Top 18 Albums of 2012: #1 Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE

This is the pimpest shit i’ve heard since Voodoo changed the way everyone made love 10 years ago. This is an elegant hip-hop/R&B crossover album, without the flamboyance we’ve come to expect from some singers. Frank Ocean is a smooth and classy dude and channel ORANGE is Exhibit A.

How do we value expressions of love? What about loss? What about the accompanying nostalgia? From where i rank this album, you can surmise my valuation of the previous questions. A lot of music is about amorous expressions and the mastery of capturing these emotions…To be able to do so as vividly as Frank Ocean is sublime. This is an album for everyone’s love…Doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or what you stand for. He speaks to the love, loss and games that every one of us knows all too well.

The album’s opening track and single is, ‘Thinkin Bout You’:

Tell me that shit doesn’t make you tingle? Tell me it doesn’t make you wanna think about whoever is on YOUR mind right now? Human beings are passionate lovers by their very nature and Ocean knows how to appeal to our carnal desires.

He shows off his whimsy in ‘Super Rich Kids’ w/ Earl Sweatshirt. Waxing about the ritzy-titzy well-to-dos and their careless extravagant ways:

Super rich kids with nothing but loose ends
Super rich kids with nothing but fake friends

and dropping triple entendres like it’s nothing:

The market’s down like 60 stories
And some don’t end the way they should

My silver spoon has fed me good
A million one, a million cash
Close my eyes and feel the crash

While it’s important to note Ocean’s versatility of being more than just another R&B artist, i ultimately digress. Where channel ORANGE makes it’s lasting mark, is on the back to back to back tracks, Crack Rock’ to ‘Pyramids’ to ‘Lost.’ One of the best three song streaks i’ve ever heard on an album.

‘Crack Rock’  starts off with a beat that creeps and makes you move the second it drops:

Ocean’s beautiful voice straddling the line between baritone and tenor guides us through a desolate tale of addiction and the subliminal question of what the “fix” is.

The album climaxes on ‘Pyramids’ where Ocean starts by giving us a history lesson of Egyptian proportions. Painting the picture of his “Cleopatra” who is the subject of this song:

Much like the Queen, Ocean’s Cleopatra is tragic and her beauty is corrupt.

“What good is a jewel that ain’t still precious?”

She’s taken a turn and fallen into the trap of the pyramids…and Ocean takes us through the mystique of these pyramids, personifying them as the palace of sin and she is trapped inside. Lyrically, this dude is amazing. He confidently articulates his disdain for this beautiful woman and what she’s become, a stripper….But she still gets to him and still rattles his cage…And he’s helpless against the sexual siren…

Finally, ‘Lost’ completes the trifecta and Ocean sings about how fleeting love is within the movement of the lives of its moving parts, people. Truly my favorite song on this record and this absolutely stunning video of ‘Lost’ played over a montage of Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited will blow your mind:

“Got on my buttercream… silk shirt and it’s Versace”

For real? That’s the moneyest line i’ve ever heard. Makes me wanna go buy designer clothes, just to feel the high-end slik.

As if he couldn’t be money enough, he employs Outkast’s Andre 3000 for ‘Pink Matter,’ and i love Big Boi too, but damnit if Andre isn’t the pimpest dude in that duo. John Mayer makes appearances as a guitarist (say what you will about his singing, dude destroys the guitar.) There are so many other epic moments on this album that i’ve glossed over too. It’s a complete work that you gotta hear.

Ocean’s conceptual everyman audience hit a peak the day before channel ORANGE came out…when he made a stunning announcement in an open letter on his tumblr page (beautifully captured in this piece by the SF Bay Guardian’s Daniel Alvarez). It was the biggest leap of faith one could take in hip-hop/R&B… genres shrouded in misogyny and alpha-males. It crumbled a wall, called out the fabric of humanity and what we’re willing to accept.

This is an album that is highly respectful to modern themes and issues. He doesn’t neglect taboos and presents himself to be a real human being. Gay, straight, black, white, whatever….we all find ourselves and our instincts in the moments of carnal passions and impulses inspired by and within this album. This is the album that one day, many of our children will be conceived to…

Groundbreaking, provocative, powerful, daring, passionate, compassionate and a part of us. This makes up my #1 Album of 2012. An album that hopefully allows people to embrace who we are, who we want to be, who we want to be with, express ourselves and act on our most basic instincts. One love.

#1 Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE

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Top 18 Albums of 2012: #2 Hot Chip – In Our Heads

In Our Heads represents the moment when everything i want in music comes together in one package. The sublime confluence of rock and electronica. The English techno sound done right. Keyboard mastery and an epic beat. The nerdy singer who rocks like he belongs in a different body and is just plain cool as hell. The sound that pays homage to the 80’s, 90’s and beyond. It’s a band demonstrating that they haven’t fallen off on their 5th studio album. This was the sound i expected from Hot Chip on this go around and they delivered in a major way.

I remember when i first heard this album, i was sitting at my kitchen table and the sheer epicness of In Our Heads’ opening track, ‘Motion Sickness’ was fucking gripping:

What a way to start an album… What a way to come back from your first release in two years. I was hooked. I still am. This is the band that changed the dance rock game with the unforgettable ‘Over and Over’ …flipped it upside down and made it really fucking clear that this shit doesn’t need to be pop. They haven’t dropped off A SINGLE BIT.

There’s a certain pattern to a Hot Chip album that i’ve come to love and they executed it to a tee on In Our Heads. The slow jams you can’t quite shake, like ‘Look At Where We Are’, with the trippy re-verb droplet sound in the background….it’s the song that breaks you down early on the record and takes you away from their infectious dance beats..makes you wanna bring that someone closer…before resuming regularly scheduled dancing; With a classic upbeat love song in ‘These Chains,’ that borrows dubstep, old drum and bass beats and the signature Casio keys subtly placed in the background.

While Hot Chip warms you up with ‘These Chains,’ you’re violently eased (how that’s possible, i don’t know, but they pull it off) into the albums signature dance floor track, ‘Night and Day’:

LOVE the Reggie Watts cameo singing the very 80’s deep robot-o-tronic voice:

Let’s sweat, let’s sweat
Let’s sweat, let’s sweat
Let’s sweat, let’s sweat
Let’s sweat, let’s sweat
(You know I’m thinking about you) — Watts
Night & day & night
(You got me working) — Watts
Night & day & night
(You got me working) — Watts
Night & day & night
(You got me working) — Watts
Night & day & night

But the most spectacular moment on In Our Heads is ‘Flutes’. The most perfectly repetitive track i’ve ever heard. You gotta know your shit to pull this off. It’s flawlessly progressive as Alexis Taylor’s sultry voice guides us through the beat into the impeccable grand finale…..“One day you might realize…………That you will need to open your eyes!”:

After seeing the video, i always feel like the room is spinning around me when i hear this song…and i love that feeling. Of getting lost in a song and just surrendering to the beat for a moment.

Can you tell that i LOVE this band? Full disclosure, i’m a huge fucking fan. (Almost as big of a fan as this girl is.) Largely because they never disappoint me. In fact, they’ve been not disappointing me since The Warning changed the game in 2006. They’re one of the best damn bands on the planet, bar none…and they just put out my 2nd favorite album of 2012.

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Top 18 Albums of 2012: #3 Flying Lotus – Until The Quiet Comes

I’ve found that i didn’t need the immersion into Until The Quiet Comes that i go through on the day of writing about an album to know everything that makes it incredible; namely its auteur, LA’s Steven Ellison (more commonly known by his stage name, Flying Lotus.) FlyLo’s music has grown with me and i’ve grown with his music. FlyLo is a contemporary, in every sense of the word and his music straddles the line between music and contemporary art. His finger is on the pulse of all that is modern, trending and seemingly great in music. But he has a way of crafting it to become his own, never towing a line and always remaining unique.

You have to witness the art form that is Flying Lotus’s music. You have to hear it, you have to see it and you have to get a taste for the method to his madness. Once you see this all, you’ll understand how tirelessly FlyLo works to craft his art and create an experience that is unlike any other and a manifestation of his vision.

The first taste we got of Until The Quiet Comes was this short film (think of it as a 3 minute music video) by Kahlil Joseph for the album’s title track and its nothing short of a cinematographic masterpiece:

FlyLo is a master collaborator. He’s one of the few people to work with Thom Yorke, as he did on ‘And the Whole World Laughs With You…’ off of 2010’s Cosmogramma (My #12 Album of 2010). This time around, he features the gorgeous Erykah Badu on ‘See Thru to U’.

He worked with with Director David Lewandowski and actor Elijah Wood for this stunning video for ‘Tiny Tortures’:

The intricate bass loops and Wood’s mystifying expressions are impeccable. And the artist works…he continues to work. This video for ‘Putty Boy Strut’ directed by Cyriak Harris, is a robot’s story:

He’s careful to craft everything precisely the way he envisions it. To work with the right people to visually capture the feel of his sound. This guy is the fucking future. He takes visual and sonic elements that are prevalent, but put his own spin on them. Everything he does is unique and seemingly groundbreaking, but it’s like he’s not even trying. With his ear to ear grin plastered on his face, he keeps cranking out spin-off projects that complement his albums. Wanna know what he does for his live show? Surprise, it’s freaking original as hell too…He’s created an audiovisual arts concept (alongside visual artists Timeboy and Strangeloop) called ‘Layer 3,’ where he’s playing inside of a visual vortex, but you have to see it to believe it. Here’s a doc produced by the Red Bull Music Academy, where he talks about how he likes to “dabble in things that feel magical”:

My friend Dallas always says “Visualize: Manifest.” This is the embodiment of everything Flying Lotus does. Everything is possible for Steven Ellison. Somehow he even had time this year to virally launch a villainous alter-ego named Captain Murphy, in the spirit of notorious hip-hop villains like Quasimoto and Madvillain. He kept his true identity a mystery while garnering over 20,000 Twitter followers, before dropping the Duality EP (stream it or download it for free here) and revealing himself in front of an LA crowd at his first show in late November…

Flying Lotus blows my mind. His ideas have no limitations. He’s a highly creative person and somehow manages to articulate everything that’s on his mind through his music and art. This is the future of music. He’s had his finger on the button for years and it just keeps getting better and better. If the future of not only hip-hop and electronica, but of all music and art is in the hands of Flying Lotus, it’s a world that I want to live in.

#3 Flying Lotus – Until The Quiet Come

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Note: Until The Quiet Comes is not on Spotify. I’ve communicated with FlyLo regarding when it’ll be up, and he said “soon bro.” While you wait, feel free to entertain yourselves with the above videos and tracks or check out his website for more cool shit: http://flying-lotus.com

 

 

 

 

Top 18 Albums of 2012: #5 Liars – WIXIW

I had to walk outside to reflect on this album. I had to put my headphones on and go for a walk. I had to be by myself and let this album seep into my core… WIXIW (pronounced wish-you) is a loner album. For me, it’s the best loner album of the year. It’s an album about complexity of sound. It’s an album about being a loner and about the difficulties and nuances that human beings experience in communicating and coexisting with each other. Make no mistake about, this is some dark shit.

On, ‘Who is the Hunter,’ singer Angus Andrews presents us with power struggles in relationships. “I never meant to run…I only blew my gun to watch which beast still runs”:

He speaks of the beast within. And the beast that we all have inside of us. Man or woman. Again, its dark…but there’s nothing else like it. The sounds are incredibly haunting and Andrews’ spooky voice only adds to the haunt. The progression on ‘Who is the Hunter’ sees new sounds being introduced on top of other sounds and again and again, until we’re left with an extravagant opus.

And now, i’ll go out on the proverbial fucking limb and compare how this band makes music to what Radiohead does. Whew….im sweating…this is hard… i know i’m contradicting what i’ve said in the past, but i mean this….Stay with me…. They’re industrial synth reminisces of Jonny Greenwood’s cryptic melodies. Like Thom Yorke, Andrews has a similar “eyes be closed, my mind is somewhere else besides here” style of singing, but his voice is deeper, like Nick Cave…. In fact, Liars previously opened for Radiohead. They push boundaries of sound, often venturing into the unknown….But i’ll stop it right there…and not go any further with the comparison, because Liars aren’t as accessible as Yorke and Co….And i’m ok with that. This is what makes them unique.

On the flipside though, the most accessible track on the album, is ‘No. 1 Against the Rush’…Here’s a live peek at them performing the song on KEXP:

The last effects push at the 4:23 mark into the songs closing crescendo just kills me.

The albums title track ‘WIXIW’ starts with spiraling stringed sounds and a drum beat, as Andrews sings into the distance:

“and now i see it’s not enough…..i wish you were here with me…..I can’t no longer take it all… Wish you would not come back to me.”

Lyrically, everything about WIXIW is as complex as the music that accompanies it. This is one of the most haunting albums i’ve ever heard. Intense themes and a defining style that refuses to be categorized. It’s a weird album, made by weird people, but i love that….It’s a work of art and keeps me guessing from start to finish. WIXIW breaks me down and that’s a mind altering feeling with music. No album did this in 2012 quite like WIXIW and the next four that you’ll read about from me in the coming days. With that:

#5 Album of 2012: Liars – WIXIW

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Top 18 Albums of 2012: #6 Cat Power – Sun

Cat Power is Chan Marshall. Chan Marshall is Cat Power.

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Cat Power is an American singer-songwriter from Georgia.

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She put out her 9th studio album this year (Sun) on Matador Records and it’s one of the best albums she’s ever put out.

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This song is called ‘Manhattan.’ It’s my favorite one on the album. (Note the machine drum beat and keyboard work.)

Cat Power has soul…REAL Southern soul. This makes her different and it doesn’t hurt that she’s extremely talented…and did i mention beautiful?

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This song is called ‘Nothin But Time.’ It’s a brilliant track, features haunting layered vocals by Iggy Pop and it’ll make you feel really good when you’re listening to it:

Here’s a photo of Cat Power with a pie. It reminds me that she’s from Georgia and that pies are really popular in the South.

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Cat Power is one of the most well respected musicians in the business and her work on Sun is precisely why. Jump to my Best Albums of 2012 Spotify playlist and listen to the whole thing. You’re gonna love it. 

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My dream of a Cat Power post based on pictures of her is complete. My #6 Album of the year, Sun by Cat Power.

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Seriously though. This album rules. She’s simply fantastic. I’m speechless every time i put it on. Enjoy.

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Top 18 Albums of 2012: #7 The Walkmen – Heaven

Hey! Look who has a new domain name!  EverythingEcstatic.net is now the official domain of this page and that’s cool (Might take a day or two for the new domain to pop up on some browsers tho :-/). Also, if you’ve been following along with the list, take a second to Follow my blog either through WordPress (top of this page) or by e-mail (bottom of righthand column.) Thanks! Ok, enough babble, here’s today’s album:

It’s hard to believe that The Walkmen have been together for 10 years. It’s even harder to believe that Heaven marks the first time that they’ve brought in a producer to oversee the making of their album. And they didnt just get any producer, they brought in the legendary Phil Ek, who’s produced albums for Built to Spill, Fleet Foxes and The Shins to name a few. The guy’s resume speaks for itself. What ensued, is easily the band’s most mature album. This is a fine production and the essence of a timeless rock band, who are growing up. There’s no better way to understand what “growing up” means for The Walkmen than the video for the album’s title track, ‘Heaven’:

At the front of this band, is Hamilton Leithauser and what a frontman he is. The guy has serious style and stage presence. His bravado commands that you pay attention to him, but the feeling that this band is together as one is never lost. They put on a stellar performance at the Outside Lands Festival this year and there was the tall, slender Leithauser with his skinny black tie on, leading the band as they churned jam after jam off of Heaven an album that boasts so many awesome tracks…I can’t tell you how many times i’ve zoned out, listening to the melancholy ‘We Can’t Be Beat’, it’s one of the most beautiful songs i’ve ever heard.

The epic ‘Nightingales’, shows the expanse of Leithauser’s range above the bass drum kicks and woozy guitar strums, as the carefully placed tambourine clangs in the background. They pick up the energy on ‘The Love You Love’ and even though Heaven represents their most polished and mature work, this is one of the moments when you just wanna jump around, dance and lose control:

“What it is and what it should be! Baby I want everything…What it is and what it should be!”

The Walkmen made all the right moves on this album. None were bigger than bringing in Phil Ek to re-invent, but ultimately define the style that has carried this awesome band for a decade.

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Top 18 Albums of 2012: #8 Beach House – Bloom

(I’ve embedded RapGenius links in the song title hyperlinks. Right click and open in another tab to listen to the songs and read the lyrics as you follow along to fully experience the depth of #8 Bloom)

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I’ll admit, I was a skeptic when this album came out. Maybe i just couldn’t accept the idea that something from Beach House could be as good as their previous release, Teen Dream (My #5 Album of 2010). Hence, it took me a while to immerse in Bloom and all that it had to offer…

I went to sleep…and had the same dream I had in 2010. The whole time in the dream, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally’s songs kept me in my comfortably numb alternate reality. I never wanted to wake up…and i floated…and kept floating, in a momentary bliss. Beach House is truly the soundtrack to my dreams. When I listen, i feel like i’m floating….it still feels like the “warm wood and cold marble” effect of 2010. Bloom is just as spectacular as Teen Dream and this pleases me greatly.

On ‘Other People’, Victoria sings about the fleeting nature of our friendships. We do our best to stay in touch, but in the end, much like our dreams, many of those that we’re close to inevitably come and go and follow their own life paths… Once you start to understand that Bloom is an album about how you live your life, the decisions you make, the people you meet and the different roads we all walk down, it really starts to reach the inner depths of your emotions and your psyche.

On ‘Lazuli’, Legrand compares the uniqueness of her subject to the qualities of a mystical, sapphire-like stone. You can’t pull this off without her beautiful siren song…her voice is what truly sets this band apart. It’s one of a kind…it’s angelic…it’s…well…it’s just about perfect…much like the collection of tracks on Bloom together encompass a near perfect follow-up to a perfect record; Both of which will surely stand the test of time.

I choose to end this post with ‘Irene’…the last song on the album and the first one that grabbed me:

“It’s a strange paradise” Legrand sings…..and i’m back in my dream. And i’m in an incarnation of paradise… But maybe it’s not a dream at all…Maybe the relationships that we forge with each other are the beauty of our reality….Are we living in our dreams? [puts headphones on]

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