A few days ago I posted the first 20 in my Top 40 Albums of 2012 (check it out here). The first half of the list is always easier to compile than the final 20. With this, the top half of the list, I find myself swapping albums from one spot to the next, trying to refine my list to the perfect order. Of course, this “perfect order” is never truly found. On one day I’d much rather listen to my number 17 than my number 5 and vice versa. I can promise you, all of these albums are fantastic. In order to come up with a definitive order, I took into account the overall significance of an album, not just which has the best collection of songs, but which is the perfect album – the themes, the order of the songs, the cultural significance. Within those parameters, I had no doubt what would be the number one album of 2012. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Hype is an important factor for any musician’s start in the business, but out of all the genres, it is most important in the world of hip-hop. Hype made artists like 50 Cent, Drake, and Nicki Minaj household names before they’d even released their first record. In the world of rap music, hype is king, whether it be legendary hype-men like Flavor Flav and P Diddy, or the multitude of hip-hop outlets that rely heavily on the idea of “hype” (Hoodhype.com, H.Y.P.E. Magazine, Hypemixtapes.com). In recent years, a major factor in the growth of an artists hype results from the online, mix tape movement, an avenue for budding artists to get their sound out there.
One of the artists to get his start through the mix tape avenue is Kendrick Lamar and his Black Hippy crew. After several mix tapes, he released “Section.80,” a promising album for a young rapper. From there, the hype began to grow (out of proportion). After doing a concert with Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and The Game, the trio called him “The King of the New West Coast.” Dre took it a step further, signing Lamar to his Aftermath label. Before his first release on the label even came out, Dre and him could be found mean-mugging on the cover of XXL Magazine, and inside, the XXL touted his latest album as “the biggest debut since Illmatic.” Even Nas himself said that Lamar was the future of hip-hop. Before anyone had even heard the album, Vibe Magazine ran a story on why his new album would change California rap forever. All of this had gone down before anyone had even heard the album!
I didn’t have time to write a formal blog this week (my excuse: four Spurs games in five days), so I thought I’d post a video I took during my week at SXSW in Austin, Texas. I only took two videos (check out the insanity of the Supreme Dicks here), and I was fortunate enough to capture a song during Dope Body’s set at The Whiskey Bar. Although the audience left much to be desired in the form of energy, the band made up for it with spastic-bombast that demanded your attention. I took a spot next to the stage and became quickly mezmerized by guitarist Zach Utz’s pedal work, tweaking and fiddling with his pedals throughout the show. Now I just need to see them in an audience of real fans (and less pretension).
As I watched Adele accept her Grammy for “Album of the Year,” I had a moment of surprise (the first shocker after three hours of predictable performances, winners, and speeches). There, behind the teary eyed songstress, stood a be-speckled gentlemen with a goofy smile on his face. Something about the guy felt strangely familiar…and then it hit me. Dan Wilson! (Or as you may know him, the lead singer from the 90s alterna-pop band Semisonic.) I’ve been a fan of the band since I was 17, back then jamming out to “The Great Divide” on what seemed like a daily basis. The instant I saw him, I knew exactly why he was there – he must have written music for Adele.
Just like every other year end list I’ve done for 2010, I decided to up the anty with my top tracks list by taking it from 50 to 100 songs. I know…I know…it may seem like a bit much. I can explain. Every year I compile my best songs list while making the 18 hour, cross-country drive to my parent’s house for the holidays. As I drive, I explore my i-Pod for the year’s stand-out songs and jot down titles into a notebook when I feel one is worthy of the list (not the safest driving method, I understand). By trip’s end this year, my list totaled 114. I had a lot of fat to trim, and as I reached the 100 mark, it became more and more difficult to cut great song after great song. As a result, I’ve doubled my workload, but I don’t mind. These tracks have meant a lot to me this past year – the least I can do is give them the recognition they deserve.
PS I Love You
What better way to start a 2010 list than with a song titled “2012”? Okay, it doesn’t make much sense, but I couldn’t help but squeeze this song on as the caboose to the list.
99. “Who Fingered Rock n’ Roll”
Back in the mid-90s Cornershop scored a hit with “Brimful of Asha”, a groovy track saturated with sitar and lyrics about using bosoms as pillows. Unbeknownst to me, Cornershop survived the 90s and are still kicking out strange middle-eastern versions of the theme to “Wonder Years”. And they do ask a great question: who did finger rock n’ roll? My bets on Richard Marx.
Its nice to see Damien still thriving in the music world. His 2010 “Saint Bartlett” shows him taking his sound back to the sparse environs of “Ghost of David”, but the stand out song of the album, “Arkansas”, is probably the most produced. In the tradition of love songs to states, Jurado focuses his break-up with Arkansas. It doesn’t necessarily have the double meaning found in a “Georgia On My Mind”, but then again, I did once date a girl named Rhode Island.
97. “I Don’t Believe You”
“I Don’t Believe You” is one of the only songs on The Thermals 2010 release “Personal Life” that features distorted power chords and – SHOCKER – it’s the best song on the album. A lesson in not straying from what works.
96. “Thank You For Your Love”
Antony and the Johnsons
A few months ago a fellow BDWPS contributer, PtheStudP, asked me if I’d purchased the new Antony and the Johnsons. I replied by saying, “Nah, I think I’m kinda done with Antony and his voice.” He of course berated me and called me a fool. His verbal beating forced me to give The Johnsons one more chance, and I was quickly humbled by my disrespect. Antony and the Johnsons – I want to thank you for your music.
95. “Racer X”
The Japandroids covering the Big Black song “Racer X”? YES PLEASE!
94. “What To Say”
2010 was a rough year for Born Ruffians with their disappointing release “Say It”. Amidst the sloppy collection of songs, “What To Say” is a stand-out due to its memorable melody and its discussion of the age old inability to talk to women. Is it sad that a 32 year old man still relates to this teenage dilemma?
93. “Ain’t No Grave”
Would it be wrong of me to accuse Rick Ruben of manipulating Johnny Cash near the end of his life? I understand that Ruben’s production helped give Cash a rebirth in the music world, but now that Cash has died, more and more music keeps coming out from their sessions together, and it seems lik 90% of the tunes are about dying. I’m just saying… Despite the discomfort associated with listening to the ghost of Johnny sing on the 2010 release “American Recordings VI”, I can’t deny what an excellent song “Ain’t No Grave” turned out to be with its layers of dragging chains, spooky organs, and creaking piano keys. “Ain’t No Grave” is more evidence that Rick Ruben, manipulator or not, can make a good song great.
92. “38 Souls”
Although I loved the music of 2010, I have to admit that the year was truly defined for me by Pavement. I spent most of my life scoffing at the suggestion of Pavement, but this year I opened up to the possibility that they may actually be good, and damn it, they were! As a result, I spent a large portion of the year searching for the modern equivalent of Pavement. I thought Bottomless Pit could fill that void, but I found that they are influenced by more than just Pavement. For example, on “38 Souls”, a song about capturing souls, the band is able to conjure the ghosts of the 90s, channeling the sounds of Jawbox, Sebadoh, and even Dinosaur Jr. Now if they could just capture the soul of Stephen Malkmus.
91. “One Polaroid a Day”
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
This song stood out to me simply because it shows Ted Leo trying something new. Instead of his usual falsetto rantings, this is a slow groove with Leo exploring his lower register. He’s no Isaac Hayes, but the change of pace was welcomed in 2010.
Doesn’t Beck sound happy on this song? That’s the sound of a man escaping the clutches of Danger Mouse. Rejoice!
89. “Be Yourself”
I’ve always thought that Fleet Foxes sound a lot like CSNY, so it’s probably fitting that the best song on the tribute album to Graham Nash be by Robin Pecknold.
88. “Jail La La”
Dum Dum Girls
Only the Dum Dum Girls could make being “covered in shit” sound adorable.
87. “In Every Direction”
If I were to make a year end list for video games (which I have no right attempting), I would put “Red Dead Redemption” at the top due to its never ending landscape that I wasted hours of my life exploring. My favorite part of the game’s storyline though is when you first enter into Mexico – the game shifts from its annoying harmonica music to an actual soundtrack of Jose Gonzalez’s “Far Away”. A month after passing the game, I purchased Junip’s 2010 release “Fields”, and everytime I listened to it, Jose’s voice would bring back the image of John Marston entering Mexico where there is nothing but desolation “in every direction”.
86. “General Patton”
When your nickname is General Patton, you better have a song that lives up to Patton’s legacy, and Big Boi steps up to the challenge with this song, an operetic-orchestral chaos that is more fit for Darth Vader than Patton. It’s possibly the only song that will have you nodding your head to the chants of a concert choir.
85. “Heartbeat Song”
When I posted my list of the “Best Summer Albums of 2010”, my friend Tim emailed me, pointing out that I once made fun of him for liking The Futureheads. I was forced to admit defeat writing, “Yeah, that’s because I’m a pretentious douche”. Not even a pretentious douche can deny the melody of “Heartbeat Song”.
84. “Angry World”
Neil Young was a bit misleading with he called his new album “Le Noise” a folk metal album. Lyrics about the plight of polar bears and bison aren’t necessarily the most metal of subject matter. If only the album had more songs like “Angry World”, matching the wave of distortion with lyrics that delve into the darker side of the human psyche. I’d like to believe “Angry World” presents what it may have sounded like if Neil had joined Black Sabbath when Ozzy left.
83. “Roman Candles”
I present to you the Seven Dwarves of indie rock! “Roman Candles” is a reminder that whistling was fun before Andrew Bird came along.
82. “July Flame”
Most depressing 4th of July song ever.
I don’t necessarily love this song. It’s more of an addiction to the disorientation felt while listening to the sickly guitars. Not even Robitussin can save you from the nausea of “Norway”.
Yeasayer’s “Odd Blood” pissed me off. When did they become a dance band? Unfortunately, “ONE” made it very difficult to hate them for long. I would be lying if I said I’ve never danced to this song while cooking pork chops with a plum-ginger sauce. I’m straight, I SWEAR.
79. “Early Warnings”
Love is All
What if John Lennon woke up and didn’t fall out of bed, rather knocked his head on a bookshelf? What if instead of dragging a comb across his hair he almost choked on his toothbrush? Yes my friends, we’ve discovered the anti-thesis to The Beatles “A Day in the Life”.
The actual city of Odessa, Texas is not nearly as fun as this song would suggest.
77. “Kids On the Run”
Tallest Man on Earth
With “Kids On the Run”, Kristian Matsson ditches his acoustic guitar for a piano, and surprisingly it’s the best song on the album. It could be due in part to the poignant lyrics that reveal a story of two scorned lovers, still running away from their past like children. Basically, it’s “Born To Run” except in this version Wendy is trying to escape Bruce and his velvet rims.
76. “Fuck You”
Cee Lo Green
Yesterday I was riding in the car with my mom when this song came on the radio. Even though I’m a grown man, I still felt uncomfortable as the chorus arrived, knowing the YouTube sensation lyrics of “Fuck You!” were just ahead. Then, just when it arrived, the lyrics “Forget you!” came out the speakers as my mom sang along. I took comfort in knowing my mom was oblivious to the actual lyrics, and it made me realize this song is great, with or without the cursing (although I’ll take the cursing version if I must choose).