Monday, December 31, 2012

Best Of It All, 2012.


1 Deftones - Koi No Yokan.
I wrote a review here. My feelings are unchanged.

2 Bloc Party - Four
To be honest, I thought these guys were washed up after 2008's Intimacy. But this album dropped the electronic posturing and got back to their rock roots. It's kind of an uneven album, but there is true beauty in the unevenness--it listens like a Bloc Party best of album from 2017.
Key tracks: V.A.L.I.S., So He Begins to Lie, We Are Not Good People, 3x3,Coliseum, Ketting, The Healing

3 Local H - Hallelujah , I'm a Bum
I am just as surprised as you are about the existence of this entry. Local H dropped off my radar in the late 90s and I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the years have been good to Scott Lucas, the only remaining member of the original band. HIAB is a concept album about the hard knox life in present day Chicago. The songs here chill you like -15 degree weather, as you wait for the Blue Line, where the next stop is an existential crisis.
Key tracks: Night Flight to Paris, Say the Word, Feed a Fever, Paddy Considine, They Saved Reagan's Brain

4 Tenacious D - Rize of the Fenix
After The Pick of Destiny, I was pretty pessimistic about the D. I guess that's what happens when your debut is comedy rock gold. Rize went back to the basics, trimmed the fat and saw Jables and Rage Kage find their chi once again. This is a great Rock album.
Key Tracks: Low Hangin Fruit, Deth Starr, Roadie, Throwdown, Rock is Dead, 39

5 Indian Handcrafts - Civil Disobedience
Don't left this band's horrible name fool you, this is a dynamic album. It's a two-man outfit who picks up where Death from Above 1979 (also an all-time worse band name) left off. It's noisy, chaotic and beautiful all at the same time. This is a young band to watch.
Key Tracks: Bruce Lee, Coming Home, Worm in My Stomach, Red Action, Centauri Teenage Riot

6 The Mars Volta - Nocturniquet
One of my favorite bands of the last decade drops their most accessible album to date. There are some actual attempts at melody here which goes against the Volta's usual jazz-funk riot. If you don't dig this one, stay away from the band's awesomely weird backlogue. 
Key Tracks: The Whip Hand, The Malkin Jewel, Aegis, Dyslexicon, Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound, Nocturniquet

7 Beach House - Bloom
Ever since I experienced last year's best film, Drive, I've been a sucker for melodic Electro in the same vein as Chromatics and Kavinsky. Had Beach House dropped this gem a year earlier, they undoubtedly would have had key songs added to Drive's excellent soundtrack. A great album to fall asleep to. 
Key Tracks: Wild, Other People, Irene, Troublemaker, New Year, Wishes

8 Bruno Mars - Unorthodox Jukebox
Here is an artist that I never thought would be on any top list of yours truly. I was very surprised to hear what a more mature Mars confessed to on this one. This album sounds like it could have shared Billboard top 10 space with Michael Jackson, The Police and Prince--cuz this disc goes beyond just a tip of the cap to 80s pop-- it sounds like an unknown gem from 1983 that suffered from a lack of a promotional budget. 
Key Tracks: Locked Out of Heaven, Young Girls, If I Knew, Moonshine, Treasure

9 Silversun Pickups - Neck of the Woods
To me, this band is hit or miss. Sometimes they sound like Smashing Pumpkins a wee too much. But this album caught my attention after I heard the lead cut, Skin Graph. The tracks that followed sounded like the soundtrack to a Stephen King story that takes place at Camp Crystal Lake. To call this album haunting would be putting that shit lightly.
Key Tracks: Mean Spirited, Make Believe, Skin Graph, Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings), Gun-Shy Sunshine, Busy Bees

10 Soundgarden - King Animal
Probably my most anticipated album of 2012. It wasn't the disappointment I thought it could be. Reunion albums error on the side of suck most times, you don't have to look much further than Stooges The Weirdness and The Eagles atrocious double album of country diarrhea (Long Road Out of Eden). King Animal is easily one of the best reunion albums ever, mainly because the band didn't try to reinvent the iPhone. The music is entrenched in 1994, but the lyrics are so 2012. The album was a tad uneven with Chris Cornelly ballads mixed in with the rockers, but that is my only critique. 
Key Tracks: Rowing, Worse Dreams, Non-State Actor, Blood on the Valley Floor, Bones of Birds, Eyelids Mouth

Honorable Mentions:
Pujol - United States of Being 
Now here is a kid that gets it. Part 90’s pop-punk, part Tom Waits. Albums like this reaffirm my faith that rock will survive the wave of synthetic Dubshit that screams, quietly, into earbuds of  the lost minds of youth.
Key Tracks: Mission from God, Made of Money, Diy2k, Reverse Vampire, Dark Knight in Shining Armor

Frank Ocean - Channel Orange
I came late to the Frank Ocean party. He’s crooner that isn’t afraid to get weird the Pink Floyd way. Is this world’s first psychedelic soul album? Probably not. Between Channel Orange and Kid Cudi’s Indicud (out the first quarter of ’13), Hip Hop is in great hands.
Key Tracks: Pilot Jones, Sweet Life, Pyramids, Thinkin’ ‘Bout You, Sierra Leone

Top five albums I first heard in 2012: 
1 Wavves - King of the Beach
I'm a sucker for this new (or old?) lo-fi surfer rock that has hit the Indie circuit over the last couple of years. Wavves personifies that sound to a T, with jangly guitars, sex wax fingers and cheep beer. Super Soaker takes me away to my youth when I was forced to listen to Janet Jackson and Aerosmith’s Pump.
Key Tracks: Converttiible Balloon, Idiot, Linus Spacehead, King of the Beach, Super Soaker, Post Acid, Baseball Cards

2 Film School - Film School
I loved (and continue to love) the Post-Punk/Shoegaze revivalists of the Aughts. So much good shit came out of it—Interpol’s any album, The National’s sad and poetic High Violet, The Killer’s first album, Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm—just to name the good ones. Somehow, I missed Film School. How did I miss this band? I blame sports.
Key Tracks: Harmed, On & On, Pitfalls, Breet, He’s a Deep Deep Lake

3 Fidlar – DIYDUI (EP)
Fidlar is a force of nature. In the same vein of the nu-Surf of Wavves, Fidlar has no qualms about admitting to the Lester Bangs theory about the band The Guess Who, admitting through their music that they are drunken buffoons. Wake Bake Skate not only hustles the shortest chorus in maybe rock history, but they do it so effortlessly and carelessly, it makes you wonder if they might be one of those bands that burns twice as bright as they drink themselves into oblivion. 
Key Tracks: Wake Bake Skate, Oh, Wait for the Man, Max Can’t Surf

4 Pentagram- Relentless
Boy, am I late to this party. I saw the great documentary, Last Days Here awhile back and fell in love with lead singer Bobby Liebling—a washed-up drug addict enabled by his wealthy parents. It’s a great story about a band I knew nothing about. There was nice little spotlight put on Relentless  at the beginning of the flick, especially the circular groove of All Your Sins, a song that can keep its own with Black Sabb’s best.
Key Tracks: Relentless, Sign of the Wolf, All Your Sins, Death Row

5 The Black Keys - Magic Potion
To defend myself, I was actually an early adopter of the Keys--I had Thickfreakness and Rubber Factory on my hard drive when John Kerry got an exploratory committee together. But for some reason, I missed what is now my favorite Keys alum, the aptly-named, Magic Potion
Key Tracks: Back Door, Give Your Heart Away, Your Touch, You’re the One (my fav by the band)

1 Kasher in the Rye: The True Tale of a White Boy from Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, and Then Turned 16-
Although the title puns itself against one of the great American novels, it nicely updates the themes to the modern era. Kasher unflinchingly tell the story of his troubled childhood. It’s great because it doesn’t glorify drug use, but it doesn’t unglorify it either. Kasher instead uses drugs as a bailiwick to tell his odd story of recovery. Plus, the guy knows how to turn a phrase with the best of them, further proving that comics tell the best stories period.

2 Outliers: The Story of Success-
I have been flirting with this book for quite awhile and I finally decided to use it in two classes this last semester. I’m glad I did. This might be Gladwell’s best to date as he explores the idea of genius and legacy and how the two are never mutually exclusive. It breathes hope into passion and tells the reader that if they have a particular interest plus 10,000 hours to spare, then your true calling is never out of reach.

3 Among the Thugs-
Bill Buford’s non-fictional account of soccer fanatics (don’t you dare call them hooligans) is up there with Hunter Thompson’s Hell’s Angels as a sociological yarn about society’s unmentionables. It pulls the camera back and looks at Britain as an island culture of desperation and anger, especially in the book’s framing in the 1980’s. This one creates it’s own world and throws the reader into the crush of a brutal subset of society.

4 Animal Man-
During some downtime in Manhattan over the summer, I wandered around world famous Midtown Comics and met this dude who quickly downloaded some potential series that I might like. We talked Alan Moore for a bit until the comic nerd said, “Ever read anything by Grant Morrison?” Boy, did that change my perception of what comics could be. He told me to start with his freshman outing at DC, revitalizing the lame duck character, Animal Man. I got a compendium of the 89 issue series. It now stands as my favorite graphic novel. It's psychedelic, weird, and extraordinarily meta. Grant Morrison is one of the best storytellers alive.

5 V.A.L.I.S.-
Philip K. Dick is a weird guy. This is one of his final books, a fictional retelling of a nervous breakdown he had. It is one of the stranger rides one would take in a psychedelic sci-fi—it involves drug use, pink beams that transmit from UFOs into protagonist Horselover Fat’s brain and a strange hybrid of 1974 Los Angeles and Ancient Rome. Dick is also a character in the book as well. It’s a strange book that I can’t really recommend because it’s so bizarre. I’m not even sure I liked it—but it did have some mind-blowing ideas contained within. This might be an accurate description of Dick’s writing in general.

1 Argo
Ben Affleck is #winning as a director. He needs to not act anymore, but he doesn't drag the rest of this stellar (often doppelgangers for their non fictional counterparts) cast down in this thriller-cum-space opera. It matches Lincoln's use “that guys" and uses humor when it's warranted. The plot never wavers and its kinda nail-bitey towards the climax. If you don't like this film, you hate the movie-going experience and all I have to say to you is #argofuckyerself.

2 Looper
Looper will twist your brain into a pretzel. I still don't know what it's fully about, but I'm okay with this. I do know that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a badass actor (look to last year’s 50/50 and Hesher for further proof) and he went all in on his spot-on Bruce Willis interpretation. Plus, the story is pretty goddamn good too. Sci-fi is alive and well and it isn’t afraid to use its brain.

3 Moonrise Kingdom
I am constantly in an abusive relationship with Wes Anderson. I loved his first three films (especially his first, Bottle Rocket)—but Life Aquatic and Darjeeling Limited were both pretentious messes that suffered from bloated budgets. Fantastic Mr. Fox was great, but confusing—for I didn’t see Anderson making the switch, fully, into kid’s films—even though a majority of his films seem like kid films for adults—which might be the perfect description for Moonrise. This might be Anderson’s best. He pulled back on the pretense a bit and allowed the characters to explore their isolated island world. All of the adults pull out great performances here—but the main characters of Sam and Suzy (played by great upstarts Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, respectively) are the real gems here. Sam Shakusky might be one of the greatest film characters of all time once this film marinates for a bit. And if he isn’t, it’s a godamned shame.

4 The Dark Knight Rises
I feel obligated to choose this film because of both my allegiance to Batman and Christopher Nolan—and even though this is a great flick, it doesn’t hold a candle to its predecessor. But if this is my lone critique, I can live with it. Truth is, this is a much more methodical and patient film than Dark Knight. The biggest payoff was the end of the film, which left this writer’s eyes filled with milky tears. Nolan maybe done with the franchise, but the story isn’t over—maybe the next director of the series will pick-up right where Nolan left off. I would be okay with this.

5 Lincoln
Daniel-Day Lewis is the man. He proves it once again by reshaping our perception of the notorious 16th president. I liked that Spielberg decided to go against the typical biopic grain by isolating the story to the passing of the 13th amendment to abolish slavery in the United States. It showed audiences that bickering in Washington is nothing new (or old?)—and it allowed perspective to take as much as the spotlight as Lewis’ show-stopping performance. And it completes Spielberg’s High School civics trilogy with Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. This is an important film.

6 Django Unchained
This would be a great double-feature with Lincoln—as long as Django is the first to be shown. It could give the audience the problem, while my #5 offers up the solution. That being said, Django might be Tarantino’s funniest film. There is a scene early in the film, where a bunch of upstart KKK members bicker over not seeing out of the holes in their masks—I wet myself with amusement over the rednecks Monty Python-esque deconstruction of the absurdity of the situation. Samuel L. Jackson gives one of his best performances in years as the slave-hating slave, Stephen. Also, Christoph Waltz is fast becoming a Tarantino go-to—showing his chops again as Dr. King (pun intended?), a German bounty hunter with a heart of gold.

7 The Raid: Redemption
Holy shit was this a thrill ride. This Indonesian gem was high and action and low on boredom. This is easily one of the best action films ever made. Even if you hate subtitles, you will do very little reading cuz the characters in this one talk mainly with fists and feet.

8 Killing Them Softly
To be honest, I didn’t really like this one upon first seeing it. It was slow and needlessly crude and violent. Plus, I didn’t get the whole parallel of the 2008 presidential election parable thingy. Then I read this article on Grantland and it changed my mind. Every ten years or so, a movie like this is made—think Taxi Driver, Falling Down or Pitt’s greatest film, Fight Club. It boils down American frustration into violent fantasies of how to exist outside of the status quo. Softly does this in spades and I agree with Zach Brown’s assertion that, "the film may not be particularly beloved this year — it's too obvious, too on-the-nose, too grindingly familiar — it will probably be adored in another 10 or 20 years, when the grimy details of our current moment are forgotten but the general foul aura of the last four years remains.

9 Sleepwalk with Me
Between Mike Birbiglia’s excellent comedy and Moshe Kasher’s book—it is clear that comedians in this country can make great fucking art used as extensions of their craft. This is a funny and poignant film about not only the difficulty of stand-up comedy as a occupation, but it examines the rare condition of sleepwalking that Birbigs fights in real life. It also looks at a modern relationship about as honestly as any film this season has.

10 Lawless
This is a mediocre period film is soon forgotten if not for Tom Hardy, one of the best in the bossiness. He was adequate as the heavy in Dark Knight Rises, but in this one, as one of the protagonists, he gives a quiet, Aspergery kinda flare to his role as a bootlegger during Prohibition. 

1 Ari Shaffir's Skeptic Tank - Christiana Pazsitzky
I don't know why I loved this episode so much. Maybe it was one of the first episodes I listened to of Shaffir s underrated show. Maybe it's because Pazsitzky really opened up about growing up as a troubled Goth chick in Southern California, talking about things I could relate to about being a minority during her school years. Regardless of what it was, what you'll find here is intimacy between two comedians who don't know much about each other until the end of the show. It felt like a first date between two vulnerable and honest people who speak the same language as me.

2 Joe Rogan Experience - Dennis McKenna
This episode was on right before the dreaded 12/21/12 Mayan end date. Rogan and McKenna talked a lot about Terence McKenna, Dennis' late brother who was a psychedelic advocate during the 80s and 90s--a more intellectual Tim Leary if you will. This was one of the best episodes of the Experience yet.

3 Adam and Drew - Episode 5
They're back! Adam Carolla and Dr. Drew Pinsky are doing the Loveline thing again, this time in podcast form. Loveline was easily my favorite radio show when Carolla was on from 1995-2005. It took a few episodes, but the newest one, episode 5, finds the comedian/doctor in their old groove with Adam hogging airtime and Drew passive aggressively punching his microphone. Looking forward to a 2013 filled with this new show, twice a week.

4 The Duncan Trussell Family Hour - Dan Harmon
Dan Harmon, former show runner for NBC's Community, talked to Duncan on a random episode over the summer. The podcast is still on my Zune. Dan matched wits with Duncan throughout as they discussed the possibilities that we are living in a technological simulation--among other fascinating topics.

5 The B.S. Report - Malcolm Gladwell
One of my favorite writers, Gladwell, made his podcast debut as he and Simmons talked about PEDs and the 30 for 30 documentary 9.79*, about Ben Johnson's gold medal stripping at the 1988 Olympics. These guys should make their case for PED use in all sports to the UN/congress/Olympic Committee. 

6 The Nerdist - Paul Williams
Paul Williams, singer/songwriter of soundtracks of your favorite movies in the 70s/80s, talked to the Nerdist boys about his success and failures due to alcoholism. I loved how self-deprecating Williams was about his boyish looks and his honesty about how Hollywood has worked for a long time. 

7 The Joe Rogan Experience - Alex Grey
Another psychedelic hero joins Joe for crazy hippy drug talk. If you don’t know who is Alex is, Google his name and hit images…I’ll wait. Now you know who he is, don’t you? He was a great guest who politely disagreed with Joe’s gloomy outlook for humanity. Grey, as it turns out, is an eternal optimist who is soft-spoken, yet heavily articulate. This was podcast gold.

8 WTF with Marc Maron - Tenacious D
I’m lukewarm on Maron’s show for the most part, but he’s been interviewing a lot of great musicians of late because, well, he’s running out of comedians (one of his rules is that he doesn't double-up on guests, once they are on, he doesn't ask them back). Tenacious D (my number 4 album of the year) stopped in as a sort of comedian/musician hybrid—ushering in a new era of Maron’s sometimes great show. Jables and Kage brought their great energy to show and often had Maron choking on his own laughter. Later in the ep, Maron phones comedian-buddy Mike Birbiglia about the premier of number 10 movie of the year, Sleepwalk with Me.

9 The Joe Rogan Experience - Maynard James Keenan
One of my favorite musicians of all-time gave a long-form interview with Rogan about wine, drugs and weird mysticism. Maynard is a hard guy to get anything out of—but Rogan’s attention to subject matter that Maynard cares about kept the flow going. Even in the parts where Rogan’s dim-witted sidekick, Redban, tried too hard to ask about Tool and A Perfect Circle—Rogan quickly swooped in with his patented, “Oh. Brian.” MJK is one smart mutherfucker.

10 The Joe Rogan Experience - Duncan Trussell (any episode)
They must have done at least 10 episodes this year and they all are blurred into one giant resin ball in my mind. This is one of the best verbal pairings in all history. Looking forward to more podcasts from these two psychedelic visionaries in 2013.