Category: Art & Literature



kafka

“Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.”

Haruki Murakami has for been for as long as I have been reading words written by him, a soul among billions in this world, who understands the various mysterious pertaining to the fringes of the world and what our subconscious mind perceives of things around us. You may call him my favourite author — and that wouldn’t be a lie since I greatly admire his writing style — which both in its style and content — manages to capture those mysteries we didn’t know existed, but which always did. He brings out these questions from the fringes of our minds which we weren’t aware of before.

The Fog

Reading his novels is a surreal experience in the truest sense. Often his stories wrap themselves in this bizarre fantasy world which despite its realistic appearance is rooted in something alien. I am fascinated by how he manages to weave around passages on thoughts that have been troubling us — of memories, of loss, of love, of desire — into such beautifully written passages which amid the bizarre fantasy setting reflect the dream-like characteristics of it but also how our own subconscious mind often functions. Never a product of a single thought but always made up of many.

His novels are like puzzles without a definition — one that have no clear solution until you have found it. All his stories are that — ones which oscillate between being bizarre and making sense beyond words — the kind that makes you pause, look up and stare at the empty space in front of you for several moments trying to grasp at something beyond the fog.

That is an apt description of how I feel when I read most of his books. Like I’m grappling with an undefined entity beyond the fog. I can neither see it nor can I feel it, but I know it exists. Occasionally, the fog clears for the slightest moments and I catch glimpses of the question I have been fighting with.

Overview — Dark Prophecies and Oedipus

Kafka on the Shore is his 2007 novel, a book released at a point in his career when his worldwide popularity was hitting new highs. It is unusual for any Japanese author to get recognition from the rest of the world to the level he has achieved but when you see the universal themes his works embrace and how his characters’ lives are always spent in pursuit of a purpose unknown to them. His stories can be described as journeys without any known destination or direction — they are journeys with a self-contained purpose. The milestones in these journeys are indications of where you are headed — each milestone a piece that slowly fills up the jigsaw as your destination slowly forms into shape.

These are similar machinations behind the lines that make up Kafka on the Shore. Typically for a Murakami novel, it has its central character in pursuit for his own self. Unusually so, this time it isn’t a thirty-something lost in the waves of time and suffering from a mid-life crisis. This time, his protagonist is a 15-year old boy named Kafka Tamura. His pursuit is of discovering his own self but not through a deep introspection or through your dreams. You do not have that pleasure when you are young — your dreams reflect more of your fantasies than of the real world. Your experience of the world outside is limited.

Murakami realizes that and alters his traditional formula in an important manner to accommodate Kafka’s pursuit for his self in the world outside him.

Unusually, Murakami chooses to focus on a recurring theme taken from the Greek tragedy featuring Oedipus. Abandoned by his mother at birth, Kafka is left alone under the oppressive care of his father until he chooses to break free from it by running away. His act seen as a proof that escape is sometimes indeed an agent of change.

He lives under a dark prophecy of his father — one which mirrors that of Oedipus, that he shall kill his father, mate with his sister and his mother before losing himself.

There are a lot of ways this could have gone sour but thankfully Murakami handles this with an indirect approach. The Oedipus theme runs through the very core of Kafka on the Shore but it is never overpowering enough to take centerstage.

Structure — Parallel Odysseys

In fact, Kafka’s odyssey runs in parallel with an old man named Nakata who can talk to cats, convinces lost cats to return to their homes and is apparently hollow. The latter fact plays a key role in the story but I shall not spoil it for you.

Instead, I will like to emphasize on how Murakami repeats the pattern of combining two parallel journeys in a similar manner to how he did in the sublime Hard Boiled Wonderland and End of the World almost two decades back. By alternating chapters between these journeys, Murakami often manages to slowly unveil the loose but well-defined connections these journeys have. In this case, it is a lot more direct and less abstract than it was in Hard Boiled Wonderland and End of the World, but nonetheless this structural decision works for a number of reasons:

  • for revealing the afore-mentioned similarities between the odysseys and the rather obvious connections they may share
  • when one of the plot threads slows down, the other can still manage to entertain — thus maintaining the “page turner” trait which has made Murakami’s recent novels so accessible for the less patient readers worldwide
  • an interesting observation is that often one of the plot threads slows down almost as if it were waiting for the other thread to catch up. It is a fact in one situation in the novel, but I wonder if this were the main reason why Murakami chose to make such a structural decision

The chapters are also arranged in a very interesting manner — each threads are either relatively ahead or behind chronologically to one another but never simultaneous.

Talking Cats, Raining Fishes and Undead WWII Soldiers

“In everybody’s life there’s a point of no return. And in a very few cases, a point where you can’t go forward anymore. And when we reach that point, all we can do is quietly accept the fact. That’s how we survive.”

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It wouldn’t be a Murakami novel without the bizarre. In Kafka on the Shore, there are plenty of that. Talking cats are the first to appear who often fall into idle conversations with the old Nakata. After a peculiar incident that acts as a chief propellant to the narrative, Nakata loses that ability to talk and becomes more of a clairvoyant and can rain fishes instead.

If I were to analyze about Nakata’s character, I’d say he is not a character. Instead, he is a mere vessel — a literary one — which both remotely supplements Kafka’s search for his true self and also acts as an embodied representation of how Kafka’s internal conflict.

Him losing ability to converse with cats parallels with Kafka’s loss of innocence — both after his father’s murder and him sleeping with his apparent “sister”. 

Nakata being able to rain fishes is just another display of his supernatural ability, one which I interpret being as a replacement of being able to converse with cats — perhaps the empowerment Kafka feels after getting the better of his father, his captor and oppressor for most of his young life.

Late, in the novel, Kafka ventures out against the advice of his wise friends into a mysterious forest. This forest evolves pretty much into a labyrinth where people lose themselves if they go too deep. Also, time doesn’t move deep in the forest. Which is why he comes across two WWII soldiers who haven’t aged since the day they defected from the army.

This venture into the labyrinth of a forest is the most direct representation of Kafka venturing into the deepest recesses of his self. He discovers a city untouched by time — his true self — the core of his personality, if you seek a more elaborate term.

Writing — Of Memories Lost

“Every one of us is losing something precious to us. Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive.”

Murakami’s writing has encapsulated his mysterious yet strangely profound and universal themes and Kafka on the Shore arguably contains some of the finest passages he has ever written. Due credit needs to be given to Philip Gabriel who translated the original text from Japanese. There are occasional idiosyncrasies that are bound to occur but I think the beauty of what Murakami conveyed is retained.

One of my chief criticisms is that a lot of what he writes in Kafka on the Shore seems less purposeful than his previous works. Unlike The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, where the narrative often segues into monologues or side-stories that relate to central narrative, however vaguely it may be, Kafka on the Shore has a surprising amount of self-indulgence in regards to Western culture that is expected from a Murakami novel. There are occasional breakaways to appreciate classical composers including Schubert and Beethoven or disruptive cameos from inanimate brand icons like Johnnie Walker and Colonel Sanders.

Rather than adding to the tale, these elements subtract from the entire picture. They break the spell and they stick out as a sore thumb to the cleverly constructed riddle Murakami otherwise constructs.

Central sequences to the novel are the ones spent in the library and the aforementioned venture into the labyrinthine forest.

Courtesy Angela Tang

Courtesy Angela Tang

The former is where it charts up some of its most beautifully constructed passages. Ones pertaining to memories and of nostalgia. Miss Saeki’s character — the one who is apparently (since facts are a luxury in Murakami’s world) Kafka’s mother particularly brings out the very best of Murakami. Hers’ is a character living a life that peaked too early. She lived through perfection before she had lived through the worst. Her rest of the life was entirely built on the lone regret that everything beyond that point was a downfall. It is a beautifully written character whose regrets are brilliantly brought out and whose tragedy ties brilliantly with Kafka on the Shore’s central narrative as well as the recurring theme of Oedipus.

Another recurring element which are a delight to behold are the conversations between Kafka and Crow — his mysterious imaginary friend who is possibly his alter-ego and the sole adversary(or friend, depending on how you see it) throughout this entire adventure.

A select passage from their conversation, one of the best I’ve seen from Murakami since The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle :

““Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.

An you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.

And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

Criticisms

As I mentioned earlier, Murakami’s novels are like a puzzle you cannot quite solve until you are facing its answer. A question defined by its answer, if you may.

However, Kafka on the Shore can be a taxing read because unlike its’ obvious inspiration, Murakami’s own psychological noir and fantasy mash-up Hard Boiled Wonderland and End of the World, this novel is not as rewarding. An entire thread starring Nakata is one purely for the convenience for the other. On its own, it can be amusing to read initially, but after a point it essentially slows down to a drawl, eventually stopping to a halt. The writing and narrative meanders about the point on Nakata’s thread while Kafka readies to make the all-important venture into the labyrinthine forest.

Even when the book is over and the answers lay all bare before you, it is not just as satisfyingThe Oedipus theme seems more like a supplementary to Kafka’s self-discovery rather than a central theme of its own. Incredibly disappointing for something the book spends much time fantasizing about.

In terms of length, the book at 614 pages could be shorter by atleast 200 odd pages if it hadn’t bothered all the unnecessary excursions on Nakata’s thread quite simply because Kafka’s thread hadn’t quite reached the point where it needed to.

Conclusion

Kafka on the Shore can be seen as Murakami’s “Greatest Hits” — one which encapsulates much of the abstract themes he has been writing about for over three decades. It starts with an ambitious theme that takes its inspirations in Greek tragedy of Oedipus and while it does manage to dish out many profound moments, fairly sizable parts of it fall flat.

It is a simple case of one half of the story running out of ideas sooner and while the other half manages to hold to your attention, the frustration at the futility of it all engulfs your experience.

What often matters at the end of a Murakami’s novel is that you are able to get answers. With those answers, you unravel the question. Why the characters undertook the journey. Why you read through the book.

In case of Kafka on the Shore, those answers come. But they come too late, after too many meandering excursions and are ultimately too sparse for you to care.

For a novel that captures Murakami at his best and at his worst (which is still pretty OK, in plain terms), Kafka on the Shore is an excellent starting point for those who are intrigued by Murakami’s legend and are brave enough to embrace his ambitious work. For those who aren’t, I would still suggest Hard Boiled Wonderland and End of the World as his best introduction to his surreal works while Norwegian Wood is obviously his most popular work among masses owing to its nostalgia-heavy romantic themes.

Score:

3.5 out of 5

2012: A Year in Review

World

Out of the blue, into the black” — Neil Young

From a global perspective, I think 2012 was another year that followed 2011’s rise of increasing awareness among people as countries realized that passivity and disillusionment wasn’t going to get them anywhere. Despite disconnection existing in our modern society, 2012 gave us more examples of the “People Power” that I talked about back in 2011.

It wasn’t without resistance though. Syria still suffers from the massive fight-back from its local militants in response to the people’s voices against their rulers –the al-Assad family. Myanmar had their first elections and Aung Suu Kyi finally returned to lead the country after spending over two decades under house arrest. On the other hand, the transition to democracy wasn’t so smooth for Egypt, which still faces a certain degree of unrest over the supposedly biased polls.

There are a lot of things wrong in our society. Mass killings, gang rapes going unpunished and indiscriminate corruption. But it’s only been over the last few years, I’ve seen voices rising from places you normally wouldn’t expect. People rebelling against tyrants, speaking out for long-ignored prejudices rooted in tradition, for biased laws and against blind-folded, indecisive governments. Be it something as loud as the Russian all-girl punk band “Pussy Riot” or as brave and solemn as Malala Yousafzai, 2012 continued the tradition of social-media and Internet playing a massive role in spreading the awareness among people without being needlessly filtered through the propaganda of the news channels — and while it may not always had a visibly positive impact, the initiative means there is potential for hope in the future.

Life

2012 was a very fruitful year for me. It started right off with me winning a couple of literary competitions — creative writing, debate and it ended with me becoming part of the Student’s Council of the college as the Literary Chief and organizing literary events including an inter-collegiate quiz.  More duties and responsibilities await for me in the horizon in that regard and for once I’m excited about them.

On the writing front, I finished three short stories which I shall briefly describe.

A Clockwork Soldier’s Diversion —  A parable of sorts describing a man trapped by his mundane schedule — a clockwork soldier working going about his routine until the day the key in his back stops turning and how he suddenly finds a source of inspiration to help him look for happiness in the little moments of daily life. Nostalgic and introspective in equal regards, this was one of the two entries that resulted in me winning the aforementioned “Creative Writing” competition.

The Disciple —  This was part created during the competition where I was given two randomly-chosen popular characters and I had to write any creative piece on them. The two characters I got were Barney Stinson (of How I Met Your Mother fame) and Golem(the mythical folklore creature). It was an interesting challenge and I think what I created stood true to their characters but combined them in a unique way. Partly funny and part-metaphoric tale of the ugliness of Golem, I consider this to be inferior to the other two shorts.

Genesis A surreal adventure taking place in the dreams of an unborn child in the womb of mother that was written purely with the intent to self-indulge, Genesis was conceived from the mixture of two ideas — 1) how do infants learn certain things that we never have to teach them and 2) how the human embryo evolves in a mother’s womb over a period of nine years through stages that resemble — a tadpole,a tiny bird and then finally something resembling a human — the stages of evolution in a general sense.  I received considerable amount of praise from my peers (especially from those who matter) and I personally think this was the strongest of the three shorts I came up with in 2012.

I dabbled a little with game development in 2012. I participated in the NaGaDeMo (National Game Development Month) which despite the word was international in its scope. Working solo, I created cheap pixel-art and a developed a rather rudimentary prototype using Stencyl of a shoot-em-up whose design I had been working for quite a few weeks before it. It turned out to be a fairly OK first-try and the positive feedback from the closed community has encouraged me to try more of this in 2013. If I had a New Year’s Resolution (I don’t), this would be it. Hopefully, I will had something solid I can share with the world by this time next year.

I also ended up buying a MIDI keyboard in October. After meddling with it a bit, I decided to buy a Digital Audio Workshop (DAW) which is basically a music production program. Hours of meddling and slow progress eventually lead to my first electronic track “Drenched“.

I got a lot of encouragement particularly from an acquaintance of mine who ran a fairly popular music blog. This inspired me to learn more about the specifics of production and the various techniques. Being an engineer, a lot of the aspects related to wave theory were fairly easy to grasp, so the progress went good and in less than a month — “Drenched (Final Cut)” happened.

Longer and more haphazard than the first, it successfully achieves my intent with the track combining all my various influences into one 5-minute track. If you haven’t please listen to it. Any feedback is appreciated.

On the career front, in less than a semester I’ll be heading towards my final year. Things have gone too fast and I really need time to have a perspective on things and prioritize. I have a few ideas about what I want to do once I get my bachelors’ but they seem too fantastical to be true/too risky/too costly. Maybe now is the time to do some soul-searching and figure out exactly what I want to do. Fears and worries multiply within the realms of my mind when I think of this but I know this is a decision I have to make. And I need to be confident about it when I do.

Literature

I frankly spent a lot less time reading books than I did in 2011. Part of the reason was that during Summer, where I generally spend most of my days reading novels, I was instead taking part in the afore-mentioned NaGaDeMo.

Still I think I’ve read enough to choose the best.

My Favourite Novel in 2012”  — Wolf Hall

Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” besides being a thrilling piece of historical fiction was one of the best pieces of literature I’ve read from recent times.

Hilary Mantel has been on a roll of late — with Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring Up The Bodies, she has bagged two Man Booker Prizes and with the final part of the Tudor-inspired trilogy coming up in a few years, she might even bag a hat-trick.

While it’s easy to be skeptical of “awards”, I think the Man Booker Prize still manages to maintain a fairly high standard and Wolf Hall reaffirms my faith in that. Named after the traditional seat of the Seymour family as well as the old saying “Man is a wolf to man”, it is a great piece of literature and historical fiction that didn’t require any particular background knowledge for you to be immersed in the court-room politics of Henry VIII. I’ve had one or two book-store reads (a term for sitting in a sofa and reading 20-30 mins of a book in a book-store) of its sequel and I was surprised to find out it gets even better.

Moreover, reading Wolf Hall coincided with my addiction of Crusader Kings II and watching the second season of Game of Thrones and that resulted in some intense backstabbing and court-room scheming entertainment for me during the sweltering heat of Indian summer.

Music 

2012 was another solid year for music. I have had a lot of discussions veering on the edge of arguments that 2012 was as significant a year in music as 2011 (just as in gaming) but some people just won’t listen. Regardless, personally for me 2012 stands out because of a singular masterpiece that swept aside the prejudices I had for its genre due to the sheer brilliance of its music and lyrical content. Also, at the backdrop of the mainstream praise this artist has gotten, I think the world may potentially have a new music legend in their hands.

But first, let us talk about the songs. Or tracks as some of these lack any distinct “singing” trait to classify it as a song.

Best Album Cover of 2012

(III) by Crystal Castles

(III) featured an award-winning photo by Samuel Aranda of a Yemeni mother holding her injured son shielding him from tear-gas

Best Music Video of 2012

Until the Quiet Comes by Flying Lotus

Kahlil Joseph’s short-film combined a series of stream-of-consciousness scenes into an interweaving tale that within its 3-minute duration manages to say much more. FlyLo’s multi-segmented track serves as the background score to it instead.

Best Tracks of 2012

15) Paradise by Wild Nothing

The Michelle Williams starring straight-outta the post-Instagram era music video does zero justice to WN’s dreamy epic. Right from the quietly humming base, to the long meandering mid-section breaking into the familiar guitar jam, on dreamy mornings in 2012, Paradise was very much like its namesake.

14) Apocalypse Dreams by Tame Impala

Animal Collective bombed out big-time in 2012 and there was much laughing-and-pointing at them but Kevin Parker’s project did a great job of filling the void AnCo left for many of us in 2012. Loud psychedelic jams that break and build as often as they resonate into the empty space somewhere at the back of your head. This was the best of their lot in 2012 by quite a distance.

13) Wild by Beach House

Baltimore’s dream-pop duo had another successful outing in 2012 cementing their “mindie” (mainstream indie, yes I know what you’re thinking) status. Wild certainly had the best of Beach House’s elements — synth-driven dreamy music combined with Vicky Legrand’s sultry,beautifully sung vocals.

12) Grown Man Cry by Amanda Palmer

Sometimes known as Mrs.Neil Gaiman or otherwise AFP(Amanda Fucking Palmer), Amanda Palmer had her most successful year as a solo artist in 2012 with a successful Kickstarter project which resulted in the excellent album of which this song is a part of. Typically,AFP with a mid-tempo rock tune and honest acid-spewing lyrics, this was the star pick from the album for me.

11) Baby by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

An erotic cover of the 70s slow-drawling Donnie & Joe Emerson original, Ariel Pink infused a rare amount of oomph into his otherwise weirdo outcast repertoire. Combining Dam-Funk’s smooth vocals, this was essentially “2012’s Sex Song”

10) She Never Dies by Tying Tiffany

While structurally she has transitioned from experimental to traditional, Tying Tiffany still has a knack for genre-skipping musical elements and the beat that thumps throughout this song is the best example of it. Part-industrial and part-post-punk, this song evoked the perfect themes of this underrated album.

9) Transgender by Crystal Castles

Best track from CC’s surprisingly solid (III), it showcases both their refined minimalism in Ethan Kath’s production as well as the continual growth in Alice Glass’ icy vocals and introspective lyrics. “And you’ll never be pure again” has to be 2012’s most painfully delivered line with detached emotion.

8) Gun Has No Trigger by Dirty Projectors

Both an excellent music video and a song that brings out exactly what Dirty Projectors wanted to achieve with their 2012 album. Strip out all the complex parts but maintain the essence of the music. Cooing female vocals and a sick bass-tune provide enough structure for Dave Longstreth to wound his vocals around.

7) Sleeping Ute by Grizzly Bear

Definitely 2012’s best opener which followed their tradition of “Openers that will blow your brains to bits”. Weaving a spiraling guitar riff and an oft-kilter drum track with a dream-folk outro that harkens back to Nick Drake. They struck all the right chords with this one, literally.

6) good kid/m.A.A.d City by Kendrick Lamar

It might be cheating since this is basically two tracks but both of these serve as the pivotal turning point in this album that is essentially serves as a semi-documentary of Compton. This is the turning point when things start going sour and our protagonist — K Dot — is forced to introspect about his gangsta’ lifestyle. Fictional or real — this shit’s brilliant.

5) Colour of Moonlight (Antiochus) by Grimes

2012’s radar-star, this is among Grimes’ more challenging albums bringing forth all the weird and eclectic influences in her music. I might have chosen a more obvious and likeable “Oblivion” but I instead went with this track which is every good as the more popular tracks on the album.

4) Cherry by Chromatics

Chromatics’ were bound to have commercial success after composing part of the background score for 2011’s Drive and this additional song definitely shows them at the height of the power. While I was learning music production, I couldn’t help but appreciate the various aspects of this song. Clean beats that build up with just the right intensity to build the effect but not sound too out-of-place.

3) The Apostate by Swans

Swans’ 23-minute closer was every bit as epic as their 2-hour long album. Literally bludgeoning their listeners into a trance built on repetitive riffs and beats, few musical pieces evoked as strong reaction as Swans did in 2012.

2) Running by Jessie Ware

UK’s major newcomer struck gold among every possible community. Her voice harkened back to UK’s golden era of soul-music of Sade but the dance beats that ran in the bloodstream of her music meant they had a modern vibe that with her sultry 80s vocals made just the right mixture for everything element of the song to click to perfection.

1) Pyramids by Frank Ocean

A 10-minute epic in every possible sense of the word. Musically, it travels across the history of the R&B genre — from the 80s space-funk to the modern slow-club jam. Thematically, it compares the decline of Afro-American women in the US culture using Cleopatra as the central allegory — from a queen to a stripper. There have been over a dozen interpretations of this epic, and that only goes onto show that when it comes to music, 2012 only had one star.

Best Albums of 2012

Underplayed Albums

  • Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! by Godspeed You! Black Emperor
  • Bish Bosch by Scott Walker
  • Kindred EP by Burial
  • 11:11 by Chiasm
  • Until the Quiet Comes by Flying Lotus
  • Old Ideas by Leonard Cohen

Honourable Mentions

  • Give Up The Ghost by Polica
  • Narrow by Soap&Skin
  • Lonerism by Tame Impala
  • Theatre is Evil by Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra
  • Bloom by Beach House

The Top 10

10) Shields by Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear would be the greatest band if their albums were only 4 or 5 tracks long. But, that is the issue with their music — the longer you listen, the more passive you get to them. Which might have something to do with the placement of their strongest tracks at the fore-front of the album. Just like Veckatimest in 2009, Shields is another indication of progression but I still think the best of this talented Brooklyn quartet is ahead of them.

Choice Picks: Sleeping Ute, Yet Again

 

9) (III) by Crystal Castles

Despite their established “mindie” status, after a rather lackluster (II), Crystal Castles’ were just one misstep away from being discarded as “lamestream” by the hipsters. Yet, they essentially improved their goth-rave sound and cut down all the excesses to the very basic. Rudimentary and raw at the same time, (III) is the darkest of all CC’s albums and rightfully so with its themes of oppression,violence and women harassment. After this, CC are in my good books for the first time.

Choice Picks : Wrath of God, Sad Eyes, Transgender

8) Mature Themes by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

Ariel Pink transformed from another Beverly Hills weirdo to a LA cult-icon in 2010 with his commercial breakthrough Before Today. With Mature Themes, Ariel Pink dials back to the obscure and utterly weird music aspects of his earlier albums and lyrical content about “hopped up shemales on meth” so weird, you don’t know whether to laugh or grimace. But what matters is Ariel Pink hasn’t lost his touch for the forgotten retro pop and he still cooks up the best of that for anyone with enough gut to digest his other weird aspects.

Choice Picks: Only in My Dreams, Symphony of the Nymph, Baby

7) Kill for Love by Chromatics

Chromatics’ Kill for Love shouldn’t have worked in theory. They make music for movies — even their producer calls their music “cinematic soundtrack” but somehow in between 2011’s Drive and this they made songs so structurally conventional that it is now hard to believe I ever thought of Chromatics as movie score-only artists. Ruth Radelet’s dreamy voice and Johnny Jewel’s neat production are certainly the driving force behind their hazy synth-driven tracks that made up the bulk of my 2AM listening.

Choice Cuts: Kill For Love, Back from the Grave, Lady

6) Dark Days, White Nights by Tying Tiffany

Yeah I know. She’s hot. Now quit staring and continue reading!

Tying Tiffany had been circling around the radar, on the verge of a breakthrough and 2012 seemed to be her year. She was composing for Hunger Games and her album had been quite possibly her strongest. But much to the disappointment of her fans (me included), her achievements went under the radar. She has built a solid base in the non-English speaking countries in Europe but despite combining the best concoction of post-punk and industrial on this side of the Atlantic, her solid album was quite easily one of the most underrated ones of 2012.

Choice Cuts: Drownin, Sinistral, She Never Dies

—–

On to the Top 5. Traditionally, these always are my “Highest Recommendations” or “Must Listen Albums at Any Cost” and this year it’s not any different.

—-

5) Swing Lo Magellan by Dirty Projectors

With Animal Collective bombing in 2012, the coveted throne of “Hipster Kings” was empty. In a cliched manner, the two front-runners happened to be from the hipster-country of Brooklyn, but Dirty Projectors always seemed to be the favourites. Despite losing Angel Deradoorian who took a break thanks to AnCo’s Avey Tare (oh lord! The amount of conspiracy theories people cooked up) DP’s follow-up to the “music so complex it’ll blow your brain to bits” Bitte Orca turned out to be the polar extreme — structurally and musically simpler, less textures, hand-claps replacing drums at many places and music so organic you could almost smell the soil. Once again proving that despite pretention, when it comes to music, there were fewer geniuses in modern-day with as much variety as Dave Longstreth.

Choice Cuts: About to Die, Gun Has No Trigger, Just from Chevron

4) good kid,m.A.A.d City by Kendrick Lamar

Coming into 2012, Kendrick Lamar was among the most hyped artists. At the end of 2012, he was the second-most acclaimed artist standing just a few steps behind the obvious winner. But that’s no mean feat. Kendrick’s 2012 venture shows ambition beyond anything one can imagine gangsta’ rappers are capable of. Essentially structured as a movie where the story proceeds through lyrics and telephonic conversations as Kendrick jumps through the various personalities of the protagonist — K.Dot.

Be it the typical gangsta’ with the swagger (Backseat Freestyle) or the introspective and deep reflection on where he began going wrong (Art of Peer Pressure) or the core twist in the tale (good kid) where he is in for a rude awakening as both hoodies and police chase him and (m.A.A.d city) where his backs are against the wall and he lives a living nightmare in the place (Compton,CA) that he used to call his home.

I personally jot this one down as hands-down one of the best rap albums in lyrics and themes in ages. Seriously great!

Choice Cuts: Backseat Freestyle, The Art of Peer Pressure, good Kid

3) The Seer by Swans

Michael Gira has lived through four decades of making brutally punishing music. Back in the 80s, NYPD had to shut down their live shows because audience often reported for being ill and being bludgeoned into unconsciousness by their music. The Seer, a 2-hour long epic album is the summation of everything he has done in career. Few artists appreciate space as much as Gira does, his songs build up in a very slow manner which requires patience but that is part of the charm as it traps its listeners into a trance with their repetitive riffs and beats as well as the loud droning sound of Michael Gira himself. With numerous collaborations in this album from Karen O, Mimi Parker,Alan Sparhawk and the good ol’ Jarboe, The Seer isn’t just majestic in its scope — it evokes the kind of violent primal highs — which only music can.

Choice Picks: LunacyThe Seer, The Apostate

2) Visions by Grimes

2012 will also be remembered for how “weird” became popular. Grimes aka Claire Boucher was at the forefront of this movement. Founder of the term “post-internet music” that is possibly the best way to define her music. Influences so diverse in time and location, that only someone who has lived their childhood through Internet can develop such an eclectic and diverse taste. Visions was her most successful attempt of merging these eclectic melodies into a conventional pop structure. The end result was one of the strongest pop albums of this new decade (it’s only been 3 years I know) and a new electro-pop icon to be watch out for.

Choice Cuts: Genesis, Oblivion, Be a Body (侘寂), Colour of Moonlight(Antiochus)

1) Channel Orange by Frank Ocean

There was always going to be only one winner and Frank Ocean was more than the obvious choice. 2012 will be remembered as a year for a lot of things but primarily it will be seen as the year when Frank Ocean burst forth onto the scene amid unusual controversy. He revealed via his Tumblr post that his first love was a man. While this may not be unusual, for the traditionally conservative and chauvinistic hip-hop/R&B community it was. He backed it up with his album. And dear lord, what an album it was.

I have always said before that R&B has been the genre worst-plagued by modern technology. Auto-tune has been used in the worst manner possible and people have forgotten how R&B actually had soul and heart during 70s when Marvin Gaye was still alive.

But Frank Ocean played a key role in sweeping away my prejudices for the genre. He is a talented musician and has a great voice but he is also a great story-teller. His songs weave so much of himself into it that you want to listen to more of what he says. He fills every word with pleasure and pain be it when he speaks about his first love (Thinkin Bout You) and then speaks of his aspirations of his unborn daughter(Sierra Leone) and then goes into the excess-filled lifestyle (Sweet Life), the downside of wealth(Super Rich Kids). One song after another, the album gut-punches you with brutal honesty.That is even before the 10-minute epic (Pyramids) in the middle of the album changes the flow of the album from heart to the mind. What follows is an honest confession of the religion of unrequited love to a cab driver (Bad Religion) ,a stream-of-consciousness song (you heard that right) about existentialism (Monks) and then teams up with Andre 3000 to cook up one of the most painful songs about pleasure (Pink Matter).

2012 will be remembered as the year when each sphere of music — mainstream and indie had the same favourite — Frank Ocean. With depth and accessibility, he topped charts, had the most acclaimed album of 2012 and leads the race with 6 Grammy nominations (for a change,Grammy).

Choice Cuts: Thinkin Bout You, Sierra Leone, Pyramids, Bad Religion

That ends the Part One of my “2012: A Year in Review”. I’ll be back with Part Two which will talk about Television,Movies and of course — GAMES!

Till then, take care and wish all of you a Happy New Year.

–Ansh