Sunday, January 13, 2013

Best Albums of 2012: #5-1

#5: Ty Segall Band - Slaughterhouse
After playing most of the instruments himself on his solo albums, Ty Segall had to assemble a band to bring that material into a live setting.  It took a couple of years, but that band has finally recorded an album together, and it’s the heaviest album of Segall’s career.  Opening track “Death” begins with about a minute of feedback before transforming into a Stooges-esque guitar attack with lyrics about eyes.  The album mostly sticks to this heavy proto-metal/space garage vibe for its runtime, with a few detours, such as “Tell Me What’s Inside Your Heart,” which is the least noisy track on the album but maintains a tempo fast enough that the rhythm section begins falling apart to the point where the whole band has to switch gears and return to a space rock vibe near the end of the song.  The album also sports the best cover of “Diddy Wah Diddy” ever recorded by anyone other than Captain Beefheart.  In spite of the general heaviness and the fuzz drenching the entire album, Segall’s melodic gifts and his skill at crafting memorable hooks shines through the grit and grime, especially on songs like the short and punchy “Muscle Man” and the album standout “I Bought My Eyes.”  Fittingly, the album ends with the ten minute “Fuzz War,” which is exactly what the title implies: a battle of feedback, heavy guitar distortion, and machine gun drums.  It’s a fitting way to end an album that seems constantly in danger of going off the rails.   


"I Bought My Eyes"

#4: Frank Ocean - Channel Orange

At this point, it’s impossible to talk about Channel Orange without talking about the letter he put online right before the album came out.  Outing himself as having a sexual orientation that isn’t straight was incredibly brave in a hip hop/R&B world that’s known for having problems with hypermasculinity and homophobia.  It’s a testament to how great this album is that it didn’t get completely swallowed up by the subsequent publicity and hype.  


"Sweet Life"


#3: Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d. city
There isn’t really much to say about this album that hasn’t already been said.  It’s been labeled the most ambitious major label hip hop record in years (which is true), an instant classic (nope, sorry, that’s an absurd contradiction), and overstuffed with skits that ruin the momentum of the album (yeah, a little bit).  When his previous album Section.80 came out last year, I wasn’t sold on Kendrick or the rest of his Black Hippy crew.  I didn’t like the beats or the whiny rock hooks very much, and I thought his voice was obnoxious.  Black Hippy has steadily improved since, with standout releases like Schoolboy Q’s Habits & Contradictions and Ab-Soul’s Control System, and good kid, m.A.A.d. city is the most consistently great project to come out of Black Hippy.  The album isn’t perfect by any stretch.  “Backseat Freestyle” works within the context of the album, but it sounds ridiculous and a little stupid when taken on its own.  That Drake verse on “Poetic Justice” is weak (that Janet Jackson sample must have been about half of the album’s budget too).  Kendrick seems like he’s trying a bit too hard to make a Classic Album.  All of these are minor problems, however, and good kid, m.A.A.d. city positions Kendrick as one of the most exciting and interesting young rappers of this era.  If nothing else, the huge jump in quality from Section.80 to this album would indicate that his next album will be insane if he improves even a little bit more.  

"Money Trees" (feat. Jay Rock)

"Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst"


#2: Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light
In the fifteen years since Jason Pierce’s masterpiece Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space was released the Spiritualized project has been marked by uneven albums that don’t match his previous highs (although 2008’s Songs in A&E came closest), and the band has been frequently derailed by a series of serious illnesses that has left Pierce hospitalized for much of the last five years.  Sweet Heart Sweet Light, recorded while Pierce was undergoing experimental chemotherapy for a life-threatening liver disease, finds him in a more positive and peaceful place than he’s ever been.  The themes of death, drugs, God, and redemption remain ever-present, but the usual Spiritualized subject matter is colored with brighter sonic textures and more optimistic and uplifting songwriting.

"Sweet Jane"

"I Am What I Am"


  #1: El-P - Cancer 4 Cure
El-P’s first solo album Fantastic Damage, released in 2002, tapped into the uncertainty and fear of the immediate aftermath of 9/11 better than nearly any other record, with its claustrophobic beats and urgent, paranoid lyrics. Ten years later, the United States is in many ways even worse. Privacy rights have been systematically dismantled, the economy is in shambles, and spectacularly horrifying acts of violence have become frequent occurrences. In the midst of all of this, El-P released his third and possibly best solo album, Cancer 4 Cure, which taps into the tenor of the times just as effectively as his previous albums have. The world of Cancer 4 Cure is a darker, scarier reflection of our current times, where there are drones flying over New York City, anyone could be an agent for some nefarious shadow organization, and each key is tapped to the BPM of the sirens in the war zone that was once New York. El-P’s beats have become more robust since his solo debut, with layers upon layers of synths, drum machines, and samples coming together in a dystopian futuristic soundscape for his rhymes.

"Request Denied"

"Tougher Colder Killer" (feat. Killer Mike & Despot)

"The Full Retard"

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