It’s been a while. How about some rock and roll?
Cloud Nothings - “Now Hear In”
Tables and Chairs may be the quintessential Andrew Bird song. It’s equally weird, whimsical, and rocking, and it takes on a whole new life when it’s played live (curses you Tumblr and your 10MB upload limit!).
I love me some Orpheo and Fake Palindromes, but Tables and Chairs may take the cake.
Andrew Bird - “Tables and Chairs”
"I want to be your kingpin." Ok, sure.
Wilco - “Kingpin”
My Dog Problems deluxe edition vinyl came with a free copy of the Kenneth Room Sessions, a selection of fully-formed demos that later became the songs I know and love from Dog Problems. I already had some of these demos in my library, but this “She Doesn’t Get It” demo is new to me. Fitting- “She Doesn’t Get It” was the song that got me into The Format (in an American Eagle of all places…), and this demo may be the last time I hear something from The Format for the first time.
I was infatuated with two or three dozen albums this year, so narrowing them down to my yearly top 10 was more challenging than normal. As per usual, apparently, my top 3 were obvious.
Let’s start with a quick look at last year’s list. My top 3, good kid, m.A.A.d. city, Channel Orange, and Celebration rock are still staples in my rotation. The other albums in my top 10 are also get regular spins, save for Dirty Projectors’ “Swing Lo Magellan,” and The xx’s “Coexist.” Both of these albums suffer in the long term for being less memorable than their predecessors (Bitte Orca and xx). Andrew Bird’s “Break it Yourself” suffers a similar fate, but not because it’s any worse than Noble Beast or Armchair Apocrypha, but more because I am hopelessly smitten with The Mysterious Production of Eggs. I think I’m getting better at this: there are fewer duds on 2012’s list than on my earlier lists.
The first 7 out (in alphabetical order):
Tie: Phoenix, “Bankrupt!,” and James Blake, “Overgrown.” Both are good albums, but not nearly good enough to meet my astronomical expectations.
Ok, on with the list. Warning: SO MUCH RAP.
10. Childish Gambino — because the internet
I almost gave spot 10 to Chance The Rapper, but I couldn’t do that in good faith. Childish Gambino’s “because the internet” is a much, much better album than Acid Rap. I’m hesistant because I almost immediately regretting ranking Glover’s first full-length, “Camp,” so high on my 2011 list; but I think because the internet has more staying power. Also, better songs. So there’s that.
9. Run The Jewels — Run The Jewels
There’s a lot to be said for artists still making rap music in the age of concept albums and trap, drill, Yeezus, Drake, “Picacho,” and “Versace.” This album make me happy, and it always leaves me wanting more.
8. Arctic Monkeys — AM
Artic Monkeys have evolved with me, which is fortunate, because I’m not sure if I’d pick up an Arctic Monkeys album that sounded like “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not,” in 2013. With each new album, Alex Turner has proved that he can adapt, and regardless of the style, he can write a damn good song.
7. Earl Sweatshirt — Doris
Earl needs to grow up because he sounds like a teenage brat. But let’s forgive him because he’s ANGSTY and basically still a kid, and he’s a crazy good rapper. And because the collaboration with Frank Ocean is such a monumental jam.
6. Autre Ne Veut — Anxiety
PBR+B is a new word, and it may be a stupid word, but how else are you going to describe something like Autre Ne Veut? And how else am I supposed to categorize my fascination and obsession with this kind of music? I almost feel bad about how little straight up indie rock there is on my list this year. This is one of those times where I have to thank Pitchfork for pointing me to something awesome. As silly and stilted as their reviews may sometimes be, I’m quite happy I found this.
5. Baths — Obsidian
I love everything that Will does, apparently. “Obsidian,” is considerably darker than “Cerulean,” but it still breaths life into me whenever I put it on. It’s almost photosynthetic in the way it captures pain and processes it into joy (or oxygen? What exactly am I trying to say here?).
4. Drake — Nothing Was The Same
I don’t participate in the “hating on rappers” game. If Kendrick and Drake have beef and that elevates their music, then it’s fine with me. But you’re not going to see me posting a hateful YouTube comment about how some verse is whack. I listen to a lot of rap, and I’m still hesitant to deem any verse as purely “bad.” That’s odd. I should be more critical. But with Drake dropping fantastic songs like “Worst Behavior” when the rap is essentially, “WORST” alternating with “motherf—- never loved us,” I feel any per-verse criticism would fall flat. It’s like trying to evaluate post-rock by its lyrics. Drake: post-rap? Not quite, but we’re getting there.
3. Vampire Weekend — Modern Vampires of the City
Here it is. Without a doubt, “Modern Vampires of the City” is the best pure indie rock album of the year. My only knock against it is its crawling conclusion (Young Lion + Hudson Bay) which are good songs, but don’t quite match my internal representation of the rest of the album. Still, with songs like “Step,” “Diane Young,” “Ya Hey,” and probably my favorite indie rock song since Lisztomania, “Hannah Hunt,” this is an unforgettable album.
2. Rhye — Woman
This is the most intimate, beautiful album I’ve come across in my short lifetime of musical obsession. It’s hard to believe that such an unassuming group of dudes almost dethroned Kanye on my list, but here they are. I’m not sure what their future holds, but the bottled lightning on “Woman.” Bonus points for being so fun to watch at Outside Lands.
1. Kanye West — Yeezus
Kanye has once again set the hip-hop agenda. This album was an instant classic to my ears, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of the music industry reacts.
I soured on Childish Gambino after an unhealthy obsession back in 2011 through the Spring of 2012. Maybe soured isn’t the right word. I liked “Camp” well enough, but compared to most of the other rap I was listening to, it was… lacking.
I wasn’t particularly excited for “Because The Internet,” because Kanye, Drake, Earl, Chance, etc. Well he’s surprised me, and I’ve found myself once again playing Gambino on repeat.
Childish Gambino - “II. shadows”
Not a single play for “Skating.” C’mon, guys.
It’s that time of year. And it was below freezing today in Berkeley, to boot! I don’t think that’s happened yet in my two and a half years living here.
Vince Guaraldi Trio - “Skating”
Have you absorbed enough HAIMhype from the rest of the Internet? I’m just doing my part.
Haim - “My Song 5”
Most bands would be thrilled with a cut like “Will Calls,” but Grizzly Bear relegates it to a B-Sides album.
Before I say something hyperbolic and overwhelmingly positive, I want to note that writing this music blog is odd because I’m not covering anything that I don’t like. The 200 Pitchfork people’s list albums that I covered were refreshing in part because I got to be critical of music instead of saying that everything was wonderful and if you’re not listening to this then there’s something wrong with you.
Such is the tension that exists in this blog, which hasn’t decided if it’s a full-fledged personal blog or if it wants to be something slightly closer to music journalism. I didn’t really think this through when Sgt. Pepper’s Strawberry Jam was born in the Spring of 2010. At that point, I just wanted to give my music obsession more permanence than my last.fm page. 563 posts later, I’m still not sure what I’m doing.
That being said, if you’re not listening to this, there’s something wrong with you.
Grizzly Bear - “Will Calls (Marfa Demo)”