Favorite 30 Albums of 2012 (So Far)
Revisiting the first half of an already amazing year of music
Like last year, we’re marking the midway point with a list of our favorite albums of the year so far. This year, we expanded the list from 25 to 30, but it still felt like we didn’t have enough room to showcase what we’re excited about. (Some of the artists who just barely missed the list: Diamond Terrifier, Fiona Apple, Shackleton, Japandroids, Ahnnu, DJ/PURPLE/IMAGE, Chromatics, Grouper, and Mi Ami.) We didn’t have full-length reviews for several entries, so look out for new blurbs on Macintosh Plus, Killer Mike, Ian Martin, and Heat Wave. The rest of the blurbs are snippets from our published reviews, so be sure to click through to read the entire piece. Without further ado, here’s our Blunt sandwich.
Dean Blunt And Inga Copeland
Black Is Beautiful
“Repeating, recycling, recontextualizing, appropriating; these are common methods for contemporary art, but Blunt and Copeland conceal the guideposts that would allow us to locate a thread of continuity, a symbolic system that would permit access to specificity. What they provide instead is sensation, whether through hauntingly familiar melodies, the accretion of sonic detail, or the sub-bass frequencies that rumble beneath many of the most arresting moments on the album. But this sensation is not ‘pure’ or abstract; it is deeply and inexorably tied to a sense of history, memory, failure, and melancholy. This is the sensation described by Walter Benjamin in relation to the allegorical text, in which ‘the observer is confronted with the facies hippocratica of history as a petrified, primordial landscape… Allegories are, in the realm of thoughts, what ruins are in the realm of things.’ This is the same phenomenon described by Craig Owens in relation to postmodern art, in which the work of art becomes an allegory for its own illegibility, for the failure of meaning itself. In this sense, the ‘black’ of the title is not racial blackness, but the blackness of the void, the ‘abyss’ of occultism. And that void, evoked by the dark, inchoate pop of Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland, is indeed beautiful.” [Full Review]
• Hyperdub: http://www.hyperdub.net
[P.W. Elverum & Sun, Ltd.]
“On Clear Moon, Elverum comes across less the heroic Viking and more like a lost boatman of suburbia. He’s given up the barren wastes of fire and ice for the more humdrum but no less existential threats of everyday life in the Pacific Northwest. Most notably, Elverum — “struggling sideways” — can no longer maintain a distinction between human life and natural life. He’s relinquished the romantic agon of his earlier work and instead stalks a surreal boundary-land that is neither fallen nor pristine. Throughout, he confronts the messiness of his relation to nature and the very unnaturalness, the sheer artificiality of his work of as an artist. ‘Dark smoke fills the air,’ he sings on the first track, ‘Some from the fire in my house/ Some from me driving around.” The world of Clear Moon is a world of both ‘mountains and websites,’ a destabilized world, a discontinuous world, for sure, but one world nonetheless; ‘There is no other world,’ Elverum sings wearily, as if finally relinquishing his idealism, ‘and there has never been.’” [Full Review]
• P.W. Elverum & Sun, Ltd. : http://www.pwelverumandsun.com
[Beer On The Rug]
It took pop music nearly a century to catch up to the idea of the found art object, and now that it has, the audio landscape is getting stranger by the minute. Sampling, looping, time-stretching, and pitch-bending bits of found sound is a familiar bag of tricks by now, but a new breed of mysterious pop appropriators (Computer Dreams, Mediafired, INTERNET CLUB, et al.) are taking ‘screw’ methods several steps beyond, into hypnotic virtual realms populated by liquid crystal simulacra operating as archetypes of an emerging internet unconscious. The debut by Macintosh Plus was released on cassette earlier this year, the work of the same unknown quantity responsible for releases by Laserdisc Visions and 情報デスクVIRTUAL. Floral Shoppe is one of the best single documents of the vaporwave scene yet, a series of estranged but soulful manipulations of found audio that carefully constructs its own meditative headspace through the careful accretion of defamiliarized memory triggers. The epic “リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピ” performs a sonic sexual reassignment on Diana Ross, a transmutation that undercuts nostalgia, locating an invisible register of becoming-post-human in the musical mundane.
“Modern Jester was three years in the making, and the perseverance is audible in the final result. The double LP is released through Dilloway’s own Hanson Records, which, in its 18 years of operation, has provided an outlet for noise makers like Kevin Drumm, Hair Police, and Dilloway’s previous band Wolf Eyes. It is, admittedly, a comprehensive representation of his course thus far, but the amalgamation of Dilloway’s diverse temperament presents something untried and, for want of a better way to put it, pretty fucking violent. Through artful tape loop experiments, Aaron Dilloway plays the modern jester: a modern-day enactment of the historic entertaining fool, who (according to the Royal Shakespeare Company) ‘served not simply to amuse but to criticize;’ by way of a confounding disposition, he violates what has come to be expected, ironically, of noise.” [Full Review]
• Hanson: http://hansonrecords.net
TEKLIFE Vol. 1: Welcome to the Chi
[Lit City Trax]
“Unlike the equally robust Da Mind of Traxman, ‘the erotic lit of footwork’ (Pearson, B; TMT: 2012), DJ Rashad’s TEKLIFE Vol. 1: Welcome To The Chi doesn’t present a singular vision of what footwork should be. Instead, it feels like a State of the Union address from one of the genre’s central figures, a restless tyro goblinoid Dillaesthesis, ranging across what seems like the sum of footwork’s possibilities, from booty house tracks like ‘Twitter’ (‘She on my Twitter/ I’m gonna hit her’) and ‘My Way Home’ to future blueprints like ‘iPod,’ ‘Fly Spray,’ and ‘Over Ya Head.’ These last tracks, maniac oscillations between tension and release, are particularly attention-grabbing: the seed of something like a ‘hardwork’ style, perhaps; an integral pond-hopping encounter between house and hard dance that resembles techno’s earlier transatlantic encounter with Italo. It’s here that footwork overlaps with the ravery weirdness of poststep electronix; it’s here where lessons will be learned; it’s here where the magic secrets are stored.” [Full Review]
Killer Mike inhabits the talented circle of Atlanta rappers that includes Outkast and Young Jeezy (he was notably featured on “Snappin’ and Trappin,” from the former’s legendary Stankonia LP). Despite his no-bullshit attitude, his politically sharp lyrics, and an old-school flow that rivals many of his peers, the veteran MC hasn’t received the recognition he deserves. But with R.A.P. Music, his latest and strongest effort to date, Killer Mike is finally taking the spotlight, dismantling the tried-and-true clichés of Southern trap rap in the process. “Welcome to Atlanta — up your jewelry, motherfucker!” he sneers on snarly opener “Big Beast,” mocking not just the insipid Jermaine Dupris song we all thought we forgot in middle school, but rap’s popification as a whole. Armed with some furious, minimalistic production from El-P, some stellar guest features, and a whole lot of vitriol, R.A.P. Music isn’t just a great rap album — it’s an assault on the mediocre, Top 40-pandering incarnation of “hip-hop” that’s kept true artistry in the dark for too long.
“Popular country music prides itself on reproducing tradition; its lack of innovation and inability to evolve with shifting trends is one of its virtues, both musically and ideologically. From Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams, Sr. to Keith Urban and Jason Aldean, not much has changed. Sure, there are electric guitars, pre-ripped jeans, and hair-stylists now, and Miranda Lambert packs stadiums with revenge-songs about setting her lovers’ trailers on fire, but the basic songwriting themes and instrumentation have not evolved with the times. And this is what makes All Hell so refreshing and special: It wipes away the dust and brings fresh ideas into the room. Finally, a musician whose record collection, or iTunes library, sounds as if it could contain albums by Cash, Conway Twitty, Elvis, Balam Acab, The Caretaker, Portishead, and Washed Out created music that synthesizes these diverse influences. It was only a matter of time before fans of country music got their hands on samplers and began integrating contemporary techniques and sounds from other music communities into traditional country music. Daughn Gibson’s All Hell proclaims that the time is now.” [Full Review]
There’s an eerie scene at the start of Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49. Coasting along the Los Angeles freeway, Oedipa Maas recalls the first time she opened a transistor radio and saw a printed circuit. Suddenly, the broad blank face of the postmodern world fell away, exposing its technological mystery in a revelation that, for Oedipa at least, trembled, religiously, just past her understanding. That’s what it feels like to listen to Ian Martin’s Mechanical Rain. Martin’s a Rotterdam DJ with a penchant for Italo-disco and techno-funk, but you wouldn’t know it from the minimalist noir that marks his new album. Using nothing more than two vintage synths (no drum machines, please), he’s left the dance floor to chart the strange sonic innards of a claustrophobically familiar world, all the hums and drups and hisses of the vents behind the vents of your apartment complex or office cubicle. I would call it ambient, if it weren’t so damn cinematic; I would call it industrial, if it weren’t so cosmic; I would call it grim, if I didn’t feel like I could dance to it. Anyway you slice it, though, these six tracks will carry your ears to the brink of techno-paranoid ecstasy and leave you, like Pynchon’s Oedipa, craving more.
• Further: https://twitter.com/#!/furtherrecords
Fukd In Tha Game
Fukd In Tha Game, flung into the public domain on January 1, is Alex Gray’s umpteenth release in the last 18 months or so, and it’s easily one of the most seductively assembled. On a whim, I reckon that Gray’s ‘Fukd’ relates to the addiction he has to his beguiling craft, ‘Tha Game.’ The artist has found his niche and is exploiting it here profusely — in this instance, across 17 tracks of manipulated, sample-heavy appropriations that blooms and folds beautifully all over itself. Gray’s technique is as tender and fluid as the music is incoherent and slap-dash, tiptoeing and galloping brilliantly across genres that shift more frequently than the artist himself (Gray has since retired his Heat Wave project and is now known under the equally brilliant DJ/PURPLE/IMAGE moniker). For all the haphazardry and contemplation that this artist yields, Fukd In Tha Game is among his most significant to date, a testament to the limitless boundaries of imagination concerning music in the digital age and the exhilarating experiences it can induce, no matter how addictive.
• Heat Rave: http://heatrave.com
Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light II
“After ‘Father Midnight’ and ‘Hell’s Winter,’ the deeper magic and Aslan’s breath — a cough of hope in a fatalist wheeze. There is something dreadful about the beauty of this dawn, the inevitability of its cycle suggesting the daunting physicality of Ted Hughes’ Iron Man on the march, as if dread were, in fact, a condition of the beautiful, whose details can only be examined or demonstrated in the shade of anxiety’s big pink parasol. Fear circumscribes the world, drawing the earth towards it, submitting its sign to the siphon squeeze of the pars totalis. If Earth have taken their furthest steps yet from the cloistered encampment of doom, tapering at the edges of electric folk, it is only in order to discover what they already knew: that dread is the condition of sensitivity wherein the beauty of details is magnified. In this sense, Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II represents a spilling-forth from the citadel, an eldritch ritual of fire and shadow performed in the shelter of hallucinogenic crags. The Earth machine feeds on form to stabilize its torpor. Its hibernation is a site of constant, slow-motion chewing: a continuum of crushing and grinding, a ruminant dread, a stoner Unicron.” [Full Review]