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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2012 (10-1)

10. Feels Like We Only Go Backwards---Tame Impala
        Entire worlds can be created and inhabited within a space of a mere three minutes, expansive and wide open to exploration. Tame Impala pulls off just such a trick, the best song that the band has yet written in their still-young career. Kevin Parker's lonely, Lennon-esque warble is cast amidst a sea of reverb, and where other Lonerism tracks make more sweeping lyrical gestures, the simple words presented here have a real impact. They speak to a love that is on the fringes, moving further and further out of reach each day, a lament worthy of the stirring instrumentation in which it's adorned. The climax, a collision of solo-ing drums, bass, and guitars that crash mightily under that repeated chorus is both emotionally riveting, and a spectacle of rock 'n' roll awesomeness.
9. & It Was U---How to Dress Well
        Wait... wait... is that really Tom Krell... really? The man behind the ghostly R&B music of How to Dress Well is something of a Debbie Downer, especially on his latest disc, Total Loss, which is just as down-tempo and down-trodden as its title would suggest. & It Was U comes out of absolutely nowhere, Krell's marvelous voice un-blurred by the sonic fuzz that overwhelms the rest of the album, placed front-and-center to glorious, energetic, poppy effect. His backing is minimal, a few clicks becoming a light rumble that adds layers with sneaky confidence, and an eye on the dance floor. Like attending a funeral that's suddenly interrupted by the party-time spirit of Jacko himself, &IWU suggests an alternative career trajectory for Krell if he ever decides to lighten up, setting bodies in motion with something catchy, kinetic, and just plain fun.
8. Wave Goodbye---Ty Segall Band
        Wave Goodbye starts out like a roller coaster; you can almost hear that ominous clicking sound as the track ascends threateningly. And then, the drop. Truth be told, WG is a slow song by Slaughterhouse standards, but in giving up speed, Segall's band gains weight in muscle, launching assaultive power chords through speakers that land with foundation-rattling force. It's a brooding, pitch-black tour through grungy rock's hellish underbelly, gritty, glorious grime smudged over every symbol crash, every pummeling note. The outro finally steps on the gas, each member of the outfit shifting into attack mode, earning their perfectly understated post-song celebration.
7. Lazuli---Beach House
        You know what a Beach House song sounds like, right? Glittering, woozy beauty, floating out there intangibly in the night-time air? Lazuli is a brew poured out of the very same batch, taking the if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it idiom, and riding it all the way up into heaven. If there's a discernible adjustment to be noted, it's in the even-lo(wer)-fi sonics, which conjure up innate senses of emotional intimacy and openness. Otherwise, it's all familiar, but in that same magical way that returning home is familiar, or the embrace of a lover. Gorgeous doesn't even begin to describe the thing; Lazuli is the sound of celestial wonderment, of being a small, ponderous thing in an immense, shimmering, erratic, and magnanimous universe.
6. Once There Was a Hushpuppy---Benh Zeitlin and Dan Romer
        No 2012 offering was a bigger emotional kick-in-the-pants than this closer to the bewitching soundtrack to the bewitching film Beasts of the Southern Wild. The track plays over the movie's final moments, and then all through its credits, which likely serves to bolster the emotive and reflective powers it holds over me. But is that really so different than any other song, and one's individual connection? Don't the best songs, the ones we're all most endeared to, bring back moments and memories of value and magnitude? All backstory aside, Hushpuppy is just flat-out spell-binding, riding all manner of bells, strings, movements, and motions to a place of almost mythic beauty. The instrumental track of the year, capable of leveling cynicism and flooding dry eyes in the course of a mere 6:32.
4. (*tie*) New Town Burnout and Monkey Riches---Animal Collective
         To all those who found Centipede Hz impenetrable upon the first listen or two, and ran straight for the exits thereafter, I offer this dizzying, technicolored one-two punch. Each stands as a bizarro offering (we are still talking about Animal Collective, yes?), but with none of the album's signature crowding. Sounds still pop out of nowhere, foreign and insane, but each track is open enough to support the madness, the various parts clicking into place with curious, captivating perfection. NTB is the more mellow of the two, Panda Bear's golden voice scooting along atop a beat as catchy and intrinsic as it is chilly and and covered with itch. It balloons out into angelic chorus singers before dissipating into the ether, transitioning into the triumphant lunacy that is Monkey Riches. Louder, faster, denser, and far less content to play nice, MR is a reeling mess of synths, symbols, and screams, all held together with vision and energy by that mad scientist known as Avey Tare. At first I couldn't decide which to rank higher, and then I realized why: The two are, in truth, one expansive, world-conquering piece, presented without an in-between-track gap on the album, and always played as a unit in concert. Why choose a stellar half when you can have a prodigious whole?
3. Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst---Kendrick Lamar
        The subtitle attached to Good Kid M.A.A.D. City, reads A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar, though the moniker might have been better suited as the title for Thirst, a track that unspools over an all-encompassing twelve minutes. The song distills all of GKMC's themes, goals, and particulars into a haunting, generous narrative, presented in two movements. The first (and best) sprawls out over a minimal beat, possessing comely violins and smooth backing vocals, but focused on Lamar's steady, tell-all flow. His plays on words are head-spinningly acute, pontificating about his life and existence on a first verse that concludes with abrupt gunshots. Not the kind that playfully punctuated M.I.A.'s Paper Planes, but a sudden rat-tat-tat that leaves the track powerfully, ominously vacant, observing violence as the earth-shattering experience that it actually is. Suddenly, we switch story-tellers to a woman with a beef, her intentions ever-verging into Lamar's, blurring the line between protagonist and character. Expanding upon each verse would take us all day; what matters is that SAMIDoT is as troubling as it is smooth, enormous in scope, generous in empathy, and paradigm-shifting in the experiences that it observes.
2. Tuck the Darkness In---Bowerbirds
        Tuck the Darkness In is an all-encompassing cycle like many others: curiosity to wisdom, life to death, night to day and night again. The Clearing's unchallenged figurehead opens with that now-standard indie-folk preciousness, a steady jaunt cloaked in Phil Moore's lazy hush, and lovely, varied instrumentation. This modest, measured genesis blossoms into something vast and cyclopean, each passing moment growing in size, density and sound until another song emerges entirely, one rife with chanting and rafter-shaking. Moore's lyrics are a treasure to behold, dissolving the ineffable truths of existence into immediate lines like, "Before the hours took over/.../Before I knew time was such a swindler/Uh oh, my dear friend/Everything falls to death/We tuck the darkness in/We tuck the darkness in." Sullen as the words might read on their own, the majesty of the crashing drums and earnest ax relay their true meaning: Life in an invigorating, devastating, miraculous, and universal experience, one worthy of admiration and celebration it its every facet.
1. About to Die---Dirty Projectors
        Unlike the other two years that I've made this list, 2012 didn't have an obvious winner. In truth, the grandeur of my musical year might be best embodied by the whole top 10, not just a singular, sumptuous 4 minute entry. That said, when pressed to name a favorite, I fell back on the tune that I've listened to the most, smiled to the most, and considered from the most perspectives, and that was, undoubtably, About to Die. That erratic drum machine and its wacky pitter patter still sounds strange and alluring after all these listens, ever-hiccuping beneath Dan Longstreth's slippery vocals, and a resplendent backing harmony. It's everything that makes for a great DP song (interlocking vocals, absurdist storytelling, constant variance) and everything that makes a great pop song (singular melody, catchy chorus, familiar structure) all rolled into one wacky, life-affirming whole. Sure, Longstreth and his bandmates do declare his imminent death north of 20 times during the song's modest existence, but it mixes this morbidity with playfulness and jubilance to intoxicating effect. And why do we have to be so literal, anyways? This, 'death,' could be taken many ways, loving pronouncements peppering the lyrics ("Where would I ever be without you?") just as often as doomsday allusions ("Look there/The mirror/A zombie stands, staring/Vacant and glaring"), keeping you delightfully off-balance from one minute to the next. Is this the death of a relationship, a friendship, the end of the world, the end of a life, or something else entirely? About to Die is a boldly esoteric pop tune, a mystery that might just prove uncrackable, and it sounds like honey in both of my ears.

Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2012:

Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2012:

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2012 (25-11)

25. Missing Pieces---Jack White
        White's fixations are, by now, numerous and easy to list; alternating disgust for either all of woman-kind or himself, violent imagery, and a sizzling solo or two. MP combines all these elements, opening Blunderbuss with an immediate sense of embedded distrust, wiggling through bluesy movements on its way to handful of scintillating solos tucked neatly into its economic bridge. 
24. Taro---Alt-J***

        An Awesome Wave is an album that takes a few listens, Alt-J's powers subtle enough to slip by those who neglect to listen closely. That all changes on Taro, a track set on commanding your attention, paralyzing you with dynamics and force. The tune has an oceanic sway to it, Joe Newman's voice at once feeling alone in a far away place, rushed forth by a swelling sea of instrumentation and gathering tension. Then it pops, spinning out into a brilliantly off-kilter guitar chug, one that pairs ax with sitar to breathless affect.

23. Please Don't Go Away---The Men
        The four words that serve as this track's title also happen to be the only four uttered during the whole song. Trust me, there's no need for a fifth. The boys rock out with their typical sense of abandon, but there's a palpable longing behind that simple sentiment, pushed further out into the open by the desperation with which they jam their heads off.
22. Oro y Sangre---John Talabot***
        Where most of John Talabot's glorious fin is content to sort of mist and swirl around with patience and depth, O&S is a downright confrontation. It's pulsating synths absolutely demand attention, an instrumental track completely discontent to fade into the background. Elements enter and exist, but the drive of the tune never changes, intercut with mysterious screams and buoyant drums.
21. Now We Hurry On---Bowerbirds
        Clocking in at just under seven minutes, and serving as the closing ceremony to one of the year's best albums might sound like a recipe for unrelenting enormity, but not so fast. Sure, NWHO is sweeping in both scope and emotional impact, but it reaches that zenith without ever raising its voice beyond a delicate hush. Muted chimes and stirring violins guide us from one movement to the next, all as Phil Moore's effortless voice and affecting storytelling write a gorgeous final chapter to a novel of a disc.
20. Clique---Kanye West feat. Jay-Z and Big Sean***
        To my mind, G.O.O.D. Music's Cruel Summer LP exists primarily to support this one song, but that's a pretty damn worthy cause. Atop a simplistic, foreboding beat that shares a sort of bass-y slither with a certain other West triumph, Clique features a good verse from Jay-Z, a better one from Big Sean, and an absolute marvel from West. As if realizing the moment, the backing turns down when Kanye grabs the mic, his verse alternating between humor, brilliance, schizophrenic subject changes, and a truly mind-blowing (and utterly glorious) lack of self-awarenes.
19. See What She Seeing---Dirty Projectors
         One of the main things that Swing Lo Magellan has going for it (and trust me, there's a list) is the ability to marry unmitigated eccentricity with relatable pathos. SWSS is the disc's greatest example; it features a protagonist with an easily understandable need for love, but his demons are nastier than your average pop song would allow ("Mornings, I wake up hungover/Lower than mornings before"). Its lush harmonies allude to the beauty of solace, but that skittering, omni-present drum machine under-cuts these sentiments with unease. Both dreamily romantic, and admittedly insane.
18. Jonathan---Fiona Apple***
        Fiona Apple writes love songs in a vein that few can emulate, and Jonathan stands as one of her finest accomplishments to date. Featuring elaborate production on an album often focused on sonic simplicity, the tune hisses and wheezes around Apple's beautifully uncertain piano line, possessing within itself both the allure and disappointment of doomed love."If she's part of the reason you are how you are, she's all right with me," is one of the most acute, troubling lines about modern love that I've ever heard... and who better to deliver it?
17. Just from Chevron---Dirty Projectors
        A mysterious ode to the allure of capitalism, JFC only kinda-sorta befits its parent disc, but praise the lord that it made the cut. Amber Coffman and Haley Dekle usher us in with their surreal harmony, the sunny strings and mellow handclaps that dance lightly around them finally giving way to Dave Longstreth's surging, demented guitar line. He tells a story of a man determined to be remembered, to have mattered, the wrenching oddity finally bookended by the ladies' angelic interlude.
16. So Long You Pretty Thing---Spiritualized***
        On an album that makes no excuses for its attempts at grandeur, SLYPT manages to tower over its similarly sky-scraping track list mates. With great pride and confidence, Jason Pierce leads us through not one, but two (?!) isolated intros. First, there's a bare-bones lullaby, hushed harmonizing over barely-there backing, swept out just before the minute mark in favor of a languid, sprawling build-up. A tour lead by a hovering organ, wise piano, and comforting banjo strums inhales over the course of over three minutes before the band finally lets it rip, shooting for epic catharsis without the slightest hint of economy or reservation.
15. Sweet Moment---Bowerbirds
        The shortest track on Bowerbirds' 2012 reputation-changer doesn't exactly ooze with ambition, but it's both comely and extremely delicious, a delightful morsel of woodsy bliss. Where so many artists of late use nature imagery as a sort of put-on, Phil Moore seems genuinely invested in the moods and textures of the natural world, using animals, plants, and seasons to explore notions at the very core of the human experience. And when he's not penning gold with his quill, he's creating a woolly harmony so warm you'll want to curl up in it.
14. Thinkin Bout You---Frank Ocean
        Take a ride on a cloud with Frank Ocean. TBY is baby-making music through-and-through, as soft around the edges as cotton candy, and while this might seem simple-minded for an accomplished story-teller like Ocean, his sincerity wins out. His pleas for love, understanding, and forward-thinking ("Or do you not think so far ahead?/'Cuz I been thinkin' 'bout forever") feel so lived-in that it's easy to read that now-famous letter as a prologue to this gorgeous ballad. But it doesn't matter if it's real; Ocean, armed with mind-boggling falsetto, convinces us that it is.

13. Henrietta---Yeasayer***
        Where did you come from, Henrietta? An absolute gem amidst a track list full of throw-aways, the tune uses pulverizing synths to grab your attention with fists squeezed tight enough to turn knuckles white. It's a trippy, propulsive jaunt, fraught with tension until it just sort of unfolds at the halfway point, ballooning out into something vaporous and heavenly. Everything, vocals, instruments, production, becomes a woozy, radiant blur, held together by a fidgety, mesmeric bass line.

12. Turn it Around---The Men
        Raging punk rock seems like an odd genre in which to find the year's best, most bitter break-up song, but The Men are no strangers to wringing feeling out of chaos. "I want to see you write a love song/I want to see you going down/I want to see you when you try so hard/I want to see you when you turn it around," Mark Perro bellows as all hell breaks loose around him, the sentiment readily understandable to anyone who's ever been spurned. A glorious mission statement for the year's best rock album, TiA hooks you with thematics, and keeps you with pulse-pounding musical aggression.
11. Pink Matter---Frank Ocean feat. Andre 3000***
        Tucked far away at the back of Channel Orange's extensive playlist is Pink Matter, my very favorite Ocean track from 2012 for a number of reasons. That dark, moody backdrop is an ideal showcase for both rich violins and that wintery, odd-ball vocal sample. Then there's Frank's voice, given the stage to positively wail on some of the most impassioned notes you'll ever hear. Then, just when you think things can't get any better, Andre 3000 stops by to drop a killer verse, funny, slippery, and careful not to over-shadow the track's other tantalizing elements.

Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2012:

Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2012:

***=Artist Pictured

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2012 (45-26)

45. Revelation Blues---The Tallest Man on Earth***
        *Gasp* Is that Kristian Matsson multi-tracking?! RB sees the troubadour taking a big step forward into broad new horizons, exchanging his normative one-man-one-guitar rhetoric for a handsome layering that hampers his emotional impact not at all.
44. Open Your Heart---The Men
        It might sound like a few dudes just rocking out, but underneath the exuberant clutter lies a sense of desperation. "Even if she says no/I won't let go," is yelped like a deranged battle cry, expressing a love both deep and dangerous.

43. Three White Horses---Andrew Bird
        Where many of Bird's 2012 offerings felt hollowed out for no reason in particular, TWH uses its immense space to build to a towering conclusion. Hushed notes, both sung and played, slowly escalate as the track unfolds, ending at a place of beauty, power, and enormity.

42. Oblivion---Grimes***
        Oblivion is a head-spinning myriad of mixed emotions. Its glitchy beat and sing-song-y vocals convey an odd innocence, all while the pace and varied production say party, and the eerie lyrics allude to paranoia and night stalkers. A curious marvel.
41. Default---Django Django
        Locking perfectly together like pieces of a puzzle, Default's many parts click into one another with exacting precision. Vincent Neff's voice shares a razor-sharp harmony with itself as chugging guitars propel this tight-knit pop-rocker ever-forward.
40. Leading Me Now---The Tallest Man on Earth
        ...and back to basics. There's No Leaving Now might see Matsson developing new tricks as an artist, but its best track is still a throwback, a resonant acoustic ditty full of nuance and feeling.
39. Sunset---The XX***
        The XX don't hide much of anything from their listeners, bring each element to the forefront of their spacious sound. Fingers sail down frets in moody fashion as Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim trade verses, their voices floating in a mist of nocturnal longings.
38. Asunder---Fang Island
        Where the first half of Major attempts to cram all of Fang Island's manic energy into basic pop song structures, Asunder sees it burst at the seams. A rowdy celebration sound, energy, and rock 'n' roll fun.
37. Ode to Viceroy---Mac DeMarco***
        Who knew a ballad about a cigarette could be this beautiful? DeMarco's strings reverberate endlessly across the track, noodling outward and onward in slow motion like a thick cloud of tobacco smoke.
36. Only Son of a Ladies' Man---Father John Misty
        The Fear Fun tune most likely to prompt comparisons to Josh Tillman's old outfit, Fleet Foxes. Misty weaves beautiful harmonies on top of an ever-expanding backdrop, relaying his odd story with whimsy, sincerity, and reverence.

35. Luxury Problems---Andy Stott
        Where most of Stott's 2012 LP makes you wait for it, Luxury Problems steps right up and delivers the goods. Its groove is as creepy as it is immediate, a spinning, revolving banshee of a dance track that haunts and delights in ways that prove impossible to iterate.
34. Getaway---Dr. John***
        Locked Down is a rush, a dense swirl of varied instrumentation focused on rhythm and kinetic energy. Getaway is a surging dose of southern rock, redlining all the way to its face-melting guitar solo climax.
33. Other People---Beach House
         No one marries etherial wonderments with lo-fi intimacy quite like Beach House. Other People sees Alex Scally create another gorgeous tapestry, Victoria Legrand's voice sending mellow bliss and nostalgic longings sailing through the air.
32. Emmylou---First Aid Kit
        An unapologetically folky yarn, filled to the brim with the slide guitars and twang that send shivers of discomfort down some spines. Those without the aversion, however, will be treated to handsome harmonies, expert song craft, and a transportive sense of beautiful hurt.
31. Earthforms---Matthew Dear
        There's an inherent sense of naughtiness attached to Matthew Dear's best songs, like you're doing something you're not supposed to, and loving every minute of it. Earthforms is just such a sordid celebration, that commanding, propulsive bass line leading us from one gritty, dance-y movement to the next.

30. We Are Young---fun. feat. Janelle MonĂ¡e***
        Am I the only one who still likes this song? Sure, some of the track's power has been lost in endless radio replays, but the maximalist pop pleasures of fun.'s breakthrough track are truly massive, and impossible to ignore. The, 'sing-a-long,' song of the year.

29. Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings---Father John Misty***
         A grimy lament afforded a sense of desperate urgency by power chords that hit like punches to the gut. Josh Tillman's twisted pining is both resonant and nightmarish, revealing glaring faults and addiction, offering himself up for solace, mercy, and judgement.
28. Poetic Justice---Kendrick Lamar feat. Drake
        Lamar is a lot of things: a poet laureate of seedy city streets, an unrelenting self-examiner, and a rapper with a varied, dexterous flow. PJ features almost all of these angles, an intricate study of affection and self-valuation, "Love is not just a verb/It's you looking in the mirror," serving as Good Kid M.A.A.D. City's earnest mission statement.
27. This Year---Bowerbirds
        The Clearing is a disc primarily occupied with beauty, seldom employing force to get its point across. This Year runs counter-current to this notion, building from a place of luminous smallness to an eye-popping, gravel-y climax.
26. The America Suite---Dan Deacon***
        After all these months, my hypothesis remains; in my heart of hearts, I still think that the America suite was originally intended to be an entire EP unto itself. While the first half of Deacon's 2012 LP struggles to find consistent thematics, the disc's last four tracks congeal into a remarkably contained whole, each movement tuned into the same sense of oddity and hugeness that made Bromst such an indescribable, enchanting beast.

Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2012:

Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2012:

***=Artist Pictured