Happy 2013 everyone! As a celebration of the new year, the slackers here at SlackPost decided to list some of the tunes we listened to most in the year that was. Enjoy.
[Note: not all of these tracks came out in 2012. We just happened to listen to them a lot in 2012.]
Rocky Votolato – Little Spring
A folk-rock singer from Seattle by way of Texas, Rocky Votolato has been belting lyrical doozies over acoustic chords for more than a decade. Fundraising through Kickstarter, he independently released an eighth album early this year. While most of the album lacked the magic of some of his previous work, “Little Spring” is a classic Rocky V song, offering memorable lyrics with even more memorable melodies. Whether he’s fondly reminiscent (“You gave me a boy, I gave you a girl/We were faster than Camaros”) or spiritually exhausted (“Sometimes it’s hard to be alive/Up is the only way of giving”), his honest reflections always keep me listening.
Poliça – Lay Your Cards Out
I didn’t come to this song until May (six months after its release), but when I finally did I spent the following three weeks zoning out to it. Everything about it is just mesmerizing. The production is so lush, the synths so atmospheric, the vocals so floaty, the drums so frenetic… the song is a powerful subliminal message, brainwashing you to clear your next few hours for repetitive listening, preferably with controlled substances or someone to slowly make love to.
Shelton Harris – Put Me On
Apparently, young Seattlite Shelton Harris was working as a roadie or something for Macklemore & Ryan Lewis when he mentioned he wanted to rap. I guess they were happy to hear it, because not long after that Harris was opening for them at some sold out shows. Armed with bars as inspirational as his story, he released a positively stellar mixtape in August, which I proceeded to listen to incessantly. I could have chosen any track, but decided this pounding beat would let people know I listened to more than just mellow slow jams this year.
Moon Hooch – Contra
A few years back, three music students started playing New York City subways and parks to help pay for tuition. So began the journey of the coolest, most inspiring band imaginable. Moon Hooch is two saxophonists and a drummer, but they play electronic dance music. After much experimentation (and a dancy debut album of their old street jams they recorded in just one day), “Contra” was recorded and released to unveil a new direction for the already impossibly cool band. On top of featuring a vocalist for the first time, the song features a contrabass clarinet (for that devastating bass sound), a high hat top over the snare drum (a simple, ingenious way to mimic that electronic clap sound), and a cardboard tube to deploy over the bell of a sax (to imitate the “wah” of dubstep drops). The result is a mindblowingly innovative sound they describe as “Cave Music”: “It’s like House, but it’s more wild, more jagged, more free, more natural to live in.”
Young the Giant – Islands (Live)
I had never heard this song before stumbling upon the video. I must say, I was moved by the performance. The afternoon sun and the scenes on the beach fit the slow, melancholy song so perfectly, I was willing to forgive the drummer’s awkwardly loud rim taps (although this take actually sounds undeniably amazing for being recorded outside). The album version of “Islands” is muddled by a lot of minor key vibrations in the first half of the song, which make the key difficult to determine and totally throw off the song’s emotional momentum. Replacing those sounds with gently crashing waves was a huge upgrade.
San Fermin – Sonsick
You could claim that this is shameless promotion of a friend (Ellis Ludwig-Leone, apparently the brains behind San Fermin, was a teammate to Ike, Wells, and myself), but I wouldn’t be too surprised if 2013 sees a lot of people paying attention to this band. The first single from their upcoming debut, “Sonsick” features a dense, varied mix of (refreshingly non-electronic!) instruments, including horns (I love horns!) and stand out percussion (live drums!). The real highlight though is the two female vocalists alternating between coolly resigned and urgently frazzled, with lines like “I’ll fall for you soon enough, I’ve resolved to love/Now I know it’s just another fuck, because I’m old enough.” Saucy.
Major Lazer – Get Free
This song confuses the hell out of me. I noticed people giving it love all over the interwebs during the summer (especially after the official video came out), so I checked it out. My first reaction was, “I don’t get it.” Then I listened to it two more times. Still didn’t get what the big deal was. Decent song, catchy vocals, but nothing fantastic. So for the next two days I kept listening to it intermittently just because the YouTube tab was still open on my browser, and because I wanted to try to understand why people were semi-losing their minds over it. Within 30 hours I was listening to it on repeat. I have no way of explaining this. It was like one of those secretly bad songs like “Crank That” or “Low” that become popular for no apparent reason and so randomly huge that people don’t even realize they’re generally ordinary and mediocre. (Current example: “Girl On Fire.”) And I hate saying that about “Get Free” because I obviously don’t mean to lower it quite to that level. But that’s how I felt at the time. How and why do I like this so much?!
After distancing myself from it for a while, I’ve come to appreciate its simple, atmospheric but subtly “alive” production, its catchy-as-hell chorus, Amber Coffman’s generally captivating voice, and that part when she sings “I just wanna dream” twice. I asked Joel for his thoughts because he actually understands music. To my delight/ongoing confusion, he agreed that the song is great. On top of the things I listed earlier, he added, “the verse melody (that’s also awkwardly jammed on a guitar at the beginning) is creative and catchy. I’m rarely as into a song that everyone is into as this.” Translation: it’s a good song. (Somehow.)
Ellie Goulding – High For This (The Weeknd Cover)
I listened to a good bit of songstresses in 2012. Personal favorites included Adele (notably this mashup), Jessie J (whose music I don’t actually like, with the exception of this awesome acoustic number), and Kimbra (who I’m generally just in love with for a variety of reasons). That said, Ellie Goulding gets the nod here because of this track alone. To be honest, I listened to very little of the rest of her material this year, so I feel kind of terrible about the choice here — like I’m cheating on Kimbra or something. Shit. But you know what? Ellie’s naughty interpretation of The Weeknd’s jam was just too alluring to resist. There’s something great (read: dirty) about a girl addressing a dude with these lines rather than the opposite. Plus the production is great — better than The Weeknd’s original, in my opinion.
Gramatik – Chillaxin’ By The Sea
This Slovenian DJ signed to Pretty Lights Music was possibly my favorite musical discovery of 2012. OK, maybe except for Kimbra. But seriously, his concoctions are fantastic. “Chillaxin’ By The Sea” was my go-to tune of his, but if you’re an instrumental hip hop fan, know that all of his work is worth checking out.
Hot Chip – Flutes (Sasha Remix)
This is a banger. The full version is nine and a half minutes long, and at first glance, that figure has you thinking, “For a dance track that isn’t a trance song, that is outrageous.” But it isn’t. It just works. What I love most about it is how old-fashioned it feels. No crashing dubstep-influenced breakdowns, just a driving, groovy-as-shit beat that builds and fades and builds back up again at its own pace. And Sasha mixes in the vocals seamlessly.
Nelly vs. The Bee Gees – Stayin’ Hot
I’m cheating here and reusing the blurb I wrote about this track back in late November for my buddies’ blog:
I don’t know who DJ Lobsterdust is, or why he chose that moniker, but good God, for making this track, this dude is a boss. I have no qualms labeling him as such, even though I haven’t heard any of his other tracks. Just like how I respect the hell out of Mario for having made “Let Me Love You” when I don’t plan on ever listening to another one of his songs. And plus the video is great! Nelly (look at what they’re wearing — so middle school!), the Bee Gees (look at what they’re wearing — so seventies!), and John Travolta (look at those moves — pure sex!)!?! In any case, no analysis needed here (and let’s be honest, I don’t actually have the technical or theoretical musical background to authoritatively analyze music; you’re just reading this because you’re one of my friends and you could use a little audio pick-me-up today). Just blast it and dance around. Better yet, next house party you’re at, turn this on and everyone will like you 10-15% more. As an added bonus the download link is provided under the YouTube video.
Patrice O’Neal – Mr. P
I am an enormous Patrice O’Neal fan. He was and is my favorite comic, and I was once lucky enough to see him perform live. He sadly died at the age of 41 in late 2011, but when this posthumous album came out in early 2012, I snatched it up immediately. Like all of his material, the album has its offensive, gross, and uncomfortable moments, but it is also brutally honest, insightful, and hilarious. I still listen to it regularly. RIP.
Nas – Life Is Good
On 2012’s Life Is Good, Nas continues to reinforce his status as a hip-hop legend. He rhymes with the energy of a kid trying to prove himself and the wisdom of a man who knows he has nothing left to prove. When he isn’t unleashing his skillful fury — like on “Nasty” — Nas reflects on fatherhood, failed marriage, and everything else life has thrown his way. The two Large Professor-produced tracks, “Loco-motive” and “Stay” are straight throwbacks to Illmatic, with nostalgic piano and horn samples for everyone “stuck in the 90s.” The album ends brilliantly with “Where’s the Love,” showcasing two verses of godly flow. Inconsistent production, however, often the problem with recent Nas albums, keeps Life Is Good from being a great album. “Summer On Smash” is the worst thing since the Swizz Beatz hook on “So Appalled.” Swizzy has really carved out a nice niche for himself in producing repetitive noises that make me feel dumber.
Kimbra – Vows
After some random girl from New Zealand showed up Gotye on his own hit single, I had to buy her debut album. And Vows doesn’t disappoint. Kimbra sings in an off-kilter rhythm that sounds like no one else, and her voice is ethereal without the often-accompanying wispiness – weak ass wispiness. The album takes you all over the place and is charming throughout. Kimbra’s style doesn’t fit easily into any genre, but one thing’s for certain: this girl’s got soul. And plus Ike is in love with her.
The Beastie Boys – B-Boy Bouillabaisse
By strange coincidence, I went on a two-week-long Beastie Boys binge right before Adam Yauch died. Rest in peace MCA. This is the track I kept coming back to. Like a sonic version of its stewy namesake, it builds incomplete song fragments into a delicious mixture. The twelve minutes and change of hip-hop perfection take you on an adventure through the vibrant world of The Beastie Boys. In the most coherent moment, you’re riding the subway with Ad-Rock, MCA, Mike D, and New York City’s 4 a.m. crowd of druggies, hustlers, and general punks. The rest of the track is classic Beastie Boys silliness. And no one has ever sounded better spitting nonsense. Also, the three MCs absolutely kill it over a sample of The Isley Brother’s “That Lady.”
Krispy Kreme – Denzel Washington
There’s something compelling about this young viral video sensation with the Deep South drawl. Krispy Kreme (now unfortunately known as Froggy Fresh because the donut company obviously complained) is as earnest as they come. In “Denzel Washington,” he praises his favorite actor with the surprisingly catchy hook, “Denzel Washington, the best actor ever. He’s so darn cool. He’s so darn clever.” And then he gives you a synopsis of John Q… and Man On Fire… and Book of Eli… and Remember the Titans. SPOILER ALERT! Seriously, if you haven’t seen the movies, Krispy Kreme will ruin the endings for you. His lyrics are simplistic, but he raps from the heart (except when he’s telling you he’s “made out with every girl in the world”). He’s even bringing the silent posse back to rap videos; his best friend Mike stands in the corner rocking the same Mac Miller shirt in almost every video. Shame on Denzel if he hasn’t reached out to accept Krispy Kreme’s kind invitation to join his crew.