Favorite Albums Of 2012 || 50 – 41
Let me begin by saying, I am not a music critic – I am the complete opposite – I am a music lover. See, a music lover is someone who allows themselves to get caught up in the spell of music and get swept away in the tales surrounding the music…a critic can’t do this. To me, there is so much more than just the notes on a piece of paper or knowing the level of difficulty inside the music being played — I’m also one who appreciates a good back story. Would Stevie Wonder’s music sound the same if you didn’t know he was blind? Or would Bon Iver’s debut album sound the same if you didn’t know he recorded it while in seclusion at winter cabin somewhere in Wisconsin?
Recently this idea really hit home for me when I was reading a review where the writer wrote something along the lines of: “When deciding and critiquing the quality of music, you can’t use someone’s personal back story as a measurement in evaluating their work.” In my head I was screaming “YES YOU CAN!” And while I can sympathize with that statement coming from a critic’s mouth, have no way of relating to those words. What do I know about “bar structure” or “advanced chord progression?”
Critics act like judging music is like judging someone’s school work, like you can’t give out 5 stars to a band just because you’re more fond of them. But I do think that! Not to say that it’s essential in liking music — if that was case no one would listen to Guns N’ Roses — but enjoying the experience of listening to someone’s musical work can very much be influenced by whether or not you can connect with it on another level. And how could you not, right? It’s the same reason you can’t just allow 12 citizens off the street to be the jury of any criminal case… But luckily for us, appreciating music isn’t like going to court, and judging music isn’t like grading an exam.
It’s our easy access to music that allows us to become closer to each other. With one click we can dive into anything from American Jazz to Swedish Techno. But most importantly, it is through our access to these artists, their stories, and their songs that allows us to better understand their audiences who in turn let us discover new cultures, new ideas and develop roads toward new experiences. In the year 2012 I have traveled to Poland with indie classical composers, to New Orleans where I discovered a new unique style of folk, to a gray underworld where minimalist electronic musicians rebelled against the spastic world of maximilist electro-pop, to Hollywood with Father John Misty and Lana Del Rey and to Iceland with Sigur Ros and Nico Muhly, to loud metal bar rooms and to progressive Hip Hop streets. Beyond what just sounded good, I became interested in the community and the ideas surrounding the music, more than I have ever have been before.
The list below, “Favorite Albums Of 2012”, are records that excited me, that turned a light bulb on in my head or opened my eyes to an issue, that challenged me musically or emotionally, that were unique and compelling to listen to — and most importantly, they were records that interested me.
50. Sinkane – Mars
Sinkane, the son of two Sudanese professors who as a family fled to the United States after violent turmoil erupted in Sudan in the late 80’s, is now a Brooklyn local who is also signed to DFA records where he’s released his second LP Mars. He got his start by landing gigs with Yeasayer, Caribou and Of Montreal, who’s influence are very apparent though out this record. Pretty much, this record sounds exactly like what you would expect a super hip Sudanese dude who’s signed to DFA and has worked with Caribou, Yeasayer and Of Montreal, to sound like.
49. Forss – Ecclesia
It’s been nearly 10 years since since Forss, real name Eric Wahlforss, released his debut album Soulhack. It’s not like the guy’s been slacking though! Wahlforss has been hard at work developing this nifty online music site called Soundcloud – you may have heard of it… Ecclesia, his second album, was made entirely by using samples taken from field recordings at different Churches. Through out the album you can hear it all – choirs, church bells, choral music, the crackling of wood, you even hear a church goers cough – and then of course you’re treated to Forss’ expert skills as an electronic composer who takes all these elements a lets you travel with him from an angelic past and into a beat driven future. The album was sold, like Bjorks Biophillia, as an iPad app where each song transports the listener (and viewer) into a new celestial playground where you can visually play with church inspired art work and structures. It’s truly an album like none other released in the year 2012.
Spotify: Forss – Ecclesia
Key Track: “Diligam”
48. Cloud Nothings – Attack On Memory
In 2012 we were blessed with countless accessible punk records (Japandroids, The Men, Converge, Jeff The Brotherhood), but it was Cloud Nothings lo-fi masterpiece, Attack On Memory (engineered by Steve Albini), that was able to leave the most memorable impression on me. It is clear that Cloud Nothings are trying to accomplish much more than simply putting out a record filled with catchy pop punk hooks with fuzzy guitars, they are now in the business of crafting tasteful records which is in turn – with the intention or not – is pushing the indie rock boundaries further and further out. A concept album? not quite – but Attack On Memory does comfortably teeter on the edge of art rock and just good old fuckin’ rock and roll which will ensure you coming back to it again and again.
47. Taken By Trees – Other Worlds
Taken By Trees is the project of Victoria Bergsman (who’s vocals you may remember from the song “Young Folks”) who released her sunny and tropical third album right as the last breaths of summer were upon us. The album was inspired by a recent trip she took to Hawaii, and the inspiration is drenched through out the record. Dub reggae, down tempo island grooves, steel drums – it’s all there to warm you up as winter sets upon us.
46. Valgeir Sigurosson – Architecture Of Loss
Valgeir Sigurosson is part of a music collective which he founded called Bedroom Community, all of whom reside in Iceland where they live and work to create music that combines elements of minimalist classical with ambient electronic music and experimental compositions. It is clear from listening to other Bedroom Community releases like Híbakúsja” by Ben Frost, “Skip Town” by Nice Muhly and “Bow To String” by Daniel Bjarnason that there is a something unique and special in the musical fabrics of these composers but it is Valgeir that has the best ability to comprehensively illustrate their undefinable mystique best.
45. JBM – Stray Ashes
Maybe it’s his comparable reverb-drenched vocals to my all-time favorite voice in Rock & Roll: Jim James, or maybe it’s his ability to….no, who am I kidding, it’s really just his comparable voice to Jim James that made me fall in love with this record so easily. But like James, the music of James Merchant – who records as JBM – is sincere, haunting and sweepingly gorgeous. As winter sets upon us, make sure you give this record a proper spin.
44. Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
For those Killer Mike fans, who-have-been-there-since-day-one, kinda saw the day coming when Mike would move past just being know as “that rapper who did that song with Outkast“, and become the rapper who would receive universal acclaim for his unrivaled brand of Hip Hop. On R.A.P Music Killer Mike teams up underground legend El-P who takes Mikes straight to the point, no fuckin’ around, political and poignant rap verses and lets them punch harder than ever before when placed over El’s hard hitting progressive future funk beats.
43. Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball
Wrecking Ball, Bruce Springsteen’s 17th album, is an album that helps illustrate the frustration and social complications that inflict present day 2012. It will be through Springsteen’s wear-it-on-the-sleeve lyrics, that I feel like someone in 2042 could use the liner notes to better understand what this time and place felt like — just like you can take Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On to better understand what was happening in 1971, or Dylan’s Times The Are A Changin’ to better understand 1964. You may find it easier to feel the significance of Wrecking Ball if you’re engulfed in our current social and political world, but even if you’re removed from newspapers, cable news channels and live news blogs, Springsteen’s songs still have the ability to tap into those unbiased human emotions I think all 100% of us can relate to.
42. Shintaro Sakamoto – How To Live With A Phantom
Shintaro Sakamoto is a well known name in the psych-rock scene in Japan, where he’s been recording and playing since 1987. But once Sakamoto’s semi-successful original band, Yura Yura Tiekoku, broke up, Sakamoto began recording on his own as a solo artist. This last August he released How To Live With A Phanto — the album fuses Japanese pop, British psych-rock, world soul and American folk where each genre delicately bubbles around you like a glittery dream. This is a timeless record and one I know I’ll always be coming back to.
Spotify: Shintaro Sakamoto – How to Live With a Phantom
Key Track: “You Just Decide”
41. Karriem Riggins – Alone Together
Stones Throw records is a record label that is not only redefining the sounds and creating new movements that come out of Hip-Hop, R&B and jazz, but they are also helping retain the admirable old school qualities that made urban music so well respected in the first place. Karriem Riggins, a jazz drummer who has worked with everyone from Diana Krall, Mad Lib, Paul McCartney, The Roots and Erykah Badu, lets his love for the old school and the new school collide in his flexible hip hop jazz set, Alone Together.