" sparkle with a fever-sheen... A radiant heart of pure leaping neon darkness, weird enough for the bored adventurer and bootylicious enough for pretty much everyone else. Visions is a postmodern masterpiece from a futuristic sonic sorceress. I assured myself back in January 2012: "this is rad — but I'll be tired of it soon." 
I'm still waiting for that to happen. 
V. Captain Murphy Duality - GRAB IT.
Oh hiphop... Just when I'm ready to give up on you for the hundredth time, something like this happens. Actually, to be fair, nothing like THIS exactly has ever happened... But you always find a new way to access my inner fed-up-ness and buried desires toward that which would see our society burn. From one of Duality's instant classics "The Ritual"... "Livin in the city made my own mind my nemesis" is, for me, the mantra of Flying Lotus' masked alter-ego Captain Murphy. A hiphop fan since I held that first LL Cool J cassette tape back in '88, I kinda imagine that we all have a rapping super hero (or anti-hero) inside of us somewhere and that this particular self is at odds with the world and its meek practical concerns. Basically, I haven't been able to put these songs away since the first perfect one arrived in the form of Adult Swim single "Between Friends" featuring Earl Sweatshirt. While the album's visual companion may be a bit tough to get through, it is interesting as a piece of art and... Bottom line... there's not a weak track on Duality. Be careful though — "Shake Weight", "Between Friends", and "The Ritual" (in particular) will haunt you. And so will those snippets of ACTUAL cult leader bros.
VI. Dent May Do Things - BUY IT.
As much as I love ukulele and hammy folk tracks about Michael Chang and cougar lovin... I'm glad Dent May took a total left turn with his second album Do Things. While admittedly singularly befitted to bumping and lazing summertime escapades, this album carries a timeless message of freedom from 'the expected life' and features some gorgeously deadpan emotive pop stylings sure to brighten any season. "Rent Money" is, in all its despondent-meets-groovy glory, one of my absolute favorite songs of the year. Other specific reasons this album is wonderful include Dent’s honey-coated croon (part country and part Brian Wilson), the playful way in which the lyrics toy with very serious coming-of-age issues, and the manifesto of a generation song “Parents”. For more of my thoughts on this record check out some stuff I did for the SA Current HERE and HERE.
VII. Clams Casino Instrumentals 2 - GRAB IT.
You can call these hip-hop instrumentals if you must, but for my money these nuggets of glazed bass and poignant murk are — like Michael Volpe’s first such collection as Clams Casino — complete songs, complete crawling and swirling worlds unto themselves. If providing these 'beats' for rappers like Lil B and A$AP Rocky first is the best way the Clammy One has found to release these pristine grooves to the world for free, then I'm all for it... But let's be honest: it's a tall task to do these thumping and swooningly ruminant tracks service with braggadocious rhymes or weed flows. When in doubt in 2012, this album was quite the juicy default. Whether summer lovin, back to work bus contemplating, Friday night celebrating — even while my High School students were composing essays... This album was ubiquitous in my life this year. 
VIII. Dirty Projectors Swing Lo Magellan - BUY IT.
Well shit. It has long been hard for me to imagine a Dirty Projectors release that didn't take my breath away and captivate my thirst for alien experience. And that streak continued this year. Some of Dave Longstreth and Co's work has been more experimental than other, but they always bring a fresh perspective on songwriting, vocal delivery, harmony, and spatial arrangement. Swing Lo Magellan is an album of grooves, soaring and serious contemplation, and harmonic fury... But that's all par for the course. What makes this album truly great is that it is, unlike any of the group's other work, a perfectly balanced cycle of songs. There's nothing here to stifle the joy of a casual encounter, yet the DPs seem to have given up very little of their signature musical vision. Standouts include "Gun Has No Trigger", "About to Die", "Just from Chevron" and the delightfully late-60s-Dylanesque title track and "Impregnable Question". See also: my review of Swing Lo Magellan for the SA Current.
IX. Tame Impala Lonerism - BUY IT.
When sectors of the hype-o-sphere lauded Tame Impala's first record Innerspeaker a few years back, I couldn't hear why. It turns out that, among other possibly more bullshitty reasons for this, they were hearing the band's promise — evaluating their potential energy rather than their kinetic. Lonerism certainly realizes, and goes well beyond, any potential that could have been gleaned from that initial release. Sounding occasionally as if recorded inside of an aluminum can, the guys could have used a touch more production realism and less magic... But that doesn't stop Lonerism's sturdy yet dreamy gait from getting the band exactly where they need to be. "Mind Mischief", "Feels like we Only Go Backwards", and "Elephant" are divergent examples of the craft and inspiration that was poured into this record. Can they make another album this innocently nostalgic and simultaneously current? Can they create this tension between edge and softness again? Let's just enjoy the moment for now.
X. iamamiwhoami Kin - BUY IT.
Listening to iamamiwhoami's debut gives me the sensation of hearing the ghosts of solo songstresses past confess dead loves and lost promise over the simmering murk and glitch of a supercomputer's death throes. I'm drawn to mystery more than perhaps anything else in life, so it's natural that I was intrigued by Swedish artist Jonna Lee's alter-ego from the beginning, before we knew who had made this peaceful apocalypse in strobe. But gradually, the clarity and warmth leaking out between the machinery of these electronic songs proved to be the true reward. Like any good characters in any given post-apocalyptic nightmare, it is fitting that we should cry along with cyborgs like iamamiwhoami, who represent the fusion of our fears and hopes with the technology we now trust with everything we are. Kin is beautiful and unsettling from start to finish, but for quick listening I recommend "Sever", "Play", and "In Due Order". Also, don't forget to spend some time immersed in the almost Lynchian world of the videos. See an extended review I did of Kin HERE.


Jamie said...

Albums 11-20 (in no particular order):

Domo Genesis "No Idols" FREE DL
Cloud Nothings “Attack on Memory” LISTEN
Beat Connection "Palace Garden" LISTEN
Simon Joyner "Ghosts" LISTEN
Yeasayer "Fragrant World" LISTEN
Beach House “Bloom” LISTEN
Purity Ring "Shrines" LISTEN
Julia Holter “Ekstasis” LISTEN
Father John Misty “Fear Fun” LISTEN
How to Dress Well “Total Loss” LISTEN

Sylvia Guzman said...

Are ya'll going to see Grizzly Bear in April? I really like the Frank Ocean album. I'm going to have to tell Jose about some of these other Albums, since having a kid we're limited on buying 1 album per month! lol
gotta save money somewhere right?

Jamie said...

we don't have tickets yet..... so maybe not, but i'd love to! they are so amazing live! and yes actually Frank Ocean probably made the "best" album of the year... the two i put above him on my list just touched me personally a bit more.

congrats btw! lemme know if i can get you guys "preview" copies of any of these albums. all 20 on this list are soooo worthy of your attention. thanks for reading Sylv