50. CRYSTAL CASTLES- III
Punk rock as gothed-up synth pop. The Castles release their third album at the height of EDM (electronic dance music) and are bleaker and weirder than ever. The synth licks are catchy at their root but the spooky, filtered vocals sound like a foreign language and help create dramatic tension that makes this the perfect mood music for the end of the world.
El-P, former head honcho of Def Jux Records, delivers probably his best of three solo records so far. “Cancer For Cure” also contains one of the rap singles of the year in “The Full Retard” (a play on a joke from the movie “Tropic Thunder”). El-P is one of the most influential and best producers of the rap underground (or mainstream for that matter). Like his previous albums, “Cancer For Cure” stays tense and paranoid throughout but
El-P edits the music down better this time leaving a more satisfying listen. He teemed with fellow underground star Killer Mike to produce the even better “R.A.P. Music”, which dropped the exact same month. 2012 was El-P’s best year in a long while.
“Tramp” is a classic breakup album but one where the protagonist ultimately ended up better off, getting out of relationship where she was unappreciated, demeaned and borderline abused. Her third and most high profile album, produced by fellow Brooklynite Aaron Dessner of the National and also including famous friends like Zach Condon of Beirut and singer Julia Holter. Though the album lags a bit in the middle standout tracks like “Serpents”, “Give Up” and “We Are Fine” rise far above any mediocrity and brings to mind other balls out, confessional female singer-songwriters like Cat Power, PJ Harvey & Kristin Hersh of Throwing Muses.
009 was a big year for indie-rock. Instant classics were released by Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors & Grizzly Bear but the surprise of the year was the xx, who came out of nowhere to release their now classic self-titled debut. “Coexist” has disappointed many people this year, and to be fair it does sound like a more minor companion piece to the debut, but ultimately I’d say the group has successfully avoided the sophomore jinx. Tracks like “Angels”, “Tides” and especially “Unchained” are some of the group’s best so far, and there are no true duds on the album. There are less hooks and the overall tone is more hushed and even more minimalist. Despite the backlash I believe this is an album whose quality will reveal itself in the long run when its allowed to stand out from under the shadow of their debut.
Tanlines are a bit of a darkhorse for me this year. They come a little bit later to the crowd and come out with a very nice mixture of Balearic pop and chillwave a couple of years too late. For that reason they stand mostly alone rather than lumped together with other bands in a scene, but “Mixed Emotions” is pure fun. The music is light & airy, both club ready and radio ready. If anything stops the albums is its lack of a true anthem but catchy tracks like “All Of Me”, “Rain Delay” and “Brothers” allow Tanlines to fit right in between modern day dance pop groups like Cut Copy and Tough Alliance and more chilled out, atmospheric bands like Toro Y Moi & Washed Out.
45. PERFUME GENIUS- PUT YOUR BACK N2 IT
The 2nd album by Perfume Genius, the stage name for Michael Hadreas, a gay, early 30-something from Seattle, is both gorgeous and heartbreaking. His music reminds me of a more stripped down Sufjan Stevens or a less operatic Antony Hegarty. Like Anthony this stuff doesn’t exactly get the party started. Hadreas addresses the darker sides of the human condition, like suicide, molestation, addiction & pedophilia poetically and compassionately. He is a very bold and daring artist and extremely necessary at a time when the resistance against formerly repressed people finally gaining their human rights is so strong.
Schoolboy Q is part of the white hot L.A. Black Hippy collective, whose most popular members also include Kendrick Lamar & Ab-Soul. “Habits & Contradictions” came out last January and it took me awhile to love it. Like so many rap albums it’s a bit too long, but the handful of highlights make it impossible to keep off of this list. Schoolboy Q straddles the line between the intelligent, conscious rap ala Native Tongues, and the immature, knucklehead rap of so many current mainstream rappers. Tracks like “Hands On the Wheel”, “Blessed” and “There He Go” are some of the best raps cuts of the year and make this a very worthy listen, especially for a debut.
In 1994 Nas, probably one of the best pure rappers ever, released “Illmatic”, his debut & one of best and most loved albums ever. He has been unable to come close since then, despite releasing some classic tracks and very good albums. While “Life Is Good” still doesn’t come close to “Illmatics” in quality it can sit alongside albums like “It Was Written”, “Stillmatic” and “God’s Son” as one of the better albums of his hit and miss career. Nas focuses here on the aftermath of his divorce from fellow recording star Kelis and other mature subjects like dealing with the contradictions of fatherhood vs. rap fame and its consequences. (Daughters). Unlike so many other Nas albums there are no absolute clunkers on “Life Is Good” and tracks like “A Queens Story” and “Accident Murderers” (Feat. Rick Ross) as well as “Nasty” (on the deluxe version only and featuring some of Nas’s best pure rapping) are some of the best tracks of his career.
Metz are hardcore thrashers from Toronto whose pummeling music belies that dirty little secret than these guys can really play. The music may be simplistic on its face but repeat listening reveals subtle time changes and lots of great ideas. The adrenaline never lets up. Not for the faint of heart!
After a promising debut of dorm room produced laptop dream pop, Va. Tech Hokie alumnus Jack Tatum ups the ante on his second full length album “Nocturne”. The songs are equally well crafted as on “Gemini” and the higher production value to me makes for a more consistent album and satisfying listen. Tatum’s vocals are brought to the front bringing the focus on his lovelorn lyrics rather than the lo-fi production of the first album. This is another eighties inspired record and can be listened to alongside chillwave as well as more upbeat new-New Wave like Twin Shadow.