Friday, July 6, 2012

Steve's 2012 First Half Favorites

Hello! I'm writing about music again! How exciting. My ten favorite albums of the year are below. I make a point to call them favorites instead of "best albums" because if I had more time I'd be listening to more albums I haven't had a chance to hear and they might just crack this list. When I like something I typically listen to it way too much, so that leaves less time for other music. With that said, here's a list of ten with artwork and a Spotify track from each. At the very end is a playlist with all the songs below and one more song from each album. Enjoy!

10. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...

A 23-word album title! My Lord. But doooooooooooooooooooon't let me. Ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuin me. Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii maaaaaaaaaaay neeeeeed a chaperone. I am getting the album title a chaperone immediately because it can't be trusted. I am also getting Ms. Apple herself a chaperone because she's going around wearing squids on her head. Reckless woman. This album is unique as tacos on Jupiter and I really enjoy it. I have limited knowledge of what old Fiona Apple is like because I was busy listening to Korn and Limp Bizkit back then. Criminal is essentially all I remember from her. Point is, I'm not a regular Fiona listener but my Internet buddy @spencerkent directed me to this and I couldn't be happier. It's obviously easy for her to let the ideas flow and she's not adhering to any formulas. She uses a piano in a way most people don't. My wife caught me listening and said I must be getting in touch with my depressed feminine side. Take that as you will (not necessarily arguing). All in all, it's a good combination of uncomfortable and beautiful and you should give it a listen.

9. The Mars Volta - Noctourniquet

One day I think The Mars Volta is one of the best bands in the world and the next day I hardly care. OK that was an exaggeration, I always care about them, but when this album came out I wasn't foaming at the mouth to hear it immediately. That's really weird because Octahedron (their last album) is my favorite of theirs. Sometimes music is a lot about timing and I was just obsessed with other things when this came out. When I finally got around to listening to it I thought it was "pretty decent." That's good enough for number nine on this list.

8. Metric - Synthetica

It's no Fantasies, but it's quite good. I thought it was interesting that the band admitted they wrote music for Synthetica for fans, not themselves. This concept comes up towards the end of this lengthy interview. I think there's a difference between an artist being self-indulgent - which they were worried about so they revisited a previously finished product and changed it - and wanting to make music for yourself and if people like it, so be it. There's no wrong way, but I know plenty of bands that think the opposite. Anyway, the first three songs on this album are my favorites but the rest continue to grow on me. It's a great accessible pop-rock record, Emily Haines is a Goddess, etc.

7. A Place To Bury Strangers - Worship

Completely in love with this band's gritty, noisy onslaught of sound. It's full of character and strangely accessible. I should just dig up a review I've done for one of their previous albums and paste it here. If any band has no hearing left it's these guys. It's on par with their two other releases.

6. HEALTH - Max Payne 3 Soundtrack

This is a very, very good soundtrack. HEALTH is a band I've long loved but TEARS (SO MUCH SHOUTING!) may be the best song they've ever made. Because it's meant to be a soundtrack, it's no surprise it's much calmer than typical HEALTH (AH!), which is anything but. They've reeled it in and taking on a soundtrack is perfect for them. There are plenty of elements from their insanity here but they're toned down and weaved into the themes perfectly. Anyone who has listened to HEALTH (GAH!) before should be able to identify this as them. If you sit through one song you've never heard before out of these ten, try TEARS (THERE I GO SHOUTING AGAIN!).

5. Sleigh Bells - Reign of Terror

I didn't think I liked this record all that much at first, but it grew on me over time. I think I was kind of growing weary of their sound when I realized the songs are just plain good. In all likelihood I was rebelling against the hipster factor. These songs are more in control than those on Treats and there's more variety. Refined would probably be a good word to describe their sound compared to the first record.

4. Death Grips - The Money Store

Possibly the craziest shit I've ever heard. I don't say that lightly... I have honestly never heard anything like this before. It will kill your brain. The sound is whopping. The rhyming is aggressive. Death Grips does not give any fucks whatsoever. The reverb knob is turned UP. Lots of grimey electronic elements, plenty of unusual programming, and random-ass rapping make it a serious joy to listen to at full volume. They also like to put marijuana and money in washing machines.

3. El-P - Cancer 4 Cure

By far my most anticipated album of the year on this list, and it didn't disappoint. 2007's I'll Sleep When You're Dead is probably my favorite hip-hop album ever. El-P's production work is always the attraction but his lyrics are what stick with you. Somehow, as spectacular as this album is, it's not my favorite work of his in 2012. More on that at #1, but first...

2. Carina Round - Tigermending

Well, this album used to be on Spotify but was recently pulled. Maybe she grew tired of making no money. I wanted consistent cover art throughout this post so I embedded it from Spotify anway. Heck, maybe it'll be back by the time you read this. Like many others, I first discovered Carina through her work with Puscifer. Beautiful voice, obvious musical chops, and incredibly engaging (and attractive) stage presence gave me plenty of reasons to explore her previous work. Loving that had me looking forward to Tigermending. With a wide range of people in mind, if I had to bet that you'd like one album you hadn't heard before from this list, it'd be this one. Sorry, Metric.

1. Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music

I'm admittedly enjoying rap as much as I ever have before. Pundits give the genre a lot of shit but there is - and always has been - gold outside of the mainstream (this is true of any genre if you feel it sucks). The fella who had the number three album on this list was in charge of the music on this one and DAMN, El-P delivered. Truly amazing from beginning to end. No clue who Killer Mike was before this album but now I'll never forget. Give Reagan a listen.


  1. Terrific post. As usual, you've sparked my interest to explore some new (to me) artists. The albums by Fiona, Sleigh Bells and Metric are the only ones on your list that I've listened to this year. But I have heard selections from the El-P and Death Zgips offerings. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Sure! I recommend checking out Carina Round's album before anything else - I bet you'll like it.

  2. That El-P is hot, good call. I neglected that Killer Mike, which got a lot of spins from me when it was released too. And yes, Death Grips is completely insane. I want to like it so much, just can't quite get there yet.

    I've been playing Fiona non-stop for weeks now. ;)