Monday, December 31, 2012

The Playlist: 100 Most Excellent Songs of 2012, 21-40

On to Part two of our five part series. If you're following along with this little program I'd urge you not to get too used to the daily posts, as I have a feeling there will be a small break for New Year's recovery and general malaise in the coming days.  For now, though, we proceed undeterred on a long trek back through the heaps and heaps of interesting sounds that surfaced in 2012.    
21. El-P / "The Full Retard"  "The Full Retard" possesses a booming, driving dance rhythm that occasionally veers off into sleepy, Vangelis-style instrumentals beneath El-P's fierce verses.  As the man says, you should pump this shit.

22. Killer Mike / "Big Beast"  Probably the best thing to follow "The Full Retard" with, El-P provides the ferocious beat to collaborator Killer Mike's warning to anyone who tries to step up to his level.

23. White+ / "Red+"  White+ is an experimental Chinese punk band I happened to stumble upon on one music blog or another (Said the Gramophone, perhaps?), and "Red+" stuck although I couldn't tell you a damn thing about it apart from noting that I really like its bright, energetic garage sound.

24. Plan B / "Ill Manors" Plan B is angry at the government, and "Ill Manors" is a protest song worth hearing.

25. Father John Misty / "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings"  Fleet Foxes' drummer Josh Tillman began releasing solo work as Father John Misty this year, and it's like he suddenly allowed himself to actually make noise on occasion. WHO KNEW?

26. Chairlift / "Ghost Tonight" I was shocked by how much I wound up liking Chairlift's sophomore album. The twosome has expanded beyond the twee realm of "Bruises" and moved towards a deeper, wandering, worldly indie sound.

27. Andy Stott / "Numb"  A beautiful, dance-stasis cloud capable of engulfing a room.

28. Frank Ocean / "Thinkin Bout You"  Frank Ocean track number two! His performance on Saturday Night Live cracked the "best moments" list for a slew of television critics, and the song opens the possibility of Ocean as an R&B star who can successfully blend hip hop with Prince's more eccentric moments.

29. Beach House / "Lazuli"  Before "Lazuli" opens up to take a giant breath of fresh air, it traps you in with a toy-like synth tone that's so cute that it becomes skin crawlingly infuriating. Sometimes, I really hate it. Then I get 30 seconds in and forget that was ever a problem.

30. Wild Nothing / "Paradise" A pretty pretty bit of quiet, atmospheric pop.

31. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti / "Only In My Dreams" The idiosyncratic Ariel Pink may not have much of an interest in picking up a mainstream audience, but there are still a few tracks on Mature Themes that maintain the pleasant "wall of sound" quality of the wonderful "Round and Round." This is a lovely 60's hallucination, relish it.

32. Ellie Goulding / "Only You"  I'd sort of ignored Ellie Goulding's sophomore album Halcyon until a friend clued informed me that she couldn't stop listening to "Only You."  Curious, I checked it out, and immediately fell into the same trap. It's a great, dark fairy tale of a pop song that swells until it soars.

33. Sky Ferreira / "Everything is Embarrassing"  Pop singer Sky Ferreira has been 'on the rise' for a long time now, hunting for a big break outside of the occasional TV commercial.  "Everything is Embarrassing" marks a shift and emotional sophistication that suggests Ferreira may finally hit it big in 2013.

34. Chromatics / "Kill for Love"  The second appearance of Chromatics on this list, and another beautiful, lush, electronic take away.

35. Sunny Levine / "No Other Plans"  Sunny Levine is more of a producer than anything, or so says the literature, and this track appears to be some weird anomaly that exists only in Celeste and Jesse Forever. Levine has a meandering, warm, radio-friendly vibe that suggests a more indie friendly Jack Johnson or Jason Mraz (both of whom I absolutely do not care for), but sometimes you need something just this nice.

36. Alt-J / "Tessellate" Mathematical love. Tessellate is an interesting new colloquialism for doin' it, and apart from that, you just need to listen.

37. Lana Del Rey / "Burning Desire"  I know the Del Rey backlash happened almost as soon as she hit the mainstream, but I'd be a filthy, filthy liar if I didn't own up to listening to the Born to Die album constantly. "Burning Desire" is a lush track for dwelling on deserted beaches, and though it has no substance, I went through a period of listening to it over and over and over...

38. Crystal Castles / "Plague" Alice Glass screams and strains over shifting, pulsing, moody instrumentals that sound as diseased and infectious as the title suggests. 

39. Death Grips / "I've Seen Footage" Somewhere between the Beastie Boys and an angry Saul Williams, Death Grips is all piss, vinegar, and pure noise. "I've Seen Footage" is a slightly less discordant song ideal for jumping around, or cranking to the maximum volume.

40. Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra / "Do It With a Rockstar" After a long period of just not understanding Amanda Palmer fans, I heard this song and suddenly felt as though maybe I got it. Turns out it was just a song or two, but the rock chick swagger on this track makes it the perfect song for singing out loud when no one's listening. The video is absolutely atrocious, of course, but we'll pretend that didn't happen.

The Playlist: 100 Most Excellent Songs of 2012, 1-20

We have arrived. The end of the year. As much as I tend to hate the New Year's holiday, I love (and occasionally loathe) going back over the music and movies I've been making note of over the past twelve months and quietly publishing  my opinions in my own secret corner of the internet.  2012's song list is the fourth of its kind, and each year the number of cuts included has increased.  I've been paying more attention to music, listening to singles when they show up on sites like Stereogum, Pitchfork, and Spin, and in doing so I found myself with a much larger slush pile of appreciated tracks than in any year prior.  So, my little list is making the full jump from the odd "60" to a complete "100" -- what can I say? They grow up so fast...

A note: unlike serious music sites, I'm a one-person operation who mostly just likes making playlists and sharing sounds I have enjoyed.  So, yes: the list is a mix that leans far more towards subjective favorites than out and out "BEST POSSIBLE SONGS EVER."  It's also, as usual, in no particular order, and absolutely not a countdown.  While the absolute favorites are more likely to jump onto the list in the first 10 or so, tastes change with the weather. Number 100 may have just as much merit as number 25, just depends on the day.

Presented with minimal commentary as well as minimal YouTube videos. Want to hear the song? Listen to the 8Tracks playlist.  Want to buy it and support the artist?  Follow the links...

1. Frank Ocean / "Pyramids" It was the year of Frank Ocean, and this is merely his first of many well-deserved appearances on this list. "Pyramids" is a roughly 10 minute R&B sparkler that picks up speed only to settle into a slow, hypnotic grind. I found myself listening to repeatedly, moving onto playlist after playlist, and skipping to it desperately when stuck in traffic.  It may be the sound of 2012.

2. M.I.A. / "Bad Girls"  This song is a banger. After taking a whole ton of backlash flack, M.I.A. dropped this and made talk of selling out and being difficult completely irrelevant. It's a compulsively enjoyable, completely brilliant pop track that exists as a single without an album.  Could an album live up to the potential of "Bad Girls"?  Maybe not...

3. Hot Chip / "Flutes"  "Flutes" is an all-purpose jam. Parties, exercise, homework, stumbling around the internet, going on long bike rides, driving from point A to point B: it can do no wrong.

4. Grimes / "Circumambient"  Is it the post-internet "cyborg pop" she claims it to be or a mechanized pixie soundscape? Canadian artist Claire Boucher makes music that sounds like the wood nymphs have invaded the machine, and that's far from a bad thing...

5. Chromatics / "Lady"  The Drive soundtrack allowed Portland band Chromatics to pick up some of the attentions they deserved, and this year they proved their worth on the glitter synthed Kill for Love.  "Lady" blends Ruth Radelet's ethereal vocals with a too cool bass groove that pulls the listener through.

6. Jessie Ware / "Devotion"  R&B has seen something of a resurgence this year, and heading up the diva side of things you'll find UK singer Jessie Ware, a lady who successfully manages to blend Sade-style vocals with to-the-second electro-based instrumentals.

7. Jai Paul / "Jasmine" I have no idea what Jai Paul's deal is, but the man has released only two songs in two years and both of them are pretty damn good.  Here's to the mysterious character...

8. Porcelain Raft / "Drifting In and Out"  Chillwave sounds are a dime a dozen lately, and to stand out in a crowd you've got to come up with a combination of sounds that can effectively punch through the jaded wall of "over it" and hit that pretty, lilting, bittersweet combination of notes like a melancholic summer day.

9. Young Galaxy / "Youth is Wasted on the Young"  Sometimes adult music lovers suffer adolescent angst. This is what that sounds like. Dreamy.

10. Solange / "Losing You"  Why are people always picking on Solange?  She does her own thing, works in a branch of low-key pop away from big sister Beyonce, and does so with real style.

11. Bat for Lashes / "Oh Yeah"  Most lists I've seen are completely obsessed with putting Natasha Khan's "Laura" or "Marilyn" somewhere near the top of the 'best of' compilation. That's all very well, but the textures and patterns woven in the intricate and odd "Oh Yeah" make this track the true winner.

12. Purity Ring / "Fineshrine"  These are the opening lyrics: "Get a little closer let it fold /Cut open my sternum and pull / My little ribs around you."  Poetry.

13. Kendrick Lamar / "Swimming Pools (Drank)"  If you're one of the people who doesn't think it was Frank Ocean's year, than you're probably of the opinion that Kendrick Lamar had him beat.  I get that.

14. Zebra Katz ft. Njena Reddd Foxxx / "Ima Read"  A sinister, repetitive beat matched with a menacing, drag-community style threat.  It's strange, hypnotic, and evil in the best way possible.

15. Tame Impala / "Elephant"  Psych rockers Tame Impala just missed the list a couple years back, and I'd nearly forgotten about them until they struck back with a vengeance on the very difficult to ignore Lonerism.

16. Lower Dens / "Brains"  At first it seems like just another indie rock song with a driving beat. The longer it goes, though, the deeper you fall.  Eventually, the song settles into a strange, beautifully harmonic trench of crisscrossing voices and you are trapped. TRAPPED.

17. Twin Shadow / "Five Seconds"  A rollicking, super 80's swagger track and blasts its way into your head and breaks loose of the speakers.

18. Daphni / "Yes I Know"  You may or may not know, but I'm a pretty big Caribou fan.  So, it goes to follow that if Dan Snaith takes up another project under another name, I'm going to check it out.  Daphni is what Snaith does when he just wants to make supposedly mindless dance music, and it kind of shows.  The album is nowhere near as good as Swim, but "Yes I Know" does everything a floor filler needs to, and makes a wholly repetitive cycle seem like something fresh.

19. Miguel / "Do You..."  Confession: I'm not a huge fan of Miguel's much, much, much loved track "Adorn."  I like it, but I'm not sure it deserves the heights its reaching.  "Do You" on the other hand, is something really odd. It's an R&B track with some relatively old school trappings that obsesses over one thing and one thing only: Miguel wants to hang with you if you like drugs. His interests begin and and there.  If you're in?  He has other promises to make...

20. Icona Pop / "I Love It"  A near perfect pop anthem designed for straining your vocal cords and your speakers.  Ambivalent, bitter, loud, and devil may care: everything you really want from your girl groups.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Playlist: The 10 Guiltiest POPtimist Pleasures of 2012

Though I've all but abandoned this blog as of late in favor of maintaining (solo) the once two-person film site, I have no choice but to return to inflict my annual music round up.  We can blame a slight case of OCD, perhaps, but mostly I do it because I've really enjoyed returning to an isolated year via neatly organized playlists in my iTunes, and this is the natural extension of that enterprise.  As in the past, the music list will begin with a list of what are technically the "guilty pleasures" of the past year. While I still hate calling something a guilty pleasure and must remind readers new and old that I continue to believe in owning up to the pop music you enjoy, these are the tracks that (for one reason or another) make me feel like I need to provide just the slightest touch of an explanation when I own up to enjoying them.

For your head-shaking, eye-rolling, listening pleasure, I present you with the following 10 songs. Dance, you fools.  And...don't worry. The other parts of the list will not be this video heavy.

10. Nicki Minaj / "Stupid Hoe"  Nicki Minaj has dominated the radio for the last year while enduring a steady stream of criticism.  Her music is frequently akin to listening to a dissociative episode, and the manic, cartoon anger that permeates her otherwise upbeat pop is, at times, confusing. "Stupid Hoe" fell under fire, naturally, because of the backhanded, girl on girl misogyny inherent in its repeated refrain (though with the spelling...). I know I shouldn't approve of it, but there's something raw, cleansing, and flat out satisfying about the triumphant smack down Minaj is spitting here.

9. Justin Bieber ft. Nicki Minaj / "Beauty and a Beat"  Justin Bieber may or may not show up on the master list of the so-called 'favorite' songs of 2012 ("Boyfriend" would at least be an honorable mention), but this song tips the teeny bopper silliness scales with boasts of "partying like it's 3012 tonight" and a sinister Nicki Minaj rhyme that seems to suggest she's about to go all Frank Booth on the Biebs ("Justin/Bieber/You know imma Hit him with the ether).  It's a pre-gaming, pool party, sleepover song without a strip of substance beyond those synths.

8. Rihanna ft. Chris Brown / "Nobody's Business" The problem with this song should be obvious. On her rather unfortunate Unapologetic album, Rihanna is essentially constructing a thesis excusing herself for maintaining an on-again/off-again relationship with the man who beat her a couple years back.  From my vantage, it's a deeply problematic concept that's flat out depressing and delusional material for a pop album.  That said, I'm a sucker for the 90's instrumentals on the much talked about Rihanna/Chris Brown duet "Nobody's Business."  I first heard it without realizing what I was listening to, exactly, and upon learning...oh, the shame.  Can we agree Chris Brown needs to go away?

7. ft. Britney Spears / "Scream & Shout" This song is terrible. I don't know what accent Britney Spears thinks she's affecting, but it's some weird combination of Jamaican and British islander that makes absolutely no sense.  It's a stupid cycle of repetitive jump rope noise designed to lead into cheerleading routines and let do that thing where he speaks ambiguous "WE WILL PARTY NOW" lyrics into a vacuum.  There's no excuse for liking this.

6. One Direction / "Live While We're Young" Oh, One Direction. Those little punks are everywhere. I never liked boy bands when I was supposed to like boy bands. Now, though, I'm just endlessly amused by them.  This particular song wins for the amped up chorus combined with the so-predictably hilarious one-night stand premise: "tonight let's get some and live while we're young."  Yep, clearly the best thing for the largely 12-year old fanbase to belt out. Sneaky, sneaky.

5. JLS / "Hottest Girl in the World"  ANOTHER boy band. This is the UK group JLS, and this track sounds like something that should have been out ten years ago. Suddenly I'm all like: remember B2K?

4. Pitbull / "Don't Stop the Party"  So, I think Pitbull is insanely creepy. He oozes pure douchebag vibes from his ugly, ugly mug and is exactly the type of character I assume is lurking predatorily in the dark corners of every over the top club in America.  I've never been a fan, and let's be real: most of his songs repeat a similar pattern of recycled beats.  This time he just happened to stumble upon the right beat to catch my attention. Looping "Funky Kingston" manages to bring enough of a fist-pumping party for me to cope with the grating "Mr. Worldwide" boasts of Pitbull.

3. Taylor Swift / "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"  T-Swizzle finally broke onto a list of mine and finally made a tiny tiny space in my iTunes library.  While I still find her character a white noise irritation and can't put this frothy track in my list of technical favorites without hating myself, I will own up to appreciating the many, many ways in which this track accomplishes a pure POPtimist sentiment.  It's a self-aware, hyper-twee, semi-ironic acknowledgment of the posturing of the artist as well as an understanding of the audience.  I get it.  This time: I get Taylor Swift.  I understand.  This may be the only time I write that.

2. 2 Chainz ft. Kanye West / "Birthday Song"  This song brings shame upon my house for much the same reason as "Stupid Hoe."  The lyrics tend towards the chauvinist, yes. I think we can agree that 2 Chainz's birthday wish is pretty demeaning.  BUT I KIND OF LOVE THIS SONG BECAUSE IT IS RIDICULOUS.  "When I die bury me inside the Gucci store" is the sort of insane, conspicuous consumption line that seems to suggest the whole thing is a sort of posturing.  Are the lyrics a symptom of a larger cultural issue or a send-up of that issue?  I don't know, but I love listening to it in the car...

1.  The Wanted / "Chasing the Sun"  On that note, I need to take a moment to own up to the fact that there was a day a couple weeks ago where I think I listened to this song 3 or 4 times in a row while driving.  I DON'T WANT TO TAKE A POSITION IN THIS ONE DIRECTION VS. THE WANTED BOY BAND BATTLE, so you can read the UK group's positioning at number 1 on the guilty list as either a sign of their superiority or their inferiority depending on your outlook...


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