By Simon Lazarus Vasta
The Almost-Best Albums of 2012 (In No Particular Order)
Killer Mike, R.A.P. Music
R.A.P. Music is one of the most streamlined hip-hop albums of all time. Mike jumps into a track, makes his point, and moves on with intense momentum without ever feeling rushed. El-P’s production is complex without ever becoming baroque. The whole thing is short enough to fit on one LP, yet it overflows with content. It’s a record that feels old school and brand new at the same time, where the political is the personal, where each track is just as good as the last, and you’re damned sure not gonna play favorites. From the unforgivingly blunt and brutal opening salvo “Big Beast” to the music-worshipping spiritual release of the title track, you are immersed in Mike’s mission statement, his manifesto. Heck, it’s called R.A.P. Music. No filler, no skits, just straight heat.
Even the staunchest defenders of Shoegaze and Dreampop have to admit that those genres have a tendency to get a little repetitive; indeed, some would even argue that it’s part of the charm: it’s ethereal music, music to get lost in. However, more often than not, the songs end up getting lost themselves, and you’re left with an album full of samey blah.
Oshin isn’t one of those albums. It’s vast and dreamy, certainly, but it’s also diverse and surprisingly structured. Instead of an intangible lump, it has a point a and a point b, visiting the likes of the slow chug and virtuous guitar playing of “Air Conditioning” and the propulsive Post Punk of “Doused” along the way. It’s one of the most fully realized records to come out of the current Brooklyn scene in a good long while.
Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Server You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
What’s most immediately apparent about The Idler Wheel… are its contradictions. It’s fragile and strong as steel, melodic and dissonant, hysterical and sober, wrathful and loving, cynical and naïve, guttural and transcendent, sexy and grotesque. There’s the mental prison of “Every Single Night,” but there’s also the unbridled freedom of “Anything We Want.” There’s the unrequited love and loneliness of “Valentine,” but hold out ‘til the goofy double entendre of “Hot Knife.” I’m not certain if The Idler Wheel… is the best Fiona Apple album, but I do think it’s her best expression of herself overall: a bundle of incongruous ideas, fierce and vulnerable. Also, genius.
Frank Ocean, channel ORANGE
Do you need me to tell you that channel ORANGE is great? It topped the best albums of the year lists at Spin, EW, The A.V. Club, The WaPo, The NYT, Billboard, and many, many others. Rolling Stone put it at number two, but that’s only because Bruce Springsteen released a record this year. At the time of this writing, Pitchfork hasn’t announced their top 25 yet, but rest assured channel ORANGE will top it (and if it doesn’t… well, we’ll talk about that in part four). And you know what? Everybody ever is right. In a lot of ways, channel ORANGE is just as much a part of 2012 as “Gangnam Style” and “Call Me Maybe”. I heard it at house parties, dive bars, specialty coffee shops, blasting out of car stereos, backstage at CMJ showcases. It’s genuine and soulful and accessible and everybody should listen to it because it’s got a little something for everyone and a lot for almost anyone. If you haven’t given it a chance by now, then god, Jed, I don’t even want to know you.
But. It’s not my album of the year. It’s mad close. These four records all came close. But I’m going to discus my favorite record of the year, shit, possibly my favorite record in years, in the next entry of: Now Take Them Out, Devils!
To Be Concluded… Follow Simon Lazarus Vasta on Twitter @Hunter_S_Narc
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