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Top Ten

The Year In Music

Cass McCombs, Peaking Lights, Jay-Z and Kanye West, Frank Ocean Nostalgia, Beyonce, and more.

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Cass McCombs


A really great way to have one of these top 10 end-of-year album lists not be the same old shit is to not put it together the same old way. Like last year, City Paper polled a wide selection of Baltimore music brains for their favorite albums, but this year we’re fortunate enough to have a handful of great writers back in the regular music-section fold. Naturally, we asked them too. So the following is a hybrid of sorts that basically reduces to asking a significant fraction of those in the City Paper black book of people that care about music (29 in all). The list below should bear that promise of not the same old shit, which means that not only do you, dear reader, get a neat list of certified great music, but some of it might actually be new to you. You can find the full list of voters and ballots at citypaper.com/top10music. There were two ties this year and two Year in Music top 10-ers are also on the Year in Local Music; their position is noted and you can read more on the other list. (Michael Byrne)

1 Cass McCombs, Wit’s End (Domino) Frankly, it’s a bit of a surprise to see this erstwhile Baltimorean’s latest atop the balloting. Not that Wit’s End isn’t praiseworthy—it is—but so have been Cass McCombs’ other albums since his debut full-length A emerged on local label Monitor in 2003. What gives this one the edge, perhaps, are the lush arrangements, more reminiscent of classic singer/songwriter pop/AM gold than standard indie rock. Or maybe it’s just the uncommonly brilliant songs, from the deceptively mellow “County Line” to the elegiac “Memory’s Stain.” And he has another praiseworthy album out already. (Lee Gardner)

2 Peaking Lights, 936 (Not Not Fun) On 936, Peaking Lights, a duo from California you’d be forgiven for being new to, harnessed the raw power of dub reggae production into a drone-pop masterpiece. Skillfully sidestepping any dorm room Ras Trent vibes, PL mix hypnotic synth and bass loops with singer Indra Dunis’ detached yet smooth and soothing vocals to a stunning effect. (Christopher Berry)

2 Jay-Z and Kanye West, Watch the Throne (Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella/Roc Nation) Yes, there’s a bunch of brand loving and money burning going on here, and the album dropping the same day the stock market got particularly ugly and right before Occupy Wall Street wasn’t a good look. But Jay and Kanye created a sneering, touching rumination on what it all means to be black and rich in America. And that’s different than making party-rock anthems for the 1 percent. There are worse ways to abuse one’s power than making an avant-rap event record and getting “Niggas in Paris”—despite its not exactly FCC-friendly title and James Blake-ian blasts of noise—onto the radio. (Brandon Soderberg)

3 Frank Ocean Nostalgia, U L T R A (self released) You’re forgiven for initially ignoring this dude. His connection to Odd Future and the Tumblr-ific cover art did seem too of-the-moment, but once his askew R&B jams “Novacane” and “Swim Good” became bonafide hits, and he nailed both of those Watch the Throne hooks, you had no excuse. Nostalgia, U L T R A’s overstuffed with catchy melodies, yet it sounds like the pop-savvy ramblings of a guy very much living his head: Interludes are named after video games, there’s a quasi-cover of “Hotel California” for some reason, and every lyric aims for the specific instead of the universal. Think Shuggie Otis for the iPod generation. (BS)

3 Future Islands, On the Water (Thrill Jockey) See The Year in Local Music, page 20.

4 Wye Oak, Civilian (Merge) See The Year in Local Music, page 20.

5 Beyonce, 4 (Columbia) Every song on 4 feels like a deep album cut and the potential radio single at the same time. But here’s the thing: It’s not even that wise for someone like Beyonce to make a really great album like this. She’s pop’s diplomat, and greatness is pretty polarizing. But this is Beyonce’s best work yet. It begins with a ballad (the Prince-meets-Sam-Cooke slow burner “1 + 1”); ends with “Run the World (Girls),” one of those big, loud Beyonce bangers; and in between steadily raises the energy, nudging the album from go-for-broke slow jams toward powerhouse dance hits. (BS)

6 Steve Reich and Kronos Quartet, WTC 9/11 (Nonesuch) There was one genre of music, only one, that got anything to do with Sept. 11 remotely right: modern classical music. The past 10 years have given us William Basinski’s chillingly literal Disintegration Loops collection, John Adams’ time-stopping tribute piece On the Transmigration of Souls, and, finally this year, minimalism cornerstone Steve Reich’s three pieces for the Kronos Quartet, titled simply WTC 9/11. Nevermind the fuss about the unfortunately neutered cover—changed at the last minute from burning buildings to just smoke—the contents are enough. It begins with the tone of a phone left off the hook too long, merging signifier and signified in a way that continues through the three pieces as Reich takes recorded voices—memories, recovered recordings—and subtly arranges/repeats them into Kronos strings, themselves conveying panic and sadness and fear in a way that touches on unbearable. So much of 9/11-related music muses on or just uses the event, mostly the latter, while Reich’s WTC 9/11 exposes something about it. (MB)

7 tUnE-yArDs, w h o k i l l (4AD) TUnE-yArDs satisfies on a variety of levels, like a good and interesting meal. For a nice hearty grain, her rhythms, referencing reggae and African music, are inventive and multidimensional. Colorful vegetables in odd shapes are scattered about: bass guitar and saxophone duo accompaniments make for a striking complementary mirror-foil. And protein? Merrill Garbus, the singing, drumming, uke-strumming core of the band, is unafraid of her elastic, genderless voice. W h o k i l l is lavishly basted in layers of crisp trills, sprinkled with feral growls, and dripping with raw character. (Lexie Mountain)

8 The Death Set, Michel Poiccard (Counter) Michel Poiccard is more than a comeback story for a band that very recently had one of its main song-writing forces, Beau Velasco, pass away. It’s more than a reinvigoration of a band that, after a good number of years without new material, seemed—from the outside, of course—to be on the verge of going cold. It’s not even just a stylistic evolution into punk music as ethereal as it is spastic. It’s a fucking thrill. Nevermind the whatever contributions from Spank Rock and Diplo, this is the Death Set’s show, a record written in part as tribute to Velasco, a return on a promise the Death Set made all those years ago in the bad-neighborhood rad-warehouse spaces of Baltimore City. There are also cat meow record scratches on it. (MB)

9 PJ Harvey, Let England Shake (Vagrant/Island/Def Jam) One of the key tracks on Let England Shake, PJ Harvey’s Mercury Prize-winning meditation on war, is “The Words That Maketh Murder.” The lyrics are a combat veteran’s shudder at what he saw and what he did on the battlefield; he remains bewildered that he was revved up for such atrocity by the stirring seduction of patriotic propaganda. Harvey is well aware that her own soprano voice and melodic hooks can be stirringly seductive as well; she tries to undermine their impact by deliberately singing shrilly and adding brittle rhythms, but the music’s pleasure often overwhelms the restraints. As the ultimate example of a punk musician with pop gifts, Harvey is forever waging war within her own music. This has been true of her whole career, but the dynamic proves especially powerful on these dozen songs about the horror and allure of violence. (Geoffrey Himes)

10 Krallice, Diotima (Profound Lore) Like the more controversial Liturgy, Krallice’s black metal is largely divorced from the kvlt trappings of the genre. Unlike Liturgy, Krallice doesn’t make a big deal out of that fact. And really, Mick Barr and Colin Marston’s relentless pick-fanning is its own argument, and its own reward; the epic power of Diotima tracks like the throbbing “Litany of Regrets” and the gaze-y “Telluric Rings” tend to make arguments about what you should call this moot. (LG)

 Top 10 Film ballots

Dominic Romero, Pulling Teeth guitarist and A389 Records owner

1 Integrity, Detonate VVOrlds Plague (Holy Terror)

2 Full of Hell, Roots of Earth Are Consuming My Home (A389)

3 Charles Manson, Trees (Magic Bullet)

4 Seraphim, The Light In the Distance (A389)

5 Ringworm, Scars (Victory)

6 Twin Steps, demo (self-released)

7 Cynarae, demo (self-released)

8 Penetration Panthers, Perpetual ‘80s (A389)

9 Eddie Brock, s/t 7” (Photobooth)

10 The Parlor Mob, Dogs (Roadrunner)

 

Adam Savage, booker Sonar/the Golden West

1 A$AP Rockey, LiveLoveA$AP (RCA)

2 Exhumed, All Guts, No Glory (Relapse)

3 Hatewaves, The Tombs (A389)

4 Anika, self-titled (Stones Throw)

5 Lost Tribe, selt-titled

6 Graveyard, Hisingen Blues (Nuclear Blast)

7 The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Belong (Slumberland)

8 The Death Set, Michel Poiccard (Counter)

9 Cass McCombs, Wit’s End (Domino)

 

Adam Schwarz, DJ/producer/Deep in the Game

1 Steve Reich, WTC 9/11 (Nonesuch)

2 Soulja Boy, 1up (Interscope)

3 Pictureplane, Thee Physical (Lovepump United)

4 E- 40, Revunue Retrievin’ (Graveyard Shift and Overtime Shift)

5 Juicy J and Lex Luger, Rubber Band Business Vol. 2 (Trap-A-Holics)

6 Waka Flocka Flame, Lebron Flocka James 3 (self-released)

7 James Ferraro, Far Side Virtual (Hippos in Tanks)

8 Jay Z and Kanye West, Watch the Throne (Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella/Roc Nation)

9 Grouper, AIA: Alien Observer/ Dream Loss (Yellowelectric)

10 Atari Teenage Riot. Is This Hyperreal? (Dim Mak)

 

Mat Leffler-Schulman, Mobtown Studios

1 Sigur Rós, Inni (XL)

2 She and Him, A Very She and Him Christmas (Merge)

3 Beyoncé Knowles, 4 (Columbia)

4 M83, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (Mute)

5 Steve Reich and Kronos Quartet, WTC 9/11 (Nonesuch)

6 Yeveto, Remote Unelectrified Villages (self-released)

7 Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues’ (Sub Pop)

8 Florence and the Machine, Ceremonials (Island)

9 Britney Spears, Femme Fatale (Jive)

10 Infinite Honey, Infinite Honey (self-released)

 

Rome Cee, rapper

1 Kendrick Lamar, Section 80 (Top Dog Entertainment)

2 Jay-Z/Kanye West, Watch the Throne (Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella/Roc Nation)

3 Curren$y and Alchemist, Covert Coup (Warner Brothers)

4 Action Bronson and Statik Selektah, Well Done (DCide)

5 Beyonce, 4 (Columbia)

6 J Cole, Cole World:Sideline Story (Roc Nation)

7 Jill Scott, Light of the Sun (Blues Babe)

8 Marsha Ambriosius, Late Nights & Early Mornings (J)

9 Rihanna, Talk That Talk (Def Jam)

10 Chris Brown, F.A.M.E. (Jive)

 

Margaret Rorison, the Red Room at Normal’s Books and Records

1 Weyes Blood, The Outside Room (Not Not Fun)

2 (Arc), Wire Migraine (Gross Gomestic Product)

3 Colin Stetson, New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges (Constellation)

4 Grasshopper, Goodnight Sweet Prince LP (Baked Tapes)

5 Terrors, Lagan Qord (Weird Forest)

6 Container, self-titled

7 Dog Leather, Greezy Man and Stinky Man Meets Smutty Ranks on T-Hill (Ehse)

8 Rene Hell, The Terminal Symphony (Type)

9 Clams Casino, Instrumentals (Type)

10 Ami Dang, Hukam (Ehse)

 

Emily Rabbit, promoter and DJ

1 Spank Rock, Everything Is Boring and Everyone Is a Fucking Liar

2 Anika, self-titled

3 Gang Gang Dance, Eye Contact

4 Dope Body, Nupping

5 Cass McCombs, Wit’s End

6 WIN WIN, self-titled

7 Future Islands, On the Water

8 TV On The Radio, Nine Types of Light

9 The Death Set, Michel Poiccard

10 Bosco Delrey, Everybody Wah

 

Jason Urick, musician

1 Temporal Marauder, Temporal Marauder Makes You Feel (Spectrum Spools)

2 Pete Swanson, Man With Potential (Type)

3 Million Mists, Original Motion (Gift Tapes)

4 Fourth World Magazine, The Spectacle of Light Abductions

5 Oneotrix Point Never, Replica (Mexican Summer)

6 Ken Seeno, Invisible Surfer on an Invisable Wave (NNA Tapes)

7 James Ferraro, Far Side Virtual (Hippos In Tanks)

8 Co La, Daydream Repeater (NNA Tapes)

9 Peaking Lights, 936 (Domino)

10 Mark Fell, Manitushu (Editions Mego)

 

Brett Yale, Friends Records/Bmore Musically Informed

1 Future Islands, On the Water (Thrill Jockey)

2 Peaking Lights, 936 (Domino)

3 Cass McCombs, Wit’s End (Domino)

4 Tom Waits, Bad as Me (ANTI-)

5 The Skull Defekts, Peer Amid (Thrill Jockey)

6 Tim Hecker, Ravedeath, 1972 (Kranky)

7 Zomes, Earth Grid (Thrill Jockey)

8 Wye Oak, Civilian (Merge)

9 Mattewdavid, Outmind (Brainfeeder)

10 The Caretaker, An Empty Bliss Beyond This World (History Always Favours the Winners)

 

Christopher Berry, Fan Death Records

1 Prurient, Bermuda Drain (Hydra Head)

2 Total Control, Henge Beat (Iron Lung)

3 Peaking Lights, 936 (Domino)

4 Mueran Humanos, self-titled (Blind Prophet)

5 Household, Items

6 Kurt Vile, Smoke Ring for My Halo

7 Lost Tribe,s elf-titled

8 Alberich, Psychology of Love (Hospital Productions)

9 Cold Cave, Cherish the Light Years (Matador)

10 Dope Body, Nupping (Hoss)

 

James Nasty, DJ/promoter

1 LMFAO, Sorry for Party Rocking (Interscope)

2 Yelawolf, Radioactive (DEFJAM)

3 Kanye West and Jay-Z, Watch the Throne (Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella/Roc Nation)

4 Wale, Ambition (Warner Bros.)

5 Beyonce, 4 (Sony)

6 Tyler, the Creator, Goblin (XL)

7 Pusha T, Fear of God (Fontana)

8 Maybach Music Group, Self Made (Warner Bros.)

9 Frank Ocean, Nostalgia, Ultra

10 Ellie Goulding, Lights (Interscope)

 

Tiffany DeFoe, Red Emmas/2640 Space/saxophone player

1 Tinariwen, Tassili

2 Ansambl Mastika, Songs and Dances for Life Nonstop (Anti)

3 Nathan Bell, Colors (Lancashire and Somerset)

4 Wye Oak, Civilian (Merge)

5 Veveritse Brass Band, Veveritse Brass Band (Veveritse)

6 Tune-Yards, Whokill (4AD)

7 John Berndt, New Logic for Old Saxophones

8 Yeveto, Remote Unelectrified Villages (Yeveto)

9 AgesandAges, Alright You Restless (Knitting Factory)

 

Geoffrey Himes, music writer

1 The Decemberists, The King Is Dead (Capitol)

2 Tom Waits, Bad as Me (Anti-)

3 Bon Iver, Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar)

4 John Doe, Keeper (Yep Roc)

5 The Drive-By Truckers, Go-Go Boots (ATO/Red)

6 Susana Baca, Afrodiaspora (Luaka Bop)

7 Dead Rock West, Bright Morning Stars (Red River)

8 Lupe Fiasco, Lasers (Atlantic)

9 The North Mississippi Allstars, Keys to the Kingdom (Songs of the South)

10 PJ Harvey, Let England Shake (Vagrant/Island/Def Jam)

 

Andy Stack, Wye Oak

1  Destroyer, KAPUTT (Merge)

2 Kurt Vile, Smoke Ring for My Halo (Matador)

3 tUnE-yArDs, W H O K I L L (4AD)

4 Co La, Dialtone Earth (Friends)

5 Peaking Lights, 936 (Not Not Fun)

6 St. Vincent, Strange Mercy (4AD)

7 Matthew Robert Cooper, Some Days are Better Than Others (Temporary Residence Ltd.)

8 Callers, Life of Love (Western Vinyl)

9 Future Islands, On the Water (Thrill Jockey)

10 Twin Sister, In Heaven (Domino)

 

Drew Daniel, Matmos

1 Cyclobe, Wounded Galaxies Tap at the Window (Phantom Code)

2 Current 93, Honeysuckle Aeons (Coptic Cat)

3 Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Blood Lust (AIS)

4 Rrose x Bob Ostertag, Motormouth Variations (Sandwell District)

5 Cass McCombs. Wit’s End (Domino)

6 Ford & Lopatin, Channel Pressure (Software)

7 Cut Hands, Afro Noise I (Very Friendly/Susan Lawly)

8 Disma, Towards the Megalith (Profound Lore)

9 Phoenecia, Demissions (Schematic)

10 Bjork, Biophilia (Nonesuch)

 

Josh Sisk, music photographer

1 Celebration, Hello Paradise (Friends)

2 The Death Set, Michel Poiccard (Counter)

3 Dirty Beaches, Badlands (Zoo Music)

4 various artists, Drive Original Soundtrack (Lakeshore)

5 EMA, Past Life Martyred Saints (Redeye)

6 Future Islands, On The Water (Thrill Jockey)

7 Lykke Li, Wounded Rhymes (Atlantic)

8 PJ Harvey, Let England Shake (Vagrant)

9 Puerto Rico Flowers, 7 (Fan Death)

 

Simon Phoenix, TaxLo

1 Zombi, Escape Velocity (Relapse)

2 Wooden Shjips, West (Thrill Jockey)

3 In Flagranti, Worse for Wear (Codek)

4 Yacht, Shangri-La (DFA)

5 Mark McGuire, Get Lost (Editions Mego)

6 Kreidler, Tank (Bureau B)

7 Steve Moore, Zero-Point Field (L.I.E.S.)

8 The Ex, Catch My Shoe (Fishtank/Carrot Top)

9 Peaking Lights, 936 (Not Not Fun)

10 Monster Rally, Coral (Gold Robot)

 

Andy TK, Xeukatre

1 Drowning the Light, Sacrifice for the Darkness (Dark Adversary)

2 Burzum, From the Depths of Darkness (AIS)

3 Krallice, Diotima (Profound Lore)

4 Burzum, Fallen (Byelobog Productions)

5 Peste Noire, L’Ordure à l’état Pur (La Mesuie Harlequin)

6 Altar of Plagues, Mammal (Profound Lore)

7 Negative Plane, Stained Glass Revelations (Anja Offensive)

8 Tsjuder, Legion Helvete (Season of Mist)

9 Helheim, Heiðindómr ok mótgangr (Karisha)

10 Lifelover, Sjukdom (Prophecy)

 

Jason Kapiskosky, Carpark Records/Paw Tracks

1 Grouper, AIA: Alien Observer

2 Motion Sickness of Time Travel, Luminaries and Synastry (Digitalis)

3 Charlatan, Tirangles (Digitalis)

4 Roman Fluegel, Fatty Folders (Dial)

5 Soft Metals, Soft Metals (Captured Tracks)

6 Tiger and Woods, Through the Green (Running Back)

7 Junior Boys, It’s All True (Domino)

8 Robert Lippok, Redsuperstructure (Raster-Noton)

9 Omar S, It Can Be Done But Only I Can Do It (FXHE)

10 Fourcolor, As Pleat (12K)

 

Daren Lake, DJ/Joe Squared booker

1 Frank Ocean, Nostalgia, ULTRA (self-released)

2 Gotye, Making Mirrors (Ais)

3 The Weeknd, Thursday (XO)

4 The Weeknd, House of Balloons (XO)

5 Reina Williams, The Mixtape

6 Adele, 21 (Columbia)

7 Kanye West and Jay-Z, Watch the Throne (Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella/Roc Nation)

8 Britney Spears, Femme Fatale (Jive)

9 Miguel, All I Want Is You (Jive/Bystorm)

10 Beyonce, 4 (Columbia)

 

Bret McCabe, Johns Hopkins Magazine

1 True Widow, As High as the Highest Heavens and From the Center to the Circumference of the Earth (Kemodo)

2 Paul Ngozi, The Ghetto (Shadoks)

3 Frank Ocean, Nostalgia, ULTRA (self-released)

4 Deathgrips, Ex Military (Third Worlds)

5 God Bows to Math, self-titled (Muzaire)

6 Fucked Up, David Comes to Life (Matador)

7 Jac Berrocal/ David Fenech/ Ghédalia Tazartès, Superdisque (Sub Rosa)

8 Pete Swanson, Man With Potential (Type)

9 Pinch and Shackleton, self-titled (Honest Jon’s)

10 Josh T. Pearson, Last of the Country Gentleman (Mute)

 

Brandon Weigel, music writer

1 Real Estate, Days (Domino)

2 Gang Gang Dance, Eye Contact (4AD)

3 Panda Bear, Tomboy (Pawtracks)

4 Washed Out, Within and Without (SubPop)

5 Tune-yards, Whokill (4AD)

6 Oneohtrix Point Never, Replica (Software)

7 Cass McCombs, Wit’s End (Domino)

8 Kurt Vile, Smoke Ring for my Halo (Matador)

9 The Feelies, Here Before (BAR NONE)

10 Neon Indian, Era Extrana (Mom and Pop Music)

 

Al Shipley, music writer

1 The Joy Formidable, The Big Roar (Atlantic)

2 Patrick Stump, Soul Punk (Island)

3 Raphael Saadiq, Stone Rollin’ (Columbia)

4 Lloyd, King of Hearts (Interscope)

5 E-40, Revenue Retrievin’: Overtime Shift (Heavy on Grind)

6 The Disciplines, Virgins of Menace (Spark and Shine)

7 Lady Gaga, Born This Way (Interscope)

8 DJ Quik, The Book of David (Mad Science)

9 Foo Fighters, Wasting Light (RCA)

10 Beyonce, 4 (Sony)

 

Brandon Soderberg, music writer

1 G-Side, The One...Cohesive (Slow Motion Soundz)

2 Holy Ghost!, Holy Ghost! (DFA)

3 Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar)

4 Cities Aviv, Digital Lows (Fat Sandwich)

5 Clams Casino, Instrumentals (TYPE)

6 Oneohtrix Point Never, Replica (Software)

7 Matthew Herbert, One Pig (Accidental)

8 Danny Brown, XXX (Fool’s Gold)

9 Jay-Z & Kanye West, Watch the Throne (Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella/Roc Nation)

10 Prurient, Bermuda Drain (Hydra Head)

 

Raymond Cummings, music writer

1 Christina Kubisch, Magnetic Flights (Important)

2 Kimya Dawson, Thunder Thighs (self-released)

3 Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Mirror Traffic (Matador)

4 Telecult Powers, Zion Traveler (Baked Tapes)

5 Danny Brown, XXX (Fool’s Gold)

6 Zomes, Earth Grid (Thrill Jockey)

7 Peter J. Woods, Songs for Nothing (After Music)

8 Jason Crumer, Let There Be Crumer (Second Layer)

9 Key of Shame, Key of Shame (Planam/Alga Marghen)

10 Dom, Sun-Bronzed Greek Gods (EMI/Astralwerks)

 

Lee Gardner, City Paper editor

1 Wye Oak, Civilian (Merge)

2 Altar of Plagues, Mammal (Profound Lore)

3 EMA, Past Life Martyred Saints (Redeye)

4 Bill Orcutt, How the Thing Sings (Editions Mego)

5 Baring Teeth, Atrophy (Willowtip)

6 Darius Jones, Big Gurl (Smell My Dream) (AUM Fidelity)

7 *AR, Wolf Notes (Type)

8 Krallice, Diotima (Profound Lore)

9 Co La, Dialtone Earth (Friends)

10 Disma, Towards the Megalith (Profound Lore)

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