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Baroness

Yellow & Green

(Relapse)

15



Baroness
Yellow & Green


The double album is a hallowed form in the halls of progressive rock, a genre that Georgia-based Baroness show a surprising mastery of on Yellow & Green, a 75-minute, two-LP opus that’s almost hard to believe is the product of a band only on their third studio release. Though some have complained about Baroness’ shift from prog-inflected sludge to a rock sonic with a much wider range—on Yellow and Green, they go anywhere from outlaw country to ‘90’s indie to Floyd-esque prog—the huge risks taken on this album pay off incredible dividends.  Double albums are notorious for excess, and even when they’re good (see: Ayreon), it’s quite difficult to take them in one sitting. The strength of Yellow & Green, aside from the incredible songwriting within, is that it never feels like a chore to listen to, and despite the clear tonal shifts between each half, the entire thing flows together with a cohesion that no other record of its kind has for a long time. Metal’s expanding inclusivity has taken many forms in 2012, but in terms of maturity, none came close to what Baroness has done here. They may no longer be a “metal” band in the conservative sense of the term, but they couldn’t have made a rock LP as richly conceived as this one without having first began as they did. The Baroness on Yellow & Green couldn’t have existed without the sludgy Baroness many have grown to love. Brice Ezell


 

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Jack White

Blunderbuss

(Third Man/Columbia)

Review [22.Apr.2012]

14



Jack White
Blunderbuss


It’s accepted that albums released under an artist’s own name are more confessional and revealing, often so much so that the artist loses his or her mythical stature. After 15 years and a variety of bands, White made the leap to recording under his own name with Blunderbuss, a raw-nerve record that merges blues, country, rock and folk in combinations that demonstrate why White has outlasted so many of his late ‘90s guitar-rock contemporaries. The singles alone are proof. The intimate “Love Interruption” caught even ardent fans off guard, while “Sixteen Saltines” and “Freedom at 21” position White as one of the only true rock stars we have left. On Blunderbuss, White does deal with serious personal issues: his divorce, the dissolution of the White Stripes, self doubt, loss, and all manners of weighty emotional stress. But it doesn’t kill the mythical Jack White, as many predicted. It only makes him stronger. Adam Finley


 

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The Walkmen

Heaven

(Fat Possum)

Review [28.May.2012]

13



The Walkmen
Heaven


The Walkmen’s seventh full-length studio effort proves that the label “daddy rock” shouldn’t be used only as an insult. Heaven is a collection of mature, emotionally resonant rock songs about the pleasures and perils of adulthood. Tunes like “We Can’t Be Beat” and “Heaven” show the comforts that come with settling down, whereas “The Witch” and “Dreamboat” depict the adult world with more cynicism. This intriguing ambiguity is to be expected from a band who once wrote songs with titles like “Woe Is Me” and “Everybody Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone”. Even frontman Hamilton Leithauser’s ode to his daughter “Song for Leigh” is imbued with some darkness, conveying the emotional strain of parenting with the line, “I sing myself sick about you.” Indeed, the Walkmen depict heaven as an ideal we are continually moving towards, yet perhaps never fully reaching. The group sure has come close on this latest record, though. Jacob Adams


 

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Carolina Chocolate Drops

Leaving Eden

(Nonesuch)

Review [26.Feb.2012]

12



Carolina Chocolate Drops
Leaving Eden


Their style may be referred to as old-timey, but the passion, talent and creativity of the Grammy Award winning Carolina Chocolate Drops burns brightly on their fifth album. Under the thoughtful touch of renowned alt-country musician/producer Buddy Miller, Leaving Eden pops and sizzles crisply from start to finish. Traditional ditties and new compositions were rolled into a distinct whole that respects the past while commanding the attention of the present. Where the jug sound on the Cousin Emmy bluegrass standard “Ruby, Are You Mad at Your Man?” takes it back to 1940 Kentucky via drum & bass, this sound turns to scratching/beat boxing on the swagger laden original tune “Country Girl”. Yet, while it was not a grave-robbing exhibition of tradition, it’s not a careless fusion clawing aimlessly at relevancy either. It’s not exactly Alan Lomax carpools with Rick Ruben so much as it passes them by in their own 1921 Oldsmobile flatbed truck on their way to Beverly Hills. With their live reputation preceding them, Leaving Eden is a memento of a historically aware band living band in and of the moment. Alan Ranta


 

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Grimes

Visions

(4AD)

Review [20.Feb.2012]

11



Grimes
Visions


The Internet has facilitated rummaging through the historical and cultural vaults like no other technology before it. In the 21st century, musicians have had an unfortunate tendency to respond to such unfettered accessibility to pop culture’s detritus by performing simple grab-and-paste appropriations or outright pastiche, manifesting a sort of exhibitionist curatism that says more about their tastes than what they are actually trying to do with the wares available to them. Claire Boucher, a.k.a. Grimes, does more than that. Though there are recognizable reference points for what she is doing (one apt summary I’ve heard of her music is “Cranes with a laptop”) and where she is drawing from (a crude shorthand description of the GarageBand software auteur’s music I often offer to the unconverted is “Cocteau Twins meets Mariah Carey”), Boucher filters her myriad influences—‘80s 4AD dream pop, ‘90s mainstream R&B, avant-electronica, East Asian traditions—wholly through her own transformative sensibility, one prone to emphasize one strand of inspiration here and another there for added variance and nuance. Yet what is really responsible for Visions becoming one of the most buzzed-about releases of 2012 is the winsome, almost hypnotic timbre of her girlish voice in all of its effects-manipulated permutations, and her preternatural gift for arrangements and hooks. Astoundingly catchy, occasionally haunting, and frequently brilliant, Visions is top-rate art and pop in equal measure, and deserves to be talked about for years to come. AJ Ramirez


 

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Chromatics

Kill for Love

(Italians Do It Better)

10



Chromatics
Kill for Love


Johnny Jewel doesn’t do things by half. Arriving microseconds after his 36-track Symmetry project, Chromatics’ darkly divine Kill for Love took the stage like some futurist-romantic Shakespearian yarn of love, death and everything inbetween. A tragedy written in neon lights, lipstick, tears and rain. Even more so than their 2007 album this was the Night Drive. From the elegaic rewiring of Neil Young’s “Hey, Hey, My, My” to the ethereal, misty 15-minute outro “No Escape”, Kill for Love paints a cinematic lost highway trailing femme fatale Ruth Radelet through the bright lights ‘n’ big city way over yonder to the darkness on the edge of town. Our doe-eyed dark passenger’s hopes ‘n’ dreams (“Back from the Grave”, “Kill for Love”) slowly dissolve into the rear view mirror to be replaced by emptiness and melancholia (“Dust to Dust”, “The River”). Sounds like a downer f’sure but Kill for Love is one electrifying, cathartic, unforgettable trip. Buy the ticket, take the ride. Matt James


 

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Kendrick Lamar

good kid, m.A.A.d. city

(Interscope)

Review [22.Oct.2012]

9



Kendrick Lamar
good kid, m.A.A.d. city


Videogame voice actor and headphones mannequin Dr. Dre could be seen clinging to 25-year-old Kendrick Lamar on a variety of magazine covers and promotional photos this year, and it doesn’t take much time with the younger rapper’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city to see why. Dre, long the face of Compton despite his deep history of finding himself outshone by collaborators and protégés alike, sees in Lamar what the rest of the rap world does, too: not just the future of West Coast hip-hop but the future of rap, period. In good kid, m.A.A.d. city, Lamar has created a dense, cohesive, emotionally exhausting—and, above all, impossibly addictive—masterpiece of form, flow, and feeling. The rapper weaves his fictionalized life story, replete with chameleonic vocal turns and rotating characters, into a testament to both his ambition and, crucially, his humility. The hooks slice, the all-star production team never blinks, and Lamar leaves his listeners at once winded and utterly revitalized. Corey Beasley


 

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Jessie Ware

Devotion

(Island)

Review [13.Sep.2012]

8



Jessie Ware
Devotion


Devotion begins not with a bang, but with a whimper. Fluttering electronic bird-chirps quiver over hard-edged bass syncopation as Jessie Ware begins to sing: “Used to be so close to me / Everything happens so easily / Life with you is like a dream / Without you there’s no way to be / Need your devotion.” Everything you need to know about Jessie Ware’s incomparable and spectacular debut album is encapsulated in the sound, melodies and lyrics of that first track, “Devotion”. The track is a jarring portrait of a confident woman questioning her internal struggles but with fierce determination and unwavering love. Moving straight into, probably the best track on the album, “Wildest Moments” tears through a conflicting love affair, and by the time that infectious and heart-wrenching chorus begins where she sings: “Baby in our wildest moments / We could be the greatest, we could be the greatest / Baby in our wildest moments / We could be the worst of all”, you’re hooked. This woman has packed more conflicting, nuanced complexities into the first two tracks of her album that many artists don’t succeed in doing in their entire careers. But for all its beautiful marrying between R&B and electronica, Devotion, much less Jessie Ware, isn’t the saviour of R&B, she’s the beacon of light leading the way for all other artists to follow. Enio Chiola


 

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Tame Impala

Lonerism

(Modular Recordings)

Review [9.Oct.2012]

7



Tame Impala
Lonerism


“I know that I’ve gotta be above it now/I know that I can’t let them bring me down,” harps Kevin Parker to open Lonerism. This mantra sticks like glue throughout the winding psych-rock masterpiece. 2012 has seen many of Parker’s peers use the studio as a means to simply indulge their creative fantasies, with largely half-assed results. Parker however, walks boldly and follows his creative vision. In doing so, he not only set the bar high for expansive psych, he creates (And subsequently explores) an entirely new sonic language. Textured to the point that every listen yields new results, Tame Impala has done what others wouldn’t consider attempting. Refusing to have his vision put into a comfortable little box, Parker challenges listeners. Though the 12 tracks on Lonerism are never weird just for the sake of being so, they will take listeners on a ride. Lonerism is majestic in scope and reminds us how to still be in awe of a record.  Joshua Kloke


 

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Killer Mike

R.A.P. Music

(Williams Street)

Review [23.May.2012]

6



Killer Mike
R.A.P. Music


In teaming up with producer El-P, Killer Mike—a rapper long due for a coming out party—finally made the classic record everyone thought he could. He comes with the “hardcore G shit” he spits about in the album’s opening lines, but more important than that, Killer Mike brings a lot of heart here. Through all the bile spit here at dirty cops (“Don’t Die”), Reaganomics (“Reagan”) and even the self-destructive nature of hip-hop culture itself (“Reagan” again), Mike gives off a lot of experience here. If there’s a fine line between persona and personality in rap, Mike walks it well here and steers us towards honesty and a passion that cuts through his cynicism about politics or paranoia about power structures. In the end, as the closing songs on the record tell us, R.A.P. Music is “ghetto gospel”, an ode to the music that came before it, music that honors its heritage—both in hip-hop and in the black community—by trying to inspire and critique in the same way. It helps that El-P frames Mike’s raps in some futuristic mash-up of Southern rap and soul music. There were more high profile rap records, and records given credit for being high-concept (ahem, Kendrick Lamar), but in 2012 Killer Mike delivered the truest set of R.A.P. Music, not to mention the best. Matthew Fiander


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