Sunday, February 10, 2013

Best Albums of 2012

20. Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music
19. Nas - Life is Good
18. Neil Young - Psychedelic Pill
17. Chromatics - Kill for Love
16. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Mature Themes
15. Bob Dylan - Tempest
14. Miguel - Kaleidoscope Dream 
13. Rufus Wainwright - Out of the Game
12. Lotus Plaza - Spooky Action at a Distance
11. Smashing Pumpkins - Oceania 
10. Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan
9. Bat for Lashes - The Haunted Man
8. The Shins - Port of Morrow 
7. Japandroids - Celebration Rock
6. Kendrick Lamar - Good Kid, Mad City
5. Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light 

4. Passion Pit - Gossamer

Sure, there is real pain and struggle with the lyrics, but at its base Gossamer is almost embarrassingly pop. It makes no qualms about that fact. But it sure as hell ain't twee, and there is a big difference. Where the latter celebrates the serious writ small, pop goes for the masses with everything its got.

In that way, Gossamer is much like Wilco's Summerteeth, a pop album so brimming with melodies and hooks that you're almost embarrassed to sing along with it, that is, until you realize you're singing a lyric like, "She begs me not to hit her," as in the case with Summerteeth, or "My brain is racing and i feel like I'll explode," with Gossamer.

3. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel

Remember when Fiona refused to release Extraordinary Machine because she thought it sounded too much like a Jon Brion record? At the time, that sound, that rich multicolored round sound, was what I loved the most. To be honest, I wished the two would continue the fruitful collaboration.

But she was right. The Idler Wheel is Apple unbound, and it's equal parts riveting and quietly terrifying. I mean, who else could reach the lustful heart of a song like "Anything We Want," with a verse like this:

\"Let's pretend we're eight years old, playing hookey / I'll draw on the wall and you can play UFC Rookie / Then we'll grow up, take our clothes off /And you remind me that I wanted you to kiss me / When we find some time alone"

I can't think of another time when childish naivity mixed so well with sexual longing. There are a number of moments like that one, where ideas are phrased in new ways. In the end, the album feels like all the contradictions that make Apple so riveting. It's a difficult album for sure, but like a hot knife through butter, it gets the job done quickly.

2. Grimes - Visions

I struggled with crafting this list, because I felt like I didn't deserve to write it. For the first time in years, music seemed to slip through my fingers. Nothing grabbed me and shook me the way I wanted it to. Obviously, there were great albums, and some that I'll be listening to for years. But those albums were few and for between. Then Grimes happened.

First I watched the video for "Oblivion." Then I listened to the song over and over and over again. It's hypnotic and pop, vague and catchy. Does it have a chorus? The only way to find out is to listen again.

Nothing quite equals that song, but Visions is stuffed with songs that come awfully close, over and over again. Visions is the kind of album I always want to discover. Something completely different, yet familiar.

1. Frank Ocean - Channel Orange

No surprise here. Everyone loves Frank Ocean. I love Frank Ocean. In particular, I love the "Bennie and the Jets" strut of "Super Rich Kids," especially the line about "this shower head feels so amazing." Because, let's face it, those rainfall shower heads do. Plus the line perfectly encapsulates the banal pleasantries that come with extreme wealth. (For the record, my experience with one occurred on a press trip that I didn't pay for.) "New ice, new glass," also ranks high.

The real power of Channel Orange is that every other song is worth exploring, too. Since Kanye's masterstroke two years ago, no other album has displayed such an embarrassment of riches, from Stevie Wonder snapshot of "Fertilizer" to the captivating weirdness of "Pyramids."

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