Top 10 albums of 2012 critics' picks: Mike Usinger
Even though no one listens to albums anymore, the following standouts make a great argument that we should. Quick, someone get these records where they were meant to be enjoyed, namely on virgin 180-gram vinyl.
Theatre Is Evil
It doesn’t matter that she doesn’t shave her armpits, refuses to share her Kickstarter fortune, and may or may not be a Scientologist. Amanda Fucking Palmer is still a fucking genius, with Theatre Is Evil an epic sprawl that only starts with glitter-bombed glam and torchy prog rock.
You won’t end up singing along to Allegheny, on which the heart-wrenching poems and stories of Rodney DeCroo are set to the eerie soundscapes of Rob Malowany. But prepare to be profoundly moved as the Vancouver songwriter picks through a childhood where colour-saturated golden memories are as much a part of the story as mentally scarring traumas.
Who gives a shit if Die Antwoord’s art-scarred, straight-outta-the-South-African-trailer shtick doesn’t seem quite as fresh as it did two years ago? One spin of the electro-rap smart missile “I Fink U Freeky” will make you glad Ninja, Yo-Landi Vi$$er, and DJ Hi-Tek decided not to fix something that ain’t broken.
He’s quite possibly batshit crazy, but that only makes American lo-fi experimentalist Willis Earl Beal even more fascinating. Once homeless and eating out of Dumpsters, he’s now a breakout artist to watch, with Acousmatic Sorcery’s mix of bedroom rap, junkyard pop, and Depression-era blues as gritty as it is gripping.
Boys & Girls
Imagine Jack White, James Brown, and Janis Joplin smoking a bale of Jim Beam–infused hydroponic and then invading Muscle Shoals. Power-soul vocalist Brittany Howard proves that while anyone can hold a mike, not many can actually sing.
Her personal life is a highly publicized shitshow, but Chan Marshall has never sounded so cool and together, with Sun setting her famously smoky vocals to sultry, downtempo electronica. Pop’s most erratic walking soap opera has finally made a record that will resonate as much with urban condo dwellers as with the indie-rock disciples who first fell for her on Moon Pix.
Toward the Low Sun
Dirty Three’s eighth full-length had a difficult birth, with sessions scrapped and the veteran trio wondering if it had finally run out of things to say. Talk about an unexpected triumph, then, as Rasputin-like fiddler Warren Ellis leads the way through instrumental tracks that are all meditative beauty one minute and discordant violence the next.
I Predict a Graceful Expulsion
Based on the evidence here, the artist known as Al Spx has had her share of dark days, her gloom-generation pop songs drawing on coal-black blues and murder-ballad folk. This is misery and angst at their most haunting and beautiful.
Convinced they don’t make groundbreaking alt-punk records like they used to? Duck and cover while METZ unleashes a distorted firestorm that takes the sting out of the fact you never got to see Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth, or the Jesus Lizard back when they truly mattered.
The famously prolific founder of the White Stripes, Dead Weather, and the Raconteurs pulls his greatest trick ever with the career-reshaping Blunderbuss. Just when you thought Jack White was content having one foot in the garage and the other in the bombastic blues, he delivers a genre-mashing masterwork, swinging effortlessly from ’50s doo-wop and dusty classic country to porno-sonic lounge and sweat-soaked soul.