Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music (Williams Street Records)
Any rapper that brags about how much he reads gets more than a few bonus points in my world. To quote KRS One: “There’s no excuse if there’s a free library and you don’t go near it.” If you must boast ad nauseam, that’s at least a dope (god, I’m white) thing to brag about. Seriously though, a lot of this is straight-up gangsta shit, but not the gangsta shit that’s purpose is glorifying meaningless violence and bling. More the old school gangsta shit designed to boldly call out the institutionalized racism that is the American drug war. I have no idea why every rap album isn’t about this stuff, but all we get’s “some ballin’ and some dancing”, according to Killer Mike. I’d blame it on a thematically corrupted and continually crumbling educational system. Like nearly every rap album I’ve ever owned, R.A.P. Music is a tad inconsistent, but when it shines it really fucking shines.
There’s something more going on here though — a spiritual underpinning that made it unavoidable for this list. Dude’s self-described ghetto gospel can certainly tug at your heartstrings. It can make you feel empathy. When he spits about young black kids’ abuse at the hands of racist narc squads, I can feel the endemic pain, bringing me nearly to tears on several occasions. When he repeats, “This is for the dads and the granddads/ And all the little homies that ain’t never had dads” on the track “Willie Burke Sherwood”, it cuts to your spiritual core. God, I did have it pretty lucky despite my more than dysfunctional upbringing didn’t I? Preach on, sir.
Mr. Mike also gets mad psychoactive soundscape props for making the best rap video in the history of EVER for the song “Reagan”. Presidential lords of the drug trade framed as puppets of the oil lobby Illuminati surveillance state. Ronald Reagan as the Anti-Christ. It’s all covered. Say it with me: “I’m glad Reagan’s dead.” Chokes me up every time.
Tokyoidaho – Self-Titled (Neon Sigh Records)
My first exposure to Seattle’s excessively brilliant shoegaze captains Voyager One was one of those supremely coincidental sequences of events that everyone wanders into from time to time. A true sorcerer learns to live in this state perpetually. I had just moved to town a few months prior and somehow managed to land a pretty hot girlfriend despite barely knowing anyone. We moved in together retardedly quick due to mutual crappy living situations, and one day, I got unintentionally locked out of our new apartment. This is in the days before everyone had cellphones, so I killed three hours by walking all the way from Wallingford to the U-district and doing some CD shopping along the way. I’d read about Voyager One briefly in the much missed and long extinct Tablet zine a few weeks prior, so I figured I’d gamble and grab the value-priced disc when I stumbled on it (again, remember when you’d just buy albums you’d never heard anything off of on a whim, at a store?).
As it turned out, we ended up eating acid that night and put on From the New Nation of Long Shadows as we fucked for the first of seven times. Legendary Times. What a perfect album for just such a situation. I’ve considered it a classic ever since, as I do their third full-length Dissolver. Those records should always come up anytime anyone has a conversation about the greatest shoegaze albums in history, but they seldom do. Dudes just never got that kind of exposure, although it’s not like they’re unknown.
So, Tokyoidaho is named after a Voyager One song and features the primary singer-songwriter bro. As a matter of fact, I have no idea how this is any different than Voyager One at all; it sounds exactly like them, and thank god for that. I’d rate this right behind Dissolver as V1’s third best record. Truth be told, they sort of lost me a bit with their swansong Afterhours in the Afterlife, and maybe this was their way of rebooting the franchise just like that X-Men movie from 2011 or the Star Trek reimagining from a few years before. Just like with those, the reboot works. I’ve never dated a woman that doesn’t eat this stuff up like candy. Then again, most of the girls I date are pretty baked a lot of the time as they’re hanging out with me and that’s how I roll. Try it out; you’ll see what I’m talking about.
08. Aesop Rock – Skelethon (Rhymesayers Entertainment)
The thing about poetry in 2012 is that if you can’t weave it into some sort of a narrative or set it to music, it’s cripplingly boring. The beauty in disjointed language structures is that they strive to re-create completely unexplainable altered states of consciousness. At least, that’s the idea. This sort of William S. Burroughs/Henry Miller-style writing seems to be completely lost on a lot of the increasingly binary thought prone tech generation, which is sort of depressing. But they seem to dig Mr. Rock, and that’s a positive sign. I have absolutely no idea how the hell a guy who admittedly doesn’t read much can pull this kind of thing off so effectively. Outside of a few brief narratives, none of his songs make much logical sense at all.
It’s all about creating a mood, and the mood he creates is a sprawling shape-shifting psychic vista of clever brain-warping word salad. It’s kind of like listening to a less violent episode of Super Jail! through your headphones: more bizarre surrealist suggestions than your brain can even begin to keep up with. You just keep catching more and more detail with repeated listens, but again — it’s really about the weird ass headspace his flow creates. Just as mind-altering as an orgy of guitar noise, if not moreso. To quote the man himself: “Anything else would be ri-godamn-diculous!”
Ancestors – In Dreams and Time (Tee Pee Records)
In the last four years, Los Angeles’ Ancestors have quite quickly established themselves as one of the absolute greatest stoner/doom metal acts of our era. Seriously, I kind of couldn’t believe when I randomly checked and noticed they’d dropped yet another full length back in April. That’s now three full-on epics in four years (and an EP I just downloaded while writing this as well, WTF?). Sort of amazing for a band who I can’t imagine aren’t working day jobs. Especially impressive when you take into consideration the massive scope of the work.
I know the word “epic” is bandied about waaay to much these days, but when talking about Ancestors, it can’t be avoided. Shit is EPIC in all caps. Every time you think a riff should go on for three minutes, it goes on for seven. If you think it should go on for seven, it goes on for eleven. Classic time-stretching shamanic sound tactics. Wouldn’t even occur to me to do what they do, but I’m certainly glad it occurred to them, because it takes you way the fuck out there.
What truly makes these records great though isn’t the non-stop tidal pummeling doom riffs, but rather the unexpected songcraft subtleties. Like how the opening track essentially has a chorus of melodic “oohs and ahhs” and is promptly followed by a piano ballad featuring gorgeously ethereal female spirit vocals. They don’t even start guitar soloing on this outing until nearly 30 minutes in. It’s a hyper-epic-stoner-melodic-prog-doom sort of thing. Kids are at the top of their game and you wonder how long they’ll be able to keep it up. Sort of like with the Volta; how much of this can one take? In Dreams and Time‘s six tracks have an average running length of eleven minutes. It closes with a near twenty-minute cut. You’d think this would get tiring but it just feels natural here, not like a pissing contest. If you manage to make it all the way through the album, you feel like you’ve accomplished something of value. Makes eating an orange feel like taking a trip through a citrus mountain as they say. I didn’t have time to check out the new Neurosis album that dropped in 2012, but I can wholeheartedly assure you; this is better than that.
Editor’s Note: In our 2012 year-end Album Covers of the Year article, we have spoken to the artist and designers behind the geometric album cover for In Dreams And Time. Stay tuned; the piece will be published on December 27th, 2012.
Gaytheist – Stealth Beats (Good To Die Records)
The fact that this is the only real non-psychedelic album on this list and it’s ranked number freaking six should be a bit of a testament to how much it rules. Christ, this could even be considered punk rock (psych rock’s supposed natural enemy). The problem with both the punk and indie rock movements basically involves the idea that people can make better music by not knowing anything about how to play music. It was supposed to be a populist thing and I get it, but ultimately you’re left with some supremely faulty logic. So, you’re going to be better at something by totally sucking at it? It’s not like it doesn’t work on occasions, but I might point out that nearly all the punk and indie icons are peeps who brazenly outshine the rest of their peers by means of raw charisma alone.
Anywho, Gaytheist could definitely be considered a punk band. They’ve got their snotty Jello Biafra-esque anti-authoritarian swagger down pat, except they’re funnier than Jello ever was. More importantly though, they utterly fucking destroy. God, the rhythm section never lets up for a second on this album. One minute songs feel like three because they’ve shifted through so many rapid fire breakdowns so quickly. Despite that, a lot of this is really catchy and (gasp) some if it’s in major keys. Like pop tunes with Dave Lombardo on drums or something to that effect. Ultimately though, this is in fact quite a head trip mainly because of the lyrics, which are a lot more intricately thought out than you’d expect. Actually, watching them live a week or so back (strongly recommended), I found myself being all like, oh, that’s what that song is about, huh, it’s even cooler than I thought it was then. These are all tracks I’d heard ten or more times by that point. Near subliminal style freakiness, despite the fact that it’s all being yelled right in your ear.
Editor’s Note: This album also topped our Good To Die Records Year One Retrospective.