Monday, December 31, 2012

My Picks for the Top Twenty-Five Albums of 2012.

I somehow pulled together 30 albums for my list last year, but for 2012, I guess you'll have to settle for a lean 25. As usual, this isn't my attempt to encapsulate the Year in Music. It's just a list of albums that came out this year that I listened to, enjoyed, and purchased. Except for the ones that were free. I couldn't pay for those. But I like to think I would have. Stealing music is so 2009.

Here's my list:

25. Kool A.D. - 51

I think Das Racist beardo Kool A.D. intends his mixtapes to be challenging, but at some point, just like with the stuff he does with DR, you have to wonder if he's just fucking with you. Parts of 51 are out-there enough to be gripping, but other spots just feel like filler. His mixtape from last year was like that, too, but it wasn't an hour long like this one is. Still, I listened to this quite a bit, because I could never remember what would happen next. You can download this album for free here.

"Manny Pacquiao"

24. Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire - Power & Passion

At this point, I'm always excited for an eXquire release, and though this one didn't slow his roll, it did feel a bit like something that was pushed out when it didn't necessarily need to be. It's only 18 minutes long, and one 90-second track is just a dude talking. So, yeah, there's some questions here, though they probably don't bear answering. However, I would like to know how eX got me to like a track that has "(feat. Gucci Mane)" in the title. That's a first. Didn't hurt that El-P did the beat.

"Telephuck (feat. Gucci Mane)"

23. Daedelus - Looking Ocean

Daedelus is a dude who puts in work with Busdriver, and though his solo work was, initially, a little too electronic for me, I've learned to like it. It's complex without being busy, and it's never cornball. This EP houses five tracks, but it's almost a half-hour long, and it's free from the good folks at Scion A/V.


22. Big Boi - Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors

When a man who feels like he can do no wrong does some wrong, it resonates. This album isn't terrible, but considering whose name is on the cover, it can definitely feel like that at times. I'm not sure if Big Boi felt like he needed to cater to the Pitchfork crowd, but some of the tracks here feel like blatant pandering: the hooks are syrupy-sweet and completely out of place, which is a bummer, because a lot of the raps are still (duh) really strong. Dude: we're not looking for you to bridge the gap between hip-hop and indie rock. Just make rap. You're good at it.

"Mama Told Me"

21. Del the Funky Homosapien - West Coast Avengers (WCA D-Funk Limited)

I'm still not sure what the exact title of this mixtape is, but I think that's a good approximation. Del flips the funk here, crushing samples and making them into two-and-three-minute tracks that are both loose and lyrically dense. I guess that's been his formula for a while, but this album surprised me: Del has never really tried to switch up his flow, and I think it still totally works. You can download this for free from the link on this page.

"Message to tha Hip-Hop Snob"

20. DJ Premier and Bumpy Knuckles - Kolexxxion

Part compilation of previously released songs and part grab-bag of tracks rejected by other artists that Bumpy stepped in and wrecked like only he can, this is probably the most straight-up hip-hop album I picked up this year, and I didn't think it would be anything but. Preem on the beats, Bump on the lyrics about how he's going to punch you to death, and only a few guest spots: what's not to like?

"More Levels"

19. Big K.R.I.T. - 4eva N a Day

I know K.R.I.T. released his major-label debut this year, but I never got around to listening to it. Instead, I rocked this mixtape, which feels like a continuation, and possibly a conclusion, to all the music he released before it. The beats here are slinky, and K.R.I.T. continues to be more believably sincere than most other rappers out there. Smooth. Download this one for free here.

"4evaNaDay (Theme)"

18. Heems - Nehru Jackets

Heems, the other rapping dude from Das Racist, had a busy year. This was his first mixtape, released early in 2012. I loaded in onto my phone and took it with me on a trip to California, and listened to it while I walked around the streets of Anaheim, right near Disneyland, during a warm and rainy January. Somehow that made perfect sense. You can download this album for free. The official link is gone, but just type it into Google and some stuff will come up.

"You Have to Ride the Wave (feat. Danny Brown and Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire)"

17. Flatbush Zombies - D.R.U.G.S.

When I first heard these dudes, I wrote them off as wack Gravediggaz wannabes, but after I downloaded this mixtape, I realized there was more to it. (Though I still think some of their style is rooted deeply in everything Six Feet Deep, but I doubt they'd deny that.) Some of the tracks on this collection are abrasive just to raise eyebrows, and the recording quality is dicey in spots, but there's something here that kept me coming back. If these goons can keep their heads on straight, I bet they'll do something semi-major in the next year or two. Download this bad boy for free here.

"Thug Waffle"

16. Open Mike Eagle - 4NML HSPTL

I'm a guy who likes my rap music fast and hard, with the possibility of getting my dick knocked in the dirt. Open Mike Eagle is not a rapper like that. He's calm, precise, and premeditated. I didn't realize how much I needed that until I bought this CD. I've been listening to OME for years, but this marks his first real big push, album-wise, and the dude made it work. If you like intelligent hip-hop that doesn't need to preach or get pedantic, this is your shit right here. Plus, he cops lines from Zappa and Frank Black. That's MY shit right there.

"Your Back Pack Past (feat. Has-Lo)"

15. Death Grips - No Love Deep Web

Wang alert! As if Death Grips releasing their major-label sophomore effort for free on the internet without their label's consent wasn't wacky enough, they went ahead and put drummer Zach Hill's dong on the cover. Bold move. Bold music, though, too, and none of this shit would have mattered if these songs didn't kick so much buttocks. I know that Death Grips isn't for everyone, but man: this album was every bit as good as I wanted it to be.

"World of Dogs"

14. Flying Lotus - Until the Quiet Comes

It's been said too much about this record already, but I'll say it again: the title to this LP is wholly accurate. I'm no Flying Lotus expert, but the stuff I'd heard before was borderline abrasive; the kind of music that my wife would beg me to turn off in the car. This stuff is almost the opposite: tempered, blippy tracks that mildly swell and never really explode. Yet I listen to it all the time. So there's something here. I'm just not sure exactly what it is yet. I'm OK with that.

"Tiny Tortures"

13. Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d. city

I don't think I like this album as much as the rest of the world, because they seem to be shitting their collective pants over its brilliance, and my pants have remained relatively clean and dry. But the more I listen to this record, the more I understand why people are excited about it. Dude's good with the words, and he's not big on glamorizing a lifestyle that doesn't deserve to be elevated. He's also got a feature on here from MC Eiht, which feels both completely left-field and not like a surprise at all. He knows the deal.

"Backseat Freestyle"

12. Heems - Wild Water Kingdom

This is Heems' other mixtape from 2012, and it felt a little more digestible to me than his first one - maybe a little more focused. The title track is a killer, and Heems keeps things mostly to himself here, only featuring a few guest spots, one of which being Childish Gambino, who I usually don't care for but don't actually mind on "Tell Me," the song he does here. Yeah, it's still Heems so it's flighty, but this thing is getting me excited for his first "real" solo album.

"Wild Water Kingdom"

11. A.C. Newman - Shut Down the Streets

I'm really not sure that A.C. Newman gets the respect he deserves as a songwriter. Between his solo career and fronting the New Pornographers, the dude is not only busy, but consistent. This record doesn't have a stinker on it, and every song feels fully realized. Does it sound pretty much like a New Pornographers record? Yeah, mostly. But who cares.

"I'm Not Talking"

10. Sleigh Bells - Reign of Terror

Maybe this record wasn't the earth-shattering revelation that everyone hoped it would be, but I do think it got overshadowed by a nonsensical backlash and a lackluster SNL performance. There are some great songs on this LP, and it deserves to stand directly next to their debut. I understand why people enjoy shitting on Sleigh Bells, but it all feels so nit-picky to me. I still think they're great at what they do.


09. Black Bananas - Rad Times Xpress IV

Not only has Jennifer Herrema survived the now-long-ago dissolution of Royal Trux, she's also managed to forge her own sound that both references her old band and takes things in a totally new direction. Sure, it can be overwhelming and hard to listen to, but so was Royal Trux, and so was her first solo band, RTX. Black Bananas is basically RTX with a new name, but I can't help but think that it breathed some new life into her creativity. This record came out towards the beginning of the year, and I still rock it on the regs.

"My House"

08. Dark Time Sunshine - ANX

I'm really not sure how much longer the mainstream (even the indie mainstream) can ignore these guys. It's not like they don't get their shine, but I don't remember seeing this album on a ton of year-end lists, and that's a shame. If you're looking to branch out and explore hip-hop outside your comfort zone, start here. These two dudes are doing shit you haven't even thought of yet. If nothing else, the beats here will grab hold of you, guaranteed.

"Never Cry Wolf"

07. Cat Power - Sun

If Chan Marshall had come out of nowhere and released this record, the world would have lifted her up as music's new hope. Instead, I feel like this got labeled as "really good for a Cat Power record," which is selling it short. These songs don't sound like anything she's done before, and they're filled with more legitimate feelings than almost anything in her catalog. I bought this and listened to it for two weeks straight, at which point I had to take a break because it was consuming me. That's always a good sign.


06. Death Grips - The Money Store

I kind of feel like this record and No Love Deep Web can be played like one continuous mind-fuck of an album, but maybe I reached for this one more because it was the only physical copy of a Death Grips album I could get on vinyl. Either way, I listened to this a lot, and it warped my brain and made driving in the dark on the freeway something that I looked forward to because I would turn this up really loud and rattle my speakers and forget about life for a while. Or maybe I just really liked how uncomfortable the beats made me. Or maybe it just scared me.

"Get Got"

05. Busdriver - Beaus$Eros

It seems like this record came out and sort of disappeared just as quickly, as least as far as the internet was concerned, but I lived with these songs for the entirety of 2012, and never grew tired. It was a bit of a new direction for Busdriver, and maybe one that seemed too much for some people. Not saying I'm on some other-level shit so I can read between the lines, but I do feel like his previous releases were leading to this as their logical next step. Not sure why this didn't get more play, because it certainly deserved it.

"Bon Bon Fire"

04. Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music

I can't really say much about this record that the rest of the Internet hasn't said already, but I can speak from personal experience: I knew a Killer Mike/El-P collabo would be good, but I never knew it would be this good. I bought this when it came out and listened to it so much that my wife knows all the words. And if you haven't seen the epic video for "Big Beast," you need to. Right now. Watch it. It was so good it made me love T.I., and that's a huge compliment coming from me.


03. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...

Every five years or so, Fiona Apple puts out ten songs that are better than the ten songs she put out before. This was one of the years where she did that. I hope it keeps happening. And yes, I'll be the first to admit that this record might seem a little out of place on this list, but I'm not going to sit here and act like I didn't buy this LP and play the shit out of it. Because I did. And I will continue to do so.

"Hot Knife"

02. The Evens - The Odds

This record only came out a few months ago, and I'd estimate that I've listened to it 200 times since then. Everything that made The Evens great on their first two records is here, but with more precision and feel. Amy Farina sounds more confident than ever in both her drumming and her singing, and Ian MacKaye's dexterity on the baritone guitar - not that it was ever lacking - is more pronounced than ever. The only low point here is the weirdly whiny "Competing with the Till," but that gets quickly erased by what is probably my favorite rock song of the year, "Timothy Wright." Good god, I have listened to that song so many times. Because it is awesome.

"Timothy Wright"

01. El-P - Cancer 4 Cure

It seems like El-P's name got thrown around more this year for his production work on Killer Mike's R.A.P. Music, but for my money, this is where it's at. El doesn't release records very often, and when he does, you can tell he's spent the years between perfecting every single bleep, buzz, and warble. This record is a front-to-back beast, and one that I still can't stop listening to. It probably spent more time in/on my stereo than any other record on this list, and that's why it's at the top. That, and because I just think it was the best record that came out in 2012.

"The Full Retard"

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Saturday Afternoon Record Shopping at Crossroads and Music Millennium.

As usual, I forgot to take any accompanying photos, so here's a picture I took the other day while walking my mutt. Ansel Adams alert!

I hadn't been to Crossroads in a few months, so when I had this past Saturday free, I took care of all my errands for the day early and headed over there, mid-afternoon steez. I didn't have the most successful day, but that was good. I had a rough budget and I stuck to it. Here's what I picked up:

Coffin Break - "Pop Fanatic" 7" (1990)

Coffin Break was always a little more ass-rock than some of the other Seattle bands around this time, but I've never heard a song of theirs that I really dislike. The B-Side of this one, a grungy, double-time-in-the-second-half version of "Freebird" is pushing it. "Pop Fanatic" is pretty great, though.

Stumpy Joe - "Sugar and Glue" 7" (1992)

I bought my first Stumpy Joe 7" when I was in Atlanta earlier this year, and though it didn't blow my mind, I wasn't going to pass up another slab of wax from this under-the-radar Seattle band, especially when it's on light-blue vinyl and hand-numbered (96/100). "Sugar and Glue" is a fun track, but the B-Side, a sloppy acoustic version of the Welcome Back Kotter theme is the dictionary definition of filler. This record and the previous 7", by the way, were purchased from the always-reliable "Steve Turner from Mudhoney" section of Crossroads.

Thurston Moore - Trees Outside the Academy (2007)

For the life of me, I cannot remember why I bought this album on CD when it came out. But boy, did I, and I've been keeping my eye out for a used copy of the vinyl picture-disc ever since. I finally found one, and the price was mad reasonable. This is a great album. If you haven't heard it, you are a sucker.

Sonic Youth - SYR1: Anagrama (1997)

I already had SYR2 and SYR3 on colored vinyl, so when I came across this one on red wax I figured I might as well fill in the gap. I'm not going to sit here and act like I rock these on the regs, but they're interesting to have. This one is relatively short, and only mildly abrasive.

V/A - Our Band Could Be Your Life: A Tribute to D Boon and the Minutemen (1994)

My brother has had this album forever, but I never owned a copy and probably haven't heard most of the stuff that's on here. I know the CD version has more tracks than this LP, but whatever: this has the Hazel, Crackerbash, Unwound, Thurston Moore, and Lou Barlow cuts, so I'm good.

The Doors - Star-Collection, Vol. 2 (1974)

One of the more common German-import Doors collections you might come across, but I didn't have it, so I grabbed it. I also made a small tear on the front cover when I was removing the price tag, and I'm still enraged about that. This is an odd batch of songs - 11 of them spanning the Doors career, but not in chronological order and definitely not a greatest-hits comp. I like it.

The Strokes - Room on Fire (2003)

I've had this CD for a long time; never had the vinyl. Didn't want to pay more than about five bucks for it. Didn't have to. Not my favorite Strokes record, but still a good one.

Claw Hammer - Ramwhale (1991)

These guys have a song on one of the Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus comps, and I think that's where I knew their name from. This LP's on Sympathy for the Record Industry, it's from 1991, and it was a few bucks. Good enough for me. I haven't listened to it yet, though.

After I left Crossroads, I decided to roll by Music Millennium to see if I could find a copy of the new Big Boi record. I could not (though they were nice enough to preorder one for me), but I did grab a few things:

DJ Shadow - The Less You Know, The Better (2011)

I meant to buy this last year because I came across a digital copy and really played the shit out of it, but I never made it happen. So, I was overdue. And buying this gatefold double-LP on thick-ass vinyl made everything right again.

Thrillhammer - Giftless (1992)

Can't believe I haven't come across this before. Pete Krebs, pre-Hazel, and Dave Triebwasser, pre-Pond. Not nearly as good as that makes it sounds, but a solid piece of NW rock history nonetheless. Somehow Music Millennium must have known what this is, because they were charging ten bucks for it. Worth it to me.

Bonus: This just showed up in the mail today, so I'll yap about it, too:

Blag Dahlia - "Metrosexual Man" 7" (2012)

Blag the Ripper from the Dwarves is on the solo-dolo again, and he's as random as ever. Four tracks at 33 and a third, on pink vinyl, and two of them feature him rapping. It's a wonderful mess. Limited edition of 500, I think.

I've got the next week off work, so I'm sure I'll find a way to buy some more records. Though if I know what's good for my wallet, I won't. Never stopped me before.

I Went to a Show: Jel, Busdriver, and Astronautalis at Doug Fir (December 10, 2012)

My Mondays are usually pretty busy: I work from 9-5, play dodgeball from 7-8, and usually watch whatever crappy movie is on my list for the Sly Records Weekly Waste page I update every Tuesday night. So, I don't normally have much extracurricular activity slated for the first day of the beginning of the week.

I had almost forgotten about this show, but was reminded via my Twitter stream, and since I missed Busdriver the last time he was in town, I decided I'd head down to the Doug Fir on the solo creep and make up for it.
I rolled in about halfway through Jel's set, as he was telling a story that went on about four minutes too long. He eventually fired up his MPC and rallied some live-on-the-pads beats, which were great, but it felt like he spent as much time talking as he did playing music. People seemed to enjoy it, so maybe I'm being a crotchety whiner. I've just never been a big fan of excessive stage banter.
Busdriver hopped on stage before Jel's set was over, dropping some rapid-fire freestyles over some kick-heavy beats. This seemed to warm him up, and after Jel made his exit, Bus turned to his table o' samplers, tweaking beats as he played variations on songs both old and new. Sometimes he got too bold and flubbed it a little bit, but it was damn fun to watch him knob-twiddle and see what happened.

The dude seems like he's constantly on the road, and I gotta say: every time I've seen him, he never seems like he's road-weary or phoning it in. He's not the most sociable guy, but once he gets on stage, he gets up and doesn't come down until he's spent. It's always a good time. This was one of the shorter sets I've seen him play, but it was packed. He even did some Flash Bang Grenada joints. Boom.
I've been trying to get into Astronautalis, because the dude collaborates (and tours) with a lot of musicians I like. I haven't had much luck, and his performance at this gig didn't sway me. Don't get me wrong: he's got his shit together and he's great at what he does, but it just isn't my thing. I stayed for about half his set because I wanted to see where he was going with everything, but then I was a little bored and a little tired so I went home.

I like going to shows by myself sometimes. It's fun to blend in, zone out, and arrive and depart whenever the hell I want. Like a big boy!

I Went to a Show: Death Grips at the Star Theater (December 1, 2012)

I went from writing off Death Grips as punk-rap flashes-in-the-pan to considering them one of the most innovative, intriguing bands on the planet in the course of a day. Something clicked and I finally realized that, even if the naysayers are right and these dudes are just cyber-savvy attention whores, I'm buying into it because if nothing else, they're a damn fun band to follow: they release a ton of music, a ton of videos, and everything they do seems to be shitting on the thing they just did a month or two before.

The danger of a band like this is that they're bound to burn out or implode before they really finish their business (Death Grips has basically already committed career suicide on numerous occasions), so when I heard they were coming to town, I was really hoping I'd get a chance to see them. A pal of mine in the music-journalism business responded to some gentle prodding by me and hooked up a pair of tickets through one of the local papers he writes for, and boom: we were in.

We had to wait in line in the rain for almost an hour, so we missed about half of opener Cities Aviv's set, which would have been more of a bummer if the dude's voice hadn't been shredded. As it was, he was struggling to be heard, and the deep buzz of his beats was drowning out most of his attempts. Still pretty cool, but I felt like we weren't getting his best.

After a short break, the Death Grips dudes came out, peeled off their shirts, turned on the two huge Apple monitors that were standing on end behind them, and just beat everyone into submission over the course of a nonstop, 45-minute barrage. Then they were done. They walked off stage, the house lights quickly came up, and it was all over. Barely a goodbye and never even a hint of an encore. And it made perfect sense.

Those 45 minutes were machine-gun brutal, an assault that was both slow and forceful, chaotic but precise. They played shit from all their records - interesting considering they seem to refer to anything they haven't created in the last two weeks as irrelevant - and though they don't really have "hits," the elbow-throwing crowd did perk up during the opening thumps of "Guillotine" and "I've Seen Footage."

We just stood in the back and watched kids go apeshit on each other, and by the end I was exhausted even though I barely moved.

I have a feeling this will be one of those "Glad I got see them when I had the chance" shows, but I'm hoping it's not. The world needs more bands who proudly sell t-shirts with their dick-centric album cover on the front.