Megan James

Many “Best of 2012” music lists resemble Billboard’s pop charts, but this past year saw landmark achievements in multiple genres. The Daily Texan consolidated last year’s best rock, metal, pop and hip-hop albums into one list.

10: Killer Mike

Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music is fast-paced, in-your-face political rap with the potential to easily offend. Offering unrelenting social criticism from an African-American standpoint, the album’s high point is the middle track “Reagan,” where Mike concisely attacks the U.S. government and famously declares he’s “glad Reagan dead.” With a heavy, soulful flow, Killer Mike is most easily compared to The Notorious B.I.G. but with more conscientious lyrical content in the vein of Public Enemy. 

9: Title Fight

Floral Green saw Title Fight trade pop influences for grungier ones while unquestionably remaining punk. The band members grew confident enough to experiment and try something new on every track. There are anthemic Sonic Youth-inspired ballads like “Leaf,” and simple, chord-heavy songs like “Secret Society.” It’s the little things, the half-measure double speed on the bass drum on “Make You Cry,” clever lines like “telling white lies to black cats,” from “Lefty,” and the analog big muff guitar overdrive tone on “Frown,” that make Floral Green an addictive record.

8: Grimes

The cover art for Visions is a flaming human skull throwing up, but don’t let that fool you. Grimes’ electronic music is simple and refreshingly under-produced (supposedly the Canadian artist recorded the entire thing in her apartment on GarageBand). The ubiquitous use of reverb supplements her trademark whispering falsetto while she pronounces words in a strange, childish lisp that renders her lyrics almost unintelligible.

7: Chromatics

Beginning with a toned-down Neil Young cover song “Into The Black,” Chromatics set the stage for Kill For Love — somber and delicate, before diving into their original squealing electronica music. With 16 songs clocking at 77 minutes, Chromatics gracefully take their time in crafting a neo-disco synthesized revival, sometimes confidently holding out whole notes for 16 full measures. Other highlights include the longest song, “These Streets Will Never Look the Same,” an 8:36 Night At The Roxbury head-bopper and the shimmering title track, “Kill For Love.”

6: Purity Ring

The Canadian electronic duo‘s debut album Shrines is filled with immense soundscapes marked by heavy vocal samples, pulsating synthesizers and thundering bass.
The simple yet unconventional melodies over double-timed hi-hat hits provide an updated reboot to electronica. Singer Megan James’ voice tastefully mixes into the ambience to narrate a surprisingly morbid digital fairy tale with prevalent lyrical subjects of heart surgery and mutilation. 

5: Taylor Swift

Swift has proven the power of repetition — her supporters have remained a part of her loveless journey and her detractors have finally succumbed to their doom, singing the irresistible “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” with genuine enthusiasm. Red made it almost impossible to dislike Swift as she wandered from her typical country singer-songwriter roots. She renovates her personal love stories, incorporating dubstep-esque production in certain songs while maintaining her sweet, chirping, powerful falsetto in a revised formula for certain success.

4: Converge

The heaviest and most urgent record to come out in 2012, All We Love We Leave Behind, sees Converge retain its title of metallic perfection. Blending mathcore polyrhythms, death metal screams and hardcore punk speed, the album is 17 tracks of nonstop auditory assault that necessitates a second listen. After 23 years, Converge is still proving there are time signatures besides the standard 4/4.

3: 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, thankfully shortened to The Idler Wheel, is an organic masterpiece by 1998 Grammy-winner Fiona Apple. Composed of 10 songs, The Idler Wheel’s heavy emphasis on lyrics, acoustic instruments and vocals, ranging from bewailing moans to cringing falsetto, gives the album a genuine, heartfelt singer-songwriter feel. The lyrics could be the best of the entire year, with highlight, “The lava of the volcano shot up hot from under the sea/One thing leads to another and you made an island of me.” 

2: Kendrick Lamar

Another product of the master Dr. Dre, poster child, M.A.A.D. City dominated radio waves for a good reason. Lamar’s unconventional rapping, heavy use of half rhyme and syllabic mastery relate a coming-of-age story of a good kid growing up in a bad city. The album is a musical autobiography detailing a young Lamar’s introduction to gang life in Compton after stealing his mom’s van. Songs consistently end with phone messages from his mother trying to talk sense into him, creating an overall sense of solidarity and cohesiveness. 

1: Frank Ocean

The Odd Future breakout star deserves all the hype and praise he received last year. Channel Orange intersperses feedback and noise in between songs to create a scattered and technological feel to contextualize Ocean’s unique version of R&B in the 21st century. Ocean’s incredible vocal talents relate unabashedly honest lyrics in a laid-back style. The album’s slow tempos, sensual keyboard melodies and noticeable lack of auto tune challenge modern pop’s monopoly of the airwaves, proving there is hope for heart-felt music once again.

(Courtesy of 4AD)

Purity Ring, a new electronic band hailing from the indie hotspot of Montreal, is a methodical monster that has discovered the perfect balance between human and machine elements. The group consists of Megan James on vocals and Corin Roddick on everything electronic. Their sound is dominated by neither, but rather by their tangible chemistry.

Its organic nature stems from the visceral imagery crafted by James. At first, her voice can be wrongfully dismissed as yet another dreamy synth-pop falsetto which merely provides ambiance or a hook, but after a few tracks one begins to notice her stark images and the intimate world in which they exist. In “Fineshrine” she sings, “Get a little closer let it fold/ Cut open my sternum and pull/ My little ribs around you,” a savage yet endearing lyric. Her tone is euphonic, but her message is often brutal. When she sings of drilling holes in her eyelids to see her lover as she sleeps or sticking toothpicks in her dirt-filled heart, it sounds more romantic than horrific.

These lyrics combine well with Roddick’s pulsating beats. Almost all of the songs are laden with side-chaining, a rhythmic volume swell applied to the bass. This makes the music heave with life, and this living, breathing quality suits James’ gut lyrics. Beyond the bass, Roddick’s compositions are meticulously built on layers of complexities: Opposing stop-start rhythms keep the listener off balance and during the instrumental breaks, Roddick erases the line between his machines and James’ voice by affecting it digitally, seamlessly blending them with synthesizers.

Due to his relentless usage of side-chaining, many of the songs sound fairly similar, but this is a positive. Purity Ring’s sonic appeal comes from the subtleties that define each song. It’s as if each song is motivated by the same dogma, only that each track approaches this same end with a unique means.

Purity Ring is an invigorating new electronic band because of their ability to manipulate popular musical elements for their unadulterated self-exhibition, one that embraces electronics and takes their music away from cold, robotic womps back to what music is truly about — human expression and emotion.