Martine Balcaen

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Last Active 04-21-12 11:09 pm
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01.02.13 Balcaen In 2012: 25 Best Releases12.28.11 balcaen in 2011: 25 Best Releases
05.24.11 albums with circles on them : ranked

Balcaen In 2012: 25 Best Releases

Celebration Rock

Pigeon-holed as: garage rock, drunk jams Japandroids delivered pretty well exactly what my quiet life at a lecture desk/lab bench necessitated this year - diving drunk and steadfastly jubilant far into the night. That?s why I was really bummed about completely forgetting to buy tickets to go see this duo for a post-finals show this winter. Celebration Rock is nothing groundbreaking. It sounds (and looks) exactly like the last Japandroids album. It takes a backseat ride on this list ? it is not an album of masterful compositions, but one that perfectly recreated the missed feeling of inebriated summer zeal and old camaraderie.
American Weekend

Pigeon-holed as: acoustic, songs you can learn to play in 5 minutes but also perfect for drinking an entire pot of tea by accident and not being able to sleep for hours Former pop-glossed punk act P.S. Eliot?s Katie Crutchfield released her first solo effort, American Weekend, in the midst of what seemed like a particularly cold winter in my city. Folksy singer-songwriters are a dime a dozen, but somewhere between Waxahatchee?s low production value, simple strumming or picking compositions and ephemeral lyrics lies a most human vulnerability. At its lightest, American Weekend is an album to feel comfortable with when all the other albums will judge you for being home on a Friday night.
23Miss A

Pigeon-holed as: k-pop, girl power While Gangnam Style isn?t on this list, it?s definitely been a hell of a year for k-pop and anyone who got swept away by these drug-like dance tracks. Touch boasts 5 tracks and an R&B remix of the title track on an EP reminiscent of brit pop ? la Spice Girls, especially on the synth heavy No Mercy. Miss A (with the help of one of k-pop?s genius Park Jin-young) also tries their hands at this newfangled dubstep game in the electrifying Rock N Rule. Overall, the effect of this EP is a particularly aggressive one that left me searching for more from these ladies.
22Angel Haze

Finding a female emcee that conveys intelligence, brutality all on top of sex appeal in a carefully crafted package of vicious beat production feels like a cold splash of water to face. It?s rare to find a woman who truly embodies the bad bitch persona other female artists strive for but often fall to the pressures of subservient expectations of them. Angel Haze is a brazen artist with a diction that can crack like a whip when she needs to be nasty to tell the pertinent issues like they need to be in the current political context (See her graphic cover of ?Cleaning Out My Closet?). Between addressing these issues in her lyrics and planning an upcoming collaboration with Azealia Banks on the horizon, I can?t help but root for this lady.
21Aesop Rock

Pigeon-holed as: alternative hip hop, more words than you know what to do with Unless you?re a hip hop patrician, Skelethon is a hell of a daunting full-length to wade through the first time around, with Leisureforce?s rapidfire verses ripping through this release at the top and Ian Bavitz maintaining this ferocity down to the last grim moment of his latest piece of work. A couple standout moments are found when one realizes that kiddie-folk star Kimya Dawson is the one reciting the austere lyrics in the back of Crows 1, or laughing your ass off when you realize Grace is about the childhood bitching pertaining to having to eat your vegetables. From these obvious highlights shine a lyrically abysmal album where every new listen find another verse to linger on until the next. I expect that it?s going to take another few years to fully absorb Skelethon in its vastness.
Advaitic Songs

Pigeon-holed as: doom metal, middle eastern stoner hijinks The sounds on Om?s fifth LP come from an impenetrable space in time where everything moves at the pace of the earth?s orbit itself. Finding usual weight in religious influences, Advaitic Songs plays like a ceremony of the holy uniting with the wretched. While still carrying on their dense and heavy riffs that speak as relic of their past as drone phenoms Sleep, Om also entrances listeners with exotic influcences manifested in the form of chants, sultry violins and byzantine ambience. Om will sweep you away to experience the feeling of breathing the dry and dust- scattered air in the rock-cut churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia.

Pigeon-holed as: seductive noise rock, unease and discomfort personified It?s a rare gem when inert anxiety can be evinced as a tangible tool for contemplating the source of that very anxiety. Mackenzie Keefe?s first self-titled release under the moniker Alcoves is just that kind of tool ? A collection of songs which individually disturb dreams regarding of their waking state, and altogether crank the shaft of a minecart descending into limbo. Alcoves is simply made ? one consistent brooding guitar tone, a cold-blooded vocalist and crunchy bass undertones of constant disquiet. Tracks like Hear No Evil and The Underbelly play like beasts from the underworld trudging about causing turmoil above with each step. Such turbulence is punctuated by tracks such as the pensively traced Interlude and Monuments ? playing as subdued, desensitized breaks between the morbid sinkholes found in Alcoves. It?s an experience of romanticizing dejection ? as ugly as it is enticing.
Nehru Jackets

Pigeon-holed as: hip hop, desi hop, dude in a sheesha lounge Himanshu might use the laziest flow tolerable when rapping with fellow Das Racist (R.I.P.) member Kool A.D, but damn, does it ever work with Mike Finito?s indian- tinged beats on Nehru Jackets. Hopped on a smooth Bollywood-esque wave, Heems exudes the sleazy appeal of an eastern smoked-out lounge in a series of brash, short-lived tracks with not-so-serious themes such NYC Cops, nonsense about Computers and the satiric ?Womyn?. Actually, Womyn is fucking hilarious. Also known for their ridiculous flow schemes, Danny Brown and Childish Gambino also make appearances on Nehru Jacket with equally hilarious results.
17Frank Ocean
Channel Orange

Pigeon-holed as: R&B, electro-soul, i?ve been thinking ?bout you, oooh no no no As the members of Odd Future all emerge from the past years? OF craze with proper full-length albums, Frank Ocean proves himself as the real deal on channel ORANGE. Managing to pull off a classic R&B release avoiding the cheesy clich?s of love lost and lovelorn, Ocean focuses on the feelings delivered by his cast of characters and luxurious imagery. A defining feature of channel Orange being the way stories are told rather than the emotions involved in them being bluntly announced. What more would you expect from an artist who made his coming out announcement about the fact that he fell in love rather than the fact of his orientation?
16Every Time I Die
Ex Lives

Pigeon-holed as: mathcore, southern gentlemetal The scene depicted in the cover of Ex Lives does well to portray the unrest present within this release. Every Time I Die cement their status as undeniably talented heavy-hitters, demonstrating impeccable technique, both in the tightness of their fretwork and the acridity of their vocalist. Without fail, Ex Lives delivers aggressive track after another equally suited to smug partying as it is to a war scene ?making it the perfect album to block out, with contempt, the vain grunts of roid-ridden gorillas at the gym. Never has metalcore been this much fun.
15Fiona Apple
The Idler Wheel...

Pigeon-holed as: art pop, emotional baggage I don?t think I?ve ever actually known the full title of ?The Idler Wheel?? until this very moment. The Idler Wheel would have been title enough, but this is Fiona Apple we?re talking about here, which means that there is definitely more than meets the ear. This release finds us after an absence of almost 7 years without new material, as is Apple?s usual release pattern: long enough pauses between albums to ensure enough time for her fans to immerse themselves, to live in her intense emotional woes A.K.A. the Fiona Apple basket case coma. I?m not quite there yet, but there?s no denying Fiona Apple is one of the most talented and vigorous songwriters of this age.
Mumps, etc.

Pigeon-holed as: alternative hip-hop, awkward introspection If I had a quarter for every time I said ?I wish I wrote this song? in regards to a Why? track? I?d have like $5 which isn?t really much but it?s enough to grab myself a caffeinated beverage at some hole in the wall late at night and sit around to people watch and insert situations involving your alternate selves into every passing person?s life. Yoni Wolf has a way of putting the movie-like imagery of mundane human daydreams into perfect impressionist soundbites about progressing into nowhere except uncertainty and further psychosexual confusion. It?s a refreshing hash-over of the life of a hip, privileged white person put into eloquence and regressive insight! You can?t help but relate.
13Dweller on the Threshold
Dweller on the Threshold

Pigeon-holed as: post-country noise rock, no fun not ever Dweller on the Threshold is a super group of sorts, if a group born out of the incest of various Western Massachusetts bands even counts as a super group. The element of multiple influences is definitely there, as the album shifts moods dramatically with each new track. This mysterious self-titled release leaves the listener in a bit of a whirlwind, where a track like The Drone might begin in an unassuming folk fashion, it ends in a soaring post-rock cacophony with intensity could not have anticipated from the start. Dweller on the Threshold is hard to get tired of, as it plays like a particularly sentient music player on shuffle, and I continually forget what comes next ? though I am never disappointed. Somewhere between sounding like a twinkly Kinsella band and a rough skramz jam, though never at the same time, DOTT is something wonder at, track by track.
Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II

Pigeon-holed as: post-rock, trapped in the desert for several weeks without adequate food or water Much of the criticism I?ve heard for this album is the exact reason I find it to be so great. While Earth, the holy forefathers of drone doom continue the Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light chronicle in their new grown-up way, this album takes a long trek through desolate scenery. Through what seems like an interminable night, Earth muses toward an infinite horizon accompanied by a concerned cello and ominous bass. The mood is utterly dismal. There is no destination. There is no reward. There is no hope. Sometimes, a long walk down the spiral staircase, like an eternal anteroom, is just the kind of anti-journey one keeps in mind for a long night.
11Fang Island

Pigeon-holed as: progressive indie rock, feels good man In the words of Fang Island guitarist Jason Bartell ?I am pretty ding-dong-doodily- delighted, all the time.? If that?s not enough to accurately describe Major, I suggest renting a bouncy castle on your day off and inviting all your friends over. Your real friends ? not the ones that hit on you or ask you for money or gossip about you when you aren?t around ? but your bouncy castle friends. You know the ones. Major is chockfull of feel-good anthems where the vocals hovering in the background aren?t even part of the magic most of the time. Okay, maybe the chorus to Victorinian contributes a bit : ?If you wanna fall in love, you can do it!?. Remember that. And listen to Fang Island.
10Perfume Genius
Put Your Back N 2 It

Pigeon-holed as: chamber pop, everyone feels bad sometimes It?s hard to write a best of list when your sequencing flows less than naturally. I?m most honest when I say that Put Your Back N 2 It is not an album to turn to if you?re looking for something easygoing to relax alongside. While light seeps through Mike Hadreas? many ballads, the beautiful imagery reflects darker struggles not many dare to go into depth about through their own art. While the album is a testament of personal experiences, the conflicts of acceptance and abuse are treated less as glorifying tales, and more as conversations to be made toward moving past all these awful happenings. Perfume Genius uses the album not as a confessional for himself, but as a philosophical tool for those struggling too. As Mike Hadreas said it so well: ?Staying healthy can be more depressing and confusing than being fucked up. But I want to make music that?s honest and hopeful.?
9Clams Casino
Instrumental Mixtape 2

Pigeon-holed as: experimental beats, his name is fucking clams casino have you ever had clams casino IT?S DELICIOUS Clammy Clams can do no wrong ? well, he can if your rapping skills are not up to snuff enough to spit on one of these tracks. It?s amazing how perfect his beatwork really is when you take a couple duds out of the equations (Without naming names? goddamn who gave you a rap career anyway?). The masterpieces on Instrumentals 2 are sexy, not plain sexy, mind you ? the kind of sexy to hatch a shy night butterfly out of her cocoon and unto a dark, nearly deserted dance floor? Leading into a slow-motion sequence of sweltering fervor between two bodies, the entire album lends itself well to just one phrase, cited by Washed Out?s contribution: ?Amor Fati? ? the love of fate.
8Sleep In

Twins brings out some bizarre feelings over a listen. While Sydney native Hamish Duncan?s listless vocals have a quality akin to the feeling of bugs crawling under your skin, there is also something quite sedative about his alternating clean guitar tones with distorted ones to a sudden dead end. Sleep In?s noisy, disruptive edge is one that is somehow lethargic? Like a Sunday morning with a half-hangover turning into a Sunday afternoon where you haven?t quite left bed yet. There is caution present, as in feeling disconcerted about continuing forth in the industrial soundscape of The Walls Are Wet, or the raucous unraveling into lethargic chaos on Do Nothing. Lethargic chaos sounds like something out of a pretentious English major?s paper, but trust me on this one.
7John K. Samson

Pigeon-holed as: folk rock, canadiana If you?re at a loss for words in naming some Canadian gems in music, it?s because you don?t listen to The Weakerthans enough. And you should. John K. Samson is the brains (and the peculiar voice) behind their unmistakable song writing, often written from unexpected shoes. As some non-exhaustive examples John K. Samson has been a Winnipeg busdriver, a history grad student, David Reimer (google that), an avid curler, a roadie and a depressive?s cat (twice). A lot of the time, he is also you and I, just better at putting it into words. Provincial is his first solo full-length since 1993. Expect a song about you, hashed out in folk-tinged indie rock progressions perfect for an endearing Canadian jig on skate-sore feet.
6Vampillia and Nadja
The Primitive World

Pigeon-holed as: drone, ambient metal, aurora borealis Not implying hyperbole when I say this album is the most haunting and uplifting composition I?ve heard all year from a duo I thought had nothing left for me and a Japanese band I?d never heard of. The Primitive World is immense and immersive. This is the kind of album you throw mindlessly, go about your business and suddenly find yourself zoned out living purely in the barred icy landscape Nadja & Vampillia have tossed you into. The Primitive World is cold and unforgiving. It does not tolerate distractions, and it exists only for the moment you listen. Music is still making new places every day.

Pigeon-holed as: k-pop, k-r&b, the mother of all k-holes, i swear i?m not fucking trolling With South Korea experiencing their first real boy band explosion more than 10 years after North America started trying to forget that the Backstreet Boys ever happened, I decided to check out this cheeky phenomenon that could only be a nation?s embarrassment 10 years down the road. Admittedly, this probably won?t be the case. Asia being Asia tends to execute North American stuff far better than we do it ourselves, and we?ve essentially been slayed on all level in the pop music department. More on this later, but in the case of SHINee, a band with an N*SYNC- esque fame to the level of posters of their face plastered on screaming/fainting fangirls? walls, Sherlock was an album I mistakenly dismissed as a pop culture novelty. I have no idea what happened, but I think at one point it involved actually saying out loud to myself ?Holy shit, this is so fucking good? and probably some accompanying inappropriate dance moves. Since then, every one I?ve shown the Sherlock EP to have shown the same disbelief of having to accept that every single song on this EP is better than any American electronic and pop music released this year. SHINee?s producers have managed to deliver a series of tracks with dynamic originality, impeccable production and the dazzling talent and charisma of Michael Jackson. Also, there?s an irresistible acoustic track. I?m in love. If you?re Korean, get at me. It might be a good time.
4Purity Ring

Pigeon-holed as: indietronica, witchhouse, banging a ghost As artists scramble to soundtrack the alter-egos of the biggest trope of the last two years, that is, the tumblr girls, no one has found a more perfect spot in the niche quite like Purity Ring. They do the odd work of finding solace in potential imaginary surreal snuff films, melting surroundings and the fear in new sexual experiences. Shrines is a dark journey through a morbid, forsaken dream land drifting along in the taboo and the discreet. It?s sexy without meaning to be, in exploiting the unexpected eerie sounds that protrude from Purity Ring?s signature electronic haze. Wobbling base lines fade in and out alongside Megan James? shrill vocals and snappy trap-like percussion in a release that?s found itself on many year-end lists of the obscure and mainstream-loving alike. It?s enough to put anyone into a hypnagogic trance.
3Death Grips
The Money Store

Pigeon-holed as: experimental hip hop, high on PCP If you haven?t heard of Death Grips over the 18 months, just do it. If you?ve heard of them, but you haven?t actually HEARD them, fuck what you heard. Yeah, fuck whatchya heard. For this real shit kicked your whole click to the curb. WHAT WHAT? WHAT WHAT? But you don?t hear me though. Run up bitch to the death get gripped, my steeze is ballin? out? Of CONTROL whatchyou know about bubblin?? Hustle bones comin? out my mouth.
2The Mars Volta

Pigeon-holed as: experimental rock, new prog, cerebral hemorrhage, drug-induced nystagmus When I think of the equivalent to a Pink Floyd or a Rush phase that my kids will go through mid-adolescence, 10-20 years from now, I imagine that it?ll be The Mars Volta leading their coming-of-age musical awakening. At least, I hope so. Noctourniquet came as a surprise from a band that seemed to be drifting further toward the inaccessible no man?s land of progressive music called ?for the fans?. It?s a bit ironic where The Mars Volta cut the fat on this release, avoiding their previous signature indulgent guitar-jacking and cryptic, esoteric lyricism. They manage to maintain the explosive intensity they were praised for in previous releases, all while remaining versatile. Noctourniquet aims to mesmerize the listener with new electronic elements, mystic ballads and mid-track mood changes. All without compromising the talent in composition or the gusto we?ve come to expect from them, The Mars Volta might have grown up, with less drive to treat every song like an assault on the current state of rock music, but the next person to say they?ve gone pop gets a shiner. This is not disposable music.
1Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
Pamyu Pamyu Revolution

Pigeon-holed as: j-pop, as i become closer to understanding my own mean to happiness, how to maintain it, learn from it and spread it, i longer fear death It?s been a weird year. All years are a little weird but this one is the weirdest that I can remember in recent memory. At one point, I opened up someone?s best of 2011 list and found Kyary Pamyu Pamyu?s debut EP starring me in the face with that joker-esque grin ? Legendary producer Yasutaka Nakata?s brain child, likely the envy of every other less-competent producer who missed their chance to point a finger and exclaim ?THAT ONE, I WANT THAT ONE?. She became a weird muse. The first time I tried to write this blurb to the extent I believed it truly deserved, I got really nauseous and had to lie down. I know this was because I ingested too much caffeine in small time frame and likely not related to how much I love Kyary. The few times after that, I had a hard time eloquently penning down what this album meant to me this year. Put simply, the irony in Pamyu Pamyu Revolution?s sugary mindless (though masterfully produced) pop tunes is that they deliver the most innocent, absolutely embodiment of happiness. 2012 was the year I learned that music does not have to be profound or artistically heavy in order to be meaningful. There needs not always be a musical ego, romanticizing anguish and intellectual conflict. Sometimes all you need to feel better are songs about candy and false eyelashes. Kyary taught me that.
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