The Love/Hate Music News Report 12.27.12: Best!
This is my last column for 411mania. Next week, this news report will be in the hands of someone else. I’m the last person that can judge the quality of this column, but I’d like to think that this has been an interesting read. Whether you agreed with what I had to say or vehemently disagreed with most of my opinions and read my column just to see what kooky thoughts I had to share each week, that there are folks who actually read my stuff is not something I’ve ever taken lightly, and I thank you for giving this column a chance. I’d also like to thank the 411mania crew for putting up with me, specifically Mitch Michaels (wherever he is) for letting me write this column in the first place and Jeremy Thomas for trusting me to come up with my own stuff each week.
I’m not done writing about music, though. I’ve been writing for Earbuddy for some time, and I’ll continue to write for them in the future. We plan on stepping our game up in the new year, so check us out. Our stuff is good, I promise.
Alright, enough kissing ass and plugging away. Let’s get to the meat of this column…
First, though, I have to give some notes. This list of ten albums has been narrowed down from a list of over one hundred albums, and that list was hard enough to narrow down. If I didn’t include one of your favorite albums on my list, it probably isn’t because I didn’t listen to it. I considered listing some honorable mentions, but I couldn’t think of where to cut the mentions off because, well, there are one hundred albums on the list, and I like what album placed forty-third on my list. Also, for what it’s worth, this list was completed on December 4th.
As with my “worst” list, the barometer is how I feel about each album, and describing the process by which I judge a hardcore hip-hop album with a soft piece by a noted singer-songwriter is pretty much impossible. To put it in the simplest way I know how, I compiled the top ten by figuring out which albums were the most enjoyable, heartbreaking, brutal, thought-provoking, or what have you. Then I looked at each album and tried to judge which album was the greatest “achievement”. This wasn’t easy, and the order of my top four changed on a daily basis until I found an arrangement that felt right. Some (okay, most) of these write-ups are bits and pieces of what I’ve had to say about each album before, partially because I think I’ve already summed up my feelings on these albums in other places, partially because I’ve got a hangover, but mostly because I wanted my gushing over the album I placed in the top spot to stand out. If you don’t agree with any of my picks, that’s fine. If you don’t agree with any of my picks because you haven’t listened to what I picked and think you can just write it off on that alone, that is a bit less fine. Feel free to share your own top ten list in the comment below.
Alright, let’s get to it…
History Will Absolve Me, Billy Woods
All We Love We Leave Behind, Converge
Confess, Twin Shadow
No, Confess is good—really good—for three reasons. First of all, Lewis has fun with his music—it is almost impossible to not dance to all of this. Second of all, the writing remains accessible and digestible. Every song is about relationships and love, and while I usually shirk at such music (especially when presented from a narrator who is more than a little bit of a dick), Lewis keeps his audience by showing his mortality. This is a better LCD Soundsystem album than anything James Murphy ever made.
Most importantly, though, Confess feels like a product of its time, not something trying to sound like it was made in the 80’s. This is a hard detail to explain, but it is almost entirely why Confess succeeds. This is an expression of the love, ethics, politics, and mindset of the 80’s, all funneled through some of the catchiest tunes you’ll hear all year. That this didn’t crack my top five should tell you what kind of a year this has been.
The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, Fiona Apple
Litost, The Ambassadors
R.A.P. Music, Killer Mike
The Money Store, Death Grips
G Is for Deep, Doseone
Doseone’s latest album is just as catchy, eccentric, and thought-provoking as anything else he has put out. I’ll try to explain why I love this album so much in the simplest terms I can. Ahem: you can delve into the man’s lyrics and find a gold mine of meaning in abstraction, or you can sit back and listen to some of the best pop music you will find all year. If you still don’t understand my glee, the problem is likely on my end. I care too much.
Cancer 4 Cure, El-P
The reason for this album’s high placement when compared to how I placed it earlier this year (The Money Store was #1 in July) is simple: this might be the album I’ve listened to the most this year. Chalk this up to me being partial to his sound, but this is an album that bleeds cohesion. iTunes tells me I’ve listened to “Ah Hail No” more than one hundred times this year. Strange—I thought that number would have been much higher.
good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick Lamar
First things first: Lamar can rap. The guy never loses clarity even when he goes in hard, and Lamar does this while also working in service of folks who prefer great hooks. More telling, though, is that he sounds good even when he tries to sound young, dumb, and ignorant—he can’t help but sound like a not-shitty version of Childish Gambino on “Backseat Freestyle”, and his dogged first verse in “m.A.A.d city” would be the highlight on an inferior rapper’s album. When it comes time for him to dig into his set of tools (“The Art of Peer Pressure”, the second half of “m.A.A.d city”, and especially “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”), Lamar sounds better than any other rapper out there.
Lamar is more than technically gifted, though. good kid, m.A.A.d city is one of the few hip-hop albums with skits that can’t be skipped, not only because most of them are pretty funny (his mother’s overly earnest attempt to coax him home getting interrupted by his stoned father singing about a girl’s “big ol’ fat ass” comes to mind) but because they help drive home the point of the story Lamar is telling through the course of his album. Lamar sees himself as an upstanding individual in increasingly sour conditions (see: the title of the album), but as he goes through life/a trip through the hood in his mother’s minivan, he finds himself pondering both assumptions. What kind of a “good kid” robs houses? Does his interior monologue matter? Well, then, how about the motivations of the guy who killed his friend Dave, or who killed Dave’s brother? What actions can be justified by assuring yourself that you are a good person? Is “but I’m with the homies” a suitable excuse?
See, the album’s actual story isn’t all that complicated: Lamar goes riding with his homies and tries to get with a girl, but after the girl’s brothers jump him, they attempt to exact revenge. It is the execution that makes it all worth listening to. Dave’s brother’s verse getting cut off by gunshots, club song “Swimming Pools” being a somewhat-stealthy examination of alcoholism, the line “but the one in front of the gun lives forever“, MC Eiht responding to a youthful Lamar’s line celebrating gangbanging by saying “Wake your punk ass up”—these and so many more moments are rare in hip-hop, to say nothing of music that leaves an impact on the mainstream. This is one of the heaviest albums of 2012, but it is also one of the easiest listens of the year. I hate West Coast hip-hop, and good kid, m.A.A.d city is my favorite album of the year. That’s the best endorsement I can give it.
Is it time to name December’s Album to Love? Well, there wasn’t all that much competition this month, but I liked Bish Bosch by Scott Walker well enough. Now here’s your playlist—excerpts from my favorite albums of the year. Enjoy.
Albums To Love
January: Attack on Memory, Cloud Nothings
February: Put Your Back N 2 It, Perfume Genius
March: 4Eva N A Day, Big K.R.I.T.
April: The Money Store, Death Grips
May: Cancer 4 Cure, El-P
June: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, Fiona Apple
July: Confess, Twin Shadow
August: II, Nude Beach
September: CIA TV, .L.W.H.
October: good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick Lamar
November: Duality, Captain Murphy
December: Bish Bosch, Scott Walker
Cheap plug: Earbuddy. Damn good source of music news and views, and from now on, it will be the only place I’ll be sharing my thoughts on music outside of the occasional Fact or Fiction, Buy and Sell, or friendly request for a fill-in from a writer whose work I enjoy (but don’t count on the latter). “Like” it on Facebook, too. We are nearing the end of our year-end list, in which we count down our favorite hundred albums of the year. The latest part, counting up to #21, is here, though the next part will likely be up by the time most of you read this.
And here it is, this week’s Video To Love…
Next week, this bit of webspace will be under new management.