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2012: Patrick Masterson

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During the past 12 months, our Chicago correspondent battled existential dilemmas and the nagging feeling that the year in music wasnít all it should be. Luckily, a few albums made up for the field.

2012: Patrick Masterson

When people say they thought the year in music wasnít that great, what theyíre obviously saying is that the year in music wasnít that great for them. Not to be too much of a downer, but I fall in this demographic for 2012 ó there were plenty of songs I got excited about, but not many albums kept me coming back. The list below probably makes me out to be some kind of establishmentarian rockist Gen Xer, which is sort of embarrassing for me, but itís not like my tastes have stalled; I just donít think Fiona Apple, Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, or Swans were that great. Better luck next year, hype machine.

Label: Constellation | Release Date: October 16

What I enjoyed about Conrad Amentaís recent critique was how pointedly he exposed Godspeedís hollow scare tactics. I donít know how many people bought into their (often inaccurate) worldview years ago ó probably a lot if their reunion tour audiences are anything to go by ó but it seems funny now to be intimidated by oblique politics and no clear endgame other than, as Amenta says, ďGodspeed is leftish, and thatís about it.Ē We donít need this as a cultural counterweight to the good times anymore because the consensus is that those are over, but that same critique is why I kept returning to this album ó itís not necessary except as nostalgia, a quaint reminder of how seriously people used to take this stuff, and of how satisfying it used to sound. Ah, but is nostalgia necessary? Deep questions of an unexpected kind to be asked surrounding the best museum piece of the year.

Label: Fat Possum | Release Date: May 22

More comfort food. Strangely, I didnít love much hip hop in 2012 ó Jamieís work with Killer Mike included ó but this record delivered in a predictable but enjoyable way. Without coming off as deliberately grandiose as Bigg Jus on Machines That Make Civilization Fun or as annoyingly contrarian as Death Grips, Cancer for Cure goes down easy without sounding like it should. As usual, then.

Label: Analog Africa | Release Date: March 27

The verve with which this record moves struck me as unusual even on the first listen. Itís easy to get lost among the riches of the African crate-digging communityís output, but thereís a je ne se quoi about the sass in the way the guitars are played or even just the speed of the songs (a notch up from the usual shuffle) that hooked me. Samy Ben Redjeb has always been a smart labelhead for Analog Africa, but this Super Borgou compilation is something special even in context. Hard work rewarded with exemplary packaging and some of the finer details of these buried sounds from Benin.

Label: Digitalis | Release Date: July 24

I still donít know much about the inner workings of this lot despite regular-ish blog updates, but Digitalis surprised with a proper release for The Call From Below this year and Iím grateful they were able to give more attention to this album; hopefully this leads to unearthing more about how the unit works. Deliciously damaged dub from a braintrust that seems to carry with them a greater ethnomusicological vision, The Call From Below is an immersive listen front to back.

Label: 50Weapons | Release Date: July 27

Though I spoke my piece when this came out and donít have much to say beyond that, itís worth noting that of all the Ostgut Ton movers and shakers, itís no wonder why Shed remains the most compelling to dabblers and outsiders. Get familiar.

Label: mixtape | Release Date: April 18

While itís true I didnít love much hip hop this year, itís also true that the hip-hop I loved, I loved hard. Dark York was the prime example, a mixtape sitting at the intersection of so many cultural crossroads that it was hard to wrap your mind around it, even after endless playbacks. The great thing was that you didnít have to think about any of that (or anything else) if you didnít want to ó this worked as a casual listen as much as it did a thinkpiece. When we look back on hip hop at the end of the decade, I suspect this (along with ďIma ReadĒ) will be included prominently in the conversation of how the genre changed. Hereís hoping.

Label: Sandwell District, Eaux & Thrill Jockey | Release Date: August 7

It would be too simple to say my love for Rroseís music is just the extension of a year-long Sandwell District bender. Thatís not it, exactly ó yes, itís still techno purism with the sort of dark ambiguity Iíve always been a sucker for, but Rrose is even more remote than his (?) comrades. With Silent Servant, for example, the post-punk influence is worn like a heart on a sleeve; with Regis, youíre forever feeling the industrial pump of his Birmingham background. These are things to identify with, avenues by which one can frame the music mentally. Rrose, though Ö Rrose is something else: From the ďMerchant of SaltĒ 12Ē right on through to his recent Matmos remix and ďWedge of Chastity,Ē reference points are submerged beneath a kind of uneasy gauze; live he wears black and practically disappears behind the decks; even the very name is sexually clouded. The Sandwell collective always worked hard to let the music do the talking, but itís a little ironic that their methods are best executed with the care and precision of Rroseís production only now, after theyíre gone. Alongside Joy Orbison, I canít think of a producer I enjoyed more this year.

Label: Polyvinyl | Release Date: June 5
The one we can all agree upon. Iíd always felt that Japandroids were a band that were doomed to be a near-miss for me, a group whose music I liked in theory but shrugged off when listening to them because the songwriting wasnít quite strong enough or the hooks werenít quite memorable enough. ďThe House That Heaven BuiltĒ pretty much took care of that notion singlehandedly, but the whole record is a corker from front to back. Pleasant surprise, for sure ó my only qualm is can someone please help me figure out which fucking pop-punk band this sounds like? I already went through my burned high school CD-Rs and itís not Midtown or The Ataris.

Label: Planet Mu | Release Date: April 17

My favorite Chicago release of the year from the day I first heard it. I know DJ Rashadís TEKLIFE Vol. 1 got a lot of shine as the better of the two footwork albums, but I favor this albumís length, pacing, varying samples, and, of course, ďLifeeeee is Forever.Ē

Label: Mute | Release Date: March 26

Iíve never been keen on live albums if they werenít jazz, but this recording probably sounds better on record than it did live, and that makes me feel a lot better about not being there. If you have the attention span to focus on it, Transverse delivers the goods.

Label: Katorga Works | Release Date: February 14

There was a time late this summer when my fingers would go searching for something to listen to on my iPod and the scroll wheel would stop with an unmatched frequency on ďMerchandise.Ē I realized I was only playing one album on my bus rides to and from work, or walking around town, or making supper at home. I was slow to notice that I had become that guy, constantly yapping about how you should really hear this album or elaborating unnecessarily on how bizarre the vibe was at their live show at some DIY hole-in-the-wall called The Mousetrap that may or may not have been a bar or a laundromat in the past, who the fuck knows what was going on in there Ė I didnít even know shows and people like that still existed. This paragraph, basically, is about as longwinded as I was. But if youíve heard Children of Desire, youíll understand why.

Label: Triple Crown | Release Date: October 9

Given Dustedís expansive readership, odds are pretty good that you and me donít know each other. I mean, Iím 27 years old. I work for the Internet and it mostly feels about as transient and rudderless as it sounds. My apartment still doesnít have anything hanging on the walls even though Iíve got all these rolled-up posters in my closet. My Twitter feed consists primarily of motorcycle racing updates I donít need and the Anti-Joke Cat. My Facebook wall is full of friends figuring out what works in their lives, going back to school or getting real jobs with careers and futures or having kids or whatever, while Iím over here counting quarters to make sure Iíve got enough for the dryer. Frozen pizzas remain a significant source of sustenance. If youíre wondering what idiot still gets Netflix DVDs in the mail in 2012, theyíre all scratched. Even John From Cincinnati.

It doesnít even sound that bad, right, but sometimes itís frustrating to live out. Grand scheme of things, Iím doing fine, but this odd limbo where Iím still not sure who I am as a person when everyone else seems like theyíre sorted can be a drag that doesnít usually make for compelling listening. Maybe I wonít be an eternal adolescent with a lot of first-world emotional baggage someday, but until then, Iíll relate best to Ladyhawkís No Can Do because this album pinpoints exactly where I am in life right now.

Ostensibly, itís pretty average Ė more bar-band laments from four scruffs out of Vancouver. But Ladyhawk has never sounded better than this. All 10 songs are fire, tightened up in places where their debut or Shots would have meandered. The production makes every instrument clear, even when the guitars carry effects pedal scuzz. Duffy Driedigerís oft-conflicted lyrics only needed a small tweaking to balance out Big Themes (love, life, the incessant spiritual language) with the mundane (pacing around in a rented apartment, dealing with neighbors, bedbugs), but heís done that here. Even the cover makes sense ó the guyís head is touching the water and heís clearly committed to take the plunge, but heís not there yet. Thereís a couplet in ďBedbugsĒ that sums all of this up best: ďIím alright, Iím making all my payments / Iím keeping off the pavement, Iím keeping up with the times.Ē This album is for that moment in your life, even if itís already passed; itís for those people whose heads are touching the water but arenít quite in; for everyone whoís not wherever they want to be, yet. Does none of that make sense to you? Congratulations: Youíve grown up. Also, Iím sorry: This pizza is amazing.

By Patrick Masterson

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