By C.h. Smith (themusicprecedent.wordpress.com)
Let me begin by saying, I am not a music critic – I am the complete opposite – I am a music lover. See, a music lover is someone who allows themselves to get caught up in the spell of music and get swept away in the tales surrounding the music…a critic can’t do this. To me, there is so much more than just the notes on a piece of paper or knowing the level of difficulty inside the music being played — I’m also one who appreciates a good back story. Would Stevie Wonder’s music sound the same if you didn’t know he was blind? Or would Bon Iver’s debut album sound the same if you didn’t know he recorded it while in seclusion at a winter cabin somewhere in Wisconsin?
Recently, this idea really hit home for me when I was reading a review where the writer wrote something along the lines of: “When deciding and critiquing the quality of music, you can’t use someone’s personal back story as a measurement in evaluating their work.” In my head I was screaming “YES YOU CAN!” And while I can sympathize with that statement coming from a critic’s mouth, I have no way of relating to those words. What do I know about “bar structure” or “advanced chord progression?”
Critics act like judging music is like judging someone’s school work, like you can’t give out 5 stars to a band just because you’re more fond of them. But I do think that! Not to say that it’s essential in liking music — if that was the case no one would listen to Guns N’ Roses — but enjoying the experience of listening to someone’s musical work can very much be influenced by whether or not you can connect with it on another level. And how could you not, right? It’s the same reason you can’t just allow 12 citizens off the street to be the jury of any criminal case… But luckily for us, appreciating music isn’t like going to court, and judging music isn’t like grading an exam.
It’s our easy access to music that allows us to become closer to each other. With one click we can dive into anything from American Jazz to Swedish Techno. But most importantly, it is through our access to these artists, their stories, and their songs that allows us to better understand their audiences who in turn let us discover new cultures, new ideas and develop roads toward new experiences. In the year 2012 I have traveled to Poland with indie classical composers, to New Orleans where I discovered a new unique style of folk, to a gray underworld where minimalist electronic musicians rebelled against the spastic world of maximilist electro-pop, to Hollywood with Father John Misty and Lana Del Rey and to Iceland with Sigur Ros and Nico Muhly, to loud metal bar rooms and to progressive Hip Hop streets. Beyond what just sounded good, I became interested in the community and the ideas surrounding the music, more than I have ever have been before.
The list below, “Favorite Albums Of 2012″, are records that excited me, that turned a light bulb on in my head or opened my eyes to an issue, that challenged me musically or emotionally, that were unique and compelling to listen to — and most importantly, they were records that interested me.
#48 Cloud Nothings --- Attack on Memory
In 2012 we were blessed with countless accessible punk records (Japandroids, The Men, Converge, Jeff The Brotherhood), but it was Cloud Nothings lo-fi masterpiece, Attack On Memory (engineered by Steve Albini),that was able to leave the most memorable impression on me. It is clear that Cloud Nothings are trying to accomplish much more than simply putting out a record filled with catchy pop punk hooks with fuzzy guitars, they are now in the business of crafting tasteful records which is in turn - with the intention or not – is pushing the indie rock boundaries further and further out. A concept album? not quite – but Attack On Memory does comfortably teeter on the edge of art rock and just good old fuckin’ rock and roll which will ensure you coming back to it again and again.
#40 Joey Bada$$ --- 1999
Growing up I was fortunate to have an older brother who shoved “Real Hip-Hop” down my throat – Black Moon, Boogie Down Productions, Erik B & Rakim, Mos Def, Pharcyde, Boot Camp Click, DJ Premiere, Tribe Called Quest, Big Daddy Kane – music filled with stories, incredible sampling, poignant poetry, playful attitudes, neck-breaking beats, political insight, intelligent compositions – Hip Hop was my first great discovery in music. It was Hip-Hop that let me realize that rap music has the ability to be everything and anything all at once. And the incredible music coming out of New York in the 90′s was just that, it was Rock, it was Soul, it was Blues, hard and soft, aggressive and beautiful. So, in todays Hip-Hop world of 2012, where Rappers and EDM stars team up to make arena-filling radio hits, you wouldn’t expect a young 17-year-old kid, who goes by Joey Bada$$ and his rapping collective Progressive Era, to come out with a debut that pays homage to 1990′s NYC Hip Hip and to its unique styling of beats & rhymes. 1999 is as much as trip back in time as it is a refreshing reminder of all that Hip Hop can be.
Datpiff: Joey Badass – 1999 Key Track: Survival Tactics (Feat. Capital STEEZ)
#29 Carla Morrison --- Dejenmne Llorar
I owe NPR and their amazing team of music geeks my sincere appreciation for turning me onto Carla Morrison, a Mexican folk singer who fuses indie pop folk rock with a perfect amount of Latin flare. Her latest record, Dejenmne Llora, reminds me a lot of when I first heard Seu Jorge or Manu Chao – it’s world music that is also western music – it was like I had heard it before and it was completely new to me…all at once. Morrison’s music, despite whether I understand everything she’s saying or not, captivated me unlike any other record this year.
Spotify: Carla Morrison – Déjenme Llorar Key Track: “Eres Tu”
#26 The Lumineers --- The Lumineers
Usually when a band rises to the top out of no where, fans and critics become conflicted on whether or not they still want to love the band that they once adored with only a handful of other people. But with a band like Lumineers, no matter how successful they’ve become, they haven’t run into this problem. People from all walks of life adore The Lumineers music – from young teenie-boppers to old farts, from hipsters to radio-blaring divas. It’s always wonderful when a band like The Lumineers can unite music lovers from across the board and all it took was Wesley Schultz’s ability to simply write a collection of straightforward, relevant, and delightful folk songs.
...For C.h. Smith's full list of his 50 Favorite Albums of 2012, head over to his comprehensive music blog: http://themusicprecedent.wordpress.com/