Tag Archives: Albums – 2012

Arch your back, point your toes: Best of 2012

1. Miguel – Kaleidoscope Dream
2. Dwight Yoakam – 3 Pears
3. Jessie Ware – Devotion
4. Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
5. Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t
6. Kellie Pickler – 100 Proof
7. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel
8. Angel Haze – Reservation
9. Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas
10. Saint Etienne – Words and Music by Saint Etienne
11. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory
12. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.a.a.d. city
13. Dawn Richard – Armor On
14. Imperial Teen – Feel the Sound
15. Usher – Looking 4 Myself
16. Rick Ross – Rich Forever
17. Jerrod Niemann – Free The Music
18. Sinead O’Connor – How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?
19. Four Tet – Pink
20. The Men – Open Yr Heart
21. Bob Dylan – Tempest
22. The Mountain Goats – Transcendental Youth
23. Rufus Wainwright – Out of the Game
24. Beach House – Bloom
25. Donald Fagen – Sunken Condos

It’s a bad religion

Last night’s Frank Ocean performance at the Grammys didn’t surprise: a clumsy song performed by an off-pitch singer. I’m with Ned:

It took, say, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs until their third album for me to think they were more than a series of misassembled ideas and earnest tributes. (And I still think that about the earlier stuff and YES that includes “Maps” and don’t question me.) By the time of his third official album or whatever happens Ocean may well be knocking me into the nth plane of existence. Fuck it, I WANT him to. You don’t want artists who don’t work for you to keep failing, you want them to get BETTER.

A reminder: channelORANGE is Ocean’s first album. And Yeah Yeah Yeahs are a salient example. R. Kelly, Peter Gabriel, the Go-Betweens, Tori Amos, Al Green, and Pearl Jam too. These acts needed an album — sometimes more than one — to figure themselves out. Which makes the Grammys’ creation of an absurd category so that authors of alterna-R&B “think pieces” can congratulate themselves is both precipitate and an example of the most rebarbative wishy-washy liberalism. Jon Caramanica’s criticism (voters’ “reliably boneheaded” choices) is too kind.

2012 – #10-#12

10. Saint Etienne – Words and Music by Saint Etienne

Not their best since 1993: Finisterre is a rival, as I learned replaying both last weekend. A modest summa, embellished with the sparkliest of modern dance filigrees. Forty year olds can still surrender to club sounds (“Tonight”). Forty year olds may even glean wisdom about their youth from club sounds (“When I Was Seventeen”).

11. Cloud Nothings – Attack On Memory

Not long after playing “Stay Useless,” Cloud Nothings felt the wrath of July in Chicago: light rain but ominous thunder. In the middle of “Wasted Days,” thousands of Pitchfork Music Festivals had a Solomonic choice: take cover or listen as wary roadies cut the power. The band played regardless, their harsh chords a rebuke to the weather like their album didn’t so much redress new wrongs as remind us that ah-fucking-youth is a condition that needs constant redressing — and study. Attack on Memory is also a rebuke: Green Day hasn’t written a song with a chorus like “I need time to stay useless” since 1994.

12. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.a.a.d. city

“The commitment to drama has musical drawbacks,” Christgau writes, but it doesn’t mean this album’s pleasures are purely verbal. The flanged percussion and horrowshow organs on “Sherane” don’t let up. Shrewd counterpoint to a meditation on how life sucks called “Poetic Justice” requires the sweetness of Janet Jackson’s “Any Time, Any Place” and the falling anvil called Drake. But when he returns to drama — the deadpan “Everyone’s a victim in my eyes” in “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” — the words give pleasure.

Rolling and trolling: Ke$ha

Ke$ha, KeshaAfter enjoying Ke$ha’s Warrior for the last week as a not particularly burdensome or welcome bit of ephemerality, I had nothing to say until I read Jonathan Bogart‘s essay severed from its rebarbative headline (in the subhead, we’re told, she “scares parents”!):

“But Ke$ha actively courts the dislike. Her voice, flattened and shrilled by the AutoTune software for much of her first album, is often pitched at a deliberately jangling register even when it’s not being manipulated. Her lyrics are full of provocative, childish insults and vulgar slang, and her attitude is often less that of a grown woman and more of a hyperactive teenager deliberately scandalizing authority figures. On the Internet, we call that trolling. In life, it has more of the quality of a dare—how obnoxious can she get and still be hugely popular?”

Hiring Iggy Pop to growl through lyrics called “Dirty Love,” ordering the Strokes to to recreate their machine-tooled boogie on “Only Wanna Dance With You” — trolling, I suppose. Hurling “Found out you’re full of it/I’m over it so suck my dick” at an object of desire on “Thinking About You” — maybe. Calling Ke$ha’s approach trolling is attractive because it infuriates the sort of people who think Wrecking Ball is the year’s best album.

But trolling is cheap, in every sense. The production on Warrior, mostly by Dr. Luke but with contributions by Max Martin, Shellback, and the Flaming Lips, is as opulent as 2012 pop gets on uninhabited tracks. Skeptics who resisted Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” will find “Crazy Kids” a “We R Who We R” retread, complete with foregrounded acoustic guitar hook to adduce its sincerity. She’s often not as shallow as she thinks she is, which is a problem. Feigned depth is one thing, feigned shallowness a particularly gruesome tragedy. She consigns one triumph to a bonus track: the Joan Jett-indebted fodderstompf “Gold Trans Am,” in which she orders a dude in a Skynard tee and sweet-ass mullet to get out of her dreams and into her car (the refrain:”Wham bam thank you man/Get inside my gold Trans Am”). By the time the guitars roar and the hand claps get louder, car sex has become a patriotic duty, a freedom ride. And with this concept she and the Springsteen fan are as one.

This much is true: Solange Knowles

My favorite track on Solange Knowles’ True EP registers as pure aural pleasure: spare drums and bass, synth squiggles worthy of Bernie Worrell, ominous piano chords, and the singer oh-oh-oh’ed as frog chorus. It’s called “Don’t Let Me Down,” and it doesn’t, especially when it threatens to turn into Amerie’s “Crazy Wonderful.” A release of modest pleasures, True works best as a sketchbook in which Knowles flaunts several shades of theoretical lust and rue, a strategy constructed around an appealing but thin voice that pirouettes around feeling; it’s also a sample of R&B poses since the late eighties. If she shows no personality, she’ll shop for one: from Ciara cool to the Jam & Lewis laptop beats and “Control”-aping “Locked in Closets.” The Aaliyah-worthy “Lovers in the Parking Lot” squeezes every bit of coquetry from the dangled refrain “played around with your heart.” No coquetry in “Losing You,” propelled by a synth patch out of an Angelo Badalamenti score and a sampled scream. Dialectic, thy name is Solange.

It’s November 2012

Barring sudden inclusions, this looks my top twenty.

Miguel – Kaleidoscope Dream
Jessie Ware – Devotion
Dwight Yoakam – 3 Pears
Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t
Kellie Pickler – 100 Proof
Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel
Angel Haze – Reservation
Rick Ross – Rich Forever
Saint Etienne – Words and Music
Dawn Richard – Armor On
Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.a.a.d. city
Jerrod Niemann – Free the Music
Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory
Leonard Cohen – Old Ways
Imperial Teen – Feel the Sound
The Men – Open Yr Heart
Usher – Looking 4 Myself
Todd Snider – Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables
Sinead O’Connor – How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?