10. Rick Ross – Rich Forever
This summer, Rick Ross released his blockbuster LP God Forgives, I Don’t. And, like most blockbuster LPs from superstar rappers, it kinda sucked. Boring, bombastic, and bloated, God Forgive, I Don’t plays like the slow deflation of an enormous hype-balloon. But Rich Forever was the reason that balloon got so big in the first place, and ten months after its release it stands as the finest work Ross has ever produced. This 19-track mixtape is so suffocatingly intense that it manages to make Diddy and Drake scary. Indeed, the stars are all over this release: John Legend reminds us that money is cool on the title track, Kelly Rowland manages to sound just cheesy enough on “Mine Games,” and Nas does what Nas always does on “Triple Beam Dreams.” Rich Forever is easily the best mainstream hip-hop release of 2012, and that’s before even considering its greatest quality: it’s free.
9. Meyhem Lauren – Respect the Fly Shit
I’m not going to succeed in hiding my biases on this list: I have a penchant for mid-90s New York City hip-hop. Biggie, Nas, and especially Wu-Tang wrote my personal high school soundtrack, and any release that reminds me of those times is going to appeal to me. Meyhem Lauren’s debut LP Respect the Fly Shit appeals to me more than most: with the Raekwon/Ghostface-style interplay of Lauren and Action Bronson, and with the RZA-circa-Supreme-Clientele-style production, this tape is like 1997 all over again. Yes, Lauren is a bit conventional at times. Yes, he gets shown up by his co-signs on occasion (e.g. Despot on “Pan-Seared Tilapia”). And yes, I could do without the blow-by-blow account of a fellatious evening that is “Top of the World.” But minor flaws aside, Respect the Fly Shit is one of the most enjoyable slices of hip-hop you’re likely to hear this year. And while you’re listening, think about this: these guys recorded this LP at this year’s SXSW…in two days.
8. Roc Marciano – Reloaded
Did someone say Wu-Tang? The beats on Roc Marciano’s outstanding Reloaded are straight crimonology rap, but the real star of this record is Marciano’s relentless, rhyme-riddled wordplay. This record is full of the kind of evocative, abstract, mind-bending wordplay on which New York City was built. It should be no surprise that Q-Tip, The Abstract himself, stops by to drop a beat on this record. This record is a gift for those who believe in the true art that is emceeing.
7. Joey Bada$$ – 1999
If Joey Bada$$ were nothing more than a 17-year-old kid from Flatbush with a phat rap name, I’d still love him. Fortunately, he’s so much more than that. This preternaturally skilled rapper whose confidence and insight belie his age. Unlike his peers in Odd Future, who make no effort to hide their age-appropriate sophomoric attitudes, Joey Bada$$ clearly views himself as the inheritor of a tradition, the next in a long line of New York rappers whom he has the responsibility to respect, to honor, and to make proud. And, with 1999, make them proud he does.
6. BBU – bell hooks
Politically conscious hip-hop has been on life support for the last 20 years, but 2012 saw a few concerted efforts to resuscitate it. No effort was more concerted than that of BBU, whose mixtape bell hooks fearlessly attacked corporate America and guilt-driven liberalism with equal furor. But if militant music scares you off, fear not: the tape is filled with the kind of infectious party beats that will raise your spirits and move your ass. In a year of outstanding hip-hop releases, this one has been criminially underappreciated.
5. El-P – Cancer 4 Cure
For a relatively small group of us who were music nerds graduating from college in the early 2000s, El-P is something of a legend. He was the man behind Funcrusher Plus, The Cold Vein, and a slew of other records that re-defined hip-hop in the minds of many an impressionable youth. The “indefinite hiatus” embarked on by his Definitive Jux label in 2010 appeared to mark the sad end of a remarkable era. Thankfully, El-P was resurrected this year, nowhere more prominently than on his third and best solo record Cancer 4 Cure. Our hero does an admirable job of rapping on the album, and many of raps new underground idols (Danny Brown, Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire) stop by to lend their talents, but as always it is El-P’s unique, psychosis-inducing production that is the star. Take a deep breath and spin Cancer 4 Cure; you may not breathe again until it’s over.
4. Schoolboy Q – Habits & Contradictions
Peter Lillis said everything that needs to be said about this remarkable record upon its release in January; its “stories of depravity, sacrilege, honesty, violence and pills” remain as compelling, engrossing, and terrifying as they did ten months ago. Habits & Contradictions set the bar high for hip-hop in 2012, and although a handful of releases cleared the bar, there’s no question that Schoolboy’s statement provided the starting point for a spectacular year.
3. Action Bronson & Party Supplies – Blue Chips
Listen: just don’t play this one for your mom.
2. Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
The stylistic depth of Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music cannot be overstated. El-P’s compositions have always been the stomping grounds of hyperkinetic “underground” emcees, but R.A.P. (produced by El-P in its entirety) shows what can happen when southern rap legends, political militants, and straight-up gangsters get ahold of them. To wit: something spectacular. From the star-studded blitzkrieg of “Big Beast,” through the bellicose disenchantment of “Reagan,” to the celebratory strains of the concluding title track, Killer Mike’s latest bathes in the glory of hip-hop. It’s hard to believe that there was a rap record better than this in 2012.
1. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city
But there was. You’ll be hearing a lot more about this one in the days and weeks to come. For now, suffice it to say: it’s a masterpiece.
If you weren’t aware that there is a massive psychedelic revival underway, don’t worry: you’re not alone. As lovers of the spaced-out and groovy, we at FP decided to put together a top 10 psychedelic list last year, only to watch it become one of our most-viewed pieces of all-time. As a result, we were particularly attentive to anything that might have the smallest chance of blowing your mind this year. And now, at the conclusion of a particularly kaleidoscopic twelve months, we bring you are ten most consciousness-expanding records of 2012. Enjoy the ride.
10. Pond – Beard, Wives, Denim
Given that the band shares members with the better-known Tame Impala, it should come as no surprise that Pond’s debut Beard, Wives, Denim sounds like a distant cousin of that bands excellent 2010 debut Innerspeaker. But, where Innerspeaker came off as a practiced and polished labor of love, BWD has a looser, riskier, unrehearsed feel. Throughout the record Pond sounds as if it is trying on for size the many branches of psychedelic music, from the crunchy garage-rock of “Fantastic Explosion of Time” to the hallucinogenic “Sorry I Was Under the Sky.” Although the music press has filed them away in the dreaded “side project” folder, Pond can stand proudly by this diverse, spirited debut.
9. Moon Duo – Circles
Another entry in the side project file, Moon Duo shares mind-bending guitarist Ripley Johnson with Wooden Shjips, whose 2011 LP West landed third on last year’s version of this list. Unlike Pond however, whose sound is clearly tied to that of its big-brother-band, Moon Duo bears little resemblance to Wooden Shjips, and the only thing Circles shares with West is its tremendous far-out-ness. While West was full of meandering guitar-driven explorations, Circles is fundamentally groovy, filled with a kind of meditative minimalism that is central to the psychedelic state-of-mind. It’s the kind of record that would make Ralph Waldo Emerson proud.
8. Gonjasufi – MU.ZZ.LE
While MU.ZZ.LE features significantly fewer long-haired guitar heroes than, well, every other record on this list, it’s inclusion on a list of mind-bending psych records is indisputably warranted. Indeed, Gonjasufi and production partner Psychopop make psychedelia for the prescription-drug generation, a kind of hyper-relaxed, haze-soaked music with a slightly paranoid undertone. Briefer and perhaps less ambitious than 2010’s excellent A Sufi and a Killer, MU.ZZ.LE. is nonetheless equally arresting, equally mystical, and equally worthy of your attention.
7. Woods – Bend Beyond
For each of the last four years, Woods have put out a new record, and every one of them has been great. If anything, the band is a victim of its own consistency: its albums are so uniformly excellent that they surprise no one, finding themselves ranked seventh on lists like this (as they were last year as well) when they probably deserve much better. Bend Beyond is perhaps somewhat brighter than the band’s previous record, and the guitar freak-outs are a bit more restrained, but all the analysis is a bit beside the point. If the record says “Woods” on the cover, you should be listening.
6. Foxygen – Take the Kids Off Broadway
Foxygen is the clear winner of “portmanteau band name of the year,” and so it’s appropriate that their first commercially available album is full of sonic portmanteaux, throwing everything from The Kinks to Elephant 6 into a musical blender and serve up some delicious results. I could go into details, or I could just tell you that this album has a 10-minute song called “Teenage Alien Blues.” Checkmate.
5. Ty Segall & White Fence – Hair
And here’s the crazy part: this is only Segall’s third best record THIS YEAR.
4. Royal Baths – Better Luck Next Life
Allow me to quote FP contributer Tim Myers’ review of Better Luck Next Life: “It’s an album drenched in violent lust and strung out on speed. The scene is always a seedy one, evoking images of back alley drug deals and ravaged motel rooms. The subject matter is undeniably dark, as singer Jigmae Baer details vampiric sex scenes and murder fantasies with an icy detachment that makes the album feel that much steamier.” Um….awesome.
3. Six Organs of Admittance – Ascent
If I ever make a list of “The 10 Best Albums full of face-melting guitar solos of 2012,” this will be #1.
2. Goat – World Music
I desperately wanted to put this album at #1, and I struggled long and hard before deciding to move it down a notch. Goat, whose members wear masks while performing, whose album features songs entitled “Goatman” and “Goatlord,” whose membership may include the entire population of Korpilombolo, Sweden, are the quintessential psychedelic band. Filled with chemically drenched drumming, orgiastic organ, and cosmic tales spun on an electric guitar, World Music is as mind-altering as rock music comes. Goat emerged like a lightning bolt in the night sky this year, and in any ordinary year, their debut would have stood head and shoulders above their psychedelic brethren.
1. Tame Impala – Lonerism
But, 2012 was no ordinary year: it was the year that Tame Impala dropped Lonerism. A lot has been made of this album’s relationship to Revolver, and perhaps the greatest compliment one can pay it is: the comparison isn’t ridiculous. Indeed, Tame Impala have managed to do what I dare say no other band has achieved to date. They have created a psychedelic album for the 21st century, an album that manages to stay true to all of the principles of 1960s pop without sounding dated or derivative in any way. From “Apocalypse Dreams” to “Music to Walk Home By” to “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” every song is a 4-minute gem more valuable than the last. In fact, why don’t you stop wasting your time reading this review and just listen to the record. You can thank me later.
The thin house–a house four feet wide and occupying a space between two buildings in Warsaw–isn’t a likely candidate to entertain the guests who show up unexpectedly and demand a story from the author on the spot in the title story of Etgar Keret’s latest collection, Suddenly, a Knock On the Door. While it would not be able to hold the action of the piece, it does explain the style of the Israeli author’s storytelling: as Steven Kurutz of The New York Times writes, the thin house, built with Keret in mind, is “small but complete.” There are a total of thirty-six stories contained within the 188 pages of the book, an average of five pages per story, though as we know averages work, many come in much shorter, with some barely stretching over one page. In these brief pieces, Keret packs in whole worlds.
Thanks to the generosity of Taglit-Birthright which pays for young American Jews to travel to Israel for the first time, I spent 10 days in the Motherland, with stops in Tel Aviv, Haifa, the Golan Heights, Jerusalem, the desert, and the Dead Sea. While an organized tour was a change from the weeks of independent travel in China and New York, it did give me a chance to bond with young Israelis I might not have otherwise met. So rather than describing the trip from a tourist perspective –for that, try your Jewish friends’ online photo albums— I’m going to let Maya, Kobi, and Yoav take the reins.
Maya Joshua is finishing up her military service. Her dad is Israeli but mom is American. She primarily grew up in Israel but moved to the States in high school. Since then, she’s been going back and forth until she decided to enlist. “I’ve always been really torn about my identity,” Maya explains. “Israeli’s are like ‘you’re not completely Israeli because you speak English so well and you fit into that culture so well and you didn’t grow up in an Israeli household’ but I’m definitely not completely American because I miss so many of the references in both cultures. So I was like ‘where do I belong?’ So I had this urge to come here and serve in the army and find out what it was all about.” Maya’s learned that the army hasn’t been for her, but she doesn’t regret the experience. “The army is an intriguing system in Israel because it’s such a big part of our society. It’s not just that everyone has the experience, there’s a language, you know? Like, there are all these acronyms people use and all these stories, it floods over, it spills into civilian life.”
As military service is (with few exceptions) compulsory in Israel, it’s a topic that almost invites itself into conversation. Kobi Cnaany has finished his service and is a biomedical engineering student at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. We talked about what it means to live in a country surrounded by potential threats. “I don’t feel any threatened by living in this country,” Kobi assures me. “I know there is a constant threat upon us but daily life at the moment, I’m two years after my military service, I’m living as a student up north which is next to Lebanon and Syria which people would say is a “hot” area, I should be afraid and stuff like that, but I just feel secure.” For Kobi, it adds to the mark of the Israeli character. “That’s why we’re living here. Even though we know that there is a threat somewhere I just think that this country is more, like, chilled and that makes Israelis to be very cynical. We laugh about everything.”
Yoav Hermoni was the guide of our ten day tour, a man with infinite patience, and a slightly left-of-center sense of humor. At 36 and with a wife and kids of his own and playing tour guide in countries around the Middle East and South America, he offers a unique perspective. “Israeli’s are getting tired now of the politics. A lot of the people now, these recent years, have no confidence anymore of the politicians. It’s not the way it was when I was a child that people were motivated in their ideology, they felt they were part of something, they felt loyal to the party, you know, now people do not believe anything…Which is very dangerous, which is not good, but this is how it is.” On top of that, Israel is a very expensive country to live in. “This generation is working hard and is feeling that, everybody is working very hard and doesn’t get the same as our parents, or as the same as people that were in our position twenty years ago.” Maya echoes that idea. “You run into all these bureaucratic like issues and it’s just like you feel sometimes like you’re running really, really fast and you’re standing in one place.” For Yoav, it’s gotten to the point where action needs to be taken. “And that’s the reason last year, there was a big wave of social protests here in Israel and I also joined this protest. I went to the demonstrations because I felt that it’s a justified cause to protest against the government that is taking care of the ultra-Orthodox community and we have a lot of people that are not working in Israel and we have to subsidize them.”
“In terms of the future,” Yoav says, “Israelis are very skeptical. That is also a dangerous thing. We have a hope for a better Middle East during the 90s and now this hope is gone, really gone. Like, there is no one that talks about it anymore. We see what’s happening around us. We don’t have a lot of optimism, let’s say, in the Middle East. But still, we are optimistic about ourselves.” He reiterates that Israeli’s are cynical, can be stubborn and impolite. Likewise, “Israelis have a lot of initiative. And I can see that everywhere. I can see that when I’m traveling. If something doesn’t work as it should have worked, so we find a way that it will be okay and others can’t. This is something that is very, very strong in our mentality.”
While it’s always great discovering the minute details of cultures from around the world, there are (spoiler alert) things that tie everyone together. “All the people that I’ve met so far [Israeli’s or Palestinians],” Maya says, “are normal people who want to wake up in the morning and see their kids wake up in the morning and go to work and know that their kids are safe at school and come back home and put food on the table and do homework with their kids, and occasionally go out with their husband or wife and live to have grandkids.” Kobi reverberates this sentiment: “Some people just mark us as a military country that fucks up with the whole world…I just think we want to live.”
After the trip, I keep asking myself: have I changed? Beyond the idea that everything changes everything, you can’t step in the same river twice, etc. Have I changed as an American Jew? At this point in my life I’m a staunch atheist, not so much polemical, but I just worry myself with other things in life. While I didn’t leave a note at the Western Wall, there was an intense and profound energy of all the religious Jews around me during Shabbat that most rock bands I write about strive for but fail to conjure. While it was a great experience to witness, there was a great disconnect for me also. My existential side tells me that “l’existence précède l’essence,” so as I never participate in Judaism consciously, can I consider myself a Jew? Simultaneously, as I know there is Jewish blood in my veins, I can’t separate myself entirely. It may just be my Jewish guilt kicking in, that I need to get something deep out of a free trip across the world. If nothing else, I am thinking more critically about my connection to and place in history, to the land of my far back ancestry. I’m looking more inward than I’ve been already, but I don’t rely on any scripture for answers. It may just be hard for me to grasp the fact that I was just a tourist, that I’m feeling that famous Jewish guilt over not finding out anything deep about my Jewish connection over a free trip.
Overall, the three Israelis agreed about importance of connectivity, less so technological connectivity, but between the past, between family, and between the world. While Maya’s family was thankfully never personally affected by the Holocaust the way many Israeli citizens have been, she still remains poignant on the topic. “To live in a country,” she says, “where the Holocaust is part of the shadow that follows us everywhere, and to see that and to hear about that and to be a part of the people that went through that means that we get the right, that now that we have a state, no one is taking it away from us.” “We are very connected to our families here,” says Yoav. “This is a very familial society, very much. For us, the fact that we live in Israel is part of who we are.” While the state itself is important, it’s an international attribute for Kobi: “My Judaism, I’m Jewish as part of a nation, the nation of Israel, and also the nation of the Jews which is something worldwide.” That is something I’ve definitely come to agree with. For the significance that Judaism has played around the world, Jews make up approximately 0.2% of the world’s population, less than 14 million people. Not that its an exclusive club that people are flocking to join, but for those of us already here, it shapes our identities probably more than we realize. While we were given a window into a culture and place that still seems very foreign to me, it was only a glimpse, standing on my tip-toes at the sill. What I can conclude is this: the people I met were good people first, Jewish second. L’Chaim.
Andrew Hertzberg is a staff writer based in Chicago. His previous essays in this series discussed bikes, beer, and baozi, Beijing nightlife, and New York (before and after Hurricane Sandy). He wants to reiterate his thanks to the many friends he met in Israel, especially Yoav, Maya, and Kobi, for giving him insight into how and why people live, and an extra congratulation to Maya, who finishes her military duty on November 15th. The final essay in this series will appear next week.
Posted November 13, 2012on:
In addition to being one of the most talented pop musicians of his or any generation, Andrew Bird is a damn hard worker. As a solo artist, he has completed at least 10 releases since 2003’s Weather Systems, including instrumental albums, live compilations and EPs on top of five full-lengths. His loop-based compositions are a sight and sound to behold, and Birdman has built an impressive reputation as one of the most imaginative and original performers of the genre formerly known as indie rock. Not content to rest on his laurels, Birdman is wrapping up a most successful, prolific and affecting 2012 with his second full-length in seven months, Hands of Glory.
Billed as a companion piece to March’s superb Break It Yourself, Hands of Glory is Bird at his most reserved yet exploratory. Allowing himself the freedom of live recording and stripped down arrangements, Bird’s mastery and passion to rise to the top. From Hands of Glory’s opening track “Three White Horses”, it’s clear Bird has taken the saying “less is more” to heart. Maybe it was that tasty tomato bread we served him last summer at Celebrate Brooklyn.
Seriously, three cheers for the old guys. In an era where hype machine blog year-end top ten lists are often chock-full of buzz band debut albums, let us not forget that Rolling Stone is sometimes right. 2012 has seen great albums from the likes of baby boomer mainstays Dr. John, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and Jimmy Cliff. Despite their age, these artists have somehow managed to adapt their style to the contemporary music world while still creating a product that is very much their own.