Thursday, December 27, 2012

Top 50 Albums of 2012 (Part II)

After a slight delay (writing this many reviews is tough people), the countdown continues as 2012 winds to a close. All are welcome on this as hopscotch from noise rock to hip-hop with ease. If you missed a step, catch up with 50-41, and then continue on with Part II of the Top 50 Albums of 2012.

50. Cigarette Boats- Curren$y
49. Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors- Big Boi
48. There's No Leaving Now- The Tallest Man on Earth
47. Blue Chips- Action Bronson & Party Supplies
46. Wrecking Ball- Bruce Springsteen
45. The Only Place- Best Coast
44. Live from the Underground- Big K.R.I.T.
43. I Bet on Sky- Dinosaur Jr. 
42. Lux- Brian Eno
41. Rich Forever- Rick Ross

#40. Life is Good- Nas

A 20-year old Nas sits scribbling lyrics in his notebook about his “tec on the dresser.” The organ-driven “Accident Murderers” featuring a guest verse from Rick Ross is the sound of a 39-year old Nas acknowledging the brutality of bullets, how they keep kids from coming home, and how reckless gunplay can lead to anyone becoming “an accident murderer.” The Nas of “The World Is Yours” is thinking up a word “best describing my life to name my daughter,” and Nas the father on the sweet “Daughters” is scrambling to be the best parent he can be. “I’m too loose, I’m too cool with her, should drove on time to school with her,” he self-reflectively raps on the second verse, realizing his days of playin’ and heartbreaking have brought him a daughter who’ll see things from the other side. He was once warning “I ain’t the type of brother made for you to start testin’,” but on the weary “World’s An Addiction” he’s letting beefs go dead to ensure they don’t blow out of proportion. “Bye Baby,” an insight into Nas’ divorce with singer Kelis reveals itself as a yearning to “take it back some years.” Hindsight’s clearly 20/20 and the past is the only place to dwell when the present seems so conflicted. The No I.D. produced “Back When” which samples MC Shan’s Queensbridge class “The Bridge” is a history lesson of misspent youth and misplaced blame. “The ill reminisce and think about the fly days, nothing like them 80s summer NY days,” he raps early on in the track. Many mythologize Nas’ career in a similar way, wishing for a proper follow-up to Illmatic a larger-than-life benchmark from a 20-year old that’s hip hop’s measuring stick for greatness. On opener “No Introduction” he labels those people “trapped in the 90s n****s.” You can never return to what you once were and Nas knows that better than anyone.


#39. Hair- Ty Segall & White Fence

Seas of tranquility mutate into swells of sound. The jingle-jangle of tambourine twists into thunderous drum beats. Folksy dreaming is corrupted by a feedback-laden nightmare. Such is the way of Hair, garage-rocker Ty Segall’s collaborative effort with fellow San Francisco weirdo White Fence. The pair is perfect together, adeptly crafting odes to their Nuggets forefathers, then pelting their elders with an explosive static. The hazy “The Black Glove/Rave” could pass as an outtake from The Beatles Revolver before Segall & Tim Presley of White Fence grow impatient and skewer the track with shards of guitar chords. “Crybaby” is an on-edge rockabilly raver that Segall & White Fence send careening into a canyon. “Scissor People” recalls The Yardbirds “I Can’t Make Your Way,” until the pair tear down the garage and sift through the rubble. All initial signs point to closer “Tongues” as the safety from this raging rock, but no melody is safe from these two and whimsy quickly becomes rage. It’s clear that on the Hair EP, Segall & White Fence aren’t so much historians as revisionists, borrowing the classics from garage rock’s hallowed library and burning the rest. 

"The Black Glove/Rag"

#38. The O.F. Tape Vol. 2- Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All

If 2011 was all about Odd Future seizing control of the rap conversation with their seething lyrics, striking videos (remember the first time you actually watched “Yonkers?”), and general devil-may-care attitude, then 2012 can be seen as a continued occupation. Through a steady-stream of releases including the very-good No Idols by resident-stoner Domo Genesis and the overlooked Numbers by MellowHype, the crew put to rest any notions that this was just the Tyler show. Instead of one voice, there were now 10 “under pressure, standing in the middle like hula-hoops.” Domo’s voice in particular rings out on this release, cutting through clouds of smoke to rattle off dizzying lines like “put that hash in the bong, it’ll make you cough, and the purp’s going down like the Lakers lost,” on the lurching “Lean.” Hodgy Beats rips through the Spartan Left-Brain produced “50” with “a lotta narcotics, flow aquatic atomic.” The Michael Myers piano-affair “NY (Ned Flander)” plays host to a lecherous Tyler “sneaking in your kid’s earlobe.” “Forest Green” finds shy-guy Mike G “just tryna get rich, middle fingers up screaming swag me out b***h.” Even “not rappers” Taco and Jasper return for the Waka Flocka Flame inspired “We Got B*****s,” the sorta sequel to Goblin’s “B***h S*** D***.” Amidst all this chaos there’s room for Frank Ocean to sing the tender “White,” where he fades in and out of a dream. It all builds to the epic posse-cut “Oldie” where: Tyler, Hodgy, Left Brain, Mike G, Domo Genesis, Frank Ocean, and a now free Earl Sweatshirt trade verses over a ten-minute boom-bap track. Earl steals the show, “the culprit of the potent punch, scoldin’ hot as dunkin’ scrotum in a Folgers cup.” “I started an empire,” Tyler raps near the conclusion. In the course of a year that empire has given rise to a democracy where every vote matters, where everyone has a voice.


#37. Reign of Terror- Sleigh Bells

“Burn the streets baby please, finish me,” Sleigh Bells singer Alexis Krauss sneers on buzz-saw opener “True Shred Guitar.” The line is the perfect sentiment for the Sleigh Bells sound, a Molotov cocktail of beauty and brutality threatening to go off at any time. In true Sleigh Bells fashion, this album is undoubtedly louder than anything else you’ll hear all year. At times the mixing is pushed so far into the red the soundboard should be bleeding. Guitars don’t just roar on this album, they flatten everything in their path. They take no prisoners in their all out assault on your eardrums. But loudness alone can only go so far, and Krauss’ saccharine vocals on tracks like the shoegaze-inspired “Born to Lose” are the perfect antidote to Derek Miller’s lacerating guitar. “Crush” is the child of an unholy marriage between the heavy-metal and cheerleader set, sated with echoing stomp/clamps and enough riffage to make Angus Young envious.  Krauss summons up the spirit of 60s girl-pop on the song, whispering “I gotta crush on, I gotta crush on you.” Unlike debut Treats that rah-rah attitude isn’t everything, as the elation of love slowly gives way to disappointment. Krauss is exasperated on “End of the Line,” struggling to make sense of a romance that now amounts to “nightmares in the morning.” She squares off with demons physical and figurative on the riff-paradise of “Demons,” begging for a fight as she’s slowly engulfed by flames. The jackhammer drumming of “Comeback Kid” leads Krauss to urge another to “try a little harder,” but she may as well be speaking to herself. The nagging teens of Treats have grown on Reign of Terror, doing everything in their power to “deal with it.” 

"Comeback Kid"

#36. True- Solange

It’s hard not to be cynical about True. An EP riding 2012’s biggest wave (Indie R&B), performed by someone’s who has already made a big for “pop stardom”with 2008’s severely underrated SoL-Angel and the Hadley Street Dreams.  And oh did I mention she’s BeyoncĂ©’s sister? The entire formula came across as pandering, and the odds were stacked against Solange. That all stops mattering the moment the beat on opener “Losing You” lands via spaceship. It’s positively giddy, euphoric shouts rubbing elbows with a warm synth line at the world’s hippest, happenest party. Solange delivers lines announcing the end of a relationship “clearly we are through” and the giddiness continues, refusing to let anything spoil the utter joy of living. Like most of the album, the unassuming “Some Things Never Seem To F***ing Work” is wrapped by sole-producer DevontĂ© Harris (of Blood Orange fame) in a smooth 80s groove that never intrudes. The beat is jaunty though Solange is singing of a strained relationship, thinking of “some time off.” Soon Solange is drifting back to the by-gone days of the sharing kisses at “Jimmy John’s when I was 17,” when the two really knew each other. There’s a childlike bliss in these tunes, albeit tempered by hard-earned wisdom as seen in “Lovers in the Parking Lot.” “Maybe I lost you, but I was not done having my fun, played around with your heart, now I’m playing around in the dark,” she sings over a skipping drum and bass track, almost apologizing for her constant quest for true love. The squelching synthesizer of MGMT’s “Electric Feel,” is recalled on “Don’t Let Me Down.” Overcome with affection, Solange slips into a love-struck stream of “oh oh oh’s.” With so much joy in the face of occasionally crushing circumstances (fading relationships, sleepless nights, and doubts about real love), it’s impossible to be cynical. The storm of self-doubt gives rise to a sunny day.

"Losing You"

#35. Pluto- Future

“This is death of Auto-Tune moment of silence,” Jay-Z maliciously rapped on 2008’s “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune),” before advising singing-rappers to “get back to rap; you’re T-Paining too much.” From the sounds of Atlanta artist Future’s debut album, he didn’t get the memo. Future doesn’t just use the “played-out” device to cover up vocal shortcomings; he uses it as a conduit into his emotionally conflicted soul. “Truth Gonna Hurt You” sits the roaming astronaut down and wrangles a promise out of him to “get my act together.” Future wears his heart on his sleeve on the Mike Will Made It produced “Astronaut Status,” slow-walking through the night life with a woman he’d do anything for. Affection becomes angst on “Turn on the Lights,” when Future burbles about the girl of his dreams. He cuts through the darkness with a flashlight and flips on lights to find her. Angst morphs into paranoid anger on the devious “Tony Montana.” Tag-teaming with Drake, Future warns all-challengers they’ll need an army to take him down, he’s “moving like a mob boss.” The sampled to death “Same Damn Time” is one of rap’s standout hits from 2012, an earworm that has you from the get-go. Future can barely constrain his spending spree over an off-the-rail synth courtesy of Sonny Digital Future’s rocking “Gucci and Bally at the same damn time,” as if to sneeringly tell naysayers “give up you’ll never get to this level.” The lyrics are riddled with the “if one is good, two are better,” mentality, Future’s indecisiveness masked as flexin’. That double focus is all over the LP, Future knowing full-well when to stunt and when to sob. He’s rap’s interplanetary traveler, coming in peace or coming to conquer. Only he and his Auto-Tune know which one it’ll be before they touch down.

"Same Damn Time"

#34. Psychedelic Pill- Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Repetition, repetition, repetition. A wheel spinning endlessly throughout time. Such steadiness can be maddening to some, but to Neil Young & Crazy Horse repetition is assurance, the bedrock of an unshakable sound that began more than 40 years ago and can still be heard today. Opener “Driftin Back” lazily floats down a river into infinity with Neil Young & Frank Sampdero’s guitars as its guide. There’s rarely a scream or yelp to be heard from the trance-inducing solos in the song’s 27-minutes. All we hear are whispers as Young ruminates on how corrosive technology can be, “I used to dig Picasso, I used to dig Picasso; then a big tech giant came and turned them into wallpaper.” He escape by hopping hop on the wheel and spinning back to a simpler time. The co-dependent couple of the gorgeous, but troubled “Ramada Inn” are stuck in a rut. For the song’s 17 minutes, they’re seeking a portal to the past, to a time before: drinks, drugs or kids who never call. They long for a time when it was just the two of them living for each other. Neil Young’s warbled refrain of “she (he) loves him so, she (he) does what he has to,” is that road to redemption, a reminder of loves saving grace. The tribute-laden “TwistedRoad” is all-about the eternality of music, how a few familiar chords can take you back to that first time you heard “Like a Rolling Stone,” where there was magic in the air and time stood still. De-facto closer “Walk Like A Giant,” captures Young floating like a leaf in a stream. A reappearing whistling figure veils Young’s disappointment with his generation’s failure. They were “getting closer every minute,” but the wheels fell off and the train derailed. They scorned the steadiness of time to build a path that was destined to die. To some consistency is foolish but to Neil Young & Crazy Horse its comfort, a one way ticket to the eternal.

"Ramada Inn"

#33. Spooky Action at a Distance- Lotus Plaza

Waking up from a sublime dream, you struggle to recall it all, to fill in the blanks to a story that’s slowly disappearing. You close your eyes and cling tight to your pillow, praying you’ll be transported back to the start. To relive it all one last time before the “weight of the world,” comes bearing down on you is your only wish. Spooky Action at a Distance, the second LP from Deerhunter guitarist Lockett Pundt’s Lotus Plaza project, begins as a search for that half-remembered dream. “Jet Out of the Tundra’s” chugging bass-line accompanies Pundt’s quest to go back “where we were again.” He’s running with his back to the past and his face hidden from the future, trying to make sense of an ever-changing present. All he needs is his other-half to wake from a dream and help him face the day. The longing for another soul to join you on your walk through the scary world outside your bedroom door is a running theme throughout Spooky Action. The soft strumming of “DustyRhodes” uncovers Pundt’s naked emotions; every beat is his pulsating heart as he works up the courage to ask for accompaniment into “the unknown.” Questions like “would you leave with me,” are never easy and Pundt does his best to sell the scenario. If “Dusty Rhodes” is his pitch, then the drum-heavy “Out of Touch,” is the plan to “take it slow, just live day by day.” It’s the distillation of the plans you concoct from beneath the sheets once you’ve given up on the dream, to “start a life, some place new and out of touch.” “Monoliths” starts with the sound of something rewinding (a fresh start of sorts) before Pundt casts aside “God, hate, fun, and faith,” for a chance to walk about and breathe in the liberating air. By the time his own walkabout takes him to the doors of the penultimate “Remember Our Days” Pundt’s waving goodbye to all the plans and promises he made. He’s no longer interested in recalling the dreams, he’s committed to remembering the truly fleeting moments of our lives: the days.


#32. Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. I- Lupe Fiasco

Can we just pretend that Lasers, Lupe Fiasco’s middling third album never existed? That “The Show Goes On” for all its success was a forced sellout courtesy of Atlantic. There was still the message, Lupe railing against “State Run Radio” and advertising that black is beautiful on “All Black Everything,” but it was lost under a commercialized sound bordering on parody. Lupe might’ve had a lot to live up to in delivering a sequel to 2006’s faultless Food & Liquor, but once Lasers dropped that pressure vanished. With a weight lifted from his shoulders, he was free to make the record he wanted on his own terms. FLII is the fruit of that labor. “Teddy bears, liquor bottle shrines, and rocks,” can be found on the corners of “Ayesha Says” his sister’s introduction to the worldwide ghetto that’s growing every day. It’s a ghetto Lupe raps of being forced into on the numbing “Strange Fruition.” “I can’t pledge allegiance to your flag, cause I find no reconciliation with your past,” he raps with righteous anger over the slowly-dying electronic beat. Lupe doggedly searches for that past on “Unforgivable Youth” looking for a time before slave labor forces were providing “wealth to the machine,” but all he sees are permanent scars and “tears left as proof.” “Around My Way” boldly recycles the beat from certifiable classic “T.R.O.Y.” by Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, not to pay tribute to a fallen-friend, but to eulogize a dream deferred. On the corner of 165th & Broadway, Lupe scans an empty “Audubon Ballroom,”looking for the ghost of Malcolm. With the work of Malcolm and MLK as fuel, Lupe reignites the flames of that dream. To ensure the fire burns bright, he diverts the poisonous waters of the word “n****,” and assures that “black people we’re not n****s, God made us better than that.” No word ever capable of defining an entire race. Not every track on FLII is a message for the masses as evidenced on the personal narrative of “Cold War.” A vocal whispers through a cold New York wind while Lupe sees a fallen friend off to the other side. “Baby grab a jacket it’s a cold cold war,” singer Jane $$$ bellows on the hook. With an unswerving message in his mind, a fire in his heart, and a microphone in hand Lupe’s survived the winter of discontent and he’s better than ever. If Lasers did anything it served as confirmation that “even the greatest gotta suffer sometime.”

"Strange Fruition" ft. Casey Benjamin


This is the sound of Lex Luger with a laser-beam, Young Chop going surgical on a beat with a scalpel. If Three 6 Mafia were born in Manchester instead of Memphis and came armed with a laptop this would be there trade. TNGHT’s audacious EP is a trunk-rattling rap record reflected through the prism of dubstep & bass music. “Higher Ground” skitters across the dancefloor, coasting on an amplified vocal sample before it disappears in a cloud of trap-rap drums and beat-drops. Remarkably the beat makes room for a heavy horn that gives the track an element of danger. The itchy beat of “Top Floor” reads as a Chief Keef track stuck in a slow moving syrup-laden purgatory where a stable of horror movies villains are lurking just around the corner. And the glitch-ridden beat of “Easy Easy” is begging for a snarling T.I. to come in and tear the roof of a futuristic house-party. That collaborators Hudson Mohawke and Lunice hail from Glasgow and Montreal respectively reads as a shock at first; musical interloping at its worst. But with cosigns from Waka Flocka Flame, Kendrick Lamar, and Kanye West its clear these two have all the hip-hop credentials they need. 

"Higher Ground"

Any problems with Round 2? Then let your voice should be heard, and remember there's still 30 more to go as we climb towards the mountain top of 2012.