Part 2 is here
Part 1 is here
10. Lil B - God’s Father
Seriously though. I really don’t care if you agree with me on how brilliant Lil B is or not, you cannot deny that the man is the hardest working motherfucker in the game. Brandon McCartney, known as Lil B to most and ‘The Based God’ to the truly based, released 15 mixtapes this year, each containing anywhere between 15-34 tracks. Can you even fathom that? That’s not even mentioning the classical / new age album he released in the summer, or the 1000+ track collection of his freestyles. Or the utterly transcendent lecture he gave at NYU. Or the few dozen music videos he released this year. So the obvious question here is…does the quantity sacrifice the quality? And I’m not going to lie to you, sometimes it really does. Lil B is more concerned with getting his music out there than perfecting it, and this tends to result in enjoyable, yet utterly forgettable music…most of the time. God’s Father, Lil B’s second mixtape of 2012 following the absurd and amazing White Flame, somehow makes even less sense than the rest of this man’s output because of just how good it is. Containing a staggering 34 tracks, this 2 hour opus was B’s longest mixtape of the year, and easily his best, probably ever. Even in the weeks leading up to its release, there was a special air about this mixtape, one that was encompassed in the song and video for highlight “I Own Swag”. Set over top of one of David Banner’s beats, the song displayed dexterity and flow unlike anything we had heard from the Based God. And when the music video ended and the large, bolded GOD’S FATHER letters appeared on the screen, it really felt like Lil B was not fucking around anymore. In the case of this particular mixtape, he clearly wasn’t. Largely devoid of all the goofy adlibs and absurdity that comprises most of Lil B’s work, just about every track on God’s Father shows Lil B in full on serious mode, delivering bar after impressive bar of meditations on life and what exactly being a ‘thug’ is all about. His flow is complimented by his always fascinating ear for beats, and somehow every track on this 34 song mixtape manages to sound different and unique. Most impressive of all is how high quality all of the songs are; it’s easy to just start at track one and let the whole tape run without skipping any songs (if you have the time to do that, of course). I DARE you to find me another rapper who can release a two hour long mixtape and have it be as consistent as God’s Father…and then have the creativity and resilience to release thirteen more mixtapes in that same year. He is known as the ‘Based God’ for a reason, and he deserves your worship.
9. Between the Buried and Me – The Parallax II: Future Sequence
Check out my review of this album here!
8. Django Django – Django Django
Django Django Django Django Django Django Django Django Django Django! You can see why they decided to name their band, and their album, what they did. Its just a really fun word to say. This obvious love for ‘fun’ is reflected in the band’s music, which is definitely some of the funnest music I have heard all year, if not this decade. Django Django’s self-titled debut has been an experiment in craftsmanship: the first we heard of this band was back in 2009 when they released the Storm / Love’s Dart single. But instead of playing into modern music’s apparent need for hasty releases, the Djangos decided to bide their time and release their debut when they were good and ready to. So, the band spent the next 3 years writing and perfecting all of the songs on this LP. This determination for perfection shows in the end product, as Django Django is definitely the most fully realized debut of the year. After three years of honing, Django Django know EXACTLY what they’re doing, and god damn do they ever do it well. Every track on this record is a masterpiece in modern pop that embraces the relationship between analog and digital. Although still remaining virtually unknown in North America, these guys have blown up in Europe due to this album, singlehandedly making electro-surf a thing. Maybe England isn’t such a dreary place after all.
7. Grizzly Bear – Shields
Check out my delightful review of this album here!
6. Deftones – Koi No Yokan
You need to read my review of this album here!
5. El-P – Cancer For Cure
Though Definitive Jux may no longer exist as a label, the cold, dark, independent heart of its record output lives on through co-founder and owner El-P. Because above everything else, El-P is an artist. It just happened that his particular brand of art caught the interest of people and inspired enough rappers to make his own label, but circa 2010, it seemed the heyday of El-P and his Def Jux movement were long gone. El-P was nowhere to be seen on the music landscape and the names that made Def Jux the label that it was had faded back into the shadows. However, repelled by the grandoise pop-rap dominating hip-hop at the time, certain up and coming artists started turning to the darker, grittier past for inspiration. In Florida, Spaceghostpurrp and his Raider Klan found kinship in the cold minimalism of mid-90s street rap, while up north in NYC a number of artists seemed to be discovering El-P and the bleak futurism of Definitive Jux. Late 2011 saw the release of the massive underground hit “The Last Huzzah”, which was built on an old Necro beat and featured a spotlight-stealing verse from El-P himself. News got out that El-P was working on not one, but two full length releases for 2012, the second where he would be producing for Killer Mike of all people. So was 2012 the return of Def Jux empire, as many hoped it would be? Of course not; the label remains as inactive as ever. As for El-P himself, however, one only needs to listen to “Request Denied”, the first track off of Cancer For Cure, to know that the man means to come back on the scene in a massive way. El-P is an overachiever. Rapper, producer, CEO…whenever he does something, he does it BIG. And given such a long period of dormancy, El-P had a lot to prove with this record; hell, he had a lot to prove with that track alone. And in typical, tongue-in-cheek El-P fashion, he makes us wait for it. The first three minutes of this track are purely instrumental, a high adrenaline build up to what everyone is waiting for: El-P’s bars. Aside from his distinctive production style, El-P has always been known for his simultaneously dexterous and militant flow and paranoid surrealism in his lyrics that reflect the dystopian beats he surrounds himself with. While longtime fans might have an idea of what to expect when El-P finally comes in on “Request Denied”, I don’t think anyone could have expected the intensely packed minute or so of impossibly spit poetry that he delivers in this song. Poetry it is; six months after this album’s release and I’m still unpacking the symbolism and allusions in El-P’s lyrics (shouts to Rap Genius). This message on this album is clear; Def Jux may be dead, but El-P will never die.
4. Scott Walker – Bish Bosch
I don’t know what to say about this album other than it is completely unreviewable and it sounds like absolutely nothing else I have ever heard in my life. Find the lyrics somewhere online and take an hour and a half out of your day to listen and read along to it in its entirety, looking up everything you don’t understand along the way (which will be almost everything). Does this sound like homework to you? Good. Its supposed to. Bish Bosch is meant to be studied as all artistic masterpieces are meant to. As with all masterpieces, each new layer of context that gets peeled away only unlocks more understanding and enjoyment for the viewer or listener. Except don’t ever expect to fully understand this one. Just when you think you’re sure you’ve figured out what exactly is going on in this album, Walker throws another lyrical and musical curveball at you, leaving you in a darkness as black as the album cover.
3. Swans – The Seer
“The Seer” begins with a droning blast of pipes and keys, clearing away whatever musical palette you’ve been building up your entire life. About five minutes in, the drone clears away and is replaced with a electric banjo riff furiously played over a distant drum beat. This is where Swans begin building their brand new, personal universe. As “The Seer” continues, more and more elements are added to the mix; drum patterns, bass and guitar riffs start piling on top of each other until eventually Michael Gira’s processed voice floats in, repeating “I’ve seen it all” atop of Gregorian-esque background vocals. These are the only lyrics. Energy builds and the music becomes more and more frantic until about twelve minutes in where everything explodes and the creation is complete. The explosions die down and the subtleties of this new universe are mapped out through differing rhythmic and sonic textures. At roughly twenty minutes in, the rhythms converge and then disappear altogether, replaced by ambience and Gira’s lonesome harmonica as if the creator of this universe is drifting above it all and looking down, reflecting. The last five minutes of this 32 minute epic see the creator finally descending onto the musical plains that were created and inhabiting the world contained in this song. Did I mention that this is only ONE TRACK OUT OF ELEVEN?! While the title track is surely the centrepiece of the album, the ten other songs that surround it are just as effective at creating post-everything soundscapes to lose yourself in. In fact, the only real way to listen to this album is from start to finish, which is difficult at times considering its two hour running length. Swans have always disregarded trends in favour of their own approach to music, but The Seer feels like the culmination of this ethos. This is easily the best album by one of the best bands of all time, and it deserves / commands your complete, undivided attention.
2. Tame Impala – Lonerism
Check out my review of this album here and your life will change for the better!
1. Mount Eerie – Clear Moon / Ocean Roar
Yeah, you’re right, I just picked two albums as my album of the year. If you have a problem with this, two things: 1. Fuck you. 2. Clear Moon and Ocean Roar are meant to be complimentary albums, two distinctive releases that describe two different sides to the same idea. So I guess you could say that central idea is what my album of the year is. Mount Eerie is the latest project from Phil Elverum of Microphones’ fame, and it sees him ditching the lo-fi nature of Microphones in favour of something more meticulously produced and altogether darker. Elverum’s music has always focused on the relationship between man and nature, but this relationship almost reaches the depths of all out Gaiaism in these two records. Elverum’s self-prescribed isolation has pushed himself to the point where the natural world becomes an entity in and of itself, and these two records ultimately focus on Elverum’s interaction with the great omniscent being that is Mother Nature. Clear Moon and Ocean Roar respectively focus on the lighter and darker aspects of this relationship, though both aspects bleed into each other across both records (a ying-yang effect accentuated by the contextually contradiction of darkness and light in both title tracks). Over the past while, folk-inspired black metal has become the new ‘thing’, with bands like Wolves In The Throne Room mixing the extreme aesthetics of the genre with woolier, melodic folky arrangements, but much of the Mount Eerie project is about flipping this, cultivating ‘folk music’ (I use this term incredibly loosely here) that draws inspiration from black metal. Don’t expect to hear any blood-curdling screams on this album, however: Elverum is more interested in the tonal experiments of black metal, and how they can further a certain mood or emotion. Long, drawn out squalls of feedback play out over lightly strummed acoustics, and haunting, droning organ chords provide a contrast to fairly mid-tempo drumming. Musically, these albums are all over the place, but never manage to sound unfocused; in fact, this collection of tracks are arguably the most focused collection of Elverum’s entire career. On Clear Moon, guitar distortion rumbles heavily in the background of “The Place Lives”. Throbbing keyboards mark the feverish “House Shape” and the jazzy saxophone hook in “Lone Bell” result in an all out jam by the end of the song. A blastbeat even makes an appearance in “Over Dark Water”. Yet through it all, Elverum’s calm, almost tender voice holds everything together, the Clear Moon that our eyes and ears cling on to through all the darkness. Ocean Roar sees Elverum giving into this darkness altogether, as it is mostly comprised of droning experimental sections and even contains a full on black metal cover track (face paint not included). The more violent, volatile aspects of nature are explored on this album, especially on ten-minute long opener “Pale Lights” and “Waves”, a song that features crashes of guitar that earn the song its title. 2012 was an incredible year for music; landmark releases out the fucking wazoo, but it is the Clear Moon / Ocean Roar experience that I have found myself continuously returning to, and will definitely continue returning to as the years go on. The modest genius of Phil Elverum simply cannot be ignored.
Alright thank god its over NO MORE LISTS FOR ANOTHER YEAR!!! WOOOOHOOOOOOOO
Phil’s Top 50 of 2012
50. Big Boi - Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours
49. Yeasayer - Fragrant World
48. Holly Herndon - Movement
47. Emeralds - Just To Feel Anything
46. Dan Deacon - America
45. Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland - Black Is Beautiful
44. Carter Tutti Void - Transverse
43. Laurel Halo - Quarantine
42. Old Man Gloom - NO
41. Julia Holter - Ekstasis
40. Cemeteries - The Wilderness
39. METZ - METZ
38. Liars - WIXIW
37. …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - Lost Songs
36. Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles III
35. Joe Mckee - Burning Boy
34. Andy Stott - Luxury Problems
33. Melody’s Echo Chamber - Melody Echo Chamber
32. BATS - The Sleep Of Reason
31. Lower Dens - Nootropics
30. Converge - All We Love We Leave Behind
29. Field Music - Plumb
28. Every Time I Die - Ex Lives
27. Crypts - Crypts
26. Actress - R.I.P.
25. Flying Lotus - Until the Quiet Comes
24. Godspeed You! Black Emporer – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
23. Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE
22. Primitive Weapons - The Shadow Gallery
21. Burial - Kindred/Truant
20. Blut Aus Nord - 777 Cosmography
19. The Twilight Sad - No One Can Ever Know
18. Kendrick Lamar - good kid m.A.A.d city
17. How To Dress Well - Total Loss
16. Cloud Nothings - Attack On Memory
15. Death Grips - The Money Store/No Love Deep Web
14. Animal Collective – Centipede Hz
13. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti - Mature Themes
12. Neurosis - Honor Found In Decay
11. Baroness - Yellow and Green
10. Lil B - God’s Father
9. Between the Buried and Me - The Parallax II: Future Sequence
8. Django Django – Django Django
7. Grizzly Bear - Shields
6. Deftones - Koi No Yokan
5. El-P - Cancer For Cure
4. Scott Walker - Bish Bosch
3. Swans - The Seer
2. Tame Impala - Lonerism
1. Mount Eerie - Clear Moon/Ocean Roar