Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Best of 2012 Music (So Far)

I wear too many hats nowadays to also don the hat of amateur music critic. So I present this list with the caveat that I don't have the time, desire, will, and/or sense of self-importance to listen to all the new and notable albums that have come out this year. Of what I have listened to, these four albums stand out for the same reason: they are the only four which I consistently listen to from beginning to end. There are plenty of great individual songs that have been released this year. But only these four hold my attention for an entire album.

1. Japandroids, Celebration Rock
A perfect blend of nostalgia, angst, and machismo. This is the soundtrack for the 20-something generation ("let's turn these restless nights to restless years"). The raw intensity of the music is balanced with the anthemic quality of the chant-along choruses, and all of it is pervaded with a sense of grandeur. Somehow listening to the music evinces the feeling that your best years are behind you, and yet also ahead of you. It's bombastic indie-rock best listened to while driving on a warm summer night with the windows rolled down. (Best Songs: Fire's Highway, The House That Heaven Built)


2. Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball
If you don't like Bruce Springsteen, you won't like this album. Simple as that. But if you are a Bruce fan, this is some of his best work in recent memory. It's the standard blue-collar, working-class folk-rock that has defined Springsteen's career. Springsteen's romanticized view of the virtue of the working class is simplistic, yet makes for great music on an emotional level. Alternately hopeful for the future (Rocky Ground, We Take Care of our Own) and angry with the greedy capitalists (Shackled and Drawn, Death to My Hometown), there's no other music that makes me feel like an American that way this does. (Best Songs: Death to My Hometown, American Land)


3. Big K.R.I.T., Live from the Underground
I love rap music too much not to include at least one album on my list. But I'm also frustrated with the current state of rap music. With seemingly every new rapper obsessed with communicating their love for weed, and little else, I find even some of the talented new rappers (like Schoolboy Q and most of the Black Hippy crew for that matter) difficult to enjoy. K.R.I.T's new album is a slice of classic southern rap in the vein of some of Outkast and UGK's work (along with shades of lesser-acts like Nappy Roots). Although he occasionally veers into the territory of rap cliche, there are enough good tracks replete with well-constructed rhymes, intelligent analysis and refreshing self-awareness to make this a solid label debut. (Best Songs: Porchlight, Rich Dad Poor Dad)


4. The Lumineers, The Lumineers
One of my esteemed colleagues (and a middle-aged and balding 35 year old, I might add) remarked this spring that the Lumineers were "blowing up." Indeed, they are. Buoyed largely by their single "Ho Hey" which is definitely one of the best songs of the year, they're the next in the long line of enjoyable alternative/acoustic folk rockers that became popular around the same time that dressing in flannel became a thing. Besides "Ho Hey," the only other song that packs the some crossover pop-punch is "Stubborn Love." However, the band also excels at low-fi, story-driven, emotion-laden songs like "Classy Girls" and "Dead Sea." (I'd be remiss if I did not mention how much I dislike Bing for including Ho Hey in their commercials. Bing, if your overkill makes me hate such a great song, then I hope you choke on your algorithmic analysis of search results and die). (Best Songs: Ho Hey, Classy Girls)

Honorable Mention Albums:
Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music
Delta Spirit - Delta Spirit
Of Monsters and Men - My Head is an Animal
Cadence Weapon - Hope In Dirt City
Lecrae - Church Music