You know what I've never done before? Compile a best-of-the-year list. Everyone does those nowadays, right? The web is flooded with these things. Even your mom posted a Youtube countdown of the best ten guys she picked up behind the bowling alley this year.
I didn't blow any guys in bowling alley parking lots in 2012, so my options for best-of lists are a bit more limited. Best videogames? Well... what did I play last year? Most of my game time has been taken up by Skyrim, which is a really fantastic game. But those lying bastards on Wikipedia claim it came out in 2011. Before that I was playing Kirby's Epic Yarn, which is fun, but it was released in 2010. This was the year that I finally got around to playing Braid, which is even older. I did receive a free copy of Far Cry 3, a game that made numerous end of the year lists. However, Skyrim continues to dominate my non-Chrontendo gaming time; thus FC 3 remains unplayed. I also want to play Dishonored, but this won't be happening anytime too soon.
The situation might not be so bleak for 2013. Excited by the voluminous and near-universal praise heaped on Bioshock Infinite, I've got a copy on order.
The film situation is just as bad. I've heard about all these cool sounding movies: Holy Motors, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Zero Dark Thirty. But I'm so behind of my movies right now, I'm still trying to catch up with 2011. I haven't even seen the fucking Dark Knight Rises yet.
|Supposedly very good, but how would I know?|
The very idea of a "best music of 2012" list is pretty ridiculous. With all the music released that year, how can we choose the best? Who's listened to anywhere near enough music to decide what "the best" music of 2012 is? Have you listened to enough albums to make an education decision? How many great albums from 2012 will you discover in 2013, 2018, or 2023? The great British improvisational guitar player Derek Bailey put it best: when asked to put together a list of music from the previous year, he replied to the effect of "2003? I'm still trying to figure out 1963!"
There are quite a few albums from bands I love that I haven't had a chance to explore yet. The new albums from Swans, Thee Oh Sees and Godspeed You Black Emperor! are supposedly terrific, but I've haven't heard enough of them yet. That said, here's my list of best/favorite/whatever music of 2012.
I'd be traitor to my hometown if I didn't mention Death Grips' The Money Store. The bizarre rise of Death Grips is the most unlikely story in the music world in 2012. Formed by longtime Sacramento legend Zach Hill (of Hella/Team Sleep/a hundred other projects) and a neighbor of his, Stefan Burnett, Death Grips released a mixtape of noisy, skronky "rap rock" in 2011. Last year they: were suddenly signed by Epic Records; personally received by L.A. Reid, who told them that Death Grips reminded him of Mariah Carey (?!) They then released their debut album, which somehow got reviewed by the likes of the BBC and Robert Christgau; booked an international tour; announced they were canceling the tour on their Facebook page; recorded a second album; remixed songs for Bjork; created a cover for their new album which consisted of a photograph of an erect penis with the title written on it with a Sharpie. They then released this album online themselves, which angered Epic. The band then leaked the angry emails from Epic, which resulted in them being dropped by the label.
The Money Store made various critics' "best-of" lists last year. The music is certainly not for everyone, but the fact that Death Grips had an album released and promoted by a major label is pretty baffling. It just shows you how insane the music biz really is.
Onto my own personal favorites for 2012. Two albums really stood out for me:
The Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan
Of all this year's albums, Swing Lo Magellan is the one that has grown the most on me. At first it seemed too mellow, too acoustic, and less weird than their previous records. Yet every time I listened to it, I liked it a little bit more. The basic Dirty Projectors template of Africanized guitars and bleated background harmonies is still present, though their music now sounds less archly eccentric and more warm and humanistic.
Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music
Hip-hop might be dead, but that doesn't mean great rap albums don't come out from time to time. R.A.P. Music dispenses with the references to jewelry, cars and expensive champagne, and features almost no guest vocalists. It sounds nothing like typical top-40 rap music, thanks the chilly, minimalistic production from El-P. This is hip-hop music at its purest, without relying on a fake "old school" sound. It's just wall to wall lyrical technique.
Other Cool Stuff I liked:
Frank Ocean - Channel Orange
I thought for sure Frank Ocean was going to sweep the Grammys this year. Frank Ocean was the dude everyone was talking about in 2012. The record was the critical darling of the year; it topped the R&B charts, and it received tons of Grammy nominations. I thought there was literally no other serious contenders for Best New Artist, Best Album, etc. Yet every year, the Grammys prove that they are somehow even worse that you thought they were.
(Oddly, Frank Ocean's shut-out was only the 2nd biggest WTF Grammy moment this year. The weirdest moment came with the nomination of in the Dance category of a song by an artist that absolutely no one had ever heard of, Al Walser. The fact that Walser's song was an amateurish Rebecca Black type number that had been released only a week before the nominations were announced deepened the mystery. It turned out that Walser was a member of the Recording Academy who schmoozed his fellow members into voting for him. [The funny thing is, this happened the year prior as well, when a complete unknown named Linda Chorney scored a nomination by personally entreating lots of voters.])
Anyway, I sort of hate Frank Ocean, as he made me love a song that features John-fucking-Mayer.
Gojira - L'Enfant Sauvage
The French have an undeserved reputation of not knowing how to rock. They are the nation that produced Metal Urbain and Magma, so their rock credentials are in perfect order. More proof: this new record from French metal dudes Gojira. Fantastic drumming on this record.
Wolves in the Throne Room - Celestial Lineage
"Cheater! This album came out in late 2011!" I don't care. I guess my taste in metal leans towards the weird-o end of the spectrum. Stuff like this, or Blud Aus Nord or Nachtmystium, whose Silencing Machine should also be on this list. WITTR might be called "pastoral metal," perhaps? It also has about the best looking packaging/cover/interior photos I've seen lately.
Bat for Lashes - The Haunted Man
2010's Two Suns is one of my absolute favorite albums of this decade, so far. The Haunted Man is not as good, and is not nearly as wild, mysterious or baroque as Two Suns. But it is pretty damned nice. This album actually landed in the top 10 in the UK, which proves the British are really weird.
Alcest - Les Voyages de L'ame
These guys are also French?! Somehow two French bands ended up on this list! As uber-hispter SF music store Aquarius Records states: Alcest is not a Black Metal band, yet Black Metal fans love them. Their stuff is like chill-out music for metal fans. They might remind you of Opeth's more gentle moments.
Ty Segall - Twins
Scuzzy psyche-rock is a genre that will never die. The current king of this type of music seems to be Ty Segall. Twins is exactly what it should be: primo scuzzy psyche-rock.
High on Fire - De Vermis Mysteriis
Dr. Sparkle has a weakness for Sleep spin-off bands. I've been lucky to see both High and Fire and Om live (and both seriously rocked, in very different ways.) I haven't heard the new Om record, but De Vermis Mysteriis is awesome. They're pretty damned high on the doom/stoner rock totem pole. Also, Sleep's Jerusalem/Dopesmoker album was reissued again this year, in what is supposedly, its final, perfect form. If you've never heard Dopesmoker, grab a copy and some drugs to go along with it, and get busy.
Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats - Blood Lust
More groovy stoner rock. I guess I really like drug-related music.
El-P - Cancer 4 Cure
Sort of the companion album to R.A.P. Music. El-P produced the Killer Mike record, and Mike appears on Cancer 4 Cure. I don't think anything in El-P's solo career will ever reach the heights of what he did on Company Flow's Funcrusher Plus, one of the best hip-hop records ever made. Cancer 4 Cure is still the best stuff he's done in years, however.
I've had a hard time following hip-hop lately. I haven't included any mix-tapes in this list, but it seems that mix-tapes and free online releases are becoming the preferred distribution method for the genre. Here's a disturbing pattern I've been noticing: a rapper releases mix-tapes online, makes a name for themselves, and starts making lots of guest appearances on others' songs. Everyone says this artist is super wonderful and awesome. Once the hype has reached a fever pitch, the official major label debut album appears. But that official album turns out to be pretty lame, and then said artist is suddenly over-exposed and everyone hates them. This has happened over and over again in the last few years. I'll tell you what: this phenomenon has become so common it needs a name. And, as a favor to the music world, I'll give it a name right now: "Nicki Minaj Syndrome." She's the most obvious and high-profile example I can think of, and perfectly embodies the underground=loved > mainstream = hated career arc. To any music journalists out there: I hereby authorize you to refer to this as Nicki Minaj Syndrome.
One such victim this year was Mr. Muthafukin' eXquire, who followed up his awesome mixtape Lost In Translation with a rather lame major label debut called Power and Passion. At least we still have his insanely great "The Last Huzzah" video, which features a who's who of contemporary rappers, including El-P and Killer Mike, standing in the background. I love the way El-P seems to be transforming into Ron Swanson as he gets older. Once again, this came out in late 2011, but I'm calling it for 2012.
There were have it. Please feel free to tell me how absolutely full of shit I am. With any luck, the next post will be announcing Chronturbo 4.