Archive for January, 2013

The Best Albums of 2012

January 3, 2013

For the first time ever, I purposely listened to as many new albums as I could so that I could make an intelligent decision on what was good and bad in music in 2012.  I listened to about 40 or so albums, choosing ones that made the top 50 type lists of most of the top music publications (Rolling Stone, Mojo, Pitchfork, AV club, etc.) so most of what I listened to were the best reviewed albums of the year.  Overall, there was a lot of good music in 2012, and truthfully, very little of what I listened to this year was completely worthless.

So since every music reviewer has to do their year-end “best of” list, I guess I’ll give you mine:

#10

Tempest– Bob Dylan

I’ve been defending Bob Dylan’s voice for years, but even I have felt that his recent albums (from Love and Theft on) his voice is sounding craggier than ever (being 70 will do that to you,) but on Tempest I feel Dylan’s voice actually sounds a little clearer than it has in years.  The songs are really great, in particular the opening track “Duquesne Whistle.”  My one problem with Tempest is that a lot of the songs go on for way too long, and for no particular reason.  There are five songs that clock in at over 7 minutes long, and one, the title track, that is almost 14 minutes.  To me, they are not really epic songs that need that much time to drag on.  (Though to be fair, fellow old codger Neil Young’s album Psychedelic Pill just missed my top ten, it’s #13, opened with a 27 minute song, so maybe they are just trying to make their songs longer in case its the last song they ever record.)  Still, I enjoyed the songs, even if I skipped through the last 4 or 5 minutes of some of the songs the second time I listened to them. It still gets a recommendation from me.

4 out of 5 stars

#9

The Money Store – Death Grips

While I would normally say that I recommend any album that makes my top ten of the year.  In a way, I don’t recommend The Money Store by Death Grips.  Death Grips is an underground/alternative hip hop group out of Sacramento. I can best describe listening to them as the musical equivalent of being yelled at by the “Scared Straight” inmates for 45 minutes.  I do give The Money Store some points for the most WTF album cover of the year as I have no idea what’s going on in that picture.  They actually released two albums in 2012, the other being No Love Deep Web, which I don’t recommend doing a Google search for unless you want to see band member Zach Hill’s erect penis on the cover.  All that being said, this album is very different from anything else I’ve heard and while I wouldn’t recommend it to most people nor would I want to listen to over and over, I still like it a lot (and that is despite the feeling that I should be cowering in the corner, sucking my thumb after I have finished listening to it.) Despite my reservations of recommending it, I still feel it should be included my top 10 best of 2012.

4 out of 5 stars

#8

Wrecking Ball – Bruce Springsteen

I keep hearing people say Wrecking Ball was a “return to form” for Bruce.  I swear they say that every time he releases a new album, which tells me what I suspected after listening to Wrecking Ball, that it sounds just like every Springsteen album since The River or at least every album after Tunnel of Love.  But that’s not really a bad thing, having your own distinct sound is a good thing.  Wrecking Ball contains some fantastic classic-Springsteen songs, for example: “We Take Care of Own,” “Shackled and Drawn,” “Jack of All Trades,” and the title track “Wrecking Ball.”   Every time I read something about Wrecking Ball it is in reference to it being Springsteen’s take on the “Occupy” movement, and while that is new subject matter for The Boss, it still is sort of the same type of things he’s been singing about for 40 years now.  Still, the music is really great, but it’s nothing groundbreaking.

4.25 out of 5 stars

#7

Kaleidoscope Dream – Miguel

The best reviewed album of the year is Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange.  Personally, I think Channel Orange is the most overrated album of the year.  It is a decent album, but it has nothing that sounds incredible to me and has some skippable tracks.  The R&B album of the year in my mind is Miguel’s Kaleidoscope Dream.  It was a big commercial hit going to #3 on Billboard’s album chart and includes a top 20 hit “Adorn.” The album’s catchiest song is “Do You…” which has somewhat goofy lyrics, “Do you like drugs?” “Do you like Love?,” but I still enjoy it.  This album does everything a great R&B album should do, songs about love and sex with synthesized beats.  I definitely recommend it.

4.25 out of 5 stars

#6

Lonerism – Tame Impala

Something that I will repeat over the next few reviews is how I like the albums based on how much they remind me of great music from 40 to 45 years ago.  I really think the late 60s through the early 70’s were the peak time for music and when music reminds me of that time, I am well pleased.  Lonerism by Australian rock band Tame Impala sounds like one of those great lost psychedelic albums that you see in the record store and even though you’ve never heard of the band you can just tell by the acid trip album cover art that it will be great.  Lonerism doesn’t have an acid trip cover art nor are they anywhere close to unknown, but their music is right up there with the best of psychedelia.  There are times on songs like the opening track “Be Above It” or on “Apocalypse Dreams” where I would even go so far as to say lead singer Kevin Parker’s vocals are very, and I want to bite my tongue when say this, John Lennon-from-Sgt. Pepper’s-era-esque.  For a while Lonerism was my #1 album of the year, but eventually I heard 5 albums I liked better.

4.5 out of 5 stars

#5

Here – Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes

Yet another album that sounds much more classic than current.  It has an early 1970’s California folk scene, pre-Eagles, folk-rock, homespun sound that disappeared for 40 years.  In a way it also is reminiscent of some kind of great country-gospel record, if there are any of those.  The only ones of those I can think of are Will the Circle Be Unbroken by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Satan Is Real by The Louvin Brothers and Here sounds nothing like either of those because it also has a hint of psychedelic rock mixed in, so I guess not, but I know of nothing else to compare it to.  All I can say is listen to it, because it’s very good.

4.5 out of 5 stars

#4

R.A.P. Music – Killer Mike

I knew of Killer Mike, since he appeared on Outkast’s Stankonia, yet I did not really know who he was.  The Atlanta-based rapper really surprised me in that just based on his name I thought he would be someone who rapped about the usual gangsta rap staples of killing, drug dealing, and hatred of police.  However, while those things exist on R.A.P. Music, what sets Killer Mike apart from others is his intellectualism.  Not many rappers name drop characters of Greek mythology, compare the people in their lives to characters in Lord of the Flies, or use the phrase “I’m addicted to literature.”  Killer Mike is usually classified as a “political rapper” but he is not what I would normally think of as a political rapper.  He really hates Ronald Reagan. He says in “Reagan” that he had a party the day Reagan died, as he blames Reagan’s policies for the infiltration of crack in the ghettos and other stuff.  I really liked this album a lot and hope (along with #3) that it helps spark a return to form in hip hop towards a smarter path that it once was on.

4.75 out of 5 stars

#3

Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City – Kendrick Lamar

For a while I thought Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City was the best album I’d heard this year.  It is amongst the highest ranked albums on most best of lists this year, and many people think Kendrick is the new “savior” of rap music.  I guess it shouldn’t be surprising then that it was produced in part by Dr. Dre.  It is a concept album, in fact the cover calls it “A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar,” that follows Kendrick’s character through a day where he starts out as a kid just looking to be with his girlfriend to his getting sidetracked with some old friends that get him involved in crime. The one thing that keeps it from being a 5 star classic in my opinion is that the album’s best song, “Backseat Freestyle,” doesn’t fit with the rest of the narrative.  In a way it sounds like almost every other “bragging that I’m the best” type rap songs, but it is still much better than any other songs of that type.  Despite it being the best song, it interrupts the flow of the album somewhat.  I love the whole album and I will be interested to see where Kendrick Lamar goes from here.

4.75 out of 5 stars

#2

Mature Themes – Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

As a reviewer, I have compare one artist favorably to another so people will understand what I’m talking about, but in a way I hate doing that because it usually turns out to be like saying someone looks like someone else, it kind of depends on who the person is since most of the time other people can’t see it.  However, while I say that, when I first put the CD in of Mature Themes by avant-garde/ psychedelic pop/ lo-fi artist Ariel Pink, the first thought that popped in my head when I heard “Kinski Assassin” was “wow this sounds a lot like Frank Zappa.”  I don’t know if I’ve ever said that about another artist.  Then when I heard “Mature Themes” I thought “wow this sounds a lot like Elvis Costello.”  The track “Schnitzel Boogie” sounds like if Zappa had produced one of McCartney’s “Honey Pie” songs off of the White Album.  I love all of those artists and hearing someone who has the talent to put together an album that reminds me of all those people is a great thing.  But by no means is this purposefully an artist trying to sound like these people, but a great artist that is an original that just happens to remind me of people who I already really liked. Now, I’ve found another artist that I really like, too.

4.75 out of 5 stars

#1

Blunderbuss – Jack White

Yes, I am a male, middle class, suburban, white person so, of course, I love the White Stripes. That also means I like everything that Jack White does. And really is a Jack White solo record any different from a White Stripes record? (Other than the one song on every album with the girl singing that everyone skips over.)  Even though I gave it the same 4.75 star rating as numbers 4 through 2, to me, Blunderbuss is the best album of the year, because it is the one album this year that I wanted to listen to over and over.  Even more so, it is the one album that I can see myself going out of my way to buy on vinyl.  I really can’t single out any one track as outstanding in that it is all consistently great, and yet that lack of an outstanding track is why I did not give it the full five stars.  Ultimately, though, nothing from 2012 tops Blunderbuss‘s musicianship, nor was anything as enjoyable a listen, and as far as the 40 albums that I listened to this year go, (which I admit is about 1/10th of 1% of all of the albums of 2012) this was the best.

4.75 out of 5 stars