Between the release of Faitheist, HCH’s most ambitious interfaith food packaging event, our Blogathan, and the interfaith conference call set up by the SSA and IFYC, it was a pretty big year for NPS. Now that the year is out, it’s time to reflect on what made 2012 significant to us: the music.
2012 was a pretty crazy year for me, and the music was absurdly good. Thus, I have a lot of Thoughts:
10. Beach House “Bloom”
Dream pop due Beach House caught mainstream attention in 2010 with their third album, Teen Dream. Since, adjectives like “ethereal” and “nostalgic” have been used to describe their sound, and it’s particularly appropriate for their latest album, Bloom. Victoria Legrand’s vocals feel airy and occasionally dark over Alex Scally’s dreamy and reverberated riffs. While the album isn’t particularly unique for Beach House, it’s nonetheless a highly textured and beautiful work.
Crystal Castles third album, (III), is dark. The album artwork is a photograph of a mother holding her son who has been teargassed during a demonstration, and it’s an appropriate symbol. (III) is all about the horrible things we do to one another, with songs as morbid and haunting as their titles. With songs like “Pale Flesh,” “Wrath of God,” “Violent Youth,” and “Child I Will Hurt You,” the track list reads more like a coroner’s notebook than an electronic album. The music is pretty standard Crystal Castles, though without much of the griminess that characterized their second album and glitchy pop-mindedness that characterized their first. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of depth and sophistication in keeping with what continues to make Crystal Castles a powerful duo.
8. Grimes “Visions”
Grimes recorded Visions on Garage Band over a three-week period in her apartment, and it was released in January of this year to almost universal acclaim. It’s a quirky, human, and unusually engaging project. Songs can be airy one moment, churning in the next, and overall haunting in an endearing sort of way. Often danceable and sometimes lost in its own hollowness, Visions shows what a strange young woman with a slight lisp and a lot of talent can make alone on an apartment floor.
7. Alt-J “An Awesome Wave”
I remember the first moment I was really impressed by Sleigh Bells. “Infinity Guitars,” a song from their highly acclaimed debut, Treats, is loud and abrasive, with just a simple drum beat and electric guitar. But during the last forty seconds or so there’s a screech of feedback and the song explodes. There’s something interesting that Sleigh Bells can do with loudness, and they are very good at what they do. Their long-awaited sophomore album, Reign of Terror, shares much of the same dynamic control and brashness that made Treats so enjoyable. Alexis Krauss is perfect as the leather jacket-clad vocalist with an almost paradoxical sensitivity in her voice. Reign of Terror is slightly more refined that Treats. It’s also a bit more nostalgic, trading a cheerleader aesthetic for some 80′s inspired metal. Whatever it is, it’s an interesting and encouraging direction for Sleigh Bells.
I don’t like to admit it, but I was something of a scene kid in high school. I had shoulder length hair and wore skinny jeans before it was even socially acceptable, and I had an embarrassing taste in music. The shows I would go to often involved whiny singers and mosh-pits, and I loved every second of it. Cloud Nothings is something of a spiritual successor to the emo and post-hardcore music that had its peak in the early 2000′s, and it feels perfect for scenesters like me who have grown up and moved on. I may be projecting, but I hear hints of Taking Back Sunday in songs like “Stay Useless” and Green Day in songs like “Fall In.” Attack on Memory is a hugely unique, fun, and a refreshingly heavy album that seems to represent the spirit and ethos of the hardcore millennial.
4. Kishi Bashi “151a”
Kishi Bashi may very well be one of the most unique and delightful new artists to gain mainstream attention in 2012. 151a brings the skills of a talented composer and violinist to bear on contemporary folk and indie music. Though comparisons to Owen Pallett and Andrew Bird abound, Kishi Bashi approaches his music with a weird mix of Avant-garde originality and endearing sincerity. Each song on 151a is textured with rich strings, elements of electronic music, and vocal harmonies and falsettos that often come in spurts of Japanese. It’s a nice injection of an original-sounding orchestral artist in a year that, in a lot of ways, was geared toward nostalgic music with retro elements.
3. Kendrick Lamar “good kid, m.A.A.d city”
At the start of “Backseat Freestyle,” Kendrick Lamar invokes Martin Luther King Jr before praying for his dick to grow big enough to fuck the world. I think that more or less captures the ambitious scope of good kid, m.A.A.d city, a work which is already being touted as a classic hip-hop album that brings Compton back into the mainstream rap scene. It’s a work that is as honest as it is uncompromising in its compelling narrative of a young man caught up with the gangs, drugs, and violence. This album hearkens back to feel of old school hip-hop, but treats it with a modern edginess that, along with tight rapping and catchy hooks, has ensured that good kid, m.A.A.d city is a commercial and musical success.
2. How to Dress Well “Total Loss”
“Say My Name or Say Whatever” starts with a spoken-word recording of a boy who says “The only bad part about flying is having to come back down to the fucking world.” If philosophy graduate student Tom Krell’s first release as How to Dress Well, Love Remains, was about flying, then his sophomore follow-up Total Loss is that heart-wrenching process of returning to land. The album is a sparse, minimalist, and expansive project that explores human relationships and the grief left by loss. Krell rarely breaks his somewhat thin falsetto, but it works well with the reverberated and hollow aesthetic of the album. Light pejoratives like PBR&B have been used characterize the music of How to Dress Well, as well as his contemporaries like The Weeknd or AlunaGeorge, and there may be an element of truth to that. But it ignores a lot of the sophistication that makes this album, and How to Dress Well as an artist, something more compelling than just a hipster response to R&B music.
1. Purity Ring “Shrines”
A$AP Rocky played over the loudspeakers at the album release show in Le Poisson Rouge in New York, and I noticed that the pairing felt really appropriate. There’s something about Purity Ring that fits really well with the slow and chillwave inspired hiphop that producers like Clams Casino have recently popularized. After the 2011 release of only one song, “Ungirthed”—a bizarrely hooking mix of churning dreampop and grimy witch-house influences—Purity Ring garnered impressive buzz. They went on a tour that spanned the U.S. and Europe after having only released three songs (such is the trajectory of success in the internet age), and it seemed that their debut could do little but disappoint in light of such high expectations. But Shrines has done anything but. There’s something haunting and tender about the album; it has a lot of pop and dance influences, but it constantly plays with the notion of intimacy as something inherently morbid. Lyrics like “Cut open my sternum and pull//my little ribs around you” in “Fineshrine” and “Drill little holes into my eyelids//that I might see you when I sleep” in Belispeak sound disturbingly saccharine with the light and simple vocals of Megan James. While Shrines might not have the most variety of any album released this year, what it does often it does consistently and very well.
Favorite songs (not listed above) and in no particular order:
Vlad Chituc is a lab manager and research assistant in a social neuroscience lab at Duke University. As an undergraduate at Yale, he was the president of the campus branch of the Secular Student Alliance, where he tried to be smarter about religion and drink PBR, only occasionally at the same time. He cares about morality and thinks philosophy is important. He is also someone that you can follow on twitter.