Saturday, January 26, 2013

Top 20 Albums of 2012

My track record for year-in-retrospect lists is not great. It's rare that I've finished one before the year is out, and last year I failed to even put a formal list together. 2012 continues my trend of spotty year-end lists, as I'm turning this one in almost a month into the new year and devoid of individual album descriptions in interest of finishing it before February. The list itself is relatively unordered, but see the below paragraphs for a taste of what these records are about.

Hip-hop has been on a creative upswing in the last year or so, evidenced by the fact that 3 of the year's best rap albums, the records from Black Hippy members Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q all didn't make the cut. However, the year also saw the first truly great album from Outkast/Dungeon family affiliate Killer Mike, produced entirely by alt-rap wunderkind El-P, an influx of awesome gay and lesbian rappers, the most exemplary being rapper/producer and Das Racist affiliate Le1f, producer Flying Lotus putting on his rapper cap for an album of stoned, pitch-shifted psychedelic rap that recalls MF DOOM, Quasimoto and elements of Odd Future as Captain Murphy, Meyhem Lauren puting together a hard, funny, classic-sounding and mostly-overlooked second album of 2012 (the first being this summer's solid Respect the Fly Shit) and 16-year-old Barbadian/Brooklyner Haleek Maul teaming up with Chicago production duo Supreme Cuts for a dark, moody future trap album, all of which I could by no means exclude from my year-end list.

Black metal has shown itself to be more than a one-trick-pony over the last 20-plus years, and the black metal records that I loved this year came from pretty much ever corner of the genre. The doomy Coloradans in Velnias brought a folk-flavored, ancient-sounding brew, while Nihill's Verdonkermaan was a lo-fi, occult tornado of riffs and blasts and Ash Borer turned in another LP of long-form, almost post-black metal brilliance (I'd say "transcendental black metal," if that term hadn't taken on a tainted character in the last few years).

The doom-and-drone-influenced post-whatever of Canadians AHNA and Californians Wreck and Reference came out of nowhere this year, and while similar compared to other bands on this list, each band took a unique and unexpected path to turn in an awesome album. AHNA's crusty, drone-sludge howl took my ears hostage with its bass-heavy, dirge-to-blast approach, and Wreck and Reference delivered a jaw-dropping, almost unclassifiable mix of post-punk, Swan-esque doom, drone, and noise that includes clean singing and replaces the usual guitar with an electronics-centered approach.

Grindcore and powerviolence continued their proliferation with another strong year that showed bands looking both backward and forward for inspiration. Cellgraft turned in an Insect Warfare and AssΓΌck-reminscent final release of ear-shattering traditional grind, Black Hole of Calcutta mixed the traditional grindcore approach with black metal and thrash for their satisfying second self-titled record, the Canadian newcomers in Violent Restitution blasted on to the scene with a gut-level LP that made them my favorite new grind band of the year, and Sakatat unfortunately heralded the end of their era as a band with their short-but-sweet first full-length. Dephosphorus transcended grindcore with their magnificent, skyward-looking debut LP, Column of Heaven mixed powerviolence and grindcore with noise and unusual instrumentation to tell a disturbing tale about a serial killer that's made more disturbing by its scope and basis in reality, The Kill delivered the snarling, blistering, no-nonsense breakout album I'd always been willing them to make and the Australians in thedowngoing continued their growth as an angular, tech-noisegrind duo with an equal interest in art and destruction.

While (good) indie rock was not as prolific as in years past, a few standbys brought creative and memorable albums to the table. Electronics weirdo Dan Deacon continued his avant-garde mixing of goofy electronic pop and classical composition with a warmer, more expansive album that's presented as a love song to the American landscape, and Ariel Pink (also a weirdo) brought an album that bridged the unrelenting strangeness of his older bedroom-pop material and the higher fidelity and tighter construction of last year's Before Today as well as paid reverence to lost-in-the-shuffle rockers Donny and Joe Emerson.

See below for album streams and samples, and keep your ears tuned in this year for a ton of great announced and already-released albums.

  1. Killer Mike- R.A.P. Music (Sample tracks: "Untitled," "Reagan," "Big Beast")
  2. Nihill- Verdonkermaan
  3. Column of Heaven- Mission from God
  4. The Kill- Make 'em Suffer
  5. Dephosphorus- Night Sky Transform
  6. Wreck and Reference- No Youth
  7. Meyhem Lauren- Mandatory Brunch Meetings
  8. Velnias- RuneEater
  9. Cellgraft- Cellgraft LP
  10. Dan Deacon- America (Samples: "True Thrush," "Lots," "USA Parts I-V")
  11. Sakat- Bir Devrin Sonu
  12. Violent Restitution- Violent Restitution LP
  13. Supreme Cuts and Haleek Maul- Chrome Lips
  14. Captain Murphy- Duality
  15. LE1F- Dark York
  17. AHNA- Empire
  18. Ash Borer- Cold of Ages (Samples: "Phantoms," "Convict All Flesh")
  19. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti- Mature Themes (Samples: "Kinski Assassin," "Symphony of the Nymph," "Baby (Donnie and Joe Emerson Cover)")
  20. Black Hole of Calcutta- S/T #2

Friday, January 11, 2013

Blast Eats: Priapus Chocolate Pecan Toffee

Desserts are a class of foods almost equally over- and under- rated. Some glorify sweets to an absurd, almost Olympian degree, holding the sugary confection on a pedestal higher than any other culinary achievement. Still others ignore candy and sweets all but completely, thereby missing out on the simple pleasure of a perfect dish of ice cream or a just-right pastry. No matter your stance on desserts, Priapus guitarist Jeremy's recipe for chocolate pecan toffee seems manufactured specifically to bridge that divide, pairing the salty and savory qualities of crackers and pecans with the sweetness of chocolate and toffee. And if that's not enough to sway you (pecans, seriously!) his step-by-step instructions also happen to be funny as hell, so there's that.

you guys, this fucking toffee rules. my girlfriend makes this every Christmas and we hand out plastic bags full of this stuff like drug dealers. i usually don't like desserts/sweets (via my unique "eat every fucking carb ever" diet) but sometimes you need to take a break from shame-eating your way through a Hungry Howie's MIGHTY MEATY pizza and treat yourself, you know? THIS WAY TO FLAVOR COUNTRY.

Things to buy at the store:
1 cup of butter. (2 sticks)
a box of club crackers. (go for the brand name yeah? go ahead, you deserve it)
1 cup dark brown sugar. (make sure it's dark brown)
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips. (make sure they're semi-sweet)
3/4 cup chopped pecans. (make sure they're pecans. don't be a fucking fool and use some renegade nut like almonds or, god forbid, PISTACHIOS. jesus.)
some pots and shit
an oven

Things to do:
1. pre-heat oven to 400. (if you just got home from the store, bring the oven inside first.)
2. put some aluminum foil on a cookie sheet. line the sheet with as many crackers that will fit, in a single cracker layer. while you're at it, eat some of those mother fucking crackers.
3. in a sauce pan over medium heat, combine the butter and brown sugar and bring it to a boil. DON'T STOP STIRRING or you'll ruin everything. once it starts boiling, continue stirring and let it boil for 3 minutes or so; it should start to thicken and get kind of sludgy, like a Weedeater riff. this is also the point where i like to pretend i'm cooking meth in fucking Indiana or something.
4. pour the meth onto the cookie sheet. try to distribute it evenly and coat every cracker. i'm not a god damn gourmet chef so if you fuck up and miss a few, no worries, this isn't Gordon Ramsey trying to fix a fucking Applebee's and no one is going to freak out if you grab a spatula and spread that shit around to get the corner crackers covered.
5. pop that bad boy in the oven for 5-6 minutes and take a breather. eat some more crackers if you want.
6. take the pan out of the oven. if you're a pussy you'll probably want to use an oven mitt or a sock or something for your hands.
7. sprinkle the chocolate chips over the crackers. again, try to do it evenly but seriously who cares.
8. let that shit sit for like 5 minutes and then take a knife or spatula and spread the melted chocolate chips all over the crackers.
9. sprinkle pecans.
10. put the pan in your refrigerator. cover with aluminum foil if your fridge smells like butts.
11. turn your refrigerator on and go to bed.
12. the next morning, be a tough guy and break that shit up with your bare hands. if everything went well, you should be dealing with something that looks like this: distribute to your friends and loved ones in small batches.

Check out Priapus' latest, their 2012 split with Old Painless, on their Bandcamp