Thursday, January 3, 2013

Tanner’s 2012 Music Review

I listened to a lot of new music this year, and I started noting some trends when I wanted to sit down and write about 2012. Continually, albums kept reminding me of each other, so I did little comparisons when I tried to decide which one I liked better. Then, instead of doing a straightforward review, I wanted to write about how I compared the two with a couple of little snippets. Therefore, my Top Ten Albums of 2012 is more like a top 21. Sorry if I went a little overboard, but please enjoy.

Catchy Folk Bands who are Best Played in the Background at a Party with a Bunch of Liberal White People
10. The Lumineers – The Lumineers                OVER     Mumford and Sons – Babel

I don’t have much to say about these albums other than they are best played in the background at a party with a bunch of liberal white people. I liked The Lumineers more because it was new and unexpected. Moving on.

Laid-Back Alternative Bands Dependent on Vocal Harmonies but One Has a Synthesizer
9. Django Django – Django Django               OVER     Band of Horses – Mirage Rock

I love pretty much anything Band of Horses does, so I was expecting a lot more from this album. It seems like they may have taken the more folksy songs left over from when they were working on Infinite Arms (their previous, and very awesome, album) and put them together on Mirage Rock. I have no basis for that conjecture other than I made it up, but Mirage Rock definitely felt like a regressive step compared to their more rock-influenced earlier albums. I would have liked to hear them do something a little more experimental, like adding a synthesizer. And with that, we have the perfect way to describe Django Django: Band of Horses with a synthesizer.

Still don’t hear it?

How about now? KThnx.

Albums that Could Have Been Magically Transported Here from 1987 but in a Good Way
8. Chairlift – Something      OVER     Tanlines – Mixed Emotions

This year’s Chairlift album felt like a reworking of all the popular (read: non-suicide inducing) songs that The Cure did, but with a female (eunuch?) version of Robert Smith. In other words, it is really cool, fantastically weird, well-written new wave alt-pop.

Tanlines’ album was a really cool surprise too, just not as memorable to me as Something. Check it out, but don’t expect an interpretive dancing lead singer in a silver spandex jumpsuit.

Two Awesome Indie Bands First Introduced to Me by Danny’s Brother, James
7.  Beach House – Bloom    OVER     Two Door Cinema Club – Beacon

Bloom was incredibly beautiful, and Beacon was incredibly loud and fun. In this instance, I went with beautiful. Bloom was my favorite album to listen to while trying to relax, and I would hear different complexities and variations of the songs each time I put it on in the background. It was simultaneously intense and easy to ignore. There aren’t a lot of bands who can make music like that. I can only imagine what it would be like if I took drugs.

Stripped Down Rock-and-Roll Albums
6.  Jack White – Blunderbuss             OVER     Japandroids – Celebration Rock

It’s really fantastic what some artists can do with only a couple of instruments and a low-fi recording device. I loved both of these albums, but I chose Blunderbuss because Jack White is awesome and the lead singer for Japandroids went on this really long rant about “the artistic process” on his XM Radio session and I couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic or not and it was weird. This song freaking rules though:

Obligatory Seattle Hip-Hop Albums of which Stefan and Danny Probably have Eight Listed Each
5. Sol – Yours Truly               OVER     Macklemore – The Heist

I’m thinking the others are going to write about these, so I’ll just make one point: I think Macklemore is great at writing songs that are EITHER super intense and personal OR gimmicky and completely tongue in cheek. He has definitely matured and gets better with every new song, but I’d like to see him develop a more intellectual middle ground. Sol’s album hit that middle ground better for me.

Albums with “Global” Sounds Produced by Crazy Talented Female Artists
4. Cat Power – Sun        OVER     Santigold – Master of my Make Believe  OVER     Grimes – Visions

From most of the year end reviews I have read, I actually have these in the reverse order of the consensus. I think that’s probably a reflection of the personalities of the artists instead of the actual quality of the music, though. Grimes is so quirky and artistic, I think she tricks people into thinking her stuff is better than it actually is, and though the album was really good, her voice is over-filtered and kind of annoying. Santigold, on the other hand, is gregarious and well-loved by her peers, and a terrific talent. Master of my Make Believe is a great bouncy dance album, and I admittedly loved it when it came out, but it didn’t have the staying power I expected. Sun seemed to be a nice middle ground between Santigold and Grimes, being at once catchy and complex. Chan’s overly-preachy lyrics might turn some people off, but she has a beautiful voice and the production is fantastic. I would love to hear a talented rapper flow off of some of the beats.

Experimental Americana Albums Expressing Further Development by Beloved Artists
3. Grizzly Bear – Shields      OVER     The Shins – Port of Morrow

I was super excited for both of these albums, and both bands did amazing things with the long layoffs between their last LPs. The Shins added some musical diversity and juiced up their rhythms, and Grizzly Bear got crazy creative with their production. I love Port of Morrow, but I was absolutely floored by Shields. Grizzly Bear continues to evolve and are the closest thing America has to Radiohead. I probably consider this the “best” album of 2012, but one of the criteria I use for picking the “top” albums of the year is how much I think the albums represent 2012 to me. That is the only reason the following two albums are ranked higher.

Filthy Electronic-Pop Albums which are “Hypothetically” Great for Sweet Sweet Love-Making
2. Purity Ring – Shrines       OVER     The XX – Coexist

The story behind Purity Ring is that Corin James (the instrumentalist) was a drummer for a band in Canada who got invited to a buddy’s college and got to mess around with some of the electronic music software and equipment and just magically started making amazing beats. He asked a friend of his from home if she could sing on one of his tracks and she brought over some unused poetry she just happened to have laying around and they made an album. It’s incredible and ridiculous. I love The XX for making music that is easier to feel than to hear, but Shrines is an example of “out XX-ing” the XX. This is the hardest album to pick out example tracks from because all are similar and different and above all, really good. My favorite surprise of the year.

Definitive Over-Hyped Hip Hop Albums of 2012 that Actually Turned out to be Adequately Hyped
1. Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid MAAD City   OVER     Frank Ocean – Channel Orange

I have been waiting for a truly great West Coast rap artist since college. We thought it was going to be The Game that brought back Cali rap, but he just wasn’t truly transcendent. Kendrick Lamar is. It’s strange how even on my first listen I began to think of this album from a historian-like viewpoint, thinking it was a throwback album and yet the future of hip-hop at the same time. It’s a perfect mixture of nostalgia and talent, and the reminiscent theme of the album mixes perfectly with the production. Kendrick is a legitimate five-tool rapper, and flows through tracks while channeling classic albums like Aquemini, NY State of Mind, Doggystyle, and The Chronic. Hip Hop always seems to work best when someone is rapping about the pre-fame lifestyle and having a melancholy but still rosy view of poverty, and this album captures that perfectly. This is probably the best rap album in five years, and definitely one of my all-time favorites.

Frank Ocean’s album was similarly great and important, as truly solid R&B LPs are hard to come by. I hope someone else writes about it here.


Can’t wait for These Albums
CHVRCHES – The Mother We Share
Fossil Collective – Let It Go

I'm looking forward to 2013. My New Year's resolution is to blog more.

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