Grafton’s “Top 12 Albums of 2012”

As the year begins to wind down and we look ahead on the work we have for 2013, all of us at TheBlueIndian.com want to extend our sincere thanks to each of you who have supported us in what marks our fourth year as “Georgia’s Indie Music Hub.” Some of us are newer than others, and we’ve expanded to not only have a close focus on music in Georgia, but to also expose our readers across the globe to the incredible music scenes throughout the Southeast. This site exists because we love what we do, and while our families, work, and personal lives limit us in certain ways, each of us are grateful for your attention. We asked each of our staff to compile a list of their personal favorite releases from 2012 for our year-end features. Since each of us have different preferences, we felt individual lists would be the best way to give maximum exposure to the bands we’ve grown to love. We hope you’ll take the time to listen to these artists and appreciate you feedback. Happy New Year! – TheBlueIndian.com

Grafton Tanner‘s “Top 12 Albums of 2012”

12. Father John Misty – Fear Fun

Ex-Fleet Fox J. Tillman loaded up on hallucinogens, hopped in a van, and drove down the West Coast, writing a novel and finding his true authorial voice along the way. I don’t know what happened during that excursion, but Tillman’s musical palette expanded tremendously as did his penchant for self-deprecating humor. His debut as Father John Misty is more black comedy than his previous solo efforts and demonstrates his unbridled fervor when let loose from behind the drum kit. Part old country, part Paul McCartney “granny music,”Fear Fun is all about the sexiest and most hallucinatory times had when you’re at your lowest point.

Standouts: “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings,” “Nancy From Now On,” “O I Long To Feel Your Arms Around Me”

11. Pallbearer – Sorrow and Extinction

It seems that Pallbearer have struck gold. They have crafted an album that seems to defy every metal stigma while remaining faithful to the aspects that define the genre without treading the same ground ad nauseum.  The Little Rock doom quartet has been compared to metal forefathers such as Black Sabbath, and their debut, Sorrow and Extinction, evokes the low-frequency pummeling and vintage riffage of early Sabbath. But keep in mind, nothing feels dated. I keep coming back to Liturgy when listening to Pallbearer, and though the doom outfit does not specialize in white metal, they stretch their sound to the same unfathomable heights of emotion and release using instead classic guitar solos and mid-70s vocals. It’s a chills-inducing listen from top to bottom by a band that will undoubtedly continue to climb.

Standouts: “Foreigner,” “An Offering Of Grief”

10. Todd Terje – It’s the Arps

If you’ve ever seen Star Wars, then you’ve heard the ARP 2600 modular synthesizer at its most cheesy and novel. That’s because sound designers for the sci-fi epic picked the synth to create the bleeps sputtered by R2-D2 in the film. Years later, a proper homage has emerged by synth phenom Todd Terje, who deftly turns such novel aspects of this iconic synth on its head with his EP Its the Arps. What is most striking about the EP is Terje’s execution and mastery of the analog synth to create warm retro-house music. It is a proper ode to the ARP 2600 and its capability to produce alien blips and bouncy, space-age arpeggios. My only complaint is its brevity, but even within these four songs, Terje is able to pack enough arps and disco beats to keep you moving for a long time.

Standouts: “Inspector Norse,” “Swing Star, Pt. 1 & 2”

9. Killer Mike – R.A.P Music

Nine years and six albums into the game, Killer Mike honored us with a reminder of why we listen to rap in the first place – and what role it ultimately serves. It also slapped us silly into realizing the power Mike has as an MC and revitalized our belief that rap music is the premier medium for expressing truth. With El-P on the beats, Killer Mike crafted R.A.P. Music, a celebration of a genre that saves lives and streets through the power of the mic. But Mike has other things on his mind than just the purity of hip-hop. The stunning “Reagan” showcases Mike at his most ferocious as he singlehandedly gives the scoop on the evils of Reaganomics, the War on Drugs, large-scale privatization, and Qaddafi. Mike’s lyrics are unabashedly forward, and that sheer power goes hand in hand with the politics of rap.

Standouts: “Untitled,” “Reagan,” “R.A.P. Music”

8. Vijay Iyer Trio – Accelerando

Although it is the album most rooted in the jazz aesthetic on this list, Accelerando gives nods to Miles and Mingus while including covers of such non-jazz artists as Flying Lotus and Michael Jackson. The inimitable Iyer is the mastermind here, and his command of the piano enables him to produce the kind of finger-stretching chords that would make Rachmaninoff proud. His prior work with artists like Das Racist, DJ Spooky, and Matana Roberts makes him the quintessential musician’s musician, yet with his rhythm section comprising the Trio, Iyer is able to arrange jazz pieces with the basic elements that sound fresh among those jazz groups rigging up Ableton Live alongside an upright.

Standouts: “Human Nature (Trio Extension),” “Mmmhmm,” “Little Pocket Size Demons”

7. El-P – Cancer 4 Cure

As a producer, El-P is one-of-a-kind. He specializes in futuristic beats that are instantly recognizable, and his production on Killer Mike’s modern rap classic R.A.P. Music perfectly complements Mike’s artistic prowess.  El-P’s latest release, Cancer 4 Cure, pairs those jaw-shattering beats with all the style of a future-shocked artist attempting to piece together what he’s seen and where he’s been in Brooklyn…and the rest of the world.  With guest appearances by Danny Brown, Mr. MFN eXquire, and even Interpol’s Paul Banks, Cancer 4 Cure is a seamless near-end anthem celebrating the rapidly expanding and shrinking world in which we live.

Standouts: “Works Every Time,” “Drones Over Bklyn,” “Oh Hail No”

6. Big Boi – Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors

The first time we hear Big Boi on Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, he gives us a fair warning: “If y’all don’t know me by now, y’all ain’t gon’ never know me.” Cast everything aside about Outkast and Dre because what matters now is that Big Boi continues to push rap into unfamiliar territory. The follow-up to 2010’s Sir Lucious Left Foot has divided listeners and rightfully so. Big Boi throws everything into the pot, and the result is a sprawling mess of indietronica and maximal funk. Appearances are as varied as the song styles and range from Phantogram to Ludacris to Wavves. The tracks sound schizophrenic and harried, yet they illustrate Big Boi’s voracious appetite for all genres of music, both on the periphery in the mainstream. He’s got quite the curatorial ear for making rap that’s constantly changing, and that ferocity for innovation in my book is always welcome.

Standouts: “Mama Told Me,” “Lines,” “Shoes For Running”

5. Portico Quartet – S/T

You know the story well. Smart, edgy project decides to go electronic on their third album, eschewing the conventionalities of drums, bass, and guitar. Some projects pull it off; others don’t. The reason Portico Quartet succeeds is that their foray into the world of MIDI fully realizes their sound. It’s as if their entire career has been building to this apex: the self-titled Portico Quartet. The album melds Reich, Flying Lotus, Clogs, and Talk Talk to produce something that sounds as much like Oneohtrix Point Never as it does like side two of Bowie’s Low. Terming it “jazz” would weaken its universality, and that makes the album timeless. There are saxophones and violins, phasing synths and hang drums but nothing that references a particular time or scene. Self-titling their third album is apt and makes Portico’s Quartet shift all the more telling. It is truly the matured, singular sound of this fearless group.

Standouts: “Rubidium,” “Lacker Boo,” “Window Seat”

4. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city

When a friend spouted to me that rap perpetuates the glorification of violence, I immediately thought of good kid, m.A.A.d city, an intimate, voyeuristic look into the darkest moments of Kendrick’s life growing up in Compton. The album, or short film as Kendrick calls it, details his relationships with gangs, women, and his family as he battle raps for the first time and watches his loved ones around him turn to drink and drugs. Like Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGEgood kid’s honest portrayal of complex and personal subject matter separates it so tremendously from other rap albums that it feels instantly like a classic upon first listen.  Kendrick’s simultaneous mourning of Compton’s streets and his devotion to the city as his place of maturation combined with G-funk era beats make good kid, m.A.A.d city the rap album of the year.

Standouts: “Backseat Freestyle,” “Swimming Pools (Drank),” “Compton”

3. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory

Long live Steve Albini. Whatever he did to Dylan Baldi and his band pissed them off enough to write this aggressive noise punk follow-up to their waif of a debut. Slackerism in punk is nothing new, but the anxiety, sloth, and disillusionment that pervade these eight tracks feel entirely of-the-moment. Even the album’s title literally evokes a hefty middle finger to the recent obsession with memory and nostalgia in music, even when that kind of nostalgia figures prominently into the band’s 90s throwback sound. Regardless of the referent, Attack on Memory is punk born from the hopelessness that comes with a devastating job market, an economic recession, and a disgust with guitar music that plays by the rules (I’m looking at you, Real Estate) all in 2012. It’s a call to start everything new, break it all down, and rebuild it with the rawness of guitars – and the purity of noise.

Standouts: “Wasted Days,” “No Sentiment,” “No Future/No Past”

2. Death Grips – The Money Store

Throughout the bulk of 2012, Death Grips functioned as an exercise in how music business can operate on both the smallest and largest scales. Within the indiesphere, Death Grips staked a massive claim with a relatively spare musical formula: ferocious beats, migraine-inducing electronics, and the most honest sizing-up of the Internet Age heard in music so far. Yet, Death Grips superseded the “underground” by aligning with major label Epic for their debut full-length The Money Store. The stories of Stefan Burnett and Zach Hill sitting in a boardroom with LA Reid and Co. are almost too good to be true. It seemed that, for a moment, maybe labels were wising up and opening their eyes to what was really going in music. Then came the campaign against said label spearheaded by none other than Death Grips themselves. If you had a pulse this year, you undoubtedly saw the most famous selfie of 2012 that graced the cover of their follow-up No Love Deep Web, the label’s deal breaker. But before the deep web ARG and before the vicious emails and before you opened your iPod to see a giant penis adorning the screen while you listened to “Artificial Death in the West,” there was The Money Store – a frightening hodge-podge of banging post-rap with the kind of hooks that knock down buildings. And if you were lucky enough to see them perform “Hacker” live with Zach Hill thrashing his drums and Burnett screaming, “YOU’RE THE INTERN OF WIKILEAKS,” then you will agree that Death Grips is the most adventurous spirit in music to come along in many years.

Standouts: “The Fever (Aye Aye),” “Blackjack,” “Hacker”

1. Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE

So many questions are raised throughout channel ORANGE that it can be quite a disorienting listen from beginning to end. Filling in the gaps between songs are scenes cobbled together by sound that, when I listen with my eyes closed, transport me to whatever hazy place Frank is recalling. Some tracks end abruptly with his words hanging in the silence immediate, and a brief moment is given to reflect before the album jolts the listener to yet another scene, another location, perhaps imagined or real. Frank Ocean is gifted with a voice that can effortlessly evoke panic, anxiety, and a form of sorrow that is too fractured to be given away completely. Only after many listens was I able to discern the horror present in his voice when he sings, “My God, she’s giving me pleasure” on “Pink Matter.” He sounds both numb and oddly at peace while pushing through such telling lyrics, but any kind of guard he has up, whether perceived or actual, is shattered during “Bad Religion”’s most vulnerable moment. It can be quite difficult to separate an artist’s music from the peripheral actions that surround it (marketing campaigns, release strategies, public behavior), yet everything that defines Frank Ocean defines his music. His decision not to sell the album at Target, his onstage demeanor, and his Tumblr letter all engage in discourse with his presence on channel ORANGE, and such honesty and passion elevated him to the very top in 2012.

Standouts: “Pyramids,” “Pink Matter,” “Bad Religion”

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