10. PASSION PIT- GOSSAMER
Boston’s Passion Pit makes hard driving synth-pop that is somehow weird, inventive, gooey & poppy all at once. Singer Michael Angelakos’s high pitched vocals make him sound like a lost Bee Gee. Their musical hooks are wildly inventive but packed so tightly within their songs that the band never sounds over the heads of their audience. Lead single “Take a Walk” was already a big hit last year and 2nd single “Carried Away” is primed to follow. “It’s Alright” is another standout that is one of the band’s best songs. I think “Gossamer” is the equal to the band’s first album “Manners” which placed #7 of my top ten of 2009. If you don’t dig too deeply “Gossamer” founds like a fun, indie pop album. But listen a bit closer and you can hear that singer Michael Angelakos is working through some dark shit. He is bipolar and in his songs he addresses substance abuse, suicide and financial troubles. Some of the best music ever made has been a combination of dark and happy music and Passion Pit is no exception. In a weaker year this album is a likely top five.
Like Grizzly Bear, it was very difficult to predict Beach House’s ascendance to near the top of the indie ladder. I’ve liked them since their first album and they have maintained a signature sound. They make slow, lush, gorgeous & sad music that sounds like the end of summer- post Labor Day, after everyone has left for the season. Their sound hasn’t changed much in four albums, but it has gotten bigger and bolder, the songwriting tighter and the band better. They have steadily improved with each album and after a Bdog top ten with “Teen Dream” in 2010 I have to at least move the band up one space to number nine. Every one of Beach House’s albums has a few stellar tracks. “Bloom” is filled with them. There isn’t a weak one in the bunch and most are outstanding. “Myth”, “Wild”, “Lazuli” and “Troublemaker” in particular are some of the band’s very best. Though every track on the album can be heard on its own merit, “Bloom” is an album with great flow and is best heard as a whole. Beauty and sadness and who said artist development is dead!
Buy The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (Deluxe Version) – Fiona Apple
Buy The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever DoAmazon
Fiona’s first album in seven years was an instant critical smash and is one of the top reviewed albums this year but it honestly took me awhile to get it. Apple has not been a singles artist since her first album in 1996, but “The Idler Wheel…” is more challenging than any of her previous work. The production on the album is absolutely barebones- often only Apple’s husky voice, her piano and her touring drummer Charlie Drayton’s clattering percussion. There is both a noticeable lack of melody and of choruses in most of the songs but the stark music puts the focus on Apple’s biting and incisive lyrics and her wonderful voice- which aches with authenticity and sincerity. Apple’s lack of self promotion while at the same time, being unafraid to wear her heart on her sleeve makes her and her music and nice antidote to our current age of oversharing and phony apologies. The more you listen to these songs, the more they stick. A unique and great album.
Miguel had previously released a critically acclaimed and commercially successful album and had a #1 hit “Adorn” off of the above album earlier in 2012 but I had somehow slept on his until this past Fall. Upon receiving “Kaleidoscope Dream” I was blown away on first listen. Miguel is obviously influenced by the currently hot alternative R&B of artists like Frank Ocean & The Weeknd, but he is no mere copycat. The happily married man oozes kinky sex without coming off as a lascivious scumbag. This is Prince for the new millennium and if this was released in a weaker music year it would easily have a shot at my top 3. There isn’t a weak track on the album.
After a pretty excellent mixed tape last year, Kendrick Lamar is now being hailed as the savior of rap. He hails from Compton which certainly has its share of history in the rap world. Unlike the more nihilistic music of N.W.A. & Dr. Dre & Snoop, Lamar comes from a more thoughtful place. He doesn’t sugarcoat while commenting on his community and usually seems to take a critical eye while examining his life and the world around him. Upon release “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City” experienced both huge critical success and big sales numbers. He has a big radio hit with the excellent “Swimming Pool (Drank)” and his album plays out in story form. The beats on “Good Kid” can alternate between bass rattling and soul groove music. It’s quite a tribute how good this year in music has been that this didn’t crack my top five. It’s already being hailed as a classic and proof that mainstream hip hop isn’t dead.
This album came out last January and made my winter far more bearable. It was a very early candidate for album of the year and if not for the emergence of a few more amazing albums it probably had a great shot. Cloud Nothings is helmed by Clevelander Dylan Baldi, who is barely in his twenties. Their first two albums were lo-fi bedroom pop. Baldi & co switched gears considerably for “Attack On Memory” and made a straight up kickass indie-rock record in the grand tradition of late 80’s early 90’s Sub Pop. Nearly every track on the album is straight up great, my faves being “Cut You”, the 8 + minute “Wasted Days” which seems to go by in a flash & “Stay Useless”- my personal anthem of the year. A perfect song for a 40 year old Dad who doesn’t have enough time in the day to accomplish everything he wants. If you’re pissed that indie-rock has gone too soft in recent years “Attack On Memory” is the perfect antidote.
Though it was neck and neck with Kendrick Lamar, Atlanta’s Killer Mike made my rap album of the year with “R.A.P. Music”. Produced by, and released the same day as NYC indie-rap star El-P, it’s clear that these two vets are a perfect fit. Killer Mike has been part of the underground rap scene for a good part of the last decade. He’s had high profile guest spots on Outkast tracks, a series of mixtapes and has released at least a pair of classics already with “A.D.I.D.A.S.” and “That’s Life”, but has never released a great album until now. Nearly every cut is great & and the relatively short running time always leave you wanting more. The beats are alternately slammin’ and groovin; and Mike’s biting lyrics makes it clear that he can always rap intelligently about the world’s social ills, racism, American history and sexual politics and anything else that gets him going. He’s equal parts anger and empathy while never failing to point the finger at him own community’s failings as well. Here’s hoping that this is a jumping off point for Killer Mike rather than an anomaly- he clearly still has much to say and contribute.
“Celebration Rock” is some of the most fun I’ve had with music in a long time. It’s Vancouver-based Japandroids 2nd full length album and though the duo is nearing their late 20’s they really nail the feeling of being in your early 20’s for me. “Remember that night you were already in bed, said f@#k it got up to drink with me instead,” is a quote from their 2010 single “Younger Us” (included on “Celebration Rock”) and to me just nails that feeling perfectly. Both everything and nothing is at stake. You’re stick between the end of an era and the start of a new one- revelry, reckless abandon, both uncertaintainty and carefree. It’s my favorite rock song of the new decade and only one of many great tracks on “Celebration Rock”. Though the Droids take some cues from punk & hardcore music, this album is a straight ahead balls out rock record more than anything else. Not blues based like the Black Keys but ROCK. To re-use a phrasethat has already pretty much been beaten into the ground- This band could be your life!
I feel like putting “Channel Orange” as a co-number one. I waffled back and forth many times and had it at #1 for most of the past 6 months. It is BY FAR the best reviewed album of the year and is clearly dominating the critics’ top ten lists this year and for good reason. Frank Ocean is an incredible writer and beautiful R&B singer who has hip hop roots and runs with the L.A.’s polarizing Odd Future gang. In a great couple of years for R&B, “Channel Orange” is the most interesting R&B album to come along in ages. Ocean weaves a finely detailed narrative in his songs and like the best writers, gives us valuable insight into our present human condition by showing and not telling. Musically he’s all over the map touching on hip hop,, funk, straight up soul, indie-rock, psychedelia bringing to mind nothing more than Prince during the “Sign O the Times” era. For people calling this guy overhyped I say listen more closely. “Channel Orange” is packed with classic jams and I hear more than a handful of potential singles. This dude is a major talent and his daring and thougtful way of addressing his sexuality makes him all the more interesting. The rap and Hip Hop world has run embarrassingly behind when it comes to tolerance and by coming out Ocean has become a lightning rod for social change within his community- and that is a great thing.
And at #1 we have an Australian psych-rock group, which somehow brings reminders of Revolver-era Beatles, the heavier era’s of Pink Floyd and the Beach Boys, the early 70’s prog groups and early metal, while creating something unique and modern sounding at the same time. 2010’s “Innerspeaker” was the group’s debut and breakthrough album and “Lonerism” takes the band to the stratosphere. Singer and band leader Kevin Parker sounds much like John Lennon and “Lonerism” sounds as if the Beatles recorded “Revolver” in 2012 with Lennon as the only singer/songwriter. Unlike so many of today’s retro sounding band Tama Impala doesn’t ape the sounds of yesterday so much as the feel of that music. They use today’s technology to make the music fresh again. The whole band boasts sick musical chops and can both knuckle down with tremendous, hooky riffs and stretch out for lengthy jams. This is a headphones album meant for people who love musicianship but “Lonerism” has an incredible stable of songs as well. On the first few listens, the album flows together as a bugged out psychedelic freak show, but the songs distinguish themselves individually on repeat listens. I can’t say enough about this band and this album. Hope you dig them too.