Passion Pit’s earliest roots stretch back to 2007, when frontman Michael Angelakos produced a Valentines mixtape of songs for his girlfriend. The recording, Chunk of Change EP, turned into some low-key live performances with the vocalist singing alongside his laptop. Later, at the behest of his friends, this turned into a full band that sang at several well-known Boston venues. Passion Pit’s success came quickly. Keyboardist/guitarist Ian Hultquist sums it up: “It was actually really scary how fast things were rising for us, even though it was on a small scale ... When Jeff and Nate [bassist and drummer] joined, it really started feeling like a band … everything just felt complete.”
The origin of the group’s name stems from a piece in Variety magazine that dubbed drive-in movie theatres “passion pits” because of “their privacy and romantic allure for teenagers.” The aforementioned vibe is felt strongly across Passion Pit’s newest release, Gossamer, especially through the duration of tracks like “Constant Conversations,” where Angelakos’s rhythmic crooning is backed up by layers of lofty harmony and a chorus of whoa-oh-ohs. “I’ll Be Alright” offers the quintessential wall of synthesized pop that the band has come to be known for, while “Take a Walk” and “Hideaway” sound summer-festival-ready. The choruses in “Cry Like a Ghost” are drawn-out and have a distinct shoe-gaze feel to them.
Lyrically, Gossamer is potent, heavy and personal, but it’s easy to turn your mind away from the stories and get lost in all the synth-heavy layers. The songs explore issues ranging from alcoholism to self-worth and mental illness. They provide a narrative for being lost in an overly-stimulated society. “Love Is Greed” put me in a pensive state with the lines “love is just greed / it's selfish and it's mean / you follow or you lead.” Angelakos talked about love in a post-release interview, saying “On a literal level, love does not make sense, but that's what makes it love."
If Chunk of Change audibly resembled an atmospheric ode to a girl and the band’s sophomore release, Manners, sounded like the product of a young, ever-restless mind, then Gossamer presents itself as an introspective hook-laden masterpiece. This record is grown-up yet youthful, methodical yet chaotic. The quintet was able to distill much of its brilliantly upbeat attitude into this recording which went on to peak at #4 on the Billboard 200 chart and #4 on ANDY’s top 10 list.
By: Lucas Canzona
Few rap records managed to pierce the mainstream consciousness this year like Kendrick Lamar's major label debut. A follow-up to 2011's standout Section.80, the semi-conceptual good kid, m.A.A.d city balances smooth grooves and impressive instrumentation against Lamar's malleable flow and weighty lyrics. Very much an autobiographical piece, gkmc frames Kendrick's adolescence in the rough streets of Compton against the stark counter-pressures of hood conformity and parental aspiration.
Each track is exceptionally crafted, affording the skip button little to no utility. In classic concept album fashion, the album opens with a poignant voiceover to be revisited later on. A seamless bass transition drops us straight into opener “Sherane,” a dimly-lit party hip-grinder introducing teenage Kendrick's love interest. On “Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe,” Kendrick spits coolly over a treble-heavy two-chord guitar track. A heavily quotable chorus more than redeems the overt profanity, and a fully orchestrated string outro slams it home. Guest spots are used sparingly and effectively, ranging from K-dot's Black Hippy label-mate Jay Rock on “Money Trees” to ubiquitous Torontonian Drake on head-over-heels crush ballad “Poetic Justice,” over a rather well-utilized Janet Jackson sample. West Coast rap mainstays MC Eight and executive producer Dr. Dre hit hard respectively on “m.A.A.d city” and “Compton,” firmly entrenching the record in its roots.
Lamar's artistic inspirations evidently stray far from Compton, however, as sample-mining the relative obscurity of two Danish groups on “Bitch” and “The Art of Peer Pressure” will show. The latter ends with a particularly candid snapshot from Lamar's youth in which he was passed a blunt laced with PCP, which ultimately shaped his decision not to smoke.
By far the most ambitious track falls near the foot of the album. “Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst” is a sprawling 12-minute effort in two parts, bridged by an emotionally draining voiceover that ties together the album's narrative with themes of childhood innocence, loyalty, prostitution and tragedy.
Artistic ambition aside, the record isn't without effective single material. “Backseat Freestyle” depicts a brash and overconfident young Kendrick laying down classic braggadocio with abandon, while “Swimming Pools (Drank),” a stone-cold serious track depicting alcoholism may well find itself ironically tossed in amongst this year's party anthems. While Lamar himself has publicly dismissed the “classic” label, gkmc has cemented his heavyweight status in the rap world. In the words of the man himself, now everybody serenade the new fate of Kendrick Lamar.
By: Simon Marsello
I recently wrote an essay that was about “great” literature. But the essay itself – and the mark I received – were not as great.
And it got me thinking about greatness – what makes for great writing, great art? Can an academic essay ever be great art? What would the standards even be? Who would set those standards and then decide if the essay met them? The writer? The reader? The grader? And how can I know so instinctively, so unquestionably that my essay is not great? Even if my grade had been stellar, somehow – somehow – I could never call it “great art”. Why is that? What constitutes great art?
What medium? What response? Is there a minimum grade it should be assigned? What spot should it fill on ANDY’s top 10 list? How should the artist feel before, during and after? Proud, disgusted, afraid? Who should judge its greatness? Professors, strangers, friends? What if it touches just one person? What if hundreds of people enjoy it, but none of them are truly moved?
Should it make a political statement? Should it make any statement? What if it’s simply beautiful and little else: a string of lovely words that sound like a meaningless poem; or a short film that includes gorgeous scenery with no intended symbolism; or a song that says nothing, but the artist’s voice is goose bump-inducing – are none of these “great” art? Or are they all? Should it be funny? Popular? Unpopular? Should it break rules? Should it follow rules, but with more flare than ever before? Should it shock, inspire, motivate? What if it does none of those things; what if it’s only an artist’s entirely selfish pursuit of self-expression? It seems that art in general inspires more questions than answers.
As ANDY compiled its top ten lists, we constantly asked ourselves similar questions: what makes for a great album, a great film? How can every album and every film that’s been released in 2012 be judged with one set of standards on one list? Surely the list would be incomplete, contradictory, controversial, and horribly, terribly, undeniably subjective. What’s the point then?
In my first year, I wrote a paper titled “why I write.” The essay was a very strange piece that my equally strange (but inspiring and wonderful) TA found moving somehow. But other readers dismissed the paper as bizarre and confusing. I wrote about a feathery blue pen that looked like an ostrich ready to take flight; I wrote about the empty spaces between your fingers; I wrote about the experience of watching someone walk away – watching the distance between your bodies expand until there’s nothing left. I wrote about a sun that looks like an egg yolk stretched across the sky; I wrote about a paper plane floating somewhere in the distance, with a love letter scrawled all over it.
It made very little sense. It resembled an academic essay in so far that it was typed words on a white page.
The experience of writing this essay was so consuming and yet so effortless that I had forgotten it was a piece that anyone would read other than myself. Producing those words, putting them together, taking them apart, was a cathartic, therapeutic, intense but peaceful process of liberation. It’s a feeling that also comes with certain movies, certain songs, certain novels, certain poetry, cer tain performances – and in those moments I don’t judge, rate, rank or grade the moment or the art. I just feel moved – and that is more than enough. To me, that feeling is what constitutes “great” art.
So take ANDY’s final five with a grain of salt. It certainly is a wonderful and meaningful selection of music and film – but that’s just our opinion.
By: Bahar Orang
Quentin Tarantino's latest two films, Django Unchained and, before that, Inglorious Basterds, have at their cores a very simple, immensely entertaining concept: specifically, what I am calling 'retroactive redemption against historic racism'. Of course, redemption is a theme in many Tarantino movies, most obviously within the Kill Bill series. It might also be argued that 'retroactive redemption' is a redundancy in that all redemption, including that portrayed in the Kill Bill series, is necessarily, by definition, 'retroactive'. The redemption in Django Unchained, however, is retroactive in an extra-textual sense: that is, the viewer is redeemer-by-proxy, enjoying the catharsis of the in-text redeemer's (Django's) victory over the racism of our collective past.
Of course, we must acknowledge that neither racism nor slavery are entirely in the past. Moreover, attending a Hollywood blockbuster should never be credited as anti-racist practice. That said, the film is at its most enjoyable if you are willing to pretend for just a few hours that anti-racism is as simple as sitting in a cinema and laughing alongside strangers while white supremacists on-screen are blown to pieces. If one can suspend momentarily their knowledge of the complexities and difficulties of anti-racist practice, this film can be cathartic for a wide-range of people: those angry, those guilty, etc.
If nothing more, Django Unchained, in its mass appeal, begins a discussion from which progress can be made. If the unanimous laughter at on-screen violence I witnessed in the cinema is an indication of our solidarity against the racism of our collective past, there is great potential for harnessing that solidarity to begin dialoguing on our present. For potentially bringing that conversation to the masses, Mr. Tarantino, I salute you.
By: Jacob McLean
I did not expect that an actor resembling the stereotypical homecoming king would’ve won me over with a killer performance. Bradley Cooper does all that and more in David O. Russel’s adaption of Matthew Quick’s breakout novel. Famous for hits like The Fighter, Russel was able to lure industry heavyweights like Robert De Nero and Jennifer Lawrence to a production bursting with Oscar potential. Silver Linings Playbook is a heartbreakingly realistic drama with enough comedic relief — or silver linings — to keep things optimistic.
Cooper plays Pat Solitano, a man who has just moved back into his parents’ suburban Philadelphia home after a stint in a mental institution. To put it lightly, Pat has a lot going on. His ex-wife Nikki has a restraining order filed against him for beating up the schlub she was having an affair with (seems fair, right?).
Pat struggles with a bipolar disorder and it’s questionable if he’d be better off back in rehab. Even reading his ex’s high school teaching syllabus gets to Pat, with Hemingway’s propensity for unhappy endings directly contradicting his “Excelsior” motto - ever upwards.
Lured to a friend’s dinner, Pat meets Tiffany (played by Jennifer Lawrence), a promiscuous widow who he bonds with after discussing the virtues of Xanax and Klonopin. Still delusional with thoughts of resurrecting his failed marriage, he agrees to join Tiffany in a dance competition under the impression that it will demonstrate to Nikki how well he is doing.
What transpires is a heartwarming tale of having the courage to confront one’s inner demons, as horrifying as they may seem. Russel expertly avoids cheesy, melodramatic indulgences —ahem, Perks, I’m looking at you —and gets Pat and his father (Robert De Niro) to click on a personal level.
I’m not going to apologize for this gushing review, but I will apologize on behalf of Ernest Hemingway, who would have probably preferred a darker ending.
By: Tomi Milos
Despite a scraggly beard that shares the consistency of a porcupine’s quill, I was once a child. Though that soul may have died with pubescence, I remember an idyll world that beamed when I was happy and that cried when I cried. I remember developing a universe that centered around me because as far as I could tell, I was indeed that center. And I remember feeling nothing was particularly important because everything was.
Moonrise Kingdom, a film by Wes Anderson, is exactly this – a moment, a feeling, an entire worldly existence of childhood captured in the amber of film. At the very surface, it is no more a story of two children wrapped in the unadulterated swirl of pre-sexual fantasies and love. They elope, as loosely as that word can be applied. They try to find their paradise, Moonrise. And they dance around in underpants when time permits.
It is entirely unrealistic. A consistently aesthetic universe somehow contains the foibles of the major characters - characters that often reach a spiritual equilibrium without consulting the terms of good and evil. But that is the point.
Beyond the fantastic picturesque scenery and the inescapable moral scruples describing a world that seems anything but moral, it is a movie about what it means to be children.
It is about the limitations of time in the desire for unlimited aspirations, about when imagination is free from the dissatisfaction and realism of adulthood, about the triumphs in simply living fully rather than filling up our time with seemingly triumphant endeavors.
At its very core, it is about the world – our world – constrained only by on our ingenuity, not by what we know. Because as children we know nothing, and that means everything.
Now as I type here as a presupposed adult with worries, debts, and an ever-growing anxiety, I know this film is good. My inner child tells me as much.
By: Kacper Niburski
This year a whole bunch of bands decided that rock, in the traditional indie rock sense perfected by the Replacements, was cool again. But more than any of those other bands, I want to be Japandroids. I want to live the lives described in their songs – stories of being young, drunk and recklessly in love.
Celebration Rock, the Vancouver duo’s second album, is everything they used to do refined and pushed to extremes. Japandroids used to sing that “Young Hearts Spark Fire,” but now they actually sing about what that means. It means “that night you were already in bed, said ‘fuck it’ and got up to drink with me instead,” from album highlight and possibly the greatest Japandroids song ever, “Younger Us.” Even if you can’t relate to the kind of drunken adventures that singer Brian King describes, the music makes you want to. Japandroids want you to live, damn it.
King said in an interview with the Village Voice that he made every song on Celebration Rock “positive and uplifting” and that “on the whole record I think there’s nothing negative.” While it’s fine for a band to want to make an album that’s nothing more than a celebration of being young and having fun, King doesn’t give himself enough credit. “Younger Us” retells a spontaneous night as a memory - and with it comes the longing and sadness of all nostalgia.
Japandroids used to be “too drunk to feel it” but now they feel everything. “If I had all of the answers and you had the body you wanted,” King sings on “Continuous Thunder,” “would we love with a legendary fire?” I don’t know. But the expectation and desire for everything to be perfect and the importance and difficulty of accepting when it’s not is something that anyone in a relationship has experienced.
The intensity of the emotion on Celebration Rock is what makes it so great. Every song is never less than intense and exhilarating - except for one. Japandroids aren’t very good when they try to be menacing and aggressive on “For the Love of Ivy.” They are much better at being sweeping and epic. But the best part is that “For the Love of Ivy” is a cover. The only way for Japandroids to suck is if they play someone else’s song.
By: Nolan Matthews
Following the sprawling success of their critically acclaimed third album, Veckatimest, the members of Grizzly Bear each went their separate ways. Ed Droste, the intensely likeable lead singer, took some time to rekindle old friendships and venture on a few trips that lent themselves to dazzling Instagram photos (@edroste). Guitarist and vocalist Dan Rossen retreated to the countryside to record a stunning solo EP, Silent Hour/Golden Mile. Bassist Chris Taylor released a solo album under the moniker CANT, produced records for Twin Shadow and Blood Orange, and is working on a cookbook. Lastly, drummer Chris Bear went into hibernation — kidding.
The time apart seems to have given the band a new perspective, helping make Shields their best record to date. Grizzly Bear recorded the album in a yellow house in Cape Cod that will ring a bell for some, and for the first time Droste and Rossen worked on songs together rather than in solitude. To say that the pair is the music world’s Jordan-Pippen duo is not far-fetched; Droste’s vocals have the guile and finesse of the latter, while Rossen’s singing owns tracks like the former owned the air.
Though Shields doesn’t have a standout single, the record is rewarding because of the painstaking attention to sonic detail. “Yet Again” is the perfect example, with a swell of guitars mounts to a crescendo as Droste and Rossen harmonize throughout. Taylor’s twangy bass lends elegiac tracks like “Gun-Shy” a joyfulness despite the morose subject matter.
I imagine it must be frustrating for other bands to observe the apparent ease with which Grizzly Bear constructs beautiful ballads that have enough presence to fill cavernous venues. This happened at Massey Hall, where Owen Pallet joined them with his violin in tow for a soul-stirring rendition of “Half Gate”. It’s easy to forget the bashful drummer, Chris Bear, but on lengthy album-closer, “Sun In Your Eyes,” he provides reason to believe the song is a new high for the band. His frenetic drumming lent the track an even more manic quality at their Toronto show last September.
At this point in their careers, Shields is a scary indication of just how good the New Yorkers are and will continue to be - as long as album-ending proclamation of “I’m never coming back” ends up not being true.
By: Tomi Milos
At times I’ve fantasized about the day when I could lie down, put a new vinyl record on that I’ve never heard before and listen to something that I knew would be mind-blowing. I’ve entertained the idea quite frequently with upcoming albums by Arcade Fire and Kanye West. I wish I could’ve done it with Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange. I never expected it would meet the standard. But it surpassed it.
Channel Orange will undoubtedly be not only one of the seminal albums of a generation but will also be considered one of music’s most remarkable achievements. It pleasantly evokes the likes of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, yet Ocean’s unique talent for effortlessly shifting between his nasal and falsetto delivery immediately distinguishes him from all his predecessors. Ocean carves himself a place in music history with a knife made out of his provocative subtlety.
Singing of a Cleopatra turned prostitute and a Forrest Gump turned football player, this album presents so much lyrical variety partnered with musical innovation that it’s impossible not to be intrigued. The horns on “Sweet Life,” the catchy synth on “Lost,” the club dance vibe from Pyramids - all of these variations constantly draw us in, providing the opportunity to delve deeper into an album that continues to surprise.
My personal favorites are “Bad Religion” and “Pyramids”. On “Bad Religion,” Ocean sings more passionately than I’ve heard from an R&B artist for a long time, with an unconventional opening melody that is fascinating and mournful. “Pyramids,” the album’s magnum opus, begins with an upbeat and synth-heavy account of Cleopatra’s abduction and ends with a resonating solo by John Mayer. The track is a nine-minute work of art that moves from a song into a story that Ocean tells with the passion it deserves.
In the music industry and critical community, it is an unfortunate reality that the status of great albums and artists is slowly forgotten. It happened with the Velvet Underground and to Led Zeppelin. Channel Orange has received the attention it deserves, but I urge for it to not dissipate just yet. The pessimists who lament that music’s heyday was 50 years ago should hear to this album because it disproves everything they believe. Have a listen.
By: Spencer Semianiw
The BBC Essential Mix is a two-hour weekly radio program, and for all the hype claiming that Rustie’s show defined the sound of 2012, electronic music was more splintered last year than ever before. How can you define the sound of a year whose best records spanned the range of Grimes’ humanist pop, Death Grips’ cyberpunk and Future’s inimitable moanings? I won’t try—so instead, here are three of the most (subjectively) interesting sounds of 2012 and two predictions for the sound of 2013.
For my money, no producer was more exciting in 2012 than Evian Christ. The eight tracks of his debut EP Kings and Them all draw heavily from the same source material, making the EP feel like a single composition in eight movements: a sonata for Tyga samples, warped 808s, and mutated trance pads. His minimalist production alludes to hip-hop and juke, but Kings and Them defies categorization. On “Fuck It None of Y’all Don’t Rap,” the EP’s darkest cut, Leary manipulates Tyga’s voice overtop codeine-drenched sub-bass and ethereal pads into a dark hypnotic stupor, while “MYD,” a masterpiece of rhythm, layers the exact same elements to build an ecstatic tension. The highlight is penultimate track “Thrown Like Jacks,” which weaves an ambient Grouper sample in and out of a skittering, bass-heavy backdrop. Aside from a couple B-sides, the only other music Leary released in 2012 was a four-part, 20-minute experimental classical piece inspired by a mysterious Soviet radar system. His sophomore effort promises to be one of this year’s most exciting releases.
Footwork is a hyper-regional genre that’s received almost no media coverage outside its birthplace of Chicago since its beginnings almost two decades ago. 2012 saw the release of two crossover footwork albums that presented staggeringly different views of the genre’s future. One, Traxman’s Da Mind of Traxman, interpreted footwork’s signature double-time beats with a globe-trotting bevy of samples. His crate-digging, Avalanches-esque spin on footwork was an exciting attempt to bring a genre that’s been alienated from pop music since its inception into the popular sphere.
The year’s other highlight, DJ Rashad’s Teklife Vol. 1: Welcome to the Chi, went in the exact opposite direction. In Rashad’s footwork, beats never settle into a groove or a pocket: instead, they skitter around it, with a convulsive, psychotic energy which mirrors that of footwork dancers. Rashad’s vision of footwork is an intensely psychedelic one. Strangely, though, almost every track on the album dissolves into a dark, ethereal space by around 90 seconds in.
What’s most striking about Teklife Vol. 1 is how unclassifiable and untraceable the music is. While Traxman’s jazz and soul samples locate his footwork within a lineage of funk and jazz fusion, Rashad’s cold, stripped-bare beats are a disorientating anti-humanist product of the digital age. Between its cold, schizophrenic rhythms and its dark-ambient turmoil, Rashad’s footwork is fundamentally warped, twisted, broken—and it sounded like nothing else made in 2012.
MIKE WiLL MADE IT
Evian Christ might have been the year’s most interesting producer, but Mike WiLL Made It was the most successful: at one point, three of his beats were on the Billboard Top 10 at the same time. What made him stand out in 2012 was his versatility—what other beatsmith could have worked with both Gucci Mane, Jeremih, Schoolboy Q and Brandy? But the highlight of his output was his beat for Future’s breathtaking trap ballad “Turn on the Lights,” which set Future’s auto-tuned wheezing overtop new-age synths and a new kind of 808 bass hit—and, in the process, created one of the year's truly heart-stopping songs.
SOUNDS OF 2013
2012 saw the emergence of dopewave, a genre that owes as much to trap as it does to chillwave, fusing woozy synths with mutable, unconventional percussion and a willingness to experiment with hip-hop rhythms appropriated that’s equal parts juke and J Dilla. One of its practitioners, Windslo, is a Denver-based producer whose hazy future-R&B ballad “It’s Too Late,” featured on the DOPEWAVE IS REAL compilation, was one of the year’s standout tracks. Likewise his remix of Lloyd Banks/Juelz Santana collaboration “Beamer, Benz, or Bentley,” which forsakes the original’s trunk-rattling bass in favor of an off-kilter 8-bit funk. His Instagram hints tantalizingly at a full-length release.
Sounding a different note is Blanck Mass (Benjamin John Power, one half of Fuck Buttons). His eponymous debut, released in 2011, presented a naturalistic update on Fuck Buttons’ atmospheric drone-pop and was featured prominently in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics. But while that LP rarely strayed from its nucleus of ambient washes of noise, this year’s 12” recreated the drone of his Fuck Buttons’ oeuvre with the textures of ‘90s techno. The most exciting thing he released this year was “HELLION EARTH,” a 10-minute epic that’s equal parts Orbital and Brian Eno. It’s an apocalyptic space-disco soundscape that features auto-tuned snares and is arguably the most exciting Fuck Buttons project since their 2008 debut.
By: Michael Skinnider