Thursday, November 15, 2012

Top 10 Albums of 2012

Top 10 yo.

10. Zammuto - Zammuto 


When grown ups would ask me, "what do you want to be when you grow up?" I always answered with confidence. "An artist." I don't think I followed through into my own adulthood, but, I still admire the artist more than any other profession. Nick Zammuto's job is nurturing his childlike wonder about the universe, with dignity and skill, until it takes a shape that has not been seen until his interpretation is delivered. His album is unpredictable, fun, confusing, gorgeous, and rich in this individual's artistic maturity. The scope of Zammuto magnifies supernovas while examining electrons. It's big and small. Grown-up and childish. You won't see it on any other top 10 lists this year, but you won't hear another album like it ever again either.
listen: The Shape of Things to Come

9. Jens Lekman - I Know What Love Isn't


Jens is the my favorite songwriter in the world. That's not hyperbole, it's how I feel. Feelings are so textured in his songs, the strength of his emotions outweighing any hype, critic, or publicist write-up. Perhaps the best song he's written, "The World Moves On" performs that rare miracle of matching the music with the lyrics. Warm strings swell at the chorus as he sings "the sun rose over the city," a flute flutters in for "the wind swept through the valley," and the theme of the album proclaims "you don't get over a broken heart, you just learn to carry it gracefully." Jens' song is about specific personal experiences, but it feels like it could have happened in any city, to anyone--especially whoever happens to be listening.
listen: The World Moves On

8. Chromatics - Kill for Love


The album format is dead. We don't have to argue about that, let's just agree that iTunes and Amazon have reaffirmed the song as king. But Kill for Love is an homage to times past. The music videos end with a title page, like movie trailers from the late 70s. Neil Young is covered to open the album, his 1979 song "Into the Black." The rest of the album drifts like a forgotten dream, long and lazy. Still, I can't listen to one track on its own. I have to start at the beginning, and go the full 80 minutes. It's an album album, one deserving of stereo headphones.
listen: Back from the Grave

7. Chad Valley - Young Hunger


This is the closest I'll come to supporting the R&B revival of 2012. Hugo Manuel has a huge, soulful voice. His live show is just him and his midi controller, but his pipes are so magnificent that the one man show is more than enough to make the girls scream. And then, they dance to his beats. It still has a chillwave vibe, but everyone seems to be growing out of their bedrooms this year. Scoring guest vocals from Twin Shadow, El Perro Del Mar, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, AND Active Child for a debut album is a hell of an accomplishment. I hope the UK is excited about their boy, because he's the best thing I've heard out of Oxford in a long time.
listen: Fall 4 U

6. California Wives - Art History


Chicago album of the year! In a year dominated by garage rock, I'm going with the Vagrant band. Because, sometimes the punkest thing to do is watch John Hughes movies. This new wave throwback is so easy, so confidently executed, so youthful. Catchy melodies and gushing guitar tones, Art History doesn't have anything to prove to the city that bred it, nor to the generation that supports it. About as far from an "important" album as you'll find on a top 10 list this year, what California Wives gave us instead was 11 tracks to fucking listen to like we actually fucking enjoy music. This album is a reminder to get over our bullshit selves and drop the cynicism. God damn, it's like, Obama 2012!
listen: Purple

5. Death Grips - No Love Deep Web


Like an exclamation point (heh) on the death of the music industry, Death Grips punctuate their art with more art. If I can call this the hip-hop album of the year, I will, but I am not sure if that's fair. This is so much more than hip hop--this is a brutal proclamation of independence, raw and violent. It's challenging stuff, exceedingly more so than Odd Future ever was. They even have a track titled "Black Dice." I mean, when rap is inspired by our heroes of underground experimental noise, you know it's a good time to be alive.
listen: full album stream

4. Grimes - Visions

Not quite as challenging as Death Grips, but in that same vein of blood-curdling artistic progress, and if I can diss Lana del Rey one more time, Grimes was totally the it-girl of 2012. Young girls looking for a role model in music right now need to give their tumblr award to Grimes. Her voice is mousey, but her beats are gloomy. Everything echoes, but with ecstatic energy. Synths gurgle like muted primary colors. The aesthetic is something like a Gumby short directed by David Lynch. It's vibrantly unsettling. And "Oblivion" really is one of the most brilliant music videos I've seen in years. Visions is a strong argument against that cranky old fart who thinks that making music on a laptop cheapens art. Her vocals should be in the red. The mix should not be too dynamic. Who needs ProTools and an engineer when you have Garageband? At least one girl doesn't.
listen: Genesis

3. Tame Impala - Lonerism


Psych rockers rejoice, this is what it's all been leading up to. It's Rubber Soul on more drugs. It's Dungen in English. It's everything that psych rock can and ought to be, and even better than that. The sound here is so big, it makes me wonder why everyone has been holding back for so long. I'll admit, I've never been a huge psych fan, but, it has never sounded like Lonerism before. The crunchy electric guitar, rollicking drum fills, reverberating keyboards, punctuating bass, soaring falsetto, and melodies that the Kinks couldn't dream up. It's a joy to listen to this album, from start to finish and on repeat. If only it had come out a few months earlier, this is the music we crank as loud as we can at the summer rooftop parties.
listen: Elephant

2. Japandroids - Celebration Rock

Two guys rocking out. If I didn't promise an entire paragraph for each album, that's all I'd have to say for this one. So what else can I say? Well, one of the guys rocks out on the drums. The other guy rocks out on an electric guitar. Both of them sing, often shouting in unison. The line that immediately signaled a "best of the year" selection was "We yell, like Hell, to the Heavens!" After I heard that, I pumped my fist. Then the second time the chorus came around I yelled it with them. This is what rock and roll does to us. It encourages us to raise our voices, our hands, our spirits. Japandroids are well aware of the power of rock music too. Kids celebrate life with rock music, and this album might be forever remembered for it's ability to inspire youthful rowdiness. Even amongst those of us who aren't so youthful anymore.
listen: The Nights of Wine and Roses

1. Tanlines - Mixed Emotions

Hints of tropicalia, electronica, and just plain indie rock are all here. Toss in the sneering vocals, the minor chord changes, and the melancholy lyrics, and this music is exactly what its title indicates. It's perfect for falling in love, or breaking hearts. It sounds warm during the winter, but chills out a sweltering beach party. I have absolutely no clue how this dichotomy works so well, but I could listen to Mixed Emotions at any time, in any mood, for any crowd. When I DJ at the Whistler or Rodan, it gets just as good a response as it does when I risk it at the Lincoln Park sports bars. When I saw them live at Lincoln Hall, I was struck hard by their uniqueness. Usually when I hear new music I can say something like, "Oh, this is like a mix of Vampire Weekend and Delorean" etc.. But, I really can't do that with Tanlines. These guys have a sound all their own, and they're the only guys I've heard this year who I can say this about. I've never been so torn as a critic and fan as I have by this music. I don't know how to separate my feelings here, and since that's never happened before I feel no choice but to say that this is the best album I've heard this year. I have mixed emotions about this, for real.
listen: All of Me

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Best Music of 2012


These are my favorite albums of 2012. As usual, I will post 25-11 now, then the top 10 in a week. I'm only writing a sentence for each of these here, but just click the song link to hear what's so good about each artist listed. Of course, top 10 picks will each get a paragraph from me.


25. Chairlift - Something

Female fronted indie pop that should replace Lana Del Rey altogether.
listen: Ghost Tonight

24. Big K.R.I.T - Live from the Underground

Mainstream hip-hop that isn't heard much on the radio for some unfathomable reason.
listen: I Got This

23. El Perro Del Mar - Pale Fire

Basically the female Cold Swedish Winter.
listen: Walk On By

22. Menomena - Moms

The least detrimental lineup shake-up of the year (and surprisingly so, if I might add).
listen: Capsule

21. Chandeliers - Founding Fathers

The finest electro-kraut in Chicago
listen: Le Corsage

20. Why? - Mumps Etc

Yoni Wolf returns to weird-hop form.
listen: Paper Hearts

19. Wishmountain - Tesco

Matthew Herbert making electronic music with sounds he recorded in a grocery store.
listen:

18. The 2 Bears - Be Strong

Hot Chip techno house side project.
listen: Get Together

17. Phedre -Phedre

The band that should take the baton from Of Montreal.
listen: Aphrodite

16. Serengeti - C.A.R.

Chicago's deepest rapper, doing his thing.
listen: Geti Life

15. Black Dice - Mr Impossible AND Eric Copeland - Limbo

A two-for-one since Eric Copeland is in Black Dice, and because one album isn't better than the other.
listen: Pigs or Louie, Louie, Louie

14. Poolside - Pacific Standard Time

Relaxing summer disco with 90s' house piano licks and boat party vibes.
listen: Next To You

13. Dustin Wong - Dreams Say...

Guitar loops, as performed by a virtuoso.
listen: Pink Diamond

12. Hot Chip - In Our Heads

Dance or listen or care strongly or get drunk or fly around or take the dog for a walk or....
listen: Flutes

11. DIIV - Oshin

Dreamy surf rock that is almost as good as Real Estate.
listen: Doused


ok see ya next week