And The Best Album of 2012 Goes To…..
2012 was an interesting year for music, with a wildly eclectic lineup of great albums, ranging from the confessional Channel Orange from Frank Ocean, to the epic, (Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! From Godspeed You! Black Emperor), and a bunch of great albums in between (Jack White and Fiona Apple, I am looking at you). But even with all those options considered, this decision is still pretty easy for me. As soon as I heard this album in March I knew, and I said it back then. While there was a good deal of great music funneling out of speakers and phones in 2012, none where as genre-bending and all encompassing as Kid Cudi and Dot Da Genius’ collaboration on their rock-inspired side project, WZRD. That album had everything, truly. And I consider it the best album of the year for a multitude or reasons, though the main reason being just how important the album is. Yes, that’s right, I said important. Not only is this album pitch perfect, but it is culturally profound. Read on to find out why.
Let’s start things off right, for those who don’t know. Here’s the first single that dropped months before the album even came out, Teleport 2 Me, Jamie. A song, believe it nor not, heavily inspired by the lush visuals and retro-tastic soundtrack from the Ryan Gosling movie, Drive. That let’s you know just the level of awesome you are dealing with here.
From that opening sound of the static you hear when a needle hits a vinyl record, you know you are in for something special. And honestly, that song drew me in and got me genuinely excited about the album. I am still upset he didn’t tour to support it, but with an impending double album coming out in 2013 (Indicud) I can understand why.
For those not already familiar with Kid Cudi, first off, what is wrong with you? Second, you need to acclimate yourself with The Man On The Moon II album immediately. To push Kid Cudi as a rapper is to greatly undersell the music that this man makes. Not to say rap is any less a genre than any other in music, but it is only one facet of what he does. Prime example is this track off of Man In The Moon II, Pursuit Of Happiness, which also features MGMT and Ratatat. Yes, that’s right, Cudi was spitting on Ratatat tracks before you even knew who Ratatat was.
So would you call that a rap song? Nah, I wouldn’t either. Does he “rap” on the song? In the simplest terms, yes, but he raps with a melody, which, in turn, is actually singing. Whereas most rap can be sung in one key and flat, almost spoken rather than sung, Cudi doesn’t go that route. To cover this song, and to do it right, you best be comfortable with the electro groove of the beat, and the crawling manner in which it is all delivered by Cudi himself. As I said before, he is an artist who transcends genre (another awesome example here) Well, take that genre defying, and crank it up ten notches, and you have an idea what is in store for you with the WZRD album.
So what makes this album so amazing? For the WZRD project, Cudi, and long time collaborator and friend, producer Dot Da Genius, openly embraced some truly inspiring rock influences, with Cudi going so far as to learn how to play bass and guitar specifically for the album. The end result is, without a doubt, one of the most diverse and widely appealing albums of, not just the year, but the last decade. Even if that gets me heat, I will stand behind it.
You can hear so many influences, from the seminal Boston alternative band, The Pixies, to TV on the Radio, and even some old blues inspiration, namely in the form of a Lead Belly (via Nirvana) cover of Where Did You Sleep Last Night. Yes, you read that correctly, and it is exactly was awesome as it sounds. By including some really fresh drum fills on that track, the already amazing song emits a whole new energy. You put a guitar driven track like Brake on top of that, and then seal the deal with the Jodeci (turned Pink Floyd) track, The Dream Time Machine, and you have an album that, honestly, everyone needs to own.
So now you know why I love the WZRD album, and why it is my pick for best album of the year, but you are probably curious as to why I called it important in the intro paragraph. That is simple, really. Since the inception of rock n’ roll music, white people have been liberally stealing music from primarily African-American artists. All the rock you loved in the sixties and seventies is really just old, Southern blues. The Beatles, Elvis, and Led Zeppelin are three perfect examples of that cultural pillaging. Examples of the white man coming in, taking something, and labeling it his own (those are the very fundamentals this sordid, yet wonderful Country was built on, sad to say) but that is the most extreme way of thinking about it. Here, for those who may want to argue:
And while the above example may seem extreme, and it is, in the truest sense, all those bands and artists were just inspired by African-American blues music, not solely intending to rip it off. And that is what makes WZRD so important , musically and culturally. It is the first time in a very long time where you have white music heavily influencing an already successful African-American artist. Though some may want to bring up rap/rock, and the frat-rock explosion of the late nineties, first rule about that crap is we pretend it never happened. And to bring that up here is to compare Shakespeare to street poetry sung by the homeless. Moving on.
While it is safe to say that, if Radiohead released an album in 2012, it would be holding this position, they didn’t, so it’s not. Yet, in that proverbial album’s place, we honestly have an album that, for all intents and purposes, truly has a little something for everyone. Do you like to rock out and head bang like a neo-nineties douche? Then we have High Off Life for you. Do you want to smoke a joint and ponder the importance of your life and the choices you have made? Well, the acoustic track, Efflictim, is perfect for you. And that is just two examples. Also, make note. There is one curse word (is “pussies” even a curse word? Cudi says it doesn’t count because he could be talking about a cat. Not kidding) on the entire album, and the word BITCH is uttered exactly ZERO times. So we have class, and we have awesome. Honestly, how could anything but WZRD be number one?
Honestly, how many other records changed the way you feel about a whole genre? Or even, shifted the way you feel about music in general? That is what the WZRD album did for me, and that’s something that music hasn’t made me feel in a long, long time. And don’t say I don’t have any right saying what the best album of the year is, because honestly, I had to wade through so much shit this year, musically (reviewing music was how I made my living in 2012, here are 200 pieces of proof) to find this album, and to be wise enough to know just how special it was, and important it is.
Seriously, in a sea of coal, WZRD was a fucking diamond.