Sunday, November 18, 2012

My Favorite Releases of 2012

It might be a bit early for this, but I had to submit my list to Tiny Mix Tapes already, so I figured I would just call it finalized and throw it up here for everyone to read.

1. Constrobuz – Rain and Dust

The local jazz radio station doesn’t come in very well in my room. At 10 PM on Thursday nights, the college station on the next frequency over on the spectrum plays a jazz show called the Jazz Apothecary, and the signal interferes heavily. The way my radio picks up both signals and flickers between the two often creates a strange effect, smashing together two entirely different songs, tempos, and melodies like the crash and reverberation of hand cymbals.

Constrobuz’s album, Rain and Dust, is what happens on that very rare occurrence when the two different songs from each of those jazz stations seem to sync up through all of the signal fuzz and vinyl hiss. The result is like the soundtrack to all of the panning city shot transitions of some VHS copy of a slow-burning film noir. Makes me want to dress up and chain smoke unfiltered cigarettes.

2. Ahnnu – pro habitat

Looking at my list of favorites from this year, it is clear that I was obsessed with all of the beatcrap that was released. Ahnnu's pro habitat was probably the cream of crop. Averaging something like 68 seconds per song, this album moves from concept to concept at the speed of a grindcore album, rarely repeating itself along the way. For a genre historically built on loops and repetition, every second of pro habitat feels new and piled high with knob twists and turns, and when that woman chimes in at the end of "canopoli," claiming that, "the music should be barely noticeable... and non-distracting," it's like a statement for every dreamchillambienthypnagogicpop song that has ever been released.

3. MiNdToUcHbeaTs – MeMoRieS FRoM THe FuTuRe.

I didn't even consciously realize it until giving MeMoRieS FRoM THe FuTuRe. another listen in order to inspire myself for this write-up, but it is probably a perfect combination of numbers 1 and 2 on this list, as if the jittery jazz of Constrobuz's Rain and Dust were filtered through the A.D.D. of Ahnnu's pro habitat.

Piano and cymbal flutters float in and out and like vultures, while bass beats start and stop like being read from a skipping CD. The result flows as smooth as the mash-up of multiple words in the band name, MiNdToUcHbeaTs, and as chopped as the capital to lowercase lettering variation in MeMoRieS FRoM THe FuTuRe.

4. AyGeeTee – Is it Safe?

While seemingly every other beat tape artist this year relied on chops, cuts, and vinyl crackle, AyGeeTee's Is it Safe? managed to make beats just as complex and diverse without all of the Attention Deficit Disorder. It's like headphone music made for the dance floor rather than the bedroom floor. Can you imagine an entire club filled with neon-clothed people wearing Boss headphones and grinding up on each other?

5. C V L T S – Realiser

C V L T S come across as friendly and welcoming, but before you know it, you find yourself surrounded, enveloped, and in way too deep to get out… kind of like a cult, actually. Realiser, their new release on Belgian label Aguirre Records, runs your head through a water-logged marathon of highs and lows, ranging from drone to noise to all of that dream pop that those northern countries do so well. Yet, despite the wide range of sounds, the whole album moves in a way that feels natural. So much so that when album closer “Suki” takes all of time and throws it into the ocean to drown, you may find yourself brainwashed and swimming out to join it.

6. Branches - Ninguém É Como Tu

I knew a guy in my college town in Iowa who worked the overnight shift at the convenience store by my house. I used to drink free fountain soda and talk to him about all the weird stuff he collected. Of all the random things, his collection of old commercials was by far the most fascinating. (Apparently, there exists a whole network of people, single-handedly keeping blank VHS sales alive by cataloging, dubbing, and trading old commercials.) I never saw his collection because he was always a little reluctant to even talk to me about it, as if I were some stranger asking to flip through his family’s old photo albums. And in a way, he was right. Those shelves of hand-labeled VHS tapes represented this guy’s entire childhood — decades of old TV filler he had never managed to let go — and I came along fascinated in my nostalgia haze, as nearly forgotten memories of old fast food commercials playing between episodes of daytime TV dramas came flooding back to me.

Somewhere between our two perspectives of the past lies Branches Ninguém É Como Tu which coats the tendencies of synth-heavy ambience in so much happy nostalgia haze, it's hard not to flow alongside the sine waves.

7. Aaronmaxwell - Dianetics

First of all, the download of this album came with a 16-page PDF document about L. Ron Hubbard's theory of Dianetics, which was, essentially, the jumping-off point for his entire Scientology religion, which is an interesting read, but really only touches the surface of the entire belief system. That has very, very little to do with why I like the album.

Dianetics is, in many ways, similar to Ahnnu's prohabitat; short songs, quickly explored concepts and an urgency that results in dance music meant for listening to through headphones. This has certainly been a reoccurring theme this year. What I appreciate about this album is the non-music vocal samples used, and the way they are set into different levels of each beat, coming across like a 2012 take on some of Madlib's early 2000's beats.

8. Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland – Black is Beautiful

Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland (Hype Williams) have come, seemingly, out of nowhere. Black is Beautiful seems to be everything I like about all of the 80's the synthesizer/drum machine music while still retaining the absolute experimental instincts of modern day bedroom pop weirdos. I love that I have no idea where this album is coming from.

9. Jeans Wilder – Totally

There’s some real history behind Totally. I mean it. I’m pretty sure that’s the Phil Spector boom-boom-boom-chic in "Gravity Bong". You know, before that wall of sound comes in. You can tell by the tambourine. Then that guitar comes stumbling in and, for a minute, I’m thinking of “Just Like Honey.” But it’s too clean, and it jangles like that Ducktails sun-pop or maybe the psychedelia of Rangers.

There's probably nothing terribly unique about Totally, but I am a sucker for that ocean-drenched pop music popularized over that past 3 years, and this is a great example of the genre done to perfection.

10. Animal Collective – Centipede Hz

People called Animal Collective’s 2005 album, Feels, their rock record. Probably because it was the closest they’ve ever come to relying on the “traditional” rock combination of drums, guitars, and yelling. It still didn’t sound like rock music, and 7 years later, they haven’t gotten any closer. Which isn’t to say that Centipede Hz isn’t heavier than the castle-bounce lightness of Strawberry Jam and Merriweather Post Pavilion. The boys are once again embracing distortion. And weird time signatures. And spaceships?

It's no secret that I wasn't a huge fan of Merriweather Post Pavilion. In general, I believe there has been too much of a tendency for experimental/noise-leaning bands to start making electropop in recent years, and while Centipede Hz doesn't entirely stray away from this tendency, I believe it's closer to the analog rowdiness of Feels than Animal Collective has come in recent years.

11. Wanda Group – Get Involved in My Throat
12. SEEZUREFACE – Space Socks
13. Mirroring – Foreign Body
14. Aaronmaxwell – Island
15. Space Ghost – You’re There
16. Baby Birds Don’t Drink Milk – Soda
17. Andy Stott – Luxury Problems
18. Good Willsmith – Is The Food Your Family Eats Slowly
19. Wet Hair – Spill Into Atmosphere
20. Flying Lotus – Until the Quiet Comes
21. Gem Jones – Exhaust
22. Run DMT – The Road Soda
23. Monster Rally – Beyond the Sea
24. LA Vampires and Maria Minerva – The Integration
25. Tough Fuzz - Vol. 1

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