- On the Bulls’ streak-snapping win over the Heat.
- The one time I got access on the last day of the regular season, Bulls beat the Wizards.
- I went long on what D. Rose means to Chicago at the height of #TheReturn-related anxiety.
- I wrote 100 (maybe 17) individual player previews before this NBA season started. Here’s the one I did on Jimmy Butler.
- Me on MJ: Michael Jordan at 50.
- On Jabari Parker and Chicago’s new basketball lineage.
- On Andrew Wiggins, the anti-LeBron.
- Me at Bears training camp: Marc Trestman keeps it weird.
- The time I chased Devin Hester.
- Me on the celebration after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup.
- I went to the NBA draft combine, wrote about Rudy Gobert and the hazards of potential.
One thing I’ve noticed doing this every year is just how much I would re-order things now. Not having Frank Ocean at No. 2 last year was criminal. “Take Care” definitely should have been in the top 10 of 2010. I haven’t listened to “High Violet” in forever but I still queue up “Teen Dream” all the time. You get it.
These rankings do not matter outside of the top two, which are the only two I really feel strongly about (that’ll post next week, I guess). It’s just something I like doing every year. I think this was a pretty great year for music, but maybe every year is a great year for music. Other albums I liked in 2013 that did not make this list because I haven’t listened to ‘em enough or just wasn’t feeling it at the moment include: HAIM, Smith Westerns, Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes, California X, Vampy Weeks, Pusha-T, Parquet Courts, Thee Oh Sees, Waxahatchee.
That’s, like, 30 really good albums released this year. Nice work, everyone. We did it.
20. Earl Sweatshirt - Doris
This was my most anticipated album of the year, but I can’t help but feel a bit underwhelmed by it. Jeff Weiss wrote at length about this, so read that. I just think Earl made some weird decisions here. Letting that no-name bro rap first on the record was a straight-up troll move that I’m sure Earl found hilarious. The world does not and will never need three songs featuring Vince Staples. But there are still some killer moments here, and it only reinforces that Earl is, like, the Andrew Wiggins of this shit. “Raw” is a two-way street here. He’ll figure it out eventually.
"Chum" is great. Frank Ocean’s verse on "Sunday" is one of the most memorable music moments this year. When Earl finally does come in on that ridiculous beat on the first track of the album, it’s straight-up world destruction. I also love “Whoa”, even with its cheesy hook. There will be better things to come from Earl, but this is still pretty good.
19. No Joy - Wait to Pleasure
This album pretty much rules, and I feel like it’s maybe the most slept on album of the year. There’s a bunch of songs I love, but we will go with “Hare Tarot Lies” for the YouTube embed:
18. Diarrhea Planet - I’m Rich Beyond My Wildest Dreams
"Hammer of the Gods" kicks ass. "Field of Dreams", I imagine, would sound great blasted loud as fuck in a car. The one that gets stuck in my head is "White Girls (Student of the Blues, Pt. 1).
♫"I turned the radio down ‘cause my thoughts were too loud"♫
17. Drake - Nothing was the Same
I really feel like “Take Care” is going to be all over end-of-decade lists six years from now even though it wasn’t exactly fawned over when it came out. That album is so good. NWTS is not as good, but it’s still pretty good! It’s so repetitive (obviously an intentional effect), but sometimes that works in its favor. “Started From the Bottom” has never really done anything for me, but there’s definitely some hits here.
"Worst Behaviour" is just the greatest, and if you disagree, you are wrong. One of my favorite songs of the year, no doubt. I fuck with “Hold On, We’re Going Home” too, even though I could never argue with anyone who thinks it blows. I can’t believe Pitchfork said it was the best song of the year. It’s so goddamn cheesy. If this song is cool, I can’t define what the word “cool” means anymore.
But whatever, those backup vocals! My friends — people who love music but did not know a Drake song before this one — have recently started loving “Hold On, We’re Going Home” after the Arctic Monkeys did a hilarious cover of it. I danced to this song until like 3 a.m. a few weeks ago. I think it was played five times in a row. When that happens, complaining about corny-ass lyrics like “I want your hot love and emotion, endlessly” just seems pointless. Who gives a shit. Muthafuckaz never luved us!
16. Tyler, the Creator - Wolf
"Goblin" is basically impossible to get 100 percent through at this point. Fortunately, this album is 50x better. There’s a surprising amount of jams here. I want ride in a convertible in California and just blast "48". The "Jamba" beat goes so hard. "Colossus" is obviously on some "Stan" shit but I think it pulls it off.
The best thing that came out of this album, though, was by far Tyler, Earl and Domo doing “Rusty” on Letterman. I loved everything about it and I’ve probably watched it 10 times. Let’s make it 11:
15. FIDLAR - S/T
"I drink / cheap beer / so what / fuck you"
Haha, so immature but pretty good. I’d be embarrassed to play half this record at a party (“I feel…..feel like a coke head”), but it’s basically the kind of music I was raised on so of course I love it. "Wait For the Man" is probably the best song on here.
14. Disclosure - Settle
This is not the type of music I typically listen to, but I feel like this record is just undeniable. Here is a story about the first time I heard it.
I saw people tweeting about this album, so I downloaded it without hearing a song. I burned it to a CD (I still do this all the time, weird, I know) and gave it to one of my bros when he picked me up to play basketball. I told a packed car this was supposedly the new hotness but that I didn’t know anything about it, other than that both Hot Chip and my friend Kayla liked it. JaVale McGee also tweeted a picture of “The Singles” but deleted it for some reason. I swear I’m not making that up. JaVale, Kayla, Hot Chip is a triple rec I am always willing to follow.
We put the CD in and “When A Fire Starts To Burn” begins playing. It took literally less than 10 seconds for my buddy Tom to say “maybe we should put on something else”. Two minutes later, I’m 99 percent sure he was bobbling head and elbow dancing. How can you not?
Like I said, Disclosure is undeniable.
13. Lorde - Pure Heroine
I saw The Replacements at Riot Fest this year. I also saw the Yeezus tour. I feel Lorde and I could bond over that.
Was there some music blogger controversy with Lorde this year? I think there was, but I did not pay any attention to it. I love Lorde. Girl covers a Replacements song at her live shows and also covers “Hold My Liquor”. She shouts-out pivotal Broken Social Scene jam “Lover’s Spit” on “Ribs”. She’s a hero. We practically best friends.
I like a lot of songs on this album, probably because they all sound the same. Who cares. “Tennis Court” is the jam.
12. Mikel Cronin - MCII
I’m a big Ty Segall fan (more on him later) and Cronin plays bass in Ty’s band. I thought his first album was pretty good but this one is just a big step up. My bro Tom thinks it sounds like Ben Kweller but isn’t as good. He’s an idiot. It sounds like Ben Kweller and is probably just as good, which means it’s awesome.
11. Surfer Blood - Pythons
I do not feel good about liking this album. The singer was arrested domestic abuse charges and that’s reason enough to ban them from your ears altogether. Unfortunately, I’ve always liked Surfer Blood and I really like this album. There are times when I feel like it’s better than their debut, though I sense that’s an opinion shared by no one who likes them.
"Weird Shapes" is perfect, one of my favorite songs of the year. When the vocals kick in on "Demon Dance", I always want to start singing "The World Has Turned and Left Me Here". I’m 99 percent sure the melody is exactly the same. "Prom Song" and "Gravity" are pretty good, too.
Mostly, listening to this album just makes me want to listen to Weezer’s forgotten “Songs From the Black Hole”. Anything that can get me to crank "Blast Off!" has to be a pretty good album. I think this is.
I also feel bad ending on this so we’re gonna do one more.
10. Speedy Ortiz - Major Arcana
Maybe this is something not even worth noticing anymore, but it just struck me: I listened to a lot of female-fronted music in 2013. I didn’t get too into Grimes until this year (“Genesis” forever), but now I’m definitely pro-Grimes. I listened to Swearin’ and Waxahatchee a bunch. I love the No Joy record. Lorde, HAIM and Miley resuscitated pop music. And if there is a human being in this world cooler than Janelle Monae, that person has yet to be discovered. I also really loved this Speedy Ortiz record, which just kept growing on me as the year went on.
This is pretty much pop-punk perfection in my book, but it retains whatever street cred is generally lost with that label. There are tons of jams here. “Fun”, “No Below”, “Hitch” are all great. Here is “Tiger Tank”, which is also great.
9.Ty Segall - Sleeper
/Writing this section last…
Damn, this is way too long already. Let’s just say every Ty Segall album is pretty great and this all-acoustic one is no exception. Here’s “Man Man”:
8. Foxygen - We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Foxygen is the worst band in the world. My friends saw ‘em in the spring and confirmed this, but I didn’t want to believe it because this album dominated the first quarter of the year for me. It probably has a real stake at being No. 3 on this list. But then I saw their set at Pitchfork and I realized everything I heard before was dead-on.
Fuck this band. “No Destruction” is great for what it is; “San Francisco” should be the title track to every Wes Anderson movie from now to the end of time. Yet after seeing them faceplant live — they didn’t even play those two songs! — it’s hard for me to say anything good about them. They were so goddamn annoying, just doing anything up there to bring attention to themselves without actually playing music. And when they did finally play something, it wasn’t anything off this album and it mostly sounded like shit. This band is the 2013-14 Knicks without the talent. The only real shame here is that Carles has mostly closed up shop, because old school Hipster Runoff would have had a field day with these bros.
Anyways. “No Destruction” is still good.
7.Kurt Vile - Waking on a Pretty Daze
There was a point in my life when I really enjoyed the four-season climate in Chicago. That’s when I was young and stupid and shouldn’t have been trusted. There are few things I would I find as eminently depressing as winter at this point in my life, the way it just ruins everything, mostly the general population’s will to live. That’s why I love this Kurt Vile record. It sounds like spring, but not one of those shitty spring days in Chicago when it’s still 42 degrees and drizzling and the sleet from last week’s snowfall is still coming off the street in the first week of April. This sounds the first nice day of spring, when you know winter is a distant memory and everything from here on out is going to be awesome. That’s always the best day of the year: the day that’s the furthest possible day away from the next day of winter.
There are some great songs here. The title track earns the 10-minute run time. “Never Run Away” is immediately catchy and accessible. “Shame Chamber” — official track of your 2013-14 Chicago Bulls! — is wonderful, as well. “A Girl Named Alex” and some of the other longer, slower songs are perfect too for what they are. This is the Real Estate - Days of this year in that it fits a certain mood perfectly and I’ll probably listen to it for a long time.
6. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
My group of friends can have a pretty wide age range from time-to-time because most people hang out with their siblings. The young bloods are truly a bizarre clique, but can occasionally be essential for keeping the party vibes spirited. 23-year olds are generally indefatigable.
I was hanging out with them in the spring, sitting at a table with a few of my friends at a party with group of people three or four years younger. “Get Lucky” came on and we started talking about it. I was really high on that song when it first came out. I think I shouted some bullshit about how it was the most accessibly good, hit song to come out since “1901”, with my qualifier being: would I listen to it by myself on my iPod? (which disqualifies the people’s champ “Call Me Maybe”). I wasn’t even that drunk, it was just something I believed before over-saturation really did it in. Naturally, a few of my friends disagreed. We sort of argued about it, aboutjust how good “Get Lucky” was instead of enjoying it while it was on.
At one point while this quote-unquote debate was going on, I looked to side and noticed everyone else at this party was grooving hard. The dancing was as weird as it was enthusiastic. The rug was cut such enthusiasm it could never be stitched back together. The argument was pointless because the answer to it was 10-feet to my left.
There’s one somewhat substantial caveat here: I don’t think I’ve made it through this entire album more than once. I like five songs, but those five songs are all real good. “Fragments of Time” is Your Dad’s favorite song of 2013, and it isn’t even up for debate. “Doin’ It Right” is simple but without flaw. My favorite, though, is “Instant Crush”. The Strokes are one of my favorite bands of all-time and this is the best thing Julian has done since at least “11th Dimension”. What I track. I listened to it like four times a day for two months. I should really start doing that again.
5. Wavves - Afraid of Heights
My first favorite artist was Will Smith, and my parents’ house has the CD collection to prove it. I vividly remember my mom telling me to brush my teeth for as long as my No. 1 favorite song in the world, “The Wild Wild West”. Around junior high I got really into Limp Bizkit and other the nu-metal kingpins of the day. Fuck you, “N 2 Gether Now” still owns. Then, at some point I discovered Green Day and blink-182, and I’ve basically liked the same type of music ever since.
I never listen to Green Day or blink anymore unless I’m flipping to private listening on Spotify to crank “Insomniac”. It doesn’t really stand the test of time in my humble estimation, but at the same time I feel like shit like Wavves — probably one of my 10 favorites bands going right now — doesn’t sound all that different. Early Weezer or Nirvana are probably more apt touchstones, but I think the point remains: this mostly sounds like the music I listened to as a teenager, all the way to the occasionally cringeworthy lyrics.
There’s a track or two I might skip past for that reason, but damn, these songs just rock. “Sail to the Sun” and “Demon to Lean On” is a pretty righteous 1-2 punch to open. “Lunge Forward”, “Beat Me Up” and “That’s On Me” have all spent heavy time on playlists I’ve made throughout this year. I can’t tell if “Dog” is embarrassing or funny or both, but it’s definitely good.
I also can’t help but wonder if the steep decline of rock music can’t be helped by more stuff that sounded like this. As Rick Pitino once said, LCD Soundsystem ain’t walking through that door. The new bands I really like — like Joyce Manor and Cloud Nothings, ect. — don’t worry about sounding “cool” as much as they just write catchy songs that go super hard. That’s what Wavves does and I think that’s what we need more of, as a society.
4. Deerhunter - Monomania
The most jarring thing about seeing Deerhunter this fall was just observing just how few fucks they give. They’ve earned to right to make “Nothing Ever Happened” a 25-minute jam session at this point, and what the heck, they’re going to take full advantage of it. I loved the show but most of the people I was with hated it. It’s because this band makes zero concessions. Deerhunter established their name on building catchy songs out of mountains of noise, and though they’ve gotten away from that on their last two albums, it’s still very much a key part of their live aesthetic. You get a hit parade when you see Deerhunter, but there’s usually no immediate payoff. It’s a slow burn.
"Monomania" is great album, in my opinion, but it’s one I like to skip around on. Deerhunter is a Hall of Fame band for me at this point, so what I’m looking for more than a strong album front-to-back is few hit songs. This does the job. "T.H.M." is one of my favorite songs of the year and one of the best five Deerhunter songs ever. "Dream Captain", "Sleepwalking" and "Back to the Middle" kick ass, too. I’ve never had any desire to ride a motorcycle, but the title track to this album kind of makes me want to do it. This far into a super prolific recording career for Bradford Cox, that’s enough for me.
3. Arcade Fire - Reflektor
Let’s get one thing out of the way: this band is not cool and it is not cool to like them. I reflexively tend to agree with almost any criticism lobbed against them. The themes of the songs remind me more of “A City By the Light Divided” than anything Talking Heads ever did. The lyrics can be tacky as hell (“I’m so confused. Am I a normal person?” — nah bro, you’re just a cheesy-ass lyricist). They do shit like put Régine in that glass box on SNL during “Reflektor” and think it looks cool. It doesn’t! But it was sure hilarious.
Anyways, I don’t care if they’re emo dorks dressed up as pilgrims, mariachis from outer space or whatever they’re on now. I’ve always liked this band and I still like this band. It’s because they write good songs! Sure, you need to fight your way through a four-cheese blend just to get through ‘em, but this album definitely has some bangers in my opinion.
The title track is great. I’m not too good to admit I love “Joan of Arc”. “It’s Never Over” grooves hard. “You Already Know” doesn’t have any frills, but is still pretty awesome. I don’t even skip around much on this album even though it’s 400 minutes long or whatever, just the third song and first track on the second disc. It’s tough to say how much longevity this will have, but I’m not sure it matters. It’s another Arcade Fire album full of jams. Nothing new here.
2. Chance the Rapper - Acid Rap
It kills me that I’m not making “Acid Rap” No. 1. I love “Acid Rap”. It takes something superhuman to prevent it from reaching the top spot, but more on “Yeezus” in a minute.
Chance has a lot of things going for him: great taste, a sense of self-awareness way beyond his age, enough dexterity in his voice to match Kendrick. But mostly, he just knows how to write hit songs. “Acid Rap” is loaded with hit songs. I haven’t listened to the radio in over a decade, but I imagine this album would crush the radio in the ’90s. It feels like there’s eight potential singles on here.
Almost every review mentions the second half of "Pusha Man" as the mixtape’s apex, which I agreed with wholeheartedly before ever reading any of them. The south side of Chicago has experienced so much tragic, senseless violence in the last two years; the end of that song feels so relevant and meaningful coming from someone who came through it. I like Chief Keef too but the distance between “Bang! Bang!” and Chance’s nuanced and empathetic take on the gunshots is just so cavernous.
I am generally biased toward my home city, I suppose, but Chance feels important to me. He’s a ridiculous talent. Early Eminem himself would have had a hard time topping the lyrical spin in the middle of “Everybody’s Something”:
Can’t wait for what’s next from Chance. Here’s “Juice”:
1. Kanye West - Yeezus
The fuck-up-your-whole-afternoon-shit fucked up the whole year. Somewhere along the way, this became the Kanye album I feel the strongest about. It’s beyond me how someone seven albums deep into his career and this routinely prolific can still sound so fresh and surprising and as brilliant as he’s ever been.”Yeezus” is legendary to me and I doubt I’ll ever retroactively accuse myself of too much hyperbole with that assessment. This is a classic.
It’s great that so many didn’t like this album, because people are generally wrong and stupid. Did this really sell less than the J. Cole album? Incomprehensible. Even Jabari Parker hates it! But while there are certainly things to take issue with — the rampant misogyny, mostly — it doesn’t change two things that make it special: a) this is the realest, most true-to-self shit Kanye has ever done, and b) the music is inspired, boundary-pushing and game-changing.
I don’t think there’s another musician alive who could truly pop a wheelie on the zeitgeist (OK, maybe Miley), but mission accomplished here. This album only got more interesting as the year went on when mostly everything else tends to teeter off. Every Kanye interview added a new layer of depth to this album. The live show just took it to the next level when I didn’t even think another level could possibly be out there. It was like “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is Joseph was played by 2 Pac.
The first few times I heard “Blood on the Leaves” kick in, it just leveled me emotionally. “New Slaves” makes me wat to break everything in my apartment. I’d go through the rest but this is too long already. You get it. “Yeezus” was one of the true gifts of 2013. I am genuinely thankful it exists.
* * *
Here’s a Spotify playlist of my favorite songs of the year (in some rough order for the first 20 or 30 or whatever), too.
Honorable mentions: Beach House, Dirty Projectors, Animal Collective, Divine Fits, Killer Mike
In “Blue Chips”, rap just may find another star, albeit not the type you’re used to. Action Bronson doesn’t have Drake’s crossover appeal, Wayne’s ability to fill any hockey arena in the country or whatever it is J. Cole does, but he is a persona worthy of his own mythology and boasts the chops to back it up.
Action Bronson deserves your time because Action Bronson is funny. That’s a trait that will always translate, particularly in a pop-rap landscape that allows Big Sean to lead off one of the better Big Raps Songs of the year (“Mercy”) with something about an ‘assquake’. There’s no cringing with “Blue Chips”, at least not if you’re willing to laugh along with it. It doesn’t take very long before Action Bronson makes a girl’s eye pop-wide after very specific encounter, memorable not as much for the shock-value but for how he twisted the wordplay to pull it off. A few songs later, talking about undergoing a certain surgical enhancement, he reminds “This ain’t real shit baby/I’m just going off”.
Still: “Blue Chips” is more than just very good punchline rap, it also succeeds in building a legend out of the same lifestyle that’s been romanticized in rap for decades. The chorus of “Thug Love Story 2012” simply says “Blunts stay fat”. Not exactly trailblazing work here, but a further capitalization on why people love rap in the first place.
9. The Walkmen - Heaven
With “Heaven”, The Walkmen finally got stuck with the Dad Rock tag, a kiss of death that normally marks when a consistently stellar band stops being interesting to the same tastemakers that helped make them interesting in the first place. The thing that’s endearing about The Walkmen though is that they didn’t show any interest in trying to fight it. When “Heaven” dropped, the picture that most often accompanied reviews or promos showed the band in suits on a couch holding their kids. What’s rock n’ roll about that? On the surface, nothing. But also: maybe everything?
If nothing else it flies in the face of rock ethos or maybe even ‘how to be cool’ to such a significant degree you can’t help but respect it. Also: knowing what we know about the current financial climate of the music industry, isn’t it, like, some inspiring shit for younger, aspiring bands, that you can actually make music and tour and still lead what’s considered a ‘normal’ adult life?
This is likely over-thinking it to an extent and we should probably just focus on the music, because the music on “Heaven” is really great. I don’t think it’s better than “Lisbon” or “You And Me” or “Bows + Arrows”, but it’s remarkable for even making it a conversation after this many albums. Still: you know this Walkmen album is different from the first notes of "We Can’t Be Beat", a lead track that feels like it might not be appreciated by people who weren’t previously familiar with the band but also one that seems worthy of a cannon placement if you’re asking their biggest fans.
Mostly, “Heaven” is just fully-formed and consistent and full of very good songs with a very good sound. Typical Walkmen, no reason to sound an alarm.
8. Japandroids - Celebration Rock
Why is Japandroids so critically adored? Why are they getting 'Band of the Year' hype and why are they reducing fully grown men to their former angst-ridden high school selves? I’d like to say it’s because Japandroids do not give a fuck — don’t care that “Celebration Rock” sounds like it could have found a home on Epitaph or Victory Records 10 years ago; don’t care that this isn’t far from the type of heart-on-the-sleeve pop-punk that eventually made Taking Back Sunday a punchline. But I do think Japandroids cares and I think they care very much. They just know what they’re doing.
Please: listen to monster lead single “House that Heaven Built” and try to tell me they didn’t have the commercial success of “Thrash Unreal” bouncing around their minds. Watch them live and try to argue they aren’t indebted to Springstein’s bigger-than-life showmanship; hell, even his wardrobe. Which is to say: “Celebration Rock” is far from a convenient accident.
After a beloved debut, Japandroids knew they could make ‘The Leap’ with LP2 in much the same way an emerging NBA player enters an offseason looking not to overhaul their game but only to make sleek refinements. That’s essentially what Japandroids did here: “Celebration Rock” is better than it’s predecessor but it’s not because they reconfigured the formula. It’s sonically similar; if you shuffled both albums on a mix CD and gave it to an unfamiliar party, my guess is they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. It’s just slight bigger and more ambitious and more fun.
And that’s basically the key, the reason 30-something rock crits are so head-over-heels: Japandroids might be mindful that they’re creating beer slamming, worry-free, four-day-weekend rock music, but they’re still incredibly good at it. They know why people like rock music and it isn’t because it’s always witty or intricate or hard to play. Great rock music doesn’t have to be subtle and “Celebration Rock” certainly isn’t. It will knock you on your ass and make you get lost in it. It’s perfect running or lifting music and seems destination to appear in a Guitar Hero knock-off 15 years from now.
Why do people like Japandroids? Might as well ask why they like rock altogether.
7. Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s - Rot Gut, Domestic
On “Rot Gut, Domestic”, Richard Edwards hates his friends. He wants to stay-in, watch movies from France, get nostalgic about injury-plagued NBA centers while wondering what you were doing while he was getting high. Maybe he’ll just get drunk.
I’ll admit: I was worried about Margot for a minute. I’ve championed this as the Great Underappreciated Band since the first time I heard “Skeleton Key”; yeah, I think there’s six different versions of “Broadripple is Burning” on my iPod. Things seemingly started to fall apart after Edwards kicked out nearly the entire band following the major label drama that came with “Animal/Not Animal” — the band’s third LP, “Buzzard”, is a true mixed bag that felt like a bit of a letdown. Maybe Margot didn’t have it anymore without the violins, the girl, the ‘Bright Eyes x Arcade Fire’ feel. “Rot Gut, Domestic” put all of those fears to rest.
So much of this album reminds me of “Pinkerton”, but instead of crying about girls, Edwards is just sick or bored with life in general. “Shannon” sounds like someone poured acid onto the heart attached to Rivers Cuomo’s sleeve, “Prozac Rock” would probably be the fourth best song on the Green Album, “Frank Left” is a quick break from punk to show the softer side Margot did so well on its first two releases.
I might skip “A Journalist Falls in Love with Deathrow Inmate No. 16” or the closer, but “Rot Gut” is startlingly consistent and listenable in the wake of “Buzzard”. There are lots of really great songs on here, even if — again — there won’t be a lot of people to ever hear them. Such is life for a band that can’t get on the tastemakers’ radar. Oh well. “Rot Gut” only reinforces that Margot is one of my favorite bands. I can’t wait for what’s next.
6. Tame Impala - Lonerism
I couldn’t pick Tame Impala out of a police lineup; they’re the only band on this list in which I couldn’t name the lead singer if my life depended on it. That says something about about Tame Impala, I think, but I’m not entirely sure what and I don’t believe it matters. The Australians’ second album is a very real contender for the year’s best; the fact that it’s at No. 6 only speaks to the strength of the class. This has been a pretty good year for music.
Tame Impala might not come with a prepackaged narrative like so many other indie heavyweights, but they still sound familiar. The first thing everyone says about this band is that harken back to ’60s Brit-pop and that’s mostly accurate. Much of Lonerism initially kind of reminded me of "Tomorrow Never Knows" or “I Am the Walrus”; the singer — whoever he is — does sound like John Lennon, or at least someone half-assing a John Lennon impression. The reason Lonerism is so good though is because it still sounds fresh, like it couldn’t have come out in any other year. Everything on this album pops and it’s part of the reason I find the replay value to be so tremendous.
Lonerism might be the best rock album of the year because it never takes a break. There are countless hits here highlighted by a killer stretch from tracks No. 2-7. “Feels Like Going Backwards” seems like the no-brainer hit to catapult them up a tier but the album as a whole is so good that it’s easy to change your mind on its best song. And even as one of 11 people who digs “Congratulations”, I get the sense this is what MGMT wishes LP2 sounded like. Expansive, catchy and just a little bit trippy, “Lonerism” is rock broad enough to appeal to anyone while maintaining what makes it a critic’s choice. That is, you know, an almost impossible thing to pull off.
5. Frank Ocean - Channel Orange
At least in one specific sense, music — and this may go doubly for hip-hop and R&B — and the NBA have the same impossible need: the need for superstars. You don’t have to lock eyes on the brick parade that is the Chicago Bulls without Derrick Rose or suffer through the Kayne-less portions of “Cruel Summer” to know this as true, it’s the sort of thing obvious enough to any semi-trained ear or eye. It doesn’t feel like an overstatement to say music found a new superstar in 2012, and it’s Frank Ocean.
It’s not that Ocean was a complete unknown coming into the year. He’s the first voice you heard on “Watch the Throne”; he’s also maintained a somewhat distanced connection with the Odd Future crew. But with “channel ORANGE”, Ocean capitalized on that Next Big Thing potential and turned in what feels to a lot of people like an instant classic.
"channel ORANGE" is the year’s biggest hit parade, a front-to-back tour de force that could boast five-plus big radio hits if that was still a thing. That the album rarely feels like it’s slowing up amid its 17 tracks might be its biggest accomplishment. By the time "Bad Religion" hits at track No. 14 — I know, I wish it was a "Los Angeles is Burning" cover, too — it almost feels excessive.
4. Grizzly Bear - Shields
The third LP is a minefield that has claimed many once proud rock bands, and there’s a new Titus Andronicus album out this year to prove it. “Shields” could have easily been that for Grizzly Bear; that it’s not — it’s arguably as good as anything released in 2012 — means it’s probably time to realize only Arcade Fire is more beloved and bullet-proof. This band is sort of a powerhouse, a fact only cemented with “Shields”.
It still might be easy for some to feel disappointed. Grizzly Bear didn’t score a huge hit here, and it’s true that their last album, 2009’s “Veckatimest”, had two. It also doesn’t have anything quite as lovely (or weird) as “Knife”; after three albums, the sound that made people fall for “Yellow House” is likely to be a little less transfixing. But Grizzly Bear does a good job here of still rocking, building a sound that’s bigger and more accessible without turning into the Black Keys.
"Sleeping Ute" is the best opening track on an album this year. It doesn’t feel so much like something that sets the table for what’s to come as it does an immediate reminder that, yeah, Grizzly Bear is still pretty awesome. "Speak In Rounds" might be just as killer; "Yet Again" might bring some Black Keys comparisons into play but it never crosses a certain line of lameness. "A Simple Answer" is a six-minute, shape-shifting titan of a centerpiece; "gun-shy" rules, too.
Whether this is the best Grizzly Bear album (I think it might be) is up to the beholder, the important distinction here is that “Shields” is by far the most listenable Grizzly Bear album. I found the complaining to be incredibly weak, but I’ll admit: I’m surprised this wasn’t nominated for a Grammy, too. You might want to knock “Shields” for seeming like it could move a serious amount of units if sold at a Starbucks, or maybe because your mom would probably like it. But aren’t those pluses more than minuses?
3. Ty Segall - Twins + Slaughterhouse + Hair
This is might amount to cheating, putting three separate album from one artist as the No. 3 Album of the Year (caps make it official), but then again: what about Ty Segall’s output in 2012 didn’t break rules? “1901” came out roughly around the time prohibition was abolished and Phoenix still hasn’t released a track. Ty’s out here making three records that can each stand alone and is doing it successfully, pushing each of them all out within X months of one another. That’s an automatic A for effort, and, at least from here, an A for execution as well.
So: why the hell did Ty Segall put out three albums this year? Did he have this much excessive inspiration? Was it a money grab? Does he simply have no other way of spending his time? It’s probably a combination of all three, and more, but the end result is pretty fantastic. These are three distinct records, each one worthy of its own inclusion if this little exercise was properly expanded.
Slaughterhouse is self-described “evil, evil space rock”; it’s by far the heaviest and the most in-your-face, the drunkest and the most unconstrained. “Hair”, a collaboration with White Fence’s Tim Presley, strikes me as the most accessible: probably best heard when you’re skipping school to smoke joints in a park without a care or shed of responsibility to worry about. Then there’s “Twins”, Segall’s final release of 2012 which is also my favorite. That’s no small feat.
Given all the material that came before it, “Twins” might seem destined to be an odds-and-ends collection, a group of songs that weren’t quite gnarly enough for “Slaughterhouse” or stoned enough for “Hair”. While that might be true, I think they’re also the best songs Segall has written since his breakout “Melted” if only because they stay true to that record’s hook-laden garage rock mission statement. “You’re the Doctor” became a insta-hit, live show staple before it was ever released, “Would You Be My Love” is straight-up jaunty thrasher and “Ghost” is Segall at his most anthemic. “Twins” rocks front-to-back and cemented Ty Segall’s place among the year’s most important musicians. He’s definitely the hardest working.
2. Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory
In his Pitchfork review, Ian Cohen said “Attack on Memory” ‘feels above all necessary, a corrective for indie rock making allowances for everything except music that actually rocks.’ It’s a line that stuck with me through numerous spins; this is my most played album of 2012 by far, though it probably helps that I got it when it leaked in December 2011. In a contemporary music climate that makes intentionally quaint-sounding ‘bedroom pop’ a buzzy genre and allows Cults to get those big-money commercial spots, “Attack On Memory” reminded me of the music that made me like music in the first place. It doesn’t exactly sound like “Full Collapse” or “Goddamnit!” but it keeps their ideals near and remembers what made voracious and passionate pop-punk a viable genre before it got excommunicated from the indie empire.
There is a clear influence at play here, though, and it’s one of the baddest sounding albums of all-time, at least in my opinion: “In Utero”. Nirvana’s final studio album isn’t nearly as beloved as “Nevermind” and has yet to go through a “Pinkerton”-like, anniversary-honored renaissance, but Dylan Baldi remembers what made it stand out. “In Utero” was sad and loud and lonely, but it also sounded fucking immaculate. No one will ever be able to replicate Kurt Cobain’s war-torn screams and no one should ever even try, but Baldi does an impressive enough homage without it feeling like he’s going for a straight rip-off.
It takes a certain level of conviction to sell lyrics like “I thought I would be more than this”, but Baldi is young enough to pull it off without the requisite shamed. “Attack On Memory” reminds you that that this specific genre is the ultimate young man’s game even if you might not be able to really connect with it until you have expectations to live up to and people to let down. That sounds horrible, but hey: the best music is usually either the happiest or the saddest, isn’t it?
I love this entire album but “Wasted Days” is a cut above, my vote for the best track of the year even if it goes on way too long for no reason whatsoever. It feels misplaced in the two-hole, though where else do you put it? “Attack on Memory” is all about raw power and never is it encapsulated better than with “Wasted Days”, even if it’s nine-minute duration and sort-of-embarrassing lyrics means you can’t play it at parties or in front of the wrong crowds. Whatever: even if “Attack On Memory” isn’t for everyone, it fills its target marketplace and scratches its targeted itch in flawless fashion. No complaint here.
1. Kendrick Lamar - Good Kid, mA.A.D. City
The last thing “good kid; m.A.A.d city” needs is another ringing endorsement, another blogger or music nerd touting Kendrick Lamar’s second album as something special, something of an instant classic, something that will very likely be near the top of many end-of-decade retrospectives seven years from now. I guess I will try anyway.
Need a tangible testament to GKMC’s power? It made a b-side out of what might be the best rap song of the year. That’s what many Twitter tastemakers thought when "Cartoons & Cereal" leaked this spring, a killer seven-minute track mesmerizing enough to turn the rapper it let ride shotgun (Gunplay) into something of an emerging star. I still love that track, but if it only goes down as 2012’s most kick-ass b-side (let’s deem this the 'Jamie' Memorial Award, previous winners include "Coconut Bible"), I’m cool with it. From here, “good kid; m.A.A.d city” is without flaw; nothing should be changed.
Lamar’s debut “Section.80” featured a handful of highly memorable cuts, but GKMC is its superior in every way. This is Kendrick’s magnum opus and the realest album to come out in a long time. There’s a story here, and the album rarely breaks from telling it: Kendrick is stuck between his sophomore and junior year of high school, doing what teenagers do. He chases girls, becomes combative someone or something tries to ‘kill his vibe’, finds trouble with his buddies, struggles with his relationships with God and alcohol.
Nearly all of GKMC is good enough to stand alone, but it feels so much more meaningful when taken in as a whole. The interludes do a great job of pacing the album (Jayson Greene did a fine job of explaining how this affects ‘Backseat Freestyle’ in his Pitchfork review); that they’re nearly identical to the ones on Frank Ocean’s album is an interesting footnote, if nothing else.
It needs to be noted how easily the industry could have ruined this, had Kendrick let it. Dr. Dre’s Aftermath isn’t in the business of turning out quaint indie hits. But Kendrick’s vision was uncompromising enough to turn a legit radio hit (“The Recipe”) into a b-side, same with another song featuring Mary J. Blige. Kendrick knew exactly what he wanted GKMC to be, and it pays off. You don’t get a classic every year, but that’s exactly what GKMC feels like. Ya bish.
Find the honorable mentions, and their NBA role player comparisons, here.
10. The Weeknd - House of Balloons
Not that I would ever champion the Baseball Hall of Fame’s vomit-inducing moral righteousness, but work with me for a second: to be considered for induction at such a museum, one oft-argued criteria is that Player X needs to be dominant for a set period of time. Longevity has its merits, but there’s a reason no one’s ever named a pet or branded a video game after Jamie Moyer. Same should go for year-end music lists. When I first heard House of Balloons, I couldn’t put it down. To someone who traditionally gravitates towards loud and fast rock music, this hazy R&B album was the most distinctive listen of my year.
Still, sticking the “breath of fresh air” label here seems wrongheaded, if only because the air in House of Balloons couldn’t be more contaminated. It’s a mixtape grounded amorality, and that starts with a) drugs, closely followed by b) sex. Yes, there’s a lot to like here even beyond The Weeknd’s general dissent towards decency. You don’t get this much blog buzz and indie insta-cred without a LP1 Beach House sample. Even still, House of Balloons would be forgettable without its lead voice, and 20-year old singer Abel Tesfaye nails it the entire way through.
The cool kids may have claimed The Weeknd first, but the pop-crossover success of this project feels inevitable. It may even be here already thanks to a guest spot on Drake’s massively popular Take Care. But whether or not The Weeknd continues to appeal to the skinny jeans crowd or evolves to something more mainstream, this debut mixtape will endure as a compelling listen.
9. Girls - Father, Son, And Holy Ghost
Part of me would love to hate this album, if only because it feels so safe. Don’t think Christopher Owens is a fool: after last year’s highly buzzed Broken Dreams Club EP followed a highly-buzzed debut full length, Girls sensed that Father, Son, and Holy Ghost was their chance to gain indie tenure and probably a little bit of cash. With that in mind, maybe it’s not so surprising that this is an album that seemingly aims to please everyone.
Everyone agrees that “Die” is some sort of rip-off, whether it’s Led Zeppelin, another ’60s/’70s hard rock band I’m unfamiliar with, or that one Wolfmother song. Still, there’s only a short list of tracks this year with as much juice, and none of them carries the same element of surprise as when you first hear “Die” in the flow of the album.
Points for creativity, too. In an indie culture when so many ideas seem played out, adding three soulful black chicks to sing back-up vocals and make Owens’ fragile-white-boy choruses pop is a stroke of genius. It provides an indelible ending to “Vomit”, and transforms opener “Honey Bunny” to the type of Motown-“Surf Wax America” mashup that only prime-era Gregg Gillis could cook up.
Girls even had to swagger-jack for their style: anyone who saw ‘em on Jimmy Fallon knows Owens’ Kurt Cobain get-up was too much to ignore. Even with everything considered, the song-writing here is strong enough and most of the tracks are likable enough to overcome any shortcomings.
8. St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
I suspect that in 20 years when someone wonders what indie rock sounded like around the turn of the aughts’ second decade, Strange Mercy will be just as good of an answer as Vecktimest and Bitte Orca. So much of Annie Clark’s adoration seems to come from her unorthodox improvisational skills on guitar, but there’s still something about this album that’s undeniably professional.
Strange Mercy works on a number of different levels, but its lyrical introspection mixed with a hint of punk attitude is what vaults it into the conversation of the year’s best releases. In that sense, St. Vincent is easy to root for: she proved in a Pitchfork interview that she utilizes the correct touchstones and sometimes appears to make music for them, as much as anyone else. She doesn’t seem to want Passion Pit-type of crossover success, even if Strange Mercy certainly has that potential.
Lead single “Cruel” is as close as she gets. Clark looks like the type of chick who would have got her ass beat by her younger self for creating a song so overtly pop-y, but it’s a testament to her songwriting ability. “Surgeon” is even better, and a major candidate for track of the year.
As a whole, Strange Mercy is as accessible, slick, and polished as any album this year. It’s nearly bullet-proof.
7. Atlas Sound - Parallax
The people who fell in love with Deerhunter’s abrasively-named early lo-fi releases probably never would have expected Bradford Cox to one day open a solo album with the lyrics “Found money and fame”, but that’s exactly how Cox begins his third take as Atlas Sound. Cox is only rich and famous if the currency of the day is indie cred, but the fact that he’s even daring enough these days to put those words on record proves the progression he’s made over the last several years.
Parallax is the best Atlas Sound album yet because it continues Cox’s shift to more straight-forwarding songwriting, a transformation that may have started with “Sheila” on Atlas Sound’s last LP Logos. Since then, Deerhunter wrote 2010’s best rock music thanks to a hint of power-pop and proved that Cox might be at his best when he’s most accessible.
Parallax feels like an obvious extension of last year’s Halycon Digest in that sense. Substitute an acoustic guitar for an electric one and songs like “Mona Lisa” and “Angel Is Broken” would have fit right in on my second favorite album of last year. Nothing here is as challenging — or some would argue as rewarding — as Logos’ “Quick Canal”, but it helps keep the pace brisk and listening easy. No complaints here.
6. Real Estate - Days
Fidelity can be a kiss of death in indie rock, but fortunately that didn’t scare off Real Estate from souping up its sophomore album Days. While 2009’s self-titled debut laid the groundwork for the band’s signature easy-breezy sound, Days sees Real Estate maximize its potential thanks to enhanced production and a focus on air-tight songwriting.
Spending a day with Real Estate is akin to floating down a lazy river with a Budweiser (and Sprite) in hand, a comparison that seems so obvious I honestly cannot remember if it’s an original thought or not. Regardless, Days still captures that dynamic and continues with the themes hinted on at on LP1. The Arcade Fire made suburban life seem meaningful, if not occasionally thrilling, a year ago, but Real Estate has no such agenda. “Mundane” hardly seems like a good adjective to describe a rock album, but Days makes it work.
Still, this album is at its best when the tempo speeds up, most notably with “It’s Real”. If the track isn’t the best song of 2011, it’s close. Closer “All The Same” might serve as the best portrait of Days, though. The song is almost seven and a half minutes long, but it never drags. Every note feels essential. This is the new Real Estate, and it’s not nearly as insipid as it might appear.
5. Cymbals Eat Guitars - Lenses Alien
Wordiness has its place in indie rock — see: The Hold Steady, Bright Eyes, the rest of my favorite bands, ect. — but it’s hardly a prerequisite. I mean, have you read the lyrics to “Midnight City”? But while ambiguity can be a virtue, the opposite is also true. Cymbals Eat Guitars’ sophomore effort Lenses Alien might not require a graduate degree, but good luck decoding Joseph D’Agostino’s lyrics without at least an above average score on the verbal section of the GRE.
On “Definite Darkness” alone, D’Agostino uses “parabolas” to describe his roads, “hypodermic” to describe his needles, and name-drops a “skinless and sinewy leviathan”, ie: a tough-to-chew biblical sea monster. Fuck capturing a feeling when you can delineate your thoughts so hyper-specifically. That verbosity is part of what makes this album more rewarding with each listen. Lenses Alien doesn’t passively wait for your engagement, it practically demands it.
For as cumbersome as the lyrics are, everything about the music is ruthlessly efficient. Cymbals Eat Guitars’ touchstones here are obvious enough; it’s almost impossible not to think of Perfect From Now On when listening to these densely layered rock songs. While I fear the “‘90s” tag makes this album seem incorrectly mundane, D’Agostino probably wouldn’t be singing about his skateboard if he was scared of the comparisons. Lenses Alien doesn’t include a monster hook or a hit single all the way through, but its craftsmanship is irrefutable.
4. M83 - Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
"Epic" is among the most abused words in the modern lexicon, serving to describe everything from college parties to YouTube videos. But listen to Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, Anthony Gonzalez’s sixth LP as M83, and try to think of a more appropriate adjective to describe what you’re hearing. It might take a while. It’s no coincidence that Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming comes after M83 spent time touring with The Killers and Depeche Mode: the bombastic influence of Brandon Flowers et al. clearly seeps through on these songs even without knowing the backstory. Whereas Gonzalez’s last release, 2008’s widely acclaimed Saturday = Youth, could have soundtracked a John Hughes movie with its distinct ’80s synths, there’s no such feel to its follow-up. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is bigger in every way: in scope, in sound, in reception. Gonzalez cut the nostalgia and went straight for the gusto: this is his attempt to have M83 reach the heights of other electro-addeled French bands like Phoenix and Daft Punk. Each used a distinctive spin on old fashioned party rock to grab headlining slots at summer festivals around the world (no pun intended) over the last two years, and it’s no doubt Gonzalez has the same intentions. Just look at that lightning bolt guitar strap. This bro means business.
Perhaps the biggest compliment Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming can be paid is that it feels brisk, which is no small task for a double-album with a running time of nearly 75 minutes. Lead single “Midnight City”, deservedly named Pitchfork’s best track of the year, may never be as far-reaching as “1901”, but it’s very possible it’s the best rock song since. There are plenty of other worthy singles spread throughout the album’s other 22 tracks, too: “Wait” is cheesey as hell but reeks of the Smashing Pumpkins at their downtempo best, while “Steve McQueen” may not hit until track 19, but the wait is worth it. And if there’s a more inappropriately unassuming title to a track as, well, epic, as “Intro”, I certainly haven’t heard it.
If Gonzalez would have trimmed this down to the best 12 tracks — minus the instrumental interludes and the song about a magic frog — Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming might top this list. The album is no worse for the additional minutes, though. It will sound just as great at Lollapalooza (or Coachella, or Bonaroo) as it does out of your headphones, probably better.
3. Jay-Z and Kanye West - Watch The Throne
The reason there won’t ever again be a good halftime show at the Super Bowl isn’t because we lack contemporary artists with the required kilowatt power to throw a 20-minute party on the country’s biggest stage, it’s because the people who run the thing don’t have the fortitude to let Jay-Z and Kanye do it. It’s really the only choice that makes sense. Excess, wealth, pedal-to-the-metal production value, overwhelming corporate materialism: Watch the Throne and the Super Bowl were practically birthed from the same parents. What could possibly be more indicative of the American Dream — proper noun — than combining the two?
Alas, Janet Jackson’s infamous wardrobe malfunction ruined everything, and now all we get is Madonna. It’s a shame, because Watch the Throne's greatest triumph comes from its unblemished universal appeal. That's a real accomplishment, especially considering the level of inclusion its makers sporadically aim for. One of the best songs on the album begins with the line “LOLOLOwhite America / assassinate my character”; a few tracks later, Kanye, speaking on his unborn son, says “I might even make 'em be Republican / So everybody know he love white people”. Watch the Throne had a specific target demographic in mind during its creation, but galvanized every race, gender, and creed on Earth upon its release, save for a few too-snarky hip-hop bloggers. Is there any doubt that these guys are the closest thing we have to The Beatles?
The album that spawned "Ball So Hard University", ‘Dat Shit Cray’ tattoos, and more Internet memes than any record I can ever remember will almost certainly be the most indelible release of this year. It was a certifiable cultural event. These men are simply too good at being tremendously interesting. I think Pitchfork’s year-end capsule summed it up best: “rap as reality is as important as rap as escapism.” It sounds so soulful, don’t you agree?
2. Smith Westerns - Dye It Blonde
Yeah, everyone had a good time stomping their foot to “Be My Girl” in 2009, but didn’t the Smith Westerns still seem like a risky co-sign for the tastemakers of the day? Teenagers with a sound so raw usually don’t get this type of hall pass to the fast track. But with their sophomore album Dye It Blonde, Smith Westerns justified the hype. Surprisingly enough, this band cleans up real well.
A band so decidedly unlikable has to be damn on record to escape unscathed, and Dye it Blonde is somehow up to the task. Ex. 1: when the AV Club asked Smith Westerns why they chose to cover Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers for its Undercover series, singer Cullen Omori — clearly inebriated — haphazardly grabbed his microphone and slurred “because we like pussy”. Rocks stars are supposed to be cocksure, but when did they get this annoying? For all of their faults, Dye It Blonde is still as enduring as any release this year. It’s reminiscent of the transformation underwent by Deerhunter before last year’s excellent Halycon Digest: muffled lo-fi noise to slick pop-rock, all thanks to a few added production dollars and a re-centered focus.
There’s something undeniable about guitar riff custom built to be sang along with, and Dye It Blonde has them in spades. If Smith Westerns made a misstep with this album, it was the release date: listening to “Weekend” in January just doesn’t do it justice. This much glam begs for a convertible ride down Lake Shore Drive, and nothing less. Need more convincing? I think this is the only album of 2011 without a skippable track. When you make an album this good, you can talk as much shit as you want.
1. Yuck - S/T
At no point during my approximately 14,000 listens to Yuck’s self-titled debut album did I ever think it was the best release of the year. But while other albums came and went from weekly rotation, Yuck never left. This isn’t the most consummate album of the year, the most skilled or the catchiest. But when I went through all of the albums I listened to in 2011, I just couldn’t rank anything ahead of it.
Whether it was intentional or not, Yuck’s philosophy towards making rock music comes off as warmingly fragmented: the entire song doesn’t actually have matter, just parts. This album’s greatest highs hit only for a moment: the lead guitar in “Operation”, the abrupt beginning to “The Wall”, the solo that cascades over the end of “Shook Down”. Nearly every track on this album features a riff that deserves a fan-curated Tumblr dedicated to it. The lyrics are sometimes hard to hear and sometimes nonsensical, but occasionally memorable. And so often, Yuck is content with letting the guitar sing lead. It’s hard to play the “pop punk” or “emo” card here when prime-era Billy Corgan himself would envy these riffs.
Yuck could probably stand to chop off a few tracks — and hey, I said the same thing about The Suburbs, my favorite album of 2010. Cut this to 10 songs and I’d feel more comfortable making it No. 1. But as Yuck proved, completeness can be overrated. Sometimes you just need moments and Yuck provided them better than anyone.
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30 Best Songs Of The Year: Check out the Spotify playlist
30. Wavves - Poor Lenore
29. Alex Turner - Piledriver Waltz
28. Kendrick Lamar - Rigomortus
27. Neon Indian - Polish Girl
26. Surfer Blood - Miranda
25. Lil Wayne - Sorry 4 The Wait
24. Frank Ocean - Songs For Women
23. Lana Del Rey - Video Games
22. Drake feat. Rick Ross - Lord Knows
21. Bright Eyes - Shell Games
20. Fleet Foxes - Grown Ocean
19. A$AP Rocky - Wassup
18. Jay-Z and Kanye West - No Church In The Wild
17. Atlas Sound - Mona Lisa
16. Kendrick Lamar - Fuck Your Ethnicity
15. Cymbals Eat Guitars - Definite Darkness
14. Radiohead - Lotus Flower
13. The Weeknd - Wicked Games
12. Girls - Honey Bunny
11. Girls - Vomit
10. Lil Wayne feat. Rick Ross- John
9. The Strokes - Under Cover of Darkness
8. Jay-Z and Kanye West - Niggas In Paris
7. St. Vincent - Surgeon
6. Smith Westerns - Weekend
5. Real Estate - It’s Real
4. Yuck - Operation
3. Yuck - Get Away
2. M83 - Midnight City
1. Tyler, The Creator - Yonkers
A$AP Rocky -LiveLoveA$AP: How’s this for a fucking walking paradox: I don’t even think Rocky is *good* at rapping — pretty boy/purple drank/Houston/weed rinse, repeat — but haven’t been able to put down this album since getting it. Or at least the first half. For all the points Rocky gets docked in creativity and versatility, he makes up for in style and production (particularly the Clams Casino tracks).
NBA Role Player Comparison: If Sebastian Telfair would have turned out like Ray Felton. The burden that comes with being New York City’s “Next Big Thing” has crushed even the surest of sure things. Telfair essentially bottomed-out in the league after a high school career so storied at Brooklyn’s Lincoln High it warranted it’s own intoxicating ESPN documentary. Still, dude’s made $15 million in his career. Rocky is off to a fast start in that department, too.
The Strokes - Angles: One of my two most anticipated albums of the year. I do think there’s a banger or two hidden inside here, but “Angles” sounds exactly like its back story: an uninspired effort from a band with its most important cog immensely disinterested.
NBA Role Player Comparison: Tracy McGrady. The early ’00s were a weird time, and it might have robbed both of these entities of the appreciation they deserved. Side angle: brilliance cut short. When at the top of their collective short-lived peaks, was anyone better? Maybe only Kobe and Jack White, and I don’t think I believe either.
Tyler, the Creator - Goblin: My other mega-anticipated album. I think it has to register as a bit of a disappointment even if it remains an engaging listen. Preposterously insular and almost wholly staked in some bizarre, self-created universe, “Goblin” is the hardest album to listen to this year by leaps and bounds. Still, I do believe there are times when it’s also feels extremely rewarding. Also: rap albums are way too long.
NBA Role Player Comparison: Boogie Cousins. Young (each born in the ’90s) and immature rebels that double as budding icons. Each has so much potential it makes you forget about fisticuffs with Donte Greene or even “Bitch Suck Dick”.
Kendrick Lamar - Section.80: Lamar sizes himself up in “Ab-Soul’s Outro”, but he’s only half-right: “I’m not the next pop star, I’m not the next socially aware rapper // I am a human motherfucking being over dope ass instrumentation”. After spending the year with the likes of Tyler and A$AP Rocky, Lamar is breath of fresh air in that the man can actually rap. In the Swag Era, he might qualify as “the next socially aware rapper” by default.
NBA Role Player Comparison: Etan Thomas. It’s not like I expect Kedrick Lamar to ever raise money for earthquake victims or fight Brendan Haywood, much less blog for the Huffington Post, but both care about stuff, man. That’s what separates them from their peers.
Okkervil River - I Am Very Far: A college years favorite of mine that just couldn’t seem to hook me with this release. Okkervil River will always be carried by the persona of Will Sheff, but it’s not the same without the hits. This is the first Okkervil River record ever without one.
NBA Role Player Comparison: Brian Cardinal. When I saw Okkervil River in September, I was blown away by how much of the crowd looked exactly like Your Dad.
Bright Eyes - The People’s Key: Lower yr expectations: it could have been assumed that this wouldn’t be half as good as Conor Oberst’s three best records, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t catchy and likable. For as much as I dig the new wave-influenced pop-rock style of “Shell Games” and “Jejune Stars”, this album may peak at “Ladder Song”, with Oberst at his most melancholy and his minimalistic.
NBA Role Player Comparison: Steve Nash. Both Nash and Oberst were galvanizing enough in their prime to create something just short of a cult. Nash isn’t an MVP candidate anymore, Conor is light-years removed from the early period songwriting that earned him “Next Big Thing” cred in the pre-blog era. Still, both retain a bit of that “people’s champ” panache while sporadically being capable of turn-back-the-clock moments.
Neon Indian - Era Extrana: I can’t shake the feeling that this would sound so much better in a year without M83. Sonically, the two releases are similar, but where Anthony Gonzalez’s grandiose attempts feel legitimately epic, Alan Palomo’s occasionally can feel cheesy. Even so, this is potentially more cohesive than “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” and your fringe-hipster friends will probably like it three times as much.
NBA Role Player Comparison: Chris Bosh. The main narrative surrounding Bosh is his role as the league’s go-to punchline; it’s easy enough that even a well past-its-prime comedy like “The Office” can create a season highlight just by using Bosh’s name for an easy joke. If there’s a similarity with Neon Indian, though, it comes in the perception of their actual value: both might qualify as underrated, with semi-low P4K scores and almost-dominating Eastern Conference Finals performances serving as the evidence.
Radiohead - The King of Limbs: The reason this is the worst Radiohead album ever is because it’s the first one Radiohead has ever sounded like Radiohead. But even Radiohead doing an impression of itself can be occasionally thrilling, and “The King of Limbs” — with it’s proto-dubstep intentions — accomplishes that.
NBA Role Player Comparison: Tim Duncan. Legends of the game weighed down by the unstoppable nature of time who can still be pretty damn effective. Duncan isn’t winning you a title as your best or second best player, I doubt “The King of Limbs” cracks many top 10’s. Even if these deities have seen better days, there’s still something comforting about knowing they’re around, just waiting to blindside you with an unseen late-career bullet-point to add to a Hall of Fame resume.
Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues: Maybe it’s because they’re just such damn professionals only two albums in, but there’s something about Fleet Foxes I find almost boring. While their debut EP and first LP featured serious hits in “Mykonos” and “Blue Ridge Mountains”, it’s hard to choose one standout off LP2. It’s a complete and cohesive effort that gains points for never falling off but loses them for never aspiring to reach new heights.
NBA Role Player Comparison: James Harden’s beard. Beard solidarity.
Ed. note: This originally ran in December of 2010 on a friend’s Chicago Now blog that has since been shut down. I was really bummed when I realized all of said blog’s archives were deleted, as this post was (seemingly) lost forever.
I love doing year-end lists like this, no matter how frivalous the entire concept is. As such, I opened a Gmail draft and started jotting down a few ideas for my Best of 2011 list. It is that time of the year already, you know. Then it dawned on me: holy shit, this thing is probably saved somewhere in the deep annals of my personal email.
So, here it is. My list of the best albums/songs of 2010.
Albums of the Year
10. Hot Chip - One Life Stand
No, nothing here is going to get a party started quite like “Over and Over” or “Ready For the Floor”, but what does? Perhaps it’s even more impressive that a Hot Chip album can still crack the top ten in a year as loaded year as as this one without a true banger. Usually, this band is as top-heavy as anyone. In that respect, “One Life Stand” is a big change of pace for these dudes: you can listen to this album front-to-back, and the whole thing is pretty good*.
*Excluded: that whole "I can play Xbox with my brothers" line. Let’s throw that one into the Rocky V Hall of Things That Never Happened, somewhere not even close to MJ on the Wizards.
9. Sleigh Bells - Treats
From the moment opener “Tell ‘Em” begins, you know what you’re getting into with Sleigh Bells. Loud guitars at a frantic pace over drums that sound like the Fourth of July, sprinkled with feather-soft vocals and lyrics that would make Best Coast blush. This is the formula, and there’s never been anything like it.
"Treats" isn’t for everyone. It’s the most musically abrasive indie release of the year; even on your iPod, it’s louder than everything else. It’s no wonder that one-half of this duo descended from Poison the Well — this is a punk record at its core, even if singer Alexis Krauss was teaching Brooklyn fourth graders just months before Sleigh Bells earned official buzz-band status.
The one constant here, besides for punishing walls of noise, is Sleigh Bells’ knack for writing killer melodies. Everything about the music is harsh, but the hooks will still get stuck in your head for days. The most obvious example is “Rill Rill”, a track that should have blared out of speakers at every summer loft party from Wicker Park to Williamsburg, and few other places in between.
Yes, Sleigh Bells is gimmicky. It’s very possible this isn’t built to last. But during an era in music when so many bands sound vaguely like groups your dad used to listen to, the freshness here is what stands out.
8. The Walkmen - Lisbon
"They say you can’t please everyone, but I’m stuck on a winning streak."
This is how “While I Shovel The Snow” starts; ironic, because positioned at track 10, it’s the first weak song on “Lisbon”. Even so, when you can get that far without skipping a track on an album in 2010, you know you’ve grabbed ahold of something good. And “Lisbon” is good. It’s probably the most accessible Walkmen album ever, and it might just be the best.
There’s no frills here, just The Walkmen doing their thing, same as always. The rollicking pace of standout “Angela Surf City” reminds of indie-smash hit “The Rat”, the build to euphoria on “Victory” isn’t far off from “In the New Year”, the horns on “Stranded” will remind old fans of “Louisiana”.
In the end, I think it boils down to this: if you like rock music, you will like The Walkmen. Forget all of that trendy reverb shit; leave the muffled vocals for singers who can’t perform their own songs. The Walkmen make rock music the way rock music is supposed to sound.On “Lisbon”, it sounds as great as ever.
7. Surfer Blood - Astro Coast
Please, go ahead and accuse me of a being a sucker for bands that sound like Weezer. Nothing could be more accurate. Of course, sounding like Weezer isn’t a particularly new phenomenon. You could probably say the same thing about Good Charlotte - “Cardiology” didn’t make this list, sorry — and you wouldn’t be wrong. Surfer Blood, though, recalls an era of Weezer when the underdog tag still fit, long before Rivers Cuomo started actively trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator of music fans. This is good Weezer, and a hearty reminder that, yes, good Weezer actually used to exist.
"Astro Coast" runs just over 40 minutes, which would make it one of the longer offerings in the Weezer catalog. Even still, it never drags, which is as crucial an element as any in the realm of guitar-fueled power-pop. There isn’t a clear standout track, but plenty of memorable moments: the raucous chorus of "Swim", John Paul Pitts’ falsetto on "Take It Easy", the entire second half of "Anchorage".
Mostly, “Astro Coast” is an album by a bunch of young dudes about being a bunch of young dudes. This band doesn’t appear to be a finished product yet, and there’s something reassuring about that. “Youth” doesn’t always equate with “potential”, but on “Astro Coast”, you get the sneaky feeling that this time it will.
6. Beach House - Teen Dream
"Teen Dream" is the best album of 2010 according to Urban Outfitters and Gorilla vs. Bear, which means it holds the unofficial crown of Indiest Indie Album of the Year. That made-up title couldn’t be more misleading, though. This is a pop record first and foremost, something nearly everyone in your cell phone’s list of contacts would love, Mom included.
"Teen Dream" came out way back in January, with the band riding high after front-woman Victoria Legrand guest-starred on "Slow Life", Grizzly Bear’s offering to the Twilight soundtrack. But unlike the snail’s pace of that track, "Teen Dream" finds Beach House as up-tempo and accessible as anyone. It’s an amazingly fluid album, one that flows from track to track without notice.
"Every song songs the same" is normally a lazy criticism for indie kids talking about Dave Matthews Band, and it could potentially be applied here, too. But when every song is great, does it really matter?
5. Earl Sweatshirt - EARL
Tyler, the Creator gets most of the pub for Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, and deservedly so. He’s the de facto leader who started the teenage LA rap crew, and acts as the group’s main creative force. Tyler makes the beats, the magnetizing YouTube videos, and everything else that went into turning Odd Future into a niche Internet sensation in late 2010. He’s also a dope rhymer, and cocksure enough to already compare himself to iconoclasts like Ian Curtis and Kurt Cobain.
Unfortunately, Tyler is disqualified from this list. His “Bastard” came out in 2009, Pitchfork, and is therefore ineligible under the “everything must come out in the calendar year” rule of year-end top ten list making. That’s fine, though. Tyler is the most galvanizing force in the Odd Future universe, but his little brother Earl Sweatshirt is the best pure rhymer.
"EARL" is barely over 25 minutes long, but there’s never a dull moment. Tyler taught himself how to play piano at 14 and Earl truly reaps the benefits here. His flow reminds of a young Eminem, particularly on "epaR" — the entire scene described in the song’s second half is straight out of "The Slim Shady LP". And yes, the themes and lyrics here are every bit as graphic and threatening as anything Marshall Mathers has ever done. There’s songs about all kinds of unthinkables, mostly violence against women. But as uncomfortable as some of the subject matter may make you feel, the music is good enough to stand on its own.
The burden of youth is that everybody expects a brighter future and subsequently disvalues the present. With every label on Earth trying to get in on the action, Odd Future’s expectations will be sky high from here on out. No longer are they a bunch of skate punks making music on their Macs in their mom’s house; they’re legitimate hip hop artists now, whether they’re ready for the spotlight or not. The fear here is that they’ll become a caricature of themselves — Tyler’s already said “Fuck 2DopeBoyz” 250 times and counting. But forget about all of the supposed promise for a second and take “EARL” for what it is: a really mesmerizing DIY rap album from a 16-year old. Even if it never gets any better than this, it’s OK.
4. The National - High Violet
The term “Dad Rock” might be the biggest backhanded compliment in music right now, but that doesn’t mean that 2010 wasn’t the best year for Dad Rock ever, even if Wilco didn’t put out any new material. Broken Social Scene, The Black Keys, and Arcade Fire are tearing up year-end lists everywhere, and so is The National, a band that does more to expand the boundaries of the made-up genre than any other.
"High Violet" is smart, wordy, mature rock music at its finest. Matt Berninger’s lyrics began to feel like poetry half-way through 2005’s hit "Mr. November", and nothing has changed two albums later. Berninger’s deep voice and Ivy League metaphors will forever be the sell here, and he’s proved he’s up for the task yet again.
Nothing on “High Violet” will grab you as immediately as “Mr. November”, but it’s still an album that never takes a breather. It’s the kind that will leave you constantly changing your opinion on its best song. “Afraid of Everyone” ended up as the selection in our list of favorite tracks, but it just as easily could have been “Lemonworld”, “Conversation 16” or “Bloodbuzz Ohio”. It’s an album chalk full of quality songs, and is a very real contender for the year’s best.
So what if it just feels more mature than “King of the Beach”? There’s zero lack of joy here. Just a bunch of quality jams by a band that’s not afraid of knowing what it’s doing.
3. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
The album that has every demographic of music fans losing their mind includes the line “Yeezy reupholstered my pussy”. This is what’s getting unanimous perfect scores from every relevant tastemaker, and what’s getting enough praise to warrant legitimate discussions over whether the genre has ever produced something as electric.
2010 was many things in music: the year Eminem returned to form, the year Sufjan Stevens came out of hibernation, the year “chillwave” became a word stable enough to appear in the New York Times. Above anything else, though, 2010 was the year of Kanye West.
"My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" was first called "Good Ass Job", part of a long-planned list of album titles created by Kanye years ago. But at the last minute, after most of the record’s tracks had already been released via Kanye’s "G.O.O.D Friday" Twitter initiative, Mr. West called an audible. Even for an artist already as established as Kanye, with 12 Grammys on his mantel, this album didn’t fit in with the others. This was bigger, better and he knew it."My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" ends up being exactly what it sounds like: a piece of art every bit as huge as its creator’s twisted blend of talent and ego.
Yes, there are moments here that will make you lose faith in humanity. There’s a King of Leon rhyme two minutes into the album; the Chris Rock bit will immediately turn some listeners off, as could the audacity of “Runaway”. But mostly, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is bulletproof. The highs outweigh the lows, and it’s not even close. This is hip hop on its largest scale, the way it has always meant to be.
Turn off your cynicism; turn up your speakers. Kanye has created the new archetype for modern hip hop, and it’s every bit as good as you want it to be.
2. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
We’re taught as children to never judge a book by its cover, to not hastily write something or someone off without first properly getting to know it. Nothing epitomizing the sentiment more in 2010 than “Earthquake”, the spacey, difficult opener from one of the most accessible and acclaimed rock records of the year.
“Earthquake” is a taunt, and Deerhunter at its most discordant. Maybe it’s a tribute to the band’s lo-fi, noise-oriented roots; maybe it’s nothing more than an inside joke that only Bradford Cox finds funny. Either way, it comes and goes without the slightest trace of irony or hint at future riches. It’s not until that first track ends that the real party begins, when Deerhunter enters full on pop-mode like you’d never imagine possible. You’ll realize quickly how much things have changed since you last left this group: it’s no longer a band for music bloggers, it’s now a band for music lovers.
Deerhunter has had moments of inspiration in the past, most notably with “Nothing Ever Happened”, a rock track as strong as any released in the last 10 years. They always seemed plagued by Cox’s righteousness, though, a quality that has led to numerous skip-worthy tracks and a deserved reputation for the front-man as the Kanye West of indie rock. Perhaps it’s time to run with those Yeezy comparisons again, only this time not because of Cox’s on-stage theatrics or general surliness towards dissent. If Cox is indie’s Kanye, it’s because of his stage presence, his keen ear for a killer melody, and because his music is now more versatile than nearly all of his contemporaries.
"Halycon Digest" takes whatever shape Cox wants it to, and it’s clear from beginning to end. "Memory Boy" is an astute piece of power-pop, "Revival" a punk basher, "Basement Scene" a haunting, down-tempo track oozing with a personal narrative. The closest they get to "Nothing Ever Happened" territory is on "Desire Lines", as Cox takes a backseat and lets his guitar do the talking, even if everyone in the universe immediately thinks those opening chords were yanked straight from Arcade Fire’s "Rebellion Lies".
We could go on forever, but you get the point. Everyone from Time Magazine to your barista’s blog loves this record, and deservedly so.
1. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Roll your eyes, hang your head in shame: Arcade Fire made the best album of the year. Don’t think those groans aren’t audible from here.
It’s curious, to say the least, that a band who made one of the most universally beloved rock records of the last 25 years has been abandoned by so many of rock’s most attuned listeners, all while being embraced by the masses like never before. Perhaps the band summed up the place they inhabit best in an interview with Pitchfork earlier this year:
I remember reading a book where the author was making fun of people who liked [Melville’s] Bartleby, the Scrivener instead of Moby Dick— like favoring a well-crafted short story instead of his flawed, epic thing. But I think we’re definitely much more of a Moby Dick kind of band, and a lot of bands just aren’t.
Indie rock ethos will forever hold dear the underdog, the band you saw first playing in something as quaint as a neighbor’s basement. But if the dream was ever fully-formed, wouldn’t rock music sound so much like Arcade Fire?
Yes, this is a band with flaws. Music this grand can’t stay authentic forever, and there are times both in person and on record when Win and Regine’s cheesiness becomes a bit thick. But forget the festival crowds, the Grammy nominations and everything else: focus on these songs. They are the reason “The Suburbs” is the best album since Radiohead released “In Rainbows”.
Sure, Arcade Fire could have managed to trim the fat here a bit — two or three of the 16 tracks probably would have made better b-sides. Even still, “The Suburbs” is the best album of the year because it has the best songs, and there’s enough here to keep you distracted from the minimal low-lights.
The title track and album opener may have gotten the nod in our list of the top songs of the year, but it really could have been any number of tracks. “Ready to Start” has enough us-versus-them in it to thwart the “Dad Rock” tag, the riff from “Month of May” is as energetic as anything this band has ever put forth, select lyrics from “Children With No City In It” are bound to be inked across someone’s forearm.
Yes, “We Used To Wait” can get nauseating after repeated listens, but that’s only because it’s such a strong track. “Sprawl II” may hold more appeal than anything else here: this is “girl power” in its purest form, and Regine has enough moxie to make those triumphant lyrics convincing.
Numbers nine through two on this list could probably be arranged anyway you see fit and I wouldn’t find any beef. But again: “The Suburbs” is the album of the year because this is the strongest collection of songs. It may not be “Funeral”, but who could possibly have expected that? “The Suburbs” is Arcade Fire maxing out its potential, and maybe even the potential of an entire genre.
* * *
Songs of the Year
25. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - Woke Up Near Chelsea
24. DOM - Living In America
23. Vampire Weekend - Giving Up the Gun
22. EL-P - Baby (Death Remix)
21. Broken Social Scene - Texico Bitches
20. Tokyo Police Club - Wait Up (Boots of Danger)
19. Hot Chip - One Life Stand
18. Surfer Blood - Twin Peaks
17. The National - Afraid of Everyone
16. The New Pornographers - The Crash Years
15. Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s - Birds
14. Deerhunter - Coronado
13. Beach House - 10 Mile Stereo
12. Wolf Parade - Cloud Shadow on the Mountain
11. The Walkmen - Angela Surf City
10. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
9. MGMT - Flash Delirium
8. Tyler, the Creator - Bastard
7. LCD Soundsystem - Dance Yrself Clean
6. The Hold Steady - The Weekenders
5. of Montreal - Coquet Coquette
4. Kanye West (featuring Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj) - Monster
3. Local Natives - Airplanes
2. Sleigh Bells - Rill Rill
1. Big Boi - Shutterbugg
Nothing could be more squarely in the musical wheelhouse I’ve been inhibiting over the last eight months than a collab between one-half of Clipse and @FuckTyler, so it’s only fitting that the first — and only! (?) — real post on this Tumblr is about “Trouble On My Mind”. Doin’ this numerical style as an ode to Will Leitch but mostly because transition words can become cumbersome. Song first, video second.
1. I guess we should get this out of the way up front: I love this song, and have probably listened to it over 20 times since it dropped about two weeks ago. Still, it’s times like these that I’m thankful my resume declares me a fake sports writer instead of a fake music critic. I’m not sure about the inherit ‘worth’ of this song, I have very little grasp on whether it’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Pusha’s rhymes are tight but he’s completely lacking an agenda; Tyler’s verses are, at best, half good and half bad. Regardless, this song is a blast, at least for someone like me who’s been bumping OF incessantly since Sean Fennessey’s first Pitchfork article last November and who’s played “Lord Willin’” as much as any album this side of Yuck and Dye It Blonde in 2011, even if it came out when I was 14. But yes: there’s music here. Let’s talk about it:
2. Some are forgiving Tyler’s iffy rhymes because they’re crediting him for lighting a fire under The Neptunes. Who knows if that’s true — I can’t say I’ve been actively keeping up to date with Pharrell and Chad over the last couple of years — but the fact remains that the best part of this track is its beat. It’s classic Neptunes, and sounds a bit like a leftover from the “Hell Hath No Fury” era. Which is to say that, immediately, this song feels familiar: it’s clear within the first 20 seconds that the Neptunes are ‘back’ (if they ever left), and that Pusha is just as dialed in as when he was making hits with Malice and Pharrell years ago. This changes the second you see the video (more on that later), but the inclusion of Tyler almost feels like one of those SportsCenter segments I can’t bare to watch where a famous athlete hangs out with a sick kid. Tyler freely admits he isn’t a particularly adept rapper — he does it again in this song, in fact — and it’s pretty obvious from the get-go that he’s simply not on Pusha’s level. Of course, Tyler isn’t a sickly kid, he’s the most buzzed about rapper in the game right now and the reason a Pusha-T track can create a stir as big this one in 2011. No one would be blogging about Pusha without Tyler’s inclusion; in fact, Tyler’s Clipse co-sign is arguably just as instrumental as everything Kayne has done for Pusha in the last year. Still, there’s no argument on who’s the better rapper here, just as much as there’s no argument over who radiates with more charisma. That ying and yang dynamic is likely the reason for why this one works just as much as the old school Neptunes production.
3. I can’t get over this chorus, mostly because of the way each of these dudes have come to define ‘trouble’ over the course of their careers. Trouble for Pusha is movin’ kilos of blow in Virginia to pay rent; for Tyler it’s (as he says in the song) “giving bitches wet willies”. Pusha has done some real shit, and made a name for himself 10 years ago by intricately detailing the life of a coke dealer. For all of the shock value embedded in Tyler’s lyrics, we’re still talking about about a kid who doesn’t drink or do drugs even if he raps about rape and doing blow. The biggest crime he’s ever committed is loitering. It’s a topic for another post that likely will never come, but this is the reason I think OF is in it for the long haul, or at least what counts as the long haul in the blog era: Tyler, believe it or not, might have a better head on his shoulders than any of his indie or hip-hop contemporaries.
4. For as much as I heart “Pharrell said get ‘em so I got ‘em”, leave it to Pusha to deliver the line of the track and state clearly the reason this song exists in the first place. “Who else could put the hipsters with felons and thugs” is the type of line that could make any self-aware suburban-raised privileged white kid feel guilty about genuinely enjoying hip-hop music, especially when it’s as icky as the type Clipse and Tyler like to make.
5. OK, video. Y’all still with me?
6. The video opens with a director’s credit for some bro named Jason Goldwatch, but this thing couldn’t be any more Wolf Haley if it tried. With the exception of the very beginning, when Pusha is cruising around LA in a Rap Music Video Car — what up, coke money — the rest of it features Pusha riding shotgun in Tyler’s world. That’s right, almost the exact opposite of how it feels when you first hear the song. Let’s detail the ways in which this video is totally Tyler:
a) Ski masks! You know, the type Tyler tears off every time he performs “Sandwitches”.
b) Egging kids!
c) The adolescent fantasy of two hotties making out for no reason in particular.
d) The blonde white kid who asks “Yo, where the honeydips at?” in the “She” video.
f) GOLF WANG. All of them. Destroying a house, just because.
For as much as this song feels like another feather in the cap for Pusha-T’s comeback, it’s undeniable the second you see him wearing Tyler’s signature get-up who the real star is. Each of Clipse’s killer albums predate the blog era, and even if Tyler was bumping “Grindin’” when he was 11, it’s unfathomable that anyone else his age was hip enough to do the same at the time. Kanye gave Pusha a verse on “Runaway” last year in the critic’s pick for “Song of the Year”, but regardless, you have to figure this will mostly be viewed as Tyler + “some guy”. That guy just so happens to be one of Tyler’s idols, and the better half of the best rap duo of the aughts this side of Outkast.
Everyone’s a critic and most people are DJ’s.
—I intended for this new music-leaning Tumblr to be christened after a Hold Steady lyric, but the three or four I tried were already taken. I suppose Craig Finn’s slam poetry really does lend itself to stuff like this, or rather the people who like to do this type of thing for fun. Ah well. Clipse it is.