Friday, January 18, 2013

The Top 50 albums of 2012: 30-21


30) Strip Steve- Micro Mega
Micro Mega
Here is another great Ed Banger Records release.  Strip Steve’s Micro Mega is a great mix of French house and Electro-house.  While this album went relatively unnoticed compared to Banger’s Boys Noize album released this year, I felt Micro Mega was by far superior.

If you are a fan of Justice/ Daft Punk/ SebAstian/Vitalic, and want more of that style Electro-house, this album will match up just fine.  While it by no means changes the genre, Micro Mega does, at times, really pull out all the stops in fully capturing this sound.  The Song ‘Skate Control’ is a perfect example of this genre, and showcases it perfectly.  The song starts out in utter chaos, with crazy electronics which could never fit together, than, once the drums kick in it suddenly makes sense.

At times this album also reminds me of Juan Maclean.  ‘Astral Projection’ sounds like it would fit perfectly on some of Juan’s albums, not to mention his DJ Kicks release.  It is in songs like ‘Astral Projection’ that Strip Steve shows he can do more than just electro-house.  While I have never been a huge fan of French house, Strip Steve does it well.

Overall, this was a great album which caught me offguard.  I look forward to hearing Strip Steve’s next album, and plan on backtracking through his previous works as well.

29) Black Pus- Pus Mortem

Pus Mortem
While Lightning Bolt did not give us a full album this year (only Oblivion Hunter EP), its drummer, Brian Chippendale did release a great album under his solo alias, Black Pus.  Released on bandcamp as a pay-what-you-want release, Pus Mortem was a nice surprise.

To me, Black Pus has always seemed like a more accessible version of Lightning Bolt.  The drumming is slower overall; the vocals, while still muddied, work to create better melodies; and the songwriting in general feels more refined.

What is really impressive about Black Pus is the live videos.  Watching these videos, you can see that the songs on Pus Mortem are not a creation of a studio full of producers, but the recordings of songs being performed by an extremely talented man.

One of my favorite aspects of this album are the techniques used to fill in sound.  Always is a rhythmic sample of a single bass note.  The addition of such a single repetition creates a much more dynamic landscape.  On top of this, while this album does not use vocals in a traditional sense, the vocal ranges that are created throughout is quite astounding.  Songs like ‘Play God’ show the amount of effects being ran on the vocals and showcase Black Pus’ ability to act as a vocal synthesizer.

28) Black Dice- Mr. Impossible

Mr Impossible
Many of the reasons most people disliked this Black Dice release I thought were strengths.  People criticized that it had too much rhythm and song structure.  People protested the pop sound found on the newest album.  I found these changes in the Black Dice’s sound to be an acceptable consequence resulting from the growth of the band.  Bands should grow, their sounds should change; Black Dice seem to have accepted this, and I feel this allowed them to create an album far superior to their previous release, 2009’s Repo.

This is not the first time that Black Dice have reinvisioned their sound.  Beaches and Canyons sounded much different than Load Blown Record (still my favorite).  Mr. Impossible is the sound of a more unified band.  The band still works with only crazy scraps of sound, but rather than creating such an out-their sound, the band weave these sounds together in a way that could be almost palatable to the average listener.  No harsh pitches are to be found on the album, nor do any tracks exceed 10 minutes.  Black Dice are literally taking noise and turning it pop.

The sound of Mr. Impossible is fantastic.  It is unique, even to the band; what’s more is it takes a genre known for distancing itself from the listener and give the listener catchy riffs and even moments of funk.  While ‘pigs’ is the single from the album, ‘Spy vs Spy’ is the standout track to me.


When TAPEFUCK came out in February I couldn’t stop raving about it to anyone willing to listen.  Unique samples and heavy drumming with a sound which made me want to draw comparisons to a darker/heavier Tobacco.  Right from the start of the album, the saxophone squeals pulled me in, and I knew that I had found a hidden gem.  My only complaint, though, was that the album was so short. Sitting at under 20 minutes, the albums 9 tracks were always over before I was ready.

In September I noticed that END had come out a few months earlier, again slipping under the radar.  END really expands NAH’s sound.  The samples still hold a tapewarp sound, but END sounds more like a beat album at times.  Songs like ‘Brain Chips’ really highlight this sound and I would love to hear a track from this album make its way onto some rappers mixtape.

While really it is END that sits in 27, TAPEFUCK feels like a precursor to NAH’s sound on this album and END should be listened to after TAPEFUCK.  Given the amount of great music put out by NAH in 2012, I am expecting another great release some time this year.

26) Charles Gayle Trio- Streets

Streets is named after its front man’s persona while he was living homeless.  Charles Gayle, 73, is the saxophonist pictured on the cover.  Often going by the name ‘Streets the Clown’, Gayle creates performed spoken word, acted as a mime, and most importantly, played saxophone.

Streets is an impressive album for a few reasons.  One being this is Charles Gayle’s 31st album that he has fronted on.  Second is that free jazz is becoming a less and less seen form of music in the modern world.  Gayle could have easily chosen to sit back and let the backing band carry the album, or allowed for the album to be more structured.  But he chose not to, strongly leading the 7 tracks of wild free form music.

It is a bold move to put out such an album, and this album shows that Gayle has not lost his touch on jazz.  And the times when his two counterparts make solos, such as the drum solo on the title track around 6:30, they show that they too understand Gayle’s sound and can accompany it as well as recreate it (just listen to that bass solo at 7:45 on ‘Streets’.

I grabbed this album on a whim and I have found myself increasingly impressed with the sound that it creates.

25) Yowie- Damning With Faint Praise

Damning With Faint Praise
I always am skeptical of music emailed to me by the artist.  While I appreciate them reaching out to me, I do tend to judge music slightly harsher when it is given to me and not found.  Damning With Faint Praise, however, passes over this high bar with ease. 

Let’s start off first with the technicality displayed on this album.  I read one interview where the band stated practice was often a few hours long perfecting one 30 second section.  Truly on this album that shows.  Odd time signatures coupled with multiple time changes appear on almost every track.  While I am by no means on top of all of the math-rock albums of the year, I can still say with some certainty that this may be one of the most ambitious.

‘Slowly but Surely’ immediately captures the albums sound.  To the average listener it would almost seem all over, but a focused listen confirms a method to the madness.  One of my favorite aspects of the song, which is different from much math-rock, is the quivery sound of guitar notes.  I do not play guitar so, so I am left wondering if they are simply turning their whammy bars up to 11 or what, but the sound is unquestionably their own.

Another aspect I love about this album is often while one guitar is giving almost les-claypool gone guitar riffs, the other dances between strange mutations of arpegiations and high pitch squeaks. 

Finally, I must say I do love the longer song lengths.  To some, a five track album may seem daunting, but really, Yowie uses this time to allow for the songs to grow/ mutate, and really create a much more cohesive voice than they would have if they were shorter.    

Fragments of the Marble Plan
This is literally the sound of music collapsing in on itself.  It is hard for me to describe, both because of its sonic breadth and terrifying dissonance  Because of this, this may be the shortest description in my Top 50 of 2012.

Aufgehoben push to the furthest outsets of noise rock, often traversing into noise just long enough to blast any perceptions the listener has of the true meaning of music, only to bring it back to a rhythmic state just before the listener cannot take anymore abuse.  Ambitious is a word I throw around quite a bit on this chart, but truly, this album is an elaborate display of the deconstruction of music, and truly must be visited to understand.

23) Dope Body- Natural History

Natural History
Let me start out first saying that I was not a fan of Nupping.  I wanted to like it, I really did, but I just could not appreciate it.  The guitars were to sharp, or the vocals to nu-metal, or something, I don’t know.  Whatever it was, Natural History made me have to relook at how I viewed their band.

For starters, this album reminds me of Andrew W.K. but slightly more genre crossing.  We are given moments of party rock, times of heavy riffs, but then there are jam session guitar solos and calypso-esque music.  Dope Body took a chance with this new sound and I think it worked great.

‘Road Dog’ is definitely my favorite track.  I was completely unprepared for the breakdown into a drugged out psyche fest and equally surprised how well they pulled the sound back.  So much in fact, I told myself that I didn’t think they could do it live and youtubed it.  Sure enough, live recordings sounded equally great.  After that, I decided they are now one of my top ‘need to see live bands’, if not just to bounce my head to tracks like ‘High Way’ and ‘Powder’.

I now can see why this band has gotten so much love on the internet, and though I still cannot get into Nupping, I am excited to see where there sound goes from here.

22) EPROM- Metahuman

The first time I heard this album I was very confused.  I was told only that it was electronic music, and from what I had gathered it was gaining comparisons to Flying Lotus’s wonky style.  After hundreds of listens, I can tell you for sure that this is wonky, but in a different way.  The songs have more space between the sounds, and the sounds are often very strange in an almost humorous way on first listen.  At first, they were almost offputting, but as I left the CD in my car, I kept coming back to it and each time with more and more favorite tracks. 

EPROM’s album ranks so high on my top 50 because of all of the crazy details hidden in it.  Many songs on the surface have a ‘trap’ feel, but when you pay attention, the details of swells, filters on sounds, and variations and repetitions of rhythms are astounding.  If robots listen to techno, than Metahuman is for androids.  It has a sound that is a hybrid of mechanical and organic sounds.

I cannot stress how unique this album sounds.  The deep bass compliments the trap snares, and somehow the bleeps, bloops, and vocal chops all fit as well.  As one review I read stated (extremely paraphrased) EPROM has perfected his craft with Metahuman.  While this is a sound I would never attempt to create in the first place, he has refined his work into a seamless, impeccable display of a style no one ever knew existed.

While you may have never known this style of electronic music existed, this is the quintessential album to it…until EPROM makes another release.

21) Guardian Alien- See the World Given to a One Love Entity

See the World Given to a One Love Entity
I like long songs; I Loved Boredom’s Vision Creation Newsun; I think Dan Deacon can make some good music.  Therefore, It is almost obvious that See the World Given to a One Love Entity made it on my list.

Consisting of one 37 minute track, See the World Given to a One Love Entity is a psychedelic ride full of oriental strings, Boredom’s styled drum rhythms and repetitive chants.  Overall, it appears the theme of this album is giving the world to a Rastafarian alien, as depicted in the artwork and the music video teaser.

While all of this sounds like complete hippy wankery when written out (and don’t get me wrong, it totally is), See the World Given to a One Love Entity is still a great listen.  Guardian Alien do a great job keeping a constant feel to the track while allowing for the song to still grow and the sounds to occasionally swell.  This music works good to create a trance, and sounds even better through headphones.

If you are as upset as I am that you cannot purchase Vision Creation Newsun on vinyl, pick this up instead.

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