Jake‘s Top Lists of 2012
I listened to more R&B this year than I have since eighth grade, when I think I actually spent my own money on a Brian McKnight album. Either way, it was a good year, both for the Frank Oceans of the world and for the old guard indie rock stalwarts.
5: Daughn Gibson / All Hell
This was the biggest chance I took on an album this year and it paid off big-time. Daughn Gibson gets unbelievable mileage out of a set of old country samples, resplendent in surface noise, to create rich entries in bunker dance music, moody R&B, old school Johnny Cash-style country and a great deal more in between. An eclectic, unexpected pleasure.
4: Swans / The Seer
Like the wild animal on its cover, The Seer feels like it’s driven by pure instinct, going where only it understands that it needs to, and ignoring everything else. It’s an endurance test for sure, clocking in near two hours altogether, but it’s a primal journey worth taking.
3: Fiona Apple / The Idler Wheel …
No surprises here, just an uncommonly insightful set of songs about love and other subjects that’s smartly stripped down and ragged. While “Werewolf” is enough to satisfy any Fiona Apple traditionalist, here she’s also at her most ferocious, howling to put a visceral point on songs like “Daredevil,” “Left Alone” and “Regret.”
2: Andrew Bird / Break It Yourself
I came back to Break It Yourself over and over again in 2012 and it was always exactly what I wanted to hear. Andrew Bird has always had a knack for excellent, reliable songwriting, but here his predictably gorgeous arrangements are allowed to breathe and the album shines for it.
1: How to Dress Well / Total Loss
How to Dress Well speaks the language of R&B, but takes it to an ambient extreme, turning everything the genre’s ever tried to expressóheartache, sorrow, love, lust, fearóinto something tactile. It swaddles the listener and conveys what words can’t. Total Loss is a devastating listen, but easily the year’s most singularly brilliant heartbreaker.
The Next Five:
6: Dirty Projectors / Swing Lo Magellan
7: First Aid Kit / The Lion’s Roar
8: Frank Ocean / channel ORANGE
9: Grizzly Bear / Shields
10: Punch Brothers / Who’s Feeling Young Now?
A man’s got to have a code, and my code is that no song on the Top 5 Songs list can come from a Top 5 Album. So it is written, so it shall be done, and the results are…puzzling, but whatever. I only get so many chances to tell everyone to listen to metal, but you might like it this time, I promise! Guys? Where are you going?
5: Miguel / “The Thrill”
R&B again, but this is really just a brilliantly minimalist pop song. It’s anthemic without being pompous and catchy as the day is long. Definitely the song-to-which-to-bob-one’s-head of 2012, and if that makes no sense, just listen to it.
4: Baroness / “Back Where I Belong”
Up to now they’ve been considered a metal band, but in 2012 Baroness just decided to make a great rock album. That’s it. It’s rock, in all its forms and manifestations, and it’s remarkable how fresh it sounds for a band to just drop the modifiers and rock, man. On “Back Where I Belong” they bring the heavy before bringing the light, and the thaw that results is gorgeous.
3: Beach House / “Lazuli”
Bloom had its share of exquisite songs, and while album-opener “Myth” wins on sheer power, “Lazuli” wins in every other category. Here, Beach House prove that they’re not merely magnificent conductors of atmosphere, they’re also masters of songcraft. The way this song moves from chord to chord isn’t obvious, but still feels completely natural.
2: Krallice / “Iiiiiiiiii”
Nothing was more metal than Swans‘ The Seer this year, but Krallice came close with Years Past Matter and this, the album’s centerpiece (each song title is a series of I’s, and that’s it). It begins peacefully enough, but then traverses horror after horror for six grueling minutes before gasping its way to the year’s best guitar breakdown, a series of high pitched distorted notes pinging off each other like sun off a glacier.
1: Sharon Van Etten / “Leonard”
Please don’t consider the exclusion of the better-than-estimable Tramp from my Top 10 albums as a rejection of the album’s greatness. It was a crowded field, but I still returned to “Leonard” more times than any other song this year. It asks so little of the listener, but gives more than it needs to and still somehow leaves me wanting more. An unqualified masterpiece that marries lyrics, instrumentation and melody as well as anyone, ever.
The Next Five:
6: Primitive Weapons / “Quitters Anthem”
7: The Shins / “Simple Song”
8: Ktl / “Phill 2″
9: Holly Herndon / “Fade”
10: Pallbearer / “The Legend”
Everyone has blind spots in their pop culture development, and I spent much of last year shining a light on mine. It ended up being just as gratifying as gobbling up whatever you young people were listening to. Now get off my lawn and go buy these tunes.
5: Miles Davis / Kind of Blue
In addition to huffing lots of R&B, I also main-lined a lot of jazz in 2012. Kind of Blue isn’t the first jazz album I’ve ever loved, but it’s the first that made me want to listen to a lot more jazz. I could listen to “Flamenco Sketches” for every moment of the rest of my life and die happy.
Photo by MTV
4: Aesop Rock
Okay, so this isn’t exactly a glaring hole, but for the last decade I’ve thought of Aesop Rock as a titan in a world of hip hop to which I was always a stranger. Whether or not that’s true, after making the expedition with his most recent effort Skelethon, I am hooked. His songs are like puzzles that are never boring no matter how many times you put them together.
3: Stevie Wonder / Innervisions
Sure, I knew some Stevie Wonder songs, but none of his albums. I randomly read something about Innervisions early in the year, picked up the album and eventually fell in love with it. Every song is a masterwork, and it’s even more startling to know that Wonder played either most, or all of the instruments on all nine tracks. This album makes me want to be a better person.
2: Tom Waits / Rain Dogs
Previously, my only real album-length experience with Tom Waits was limited to his debut, Closing Time, and Real Gone, released 31 years into his career. Somehow I leap-frogged Rain Dogs, which is considered the quintessential Tom Waits album, but it’s a remarkably apt bridge between my prior listens. I haven’t gone back to Real Gone or Closing Time since.
1: Prince & the Revolution / Purple Rain
I think a lot of people my age missed out on Prince because by the time we were of music-purchasing age, Prince was the artist formerly known as Prince. That’s a shame, because it might’ve kept us away from Purple Rain, an album that’s almost too perfect to describe. Here Prince takes on the roles of hair metal hero, glam rock sex god and R&B innovator all at once. What’s even more satisfying is hearing everything I like listening to now reflected back throughout Purple Rain, which came out the year I was born. Hearing it was like realizing I’ve been looking into a mirror my whole life without knowing it. Listen to this album post-haste.