2012: Daniel Levin Becker
A word keeps rising to the surface as I make this list, not even a word I like: aspirational. A few of the albums below really got into my bloodstream this year, but there are also some I wish I’d spent more time with, plan to spend more time with, continue to keep around in the hopes of bettering myself into the sort of person who spends time with the new and challenging rather than the tried and true. This is my 10th Dusted year-end piece — which, Jesus — and the last bunch have all had some variation on the same disclaimer: There is no claim to objective quality in what follows, only a list of the albums and songs I remember being fond of in spite of overwhelming competition for my attention. But this year even the personal-taste excuse feels a little flimsy, a little arbitrary. Not that I’m copping to anything, but here’s a koan for you: Is it possible to love an album without having sat through it end to end even once? (Cover image hat tip: crappytaxidermy.com)
I’m still on board with the way I described my thrall to this album back in June, though in subsequent months the Kanye West comparison faded somewhat. What lingers now is less the casual ugliness of the storyteller, more the sense of serene honesty that makes his litany of imperfections basically indistinguishable from the more conventional types of beauty surrounding it.
For a mid-range transcendental rock album, this one is sublimely self-possessed: It asks nothing and promises nothing, just plays to its own fascinations and sometimes takes its sweet time getting itself unsnagged from an idea that’s not quite finished. For more on the particular syntactic excellence of its title, see here.
These guys are pretty much just killing machines by this point.
I forgot this existed until the day before this feature’s deadline, but it’s likely I listened to it more times than any other whole album on this list, so a last-minute lineup shift was in order (apologies to, and thus underhanded inclusion of, those Orcas and Father John Misty albums). This, though: the sound of old comforts refusing to die, which is an evasive way of saying that 2012 failed, like so many years before it, to be the year turn-of-the-century emo stopped doing it for me.
Speaking of old comforts. Everything contemporary about 1999 is ideally self-effacing at first glance, letting all the signifiers point not toward the moment when hip-hop peaked (which was of course five or six years earlier) but toward the moment when I started absorbing it. That’s a harder thing to do by all accounts, and 1999’s success is rewarding on a way higher level than its occasional lapses into backpack-rap tedium: It’s a mixtape that genuinely feels like a mixtape, filtering the past gently through the present rather than the other way around.
Here, on the other hand, is 2012 money Instagram-filtered through a serious 1978 fetish. A lot of 2012 money, at that, for an extremely expensive-sounding album that celebrates the self-reifying merits of having extremely expensive things. Hard — though imperative, on some level — to fuck with that logic, just as it’s hard to fuck with the good faith that, sure, this album’s title legitimately rhymes with “richer than Trump.” All that said, the Rick Ross cover art award for the year goes hands down to Black Bar Mitzvah.
I’ve enjoyed this album’s galvanic belch-stomp thoroughly since August or so, but never so much as over the past month, in direct correlation to how many times it’s been upvoted on Dusted’s internal “Worst of 2012” list. (Turns out “burrito metal” is way more pejorative than it sounds.) It’s the Decemberists double album for people who hate the Decemberists, which I’m happy to admit is good enough for me. Unrelatedly, I’m glad these people are still alive.
Deacon’s usual antics anchored by a surprising kind of painterly melancholy; the continuation of Sufjan Stevens’s 50 states project (remember that?) by completely different means.
Because there is something to be said for doing one thing and doing it well, allow me to say it: No, I never thought I’d praise a band for reconciling Bat For Lashes and Best Coast, but here we are.
A shimmering tractor beam of an album, a vaguely menacing cloud formation in the west, a room at certain non-consecutive minutes during dusk. I am aware that I am describing at least 60 albums released each year; this was mine in 2012. It also features what seems to be a surreptitious rewrite of Tarentel’s “Steede Bonnet.”
• Japandroids - “The House That Heaven Built” (Celebration Rock, Polyvinyl)
• Kendrick Lamar - “Backseat Freestyle” (good kid, m.A.A.d city, Aftermath)
• Stars - “The Theory of Relativity” (The North, ATO)
• French Montana, Juicy J & Project Pat - “Do It” (Cocaine Mafia, Evil Empire)
• Bob Mould - “The Descent” (Silver Age, Merge)
• Cloud Nothings - “No Future/No Past” (Attack on Memory, Carpark)
• Alt-J - “Dissolve Me” (An Awesome Wave, Atlantic)
• Amber London - “Low MF Key” (God of Black Vol. 1, self-released)
• The Gaslight Anthem - “45” (Handwritten, Mercury)
• Ital - “Deep Cut (Live Edit)” (Dream On, Planet Mu)
By Daniel Levin Becker