35. 51---KOOL A.D.
No one shed more tears over Das Racist's recent break-up than me, perhaps their most irrationally enthusiastic fan, but 51 serves as quite the balm. A blast of pure summertime SoCal, the mixtape unleashes one of today's most entertaining improv artists, clearly having a blast on each and every track, referencing anything from Nas to baby porpoises. The production is similarly irreverent, searching the globe for all things chill, returning with found sounds from rally speakers and Marvin Gaye samples, diced beyond recognition. Good times had by all.
34. Twins---Ty Segall
The mind-blowingly prolific Ty Segall released three albums in the year 2012 alone, and Twins, his last on the calender, is proof that this isn't just filler we're talking about. Guitars escape into pulse-pounding solos (Thank God For Sinners, Love Fuzz), hooks are doled out by the handful (Would You Be My Love), and Segall proves, yet again, that's he's not just going through the motions. The man just wants to rock.
One of the most sonically adventurous acts currently making American pop music, Menomena's latest is just as musically unpredicatble as we've come to expect from the pride of Portland. Any instrument could pop up at any moment, any gonzo harmony accomplished, any radical change of pace effortlessly worked in. One wishes that the disc's brooding, lamentful lyrics took more of a backseat to all the musical brilliance on display, but that's no where near enough to prevent Moms from being an unmitigated winner.
If we're being honest, one might have expected something different from Portishead's Geoff Barrow. Smokey, seductive tracks with subdued MC's, perhaps? Not even close. Quakers expands over an eye-popping 41 tracks, and features more rappers than you could count on all your digits, hardly a smoldering stare to be found. It's groovy, propulsive stuff, each track moving effortlessly into the next, like a baton being passed in a gloriously unending hip-hop relay race.
31. Hands of Glory---Andrew Bird
Andrew Bird and I have sort of gone our separate ways of late. A multi-instrumentalist with an undeniable knack for looping various instruments into a gorgeous whole, Bird has spent his last couple albums stripping down his sound, which, to the mind of this listener, is playing against his strengths. Thank god we can find some middle ground on Hands of Glory, a similarly naked album to its 2012 Bird-born-brother Break it Yourself, benefitted by the use of folk standards, and forthright production. BiY might have electric guitar on its side, but it has nothing as arresting as opener Three White Horses, nor as instinctive as Railroad Bill. It's about time we got back together.
30. Wish Book Volume 1---Dan Deacon
Dan Deacon makes music that is hectic as a point of emphasis; those who just want to relax in an entirely uncluttered environment need not apply. While Deacon's proper 2012 LP, America, lacked a certain sense of etherial madness that its forbearer possessed in droves, Wish Book restores it by taking the art of others, and coloring it completely differently. The mixtape sees the electro artist go all Girl Talk on us, pouring everything from Gangnam Style to Rihanna to Tune-Yards into an enormous pot, stirring it up, and serving us the lunacy that comes out. But what defines Deacon against other mash-up contemporaries is that same intangible magic, adding a sense of unplaceable meaning amidst the swirling lunacy.
29. Silent Hour/Golden Mile---Daniel Rossen
My favorite product out of Camp Grizzly Bear in 2012, SH/GM crams about as much grandiosity as musically possible into a remarkably large five-song EP. Employing his singularly hypnotic guitar melodies, Rossen spends 23 straight minutes shooting for the heavens, ignoring the subtlety that cursed his parent project this year, and going for broke. Acoustic guitars have never sounded so authoritative.
28. Habits & Contradictions---Schoolboy Q
The winner of the DON'T-PLAY-THIS-IN-FRONT-OF-YOUR-MOM award for 2012 is H&C, a no-holds-barred celebration of all things debaucherous and self-destructive. Q's flows are powerful and persuasive, like you'd be a fool not to follow him, and the MC himself isn't even the star here. That billing goes to the production, thunderous, textured, party-ready, and impossibly badass through nearly all 19 tracks. Who could have known that a Menomena sample would have been the key to one of the year's best beats, or that the steamy, seedy underbelly of Nightmare of Figg St. would prove such an awesome hang out?
27. Beams---Matthew Dear
Matthew Dear had found himself at a crossroads. He's excelled at groovy, slightly off-kilter dance music on 2008's Asa Breed, and then moved on to Nine Inch Nails-riffing depraved electro. Beams sees the guy have his cake and eat it too, splitting the difference between the two styles to arrive at something just as unique as it is accessible. The bass-driven Earthforms never gets its hands quite as dirty as you'd expect, just like how Dear's auto-tune mangled voice never allows Fighting is Futile to be as happy-go-lucky as a less complicated artist might have permitted. It's a tight rope act of balancing styles, traversing dance halls and alleyways in nearly equal measure.
26. Lonerism---Tame Impala
Step right in to the time machine that is Lonerism, and you'll soon hear something that your ears have been sorely lacking of late: the guitar solo. Tame Impala's latest is a clinic on how to use a six-string, incredible riffs bolstered by steady bass, rolling drums, and a near-perfect John Lennon avatar behind the mic. Even when the boys aren't sailing into face-melting fret work, the central grooves of each song are not to be denied, prompting heads to bob when they aren't banging. Yesteryear still sounds pretty damn good.
25. The OF Mixtape Vol. 2---Odd Future
Somewhat lost in the over-whelming attention and praise showered upon Frank Ocean's Channel Orange, Vol. 2 stands as one of the most under-appreciated releases from early 2012. While the various members of the San Fran hip-hop collective can struggle anchoring an entire release by themselves (figure-head Tyler, the Creator, especially), this Avengers-style format is just about perfect, giving you enough of everyone to leave you ever-hungry for more. They flow over brooding, muscular beats, and have next to no problem proving that, as a unit, they're wholly worthy of the buzz that seems to follow their every (mis)step.
24. (III)---Crystal Castles
Crystal Castles make rave music for people who don't listen to rave music, which is only one of many reasons why the duo always sounds so distinctive. Their neon-tinged, pulsating attack hasn't changed so much over the years as it's been refined. Alice Glass, who can still scream like the dickens, seems more interested in traditional melody than ever before, all while Ethan Kath's raging productions are finding ways around being quite so angular. Trust me, these guys can still trash the place, but on (III), the band feels more ready that ever to take that sonic carnage to the airwaves.
23. Fear Fun---Father John Misty
If you're going to leave Fleet Foxes after two of the most critically and commercially successful independent LPs in recent memory, you'd better have a good reason. Thankfully, Josh Tillman had just that, and his debut under his new moniker is proof. A folksy, trippy journey down the rabbit hole that is Los Angeles living, FF sees the father try on all manner of musical clothing, from crunchy guitar lines to sneaky disco influences. Spanning grandstanding to minimal, bitter and desperate to joyful and pious; fear not, for loopy fun shall be had by all.
Oshin is one of those albums that feels familiar from the get-go, like a CD you've always known and loved, but just forgot for a little while. DIIV employs the band-at-the-bottom-of-a-well style reverb that many poppy rockers before them have ridden to glory, confidently putting their own distinctive spin on a familiar sound with each step. The disc almost feels more like a concert than an album, a collection of songs that so freely blur into one another that it becomes less about individual tracks, and more about totality of experience. You shan't be left wanting.
Big... like, big big. Were you expecting something else? What, with frontman Jason Pierce, ever a fan of all things enormous, re-emerging on the scene after going through chemotherapy treatment just two short years ago for a near-fatal liver disease? Five of SHSW's ten tracks unfold over 6+ minute runtimes, a certain swirling expansiveness characterizing the album. Sprawling, epic, colossal: any of the standard adjectives fit like a glove on world conquerers like Hey Jane and So Long You Pretty Thing. Big for bignesses' sake... but in the best possible way.