Thursday, January 3, 2013

N8's Top 10

This year my brother is participating and providing us with his top 10 list of 2012.  Enjoy.

Top Ten (12) of 2012

My son (6 year old) and I have been on a serious Star Wars movie kick over the past two weeks (mercifully, the original three have been on heavier rotation).  There are a number of thoughts/themes one can take away from these films, but the one that has been sticking with me lately is when, in the Return of the Jedi, Luke confronts the “ghost” of Obi Wan Kenobi about not disclosing that Darth Vader was his father.

“Obi-Wan! Why didn’t you tell me?  You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father.”

“Your father was seduced by the dark side of the Force.  He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader.  When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed.  So what I told you was true…from a certain point of view.”

“A certain point of view!”

“Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”

As time has continued to lurch forward, I’ve found this exchange to be increasingly profound.  Our own paradigms or lenses greatly affect and create the world we see, feel and believe in; the truths we then in turn believe to be “the truth.”  

While I think the authors of this blog are incredibly goofy at times, they are three of my very people in the world.  I love their request for me to contribute on this year-end activity.  In addition to sharing a passion for music and writing, I appreciate the exercise of having to write my thoughts on music that has influenced, shaped and created my vision of this past year, what my truth has been.  There are themes of struggle, loss, creativity, rebirth, hope, power and progressing.  These are my truths and this music is part of how I’ve come to that.

12) Purity Ring – Shrines – I love me some spacey electronic stuff at times.  This album perfectly demonstrates that love.  There are some wildly weird lyrics through out the album but they are dipped and covered in layers of sweet delicious sound thus taking the edge off of lines about ripping my sternum open and pulling….well, almost.  Tracks to check: “Fireshrine,” Amenamy,” “Granloves,” and Belispeak.”

11) The Illz – The Darkest Hour – This guy has been kicking my ass for years.  I dig his melancholy sound.  But it’s his use of non-conventional, non-traditional samples that really advances the art of hip-hop for me and makes me love this guy.  It’s a little bold to put this guy on my favorite albums of the year as this just dropped less than a month ago but what can I say, I love this dude’s feel/sound.  “Closer,” “Weightless,” “A New Day” and “Jetstreaming” are my easy favorites.  

10) Chairlift – Something – I completely fell in love with this album.  I don’t listen to too much woman vocalist driven music but the feel of this record is soooooo great.  Airy movement, bounce and life to it. Songs that jumped out for me were: “I Belong In Your Arms,” “Amanaemonesia,” “Wrong Opinion” and “Ghost Tonight.”  

9) Patterson Hood – Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance – My brother introduced me to the Drive By Truckers years ago.  In general they are a pretty driving country alt jamming band but on occasion they become exceptional story tellers, spinning yarn of the South, forgiveness, love, legacies, racism, drinking, etc.  A huge component of their sound, no sh*t, is their lead vocalist, Patterson Hood.  Either you like his sound or not.  I happen to dig it.  In this solo effort, he has some rocking tunes but then at his very best he tells and paints pictures of Americana, of heart, of burdens, of releases.  “(untold pretties),” “12:01,” “Betty Ford,” “Depression Era,” and “Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance” really stand out for me.  The ending to (untold pretties) encapsulated part of my year, my thoughts, my rise: “Maybe I thought about that sad snowy morning and burying my gran’daddy those few years later as I drove home in the rain, Home to my fiancés bed just a few weeks shy of getting married, With the taste of an old high school sweetheart lingering on my lips and fingers, And the rain started pouring down, Out of the sky like a wonderful wrath from God, The God who might smite me even if I turned from his grasp, shine and embrace, I was plotting an escape that I was still a few years away from having the guts to pull off, Years later that realization became a personal hell that followed me around for a while, And then didn’t any more, You can only carry hell around so long before it gets to be a drag.”

8) The XX – Coexist – I know, I know, I know, all of their songs sound the same.  And in fact this album sounds almost exactly like their last album but when that same sound is sooooooo gooooood, I don’t care.  Sexy, late night, wine/bourbon sipping, seducing music.  Always encouraged.  “Angels,” “Sunset,” “Chained,” and “Reunion” are the big stand-outs for me.

7) Gary Clark Jr – Blak and Blu – In contrast to the XX, this artist is a beautiful chameleon.  Ranging from hard rocking guitar screams, to smooth R&B, to full on beautiful blues, this Austintonian has a complete sound.  “Blak and Blu,” “Bright Lights,” “You Saved Me,” are all great songs.  The two that got massive attention from me are “Soul” and “Things are Changin’.” They both talk about love that holds and keeps you with the tinge that they won’t last and are continuing to fade away.  “I told you already girl, that I was so gone, but that sweet sweet love, yeah it had me hanging on, so strong and I, I know now girl, that I can stand alone, I was put here on this earth by myself, whoah, I gotta keep moving on…” Sung with grace and heart, lovely stuff.

6) Plan B – Ill Manors – This is the soundtrack for a movie supposedly written by and starring British rapper Plan B. Two immediate disclaimers: 1) I have a real love/hate relationship with British rappers and am therefore a bit critical of them, and 2) I haven’t seen the movie yet.  It doesn’t take long to get the general sense of the story of the movie.  Anger, loss, darkness, death, mistakes, pain, drugs and lost hope are themes throughout the album.  I can live with the grittiness and the dark stuff though if the story telling is on point.  And it is here.  It’s not an easy walk but the songs “Ill Manors,” “Playing With Fire,” “Live Once,” “Pity the Plight,” (the dialogue snippets used during this song are pretty brutal though) and “Deepest Shame” are pretty powerful pieces.  I’m going to keep my eye on Plan B.  I’m a fan.

5) Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid M.A.A.D. City – Typically with a new album I will focus on one or maybe two songs, play them over and over before moving on to two new songs to which I play over and over before…  But this album breaks that pattern.  From the minute I played it I had to hear the whole album together.  So for all intents and purposes this is actually THE BEST ALBUM of the year – as the sum of it is more than the parts by themselves.  Excellent flow and feel from one song into the next.  Soulful, spiritual, fun, playful, serious…this dude is for REAL. My favorites are: “Sherane,” “Bitch Dant Kill My Vibe,” “Money Trees,” “Poetic Justice” and “Swimming Pools.”

4) Grizzly Bears – Shields – I liked but didn’t love their first album.  I felt they were a bit non-descript and blended into a massive pool of similar sounding groups that are all good but don’t really stand out to me (Seabear, Seawolf, Fleet Foxes, etc.).  But then this album, particularly “Speak in Rounds,” “Yet Again” and “Half Gate” just totally blew me away. “Come get what’s lost, what’s left before it’s gone, But what makes each step worth the time and regret still shows, In the cradle of my unruly chest you belong, Take it as it is, Make another bid…”  There is a vigor and sense of purpose in this album that came to me as I felt my own sail unfold and grow.  I love it’s influence on me and that period.

3 and 3a) Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music AND Big Boi – Viscious Lies and Dangerous Rumors – Hip-hop is one of my very favorite forms of art.  The mixture of bravado, story telling, creativity, beats, sounds, inflections and directions completely speak to me.  American poetry at it’s finest – when done right.  I’m an old enough cat to have grown up with Run DMC, Eric B & Rakim, EPMD, Public Enemy, Big Daddy Kane and other early hip-hop pioneers.  There was a beautiful period in the late 80’s and beginning of the 90’s when there was so much creative space for all kinds/shades/shapes/styles.  You had De La Soul and the Jungle Brothers with their very hippy/lovey sound, you had Boogie Down Productions and Public Enemy handling political issues, Heavy D and Big Daddy Kane doing some romance, Digital Underground being silly, etc.  That period ended pretty abruptly with NWA and the introduction of “gangsta rap.”  There was no longer room to be creative and exploratory.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved NWA, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, etc. but felt that a golden era of hip-hop unceremoniously died.  Over the years, there have been flashes of hip-hop coming back to its roots and then re-sprouting by doing what it has always done best: incorporating society/America, re-filtering it through its own lens and then kicking the stories back out again with a new distinct perspective.  But with these albums by Big Boi and Killer Mike we may have a breakthrough.  Both albums are genius.  Artistry in full bloom.  Their use and incorporation of so many sounds but then making them their own funky soundtrack is hip-hop at its artistic, talented best.  Give a serious ear to Big Boi’s: “The Thickets,” “Apple of My Eye,” “Objectum Sexuality,” “Thom Pettie,” “Lines,” “Raspberries,” and “She Said OK.”
With Killer Mike, he mixes his style up perfectly.  While I am not a huge fan of his take on Slick Rick’s style, I give the guy incredible respect for being able to pull it off.  His ability to blend party banging, political blasts, intellectual creativity and phenomenal beats (producer El-P is incredible) make this album perfect for me.  Cannot get enough of: “Untitled,” “Reagan,” “Ghetto Gospel” and “Anywhere But Here.”
I pray that other true hip-hop artists pay attention to what these two have done.

2) Frank Ocean – Color Orange – I credit attending Garfield High School with a lot of impact on me.  One of the biggest results is my ever loving soft spot in my heart for R&B music.  It started with New Edition, Keith Sweat, Johnny Gill and R.Kelly.  Over what feels like forever there has been a huge gap to me of compelling powerful fresh R&B artists.  I have tremendous respect for Alicia Keys and John Legend (both of whom I dig a bunch) but their sound has been missing a truly new perspective.  2012 feels like a rebirth of this new direction for R&B that has me very excited (in addition to the artists I talk about here, check out Miguel – great sound).  Frank Ocean and The Weeknd highlight this for me.  Exceptional mixture of sounds, restraint, expression, movement, fun, love, loss.  What really brought this whole album home for me was watching him perform on the Saturday Night Live season premiere.  His delivery of “Thinkin Bout You” and the second half of “Pyramids” were incredible.  Perfectly done.  Listen to the story telling in each of these two songs.  Powerful artistry.  Both of those songs got played over and over and over this past year.  Other great songs from this album: “Lost,” “Pilot Jones,” “Monks,”  “Bad Religion,” and “Pink Matter.”  I think the mixture of swagger, humility, love, lust, ego, frailty in the second half of “Pyramids” is so perfectly laid out: “You showed up after work, I’m bathing your body, Touch you in places only I know, You’re wet and you’re warm just like our bathwater, Can we make love before you go, The way you say my name makes me feel like I’m that nigga, But I’m still unemployed, You say it’s big but you take it, Right kinda girl, But your love ain’t free no more baby, But you love ain’t free no more…”

1) The Weeknd – Trilogy – Maybe this is cheating as this 2012 album is basically a reissue of his three 2011 EPs as one big record.  I don’t care, this album got more continuous play for me than anything else this past year.  Dark and brooding but sexy and fun, this is another profoundly fresh R&B sound that like Frank Ocean completely captivated me.  It is easy to get lost in “House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls,” “Wicked Games,” “The Party & The After Party,” “Twenty Eight,” “Lonely Star,” and “The Zone.”  I have always loved music that you can either set in the background, letting spin into your sub conscious or really dial into and immerse yourself in.  This music does that for me.  Love it, love his sound and cannot wait for more.

Onwards, to 2013!

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