Off the Beaten Track
25. Big Boi - Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors
Big Boi, one half of the prolific hip hop duo Outkast, is a pretty weird dude, I've come to find out. His first solo album, "Sir Lucious Left Foot..." was one of my favorite records of 2010 and I was eagerly awaiting this one after announcements of guest features from Phantogram, Little Dragon, A$AP Rocky, Jai Paul, and so many more! Thankfully, I was not disappointed with this album. It's full of more poppier hooks than his previous album, but it's still full of Big Boi's great rapping and witty wordplay. The album is full of diversity but there isn't really a set sound on the thing, but it's still a very entertaining listen.
24. Mac DeMarco - 2
Definitely the coziest album of the year, Mac DeMarco is a slacker supreme who is KILLER live and has crafted a super warm, inviting album of lazy hooks and rock n roll charm. But seriously, this dude puts on a great live show, if he's in your area, check him out!
23. Andy Stott - Luxury Problems
I was introduced to Stott's work last year with his two EPs "Passed Me By" and "We Stay Together" which were enjoyable but on "Luxury Problems" he's sharpened his craft for making oppressively dark beats into a black-diamond point that is driven right into your subconscious. Darkness flows throughout this album, only to be facilitated by skull crushing bass and eerie, ghostly female vocal samples.
22. Chromatics - Kill For Love
This album is a moody, dark, cinematic epic that is meant to be played in the car, at night, after doing something an 80's movie hero would have done. Well maybe not, but the mental image that is evoked mostly comes from the fact that Chromatics helped with the Drive soundtrack, which this sounds like as well. So, if you love the movie Drive, you'll love this.
21. Purity Ring - Shrines
Probably my most hyped about release of 2012, the one I was most excited about going into this year, did not disappoint. It's full of warped beats harking back to the era of witch-house and hyper-pop of 2009 and 2010. The lush instrumentals are synth driven, similar to The Knife, only more influenced by recent hip-hop beats. Overall very intense and pulsating with vivid imagery of fairy tale like scenarios painted by Megan James' fairy-like voice.
20. Dan Deacon - America
Hyper-pop at it's finest, folks. Dan Deacon is truly a musical genius, from composing a score to a Francis Ford Coppola film to mashing up some of 2012's best pop songs into another great pop song, this dude knows what he's doing. The first half of this album is traditional Deacon-fare (which is on-point) but the second half is a magnificent, US-themed, four-movement suite full of majestic horns and winds, strings, shimmering synths, maximalist percussion, and an air of epic liberty. Or something like that.
19. Hundred Waters - Hundred Waters
Possibly the most slept on release of the year, Hundred Waters' debut album is an excellent blend of organic and digital textures. Fantastic vocal harmonies, sweet synth layers, excellent grooves, earthy tones, ethereal melodies... this thing has it all. If you want a super unique listen from this year, this would be a nice pick.
18. Merchandise - Children of Desire
I'm a sucker for the punk new-wave romantic revivalism and this album satiated all those desires and then some. The hooks are heart-wrenchingly good, Carson Cox's croons are 80's prime, the drum machine beats are at the right level of nostalgia, and the lyrics paint a perfect portrait of lost love and the feeling of becoming out of touch with the world. This album breaks my heart every time.
17. Laurel Halo - Quarantine
Laurel Halo not only wins the "Album Art of the Year" award, but the "Best Musician to Live Above One of My Favorite Record Stores" award. Awards aside, Laurel Halo's "Quarantine" is an electronic album unlike many other electronic albums I've heard this year. The whole thing feels sterile, like it's been floating in space for a few years. The whole deal with this album is the juxtaposition of beautiful and ugly textures. In many of the songs, it's the twinkling, airy synths and Halo's obtuse, sharp vocals that makes the whole affair unsettling in the best way. Thaw is a killer track, definitely start with that one.
16. John Talabot - ƒin
Spain's John Talabot is an excellent electronic music producer whose album ƒin probably has the ability to grow rainforests right from the ground. The sounds and textures in this album are so dense and textured that it really feels like the only possible place this music could have been conceived was in the the thick, jungles of South America or forests of Spain. Heck even the first song has frog chirps, bird calls and other swampy sound effects hidden behind the brush of synths. It's entirely danceable, fun, but not totally brainless. Those Europeans really know how to make electronic dance music.
15. Swans - The Seer
Oof. Where do I even start with this one. This was my first ever Swans album, which is no easy task. Swans are HEAVY. Like, the heaviest thing I'd ever listened to up until that first moment I started listening to the maniacal "Lunacy" and the chaotic "Mother of the World." It's an album for a doomsday, combining elements of post-rock/punk, doom rock, and experimental rock all into one tornado of sound that effortlessly rips through your mind, destroying basically everything. For Swans fans, this is nothing new, but for casual listeners like me, this blew my mind.
14. Grizzly Bear - Shields
Ahh Grizzly Bear, what would modern indie rock be without you? This is a pretty standard Grizz record, which means it's really good. The production on this one is way more dense than the last record and it feels a bit more cohesive than the last one as well. The beginning and end of this album are amazing, the middle is alright, but that doesn't mean you should dismiss this indie behemoth.
13. Frank Ocean - Channel Orange
OMG GUYZ FRANK OCEAN THINKIN BOUT CHUUU BABAY SO GEWD!!!
That's about the reaction of the public to Frank Ocean's newest album, "Channel Orange." But hey, I never said that was a wrong impression. This album is one of the finest RnB/pop records to come out in recent times, I think. Ocean's vocals are pristine, smooth rivers of emotion and they sound sincerely heartfelt while singing some heartbreaking lyrics. That's not to say this album is all sad- there is a TON of variation on here. Ocean's voice and backing instrumentals keep things fresh throughout the whole album, which is impressive, I think. This, in my opinion, is the start of the blooming of the Odd Future flower, where individual members are going to be releasing more matured, artful albums rather than the hoodrat-ridden material Odd Future has normally put out (not to say that I don't enjoy that from time to time!). With Earl coming out with a new album soon and Tyler's "Wolf" coming maybe at some point, the Odd Future camp might become one of the most respected artists of recent years.
12. Chairlift - Something
This is THE album that crept up from behind me throughout the year and knocked me over the head with its greatness. In the beginning of the year I dismissed it to a degree, but still appreciating some of the songs it had to offer like "Sidewalk Safari" and one of the more downbeat, droning songs on the album "Turning" but still pushed it aside for other albums that had come out recently. However, I saw this group at Pitchfork's Unofficial CMJ Showcase at MoMA PS1 and they blew me away. I instantly returned to the record and something clicked: these dudes are killer. This is all solid, pop hits. Catchy as all hell, Caroline Polacheks' voice is great plus she's great on synth. I even played this album for my mom and asked why these guys are hugely famous yet. So there we go, folks. You get the mom stamp of approval. What more do you need?
11. Ty Segall - Slaughterhouse/Twins/Hair
In 2010, I was just getting semi-acquainted with Ty Segall. In 2011, I got more into his stuff, especially his album "Goodbye Bread." This year, he's become one of my favorite musicians of all time. The trio of albums he's put out this year I've liked without fail. The first being his collab with fellow psychedelic fuzz artist White Fence, which is fun, bleary garage rock with some great guitar work but honestly it's a pretty weird album. The second, Slaughterhouse, was recorded as the Ty Segall Band, including other San Francisco psych-rockers like Mikal Cronin. This album is worlds heavier than Segall's ever done, packing in some of the fieriest licks I've ever heard. This thing is RIPE with raucous energy that is translated into flying guitar solos, screaming vocals, and unmeasurable amounts of fuzz and distortion, which is then put onto the listener, who is then thrown into a flurry of tapping, flailing, bobbing, whatever. Right? The last is probably the album that fits the best into Segall's past catalog: it's fun, it's fuzzy, and it's excellent. Overall I'd have to say Slaughterhouse is my favorite, but Ty Segall got a perfect score for 2012. I can't wait what he has in store for us in 2013.
10. Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory
Initially my Album of the Year back in January/February, this album still stands over so many others this year. It has absolutely killer hooks and catchy melodies but it still goes hard as hell when it needs to. Another reason this album is so great is due to the intense maturation of Cloud Nothings' sound. Before this album, I'd file the band under the massive blanket style of lazy, beachy pop, lo-fi rock a la Dum Dum Girls, Times New Viking, Fresh & Onlys, etc. But this addition to their repertoire is a massive upgrade musically and lyrically. It's fun but visceral and heavy, each song sticks out, the vocals are raw and packed with passion, the instrumentals are hard-hitting and packed full of angst. No longer is Dylan Baldi writing about being bored in his room, now he's angry about being bored in his room. A bit more depth goes a long way.
9. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - 'Allelujah! Don't Bend, Ascend
If you aren't familiar with Godspeed You! Black Emperor, lemme try and explain the weight that this release holds. GYBE is one of, if not the most popular and prolific of the second wave post-rock bands, which is a style of music that is characterized by mostly instrumental song layouts, long moments of drone or repetition of the same chords over and over, strings, elements of doom metal, fiery crescendos, and an overall feeling of apocalypse. GYBE hadn't released in album in little over a decade, and the band had dropped off the face of the Earth for most of that time. Then, they slowly began touring again and quietly started selling this album at merch tables in Boston on October 1st, which heralded a comeback from the post-rock veterans. Needless to say I was pretty pleased when I first heard this album. All the instrumentation is great, it sounds just like the band's old material and even rivals some of it. If you want to get into post-rock in 2012, starting with this album wouldn't be a bad decision.
8. Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music
I listened to this gem of a hip-hop record so much over the summer, mostly cause it's incredible. Some of the finest southern hip-hop I've ever heard is on this album. There are political aspects, regular southern hip hop "Southernplayalisticcadillacmuzik" but here's the kick. New York MC El-P produced the album, creating a sick hybrid of backpack style NYC-bred beats and big, fat southern style beats for Mike's destructive flow to rampage through. This is empowering hip-hop to the core while still being both parts fun and personal. Plus, he puts on an AMAZING live show. He's a genuinely good person and he cares for his fans, so if you have the chance, please see this mans show. He did an acoustic rendition of his song "Reagan" and it's still resonating in my mind almost a month later. I can't wait to hear what he has in store for us later.
7. Grimes - Visions
One of my most-hyped albums of 2012, this album is chock-full of futuristic beats, an infectious, creative energy and an incredible allure that's pretty unexplainable. The musicality of the release it not that impressive, the singing is relatively unique, the beats are pretty standard, so why is this album being loved by so many people? Well, I'm not really sure. I guess each song has it's own fun thing that instantly hooks people. That's the thing. It's fun. It's spooky. It's HIP. The song Oblivion is my most played song in my iTunes. They're pop songs with a weird twist. I'm not sure. It's just great.
6. Kendrick Lamar - good kid m.A.A.d city
Enter: the second most hyped about album of 2012. For good reason, too. This young MC's second effort has earned him some notable and well-deserved praise from some of hip-hop's "authority" and I agree. Sure there are gripes I have about this album, sometimes the songs are a bit too long, Lamar's voice is a bit annoying some times, but that's about it. Most of these songs are captivating and the narrative throughout the songs is well-crafted. All of the beats are fresh and original and Lamar's flow is great. Some people have said that this is probably the best hip hop album in the last 20 years, I have to disagree with that, but it's still damn fine.
5. Burial - Kindred EP
Oh Burial, how I adore your music. I can safely say that Burial is my favorite electronic producer of all time, for good reason. He makes some of the most emotive UK dubstep, incorporating muffled vocal samples and a sense of being buried in urban decay. The beats are usually under a light film of grime, utilizing slight vinyl crackles to emulate rain and other ambiguous sound effects. It's dark dance music to soundtrack a trek through the dark, seedy streets of London.
4. Tame Impala - Lonerism
I'm really really glad this album is this high up in my list. I enjoyed Innerspeaker, Tame Impala's previous album, immensely, but I didn't get into it until mid-2011. Sure I ranked it #16 in 2010, but that was riding purely off of one song, "Solitude Is Bliss." This album, on the other hand, I paid my full attention to and it places itself in the list based on my attraction to all of its songs. The first song that was released was the psych epic "Apocalypse Dreams" and I instantly fell in love with it. It's catchy and the massive ending psych rock warp drive at the end is beautiful. The rest of the album is crazy catchy, and sure, there's a lot of Beatles worship on this record, but I think it's all in good taste.
I read somewhere that people don't like Beach House's material because it all sounds the same. What I say to that is those people are not listening to Beach House clearly enough. Sure, they all incorporate some of the same dream pop elements: woozy guitars, organ-like synths and Victoria Legrand's weightless voice, but each song brings its own romantic energy to the plate. This one definitely brings their energy they created on Teen Dream to a whole new, euphoric level. The songs are great, all of the hooks are there and it's extremely accessible.
2. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...
The only Fiona Apple I knew before going into this album was her debut album, "Tidal" and boy was I in for a surprise. Apple has definitely matured since then and has brought that into her songwriting style. All of the songs are about heartbreak or regret, but worded in ways that many songwriters could never do. Plus her singing, oh wow. Her voice is so powerful, it cuts through every instrumental on the album. I love this record. You should to.
1. Death Grips - The Money Store
In my mind, there was really no question to what my #1 album of the year was going to be. The Money Store was hands down the most memorable, different, and brilliant album of 2012. My first experience with Death Grips was with last year's "Exmilitary" mixtape which I found enjoyable and I'm enjoying more and more after every listen now but at the time I found it a bit disjointed and I couldn't get into it that easily. Now I love the album, finding little things I had never picked up on the second or third listen, while also holding more appreciation for the project itself.
This album, though, instantly enchanted me within its twisted, corroding vines. Have it be Flatlander's demonic, rumbling synth instrumentals, Zach Hill's frantic, cacophonous drumming and of course MC Ride's signature howling/shouting flow, you really cannot go anywhere in this music and find peace and quiet. It's gripping (heh) to an alarming degree. Each of these songs hooks are unique and catchy (GET GET GET GET GOT GOT GOT GOT/I'VE GOT THE FEVERRR/I'VE SEEN FOOTAGE/IT'S SUCH A LONG WAY DOWWWNN/DOUBLE-DOUBLE/BITCH PLEEEASE/I'M IN YOUR AREAA) and I haven't heard anything else like it.
It defies any kind of label once you look at all of the parts that make Death Grips. The members themselves are quiet, introverted people with a lust for art and performance that turn into fiery demons onstage. Self-releasing their second album of the year and getting dropped from a major label, creating an online scavenger hunt having hunters go through the "deep web" side of the internet and decode hidden messages from the band, cancelling their tour to work on their album and so much more. The band says they do everything they do based on gut feeling and that's definitely what this album sounds like. It's all raw, powerful, unfiltered content that I think cannot be ignored.
Every song brings something new and innovative to the game. So, if you're down to try something like this, I highly recommend it. It's my favorite album of 2012. That's definitely saying something, right?
SO that's my list. If you disagree, well okay! Tell me about it. If you agree, hell yeah. That's cool. To 2013!