Friday, December 28, 2012

Favorites of 2012: Carter's Selections

2012 was yet another year of discovery for me with plenty of musical revelations and subgenre-digging, and I'm happy to have talked about most of it on Olive Music and shared music with Ty, Alisa and Brandon to hear their input. Since May 2009 I've met plenty of great people through the blog-- musicians, fellow blog writers and friendly readers alike. Sadly, I don't have the time to update the blog as frequently as I once did, and running Olive doesn't even seem feasible at this point. Hopefully those who have stumbled upon it had a good read and/or received some worthwhile recommendations, and if so, thank you. Take care.

10. Supa Sortahuman & Lil Ugly Mane - Supasonic (Self-Released)
9. Lil Ugly Mane - Uneven Compromise (Self-Released)
8. Mister Lies - Hidden Neighbors (Self-Released)
7. Arca - Stretch 1 (UNO NYC)
6. TNGHT - TNGHT (Warp)
5. Blawan - His He She & She (Hinge Finger)
4. Shawn Kemp - External Files (Self-Released)
3. Roomrunner - Super Vague (Fan Death)
2. Each Other - Heavily Spaced (Self-Released)
1. Arca - Stretch 2 (UNO NYC)

50. d'Eon - Music For Keyboards, Vol. 1 (Hippos in Tanks)
49. Key Nyata - Tha Phonkilation (Self-Released)
48. Egyptian Hip Hop - Good Don't Sleep (R&S)
47. Captain Murphy - Duality (Self-Released)
46. Purity Ring - Shrines (4AD)
45. Wizard Rifle - Speak Loud Say Nothing (Seventh Rule)
44. Lovesliescrushing - Shiny Tiny Stars (Handmade Birds)
43. BNNT - _ _ (Qulturap)
42. Gaza - No Absolutes in Human Suffering (Black Market Activities)
41. Thoughts on Air - Paleo Sails (Avant Archive)
40. Loma Prieta - I.V. (Deathwish)
39. METZ - METZ (Sub Pop)
38. Crystal Palace - Spirit Quest (Rotifer)
37. King Tears Bat Trip - King Tears Bat Trip (Table & Chairs)
36. Vestals - Forever Falling Toward the Sky (Root Strata)
35. Converge - All We Love We Leave Behind (Epitaph)
34. Deerhoof - Breakup Song (Polyvinyl)
33. Spaceghostpurrp - Mysterious Phonk: The Chronicles of Spvcxghxztpvrrp (4AD)
32. Dope Body - Natural History (Drag City)
31. Isengrind - Night of Raining Fire (Blackest Rainbow)
30. Phantom Horse - Phantom Horse (Dekorder)
29. Meshuggah - Koloss (Nuclear Blast)
28. Yowie - Damning With Faint Praise (Skin Graft)
27. Field Music - Plumb (Memphis Industries)
26. Jessie Ware - Devotion (Island)

25. Teen Suicide - I Will Be My Own Hell Because There Is a Devil Inside My Body (Self-Released)
Feel free to associate Teen Suicide with faux depressed Tumblr posts and chorus-quoting status updates, but the now-defunct Maryland act have standout songwriting and versatility on their side: The piano and string touches on "Give Me Back to the Sky" feel cut straight from the same cloth as Leaves Turn Inside You, while the bedroom-keyboard pop of "Cop Graveyard" conjures nostalgia from the days of The Unicorns. Once the sentimentality inches toward sappiness, a Waka Flocka Flame-referencing snippet will bar any hindrances with cynicism.

24. Freddie Gibbs - Baby Face Killa (Self-Released)
Amid every gangsta persona with mainstream appeal, Freddie Gibbs is one of few who actually makes catchy songs as proven by his latest mixtape Baby Face Killa. Whether he's dipping his toes into cloud rap with more than successful results or just effortlessly doling out bangers, Gibbs remains himself, with a rough voice, infectious flows and a fixation on a drug-dealer lifestyle.

23. Traxman - Da Mind of Traxman (Planet Mu)
Footwork had a pretty fruitful year, with DJ Rashad and Traxman dominating most of the Chicago genre's coverage. As massive as the former's introduction to the Teklife series was, the latter seemed to take the most sampling liberties on his effort. Unlike the rigid repetitions accustomed to footwork, Traxman put it best that he brings soul to his music. This speaks for more than what he samples: his way of manipulating showcases impressive melodic chemistry and a careful ear for grooves.

22. Andy Stott - Luxury Problems (Modern Love)
Andy Stott's change in trajectory and double-EP revamp last year was distinctly cavernous, and anyone aware of those may consider his full-length followup only a minor bent to the bleak dub techno they remember. Calling solely upon his former piano teacher for vocal contribution, Stott finds a beautiful way to obscure the divide between human and mechanical timbres.

21. White Lung - Sorry (Deranged)
Expounding upon the strengths of 2010's It's the Evil, White Lung condense melody and fury into an unrelenting 20 minutes referencing both early-Kill Rock Stars attitude and Drive Like Jehu guitar convulsion, and attempting to describe Sorry any further would fail to reflect its directness.

20. Beach House - Bloom (Sub Pop)
Beach House displayed their comprehension of ethereal pop years ago, but Bloom is testament to the opinion that the Maryland duo needn't change lanes just yet. If anything, Alex Scally's guitar lines have risen to a celestial magnitude and Victoria Legrand's melodies are more tightly woven together, comprising their most cohesive album yet.

19. bvdub - Don't Say You Know (Darla)
Brock Van Wey spent his early days as bvdub soaking subtle grooves in phased-out synth pads but has since flown higher for an extensive view of empty fields and vast bodies of water. As quick as ambient techno savants are to deem bvdub generic, the heartbreaking vocal samples employed on Don't Say You Know (originally a companion to Serenity) transcend the album's picturesque mood and reach for something elusive.

18. Normal Love - Survival Tricks (ugEXPLODE / Public Eyesore)
No wave has reached a challenging apex with how Normal Love have composed their latest album. Employing a wide array of instruments, Survival Tricks is perhaps the most meticulously orchestrated barrage this year.

17. Mac DeMarco - Rock and Roll Night Club (Captured Tracks)
Mac DeMarco deviated far from the innocence and charm of his former band Makeout Videotape with his solo debut. Those who thrive off nostalgia associated with Elvis would likely be offended by the sheer sleaze DeMarco douses the persona in. That has an appeal in and of itself, though, and paired with the fluidity provided by a radio station motif makes Rock and Roll Night Club brim with personality.

16. The Walkmen - Heaven (Fat Possum)
Achieving 'Laziest Album of the Year' status, the Walkmen pen some of their best-written melodies to the simplest instrumentals, allowing Heaven to illustrate their age, languor and ability to tap into nostalgia.

15. bvdub - Serenity (Darla)
Serenity and Don't Say You Know are a perfect pair, because they're almost identical albums, each exceeding an hour in length, bearing 6 tracks that develop a foundation of swirling, diaphanous vocal cuts before a sharp groove ruptures the nebulous world created. Serenity surpasses my perception of its appendage with one track: "Love" is arranged almost exactly like everything else, but the opaque melodies passing through one another, meditative piano chords, twitchy keyboard line and gentle hi-hat rhythm in place of a throbbing beat are all constituents of one of the year's most captivating tracks.

14. James Ferraro - Sushi (Hippos in Tanks)
Ever since the Skaters' fizzling-out, each consecutive James Ferraro release has raised the bar in his efforts to be postmodern and technologically satirical-- I mean, look at that font. Sushi falls in line with Ferraro's embrace of all things uncomfortably digital, but the execution is far more commendable than what was accomplished on last year's iPad-centric Far Side Virtual. Voices, pops and work-appropriate synths are manipulated to stuttering microhouse and vaportrap proportions that may either evoke wonder or disgust depending on your taste or lack thereof.

13. Grizzly Bear - Shields (Warp)
New York indie rock darlings Grizzly Bear elaborate upon the dusty baroque pop leanings of 2009's Veckatimest with what are essentially better songs with more notable sonic flair: "Sleeping Ute" sports an impenetrable guitar hook and a cinematic decline in volume toward its close, and "Gun-Shy" manifests a new, harmonically complex zenith for the band. Shields feels like something that has been around for ages but has just been uncovered.

12. Melody's Echo Chamber - Melody's Echo Chamber (Fat Possum)
Melody Prochet's fixation on the vintage tone of Tame Impala records definitely informs the warmth of her debut album, but I'd be hard-pressed to claim that her songwriting doesn't play just as large a role. Based on plaintive arpeggios and gossamer vocals, numbers like "I Follow You" and "Bisou Magique" are bolstered by marshy bass frequencies and distortion thanks to Kevin Parker's production, and the perfect balance of sweet and sour lies solely within the composition of harder-edged songs such as "Some Time Alone, Alone" and "Quand Vas Tu Rentrer?" The vibrant personality typically achieved by well-aged projects has been captured by Prochet on her first outing, which is remarkable to say the least.

11. Chairlift - Something (Columbia / Young Turks)
Something is this year's synth pop monolith, as crowded as the competition was. Like its title ceases to illustrate, its appeal is almost intangible. Tracing it is pointless, but getting lost in the starry-eyed keys on "Wrong Opinion" and the nimble pulse of "Amanaemonesia" isn't.

10. Micachu and the Shapes - Never (Rough Trade)
Mica Levi's voice and subject matter may have an air of boredom, but Micachu and the Shapes' eccentric instrumentals will liven the landscape as long as their untraceable timbres are clamoring away. It's idiosyncrasy that feels inherent to Levi rather than like an outcry. Perhaps more liberal with experiments than its predecessor, Never is a catchy, ideal exploitation of day-to-day drabness, voiced with endearing singalongs and dense noises waiting to burst at the seams.

9. Mac DeMarco - 2 (Captured Tracks)
The charming crooner you heard when tuning into 106.2 Breeze FM on Rock and Roll Night Club dominates Mac DeMarco's quickly delivered followup and carries some of his best songs thus far. Whether detailing a story about his father cooking meth or penning a cute serenade, DeMarco sings it with unshakable ease and tunefulness.

8. En - Already Gone (Students of Decay)
West Coast duo En's otherworldly textures surpass those of their 2010's The Absent Coast on their sophomore effort. Maxwell August Croy and James Devane have proven themselves to be a stellar pair on Already Gone, with whistling guitars quivering in harmony and plucked koto strings complementing them with tactility. Studied yet naturally composed, En flawlessly trek through calm and dusky habitats.

7. YYU - TIMETIMETIME&TIME (Beer on the Rug)
As you probably know, vaporwave and Beer on the Rug have had a hell of a year having been graced with massive critical reception, and it's possible that the nascent genre has already met its demise. A total anomaly in the catalog, TIMETIMETIME&TIME was quietly slipped into the Beer on the Rug catalog deserving just as much attention as the many Vektroid monikers dispensed throughout the year. Fractured folk and irregular plunderphonics cross paths and create a gorgeous hybrid almost totally isolated from our current musical climate.

6. Lil Ugly Mane - Mista Thug Isolation (Self-Released)
Raider Klan's recent strain of Memphis revivalism has been pretty faithful, and Mista Thug Isolation should seem like a treasure-trove to anyone bumping early Three-6 Mafia or Frayser Click. (Notice the similarity in flow between Denzel Curry on "Twistin" and Lord Infamous on "Now I'm High, Really High".) Even so, Lil Ugly Mane's serious crate-digging prowess distinguishes him from all of BRK, with lush horns, off-kilter piano phrases and chopped-and-screwed samples pervading the album. Barring the immaculately smoked-out production, Ugly Mane's verses never cease to amaze, from "I'm getting neck from this dime ho, booty like a rhino / What's her name? ...Hell if I know" to "Lungs fulla smoke and a bag fulla guts / Not the innards of a dutch, just a bag fulla guts". Considering the excellence shared by Mista Thug Isolation, the EPs Uneven Compromise, Supasonic with Supa Sortahuman as well as the Shawn Kemp instrumentals, it feels like Ugly Mane will continue to kill it for years to come.

5. Bersarin Quartett - II (Denovali)
Thomas Bücker has achieved an absolutely massive sound with his second full-length under the Bersarin Quartett moniker. Using weeping strings, twinkling refrains, and fluid IDM percussion as a guide, II expands from microscopic to cosmic crescendos in every track, more cinematic and moving than an IMAX visit.

4. Weird Dreams - Choreography (Tough Love)
Even when Weird Dreams are flaunting menacing song titles like "666.66" or "River of the Damned", their debut album still rings loudly as a cute, affable pop album that never dwindles in the melody department. It may be an overwhelming 45 minutes, for every saccharine verse rises to an ecstatic, syrupy chorus. Choreography doesn't really say anything, but it does sing it pretty well.

3. Death Grips - The Money Store (Epic)
Epic had a swell year, with at least one of its big three (The Idler Wheel, Pluto, The Money Store) topping someone's list. Future's auto-tuned croaks do sound pretty weird stumbling over those bloopy, arpeggiated trap beats, but The Money Store is easily the top contender for "Most Peculiar Major Label Decision Made" this year. With more convoluted production and a hungrier MC Ride, Death Grips have surpassed their excellent debut in every respect.

2. Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city (Interscope / Aftermath / Top Dawg)
Kendrick Lamar is clearly saving lyrical significance these days, with his self-proclaimed debut good kid, m.A.A.d city exploring young love, peer pressure, violence, martyrs and misconceptions of reputability among a plethora of subjects that overstep its Compton setting. As great as the story is, these are just beautiful songs. The hook on "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe" is rife with drama and the passion he seeks from seclusion, the instrumental of "Sing About Me" conjures images of paintings that would grace Miles Davis albums and hang from small-scale café walls, and the Janet Jackson sample laced into "Poetic Justice" embellishes an otherwise austere beat with small splashes of color. Studying good kid, m.A.A.d city's narrative is one thing; appreciating the music itself is another.

1. Laurel Halo - Quarantine (Hyperdub)
To me, truly touching music should trigger a nostalgic nerve, and I feel as though I've been listening to Quarantine for years without even remotely understanding it yet. It could just be that it reminds me of certain things (maybe Elizabeth Fraser, early Björk) but it doesn't quite sound like anything else. What Quarantine should be considered is an archetypal ambient pop record: at her voice's most euphoric passages ("Airsick", "Thaw", "Light + Space"), Laurel Halo organizes her melodies into verses and choruses over a nearly formless backdrop, with no convolution and drawing attention solely to the abstruse beauty of her songwriting and the frail tones discreetly placed throughout.

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