In this episode, the team--that's Matt Seneca, Joe McCulloch, Chris Mautner and Tucker Stone--talk about Basil Wolverton's Spacehawk, Marvel Comics' Hawkeye and then they talk about Thor, which maybe has a hawk in it, or a falcon, or at least probably should. ENJOY!
This episode of Comic Books Are Burning In Hell opens with a brief discussion of Tolkien in the classroom, the boys settle in for a conversation about Marti's Calvario Hills, one of the finest installments in Fantagraphics sorely missed Ignatz line. Then they talk Heavy Metal, their own experiences with Heavy Metal, and what its like, being a young man. Then it gets all Gasoline Alley: Frank King, Drawn and Quarterly and how we deal with feelings: we feel 'em! It's a hoss, and you're the hossman. Bring your own stool, friend!
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This week, we're doing something special - an all Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty episode, with special guest TFO music department head Marty Brown. No point in extended show notes for a single film episode, so we'll use this space to shoutout the two people who have given us iTunes reviews, Chuck Forsman of TEOTFW fame and someone named Thurloe who we don't know but appreciate their review all the same. If we get more maybe our "listeners also subscribed to" shows won't be all Onion shows that are cancelled. Also shouts to Michel Fiffe once again for our badass logo. Oh and while we're at it, we're on twitter @_HenryKrinkle, which is just links to the podcast.
I think that's all the housekeeping. AIDS joke, funny noise, John Carpenter reference. SEE YOU NEXT TIME AT THE MOVIEZ. Thanks for listening.
10. Frank Ocean - Channel Orange
It's really hard to give a shit if Frank Ocean is gay or bisexual or whatever. If he's saying that shit at an opportune moment for the press, or to make a point. It actually kind of gets in the way of whether or not the album is good, if it is "brave", and while it might be brave to sort of vaguely come out when you're in hip hop at all and you're a member of Odd Future. It is also 2012 and no one really gives a shit unless there are songs about explicit gay sex on the record. And there aren't, there's just some male pronouns where female pronouns used to be on Nostalgia Ultra. Channel Orange, it's not a coming out album, and I guess that's the point, but it's super problematic how much of the writing about this album (including this) feels the need to discuss Ocean's sexuality. Of course, it's because that's the conversation Ocean wanted to have or he wouldn't have been as specifically oblique on his website. Everyone overshares on the internet at some point, Frank Ocean did it before his album dropped. Maybe intentionally? But the relationship as a listener I've had with this album has truly nothing to do with who Frank Ocean wants to sleep with.
Channel Orange is an album, a pretty stellar one. It's slow to start, it doesn't really get going until "Sweet Life". It has a lot of filler skits that plague it and bog down great songs with overlong tedious filler, like the worst 90s rap records. It has guest features from artists specifically chosen for their ambivalence with the entire concept of celebrity (Andre 3000, Earl Sweatshirt, John Mayer), and who have all been burnt by it on their own volition. It has Ocean taking the first person layered storytelling approach he had on his previous album and dialing it back to something less complex (for clarity, let's hope) - except on the albums two most profound songs on the album. Those tracks - "Bad Religion", a confession sung to a taxi driver about love, language, and religion, Ocean as a heartsick Michael Clayton on top of huge strings - recalling John Brion's work on both Kanye and Fiona's records. The other a 9 minute centuries spanning pyramid song, Cleopatra on her way to her shift at Cheetahs, having more to do with Prince and Radiohead than the intentional references Ocean has made before. "Pyramids" is the best goddamn song of 2012, expansive and huge in a way nothing else was. It was also just a song, not a concept album or a confession, lived in and full of detail, riding out on a guitar solo so big I was a little shocked when I learned John Mayer was the one playing it.
But the two dominant tracks here kind of overshadow the songcraft of something as infectious as "Lost", because it's not an epic or a showstopper. Removed from their context, most of the songs here decimate whatever comes on next to them in shuffle. As a whole, if you can make the concession that it takes time to get into (not in the sense that it needs a few spins to work it's magic, you actually have to get used to it not starting strongly), it's actually a stronger album than Nostalgia Ultra. It doesn't have a song as devastating as "There Will Be Tears", but what does? Frank Ocean, he's always been someone we should be thinking of as a songwriter over everything else. Storytelling, detail, humanity, humor, utter vulnerability in unexpected moments, and all to a tune. That's all still here, that never left. The other stuff -- no matter how he meant it -- that's press. That's trivia. -SW
9. Ernest Gonzales - Natural Traits
There's a ton of goofy sounding titles on this album, the sort of bone dry nature skillet stuff you can find when you read the blurb for a Thomas Kinkaid reproduction, or on the handmade greeting cards they sell at your local pour-over coffeehouse. That's not a dealbreaker, no matter how much ones personal taste might lean towards the overly serious minimalism of naming songs after whatever their track listing happens to be. To label the obvious (and thus immediately belabor it), it's the music that makes the difference, and Ernest Gonzales lush combinations of digital composition and regular old fingers-on-instrument are strong enough to merit any level of goofball naming conventions. Natural Traits is a tricky collection, a suite of songs that don't demand a huge amount of focus and can even slip by almost unnoticed. But if you zero in on it and try to keep up with the melodies as they tumble ahead, what seems like attractive wallpaper betrays a level of depth that goes beyond what oh-so-pretty usually requires. It's tremendously good while still being embarrassingly shy, and easily one of the best albums of 2012. -TS
8. The Men - Open Your Heart
Probably the album I was hottest and coldest about this year, Open Your Heart had a jack-of-all-trades quality, and as the rest of that cliche goes, so goes the assumption: they gotta be somewhat shitty at all the stuff they're doing, right? And of course they would be, if it wasn't for the twist that what happens on Open Your Heart isn't a wide swath of music, from opera to concrete, it's in fact just guitar music. All guitar music. It's not a mixtape, or a covers album, but it does end up being a tour, a road movie with a themed soundtrack, like Spawn or Judgment Night before it. It's an album devoid of transition, a series of middle children lined up without any indication of what their parents did with the bookend offspring. It's the kind of music you could easily see being ruined by the incorporation of a turntable, from a band who might not be aware of what a bad idea that would be. Until embarrassment, we remain. -TS
7. The Swans - Seer
The Swans are one of those bands that go on tours so as to discover which of their loyal fans are masochistic enough to handle them in person, and The Seer--their second album in 16 years, the last being 2010's My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky--is a perfect collection of heavy, thunderous drone and rock music within which to bludgeon those who make the trek. There's a cautioning throughout the album, a warning that arises with the same clanging insistent fervency with which the first song "Lunacy" arrives. It's not that it feels dangerous (although it does), it's that The Seer is the sort of music that leaves no room for an audience to participate, to exist. It's the kind of music that would start playing in a yoga class, right before they murdered you with their teeth. It's not inhuman, it's just too big to comprehend--cavernous music that's unnervingly full, whereas usually this sort of work has enough empty patches where we can rest. Listen to those first minutes of "Mother of the World"--whose lead do you follow? Those drums, stepping and accelerating? The colliding noises? That humming, disonant murmer? It's circular business, and yet it seems crucial, a contained network, built from a toolbox of articles no one else would care to use. This music isn't composed. It's hewn. -TS
6. Japandroids - Celebration Rock
Japandroids’ music is full of excess, songs of hyper-indulgence in the usual indulgences. Drinking, yes. Smoking, sure. Girls, you bet. On paper, Celebration Rock could easily be mistaken for a glam-rock album. The external trappings are all there. But while the songs focus on the youthful need to capture memories, keep the internal fire burning, and make the party go on forever, they’re secretly about the quiet moments between chugging and making out and putting photos up on Instagram. Those are the moments when you’re lost, and the big questions drop in, and you’re left with a ton of frayed edges from letting the internal fire burn too bright for too long. Musically, Japandroids always have an answer for reigniting the flame—usually in the form of a monster guitar riff or desperate drum roll—but the existential thoughts always creep in. “Do we have anything to live for?” vocalist Brian King asks in the opening song. Though he answers yes, Japandroids spend the rest of the album attempting to prove it. What follows is music—indulgent music—driven by two things: panic and nostalgia. And both panic and nostalgia ask the same question: Will It Ever Get Any Better than It Was Just Now? Though Japandroids’ methods (booze, drugs, nakedness, adrenaline) are those of youth, Celebration Rock suggests that, despite the constant tug of a comedown, the constant search for the next great memory isn’t a bad way to live, no matter how old you are. When you die are you going to look back on all the great resting you did? -MB
5. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel is Than The Driver...
The percussive, minimalist, mostly acoustic approach to production here focuses even more on Fiona's words, her voice, the way she uses both as instruments. Apple's cadences are worth so much, they could be talked about on their own forever before you even got to lyrics. You can talk about Fiona Apple like you would a rapper super easily, or as a novelist, before even getting to singer/songwriters. Same as talking about her as a genius/flake of a public figure, same as her relationship history with public figures of our age (The director, the magician, the writer, though gods they were), and her mental state (which I guess she's now publicly talking about? pretty frequently?). The albums -- far apart, but not at Scott Walker/Portishead periods of delay -- are meticulously crafted, frequently sitting on shelves for long periods (at least the last 2) before the world gets to hear them, they fit the years they are produced by sounding like completely alien of their time. They are all about "you" in a way more complicated than love songs or songs of opposition. The songs, the kind of find a place between combativeness and emotional connection, but in a moment to moment kind of way. "I don't want to talk about / I don't want to talk about / anything" is a lyric that sticks out, as does the workmanlike, busy way she says "I don't cry when I'm sad anymore" that's not how anyone should say that. This is at a lot of times, a hard album to listen to comfortably, and that's kind of weird because of just how present and constant it felt once I started spending time with it. It seemed like it was always on, even though it probably wasn't. Apple's ability to take apart moments in a relationships with a surgical acuity, using only the right words in the right order... it's something unique to her. I've written too many shitty english papers to highlight lyrics as examples, how this simile, or this phrasing that changes midway through does this or this. That feels a little cheap, at least for this. Asymmetrical lyrical warfare sounds like a good description, but this isn't warfare. What we're talking about is innate talent of one human being, who is maybe not great at day to day life but profoundly great at documenting her negotiations with it. The way in which she hurdles over making the minutia into an examination of the listener's internal life is always going to be the greatest slight of hand. But slight of hand is just that, the real magic is how she keeps doing it, and on album four you don't hope she has her heart broken again. Fiona Apple's never going to make an album of lifestyle music, never going to be someone whose ferocity and humanity dies when the problems stop happening so frequently, as happens to so many people this good. If we get another album, and we may not, or we may have to wait a Scott Walker-ian length of time for, I can't imagine it being anything less than devastating and essential, just as every previous album. Idler Wheel, I need this in my life, simple as that. -SW
4. Kendrick Lamar - Good Kid M.A.A.D. City
N.W.A.’s Compton was an elaborate mythology. To many of the suburban kids who rocked the tape in their ’85 Volvos, that Compton was as foreign and mysterious as the Black Gate of Mordor—and no less violent. Kendrick Lamar’s Compton, on the other hand, operates an awful lot like a suburb. Gang violence is still omnipresent, but Kendrick’s primary concerns are astonishingly rural: When can I meet up with this girl Sherane? How does my identity shift when I’m around my friends? What happened to my self-control? Most of good kid, m.A.A.d. city is a tussle between Kendrick’s conscience and his baser instincts. He’s impressionable, first to girls, then to peer pressure, then to addiction. Over the course of the album, he gets a series of phone calls from his grandmother (?), with his granddad yelling from the background of each one, getting more faded with each call. Here, his grandfather is a comic figure, irate about some missing dominos, singing about his wife’s fat ass. But in “Swimming Pools,” when Kendrick questions whether or not to take that next drink even though it could kill him, you realize that turning into his granddad wouldn’t be so terrible compared to his other possible futures—alcohol poisoning or getting swept up in a robbery spree with his homies or caught up in gun spray because his instinct was not to duck. So you start rooting for Kendrick’s conscience to win out, and all of a sudden Kendrick Lamar is relatable to the same extent N.W.A. was frighteningly romantic. But just when you think you have a vested interest in this dude winning against his nihilistic impulses, the unreliable narrator drops this suburban scenario on you: “If I told you I killed a nigga at 16, would you believe me?/ Or see me to be innocent Kendrick you seen in the street/ With a basketball and some Now & Laters to eat?”
3. Twin Shadow - Confess
The line that sticks out most on Confess, is "I don't give a damn about your dreams". Because it is kind of exactly what you want to hear on an album like this, where 80s new wave nostalgia or the "dark romance" angle of George Lewis Jr's persona could have overpowered the songs, they never do. Both of these elements could be cliche, especially in a year where both of those poses are everywhere, and usually insufferable. Lewis -- his voice sounds a little bit like Richard Marx and whole lot like Tunde Adibempe, neither of those overshadow that he's fucking feeling this stuff, without ever losing his cool, which recalls a dude he has very litle in common with sonically - Prince. "I don't believe in / you don't believe in me / so how could you / make me cry" is some ice cold shit to say to anyone, it only works if you know the singer is deflecting some pretty deep heartache. With Twin Shadow, all of that is on the surface, and gets deeper with each listen. You can dance to this album, you can dance the hell out of this record, but maybe that only counts because you feel every word Lewis Jr. sings. The resentment and hurt is there as much as the new romantic gestures of uncaring rock star, and you need both for this to work, at so when you're singing along you can get all the way into it instead of hitting the itunes delete button in 2 months. Feelings are no fun, but this is an album that gets that they're also not optional, you can't turn them off even when you say you can. Anhedonia's great in theory but in real life it only happens when you're Kanye/Bowie-level famous / crazy / coked-out / genius / some combination of those things. Or if you're like, Snake Plissken (hey, get that all my examples are pretty famous for breaking that mask to show real tenderness/pain despite themselves, it almost works!). So if you're going to have feelings anyway, might as well feel them like this guy. -SW
2. Chromatics - Kill For Love
If 2012 has been obsessed with the 80's in some form - 80's synth scores, 80's pop, 80's world-conquering rap, 80's movie references, 80's actors, 80's property revivals that aren't really revivals, 80's directors back to show us all how a procedural should look, then Chromatics is the ultimate synthesization of all of that. "Running From the Sun" is an 80's-style synth song that evokes Kathryn Bigelow's vampire western classic Near Dark and its Tangerine Dream soundtrack, and it's gorgeous in its specificity. But cultural references aren't what makes this album stick around beyond a cool novelty period. There is something else going on with Kill For Love that might take a while to sink in - the decisions made, of a long instrumental bridge yielding a declaration of love on a voicemail get deleted, of a weirdly incongruous "Into the Black" cover, the interpolations of classic rock radio motifs into songs, the persistently gorgeous female vocals singing pointedly male sentiments ("If I could only call you my lady, baby I could be your man"). If there's a narrative here, and there isn't, it's of someone pushing away from whatever messed up relationship they're entangled in, even the most romantic stuff here is wistful. Lot of vampires and rain soaked windshields on this record, but even the most stark moments of loneliness are hovering between warmth and emptiness. This band is most famous right now for a song on a soundtrack to a movie I don't like very much, and this album seems poised to appear all over film released in the next couple of years, maybe intentionally on the band's part. Results, it should be said, are important, and Kill For Love delivers. More breakup album than Eno-ian fake soundtrack, more breakup album than the actual breakup albums that came out this year. To delete this message press seven. -SW
1. Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music
Like Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music is a battle rap record disguised as a political one. Despite the complex arguments, the copious intelligence, and the lyrical storytelling, Mike’s aim is a simple one: sonning you. Let me state, for the record, that it is an absolute pleasure to be sonned by Killer Mike. For too long, dude has been held captive by the intricacies of his own thought, oscillating on record between political screeds and strip-club joints. But “A.D.I.D.A.S.” and “Ric Flair” are monumental songs because of their simplicity; Killer Mike hasn’t been able to sustain that level of focus at album-length until now. A lot of it has to do with El-P’s boom-bap production. El-P restrains himself from his own retro-futurist impulses (ahem, breakbeats) and provides Killer Mike with straightforward, sternum-rattling beats. The production forces Killer Mike to streamline his thoughts and allow his natural strengths—his arrogance, aggression and charm—to take over. He is in complete command, firing on all cylinders, and it should surprise no one that that coincides with him sounding like he’s having the most fun of his life. -MB
-Marty Brown, Sean Witzke, Tucker Stone, 2013
30. Bobby Womack - The Bravest Man In The Universe
It's tempting to hear The Bravest Man in the Universe as some sort of callback to Johnny Cash's American Recordings series. Here's a man who fucked around and ended up with seven decades of life under his belt, despite all the drugs and recklessness he'd enlisted to try to prevent just that. All of a sudden, instead of looking forward into the abyss, he's looking back on abysmal memories. American Recordings' inspired choices of covers and standards may or may not have offered Cash a chance at self-reflection (his comments on and about the recordings hint that they might not be as introspective as we'd like to believe) but they did flesh out some of the more obtuse aspects of his persona, illuminating new wrinkles on an old cowboy.
Bobby Womack, on the other hand, makes no bones about his late-life quest for redemption, or how realistic his chances are of finding it. Like Cash, Womack sounds hollowed-out from years of using himself hard and putting himself away dirty. But Womack's persona was never as obtuse or iconic as Cash, so there’s no hidden layer of meaning to Womack’s pleas for forgiveness. They are exactly what they mean to be. Instead, the record’s duality comes from relationship between the gravity of how he’s lived and hope he’s recently found. The myth of the record is this: after years of substance abuse, Womack cleaned up, had an opportunity to record with Gorillaz, toured with the band despite being diagnosed with diabetes, rediscovered his love of songwriting on the bus, and cranked out an album’s worth of material in a flurry of in-studio activity. All of which makes the recent revelation that Womack is in the early stages of Alzheimer's both harrowing and oddly poetic — on Bravest Man, he isn't facing his own mortality as much as he's experiencing his artistic and spiritual rebirth. -MB
29. Grimes - Visions
Grimes (Claire Boucher) recorded an album named after and full of songs about Dune a few years back. It's called Geidi Primes. It was pretty good, I get the feeling I would have been more excited by that if I'd ever read past the 90th page of Dune (just started again, excited by watching David Lynch go all David Lynch and Lynch that whole thing up), but that is the kind of artist Grimes is - where there's a lot of arcane, complex thought being put into music/lyrics that are too diffuse and difficult for the listener to actually distinguish what is being said. Now it's a couple years later, and here comes Visions, and it's kind of the perfect iteration of that. Grimes is like Mariah Carey or J. Mascis or Bjork or Joanna Newsom when each of them were at their peak, before they became simulations/parodies of the people we used to love - the voice as a sculpted thing that is being used as an instrument, nothing more or less. Childlike, layered chirps and runs - if you've heard "Oblivion" and "Genesis", the whole album sounds like that. Whether that is good is pretty much going to be a gut reaction. Really, the only reason this isn't something I fought to push up higher is just how diaphanous it is - there's not a lot to attach to - "Oblivion" is a hell of a song, and there's a bit of shock when the Aphex Twin sample drops late in the proceedings, but this is a seasick fog of voices. You either wander into it or you don't. -SW
28. Nude Beach - II
Nude Beach II is a modest garage-rock album that siphons a lot of it mojo from mid-80s rock. It is to Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ Hard Promises what Yuck is to You’re Living All Over Me. It is full of good-to-great songs. If that sounds like I’m damning it with faint praise, you’re not wrong. But it’s interesting that Nude Beach, along with a ton of other bands hovering around the punk-psych-garage nexus (The Men, Royal Headache, King Tuff, Terry Malts, Mind Spiders, Thee Oh Sees, Gentlemen Jesse, Mac DeMarco, Dum Dum Girls… even Tame Impala), suddenly feel like What Rock in 2012 Is Was. Why is that? These kind of bands are usually lurking in the distance behind whoever the big-I Innovators of the time are, making no-frills rock music that doesn’t shy away from its influences. They usually get a little more attention when we’re waiting for Whatever’s Next—I’m thinking of the Gories and Thee Headcoats circa 1990, or Badfinger and The Move in the early 70s. So is that where we’re at now? Maybe. It’s also possible that when we tire of New Sounds, we collectively go back to Songs. A lot of the bands I mentioned are really good at those. Nude Beach is one of the best. -MB
27. Rick Ross - Rich Forever
I didn't find out what Rick Ross looked like until a few weeks ago, which should clue you in both as to 1) what a terrible job I did at keeping up with the music internet this year and 2) what a treat was in store for me and possibly 3) how ill-qualified I might be to handle blurbing up this album (mixtape!). Fuck it: life ain't short, he said, it's long, and you've got plenty of time for this guy right here to tell you that this mixtape (album!) is a wall to wall delight, and that Mr. Ross--who looks a lot like the man destined to take the dad from Fresh Prince off the Reichenbach Falls--is a wordsmith of the homespun variety, a man who invents slang terms when he's mumbling and/or drunk. The portion of "King of Diamonds" where he seemingly yells "condescending FUCK BOYS" might be a contender for my favorite misheard lyric (and due to general personal strengths, I've had more than my share) or it might just be that actual line, yelled amidst a million other delightful ones about Brinks trucks, and why you gotta get one. Rick Ross isn't here to save rap music, he isn't even here to improve it: he's here to make money and take the piss out of the Fuck Boys. That's alright with me. -TS
26. Niki & The Dove - Instinct
You guys hear the Kate Bush album from last year? It's kind of the album that Scott Walker would have recorded if he were a woman and obsessed with the things Kate Bush is, instead of opera and torture and Bergman, and if he had the legions of Tori Amos clones (as well as Tori Amos herself) to reckon with/apologize for instead of just struggling through a weird relationship with David Bowie. Kate Bush is an absolute outlier who does whatever she wants, and she's got zero compunction to relate to any sort of audience or artistic legacy. That can meansre-recording two early 90's albums no one had been clamoring for, or working with Big Boi, or 9 minute songs from the perspective of a snowflake. It's part of the deal. This Niki & The Dove thing is kind of a new Kate Bush album. It's got all the infuriating, insane, beautiful things that come with a new Kate Bush album, all those things that don't even matter if you like it that much or not. It's not even popular like Florence and the Machine. No one will ever sing these songs on The Voice. Oh, and they're Swedish. I probably should have mentioned The Knife at some point. -SW
25. Angel Haze - Reservation
I’ll admit that I find it difficult to write about Angel Haze without being reductive. Yet, for all the easy, zeitgeisty labels she invites (female, bi-sexual), the one I have the most difficult time navigating is “fundamentalist rapper.” She’s invested in the basic tenets of rap writing—internal rhyme, storytelling, punchlines—but the joy of her music comes from hearing her attack her craft without never really nailing it. For example, many of her zings—“That’s why my shit make your shit seem lighter than Heavy D;” “”My tongue is the fucking Rapture;” “I’m like Scorpion, bitch I will finish you”—are too clever by half, they’d be awful if her vitriol weren’t so engaging. She brings the same type of energy to the confessional raps on Reservation<, depicting her messy childhood. Like her battle raps, Angel Haze’s confessionals often shock you, but they rarely cut very deep. The worst case scenario is that Angel Haze never finds the nuance to give her songs—both the battle raps and stories of childhood abuse—a lasting effect beyond their blunt impact. The best case scenario is that she’s simply sharpening her knives. -MB
24. King Tuff - King Tuff
If there was a way to take music and bore it down to a chemical level, to strip it to its epistemological essence, bands like King Tuff--and "bands like King Tuff" is a big fucking genre right now, as long as we're understanding that the way we're using "big" here is at sharp angles with Katy Perry and Gotye and the Call Me Maybe gal--are probably not that much different from The Hives, or Keane, or Silverchair: they're bands that don't carry the banner into the room, they just show up alongside. And while this whole garage rock/dirty shit/excellent graphic design thing maybe a gigantic minefield for authenticity hunters, the rest of us can kick back and rest, content for bands like King Tuff (the best of which, in 2012, actually was King Tuff) to fill the void that there sort of music forces us to imagine having. The problem is the solution. -TS
23. Miguel - Kaledioscope Dream
Miguel built up a ton of critical cachet this year, which is strange because 1) he’s an R&B artist, and those usually aren’t on the receiving end of a ton of hype, unless their R&B is cross-pollinated with another critic-friendly genre (like indie rock or hip-hop); and 2) he’s a total fucking goober. Sincerity isn’t a musical quality that often makes the leap to internet popularity from, you know, popular popularity. And Miguel’s particular brand of sincerity—the half-dozen things he rhymes with “get in your pants,” say, or his flagrant delight in hugs—would seem to make him an easy target for cynics. At one point, as a seduction technique, he asks a lady if she likes Rock Paper Scissors and then quotes his mother. It seems to work. This fucking guy. You could probably make an argument that Kaleidoscope Dream succeeds on the basis on its production—the deceptively intricate beats, the clean experimentalism, and the references to 60s psychedelia all make it seem awfully close to a Beatles album, which would explain the critical favoritism for a populist album—but you’d be wrong. Kaleidoscope Dream succeeds because Miguel is one charming goober, and genuine enthusiasm is contagious. Even if it’s enthusiasm for hugs.
22. Death Grips - The Money Store
Picking up the heart attack beats and WTF vocal role that Atari Teenage Riot once passed onto some terrible female electro duo my old roommate wouldn't stop playing even if it was early on a Sunday morning, Death Grips first stab at mass appeal came with a long ass Charles Manson sample, which managed to top Dalek's "here's what Jeremiah Wright sounds like" in the we-get-it, you-read-books department. This year, they released two full length albums, and The Money Store--which would make terrible music for a skate video, but would work perfectly for the party they have after they record the skate video, when the alcohol convinces everybody that body parts are replaceable--was the one that thread the needle. It's not that there's nothing else out there like Death Grips--there's plenty, it's called screaming--it's that most people wouldn't want to listen to them more than once, which might be why this particular hybrid (hip-hop, yelling, Aphex Twin and its stuttering, epileptic children) rarely manages to produce more than one or two leading figures at a time. Or maybe it's just that experimental noise-electro-hip-hop is just that, experimental, and every once in a while (like say, the second out of three full-lengths) the experiment works out, resulting in the nastiest album of the year. -TS
21. Royal Headache - Royal Headache
If the last few years have been about the dirty boys doing psych, the latest slice in "what are white guys doing, again?" is lo-fi garage rock, albeit a variety that has stronger musicianship and pretty vocals. Royal Headache's take on the situation isn't that far removed from the way King Tuff deals with their own scuzzy side-genre: Headache just goes head on at making donuts, delivering solid, pretty songs that reflect their Australian origin. There's a classical sense of wonder behind what's happening on this album, a plantitive sincerity that doing shit/singing about it/playing well is its own animal, and while that emotional quality isn't going to appeal to every listener, it certainly appealed to this one. -TS
20. Jessie Ware - Devotion
So Jessie Ware is frequently heard on dance tracks, and that frequently gets mentioned when people talk about this album, but that kind of denies how timeless the great songs on Devotion sound. And by "timeless" I of course mean "a song that could have been released as early as 1993". In a good way! Ware is at home on tracks by Joker as she would have been on a missing Blue Lines b-side. Same with any comparison I make to Whitney Houston, Sade, Mariah Carey, or Mary J Blige, which would maybe seem to paint her as a soul diva whose expertise is at blowing the doors off rather than locking in with the emotion of her tracks and living inside of it, breathing with it. Songs like "Wildest Moments", "Running". and "Sweet Talk" are the slow burn power jams of the moment, and Ware's voice is the precision instrument of their delivery. Last year Destroyer recorded a late 80s/early 90s middle of the road pop album, and even he saw what was coming in 2012. The only problem is there's not going to be many albums that do that well, so we should appreciate Jessie Ware while we have her. -SW
19. Tame Impala - Lonerism
What was big in 2010 hasn't changed in 2012: Tame Impala remained the go-to band on the leaderboard for see-ya-at-sundown music this side of Wooden Shjips, and while Lonerism didn't turn out to be as wall-to-wall perfect as Innerspeaker, it did have "Elephant", the band's best song yet. Impala is a tough band not to overpraise, and if they had arrived a few years earlier, it would be extremely easy to imagine their sound becoming more of a dominant force in music than now, where they're too often classified with a whole raft of bands they have little in common with. They're also not really a true "they", being primarily the product of multi-instrumentalist Kevin Parker, the latest in a long line of music-guys-who-are-super-productive, and, like a lot of the music that's been crawling around the last few years, Australian to boot. Imagine if listening to Radiohead made you want to swim with women and animals: that's what this sounds like. -TS
18. Scott Walker - Bish Bosch
Scott Walker's voice cuts through absolute silence painfully, as if singing through pain, delivering a comedian's retorts to an unheard heckler. The following 19 minute song is kind of a series of observations and one-liners using the imagery of the ancient world. It's Scott Walker as Mel Brooks' character, Comicus, in History of the World Part 1. A stand-up philosopher, nightclub comedian in the height of the Roman Empire. Brassy percussion and talks of his "wormy anus", strings building as he says "heard this one, this'll kill ya..." like Don Rickles or Sid Ceasar, before talking about an ancient strangling and screaming inhuman distortions from the voice of an angry mother. This is on a song called "SDSS14+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter)", several movements later, and the humor mixing too easily with stark detail, percussion brings with it more heckler takedowns, pained and alone in nothingness. We can see the sweat dripping off of Walker's face in the stage lights, and the hecklers become terrifyingly real, crashing into the same voice as the comedian, battalions announcing their coming, hoofbeats become boiling water, "HEY BOY" cascading into wells of accusatory echoes and springy drunken disney sound effects. This isn't like describing a song or a play or opera, is it?
Stand-up philosopher actually works pretty well as a job description of Scott Walker. This album is both more and less stripped down than his previous The Drift. It has more guitars, the way that his previous album, Tilt, did. But it also has more of that isolated voice, less arrangements, more sound as cinematic tool. The only time we hear anything is for effect, puncturing the silence, or colliding with the voice, as it did in The Drift, only it's more mercenary in its economical approach to sound design (and it is more sound design than arranging at this point). And then there's the machetes. This is an album littered with the sound of machetes. It is odd to hear a Scott Walker album that is not a completely distinct step away from the previous album, but it is also pervasively clear in every word Walker says that every new album we receive from him is a gift.
Scott Walker's work has increasingly been about turns of phrase or fragments of language, incongruously sung and strung together to form narratives. Any song on Bish Bosch carries with it a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of how people speak to one another, in all manner of situations. Drunken bar storytelling dovetails into new testament gospel proselytizing, both of those elements are recursive on Bish Bosch, even as sonically there is no consistency, just repetition. Terror and uncertain noise occurring from outside our purview as listeners, even if it's a sound we're familiar with. Scott Walker's genius recluse image is something that ignore's how much Walker has lived. He's not someone who toils endlessly in a studio, he's someone who takes the time he needs to do the caliber of work he does. There's no one else who will. -SW
17. Purity Ring - Shrines
Saying that southern rap production techniques have spread way deep into pop music is now something so dated that typing this sentence has aged me signifcantly. If there's a painting of me in an attic somewhere, it just grew back some hair and lost a few pounds. So the sound of Purity Ring - a chiming female voice singing over electronics inflected with Mannie Fresh's dna - is just another sonic palette to be fucked around with. Instead Purity Ring single themselves out through sheer quality. Songs of mutilation and love, words set perfectly against the music that they push against. Bodily thoughts and urges, enthusiastically drawing the warmth out of music that could be the rote beats and skips of the moment. Megan James' voice is so light and incisive that you forget she's singing about fractured skulls and open torsos, these are songs of love. But love that compels complete physical surrender, that communing with another person might mean playing with their blood. It's beautiful, and unsettling, and twisted. But mostly beautiful, and while it doesn't always click - the guest rapper on "Grandloves" is really the most skippable thing on an album since the heyday of No Limit skits - aside from that one hiccup, it's a headspace that was completely unique this year. Compulsively listenable, and getting better with each play, these songs and loose and danceable, and the words are bloody-minded in a way only real emotion can be. -SW
16. Pallbearer - Sorrow and Execution
This list was composed prior to the determination of the Official Board of Metal Discussion that Pallbearer's Sorrow and Extinction was less of a crossover classic, and more Hipster's First Hardcore, a doom-y, populist metal album that's powered better by its public relations team than it is actual worth. It's not a debate we'll be getting into, in part because it's not really a debate, but mostly because populism and quality PR are two things we're always going to get behind here at TFO. This sort of music--a dash of prog, a dash of classic rock, long on gore, long on 'core, born from the metal tree--is difficult music to get into, it's a macrocosm of a microgenre, and there's something to be said for preferring a slice over a whole pie. Pallbearer may be metal for non-metal fans--I don't buy that for a second, but angry people are saying it, and the angry people might be right--but even if it is, not tipping the coffee guy who has been looking after you all year because you read a bunch of Yelp reviews about some amazing coffee place across town is a shithead way to live. You don't want to have to move to San Francisco, do you? -TS
15. Rustie - BBC Essential Mix 04/07/12
Let’s start with this: Rustie’s mixing is far from seamless. Tracks, rhythms, and genres ram up against one another with little regard for safety, to say nothing of flow. That may not be an intentional part of the plan, but it’s part of the cumulative effect. There may be listeners out there who still compartmentalize the rap tracks, synth workouts, and bangers that Rustie assembles on his BBC Essential Mix, so it’s only right that he juxtaposes songs by jamming them into one another’s space, rather than placing them idly side-by-side. It’s going to take years for someone to find proper lead-ins and lead-outs to Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” anyway. Just like last year’s Glass Swords, this seemingly off-the-cuff work by Rustie is all about accumulation. There’s a common thought that great artists know exactly what to leave out in their work, and while Rustie’s compilation is not a complete rejection of that philosophy (given how often he intersperses gigantic beats with airy synth trails), it’s defiantly focused on what it can fit in. -MB
14. Liars - WIXIW
The Liars aren't my favorite band, but they're as close as I've gotten to having one in a long time. Due to the nature of the way WIXIW sounds--somewhat droney, somewhat quiet, repetitive, with vocals that barely make it past sound burbles most of the time--it's easy to initially discount, and I'm not the first person to admit that it was hard to get into, enough that it remained my start-the-day album for a solid three months. It's essentially uncrackable, fluid music that propels you forward but won't let you in, like mercury. The smoothness never breaks down, to the point that you start to think dumb, weird shit about how digital files decompose, stripping out the microseconds between the sound, how a vinyl copy will slowly develop its own original remix--it's the way that we live now, things are attacked on levels they were never designed to defend against, held to standards that make no sense whatsoever. Permanence is unachievable, that's a given. Impermeability though? Now that's a goal. -TS
13. Joey Bada$$ - 1999
12. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend
So Godspeed came back from the dead, and the first thing you hear is confused people on intercoms echoing fragments of sentences back at one another, maybe trying to identify someone in a crowd. "With his arms outstretched... okay?" Godspeed don't return to the sound of triumphant guitars chiming off into symphonic infinity, like they did for us at their most beautiful. On "Mladic" they come back with a guttural, messy, dangerous sounding lope. The guitars have a build to a massive payoff, eschewing the drift-to-nowhere slow smolder approach of Yanqui UXO, instead it's all nervous tension and spiraling squall. Things haven't gotten better, this song says. They've gotten frenzied, and dangerous, and denying catharsis isn't the way to deal with it. "Mladic" is fever pitch music. This band has been gone so long, they came back less pretty, just as interested in making a narrative point with instrumental music. The drums sound like someone running for their life and continuing their march on even as they run out of breath.
Every payoff here is counterpointed by a corresponding drone piece, but instead of the "you get nothing" of their last album, Godspeed have struck an uneasy balance between discordant bagpipe helicopter drone and decimating guitar/drum theatricality. "We Drift Like Worried Fire" returns the ability of this band to be truly beautiful, and sad, and menacing all at the same moment. The final guitar build on the track is exactly what we've always wanted to hear from this band, nearly transcendent. It is a more varied piece than the opener, and "Strung like Lights at Thee Printemps Erable" is straight Boris/Sunn o)))/Earth-style decaying drone. But the emotional tenor of the entire piece is set, and never leaves, where "Mladic" leaves us. Rabbit heartbeats and flight instincts, knowing full well that it's not going to do any good. Something larger than ourselves has shifted, and all we can do is panic. This isn't apocalypse music, the way that Lift Yr Skinny Fists and Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada were. This isn't foretelling of a great cataclysm. This isn't music for the streets burning on December 21st. That's why it feels different. The tools are the same, but this isn't a forecast anymore. We are not trapped in the machine, and the machine isn't bleeding to death anymore. It was a nice idea at the time. Instead, this is a document of this moment. No poetic metaphors this time. -SW
11. El-P - Cancer For Cure
Between 2002’s Fantastic Damage and 2007’s I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, El-P released a full-on jazz album, complete with one decent trip-hop song and a couple of elegiac Brooklyn piano tributes. Between I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead and Cancer 4 Cure, dude put to rest the record label he’d been devoted to for more than a decade. Now a lot of this is speculation, but to me I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead sounds like an artist caught up in his own shit—perhaps a guy who witnessed the label/movement/sound he was largely responsible for slip from revelatory to Party Fun Action Committee in just a few years, maybe a guy trying to make music while also doing a lot of paperwork, maybe a guy who felt tethered by his own ideas, maybe a guy going through a jazz phase. On the other hand, is it possible that putting the kibosh on Def Jux freed up El-P to make the best album of his career? Cancer 4 Cure has all the earmarks of someone with nothing left to lose: aggression, immediacy, and a return to fundamentals that finds El-P retrofitting his futurist production (read: breakbeats) onto a solid foundation of boom-bap. Is it a coincidence that El-P’s other career highlights occurred in the wake of him severing his relationships with Company Flow and Rawkus? Again, this is pure speculation, but the El-P on Cancer 4 Cure seems revitalized, and I have no trouble imagining that’s a result of streamlining his responsibilities into simply making music.-MB
-Marty Brown, Sean Witzke, Tucker Stone, 2012
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00:00 - 10:10 - INTROS. We're baaaaaack from Xmas/New Years, punchy and a little weird. Also - we were plagued with connection and sound problems the entire time, which you can't really hear in the recording but we're totally thrown by it.
First up - we both watched MAGIC MIKE (2012), directed by Steven Soderbergh starring Channing Tatum, Matthew McConneghey, Cody Horn, Joe Manganello, Betsy Brandt, Olvia Munn, and Alex Pettyfer. We talk about Channing Tatum a whole lot, Showgirls, Soderbergh a little bit, 8 Mile, The Girlfriend Experience, and Joel Grey in Cabaret.
10:11 - 28:06 - Both of us watched END OF WATCH (2012), directed by David Ayer, starring Jake Gyllenhall, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick, Frank Grillo, America Ferrara, Cody Horn. Sean liked it more than Tucker, but we both agree on the amazing opening scene, and that the music in the film is FUCKING TERRIBLE. Also mentioned in this section - Neveldine & Taylor, the cool Glenn McQuaid section of the found footage compilation V/H/S, and Michael Pena in The Shield.
28:07 - 44:10 - Both Sean and Tucker watched JACK REACHER (2012) with their respective fathers. Directed and written by Christopher McQuarrie, shot by Caleb Deschanel, starring Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo, Robert Duvall, and WERNER HERZOG. Sean also watched the other McQuarrie movie THE WAY OF THE GUN (2000), directed and written by Christopher McQuarrie, starring Benicio Del Toro, Ryan Phillipe, Juliette Lewis, Nicky Katt, James Caan, Scott Wilson, Sarah Silverman. Also mentioned in this section - the Anne Rice letter about Tom Cruise, the mudpit fight in Dark Knight Returns, NCIS, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the original trailer for Death Race 2000, and Tom Cruise's divorce.
44:12 - 1:27:08 - Before we get into the movies we watched, Tucker is excited about The Incredible Burt Wonderstone starring Alan Arkin and who the fuck cares else, ALAN ARKIN. But the main thing we discuss for the bulk of the podcast is Django Unchained and a little bit on Zero Dark Thirty (which at press time, Sean hadn't seen yet - our next show is going to be Zero Dark centric. And we discuss all Quentin Tarantino movies. All of them, in list/comparison format. Also maybe of interest is this.
(and here's the cast/crews of those films)
DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012), directed by Quentin Tarantino, starring Jamie Foxx, Leonardo Dicaprio, Samuel L Jackson, Don Johnson, Jonah Hill, Christoph Waltz, Russ Tamblyn, Amber Tamblyn, Kerry Washington, Bruce Dern, MC Gainey, Tom Savini, Zoe Bell, a whole lot more people.
ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012), directed by Kathryn Bigelow, starring Jessica Chastain, Edgar Ramirez, Kyle Chandler, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Mark Strong, Mark Duplass, Stephen Dillane, Scott Adkins, Mark Valley, Frank Grillo, Jennifer Ehle, James Gandolfini, every fucking character actor you've ever loved in one movie.
Sean also watched DJANGO (1966) directed by Sergio Corbucci, starring Franco Nero and several of the unofficial sequels; DJANGO, KILL... IF YOU LIVE, SHOOT! (1967), directed by Giulio Questi, starring Tomas Milan; DJANGO, PREPARE A COFFIN (1968), directed by Ferdinando Baldi, starring Terrence Hill; and DJANGO, THE LAST KILLER (1967), directed by Giuseppe Varri, starring George Eastman.
See y'all next week! Kiiisses.