12. "R.A.P. Music," Killer Mike, 2012
Killer Mike spends some of this album telling funny stories. He spends more of it being proud -- more in his race and rap music at large than in himself. And in a couple tracks -- "Reagan" in particular -- he's really, really pissed off.
I'm glad Reagan dead.
Killer Mike is an equal-opportunity anarchist; he doesn't like Clinton or Obama, either. This song, and a lot of this album, will probably sound radical and offensive to those treated to the version of Reagan's America that didn't involve the police coming around and beating you up once in a while. And yes, I did Google "killer mike fox news." Real good shit. Keep in mind that the title they gave this transcript is, "Is rudeness the new normal?"
BECKEL: That fat black dude who was just on -- what is his name again?
GUTFELD: Killer Mike.
BECKEL: I've never heard of him. Killer Mike, go on a diet.
GUTFELD: You are an aficionado of hip-hop, aren't you?
BECKEL: Yes. Maybe the worst genre of music there ever was.
There's a labyrinth of stuff to unpack there, but for one, it must be a real drag to be an aficionado of music you hate. Anyways, I generally appreciate iconoclasm, especially when it upsets white people with neckties. And yes, "R.A.P. Music" would definitely have been the title of my rap album. Guess I'll go with "Jon's Rap Album" if that ever pans out.
11. "Bish Bosch," Scott Walker, 2012
In the 1960s, Scott Walker was a teen heartthrob. His band, The Walker Brothers, were sort of the Beatles in reverse -- they were from the States, but found massive popularity in Great Britain. With his band, and later as a solo act, he made very, very good pop music.
Now Scott Walker is 70 years old. He has made a song, and he has titled it:
SDSS1416+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter)
Terrifying noises shriek out of instruments that he might have built himself. Over them, he yells:
NO MORE DRAGGING THIS WORMY ANUS
ROUND ON SHAGPILES FROM PERSIA TO THRACE
I'VE SEVERED MY REEKING GONADS
FED THEM TO YOUR SHRUNKEN FACE
You would expect this guy to have gone completely mentally ill, or be on 50 pounds of drugs, or something. I don't think anything's wrong, though. In a documentary about him, Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, he seems like a soft-spoken, normal guy. He doesn't seem eccentric, except for when he brings in a cut of meat, and hits it with a hammer, I think, in different ways to figure out what sort of meat-slappin' sound he wants for his percussion.
I have only listened through this entire album one time. I am afraid of anybody who listens to it a lot. It's probably the scariest album I've ever heard. It's on this list, not because I enjoy it, but because I'm glad it exists.
10. "Kaputt," Destroyer, 2011
Most of "Kaputt" is smooth and unapologetically cheesy. It's so cheesy that when I listen to it, I'm always five seconds away from being really annoyed. It just kind of sits in that space that's barely permissible, and by virtue of that, it's lots of fun. I'll sometimes crawl out of bed, open the windows, put on the title track real loud, and go make coffee.
Years ago, I was at a Decemberists show. Halfway through their set, a switch flipped, and I realized: "oh god. I hate The Decemberists music. This is awful. I hate this shit." And that was that. That might happen with this album one day, but for now, it's a pretty good time.
9. "I Love You, It's Cool," Bear In Heaven, 2012
For me, Bear In Heaven belongs to that My Bloody Valentine class of music that should only be listened to at really, irresponsibly loud volumes.
The loudest I confidently turn up my stereo in my apartment, without disturbing the neighbors, is about -60 dB. (My receiver registers it in the negative because of math something-or-whatever.) While playing this album on my headphones, I'm totally liable to look down and realize I'm playing it at -30 dB. I am going to go deaf by age 37.
8. "Morning Phase," Beck, 2014
Music reviewers profess to hear a lot of stuff in a given song that I totally whiff on. They're probably completely bullshitting at least some of the time, but I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to someone who's listened to 10 times more music than I have. I can at least contest this, from Pitchfork:
it also piggybacks on the legacy of one of Beck's best records. It's the sound of a rule-breaker dutifully coloring inside the lines.
He's referring to "Sea Change," the stripped-down, slow, quiet 2002 album that was basically a complete 180 from all the music he'd released before or since. I've read this criticism from a lot of folks: that "Morning Phase" is a retread of "Sea Change."
I mean, shit, y'all. There are loads and loads of amazing, legendary musicians who basically did the same thing every time, but you disapprove when Beck does the same thing two times? To me, that's the most bizarre expectation you could dump on an artist.
I like Beck's music, but I love it when he strips it down like this. I had the musical experience of the year on a plane a couple months ago: the sixth track, "Unforgiven," comes up, and I look out the window. It's a cloudy day, and there's no visibility. We rise above the clouds, and just at the 2:50 mark, there's nothing but sunlight. Hoooooo man.
7. "CUT 4 ME," Kelela, 2013
A lot of these songs sound like they could be straight-up bangers if they were, like, three percent different. I'm glad that they're not, because as this album stands, it's in this weird space that's both really catchy and really chill. This is basically one of the very best chill-out albums I know about.
Damn, Kelela doesn't even have a Wikipedia page yet.
6. "'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!", Godspeed You! Black Emperor, 2013
Godspeed's music has always been a "Choose Your Own Adventure" sort of experience for me: they play the music, and I decide what it's about. One time, it was about the Broncos losing the Super Bowl by a score of 255-0. Several times, it's been about a violent storm. When it's going nuts outside, I'll open the windows and play them really loud, because Godspeed is fucking awesome and so are thunderstorms.
This time around, they give you this album cover
and the song title, "We Drift Like Worried Fire." And then they play a 20-minute song with no lyrics, and it's your turn to decide what the Hell is going on.
5. "Visions," Grimes, 2012
The song doesn't really sound like it, and the video, in which she hangs out with football players and chills at a motocross event, doesn't look like it, but the words are about her experience dealing with being sexually assaulted.
And now the walk about, after dark
It's my point of view
If someone could break your neck
Coming up behind you, always coming and you'd never have a clue
She ended up prematurely canceling her world tour because everyone is a shithead. I can't imagine what being a female musician is like. The expectations and assumptions we put upon musicians in general is kind of ridiculous, and anyone who has been a human at pretty much any time or place ever ought to know this is also true of women. I remember lots and lots of people (dudes, all dudes) absolutely hating Celine Dion at the peak of her popularity, and it was well past the "I don't like her music" sense. People (dudes!) hated her on a personal level. And if you asked them why, I bet they couldn't tell you.
Anyway. "Visions" sounds a little more accessible than Grimes' prior work. But it's still off in left field, and it bangs like hell.
4. "Shriek," Wye Oak, 2014
"Shriek" is the most surprising album I've heard in a long time. I've liked Wye Oak's music for a while, and they did demonstrate a little bit of an edge on occasion (they have a really beautiful song that is called "I Hope You Die"). But -- and this is gonna sound shitty -- I placed their music on the rung full of music that I really enjoy, but that I doubt I'll want to go back and listen to 10 years from now.
This sounds to me like a classic album, though. I can't really cite music-reasons for this, because I'm that kind of music dummy who is capable of loving music but often incapable of knowing exactly why. Maybe you can listen to it and put it into better words than I can.
3. "Benji," Sun Kil Moon, 2014
Mark Kozelek, aka Sun Kil Moon, has been a very good lyricist for a long time, but recently his lyrics have taken this amazing shift. No poetry, no abstractions, just him telling you about stuff:
My uncle died in a fire on his birthday. Redneck that he was, burning trash in the yard one day. On the pile he threw an aerosol can of spray. And that's how he died in the fire that day.
Before he retired he was a truck driver. He'd be gone through the winters and all through the summers. In the winters us kids would order Dominoes and watch Happy Days. And in the summer we'd gig frogs at the pond and fry up their legs.
They're paragraphs. The lyrics are paragraphs! In this album, Kozelek sings about Domino's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Panera Bread, and lots and lots of people dying. At least one person dies in almost every single song on this album. Multiple people die in trash fires. People are shot. People die of heart attacks.
I have to be really careful -- not just here, but internally, whenever I listen to it -- not to treat that as a curiosity, because when I do, I'll run into one of the many instances in this album when I'll just feel heartbroken over these people I've never met. And I absolutely will. This album wrecked me, and once I'd fully digested it, it took me a little while to get over it. No other album on this list has hit me as hard.
2. "good kid, m.A.A.d city," Kendrick Lamar, 2012
This is gonna be on any list like this written by anyone who likes rap at all. It's become one of my favorite rap albums I've ever heard, and it's been acknowledged as an instant classic by a lot of people who are a lot better at writing on rap than I am.
This album is borrowing your mom's van, and growing up, and doing dumb things, and wondering whether sex workers have any damn use for your advice, and alcoholism, and finding a purpose, and a hundred other things. My youth was, in most senses, completely unlike Kendrick Lamar's, and one of his real triumphs here was making me care as though it was mine.
1. "InnerSpeaker," Tame Impala, 2010
I very nearly put their 2012 album, "Lonerism," at the top of this list. "InnerSpeaker" won the coin flip because it came out in 2010, and has had two extra years to kick my ass up and down the street.
The thing that hits you first is the profoundly weird-ass synth. It's like music from a past that didn't actually happen. A lot of times, a band will sparingly use a little bit of synth, or a saxophone, or something. It sounds awesome, and I'm left wondering why they just dropped 20 seconds of it at the end of a song. Why not roll with that shit until the wheels fall off? Tame Impala, on the other hand, is riding that sound unapologetically, and to amazing effect.
Then you start isolating the drum work. I think it got even better in "Lonerism," but there are still a ton of great moments in this one. This is coming from someone who, again, is music-dumb, and can rarely pick out specific observations that would be of any use to anyone. But I'd listen to a drums-only version of this album in a minute.
And once I get around to really listening to what's being said in this album, I can relate. A good chunk of Tame Impala's music is about being alone -- maybe physically, emotionally, in terms of what you love and think about, whatever. A lot of bands sing about that, but very few say, "I'm alone and it's awesome." I hear that here, and man, sometimes I really feel y'all.