Tag Archive: music


There was a moment in time until a decade back when albums were meant to be consumed as a whole. Like a book, each song similar to a chapter, adding one piece to the overall picture with its’ own little story. I am aware that not all albums did that, but for almost every concept album like Pink Floyd’s The Wall, we had a statement of purpose like Neil Young’s Trans. Every album was made with a specific mindset — with or without an idea or a concept — and generally during a specific period of time. It was a snapshot of where the artists stood at that juncture of time and what they were listening to, or what they envisioned the next decade of music listening to.

Modern music is divided by decades — this is merely common knowledge. What is not is that with the advent of digital music, albums died. With MP3s and iTunes, music began to be consumed in parts in form of “singles” (whose popularity revived with or without the LPs) rather than a whole as an album.

This resulted in a massive upheaval during the early 2000s. Pop was the first genre to overturn but almost every genre followed. Making music became more about generating “2 strong hits per album” rather than making a cohesive and purposeful musical statement. There were exceptions to this rule but they were few and far between.

Polishing the Blank

That wasn’t the only issue pertaining to modern music “industry”.

In our modern era, when polish and gloss can be achieved far too easily courtesy of the technology we created, there are some artists who strive to stray from the path by being “raw”.

In music, these artists usually come in form of noise/distortion messiahs, ones who shun the clean production which studio labels encourage in order to appeal to today’s iTunes-loyalist, Spotify-ing youth. They believe that making their music rife with distortion spikes would make their music more appealing to the youth tired of the superficial gloss of the mainstream.

They are wrong.

They are in reality no different. Choosing a label just because most shun it. What they fail to realize it is it’s a label without any purpose. And when you choose a label just for the sake of “being different”, you become as purposeless as the mainstream artists you’re trying to criticize.

Enter the Masked Siblings

Karin and Olaf Dreijer have been at pioneers for over a decade but unusually private shunning fame

Karin and Olaf Dreijer have been pioneers for over a decade but have been unusually private insteading choosing to shun fame

Enter The Knife — a duo of siblings from Sweden who have been at the forefront of no significant movement. They have not revived any retro genres (a trend which refuses to become a fad) and they have made no silly Internet-meme inducing YouTube video to become a breakout success.

However, they are successful artists — respected by their peers and adored by their fans.

I can say there are two obvious reasons to this:

  • The Knife have evolved in an incredibly natural manner over their three albums — starting with synthpop with infectiously catchy tunes in Deep Cuts, they moved to the dark, atmospheric and eerie synths of Silent Shout before composing the soundtrack for a Darwinian opera. Yes, you heard that right!
  • The Knife are hugely private artists. They have almost no interviews to any media publications and until recently, they used to make public appearances only during their live shows and that too by wearing masks which resembled medieval Swedish witch-doctors.

While Deep Cuts brought them to the forefront of public attention thanks to their hit “Heartbeats“, it was Silent Shout which resulted in them earning respect from most of the music aficionados acquainted with them.

In fact, back in 2007, when I first listened to Silent Shout, it was a hugely inspirational album for me and it broadened my horizons beyond the music I used to listen to. Marble House and From Off to On were two songs which were on repeat on my now long-gone MP3 player for many years. It was a modern electronic classic, in every sense of the word.

The Knife were at their peak. They gave a tremendous audio-visual live “experience”  and then they disappeared. Off the radar. The moment they stood at the precipice of being superstars and seizing the world, they retreated back into the shadows. Where many other “privacy-loving” artists would have buckled and embraced the spotlight, the Dreijers who make up The Knife stayed true to their ideology, which surprisingly is a rare sight in music nowadays. Especially when the said ideology is “making music for ourselves”.

Overview —  This is an Album

That is an important message which rings true in every second of their third album “Shaking the Habitual”.  I emphasize on the word album because that is exactly what it is. A confluence of ideas tied with similar ideologies on politics, economics, culture and environment (anti-capitalism, in other words) conveyed through a set of familiar tools used in such an incredibly alien manner that it unsettles you as much as it draws you into its’ dark, mysterious core.

Similar in terms of size and ambition like last year’s The Seer, this is an album which demands to be listened in entirety — the whole 96-minutes of it. On top of it, the album is an incredibly confrontational and aggressive towards the listener — a rarity especially in today’s day and age which challenges the listener daring them to rise up to the pedestal where it stands and see it eye-to-eye. I have listened to extremely few albums which have intimidated me on first listen as much as Shaking the Habitual did.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t the most complex music I’ve ever listened to. Far from it, but there’s something so incredibly aggressive about everything it does — in music, in structure, in lyrics which while encouraging you to rise up to its level also draws you into an eerie place where danger lurks around every corner. 

The Knife’s “Shaking the Habitual” has a common purpose — do what its title suggests. They sure achieve that in quite an incredible manner and in a sense that will rattle you. But how.

Rattle and shake everyone!

Rattle and shake everyone!

When they begin the album with “A Tooth for an Eye” , a track filled with many pop elements — none that are outright familiar with us. Instead of kicks, they use tribal beats and the synths which they had become their prime instruments over their career are sorely missing in this track. There’s a sense of rawness in Karin’s (the sister and vocalist of the duo) voice which permeates into the music and the music in turn seems to affect her. Both of them seem to be in a symbiotic relationship of sorts.

The idea of what’s mine
A strange desire
Drawing lines with a ruler
Bring the fuel to the fire”

screams Karin in the opener as she clearly states her intention in the opening 5 minutes and sets a rough precedent for the remainder of it.

That said, nothing could have prepared me for “Full of Fire“, a song rooted with a repetitive beat teetering on distortion and ADHD-fuelled insanity with only the oft-kilter beats from The Knife holding it apart. Almost as if its’ bursting out of seams. “What’s your story? It’s my opinion” blurts out Karin as she makes the first solid statement about this album being clearly a product of their own wishes. This is not a product of fan-service, The Knife made an album 7 years later because they wanted to.

This track also sets a dangerous precedent for much of the album. On paper, this is the most familiar track for long-time fans yet despite familiar tools, it is absolutely lacking any structure. Sure, it has a beat running through it that occasionally makes you tap your feet but it’s driven by a monster of its own will. A track with pop sensibilities but without any direction or structure. And I mean that as a praise of the highest order because it perfectly suits what The Knife intend on doing here.

After two intense tracks, The Knife turn down the heat a notch and let the atmosphere take center-stage for a brief moment with “Cherry on Top“. This has a repetitive string section that slowly and menacingly builds up to the half way point at which Karin’s distant vocals blurt out oddities. The Knife aren’t exactly masters of lyrics or poetry but the words that come out here seem oddly naive for them.

The slight mention of “Haga Castle” in the end of a 4-line lyric (spoken only once in a 9-minute ambient track) perhaps indicates a sly remark at the Swedish aristocracy.

The building quietness almost tumbles head-first into the unabashedly tribal beat “Without You My Life Would Be Boring” which clearly seems like a track inspired from cult Nigerian icon Fela Kuti. There’s hysterical chanting in different voices and a repetitive tribal beat (not a drum machine, mind you) steadily builds and breaks the rhythm. In terms of accessibility, this would be the most accessible song to a layman.

This naturally leads to “Wrap Your Hands Around Me” which evokes a heavy deja vu of Dead Can Dance, a popular British act who are known for their gothic influenced instrumentals and raging ballads. This seems similar in a sense as Karin’s voice for the first time in the album takes on a softer, more colder edge as she sings in almost a romantic tone. This being Shaking the Habitual however means that romance has a sinister tone with it as the much-despised castle is mentioned again in the line “free the unborn child at the castle” which comes across as a dual plea for people trapped both within and outside the castle. An interesting way to look at things I’d say.

There’s a short and a rather loud passage titled “Crake” which serves as nothing but a brief intermission before the album’s most divisive piece.

The Divisive Point — A 20-minute Ambient Drone

Shaking the Habitual is a brave album and despite its’ bizarre experiments and its confrontational nature it is still an album very much reminiscent of The Knife’s pop sensibilities. I believe a lot of the long-time fans would have embraced the album if it weren’t for this track (and its’ side two counterpart).

Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realized” is that divisive point. Down the road with about four songs where The Knife seem to have fairly rattled things with few intense and weird tracks, they go overboard with a 20-minute ambient drawl  that is essentially a massive drone piece. Fans of drone music like Godspeed!You Black Emperor or Boards of Canada know that drone music is best enjoyed in long listens where creating an atmosphere is the primary objective.

Problem is — The Knife are seen as pop traditionalists. Long ambient tracks is the exact opposite of what their fans expect from them. The longest The Knife have gone ambient before this was the 4-minute start of “The Captain” in their stellar album Silent Shout.

But let’s take a step back and judge the song for what it’s worth. Almost five minutes of silence with music bubbling underneath, it slowly rises to the forth and then falls back, it isn’t until the 10-minute mark something starts to surface. The 19-minutes go away pretty quickly if you take the song for what it’s worth. An ambient track. It creates an atmosphere even if I’m not sure if it’s a solid atmosphere. It’s not meant to be a track that grasps your consciousness. It’s just supposed to float around in the background quietly letting you know of its presence. It isn’t anything new but seeing The Knife do it and pretty admirably is quite amazing. They are clearly out of their comfort zone with this and what could have been their Achilles Heel turns out to be another feather in their cap.

Side Two — A Broken Mirror

For those who managed to survive the long intermission, The Knife reward with something akin to a mirror to Side One. The songs on this side (a double album if you have the CD version) are in a vague sense relatable to the songs that came before but only in a one-to-one manner.

The opener to this side “Raging Lung” is a six-minute structured pop song but using entirely unconventional elements. They still keep the tribal drums, there’s an ear-splitting horn which is the core melodic element here which runs through the song like its’ veins are burning with some mysterious rage. It extends into a three-minute long drone outro which retains some of the loose elements of the track but seems almost like an orphaned child of its own making.

Networking” is the most identifiable song on this album. Almost after an hour, The Knife drop the first track that can immediately be attached to a popular genre — techno. Despite its 4×4 nature, the beats have an odd time-delay signature which makes everything that’s arranged perfectly in order seem disorderly.

It’s like there’s a layer in the track’s perfectly arranged system that’s somehow misbehaving and that gives the entire song a chaotic feel. It wonderfully conveys The Knife’s message and the song itself is quite a joy to listen to.

Which is why the album begins its final section on a high. After a similarly loud and brief passage “Oryx”, we have quite possibly the two shining examples of this already stellar album. Firstly, there’s “Stay Out Here“. There’s wordplay in the song’s title itself. What does it mean? Is it warning us of a danger? Or is it wanting us to “stay out here” as an invitation? Your mind is puzzled and its’ that which draws it out slowly.

The track begins deceptively simple with a simple beat that appears catchy. But if the album has shown anything, it is destined to be anything but simple. Soon enough, the track disintegrates into random drum beats that emerge out of any order without any rhyme or reason while the original beat continues to beat — as if it’s the very heart of the track. Quite easily the most explicitly political track on the album, Karin outrightly says “They work the world as it will be/
Is now when they dance/Just so just now the euro falls

Album's promotional material neither featured The Knife or their masks but instead they chose drag queens to represent them

Album’s promotional material neither featured The Knife or their masks but instead they chose drag queens to represent them

There are also hints of the “intersectionalism” that Karin & Olaf talked about in the rare interview with “Being horizontal is wonderful/Most things we love are open ended” perhaps aptly placing their message of embracing people for who they are.

The track also gave me goosebumps the first time I listened to it because the song despite being eerie and chaotic has this almost scary transition of Karin’s voice from feminine to male singing “Lose a wall, love me” over almost a dozen times.

The Point Where You Give Up — “It’s Just Pulling Strings”

If Side 1’s 19-minute ambient drawl was supposed to discourage those with a weak resolve, Side 2’s equivalent comes across as more intimidating but merely in 9-minutes. “Fracking Fluid Injection” is basically repetitive pulling of metal strings for the entire 9 minutes with an echoing voice crying out in pain.

It has a sense of purpose which becomes more immediately apparent. Subtly, string by string, the pulling  becomes plucking. The intensity with which the strings get plucked result in sharper resonance and this is compounded by the echoing cries turning into shrieks and screams. As the track slowly proceeds with a sinister tone, it slowly continues but after a point, a hint of defeat sets down on it. The pulling of string is ever so furious. They are literally plucking it apart but the voice is almost a defeated cry now.

This is my interpretation — this is a track which describes humans exploiting earth for resources particularly the likes of mineral oil. Fracking Fluid is basically fluid injected into the ground to push out oil from an underground reserve. I see the pulling of strings as us injecting more fluid into the earth and the cries turning into shrieks and eventually defeated sighs are those of Mother Earth and the pain we inflict upon her.

It’s a beautiful theme driven upon in a manner only this album could. After this, the closer “Ready to Lose” hardly matters because the album has seen its best and what a peak it was.

Conclusion — A Statement

Shaking the Habitual is a powerful statement. For The Knife, it is a statement of their artistic integrity — that anything they make is primary for their own wishes and of nobody else. They create a powerful statement in this album one which speaks of many themes — political, economic and environmental but also speaks about the artistic integrity and how it is vastly ignored in today’s world of quick gains and riches. Every turn they challenge their listeners but The Knife never intended to do that. They just made an album because they had something important to say.

And for that I applaud them.

Final Score: 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