Top 10 Albums of 2012

Better late than never? I’ve sat on this list for a month now, pushing titles up and down a bit, but here it is: my 10 favorite albums of 2012. Looking back, I listened to a lot of pop, R&B, rap, and electronic music. Punk and metal moved further off my radar. Indie pop and rock sounded like a lot of the same to me. And I’m still holding on to the album as the definitive statement by an artist.

I’ve put together a playlist featuring one song from each of these albums, hopefully you enjoy some of it:


10. Grimes – Visions

Grimes - Visions

It was Genesis and Oblivion for me. Really, two of the best songs released this year. The rest of the album took a few months to grow on me. As this list attests,  I’ve been listening to a lot more pop music, and this album skews the furthest to left-field of the albums on this list.


9. Death Grips – The Money Store

Death Grips - The Money Store

By far the most agressive album that stuck in my head this year. If only this band had been around when I was in high school, I probably could have been saved from listening to Mindless Self Indulgence.


8. Dirty Projectors – Swing Low Magellan

Dirty Projectors - Swing Low Magellan

While it didn’t hit me like the poppier side of Bitte Orca did, Swing Low Magellan still manages to needle its way through me with songs that all stick together, though I couldn’t say what the glue is.

Some friends and I went to a listening party put on by NPR’s All Songs Considered early in the year, and one of the songs they played to us unidentified was Offspring Are Blank. But the moment David Longstreth voice was audible, it was obvious that the people who knew Dirty Projectors, knew this song. A room full of idiots grinning ear to ear because no one does weird guitars and weird vocals to make weird pop like the Dirty Projectors.


7. Azealia Banks – 1991 EPAzealia Banks - 1991 EP

God it’s been an incredible year for rappers who aren’t afraid to throw out the out and make their own new. Le1f, Mykki Blanco, Zebra Katz, and Azealia Banks. I ate ’em up.

The only EP on this list, there really isn’t any getting around a release that has 212 on it. Then you add production from Machinedrum and Lone in there? Yep, that hits the spot.


6. Lana Del Rey – Born to DieLana Del Rey - Born to Die

A lengthy academic article could be written about Lana Del Rey’s 2012. It could cover sexism in the music industry, sexism in the media, the importance of (perceived) artistic authenticity, “going viral,” among other topics. I thought about these things after the SNL performance and the backlash that followed, and now that we’re “The Paradise Edition” removed from all of that, I feel the same way that I did when this album was released. It’s not the best, I mean – it has a song called Diet Mountain Dew on it – but it’s still pretty great.


5. Cat Power – SunCat Power - Sun

If you were looking for an artist who took a hard left this year, Cat Power is your girl. Talk about a departure from past material; Sun was a breath of fresh air for me around mid-year. I’ve liked her previous output, but Sun went above and beyond all of that for me. It took what I’ve always perceived to be her singer-songwriter feel and put a serious percussive drive behind it that helped me finally “get” Cat Power.


4. Hot Chip – In Our HeadsHot Chip - In Our Heads

I’m a sucker for anything Hot Chip does. I still remember the first time I listened to The Warning while driving around the windy backroads of Fallbrook and being floored at the immediate hit of Careful’s samples. Same thing when I saw that Made In the Dark was streaming online sometime my freshman year of college and immediately fell into the groove of Out at the Pictures.

In Our Heads is an exact culmination of Hot Chip today.  It’s warm, it’s danceable, it’s earnest. It has quick uptempos, slower ballads, and a couple seven-minute-plus songs that build and release with ease. More than anything, I just feel good when I listen to Hot Chip. Regardless of whether or not this statement has actual meaning: they’re a band I feel is real.


3. Jessie Ware – DevotionJessie Ware - Devotion

This was a sleeper hit for me. There was just enough hanging off of the edges of this album to get my interest. In my searches for the Julio Bashmore-produced 110% and what I thought of as “the original version” of Running – which I initially only cared about because of the fantastic Disclosure remix – I wound up listening to the rest of this album and slowly easing into the rest of the songs. Much has been said about R&B in 2012, but it’s not a genre I know too much about. I just know that if R&B keeps it coming in 2013, I’ll keep listening.


2. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. cityKendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d. city

I can’t get my mind to break out of the comparison of good kid, m.A.A.d city to My Dark Twisted Fantasy. Sonically, they’re similar only in that they’re both rap albums. But I guess I link the two because Kendrick Lamar topped rap in 2012 just like Kanye topped rap in 2010.

I love Swimming Pools. I super love Backseat Freestyle. I could listen to the first four bars of that song on repeat for hours. But this is a complete album. There’s a minor narrative followed, and spoken recordings that *don’t* come off as over-production help tie it all together. Just like R&B, the rap playing field looked fresh and new this year. I’m looking forward to 2013.

1. Frank Ocean – Channel OrangeFrank Ocean - Channel Orange

This one is a classic. Or will be considered a classic. It will be near my top ten of the decade come 2020. I thought it was a 9/10 on first listen, but in the countless replays its received this year, its slid up a point without a struggle.

Who starts their album with the PS1 startup sound?! Who thinks that’s a good idea?! But it was; it gave me chills.

Just listen to it. There’s a million ideas there to dive into. Ignore the intellectualizing of this album and the events surrounding it, they don’t matter. Just listen to it.

PS: where’s my vinyl version I ordered back in August? I want the real thing. Not a bootleg.

Favorite Hot Chip songs

Tomorrow I will be seeing Hot Chip in concert for the (checking my Live Music records) seventh time. It’s safe to say that they are one of my favorite bands. In Our Hands, their fifth album, came out a couple months ago, and like the four preceding it, it’s solid as a rock. What other electro-pop band do you know that completely embraces the idea of being earnest?

“These chains you bound around my heart / complete me / baby / I would not be free” -These Chains

“And oh-oh / my heart has flown to you just like a dove / it can fly / it can fly” -Take It In

“I only wanna be your one life stand / Tell me do you stand by your whole man?” -One Life Stand

Coachella ’08: Day 2

Heading back to the polo fields after an exhausting Friday, we knew that we’d be in for a treat on Saturday. From my standpoint (and that of many others) it was the strongest day by far. After the peanut butter sandwiches and water-bottles were loaded into the backpacks and the sunscreen amply applied, we trekked back to the pat-down lines and started Coachella Day 2. Here are the links to the different shows we saw on Saturday: Institubes, the Teenagers, Uffie feat. DJ Mehdi, Dredg, Boys Noize, Erol Alkan, Hot Chip, Portishead, Prince.


Institubes (Para One, Orgasmic, Surkin)

A record label full of electro DJs is always a nice way to start a chock-full Coachella day. One nice thing about getting to Coachella near to opening (aside from the short lines) is that you have the ability to lay down in the tents and just listen to music. No more worrying about keeping your spot. Para One, Orgasmic, and Surkin served up the Institubes flavored electro for about an hour and a half, but I didn’t stay for the whole time, I had other stuff to get to.

The Teenagers

I’d say that I was pretty excited to see The Teenagers. The new album is interesting. It’s not really full of songs, but I can’t think of a good noun to apply to what they make. Too bad this sounded like crap. Maybe it was because I was sitting at the back of the tent, but the boring backing tunes with the annoying/incomprehensible voice didn’t make for pleasent listening. But this is Coachella where music is everywhere all the time, so I left.

Uffie feat. DJ Mehdi

Leaving The Teenagers for Uffie & DJ Mehdi was a bad idea, but it was my only choice. Uffie really is the odd girl out on Ed Rec, and she sounds like crap live. She isn’t much of a rapper, and there isn’t any stage presence. One thing that was interesting was the guys running around the stage with Uffie and rapping along with her. Don’t know who they were, but I hope that they don’t try to ride up with her, they won’t get anywhere.


Talk about a stark change in pace. Dredg was the fresh gust of wind that I needed, and their show was one of my favorites for the weekend. I was introduced to Dredg about a year ago, and I’ve been hooked on their progressive rock style ever since. The lead singer of the band has an amazing voice, but I was worried that it would be a studio voice and he’d be all over the place live. Not so. I couldn’t have asked for a more solid performance.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t too many people watching the show at the Outdoor Stage. This is Dredg’s first year at Coachella (performing at least) even though they have 4 LPs already out. They really do deserve more attention than they get; they just don’t have a marketable edge even though their music is amazing. I hope that their upcoming album stays true to their honest sound, they’ve been at it for a long time and I hope they get a break soon.

Boys Noize

Beginning my last 2008 Sahara Tent run was Boys Noize, and I was fully prepared to have my face melted off. After the best DJ set of the weekend, it sufficiently was. I find it really interesting how France has such a firm grip on electro right now with Ed Banger and Institubes throwing out DJ after DJ, and here we have this single German guy who’s killing all of their efforts. I don’t mean to make it sound like a war of sorts, but Boys Noize is the dictator of all things electro right now.

His set consisted heavily of material from his album Oi Oi Oi, but he threw in some Bloc Party and Daft Punk for size. I must say that his remix of Feist’s My Moon My Man is one of the best remixes (more like a re-interpretation) that I’ve ever heard, and I was so glad that he played it during his set. He did his trademark move where he puts the headphone-strap over his eyes and continues DJing a few times. All in all, it was just a electro set to rule all electro sets.

Erol Alkan

I don’t know too much about Erol Alkan other than he doesn’t tour in the US too much, so it was pretty cool to see him here. Following up Boys Noize is no easy task, and considering Alkan didn’t really play any recognizable songs, I think of his set as a way to wind down from Boys Noize. It was a pretty high energy show, but you can’t really top the best. I enjoyed the show, but I was really waiting around for Hot Chip.

Hot Chip

I saw Hot Chip last year at Coachella for the first time, and they blew my socks off. They have such a high energy show that it’s impossible not to love every moment that they are on stage. Lets consider a few things that changed this year from last: 1) Sahara Tent baby! 2) New album out 3) Later set time. All of these things contributed to an great performance that (by my standards) topped last year.

I think the biggest component of their live show that made it so incredible at Coachella is that they have a ton of material to play and a very short time to play it in. This means that they forego all of their slow-mid tempo songs for the raving mad ones. All of Made In The Dark translates perfectly to a live performance, and the seamless flow from song to song doesn’t let the energy drop at all. It was pretty clear that they’ve worked on tidying up the loose ends over the past year. So much damn fun.


Admittedly, Kraftwerk isn’t really my favorite band/group. I completely understand the massive impact that they have had on every genre of music that uses any kind of electrical instruments (they formed back in the 70s), but their music hasn’t aged well in my opinion. While I’m sure some people were blown away, I guess it was cool. It was exactly what every YouTube video makes it out to be any nothing more. The screen behind them was nice, but again, exactly what’s happened at every single one of their tour dates for the past 5+ years. I will concede that their music translates amazingly to a setting like Coachella. Their sound is so big that it just fills the fields with the electronic bleeps and pops of the past. Good, I guess, didn’t wow me.


This is where my night turns golden. Portishead hasn’t done much of anything (as a group) for the past 10/11 years, and I’ve listened to Dummy countless times since discovering the group as my interest in Massive Attack grew. Some music is awesome because of the great show that goes along with it (Daft Punk), some music is great because of its intensity (Rage Against the Machine), and some music is great because of the emotions that pour out of it (Portishead).

Portishead was by far my favorite act at Coachella 2008. Regardless of the fact that I probably won’t ever see them again and any other factor other than the music that makes the existence of their performance at Coachella great, it really was the music that got me. Beth has said in interviews that lyrics are her way of communicating to people, and it really shows. In between songs, you could hear her faintly saying to Adrian and Geoff, “Say something… just say something into the microphone…”

Their twelve-song set consisted of the best songs from Dummy, Portishead, and Third. It really was a hauntingly moving experience. As a fan, it’s nice to know when artists acknowledge some sort of connection with you, and as Geoff was walking off stage, he shot out, “Thanks for waiting so long.” As anyone who’s listened to Third all the way through, it was well worth the 10 years.


The surprise headliner for Saturday night was Prince, as everyone knows. Following Portishead isn’t an easy thing to do, but really, this is Prince we are talking about. I wish that I had more to say about his show other than it was what a perfect funk/soul/R&B show is. He played about 20 songs in total over 2 hours (he ended at 1am, not midnight). The set was made up of 80s songs, plenty of covers, and some of his more recent singles.

Here are some of the highlights from the performance: Morris Day and Sheila E. opened with a few songs with Prince on guitar, Prince covered Radiohead’s Creep (perfect choice for the Coachella crowd), he also covered the Beatles’ Come Together, and the encore was a double dose of Purple Rain and Let’s Go Crazy.

Seriously people, Portishead brought the melancholy, and Prince brought the party. It was one of the best nights of music I’ve been to.

These incredible pictures of the Coachella weekend are from Mick 0, Caesar Sebastian, and Jevon Feinblatt.

Hot Chip @ the Mayan

If you think seeing Hot Chip twice in three days sounds like fun, let me tell you, it definitely is. I speak from experience. Coachella Saturday = Hot Chip & the Mayan Monday = Hot Chip. Both great, but very different.

I believe that this whole ordeal earned a bit of back-story, so here goes. Back way before February, I bought tickets to a tiny Hot Chip show at the El Rey. It was one of two shows that they were going to be doing in the states, and the other was out in New York. I was so pumped, but the day of the show, it was cancelled due to an illness in the band. After a few weeks, the Goldenvoice email went out announcing a makeup date at the Mayan in APRIL. Talk about a long wait.

Free Blood

So the end of April rolled around, Coachella happened, and I was ready for another dose of Hot Chip (my first dose away from a festival setting). Opening the night was a New York duo called Free Blood. I’d never heard of them before, but I really enjoyed their set. Their sound consisted of pre-recorded tribal/heavy/electronic beats with the guy playing bass and singing along with the girl. While it was a high energy show for a lesser-known opener, one thing that I was impressed by was the fact that they timed their set perfectly. It’s always nice when openers have figured out the right time where you’re enjoying what you’re hearing and you’re not tired of it yet, but you will be in about two songs. They stopped before the two songs. Good set all around.

Hot Chip

I guess I should start the Hot Chip portion of this by saying that seeing Hot Chip in a hot, sweaty, packed Coachella tent is a far different experience from seeing them at a nice LA venue. To be completely honest, I prefer the Coachella environment. It’s something about everyone being packed together and completely in love with what they are experiencing at Coachella that makes it that much better. Then again, seeing Hot Chip at the Mayan was great because of the much longer set time, and it’s just a more intimate setting.

Look down at the set list, it pretty much sums up the fact that their latest album Made In The Dark is amazing live. So many of the songs translate perfectly to Hot Chip’s live performance which is pretty far removed from the sound of their records. The live show is so high energy that it’s hard to recognize that the live songs are the same ones on the albums.

My personal favorites when performed live are “Boy From School”, “Out at the Pictures”, “Shake a Fist”, and (of course) “Over & Over”. There’s something to be said about a band that can recreate the sound of their songs so that they flow together but stay distinct when played live. Hot Chip has perfected this art. 

As I said before, this show was the replacement show for what should have been their first stop in the US back in February, and they acknowledged the fact by saying that they would play their asses off. Honestly, I think they put more effort into the Coachella show. Maybe the shorter set time puts pressure on bands to filer out any sort of filler, but it just had more energy in the air than the Mayan show.

Set List

  1. Shake a Fist
  2. Boy from School
  3. Hold On
  4. Bendable Poseable
  5. Touch Too Much
  6. Over & Over
  7. Out at the Pictures
  8. Wrestlers
  9. Crap Kraft Dinner
  10. One Pure Thought
  11. Ready for the Floor
  12. Made in the Dark
  13. (encore) Don’t Dance
  14. No Fit State / Nothing Compares to You
  15. Privacy of Our Love

The three photos below are from riotphotography on flickr.