Year-end lists are inherently absurd. Ranking the best albums implies impossible objectivity and obsessive devotion. The most dedicated listeners can’t hear everything. The best ears are susceptible to overhype. All tastes are biased. All canons are personal.
It ultimately boils down to what YG asked earlier this year: Who do you love?
But somewhere in the neurotic impulse to assign numbers to the intangible, narratives emerge. On the surface, Ariel Pink, a Beverly Hills psych-pop gadfly, has nothing in common with Boogie, a Blood from Long Beach. But both Boogie’s “Bitter Raps” and Pink’s “Picture Me Gone” gently parodied our growing impulse to document every moment with digital technology.
The urge to transcend is innate, but this concrete-and-stucco city paradoxically enhances that impulse. Artists such as Peaking Lights, The Acid, Mark McGuire, Captain Supernova and everyone on the Brainfeeder imprint create music with a psychic and sonic distance from the numbing drone of daily life.
And both art rappers and gangsta rappers united to chant, “Fuck the Police.”
Once fitted for a pine box, gangsta rap from South Central, Long Beach and Compton proved as timeless as Laurel Canyon folk-rock. In 2014, the latest generation (YG, Schoolboy Q, Vince Staples, Cozz, Boogie) came of age, updating traditional tropes to contemporary missions. They even got backup from DJ Quik, a quarter-century deep in the rap game and still “America’z Most Complete Artist.”
Earlier this year, I selected my 10 favorite L.A. albums of the first half of 2014.* This is the sequel – written as haiku, per ancient tradition.
10. Tinashe, Aquarius (RCA)
Child star finds her sign
Between Aaliyah and Cassie
And now, she’s on too
9. clipping., CLPPNG (Sub Pop)
Rap as shrapnel bomb
Is Mad Max in Mid-City? No.
It’s Clipping, bitch
8. DJ Quik, The Midnight Life (Mad Science)
Still sordid and smooth
Midnight in a perfect world
Is a funk banjo
7. Flying Lotus, You’re Dead (Warp)
Jazz fusion dreams grim.
Is DMT a writeoff?
Death does become him
6. Busdriver, Perfect Hair (Big Dada)
What locks and laments
Art and commerce always war
Oh shoot, Driver kills
5. Boogie, Thirst 48 (self-released)
A toast to the thirst
Poison for phonies flexing
All the likes go here
4. Cozz, Cozz N Effect (Dreamville/Interscope)
Raw South Central tales
Murder and Western Ave. slaves
A star born sinning
3. DJ Dodger Stadium, Friend of Mine (Body High)
Love songs sung alone
Ask the dust or the Dodgers
How would Fante rave?
2. Vince Staples, Hell Can Wait (Def Jam)
Pigs split Long Beach wigs
Drugs pushed, bodies buried, sprouting
Flowers of evil
1. Ariel Pink, Pom Pom (4AD)
Beverly Hills bard
Arthur Lee meets Angelyne
Punishment and prize
The Acid, Liminal; Anderson Paak, Venice; Mark McGuire, Noctilucence; Madlib, Rock Konducta Vol. 2; Captain Supernova, Visions of the Unknown; Speak!, Summertime Radness; Peaking Lights, Cosmic Logic; Allah-Las, Worship the Sun; The Bots, Pink Palms; DJ Mustard, 10 Summers; Wildest Dreams, Wildest Dreams; Spaceships, Spaceships; Daedelus, The Light Brigade; Namebrand, Great Tape II; Matthewdavid, In My World; Milo, A Toothpaste Suburb; KR, I$0Lyf3 3; White Fence, For the Recently Found Innocent; The Koreatown Oddity, 200 Tree Rings; Deru, 1979; Ty Segall, Manipulator.
*The top 10 albums from the first half of 2014:
Open Mike Eagle, Dark Comedy; Isaiah Rashad, Cilvia Demo; Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, Piñata; YG, My Krazy Life; Warpaint, Warpaint; Morgan Delt, Morgan Delt; Baths, Ocean Death; Turquoise Summers, Shades; Vince Staples, Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2; Red Ferguson, The Ghost Town Sessions.