I know, I know. I’ve been busy listening to “Red,” too. Here are some albums that may have slipped through the cracks in 2012.
I love J Dilla, may he rest in peace. The latest release of this instrumental hip-hop genius’s unpublished work comes in two flavors: the vinyl “Dillatroit/Rebirth” EP that mostly consists of the incredibly smooth plunderphonics tracks JD was known for, combined with a few tracks from “Rebirth of Detroit,” which takes most of the beats from Dillatroit and adds vocals from local Detroit hip-hop talent. I tend to prefer “Dillatroit” over “Rebirth” simply because it puts greater focus on the work of the man himself (some “Rebirth” tracks are just “Dillatroit” tracks with the vocals turned up). “Dillatroit” sounds like how fans of Dilla’s early work like “Donuts” or “Ruff Draft” might expect it to; tracks are a bit longer and more refined, resulting in a more mature version of the “chopped and chopped” sound he championed during his career. Put it on for a party and you’ll be sure to see some booty-poppin. Or at least listen to it while writing your RBA.
Ty Segall Band – “Slaughterhouse”
If you want some rowdier album-of-the-year material, slip on your torn M65 and some vintage Chucks and put on “Slaughterhouse” by San Francisco’s own Ty Segall, perhaps the garage-rockin’-est album by the man to date. It’s been a busy year for this surf-haired savant; “Slaughterhouse” marks the second of his three albums out this year, including “Hair” and “Twins.” “Slaughterhouse” is unapologetically brash, as one should expect from an album with a braided screaming skull on its cover. There must have been a sale on overdrive pedals, because every guitar part has the kind of satisfying crunch that makes you want to buy a fisheye lens, make a skateboarding video and tag the local mall. Segall’s vocals are equally fitting, pitchy and almost adolescent, but in an enjoyable, non-aggravating way. The good news is that the highlights of the album are the mid-song jams, not the vocals, so don’t fret if screaming isn’t up your alley. If you actually want your rager to rage and not just feature beer pong backed by Pitbull for the umpteenth time, try out “Slaughterhouse.”
Andy Stott – “Luxury Problems”
“Luxury Problems” easily wins my 2012 award for Album I Would Most Like to Have Sex To … ladies. Andy Stott’s latest release borrows heavily from his earlier work in dub and minimalist electronic music but swaps out the factory-like groaning and grinding that backed his down-tempo club beats with vocal samples and cleaner, more ethereal drums. The album does a fantastic job of establishing its atmosphere and tone early on while continuing to create interesting variations on this theme instead of turning into a four-on-the-floor snooze-fest halfway through the album (as can happen in dub). I personally still enjoy his earlier release, “Passed Me By,” to “Luxury Problems,” but that doesn’t stop “Luxury Problems” from being a jam of the year. If this album doesn’t make you want to drive around South London at 2 a.m., I don’t know what will. Just get it. It’s sexy as hell.
Swans – “The Seer”
“LUNACY. LUNACY. LUNACY.” No, really. The title track of “The Seer” is dead on: This album is nuts. It’s a goddamn beating. Nothing released this year – or in most years, for that matter – sounds anything like it. It’s harsh, abrasive and challenging. But it’s also an experience, and the importance of that quality is hard to understate. Take the title track, for instance: Not only is it about as long as the entirety of “Rubber Soul,” but the opening minute probably features a greater diversity of instrumentation than you’ll find across some artists’ entire discographies. But let’s be honest, this album is not for the faint of heart.
Unless you’re willing to listen to two hours of drone, abrasion, noise and Michael Gira’s otherworldly shamanistic chanting, you’re going to have a bad time. But it’s within such a context that songs like Karen O’s folk ballad “Song for a Warrior”* achieve their full pristine beauty. So take charge of your life and make like a patrician for a couple of hours with this glorious AOTY contender.
*“Song for a Warrior” is my favorite song released this year, in case any of you were wondering (as I suspect many of you were).
Kendrick Lamar – “good kid, m.A.A.d city”
Let me get this out of the way now: “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” is the worst or second worst track on this album (“Compton” gives it a run for its money). I’m sorry, but that song is no bueno. With that said, “good kid, m.A.A.d city” is one of the most refreshing things I’ve heard in quite some time. The album art reads, “a short film by Kendrick Lamar,” and that’s what it feels like.
There’s just so much to praise here: the naturalistic prayers and conversations interspersed between and within the tracks, the downbeat production, the smooth, simmering samples and, most of all, my absolute favorite musical moment of all of 2012: “And if I die before your album drop -”
In fact, I think I’ve listened to “Sing About Me / I’m Dying of Thirst” more than anything else these past few months. Triteness be damned, this is the best hip-hop album since “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.”
Chromatics – “Kill for Love”
“Drive,” the album. My apologies to those poor souls who haven’t seen Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 stylized neo-noir action flick, but if you feel the feels of “Drive,” then you’ll get this album. If you don’t, well, stick with Foster the People – we don’t need you!
“Kill for Love” is slow. It’s long. The songs take their time. But it’s also synthesizer-heavy dream-pop enshrouded in a mysterious, sexy, nighttime aura. Hell, even my parents like this album’s opening duo of “Into the Black” (thank you based Neil Young) and “Kill for Love.” And let’s be honest here. You haven’t really lived until you’ve driven 280 in the middle of the night with “Lady” emanating from your Zipcar, a dimly lit cigarette resting between your pursed lips and a vague sense of purpose beckoning you from the dark of the horizon.