Hey everyone! It’s just about the end of the year and it’s time for us at WAMH to let you know what we liked best from this past year in music. Here’s how this worked: any DJ who sent in a list of between 5 and 15 albums had their votes and point dispersal (which was based on rankings) tallied for the final list. I gave 5 points to each record for getting a vote and an extra 1-15 points depending on ranking. So without further ado, here are some great records:
T-24. Tame Impala: Lonerism (1 Vote, 18 Points)
On Tame Impala’s new record, the Aussie band offered a new take on old, psychedelic sounds and captured the heart of many a Beatles, Pink Floyd, etc. indie fan.
T-24. Swans: The Seer (1 Vote, 18 Points)
Does Michael Gira get better with age? Perhaps. While 2010′s My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to Sky was a welcome comeback for the longtime great no-wave-leaning experimental rock band, The Seer‘s really where they reasserted their legacy. Over the course of two hours, the band touches on post-rock, stoic folk (a la Bill Callahan), experimental skronk, the old industrial sounds that characterized the band in the 80s, and even manage to work in a Karen 0 cameo that works surprisingly flawlessly. It’s an awesome listen and worth the time investment every time.
T-22. Jens Lekman: I Know What Love Isn’t (1 Vote, 19 Points)
Jens Lekman has been a WAMH favorite for as long as I’ve been around the parts and with good reason. His delightfully witty indie pop ditties are always a good deal of fun.
T-22. Killer Mike: R.A.P. Music (1 Vote, 19 Points)
Killer Mike preaches the gospel of the power of rap music and not just any rap music: this is literate, educated, and rightfully angry rap music, words slung like knives at much deserved targets (ie Ronald Reagan). It’s a wonder to hear how forcefully and intelligently Killer Mike puts together his rhymes and just as much a wonder to see how well producer, El-P, manages to meld together Mike’s southern flair with his own brand of dense, hard-as-fuck beatmaking (it’s also hilarious to think that TI rapped on an El-P beat and it totally worked). Killer Mike’s deserved the praise he’s finally getting since his early days working with Outkast but I guess it took something this good, for people to really take notice.
21. The Mountain Goats: Transcendental Youth (1 Vote, 20 Points)
What do you know: I just today signed a petition requesting that Mountain Goats mastermind, John Darnielle, be made the US poet laureate. I mean, his well of lyrical inspiration must be just eternally deep.
20. Dirty Projectors: Swing Lo Magellan (2 Votes, 21 Points)
Dirty Projectors have continued to strip away some of the more intensely experimental aspects of their sound, while still offering a unique brand of angular indie guitar music. The exciting results can be seen on Swing Lo Magellan, which features some of the band’s most instantly accessible songs (ie “Gun Has No Trigger”)
19. Cat Power: Sun (2 Votes, 21 Points)
2012 was the year Cat Power might just have become my favorite singer-songwriter ever (I mean, “Nude As the News” has to be the best rock song ever written, right?) And I can’t say I was in any way disappointed by her newest record, despite it’s turn towards modern day pop. Incorporating elements of electropop and hip-hop might seem weird for an artist known for her intimate, hushed, indie rock origins (a la Elliott Smith) but it works thanks to Chan Marshall’s still lovely, still intact voice (which even sounds pretty good when overtly autotuned).
18. Lana Del Rey: Born to Die (2 Votes, 34 Points)
“Video Games” and “Blue Jeans” are pretty good.
17. Joey Bada$$: 1999 (3 Votes, 39 Points)
There’s a reason people were excited when they found out Joey Bada$$ was going to be performing at Amherst. This dude’s the best young rapper in New York and that’s saying something. For fans of 90s New York boom bap, the free 1999 mixtape is a feast from a kid who didn’t even live through that era. Though it’s not merely a retread, these beats sound every kind of fresh and Joey’s rapping is at a level that shouldn’t be allowed for someone his age (17). He has a hot posse too in the Pro Era crew (though they suffered an immense loss recently with the suicide of standout member, Capital Steez) and it all makes for one of the most satisfying hip-hop releases of the year.
16. Beach House: Bloom (3 Votes, 39 Points)
Beach House refine their sound more and more with each release and with Bloom, they’ve come out with perhaps their most direct and immediately enjoyable record yet. Each song has the characteristic gauzy instrumentals, pretty lyrics, and anthemic choruses that have made Beach House a household name on the indie circuit. “Myth” might be the single best thing they’ve ever recorded. It’s really quite lovely.
15. Wild Nothing: Nocturne (3 Votes, 40 Points)
Likeable enough, perhaps.
T-13. Japandroids: Celebration Rock (3 Votes, 41 Points)
Japandroids may make standard sing-along indie rock but they do it as well as any band has in years and years and their new record is pretty much flawless: 8 anthemic rockers (1 of which is a cover of an old punk tune) with surprisingly great lyrical poetics, touching on the last moments of fuck-it-all fleeting youth, to match. It’s exhilarating and appropriately soundtracked the summer before my senior year of college and I can’t imagine not coming back to this one again and again for years to come.
T-13. El-P: Cancer 4 Cure (3 Votes, 41 Points)
If El-P had called it quits after the end of his legendary Def Jux label, he would have left quite a legacy: 2 bomb ass solo studio albums, incredible work with Company Flow, production on IMO the greatest rap album ever (Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein), and perhaps the best indie rap label ever (responsible for greats like CanOx, Cage, Aesop Rock, El-P himself, and Mr. Lif). Instead, he found a new group of great underground rappers to conspire with and began announcing his comeback with the mindblowing 2011 verse of the year that he dropped on Mr. Muthafuckin ExQuire’s ”The Last Huzzah”. And now he has both production on R.A.P. Music and his own incredible new solo album to show for 2012. The rapping/productioin here are as vicious, as cold, and as hard as El-P has always been known for, but their even more listenable, showcasing a slight sense of fun that people have often accused El-P of lacking.
12. Crystal Castles: III (3 Votes, 44 Points)
Perhaps stripping away some of the most punk elements of the sound that characterized their first two releases, their new one, III, finds them still churning out chilling, exciting dark wave electropop (their basically the best evidence for influence of Silent Shout).
11. Death Grips: The Money Store/No Love Deep Web (3 Votes, 44 Points)
Death Grips made news with their antics this year, shitting all over the major label that signed them b/c they weren’t being allowed to release their music on their own terms. But it was their singular blend of rap, hard electronic, hardcore, punk, and metal that really felt revolutionary, an undescribable but weirdly catchy, audacious sound palette that carried throughout their two full-length releases.
10. Grizzly Bear: Shields (3 Votes, 44.5 Points)
Done by another band, the sort of choirboy harmony-based indie folk that Grizzly Bear make would not be my thing at all. But Daniel Rossen’s guitar sounds wholly unique, and records like Shields are so precisely arranged to sound just straight-up beautiful that I can definitely buy into it. And while Veckatimest arguably a few boring stretches, Shields is pretty arresting throughout.
9. Schoolboy Q: Habits & Contradictions (3 Votes, 46 Points)
Kendrick Lamar may be the de facto leader of the Black Hippy crew, especially considering his stunning new album (which will show up later on this list), but Schoolboy Q is a singular rapper and voice within the crew in his own right, easily the zaniest, wildest Black Hippy. His raps take him anywhere and everywhere and the production on his new album wackily copped from a cover of a Kid Cudi song, Portishead, Genesis, and Menomena.
8. Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.a.a.d. city (3 Votes, 48 Points)
The narrative Kendrick Lamar rhymes through on good kid, m.a.a.d. city is stunning in its depiction of Kendrick’s troubled adolescence in Compton. He turns his past self into a wonderfully humanized characters who develops over the course of the album while struggling through drug/alcohol use, a gang lifestyle that results in the death of a friend, and a reformation that brings him to a place where he can focus on his musical career. It comes across more like a rhymed novel than a rap album and broke through my typical bias against West Coast hip-hop.
7. Diiv: Oshin (3 Votes, 51)
It’s like they took what already might have seemed a little boring about Real Estate (who’s last album was actually quite good) and decided to make an album out of that.
6. Cloud Nothings: Attack on Memory (4 Votes, 59.5 Points)
Along with Japandroids, Cloud Nothings helped revitalize indie rock this year, harkening back to the days of Superchunk, Cap’N Jazz, and other superbly catchy, emo-tinged giants. Steve Albini’s production lent the album a heavy edge and Cloud Nothings mastermind, Dylan Baldi, provided a serious supply of intelligent riffs along with his signature whine, all for an album with 8 masterpiece cuts that address the album’s thesis statement, “I thought I would be more than this.”
5. Chromatics: Kill for Love (4 Votes, 61.5 Points)
Offering the same sort of atmosphere that got people to enjoy the despicably silly film, Drive, Chromatics’ first album in a half decade was actually quite good, feature an hour and a half of late night driving music, beautifully orchestrated by the wonderfully named Johnny Jewel.
4. Purity Ring: Shrines (5 Votes, 61.5 Points)
Bringing together hip-hop beats, catchy high-pitched female vocal melodies, and dark, direct lyrics, Purity Ring captured some sort of post-Knife zeitgeist through dozen or so excellent songs that make up their debut album, Shrines.
3. Grimes: Visions (4 Votes, 67.5 Points)
IMO, this was the year’s most revolutionary, important indie record, speaking to a new non-masculine mode of music making. Grimes’ excellent pop sensibilities made the songs on Visions endlessly listenable while providing essentially unprecedented vocal and instrumental thrills. The album doesn’t rely on typical performative elements and perhaps that annoyed unexpecting listeners (including me initially) but look past that and you’ll see that there’s really something special here.
2. Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do (5 Votes, 80.5 Points)
Every 6 or 7 years, Fiona Apple reminds the world of her powers to spew out pure genius. She did it again this year with The Idler Wheel and better than ever before, carving out 10 perfectly executed songs that lay her flaws out like cards face up on a table. “Werewolf” was the year’s best extended metaphor, “Every Single Night” the year’s best inner psyche freakout, and “Left Alone” the year’s best display of vocal prowess. Artist’s don’t need to be prolific when what they do release is of this level of quality.
1. Frank Ocean: channel ORANGE (6 Votes, 100 Points)
I believed it when it came out and I believe it now: this is the year’s best album and will be talked about as a ‘classic’ for years to comes. Frank Ocean destroys thoughts of authenticity by taking on a unique narrative voice (none of which may be his own) on each of the album’s ridiculously, lyrically astute and sonically rich songs. The various characters we see here–a crackhead, a stripper, a perpetually intoxicated super rich kid, an unrequited lover in the back of a taxi cab, a liver of the sweet life, etc–are fleshed out with observant detail as Ocean paints a full portrait of the city he lives in. This is what empathy sounds like.
DJ Fresh Dipley:
1. Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.a.a.d city (20)
2. Killer Mike: R.A.P. Music (19)
3. El-P: Cancer 4 Cure (18)
4. Schoolboy Q – Habits & Contradictions (17)
5. Jarren Benton – Freebasing With Kevin Bacon (16)
6. Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror (15)
7. Joey Bada$$ – 1999 (14)
8. Rick Ross – Rich Forever (13)
9. Action Bronson – Blue Chips OR Rare Chandaliers (12)
10. Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE (11)
1. Death Grips – First 8 songs of No Love Deep Web and first 7 songs of The Money Store (20)
2. Diiv – Oshin (19)
3. Lana Del Rey – Born to Die (18)
4. Azealia Banks – Fantasea/1991 EP (17)
5. Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE (16)
6. Schoolboy Q – Habits & Contradictions (15)
7. TNGHT – TNGHT EP (14)
8. Crystal Castles – III (13)
9. Purity Ring – Shrines (12)
10. Beach House – Bloom (11)
11. The Shins – Port of Morrow (10)
12. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel… (9)
13. Laurel Halo – Quarantine (8)
14. Peaking Lights – Lucifer/Taken By Trees – Other Worlds (basically the same album) (7)
T-15. Andy Stott – Luxury Problems (6)
T-15. THEESatisfaction – awE naturalE (6)
T-15. How to Dress Well – Total Loss (6)
1. Beach House – Bloom (20)
2. Crystal Castles – III (19)
3. Diiv – Oshin (18)
4. Chromatics – Kill for Love (17)
5. Lana Del Rey – Born to Die (16)
6. Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE (15)
7. Groundislava – Feel Me (14)
8. Lemonade – Diver (13)
9. Purity Ring – Shrines (12)
10. How to Dress Well – Total Loss (11)
Andy Stott – Luxury Problems (9)
Wild Nothing – Nocturne (9)
Death Grips – The Money Store/No Love Deep Web (9)
1. Frank Ocean: channel ORANGE (20)
2. Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel… (19)
3. Swans: The Seer (18)
4. Grimes – Visions (17)
5. Allo’ Darlin – Europe (16)
6. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.a.a.d. city (15)
7. El-P – Cancer 4 Cure (14)
8. Japandroids – Celebration Rock (13)
9. The Menzingers – On the Impossible Past (12)
10. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (11)
11. Actress - RIP (10)
12. Joey Bada$$ – 1999 (9)
13. Bosse-de-Nage – III (8)
14. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory (7)
15. Cat Power – Sun (6)
1. Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE (20)
2. Chromatics – Kill for Love (19)
3. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel… (18)
4. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory (17)
5. Joey Bada$$ – 1999 (16)
6. Grimes - Visions (15)
7. Schoolboy Q – Habits & Contradictions (14)
8. Captain Murphy – Duality (13)
9. Purity Ring – Shrines (12)
10. Miguel -Kaleidoscope Dream (11)
11. The Walkmen – Heaven (10)
12. El-P – Cancer 4 Cure (9)
13. Mount Eerie – Clear Moon (8)
14. GOOD Music – Cruel Summer (7)
15. Crystal Castles – III (6)
1. The Mountain Goats – Transcendental Youth (20)
2. Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t (19)
3. Wild Nothing – Nocturne (18)
4. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel… (17)
5. Dark Dark Dark – Who Needs Who (16)
6. Cat Power – Sun (15)
7. Grizzly Bear – Shields (14)
8. Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks (13)
9. Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls (12)
10. Reptar – Body Faucet (11)
11. Japandroids – Celebration Rock (10)
12. Tanlines – Mixed Emotions (9)
13. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan (8)
Top 6 (in alphabetical order by artist)
Chromatics – Kill for Love (17.5)
Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory (17.5)
Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel… (17.5)
Grimes – Visions (17.5)
Grizzly Bear – Shields (17.5)
Purity Ring – Shrines (17.5)
Tame Impala – Lonerism (18)
Grimes – Visions (18)
Japandroids – Celebration Rock (18)
Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory (18)
Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE (18)
Death Grips – The Money Store (13)
Grizzly Bear – Shields (13)
Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan (13)
Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.a.a.d. city (13)
Wild Nothing - Nocturne (13)
Chromatics – Kill for Love (8)
Purity Ring – Shrines (8)
Diiv - Oshin (8)
Beach House – Bloom (8)
Chairlift – Something (8)
Here’s this weeks charts here at WAMH:
1. Titus Andronicus: Local Business – Comparatively light, rollicking followup to the classic The Monitor from the Jersey punk geniuses
2. Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.a.a.d. city – Respect my mind or die from lead showers
3. Miguel: Kaleidoscope Dream – Delightfully smooth breakthrough from one of the leading voices in R&B
4. The Weeknd: Trilogy – Three mixtape compilation with bonus tracks from the 2011′s breakthrough R&B star
5. Flying Lotus: Until the Quiet Comes – Laid back avant-electrojazz
6. Mac DeMarco: 2 – Solid cuts from young new indie songwriter
7. Big Boi: Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors – Much awaited forthcoming album from the still productive half of Atlanta rap weirdos, Outkast
8. Taylor Swift: Red – Surprisingly listenable singles compilation from the much beloved country-pop star
9. Crystal Castles: III – Not quite as punk but still hard, ghostly, and all around wonderful third album from everyone’s favorite masters of anthemic distance
10. The xx: Coexist – Spacious, minimal, and only a little boring
11. Tame Impala: Lonerism – Aight
12. Death Grips: No Love for Deep Web – Most obnoxious album art of the year/Best band story of the year
13. Various Artists: The Man With Iron Fists OST – Wildly entertaining array of tunes from RZA’s directorial debut features Kanye, Ghostface, Raekwon, RZA, Black Keys, and many many more
14. Action Bronson: Rare Chandeliers – Hella fat New York white guy rapper continues to prove that he’s more than just a Ghostface imitator who likes to chomp on good eats.
15. Adele: “Skyfall” – Theme song to the new James Bond movie
16. Sufjan Stevens – Silver & Gold
17. Metz – Metz
18. Dum Dum Girls – End of Daze
19. Title Fight – Floral Green
20. Roc Marciano – Reloaded
21. Holly Herndon – Movement
22. Mount Eerie – Ocean Roar
23. The Gaslamp Killer – Breakthrough
24. Toro y Moi: So Many Details 7″
25. Earl Sweatshirt: “Chum”
26. Stars: The North
27. Local Natives: “Breakers”
28. Bat for Lashes: Haunted Man
29. The Mountain Goats: Transcendental Youth
30. Trail of Dead: Lost Songs
Here’s another edition of WAMH’s top 30 charts from this past week. Enjoy and check out some of these records when you get the chance:
1. Miguel – Kaelidoscope Dream: Impossibly smooth jam fest from a dude out to prove that R&B ain’t just Frankie Ocean’s game.
2. Flying Lotus – Until the Quiet Comes: Pared back but still dope follow up to the breakout 2010 record from the avant-garde electronic hip-hop jazz genius.
3. Cat Power – Sun: Cat Power goes pop, continues to be one of the leading voices in indie songwriting.
4. Ty Segall – Twins: Ridiculously prolific garage rock stud with another highly playable set of catchy tunes.
5. Dinosaur Jr. – I Bet on Sky: The elder statesman of noisy fuzz-rock, Dinosaur Jr. prove that their first two reunion albums weren’t flukes (not that they needed to).
6. Crystal Castles – “Wrath of God”: Haunting new single from the forthcoming album but standout Knife-inspired electropop duo.
7. The xx – Coexist: Minimalist indie pop band goes for round 2, continues being minimal/sleek.
8. Tame Impala – Lonerism: Like the Olivia Tremor Control but less inspired (though not altogether bad).
9. Swans – The Seer: Micheal Gira might be God.
10. Grizzly Bear – Shields: What might be boring in the hands of lesser musicians (harmonized wuss-folk) is transcendent when done by the masters themselves.
11. Animal Collective – Centipede Hz: Weird, wild, answer to those who thought the indie/experimental institution had gone pop for good.
12. Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind: Obviously brilliant new one that continues to straddle the metal/hardcore divide from one of the great extreme bands of that last couple decades.
13. How to Dress Well – Total Loss: White guys can do smooth R&B as well
14. Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t: Fine new record from the much beloved wit-pop extrordinaire
15. Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits: Indie rock figureheads come together to form a quality supergroup
16. Thee Oh Sees – Putrifiers I1
17. Dan Deacon – America
18. Titus Andronicus – Local Business
19. King Tuff – Screaming Skull 7″
20. Laetitia Sadler – Silencio
21. Dum Dum Girls – End of Daze
22. Metz – Metz
23. Jessie Ware – Devotion
24. Freddie Gibbs – Baby Face Killah
25. Passion Pit – Gossamer
26. Purity Ring – Shrines
27. G.O.O.D. Music – Cruel Summer
28. Solange – “Losing You”
29. Wild Nothing – Nocturne
30. Cult of Youth – Love Will Prevail
Here are the WAMH charts from after our first week of broadcasting. Check out what we’ve been playing:
1. Frank Ocean: Channel Orange – Break out R&B star delivers in a big way on smooth, wonderfully crafted AOTY candidate.
2. Purity Ring: Shrines – Ghostly debut from electropop duo.
3. Grizzly Bear: Shields – Choir boy indie folk group moves further towards democratization with rapturous results.
4. G.O.O.D. Music: Cruel Summer – Kanye brings his GOOD Music crew together for a major label pop-rap record.
5. Animal Collective: Centipede Hz – Big time indie stars get dense and weird for their follow up to MPP
6. Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Chords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do – Pure, unadulterated genius from the much beloved singer-songwriter
7. Swans: The Seer – 30 years into the experimental band’s career, Swans craft perhaps their best album, a 2 hour behemoth.
8. Cat Power: Sun – All-time great indie rock songstress goes pop on her excellent new full-length
9. Dinosaur Jr.: I Bet on Sky – Slightly laid back but still fantastic new one from the long-time gods of fuzz rock and local heroes
10. The xx: Coexist – Sophomore effort from the minimalist sexed out indie stars
11. Japandroids: Celebration Rock – Fist-pumping rock album feels like summer, nostalgia, and the most kickass effort to hold onto youth in years.
12. Bloc Party: Four – You know, it’s Bloc Party
13. Joey Bada$$: 1999 – 17-yr old crafts a great throwback to 90s rap, can rap his ass off as well.
14. Yeasayer: Fragrant World – People like these guys
15. Sky Ferreira: Everything Is Embarassing – Not sure
16. Dan Deacon: America – Electro-chipmunk savant with his third album.
17. Cult of Youth: Love Will Prevail – Dark, gothy post-punk meets Against Me!
18. Jens Lekman: I Know What Love Isn’t – Newest from the witty indie pop songwriter
19. Passion Pit: Gossamer – Passion Pit’s frontman explores his own craziness amidst hyper-glossy electropop
20. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Grafitti: Mature Themes – Indie music’s biggest hack fucks around with the 80s, gets the love of blogs everywhere (again)
21. Music Tapes: Mary’s Voice – Side player from Neutral Milk Hotel shows us the E6 sound at its weirdest
22. Dirty Projectors: Swing Lo Magellan – Poppy, straightforward indie rock from the emergent stars
23. Wild Nothing: Nocturne – Chill, bro!
24. Azure Ray: As Above So Below – Not sure
25. Diiv: Oshin – Boring surf rock?
26. Thee Oh Sees: Putrifiers II – Yet another record from the prolific Cali garage rock group
27. Niki and the Dove: Instinct – Not sure
28. MNDR: Feed Me Diamonds – White girl makes solid Santigoldish electropop
29. Baroness: Yellow & Green – Pioneering sludge heroes strip away the metal from their sound, still write great songs.
30. Bob Dylan: Tempest – Bob Dylan is still alive.
I wrote this for my “Literature and Psychoanalysis” class this semester. It’s about the song “Iron Galaxy” by Cannibal Ox which you can hear here
Cannibal Ox’s “Iron Galaxy” addresses the cold, rotting nature of inner city New York. The rap duo, aided by El-P’s production, mechanically paint a picture of an urban landscape filled with death, loss, and the suffering detachment of those who remain. In this landscape, death becomes routine to the point that avoiding death is a mere everyday struggle for the people in Cannibal Ox’s world. Death surrounds these people, but as routine as it is, the death of another, for the most part, is no longer felt as an explicit loss but as a normal occurrence. In this world of routine death then, loss works both consciously, as explicit deaths are routinely seen, and unconsciously, as the cumulative effect of these deaths and loss in general get buried below the cold, mechanical shells of the people who witness them. Sigmund Freud, in his essay “Mourning and Melancholia”, discusses the nature, causes, and symptoms of mourning and melancholia. He describes mourning and melancholia as dejected states characterized by inhibition of activity and disinterest in the outside world (162). He equates mourning and melancholia by framing each of the two as a response to loss but distinguishes them in the claim, “…melancholia is related to an unconscious loss of a love-object, in contradistinction to mourning, in which there is nothing unconscious about the loss” (164). I would argue then that the process of simultaneous conscious and unconscious loss in “Iron Galaxy” I’ve described above causes a performance of grief that blends together the elements of mourning and of melancholia, making the two intertwined and ultimately indistinguishable in Cannibal Ox’s world. Understanding how pervasive loss works to meld two phenomena that are kept distinct in Freud’s essay can help us add a new level of nuance and ambiguity to Freud’s work on mourning and melancholia, such that the two forms of grief are not seen so completely as distinct responses to loss but rather as interacting models for understanding grief.
Pervasive death in “Iron Galaxy” induces a simultaneous conscious and unconscious loss. We can see this in the line “Little. Black. Girl. Got. Shot” that comes offhand into the second verse of the song. Speaking of this line in a review of Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein, Stevie Chick argues that Cannibal Ox’s words often come across like a news report, saying, “They’ll spin off into abstract realms of wordplay, and then pull back to jarring documentary style, like when Vordul spits ‘Little. Black. Girl. Got. Shot,’ as jarring explosions of silence punctuate every other word (‘Iron Galaxy’), a newspaper headline made flesh” (Par. 2). Chick’s claim here emphasizes the way in which the speakers in these songs put forth a mechanical, removed outlook – one that seems more like that of a detached reporter than an affected witness – when making claims about what they see. This mechanical, detached reporter outlook, emphasized by both Vordul Mega’s way of speaking the words and the production effects behind the words, turns the loss of this “Little. Black. Girl” into one that is both conscious and unconscious for the narrator. Obviously, the narrator explicitly witnesses or hears about this death. But the distanced perspective that the narrator uses to describe this loss suggests that the conscious loss of the girl gets buried below a shell of detachment. A similar reaction to loss occurs when the narrator in the song’s third verse says, “Let’s talk in laymen terms/Rotten apples and big worms.” Speaking about New York, these lines invert the “Big Apple” depiction of New York, making the apple rotten and the worms in the apple big. In a sense, what’s lost in these lines and in the song as a whole is the “Big Apple,” the notion of New York City as a place of fun, excitement, and opportunity. And throughout “Iron Galaxy”, narrators consciously and candidly speak of the rottenness and suffering that invades their hometown. But at same time, the “Let’s talk in laymen terms” construction the narrator sets up above works to undercut the conscious impact of the loss of hometown, creating a sense of normalcy that would suggest there’s no real loss to begin with. By establishing a conscious loss and then pulling away – acting detached or affecting normalcy – the narrators in these songs make the loss into something unconscious, something that appears offhand and irrelevant even as it affects the outlook of the narrators.
With conscious and unconscious loss comes grief, which we can see performed in portions of Cannibal Ox’s flow and rhyme scheme. I’m using grief here, and in this essay in general, to speak broadly about an emotional state that encompasses both mourning and melancholia and can be characterized by the symptoms that Freud lays out for mourning and melancholia, including “abrogation of interest in the outside world” and “inhibition of all activity” (Freud, 162). We see grief performed in the opening verse of “Iron Galaxy” when the narrator speaks of a point, “When life feels, like earth don’t spin.” The feeling of stillness expressed in this line is echoed by Vordul Mega’s slow, monosyllabic flow and constant onslaught of internal rhymes in this verse. In one line, we hear, “Lifes at a stand-still, dangerous cuz man kills,” a showcase for the repetition of “an” and “ill” syllables within lines that occurs throughout the verse. The rhyme scheme and flow have the effect of creating a sense of being stuck in place in the verse, rather than moving forward through each new line. Reinforcing the sentiments of stillness expressed in the content of the lines, this effect looks like the “inhibition of all activity” of which Freud speaks. These lines then represent a part of the symptomatic response that stems from the loss, both conscious and unconscious, described in the previous paragraph, a response that could broadly encompass both mourning and/or melancholia.
With the notions of simultaneous conscious and unconscious loss and the performance of grief in “Iron Galaxy” at play, we can see how the language and narrative stance in the song confuse the distinction between mourning and melancholia. The speaker in the final verse of “Iron Galaxy” exclaims, “You were a still born baby/Mother didn’t want you, but you were still born.” These lines play on the term “still born”, and in doing so equate an unwanted, neglected child with one who’s dead from birth. This play on words then muddies the loss expressed in these lines. In one sense, the child in this mother/child relationship experiences the most prevalent loss in these lines, the loss of care and favor from the mother. But at the same time, the feeling of death implicit in the words “still born” adds another element of loss. We feel the death of the young and neglected in these lines, even as a real explicit death to which we can consciously react seems missing. These lines then confuse the very conscious loss of a mother figure and the very conscious pervasive loss and death of young children in Cannibal Ox’s urban landscape with the unconscious loss that comes when a specific death or a specific break in a relationship can’t be pinned down. The speaker, in these lines, places the agency of being “still born” on the “you”, suggesting blame from the child’s end rather than the mother’s. And in the verse in which these lines occur, the “you” seen in these lines transforms into an “I” by the time the speaker later says, “I rest my head on 115,” suggesting that even here, the speaker in fact looks inward in making this statement about a mother/son relationship. Thus, if we see the “you” as a self-projection for the speaker, the “still born” construction points to the sort of self-reviling, self-blaming behavior specifically characteristic of a melancholic. But at the same time, the verse does begin in the second person, suggesting an equal projection of blame and frustration outward towards others. As Freud argues, in mourning, “the world becomes poor and empty” rather than the ego itself (164). So here, as the ego and the outer world are confused by the speaker’s narrative stance, we see mourning’s frustration with the outer world and melancholia’s self-blame and self-reviling intertwined.
James Krasner’s essay, “Doubtful Arms and Phantom Limbs: Literary Portrayals of Embodied Grief”, can help us understand this intertwined relationship and how it applies to examples of bodily absence in “Iron Galaxy”. Krasner’s essay points to examples of phantom limbs and false appendages in literary works and argues that these false appendages are a bodily expression of grief. He claims, “The suffering caused by phantom limbs derives not from the loss but from the sufferer’s belief in the limb’s enduring presence” (226). In his essay, Krasner equates the “phantom limbs” in this claim with the false, seemingly enduring presence of a lost loved one. I would argue that Krasner, in this statement, provides a way of thinking about grief that’s framed in terms of conscious and unconscious loss, the conscious loss being the death of the loved one herself and the unconscious loss being the loss of the “enduring presence” of the loved one’s body. Krasner argues this bodily grief’s reliance on tactile rather than visual memory frustrates, “the Freudian impulse to isolate and withdraw from the beloved” (220), an impulse that Krasner attaches to Freud’s notion of mourning. In the final verse of “Iron Galaxy”, the speaker asks, “What you figga/That chalky outline on the ground is a father figure?” Explicitly, this line points to a father’s death – a conscious loss – using the image of a “chalky outline” to illustrate this death. Considering Krasner’s ideas, this “chalky outline” could be seen as the physical manifestation of the father’s bodily absence. And framed as a question as these lines are, they point to a child holding fast to this physical manifestation in lieu of the father figure himself, showing the unconscious loss that is the child’s belief in the father’s “enduring presence.” The word “chalky” is both a visually and tactilely charged adjective, and thus in the image of the “chalky outline” the narrator conveys the need to move past the sight of the “chalky outline” when thinking about a father figure but also the continued tactile fixation with the father’s enduring presence as represented by a “chalky outline.” These lines then present both mourning’s impulse to move on from the conscious loss of a father and the enduring fixation of melancholia in the wake of the unconscious loss of the father’s enduring presence, held together in a single image.
As the final verse of “Iron Galaxy” begins to close out, the speaker in the verse offers a kind of mathematical proof to summarize this held together, ultimately indistinguishable nature of mourning and melancholia in Cannibal Ox’s world. The speaker says, “I rest my head on 115/But miracles only happen on 34th, so I guess life is mean/And death is the median/And purgatory is the mode we settle in.” The speaker constructs these lines around the mathematical language of “mean,” “median,” and “mode.” He positions life as “mean,” which both connotes the harshness and cruelty of life expressed throughout the song and mathematically states the reality that life is the mean of existence, the average experience to which everyone’s subjected. The speaker then positions death as the “median,” another term that can connote entirely different things when seen in or outside of its mathematical context. This play on median fleshes out the interwoven conscious and unconscious loss discussed throughout this essay. A median is both a divide, allowing it to stand in for the conscious divide between past and present felt upon the experience of grieving another’s death, and mathematically a middle point, akin to an average, allowing it to stand in for the unconscious impact of routine death and loss. “Purgatory”, a word and feeling that connotes gray, dejected existence like that experienced in grief, comes as the response to this median death. The speaker frames this “purgatory” as a “mode” which mathematically refers to the most common of a set of experiences but in the context of the line also refers to a fixed, settled in state of being. The “purgatory” then is both the most common, shared experience of mourning at the sight and experience of explicit, consciously felt loss and the enduring melancholic state of being that lasts throughout life and comes in response to no one death in particular but to the unconscious impact of living in a word where loss is so pervasive. Presented together in these lines, the shared mourning and lasting melancholia become one and the same, an indistinguishable phenomenon that comes to characterize life.
As can be seen, the framework and analysis Freud sets up in his essay “Mourning and Melancholia” can help us approach the complex responses that the people in Cannibal Ox’s “Iron Galaxy” have when reacting to their environment. But in an environment of constant death and loss in which conscious and unconscious experiences of loss are no longer distinguishable, mourning and melancholia, two phenomena presented by Freud as distinct, intertwine and merge together into a form of grief that simultaneously draws characteristics from both. Seeing this intertwining happening in “Iron Galaxy” can therefore inform our understanding of Freud’s framework regarding mourning and melancholia. Rather than seeing mourning and melancholia as two forms of grief for which the presence of one necessarily contradicts the presence of the other, we can see them as two interacting notions of what grief can look like, notions that can stand in distinction, as Freud posits, but can also merge together. This merging together adds an ambiguity to the two notions that reflects the ambiguity in Cannibal Ox’s language regarding the distinctions of self and other, ego and outer world, normalcy and difficulty, and the conscious and unconscious. In a world, like Cannibal Ox’s, where loss associated with death becomes confused with and seen as normal everyday experience, the ambiguity of one’s reaction to this loss forces us to consider the possibly ambiguous nature of the distinctions Freud sets up between mourning and melancholia.
Cannibal Ox. “Iron Galaxy.” The Cold Vein. Definitive Jux, 2001. MP3.
Chick, Stevie. “Cannibal Ox: The Cold Vein.” NME. 26 July, 2001. Web. Accessed through www.nme.com.
Freud, Sigmund. “Mourning and Melancholia.” General Psychological Theory. New York: Touchstone, 1963. Print.
Krasner, James. “Doubtful Arms and Phantom Limbs: Literary Portrayals of Embodied Grief.” PMLA. 119.2 (2004): 218-232. Web. Accessed through www.jstor.org.
Here’s the top 15 at WAMH from this past week:
1. Shins – Port of Morrow: May or may not change your life.
2. The Men – Open Your Heart: Rock revivalists take on many different genres/eras, do a uniformly fantastic job.
3. Julia Holter – Ekstasis: Greek myth indebted classicist goes pop, crafts a quite beautiful record in the process.
4. Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself: Indie folk hero’s latest seems to be well liked.
5. Grimes – Visions: Indie’s hottest new act of the year with an album of warped, high-pitched electropop.
6. Danny Brown – “Grown Up”: Underground hip-hop favorite releases a transcendent pump up/feel good single.
7. Black Keys – El Camino: Blues rock’s biggest institution (right now) with another satisfying record.
8. Menzingers – On the Impossible Past: Gaslight Anthem by way of Green Day (or the Thermals?) punk band craft perhaps the year’s best record so far with kickass Americana punk
9. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory: Emo-indebted album of the year contender from a guy who started out copping Jay Reatard
10. El-P – “The Full Retard”: Killer lead single for the upcoming album from one of underground hip-hop’s greatest.
11. Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror: Another noise pop record (might lean slightly more towards pop than towards noise this time)
12. Tanlines – Mixed Emotions: Not sure
13. Torche – “Kicking”: The poppiest (and one of the best) “metal” songs you’ll hear all year.
14. Lambchop – Mr. M: Quiet, subtle, and brooding, but rich with detail and off-kilter songcraft.
15. Twilight Sad – No One Can Ever Know: Not sure
For those looking for music recommendations or interested in seeing what’s most popular here at WAMH right now, we’ve decided to post our charts. Here’s a top 15 for you and in the future, if you want to hear what WAMH’s been playing in the past week, tune in on Sunday nights, 8-10 PM.
1. Grimes – Visions
Warped electropop from Canada’s own Claire Boucher
2. The Roots - undun
Sufjan Stevens inspired concept album from the veteran hip hop crew.
3. Schoolboy Q – Habits & Contradictions
Hard, weird rap from Kendrick Lamar’s Black Hippy buddy, featuring samples of Genesis, Portishead, and the Lissie cover of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness”
4. The Weeknd – Echoes of Silence
The last mixtape in The Weeknd’s stellar, attention grabbing muted R&B trilogy.
5. Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror
Less violent but just as poppy second offering from the pioneering sludge-pop duo
6. M.I.A. – “Bad Girls”
Killer new single (far better than anything off Maya) returns M.I.A. to her swagger pop roots.
7. Rick Ross – Rich Forever
Jam-packed free mixtape from the current king of coke rap.
8. Damien Jurado – Maraqopa
Newest from the veteran indie songwriter.
9. Wale – Ambition
Popular DC rap stud.
10. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory
Steve Albini produced early album of 2012 contender rocks hard, harkening back to Cap’N Jazz.
11. Perfume Genius – Put Your Back In 2 It
Up and coming songwriter tells intimate tales behind a hushed but evocative voice. Listen with headphones by yourself.
12. Archers of Loaf – Vee Vee
Classic 90s indie rock jocks get a reissue of their top notch second album.
13. Black Keys – El Camino
Riding a wave of fame, Black Keys put out another strong blues rook joint.
14. A$AP Rocky – Livelovea$ap
The new king of swag rap, A$AP Rocky has the gift of flow and an ear for woozy production.
15. Liberteer – Better to Die on Your Feet than Live on Your Knees
Politics come to the forefront as grindcore collides with the sounds of American military marches.
As everyone knows, Valentine’s day is only about capitalism and sex! To commemorate this lovely day, here is a compilation of a variety of wonderful songs of lust for you to listen to while making a possible love interest highly uncomfortable
1) Danny Brown – I Will
This is one of the dirtiest songs I have ever heard, but at its heart it is a true love song. It’s a rare rap song that can be so filthy without being misogynistic at all. Play this for that special someone that you have no boundaries with.
2) Crass – Smother Love
Think that Valentine’s Day is a manufactured holiday, created by Hallmark to sell cards? Well, Crass puts the “crass” in “crass consumerism”. Gee Vaucher scathingly tears apart the entire institution of love and monogamy, denouncing it as “another way to make men slaves and women at their beckon.” Play this for yourself to forget Valentine’s Day.
3) Richard Hell and the Voidoids – Love Comes in Spurts
If the word “spurts” doesn’t make you uncomfortable, than this is the Valentine’s Day song for you. The upbeat tempo and Hell’s warbling, almost unintelligible cries make excellent jam music with your special someone, and a great air-guitar opportunity.
4) Ghostface ft. Missy Elliot – Tush
This one is for all the ladies. Missy Elliot absolutely tears this track apart, representing all the maneaters on Valentine’s Day. “Bush” is a pretty grimy word though.
5) Meatloaf – Paradise by the Dashboard Lights
A harrowing tale of Mr. Loaf selling his soul to a woman for one night of passion. It harkens back to a time when you and your beau could drive to the lake shore and lose your virginity in your car. Phil Rizzuto’s commentary in the middle is a nice gloss over of the foreplay. Listen to this song if you want to reflect on your first time.
6) Beastie Boys – She’s Crafty
The nascent images of rap metal were probably swirling around Rick Rubin’s gigantic hairy brain as he put this unforgettable Led Zeppelin sample into this song of love turned wrong. This will definitely remind you to be wary of the pretty new things. Listen to this if you’ve been spurned by love.
7) Madonna – Like A Virgin
What can I say about this song that Quentin doesn’t sum up nicely in Reservoir Dogs?
Lemme tell you what ‘Like a Virgin’ is about. It’s all about this cooze who’s a regular fuck machine, I’m talking morning, day, night, afternoon, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick. Then one day she meets this John Holmes motherfucker and it’s like, whoa baby, I mean this cat is like Charles Bronson in the ‘Great Escape’, he’s digging tunnels. Now, she’s gettin’ the serious dick action and she’s feeling something she ain’t felt since forever. Pain. Pain. It hurts her. It shouldn’t hurt her, you know, her pussy should be Bubble Yum by now, but when this cat fucks her it hurts. It hurts just like it did the first time. You see the pain is reminding a fuck machine what it once was like to be a virgin. Hence, ‘Like a Virgin’.
Bon Iver—bastardized by the ignorant Twittersphere as “Bonny Bear” who were ridiculed thereafter by the Tumblr “Who is Bon Iver,” derivative of last year’s infamous “Who is Arcade Fire”—won two Grammys last night. That is pretty good for some kids from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. It was not all that great for the Grammys, as Justin Vernon took his acceptance speech as a chance to address the problems within the music industry.
Justin Vernon already spoke out about his group turning down an opportunity to perform at the Grammys because they were asked to perform with another group or not their own music. He felt that it was a poor decision made by people who were not about “rock n’ roll” and generally detached from the music process, as well as the vitality and idealism of young bands.
In this speech he takes a similar stand against the entire awards show mentality, but he does it in a “Minnesota nice” fashion. He hits the right note between self-righteousness and genuine appreciation for the praise his music just received. There is an element of passive-aggression, but he definitely did not squander an opportunity to express gratitude for the people that were not directly involved in music making but played an integral role. Particularly classy was his reference to the “non-nominees,” a generalized jab that one can’t help be mad at when it comes in a package as innocuously dressed as Justin Vernon.
It’s really hard to accept this award, but well there’s so much talent out here on the stage. And there’s a lot of talent that’s not…here, tonight. And it’s also hard to accept because, ya know, when I started to make songs I did it for the inherent reward of making songs. But, so I’m a little bit uncomfortable up here. But with that discomfort, I do have a sense of gratitude. I want to say thank you to the nominees, all the non-nominees who have never been here—and never will be here—all the bands I toured with, all the bands that inspired me, all the artists. I also want to say…sorry…I also want to say ‘thank you’ to all the voters of course—sweet…sweet hook-up. All my bandmates—old and new—the city of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Jagjaguwar—my label, for being, well, for both having transparency and friendships—and also my friends and family, Kitty, and of course most of all my parents, thank you guys.
‘Loud, nasty, brutish and short’ would be the best way to describe Death from Above 1979’s record label debut You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine. But that was back in 2004, so why, you might ask, is it relevant today? Firstly, it’s the first—of February that is—the perfect time to replay their song “Black History Month.” Secondly, after breaking up in 2006 with only one album, DFA 1979 is back. They have not released any new music, and reported plans to the contrary are speculation as of yet, but they played a series of gigs in 2011. Logic, with a generous helping of hope, leads many to expect a follow-up to You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine shortly.
DFA 1979 take the dance-punk aesthetic of the (non-affliated) DFA Records with a the noisy slant of Lightning Bolt. “Black History Month” is one of the more subtle tracks of the album, one which nonetheless has approximately no acoustic guitars and no discussion of feelings. And among its nonstop swagger, you’ll find a remarkable catchiness about the song. Overall a great album to hear for the first time or yet again as we enter February.
Read more from me at TheAirspace.net