Top Albums of 2012: 100-51

It’s really hard to narrow down a list of Top Albums of 2012, especially when you have four contributors with different opinions.  We gave the reins to Nathan.Lankford and Nicole Baumann on this one, since they write the majority of the album reviews, but we all have a little representation within this.  Now, we do realize that our site has specialized tastes, so please realize that these are our OPINIONS.  You’re welcome to disagree, and, in fact, we encourage that process.  Also, we’re doing a Top 100 because so many records came out this year, it wouldn’t be fair to narrow it down.  Not to mention it might lead you to discover some hits you hadn’t heard about yet. Oh, and we don’t really like Frank Ocean or hip-hop…just a personal choice…here’s the first segment.

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Junk Culture – Wild Quiet

Rating: ★★★½☆

When you receive a record in the mail, and notice that there’s just one man behind the project, sometimes you jump to inclusions, expecting the output to merely be the work of a man and his laptop.  Fortunately for everyone, this is not the case with Deepak Mantena and his project Junk Culture.  Sure, the new record, Wild Quiet, definitely uses some electronic flourishes, but the accompanying music makes it a stand out among many of its peers.

Immediately, there’s a discordant guitar opening on “Oregon,” before drums come crashing into your ears.  Deepak’s vocals soon join in, hanging somewhere in the middle of the mix, which allows them to be purposeful, but not the sole focus of the track.  There’s some vocals that back Mantena at parts, particularly during the chorus that make the song, and its construction remarkable; clearly this isn’t just your average one-man laptop project. Then Wild Quiet takes a more electronic driven turn on the album’s title track.  This jam features stabbing electronic beats, but a fair amount of solid percussion to accentuate the synthesized beats. When execution is done this well, it’s hard not to appreciate the actions of even the loneliest of songwriters.

In listening to the latest from Junk Culture, I think one of the elements that provides that extra bit of special is the usage of live drums.  Playing “Indian Summer,” I wanted to lump it in with bands like Twin Shadow, and it definitely has that hooky throwback groove, but the live drums give it a bit of grit…they’re not the cleanest sounding drums, but they hit hard, giving the song an added bit of emphasis that distances the record from its contemporaries. The kick drum that opens “Ceremony” even adds a darker bit of resonance from the opening line; it contrasts perfectly with the song itself, which is more of a slow burner in essence. If you need more evidence, then just take one listen to “Young Love.”  Personally, it’s the song that I’ve connected with the most on the album; there’s something about the ringing guitar sound and the way the vocals are lined up and looped back again as backing vocals.  It’s definitely a special song in my book.

Thinking about it, perhaps the reason Deepak Mantena opted for a solo career in a sense is that he wanted complete control over the music he’s creating, and we’re fortunate that his Junk Culture project is producing such unique results.  Yes, it’s possible the addition of something extra could take an album like Wild Quiet over the moon, but for now, it’s a completed work that doesn’t seem to need anything else…that is, of course, besides your listening attention.


Download: Junk Culture – Growing Pains [MP3]