Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Best of 2012 - Music

You know I love music.  And you knew I was going to do a “year end” list.  So don’t act surprised that this has been posted.

I mean seriously, don’t we know each other well enough by this point to dispense with the pretense? 

Let’s get into it. 

Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…

A Fiona Apple album is always a new experience.  It never sounds like anything else on the market and it always feels deeply personal.  Honestly listening to a Fiona Apple album, at times, feels like an intrusion.  The Idler Wheel is no different and what’s more, is that it’s an album that also feels like an album and not just a collection of songs. 

It begins with “Every Single Night” and it’s chantlike chorus and ends the jazzy “Hot Knife.”  In between are eight tracks that run the gamut from romance to break up.  Apple sounds as vulnerable as ever, while still sounding defiantly strong.  And the wordplay in unparalleled.  The album is just brilliance. 

The xx – Coexist

Being as hyped as they were, The xx should have hit the sophomore slump.  Instead they delivered an album that both remains true to and builds upon their debut.  The tracks remain pristine and sparse; there’s not a superfluous sound to be heard.  And the songwriting feels a bit more mature this time around.

As you’d expect there’s a lot of loving and longing.  “Angles” borders on haunting and “Friction” slings along in a sultry fashion.  But it’s not a total shoegaze affair.  There are hints of a party brewing.  “Chained” is a song that could easily get you moving on a dancefloor. 

Best Coast – The Only Place

Growth.  That’s the best way to describe The Only Place.  While Best Coast’s debut, Crazy For You, was a fun ride, their sophomore effort has more depth and weight to it.  The songs are also longer and the production is much smoother. 

This time around Bethany sings approaches things from a more plaintive point of view.  Life isn’t as much of a party as it was (“Last Year”) and success is a burden (“How They Want Me To Be.”)  Still “Let’s Go Home” proves there’s still room for fun and the title track threatens to become a Cali anthem.  Sophomore slump avoided.

Nas – Life Is Good

Nas has a couple of things going against him.  In a young man’s genre, he’s got over two decades of experience under his belt and he’s got a history of clunkers.  Yet Life Is Good shows Nas at the top of his game and as thoughtful as ever. 

Nas pours his heart into songs like “Daughters” and “Bye Baby” that require him to drop his bravado and be frank and honest.  It’s refreshing.  Nas also manages to play well with other; none of his features feel like padding.  Also with “Summer on Smash” Nas finally manages to score a club banger.  Nas hasn’t sounded this alive since Stillmatic. 

Beach House – Bloom

On their fourth album Beach House don’t stray far from what’s worked so well in the past; dreamy soundscapes and breathy vocals.  This time around things feel more cohesive, which is why Bloom ranks with the best of the year.   Every song seems to flow from the previous one. 

Bloom is an easy album to get lost in.  It’s the type of album that would be the perfect soundtrack to a lazy afternoon in a hammock.  Victoria Legrand’s voice straddles the border between haunting and ethereal so every song really feels like you’re floating on a cloud.

Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. City

As 2012 began Kendrick Lamar was in an unenviable position; he had to be the savior of West Coast rap.  And he succeeded, sort of.  He’s a Compton emcee and his debut is set in Cali.  But in terms of tone and sound it’s hardly West Coast, which may explain success. 

His beats range from things you’d expect to hear Brooklyn emcee spit on to stuff that sound damn near OutKast-esque.  good kid, m.A.A.d. City is the best of all possible worlds. 

Tame Impala – Lonerism

Lonerism sounds like an album from another time.  It’s synthesizer heavy and prone to psychedelic jammy freakouts.  There are extended intros and groovy outros.  It sounds like nothing on the radio today, which means it sounds good. 

With that in mind, Tame Impala do seem to be playing with more traditional song structures and it pays off.  While the vocals and lyrics seems almost secondary to the atmosphere created, the songs themselves are easily digestible.  And this time out Tame Impala seems a pinch more mature. 

Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan

Dirty Projectors enjoy trying new things.  In fact there are only a few things one can expect from a Dirty Projectors album; awesome harmonies, a unique sound and an interesting experience.  Swing Lo Magellan delivers on all counts. 

“Gun Has No Trigger” finds David Longstreth singing in an almost panicked state, while Amber Coffman and Haley Dekle harmonize on the outskirts of the track before bursting in during the chorus.  Meanwhile “Unto Caesar” features voices talking about the song, making it almost a meta experience.  This is an album that’s incredibly weird and immensely listenable at the same time. 

Cat Power – Sun

Chan Marshall returned from an extended hiatus with an album that’s downright catchy.  It’s almost as though she was tired of all of the accolades and wanted success.  But she didn’t sell out.  It’s still a Cat Power album, only it’s one that you might be able to dance to. 

“Cherokee” builds from chill track to one with a throbbing beat.  And “Peache And Love” has a bit of Hip-Hop swagger.  Honestly, Sun sounds like what a stripped down Santigold album might sound like.  And that’s a compliment. 

Gary Clark Jr – Blak And Blu

Blak And Blu is an anomaly.  It’s a genuine rhythm and blues album but it was released in 2012.  It’s got horns (“Ain’t Messin ‘Round”) and real Blues (“When My Train Pulls In”) and it’s not by some white guy going for a throwback vibe. 

Gary Clark Jr has been hailed as the savior of the Blues, which implies that the Blues are still viable.  Clark dabbles in other genres too.  The title track is modern R&B, complete with a programmed beat and “Glitter Ain’t Gold” brings the edge of Rock to the party.  Where all of this could come off as schizophrenic, Clark pulls it off and delivers an album that feels like it’s created by a guy who loves music. 

Yeah, so that’s what I listened to and loved in 2012.  I’ve got some high hopes for 2013.  Maybe I’ll even post them.  

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