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2012: Patrick Masterson

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During the past 12 months, our Chicago correspondent battled existential dilemmas and the nagging feeling that the year in music wasn’t all it should be. Luckily, a few albums made up for the field.

2012: Patrick Masterson

When people say they thought the year in music wasn’t that great, what they’re obviously saying is that the year in music wasn’t that great for them. Not to be too much of a downer, but I fall in this demographic for 2012 — there were plenty of songs I got excited about, but not many albums kept me coming back. The list below probably makes me out to be some kind of establishmentarian rockist Gen Xer, which is sort of embarrassing for me, but it’s not like my tastes have stalled; I just don’t think Fiona Apple, Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, or Swans were that great. Better luck next year, hype machine.

Label: Constellation | Release Date: October 16

What I enjoyed about Conrad Amenta’s recent critique was how pointedly he exposed Godspeed’s hollow scare tactics. I don’t know how many people bought into their (often inaccurate) worldview years ago — probably a lot if their reunion tour audiences are anything to go by — but it seems funny now to be intimidated by oblique politics and no clear endgame other than, as Amenta says, “Godspeed is leftish, and that’s about it.” We don’t need this as a cultural counterweight to the good times anymore because the consensus is that those are over, but that same critique is why I kept returning to this album — it’s not necessary except as nostalgia, a quaint reminder of how seriously people used to take this stuff, and of how satisfying it used to sound. Ah, but is nostalgia necessary? Deep questions of an unexpected kind to be asked surrounding the best museum piece of the year.

Label: Fat Possum | Release Date: May 22

More comfort food. Strangely, I didn’t love much hip hop in 2012 — Jamie’s work with Killer Mike included — but this record delivered in a predictable but enjoyable way. Without coming off as deliberately grandiose as Bigg Jus on Machines That Make Civilization Fun or as annoyingly contrarian as Death Grips, Cancer for Cure goes down easy without sounding like it should. As usual, then.

Label: Analog Africa | Release Date: March 27

The verve with which this record moves struck me as unusual even on the first listen. It’s easy to get lost among the riches of the African crate-digging community’s output, but there’s a je ne se quoi about the sass in the way the guitars are played or even just the speed of the songs (a notch up from the usual shuffle) that hooked me. Samy Ben Redjeb has always been a smart labelhead for Analog Africa, but this Super Borgou compilation is something special even in context. Hard work rewarded with exemplary packaging and some of the finer details of these buried sounds from Benin.

Label: Digitalis | Release Date: July 24

I still don’t know much about the inner workings of this lot despite regular-ish blog updates, but Digitalis surprised with a proper release for The Call From Below this year and I’m grateful they were able to give more attention to this album; hopefully this leads to unearthing more about how the unit works. Deliciously damaged dub from a braintrust that seems to carry with them a greater ethnomusicological vision, The Call From Below is an immersive listen front to back.

Label: 50Weapons | Release Date: July 27

Though I spoke my piece when this came out and don’t have much to say beyond that, it’s worth noting that of all the Ostgut Ton movers and shakers, it’s no wonder why Shed remains the most compelling to dabblers and outsiders. Get familiar.

Label: mixtape | Release Date: April 18

While it’s true I didn’t love much hip hop this year, it’s also true that the hip-hop I loved, I loved hard. Dark York was the prime example, a mixtape sitting at the intersection of so many cultural crossroads that it was hard to wrap your mind around it, even after endless playbacks. The great thing was that you didn’t have to think about any of that (or anything else) if you didn’t want to — this worked as a casual listen as much as it did a thinkpiece. When we look back on hip hop at the end of the decade, I suspect this (along with “Ima Read”) will be included prominently in the conversation of how the genre changed. Here’s hoping.

Label: Sandwell District, Eaux & Thrill Jockey | Release Date: August 7

It would be too simple to say my love for Rrose’s music is just the extension of a year-long Sandwell District bender. That’s not it, exactly — yes, it’s still techno purism with the sort of dark ambiguity I’ve always been a sucker for, but Rrose is even more remote than his (?) comrades. With Silent Servant, for example, the post-punk influence is worn like a heart on a sleeve; with Regis, you’re forever feeling the industrial pump of his Birmingham background. These are things to identify with, avenues by which one can frame the music mentally. Rrose, though … Rrose is something else: From the “Merchant of Salt” 12” right on through to his recent Matmos remix and “Wedge of Chastity,” reference points are submerged beneath a kind of uneasy gauze; live he wears black and practically disappears behind the decks; even the very name is sexually clouded. The Sandwell collective always worked hard to let the music do the talking, but it’s a little ironic that their methods are best executed with the care and precision of Rrose’s production only now, after they’re gone. Alongside Joy Orbison, I can’t think of a producer I enjoyed more this year.

Label: Polyvinyl | Release Date: June 5
The one we can all agree upon. I’d always felt that Japandroids were a band that were doomed to be a near-miss for me, a group whose music I liked in theory but shrugged off when listening to them because the songwriting wasn’t quite strong enough or the hooks weren’t quite memorable enough. “The House That Heaven Built” pretty much took care of that notion singlehandedly, but the whole record is a corker from front to back. Pleasant surprise, for sure — my only qualm is can someone please help me figure out which fucking pop-punk band this sounds like? I already went through my burned high school CD-Rs and it’s not Midtown or The Ataris.

Label: Planet Mu | Release Date: April 17

My favorite Chicago release of the year from the day I first heard it. I know DJ Rashad’s TEKLIFE Vol. 1 got a lot of shine as the better of the two footwork albums, but I favor this album’s length, pacing, varying samples, and, of course, “Lifeeeee is Forever.”

Label: Mute | Release Date: March 26

I’ve never been keen on live albums if they weren’t jazz, but this recording probably sounds better on record than it did live, and that makes me feel a lot better about not being there. If you have the attention span to focus on it, Transverse delivers the goods.

Label: Katorga Works | Release Date: February 14

There was a time late this summer when my fingers would go searching for something to listen to on my iPod and the scroll wheel would stop with an unmatched frequency on “Merchandise.” I realized I was only playing one album on my bus rides to and from work, or walking around town, or making supper at home. I was slow to notice that I had become that guy, constantly yapping about how you should really hear this album or elaborating unnecessarily on how bizarre the vibe was at their live show at some DIY hole-in-the-wall called The Mousetrap that may or may not have been a bar or a laundromat in the past, who the fuck knows what was going on in there – I didn’t even know shows and people like that still existed. This paragraph, basically, is about as longwinded as I was. But if you’ve heard Children of Desire, you’ll understand why.

Label: Triple Crown | Release Date: October 9

Given Dusted’s expansive readership, odds are pretty good that you and me don’t know each other. I mean, I’m 27 years old. I work for the Internet and it mostly feels about as transient and rudderless as it sounds. My apartment still doesn’t have anything hanging on the walls even though I’ve got all these rolled-up posters in my closet. My Twitter feed consists primarily of motorcycle racing updates I don’t need and the Anti-Joke Cat. My Facebook wall is full of friends figuring out what works in their lives, going back to school or getting real jobs with careers and futures or having kids or whatever, while I’m over here counting quarters to make sure I’ve got enough for the dryer. Frozen pizzas remain a significant source of sustenance. If you’re wondering what idiot still gets Netflix DVDs in the mail in 2012, they’re all scratched. Even John From Cincinnati.

It doesn’t even sound that bad, right, but sometimes it’s frustrating to live out. Grand scheme of things, I’m doing fine, but this odd limbo where I’m still not sure who I am as a person when everyone else seems like they’re sorted can be a drag that doesn’t usually make for compelling listening. Maybe I won’t be an eternal adolescent with a lot of first-world emotional baggage someday, but until then, I’ll relate best to Ladyhawk’s No Can Do because this album pinpoints exactly where I am in life right now.

Ostensibly, it’s pretty average – more bar-band laments from four scruffs out of Vancouver. But Ladyhawk has never sounded better than this. All 10 songs are fire, tightened up in places where their debut or Shots would have meandered. The production makes every instrument clear, even when the guitars carry effects pedal scuzz. Duffy Driediger’s oft-conflicted lyrics only needed a small tweaking to balance out Big Themes (love, life, the incessant spiritual language) with the mundane (pacing around in a rented apartment, dealing with neighbors, bedbugs), but he’s done that here. Even the cover makes sense — the guy’s head is touching the water and he’s clearly committed to take the plunge, but he’s not there yet. There’s a couplet in “Bedbugs” that sums all of this up best: “I’m alright, I’m making all my payments / I’m keeping off the pavement, I’m keeping up with the times.” This album is for that moment in your life, even if it’s already passed; it’s for those people whose heads are touching the water but aren’t quite in; for everyone who’s not wherever they want to be, yet. Does none of that make sense to you? Congratulations: You’ve grown up. Also, I’m sorry: This pizza is amazing.

By Patrick Masterson

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