As chosen by the Arts Staff of The Cornell Daily Sun:
1. good kid, m.A.A.d city by Kendrick Lamar: In a year where most of the best rap music was made available via free mixtapes, Kendrick Lamar flaunted convention by constructing a major label debut whose thematic and narrative cohesion led its star to describe it as a “short film.” Chronicling his Compton upbringing, the dangerous influence of “the homies” and the grounding force of family and religion, good kid is a masterwork that still manages to have its moments of levity. Proof that this is a rap album poised to please anybody: “Backseat Freestyle”’s infamous Eiffel Tower-dick line exists alongside the reflective death meditation “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” and nobody bats an eyelash. good kid is a document that is sonically adventurous, lyrically resonant and compulsively listenable, an album of the year that feels, more than anything, complete.
2. Attack on Memory by Cloud Nothings: In 1909, F.T. Marinetti published the Futurist Manifesto: “We stand on the last promontory of the centuries! Why should we look back, when what we want is to break down the mysterious doors of the Impossible?” If there was a musical version of this, it would be Attack on Memory. Giving up the lo-fi beach pop that the four-piece started out with, Cloud Nothings rejects the past that spelled a dead end for all the other lo-fi bands of summer 2010 to embrace the post-hardcore guttural screeches of bands like Fugazi. Intensifying only the punk energy from its previous career, Cloud Nothings combine the two to create something just as ambitious: “No nostalgia and no sentiment / We’re over it now and we were over it then.”
3. Channel Orange by Frank Ocean: Frank Ocean has been called many things over the course of the last year: singer/songwriter, inadvertent activist, visionary. Above all else, Ocean is a storyteller to his very core, weaving into his lyrics an unconventional analysis of the American landscape and its myriad ills. On his debut studio album, Channel Orange, Ocean introduces a colorful cast of characters with every song, delving into their tales of heartache and misfortune to better illuminate the anxieties of the present, whether Ocean’s or our own. Whether mourning love lost in “Thinkin About You” or trapped in a dreamy dialogue with Andre 3000 on “Pink Matter,” Ocean has succeeded in creating an album that doubles as a reflective surface on which to analyze ourselves — every listen reveals some new, previously obscured truth.
4. Bloom by Beach House: With celestial album art not unlike Leo Villareal’s LED installation now at the Johnson Museum, Beach House’s second album Bloom collects the sound lush off their debut album Teen Dream and lets it loose in a universe of its own. The changes here are minor: less emphasis on singles — though the towering “Myth” and recursive “Lazuli” may be the group’s greatest yet — and more extravagant production, with more synths on synths and guitars over guitars. The album reaches cosmic levels through such density. You just can’t listen to it: Turn off the lights, sit (or preferably lie) down and absorb it via osmosis.
5. Swing Lo Magellan by Dirty Projectors: Dirty Projectors is better than you. The group is smarter than you, better looking than you, has better music taste and can carry on a conversation better than you on just about any topic. And, on Dirty Projectors’ newest album, Swing Lo Magellan, the group adds a new element to its repertoire of pristine indie pop: Humor. So now you can’t chalk up David Longstreth and the gang’s seamless talents to just being a bunch of art school nerds. “You’d see a million colors if you really looked,” he sings on “Gun Has No Trigger”, as if looking over your shoulder at your Intro to Modernist Design final project. And, over funk so precious and harmonies so flawless, you know he can’t be wrong. On Swing Lo Magellan, Dirty Projectors flaunts the style and candor of fun and accessible pop, but with the lyrical and musical bona fides to make Vampire Weekend look like 3 Doors Down.
6. Celebration Rock by Japandroids: For a couple of Canadian guys, Japandroids is a loud band. Its most recent — and most brilliant — release is so raucous and endorphin-packed that the LP should probably have come with a 50ml of Jameson. Yet for all its whisky-chugging bro-jams, Celebration Rock is held together not by youthful apathy, but by frenzied nostalgia. “Remember saying things like ‘we’ll sleep when we’re dead,’” singer and guitarist Brian King reminisces on “Younger Us.” Now caught in the frightening throes of adulthood, the Vancouver duo is clinging frantically to remnants of adolescent recklessness. Desperation has never sounded so badass.
7. Visions by Grimes: Visions, from Montreal-based Claire Boucher, better known as Grimes, is the musical equivalent of cotton candy — bringing a borderline nauseating amount of sweetness to the 2012 music scene. In an album that is undoubtedly Grimes’ best work thus far, the one-woman project loops, layers and reverbs her voice into a transcendent sort of bliss that novice producers only dream of — she recorded the album alone in her bedroom using GarageBand. While far from structured or predictable, the synth-pop album highlights an ear for melody and command of mood that sets Grimes apart in the busyness of the genre.
8. The Idler Wheel… by Fiona Apple: After a too-long, seven-year hiatus, Fiona Apple has returned in full-force. The Idler Wheel… is Fiona at her best; she is angry, passionate, romantic and, sometimes, all three at once. The experimental instrumental choices prove wildly effective; never have the strumming of banjos and the clanging of pots and pans sounded so perfect. “Every Single Night,” the album’s lead single, is deep and reflective, while remaining extraordinarily catchy. And the album’s best song, “Werewolf,” is courageous and empowering, and a true beast of songwriting and vocal performance. Another fantastic achievement by Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel… cements the turbulent poetess as the reigning queen of indie-rock.
9. Lonerism by Tame Impala: Lonerism will still be categorized as a psychedelic record, but it is more psychedelic in spirit, foregoing simple mimicry like in debut Innerspeaker to embrace the genre’s experimentation and ease of melding with other sounds. The guitars are still swimmy, but now there are pounding, prog-rock basses and piercing drums suited more for a stadium than for headphones. Frontman Kevin Parker hasn’t changed, but the music recontextualizes his voice into a John Lennon-esque classic rock croon. Most importantly, Parker combines this energy with loneliness and emotional vulnerability, mimicking the best of Joy Division’s live shows — to show just how delicate the human condition is.
10. An Awesome Wave by alt-J: The winner of the Mercury Prize, An Awesome Wave yielded hyperbolic praise on the other side of the Atlantic — the term “next Radiohead” was thrown around quite liberally — which resulted in a thrashing amongst American hipness gatekeepers like Pitchfork. But, in their attempt to quash any sort of sacrilege comparisons, these publications missed the point: alt-J, ignoring their stupid name and overwhelming hype, is an inventive folk-pop group that bridges U2 anthemics
and modern dubstep rhythms. Lead singer Joe Newman’s distinctive warble delivers downright disturbing, cinema-influenced lyrical turns that reveal that alt-J has more style and spunk than just another Mumford and Sons imitation; “Breezeblocks” alone is worth a spot on this list.
Original Author: Sun Staff