16 March, 2013

The Completely Pointless and Subjective Top 10 Records of 2012 Posted Here In March 2013 Because Fuck You That's Why

10. Roc Marciano, Reloaded (Decon)

This New York rapper gave us Marcberg in 2010, the most understated and assured traditionalist East Coast rap album of the decade so far, which featured absolutely astonishing production and the kind of chilly old-school lyricism that you just don't hear too often anymore. It was a demonstration of how to explicitly reference the past without being on a craven nostalgia trip. This time he gives us a very deliberate sequel to that album, right down to the title. If anything, Marciano's beats (some sourced from The Alchemist) have become somewhat more functional this time around, which is a bit of a shame. However, Marciano's rapping has gotten funnier, cleverer, and even slightly absurdist at times, and there may really be no one in hip-hop who raps with such wit about the same old shit. There's not much personal expression to be found here, true. But Marciano's linguistic gamesmanship is on another level now, and if he manages to combine the quality of rapping found here with brilliant beats and successful attempts at moving the listener, he will end up with a masterpiece on his hands.

9. Freddy Ruppert, Wait EP (NNA Tapes)

The man behind the unfortunately defunct Former Ghosts (responsible for the best synthpop album of the 2000's, Fleurs) has now made inroads into ambient music. Yes, I can hear the philistines in the peanut gallery shrieking "Ambient music is boring! We like Tyga!" Thank you for sharing, twerps. Gratuitous insults to imaginary characters aside, what Ruppert's managed to produce here is one deeply threatening 20-minute soundscape. It's almost arbitrarily divided into 5 "songs," or sections, or whatever, but it's pretty much all of a piece and the transitions are almost unnoticeable. As music, this is basically pure atmospherics, but the atmosphere Ruppert creates with such ease here is one of almost suffocating darkness. The omnipresent, shadowy and enormous bass tones that characterize all the tracks here are coated with absolutely cavernous reverb, and higher-pitched, almost atonal, bell-like sounds (along with hostile white noise and occasional clanging piano stabs) echo all across the sonic landscape for what seems like minutes at a time. It all combines for a drastically unsettling, but still somehow memorable effect. Nothing remotely pop here, but the soundscaping is almost peerless.

8. Lamps, Under The Water Under The Ground (In The Red)

On this album, Lamps combined their deeply enjoyable brand of messy, stomping, ear-splitting garage punk with the kind of loony and incredible guitar destruction that was one signature of the late and deeply lamented noise-punk band Mayyors. This is hardly a coincidence, since Mayyors guitarist and mastermind Chris Woodhouse produced the album. I don't know if Woodhouse lent Lamps' guitarist/fearless leader/vocalist Monty Buckles some of his guitar pedals or taught him some new techniques, but Buckles' guitar playing here has evolved from awesome and fun chord mauling into some really weird and wild, squealing, echoing noise shit, grafted into the framework of what were already very catchy songs. If you were looking for blasting-cap garage noise rock in 2012, you really couldn't do better than this. This is easily their best album to date.

7. Hoax, Hoax (3rd) EP (Painkiller)

Hoax have become so popular in hardcore punk circles now that they're almost a joke for certain members of the hipoisie. And indeed, the latest singles they've released ("Strikeout" and "Caged") have been worrying; they seem to be getting a lot closer to the line that separates brilliantly agonized hardcore from stupid meathead posturing. However, that doesn't change the fact that their three EP's (all unhelpfully titled Hoax) have been astonishing slices of suicidally depressed, violently sociopathic hardcore. This EP is essentially no different from the two that preceded it; four songs, over in 5 or 6 minutes, the same kinds of almost chromatic, viciously angry riffs supporting lyrics of terrifying hatred for absolutely everything the world has to offer. While there's been no evolution here, there's also been no falloff. The standout tracks are opener "Discipline" and the old favorite "Stuck," finally recorded in a proper studio version. While I'm halfway convinced that this band has fallen into a holding pattern at this stage, I still loved the third EP, and hope that they don't fall off.

6. White Suns, Sinews (Load)

You want to hear something that's tough to listen to? Well, have I got the album for you! Seriously, this album is a goddamn endurance contest. Waking In The Reservoir, White Suns' previous monsterwork, at least offered the thrill of consistent guitar torture, spastic drum abuse and horrendously non-musical sprays of electronics. Here, though, White Suns have distilled their music to the point where the silence between volleys of painful atonality might dominate over the noise. The resulting tension is almost unbearable. On track after track, the scorched-earth aesthetics that have always characterized this band's music are developed to a point where you just want them to play anything to make the tension dissipate. They generally tend to break the tension with - you got it - no wave-influenced noise that has somehow become even more brutal than it was before. Demanding, difficult and fantastic, but not for the faint of heart. (Note: This last sentence can easily describe three of the top five entries. Fair warning.)

5. Killer Mike, R.A.P. Music (Williams Street)

There are some people who dump on this and say it only got as much attention as it did because El-P produced it. And sure, far more people should have paid attention to I Pledge Allegiance To The Grind II but fuck that nonsense, this was easily the hip-hop album I listened to most in 2012. Although there are times when the overt conservatism of the project worries me (it's obvious that Mike and El wanted to make their version of an old-school classic like AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted or Fear of a Black Planet), the entire album was conceived and executed with such grace, fire and fun that it's impossible for me to dump on anything about it. There isn't a bad song on the album, but the highlight for me may be "JoJo's Chillin'," which is absurdly wonderful rap storytelling at such a rarefied level that it practically comes with a PhD attached. Mike's tremendous rapping is the main attraction of this album, and it's hard not to conclude that the man just has no competitors at this point.

4. Scott Walker, Bish Bosch (4AD)

The weirdest thing about this indescribably weird album is the relative accessibility of it in relation to Tilt and The Drift, Walker's two previous albums. The Drift especially was one of the bleakest albums ever made, and it was hard to imagine how Walker could follow it up. Would he make an album that was even more forbidding? Would he turn around and make the proper successor to Scott 4? No one really knew what the hell he was going to do for six years. What's most impressive about Bish Bosch is that it's almost incomprehensibly absurd; this is seriously some of the most willfully bizarre music I've ever heard in my life, and I have heard a lot of records at this point. But the thing about it is that some of it is actually quite catchy, in its' own way: the deformed swing of "Epizootics!," the pummeling intensity of "See You Don't Bump His Head," and the relatively straightforward beauty of "The Day The "Conducator" Died" are all memorable. And the rest of the album toys with a brilliantly strange sense of humor that keeps popping up at the most inopportune times; it's serious belly-laugh territory when Walker sings, with a straight face, "If music was shit, you'd be the brass section." Bish Bosch is almost the musical equivalent of an Ionesco play; genuinely, hilariously, grimly surreal, with a lot to say about the human condition.

3. FNU Ronnies, Saddle Up (Load)

Saddle Up was easily the best punk album of 2012. No one's ever combined Chrome and the Dead Kennedys as far as I can tell, and that's sort of what the Ronnies are like on this album. While there's no representation of their brutally heavy side here (which was thoroughly explored on their best release, the crushing three-track Golem EP), what is on display is mind-bending catchiness recorded in the most addled way possible. The guitars on this album sound like nails dipped in sulfuric acid being scratched along a chalkboard, and guitarist Jim Vail has the vocal style of an insane homeless man shrieking through Cabaret Voltaire's voice-destroying equipment. At this point, I'm looking for music that surprises me, and this album certainly does the job. Most of the time you'll be wondering how three people could even make music like this, and that's a good thing - songs so strange shouldn't be so catchy, and yet they are.

2. Modra, The Line To The Men's Room (Savage Quality)

There are albums that are deeply weird (like Sinews), albums that are indescribably and studiedly weird (like Bish Bosch), and then there's this album. It sounds like it was recorded at the bottom of a well on an answering machine. The band aren't simply incompetent - they sound like they have no idea what musical notes even are. The drumming is incredibly reluctant and never drives the music. The vocals are all delivered in the kind of moaning monotone that indicates a life filled with mental travail and antidepressants. The frightening lyrics are filled with pain, all about the kind of useless memories of traumatic events you want to let go of, but can never get over. The entire band sounds like they got shot up with elephant tranquilizers before walking into the studio. However, they're all in standard tuning and in tune with each other, and sound as if they very much want to play somewhat more normal music, but just don't have the capability for it. And during some of the songs (there are seven of them and each sounds more disintegrated than the last), one of the guitarists attempts to play guitar in a style that recalls early "Lee Is Free"-era Sonic Youth, but he ends up sounding even more mutated and deformed. Comparisons to Jandek have been made and they're very understandable, but the reliance on standard tuning, barest attempts at actual songwriting, utterly drugged mood and general obliviousness on parade here makes it even more bizarre than some of the great Representative's albums - and it's also somehow far more listenable. This is hypnotizing, harrowing, unfathomably personal music.

1. The Unholy Two, Cut The Music (I'm The Nightstalker) 7" (12XU)

Do you like rock and roll and horribly offensive noise? That's great, because no album, EP or single that came out in 2012 came close to this. There was no competition - this was IT. The A-side of this astounding recording consists of the following elements: three brutally distorted, feedbacking guitars that sound like they're on the verge of melting down quite literally explode out of the speakers, thrashing one enormous E chord to fucking death as the most ridiculous ass-kicking drum beat in the world just pounds you, the listener, into the ground. The Unholy Two already sounded like Live In The Red-era Pussy Galore on a daunting cocktail of steroids, amphetamine, pure lunacy and power electronics, but this single is like having cocaine injected directly into your brain stem. Chris Lutzko is a god and all of you losers should just kowtow in defeat to him already.

Other 2012 recordings that I enjoyed were:

- Azealia Banks, 1991 EP

- Friend Collector, Friend Collector/American

- Golden Donna, All Alone EP

- Andy Stott, Luxury Problems

- Drose, A Voice EP

- Mirrorring, Foreign Body

- Ice Burgandy, Progress Involves Risk, Unfortunately

- Pop. 1280, The Horror

- A Place To Bury Strangers, Worship

- Rectal Hygienics, Even The Flies Won't Touch You

- White Load, Wayne's World III b/w The Godfather Part IV

- Shoxx, Demo

- Spearhead, Spearhead (Cassette)

- Slices, Still Cruising

- Useless Children, Post Ending // Pre Completion

- Freddie Gibbs, Baby Face Killa

- Clams Casino, Instrumental Mixtape 2

- Shit and Shine, Jream Baby Jream

- Warthog, Chain Wallet Sessions

- Vatican Shadow, Ornamented Walls

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