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Top 30 Favorite Albums of 2012

January 7, 2013

I’m late with my list this year. I wanted to have this up by the end of the first week of the new year. 2012 was a pretty spectacular year for music, hip-hop especially took a giant leap forward. Indie’s arrival to the mainstream stage lead to pop acts to imitate and/or seek collaborations with alternative artists. Psychedelia also made a big splash, being heard in numerous genres across the board, from hip-hop to folk to electronica. Also, a shift occurred in popular music in which drugs had a heavy influence on production styles. Mind-expanding substances haven’t had this kind of impact on popular culture since the ’60s. Below is an annual disclaimer for the list:
 

There are many artists who I admire and whose albums I enjoyed that didn’t make the list. It doesn’t mean that they didn’t make good music or were ignored, just that I feel that the artists who appear on this list had stronger cohesive albums. And also, I am just one man; I can not listen to every single album released this year. But from the many many albums that I did listen to this year, this is what I feel are the best.

 

30. Valtari by Sigur Ros [Parlophone 2012]

 

SR- Valturi

 

The Icelandic ambient rockers built a career off of their dreamy ethereal soundscapes. Sigur Ros doesn’t make much of a departure from its signature sound in its sixth studio album. Its stylistic evolution is slow and subtle, yet still remains interesting enough to keep fans tuned in. Valtari features more electronic sounds than any previous Sigur Ros album, but heavily rely off of organic instruments such as strings and piano. Even with all of the strong LP releases this year, it is still among the best efforts, taking listeners into an escape of a world saturated in delicate sounds.

 

Best 3 tracks: “Ég anda” ~ “Varúð” ~ “Valtari”

 

29. This Machine by The Dandy Warhols [Beat the World/The End 2012]

 

DW- This Machine

 

Some critics in the alternative press world swept the Dandy Warhols under the rug this year to cater to irony-obsessed youth and new flavors of the month. This Machine isn’t revolutionary, but it’s far more compelling than other lackluster releases this year praised by the indie press. Their criticisms would have more legitimacy if the same publications didn’t overpromote sleep-inducing albums such as those released by Beach House, Lana Del Rey, and the XX this year. Even with This Machine not particularly being the best of the Dandy Warhols efforts, it’s still more engaging than the efforts from the previously mentioned. The band isn’t interested in making desperate attempts to keep up with a forever insatiable hipster demographic. They are older men, older artists, making a living doing what they enjoy, and it’s still more captivating than the output from popular bands half their age.

 

Best 3 tracks: “The Autumn Carnival” ~ “Alternative Power to the People” ~ “Don’t Shoot She Cried”

 

28. Melody’s Echo Chamber by Melody’s Echo Chamber [Fat Possom 2012]

 

MEC

 

French artist, Melody Prochet of My Bee’s Garden, collaborated with her boyfriend Kevin Parker of Australian psychedelic rock band Tame Impala for her Melody’s Echo Chamber project. Prochet’s breathy voice blends well with Parker’s vibrant fuzzy psychedlia. Like Tame Impala, the self-titled LP has a vintage feel to it, yet manages to maintain a contemporary sound. It builds upon Parker’s growing legacy as a gifted young multitalented artist and introduces Prochet to a broader audience previously unaware of her talents.

 

Best 3 tracks: “Crystallized” ~ “Mount Hopeless” ~ “Be Proud of Your Kids”

 

27. Tender New Signs by Tamaryn [Mexican Summer 2012]

 

Tamaryn-Tender-New-Signs

 

In comparison to Melody Prochet’s breathy singing style, Tamaryn’s is huskier. Her soft voice intertwines well with aquatic guitar riffs reminiscent of early ’80s neo-psychedlia and post-punk. Tender New Signs stays in the same vein as its predecessor, The Waves. There isn’t a tremendous amount of stylistic growth between albums, but it’s still one of the most memorable releases from this year. The New Zealand native also continues to carry on San Francisco’s legacy of producing earthy colorful alternative rock music.

 

Best 3 tracks: “I’m Gone” ~ “No Exits” ~ “Afterlight”

 

26. Negotiations by The Helio Sequence [Sub Pop/Cavity Search 2012]

 

HS- negotiations

 

As with the previously listed artists, The Helio Sequences’ fifth studio album doesn’t reinvent the wheel or make a big leap in the band’s production, but is an earnest alternative rock album with catchy drum-beats, memorable hooks, and melodies that are likely to linger in the head. Negotiations isn’t profound, but its songwriting is solid enough to earn a place on this year’s list and still excel over other LPs too bland to hold a candle to it.

 

Best 3 tracks: “One More Time” ~ “Harvester of Souls” ~ “Silence on Silence”

 

Listen to Negotiations in its entirety HERE.

 

25. PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone by John Frusciante [Record Collection 2012]

 

JF- PBX-Funicular-Intaglio-Zone

 

Two years after the release of The Empyrean, Frusciante unleashed his most polarizing album since Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt. His debut LP and his latest effort share similar characteristics- they’re both fiercely experimental without any regard to conventional song structure with mind-expanding production techniques that practically begs listeners to trip to it. One big difference is the fact that Niandra was recorded when Frusciante was in a heavy hard drug phase, using heroin and cocaine regularly. It was brilliant, but dark and sometimes even a little bit disturbing. Fortunately, Frusciante is in a happier place in his life now and presumably clean of hard drugs. PBX is eccentric and unpredictable, often blending numerous genres in one song. Wu-Tang affiliated rapper Kinetic 9 makes a random guest appearance on “Ratiug” (as well as the  Letur-Lefr EP released in July). The album has a prominent drum-and-bass influence, also relying heavily on synthesizers. Obviously, because of its experimental elements, PBX is an acquired taste. It also highlights Frusciante’s complexity as an artist, showing him pushing his creativity further into less explored territory.

 

Best 3 tracks: “Ratiug (feat. Kinetic 9)” ~ “Guitar” ~ “Mistakes”

 

24. Le voyage dans la lune by Air [Virgin 2012]

 

Air-Le-Voyage-Dans-La-Lune

 

Air’s seventh studio album takes listeners into a moody glitchy outer space. The French duo has always been progressive with their music, but this time around they decided to pair it with  Georges Méliès’s 1902 silent film classic of the same name. Le voyage serves as the soundtrack to a restored colored version of the vintage film. Alternative music publication Pitchfork unfairly rated the album 5.7. Considering that the album was made within a certain context to score a film, the band had slight limitations. While Le voyage isn’t the strongest release in Air’s catalogue, it certainly isn’t its worst. The flighty unrealistic expectations of bias writers and critics don’t take away from the actual existence of quality in the music.

 

Best 3 tracks: “Astronomic Club” ~ “Who Am I Now?” ~ “Décollage

 

23. Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1
by Lupe Fiasco [Atlantic/1st and 15th Entertainment 2012]

 

LF- FandL2

 

2012 has been an excellent year for hip-hop. The genre overall, from the underground to the mainstream, has been quite lackluster over the last 10 years. The focus shifted from delivering inspiring lyrics to riding the most club-friendly bass-heavy beat. Last year, Lupe Fiasco dropped Lasers, his most successful commercial album to date. He endured a public battle with Atlantic Records, struggling to get his third studio album released. Ironically, what turned out to be his best selling album also turned out to be his most disappointing artistically. Lasers was littered with cheesy pop-rap filler; it was more of a reflection of the current state of popular hip-hop instead of Lupe’s creative capabilities. Food & Liquor II  explores our current socio-political dilemmas, aiming heavy criticism at the Obama administration at a time when most rappers and Black Americans still support it. Some listeners have complained that Lupe’s political stance it too strong or preachy. But Lupe struck a nerve for a reason; most Americans are complacent with political oppression and find it very difficult to think outside of the Democrat/Republican paradigm. He finally got the opportunity to release the album that he was preparing for  prior to Lasers, but not without adversity. “Bitch Bad,” an earnest effort, still received criticism from feminists who claimed that another “Black Girl Lost” coming from a man telling women how they should act doesn’t help. I humbly disagree. “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free)” also stirred up controversy after Pete Rock publicly criticized Lupe for the track, which samples “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.).” Chuck D also took a swipe at Lupe on Twitter, implying that he wasn’t a good rapper. Food & Liquor II has its share of filler, but the bulk of songs that stand as a bold testament of our times, (especially during the Occupy Wall St. movement) make it a release worthy of being highlighted and that will perhaps gain more critical acclaim as time pass.

 

Best 3 tracks: “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free)” ~ “Lamborghini Angels” ~ “Hood Now (Outro)”

 

22. Centipede HZ by Animal Collective [Domino 2012]

 

AC- Centipede HZ

 

After the release of Merriweather Post Pavilion in 2009, Animal Collective’s audience and popularity grew beyond the band’s expectations. Its eighth studio album garnered wide critical acclaim, topping many alternative music year-end lists. The Fall Be Kind EP (2009) and ODDSAC film (2010) tied over fans while they waited for the follow-up LP. The band debuted new songs from Centipede HZ during its 2011 tour. The album was introduced to the public as a visual stream on the band’s website prior to its official release. Initial reactions from fans online were positive, sentiments changed after Pitchfork and other indie publications panned the record. The abandonment from fickle fans and critics wasn’t a surprise; the indiesphere likes to preserve its cool by routinely tearing down the artists that it vehemently builds up. It’s foolish to dismiss Centipede given that it contains some of the strongest songs in Animal Collective’s career. The production on “New Town Burnout” and “Amanita” is more intricate and fleshed out than anything the band has ever done before. On Centipede‘s most compelling tracks, Animal Collective perfected their otherworldly psychedelic sound, whereas on earlier albums it sounds like a band still experimenting with all of the interesting noises that it can weld together. Centipede is an album that many skeptics are likely to return to, to praise retrospectively.

 

Best 3 tracks: “Wide Eyed” ~ “New Town Burnout” ~ “Amanita”

 

21. Master of My Make-Believe by Santigold [Atlantic 2012]

 

santigold

 

The album opens with an upbeat collaboration with Yeah Yeah Yeahs band members Karen O. and Nick Zinner, with production also handled by Switch and Q-Tip. “Go!” served as the first promotional single for Santigold’s sophomore LP. Diplo and David Sitek of TV on the Radio also make contributions to the album. As with her debut LP, Master of My Make-Believe is an eclectic genre-blending adventure. Tracks like “Disparate Youth” and “Ghost From the Machine” build up to a climax, instead of drifting aimlessly, going nowhere. Despite the comparisons to M.I.A. and other female artists exploring the deep woods of electronic music, Santigold still manages to create a sound that is stamped with her individual voice. “Look At These Hoes” ventures into hip-hop territory, with Santi rapping like she’s an established MC. Master is an album full of life, packed with vibrant festive sounds not heard in other electronic music released this year.

 

Best 3 tracks: “Go! (feat. Karen O.)” ~ “Disparate Youth” ~ “God from the Machine”

 

20. Break It Yourself by Andrew Bird [Mom + Pop Music 2012]

 

andrew-bird-break-yourself

 

Like Sigur Ros and the Helio Sequence, Andrew Bird is an artist comfortable with his established sound. His strength as an artist is perfecting that sound and writing new music that continues to leave a lasting impact on fans; the folk-influenced multi-instrumentalist haven’t lost his touch. His consistency is primarily what makes him stand out from other indie folk artists who maintained their career over the last 15 years. Bird doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel either, but his songs are full of emotion and earthy acoustics that resonate with fans craving substance over style.

 

Best 3 tracks: “Desperation Breeds…” ~ “Near Death Experience Experience” ~ “Lusitania (featuring St. Vincent)”

 

19. Noctourniquet by The Mars Volta [Warner Bros./Sargent House]

 

MV- Noctourniquet

 

One of the common criticisms of The Mars Volta was its jumpy schizophrenic production, sometimes sounding unfocused and lacking structure. Even with those criticisms, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler Zavala remained to be one of the most innovative and technically skilled songwriters working in the industry today. Noctourniquet is more palatable and coherent than previous releases (with the exception of the stripped-down Octahedron released in 2009). The new LP sounds as if the band is evolving with its songwriting style, while simultaneously evoking its post-hardcore roots, reminiscent of At The Drive-In. It’s easily their best cohesive album since Frances The Mute.

 

Best 3 tracks: “Dyslexicon” ~ “Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound” ~ “Vedamalady”

 

18. Control System by Ab-Soul [Top Dawg Entertainment 2012]

 

AS- control system

 

The state of hip-hop was looking more and more dire with the passing of each year. Of course, there’s always a handful of talented MCs whose efforts go unnoticed. 2012 served as somewhat of a comeback year for the genre. As some older rappers diluted their lyrics and tried too hard to keep up with a younger audience, Generation Y MCs stepped to the plate delivering what younger hip-hop heads have been waiting for for a while. At the forefront is Top Dawg Entertainment, a Southern California-based rap label releasing some of the best hip-hop music in over 10 years. Its breakout star is Compton native Kendrick Lamar, but equally captivating is his 25 year old labelmate Ab-Soul from Carson, CA. Control System features crisp immaculate production layered with Ab-Soul’s sharp witty wordplay. It also contains psychedelic elements, something that dominated hip-hop in the mainstream and underground all year. What makes Ab-Soul so appealing is his honesty and approachability. Rappers spent the last 15 years building up wealthy caricature versions of themselves; Ab-Soul is charming just being himself- an inquisitive talented young artist trying to make the best he can out of his life by finding a creative way to share it. A sad highlight on the LP is “Book of Soul,” a song discussing the suicide of Alori Joh (Ab-Soul’s girlfriend and TDE affiliated artist). Control System indirectly speaks for his generation. It’s swagged out, it’s somber, it’s political, it’s horny- it covers the complex and sometimes juvenile emotions of young man in his early-mid 20s in a manner that is nothing less than intriguing.

 

Best 3 tracks: “Terrorist Threats (feat. Danny Brown & Jhene Aiko)” ~ “Illuminate” ~ “The Book of Soul”

 

17. Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors by Big Boi [Purple Ribbon/Def Jam 2012]

 

Big-Boi-Vicious-Lies-And-Dangerous-Rumors1

 

Released in December, it came as a surprise that Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors would be the most polarizing hip-hop album of the year. Big Boi is no stranger to innovation or pushing boundaries, being one-half of the groundbreaking hip-hop duo Outkast. For his sophomore studio album, he collaborated with a host of indie musicians, blending bombastic Southern hip-hop with electronica and indie synth pop. It takes the cake for being the most colorful psychedelic hip-hop album released this year, which actually might be why some older fans were turned off. However, repetition is boring. Big Boi decided to go in the indie-inspired stylistic direction after Andre 3000 advised him that the “funk stuff” had reached its limit. Big Boi pairs perfectly with Phantogram and Little Dragon on the album; even the tracks with Kid Cudi and Wavves hold up. As a lyricist, Boi Boi is sharper than ever. As a producer, his vision goes far beyond hip-hop’s typical boundaries. Like other albums on the list, Vicious Lies sounds like 2012. While other rappers this year embraced vintage hip-hop sounds, Big Boi strived to release an album that sounds like the future that is today.

 

Best 3 tracks: “The Thickets (feat. Sleepy Brown)” ~ “Lines (feat. A$AP Rocky & Phantogram)” ~ “Descending (feat. Little Dragon)”

 

16. The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do by Fiona Apple [Clean Slate/Epic 2012]

 

Fiona-Apple-The-Idler-Wheel

 

Fiona Apple’s music has always been just as mystifying as her album titles. She is known for scarcely releasing material over her career, but when her albums drop, there is always a loyal fanbase waiting to savor them. The Idler Wheel… is the follow-up to Apple’s 2005 LP Extraordinary Machine. The new album features simple, yet quirky piano driven pop songs with catchy melodies and memorable lines. Other tracks have mild contortions with shifty time-signatures. With that said, it’s a grower- an album that might not knock you out of your chair on its first spin, but becomes increasingly appealing with each listen. The closing track, “Hot Knife,” features her sister Maude Maggart on backing vocals. 2012 was a year in which Fiona would also face challenges in addition to her success. She was arrested and jailed in Texas this past September after law enforcement found hashish (concentrated marijuana) on her tour bus. She bounced back after her release and continued touring until November when she canceled (or postponed) future shows to care for her dying pet.

 

Best 3 tracks: “Jonathan” ~ “Werewolf” ~ “Hot Knife

 

15. Shields by Grizzly Bear [Warp 2012]

 

grizzly-bear-shields

 

Grizzly Bear has a reputation for writing exceptionally well-crafted psychedelic folk songs. On its fourth studio album Shields, it combines the best traits from Yellow House (2006) and Veckatimest (2009) while pushing the band’s sound further. Tracks like “Sleeping Ute” and “Yet Again” are robust, exhibiting the band’s sublime songwriting. Grizzly Bear’s production has always been multi-dimensional; its music constructs a chromatic hazy world where listeners can easily dive into and submerge. Shields is more rock-driven than previous efforts, but retains the band’s folk aesthetics.

 

Best 3 tracks: “Sleeping Ute” ~ “Yet Again” ~ “Sun in Your Eyes”

 

14. R.A.P. Music by Killer Mike [Williams Street 2012]

 

KM- RAP music

 

Hip-Hop production in 2012 is the most adventurous it’s ever been. Killer Mike collaborated with El-P, who exclusively produced the whole album. His rambunctious electronic beats surprisingly fit perfect with Killer Mike’s effortless flows. Perhaps it isn’t too much of a surprise though considering that Killer Mike has been riding eclectic beats for years on his numerous Outkast collaborations. Besides the production and rapping being strong points on R.A.P. Music, Mike’s militant political stance also takes center stage. Like Lupe and Ab-Soul, he criticizes the current American political system on his album, echoing sentiments of thousands of activists involved in the progressive movement. The album is one of the shining examples of hip-hop done right in the post-autotune music world.

 

Best 3 tracks: “Big Beast (feat. El-P & T.I.)” ~ “Reagan” ~ “R.A.P. Music”

 

13. WIXIW by Liars [Mute 2012]

 

liars-wixiw

 

Liars is known for its stylistic variations from album to album; WIXIW features more electronic elements than the band’s past efforts. Like other artists on this list, Liars’ music creates its own alternate reality, one that is layered with hypnotic textures and patterns. Its form of psychedelia is darker and heavier than its psych-folk peers. Some of the tracks on the album sound like tribal rhythms filtered through an industrial machine. The roughness of the music hints at vintage Nine Inch nails, while its softness is reminiscent of Radiohead. Liars first album swept them into the dance-rock craze that dominated alternative rock ten years ago. Since then, the band has grown and evolved far beyond that sound.  It’s too bad more artists don’t take a hedonistic approach to making new music, but from the looks of this list, that might be changing.

 

Best 3 tracks: “No.1 Against the Rush” ~ “WIXIW” ~ “Brats”

 

12. ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! by Godspeed You! Black Emperor [Constellation 2012]

 

GSYBE- Allalujah

 

In the same vein as Liars, Godspeed has perfected creating dark moody soundscapes. The pieces comprising this album aren’t just songs, they are spiritual experiences, a deep immersion into static, feedback, and heavy eastern-influenced guitar riffs. ‘Allelujah is raw audio art – it’s like Francisco Goya doing the tango with Salvador Dali in T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland.

 

Best track: “We Drift Like Worried Fire

 

Listen to the album in its entirety HERE:

 

11. Until the Quiet Comes by Flying Lotus [Warp 2012]

 

Flying-Lotus-Until-the-Quiet-Comes

 

It would only make sense for the great-nephew of John and Alice Coltrane, and cousin to their son, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, to carry on futuristic jazz into the world of today’s 21st century psychedelic music. But it wouldn’t be fair to limit FlyLo to being an artist interpreting jazz for the future; his music is much more than that. Until the Quiet Comes is inspired by dreams and altered consciousness. The beats on the first part of the album are playful, taking listeners on a jubilant ride. As the album proceeds the songs take on a certain mystique, a murky kaleidoscope that’s established by the time Thom Yorke’s haunting vocals kick in on “Electric Candyland.” The intricate vocal manipulation and sampling on “Putty Boy Strut” shows a composer who’s honed his craft. It slides into “See Thru to U,” a percussion-driven collaboration with Erykah Badu (an entire LP with these two artists would be phenomenal). Until the Quiet Comes isn’t necessarily a quieter or tamer FlyLo; it’s a more focused FlyLo. It’s an artist pushing himself forward without going too far off base and losing sight of the vision that drives him. In reference to the dream world recreated on the album, Flying Lotus stated in an August interview to Vibe “I feel like that world fascinates me so much. That feeling is very present in the artist’s mind where creative ideas flourish. The notion of the unknown and beyond is something that I’ve always been curious about, and the music and work that do is where I can ask those questions.”

 

Best 3 tracks: “Getting There (feat. Niki Randa)” ~ “Putty Boy Strut” ~ “Only If You Wanna”

 

10. Cancer 4 Cure by El-P [Fat Possom 2012]

 

ELP- C4C

 

The album kicks off with “Request Denied,” evoking Fat of the Land-era Prodigy in its first three minutes before El-P comes out guns blazing, spitting like a lyricist that have something to prove. In the last few years, the masses embraced electronic music as dubstep crossed over. Cure 4 Cancer is a fusion of electronica and hip-hop; it’s presented in a way that sounds naturally mutual instead of forced. It’s the future of hip-hop; cutting edge beats matched with substantial lyrics examining the complexity of life and the will to live. Sure, progressive artists like Afrika Bambaataa have been here since the genre’s early days, but there have been too few of those kind of artists over the last 35 years. El-P’s music is exceptional not only because of his skills as a lyricist and producer, it’s exceptional because he’s staying true to himself and continuing to stay in his own creative lane, which not too many other rap artists can fuck with. Counting Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music, that’s two classic hip-hop albums he dropped in one year.

 

Best 3 tracks: “Request Denied” ~ “The Full Retard” ~ “Drones Over Brooklyn”

 

9. Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color by Brother Ali [Rhymesayers 2012]

 

brother_ali-mourning_in_america_and_dreaming_in_color

 

In June, Brother Ali was arrested while protesting at an Occupy Homes action in  Minneapolis . Other rappers on this year’s list have shown support for the Occupy Wall St. Movement, but Ali is the only one to actually risk arrest for his beliefs. Mourning in America discusses adversity from his perspective in our current American socio-political climate. While other rappers went beyond the familiar with their production this year, Ali stuck with warm vintage soul samples that nicely compliment his eager flow; Mourning also utilizes traditional computer-generated hip-hop beats. Being blind, albino, and Muslim naturally makes him stand out. But nothing makes him stand out more than being truthful about the ugliness that permeates the Western world.

 

Best 3 tracks: “Mourning in America” ~ “Gather Round (feat. Amir Sulaiman)” ~ “All You Need”

 

8. Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them by Blu & Exile [Dirty Science/Fat Beats 2012]

 

BandE- GMMFWICSST

 

Give Me Flowers isn’t exactly a brand new album. It was recorded in 2009 and originally released in December 2011 on Bandcamp. It was remastered and updated, and subsequently released in September 2012. Blu built his reputation serving as a descendant of the ’90s jazz-hop movement. He’s a talented MC, but part of his intrigue lies in him not conforming to west coast hip-hop stereotypes. There are plenty of bohemian dreamers in Los Angeles, not all of them can deliver their message with the same precision as Blu though.

 

Best 3 tracks: “O Heaven” ~ “Good Morning Neighbor” ~ “A Man

 

7. Skelethon by Aesop Rock [Rhymesayers 2012]

 

Aesop-Rock-Skelethon

 

After a five year break, the dexterous tongue-twisting MC is back. Personal lost and isolation inspired the recording of the album. From a  production standpoint, Skelethon sounds different from any other hip-hop LP on this year’s list. It’s hip-hop laced with alternative rock with Aesop’s potent lyrics blazing through the bars. Many other albums got praise and accolades this year, but Skelethon is less acknowledged. It’s more than another good underground hip-hop album. It’s a testament to the endurance of the human spirit. It’s a man regaining his balance and composure, as an artist and person.

 

Best 3 tracks: “ZZZ Top (feat. Allyson Baker)” ~ “Cycles to Gehenna” ~ “1,000 O’Clock”

 

6. Black Radio by Robert Glasper [Blue Note 2012]

 

robert-glasper-experiment-black-radio

 

Jazz was once a rebellious genre in American popular culture; it was youth music. In the 21st century jazz have been reduced to a subculture following, being extremely difficult to gain traction in the mainstream pop world. That’s unless artists that operate in different genres can collaborate to erode frivolous boundaries. Soul singers, Bilal and Erykah Badu have dipped their toes in the jazz pool, both are also featured on Black Radio. Glasper has expansive music taste as well; he’s not afraid to reference artists like Radiohead and Nirvana in his music.The album is after all a 21st century jazz album; it should be expected that popular music from the last 25 years will have some kind of influence on it. The contemporary jazz world can at times seem rigid and retro-dependent; Glasper is presenting the genre from a Gen. X perspective. The collaboration choices are strong. The featured artists vibe with one another naturally (ie: “Always Shine” featuring Lupe Fiasco and Bilal). Lalah Hathaway’s cover of Sade’s “Cherish The Day” takes it into new dimensions. Black Radio is a sleek modern jazz vocal album dipped in soul, effortless in its cool. It’s in a different corner than Brainfeeder’s brand of jazz (maybe with the exception of the solo work of the late Austin Peralta- RIP), but it’s just as liberating. It’s great to live in a time when both are present and freshly released.

 

Best 3 tracks: “Afro Blue  (feat. Erykah Badu)” ~ “Cherish the Day (feat. Lalah Hathaway)” ~ “Always Shine (feat. Lupe Fiasco and Bilal)”

 

5. Life is Good by Nas [Def Jam 2012]

 

Nas- LIG

 

So good, I had to grab it on wax. Life is Good was dubbed the hip-hop version of Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear; it was more than that. Gaye’s album was recorded after him and his lawyer agreed to split half of its royalty earnings with his ex-wife, Anna Gordy (sister of Motown founder Berry Gordy). Life is Good was inspired by Nas’s divorce from alternative urban pop artist Kelis. The album also serves as a retrospective on the career of an aging street rapper who is seemingly trapped under the shadow of his debut LP (Illmatic), which many hip-hop heads consider the perfect rap album. However, this is not 1994. It is 18 years later and Nas must speak from the perspective of the man he is today. He playfully spars with nostalgic fans on “Loco-Motive” stating “This is for my trapped in the ’90s niggas.” While a few tracks are throwbacks to the days of his youth, others take hip-hop production into new territories. Salam Remi’s work on “A Queen’s Story” is absolutely breathtaking; it’s a flawless blend of poetry, jazz, and classical music presented in a way not heard anywhere else this year. “Cherry Wine,” also produced by Remi, features vocal and guitar contributions from the late Amy Winehouse. The themes that Nas followed on his recent releases (Distant Relatives, Untiltled, Hip-Hop is Dead, Street’s Disciple) might not had resonated with some fans as well, but they were still decent efforts. Life is Good is clearly a highlight in Nas’s career, if not hip-hop altogether.

 

Best 3 tracks: “A Queen’s Story” ~ “The Don” ~ “Cherry Wine (feat. Amy Winehouse)”

 

4. Channel Orange by Frank Ocean [Def Jam 2012]

 

FO- Channel Orange

 

Tyler the Creator was put under fire last year when lesbian twin performers Tegan and Sara publicly criticized him over his lyrics, claiming that they were “misogynistic and homophobic.” Ironically, Syd tha Kid, a member of the same Odd Future collective Tyler hails from, is an out lesbian with a sense of humor that is just as politically incorrect as his. This past July, Odd Future member Frank Ocean came out of the closet admitting to being involved in a same-sex relationship in the past. The biggest lesson that can be learned from the Odd Future/Tegan and Sara beef is that “queer” is not one-dimensional. Not all LGBTQI members subscribe to the same beliefs or are sensitive to the same things. Particularly queers from the inner city, who are faced with other adversities, can be desensitized to the vulgarity of certain slurs. And how much weight do the twins argument hold when a younger generation of LGBTQI youth become less and less politically incorrect, using the same ‘offensive slurs’ liberally amongst one another? Frank’s coming out was certainly a step forward sociologically for the hip-hop community; Channel Orange was a step forward for popular music that maintained its artistic integrity. “Sweet Life” and “Super Rich Kids” takes you into the glimmering Los Angeles sunshine, offering a subtle critique of the naivety of privileged youth. “Bad Religion” confronts the singer-songwriter’s struggle with self-acceptance. “Forest Gump” takes it a step further serving as an uncompromised same-sex love song. The production on the album is a combination of both organic and electronic instrumentation. It’s a stylistic bridge from the past to today in urban music, lightly evoking soul legends from over the last four decades while still sounding contemporary. Channel Orange is a cathartic release of an ambitious artist on the verge of greatness. As strong as an album as it is, there’s always room for improvement and growth. With a debut this impressive, his potential is limitless.

 

Best 3 tracks: “Sweet Life” ~ “Pyramids” ~ “Pink Matter (featuring Andre 3000)”

 

3. Landing On A Hundred by Cody ChesnuTT [Vibration Vineyard/One Little Indian 2012]

 

CC- Landing on A Hundred

 

The misogyny and machismo on 2002’s The Headphone Masterpiece polarized critics and listeners. Fans defended the creative expression of singer-songwriter Cody ChesnuTT, looking past cringe-worthy lyrics to embrace the artistic aesthetics. Critics couldn’t look past the lines that offended them to see the diamond shining through the lo-fi ruff on his double-disc debut LP. Landing On A Hundred is an album full of songs about redemption, personal growth, and spiritual freedom. After a ten year break, ChesnuTT has evolved into a completely different artist. Everything musically fans admired about him a decade ago has aged gracefully. His lyrics are far more introspective this time around, lacking the superficiality that guided his previous LP. The production is lush and eloquent, full of horns, strings, and keys. Landing On A Hundred sounds like a long lost Marvin Gaye classic. It’s an album that exhibits the personal and professional growth of a gifted artist who struggled to be a better man. It contains the strong vocal delivery and dexterity lacking on Channel Orange. And while other artists on this list are very much deserving of their acclaim, ChesnuTT’s art, in all fairness, ranks higher in my humble opinion.

 

Best 3 tracks: “What Kind of Cool (Will We Think of Next)” ~ “Don’t Follow Me” ~ “Love is More Than A Wedding Day”

 

2. Lonerism by Tame Impala [Modular 2012]

 

TI- Lonerism

 

There are tons of copy-cat indie bands that have emerged over the last couple years, trying to jump on whatever hipster trend that will elevate them to Pitchfork relevancy. On the other side of the pond are skilled creators, interested in improving their art and expanding it beyond the expectations of fans. As the indiesphere slowly deflates and corporate interests become more pervasive, style is being prioritized over substance. More and more bands are regurgitating one another’s sound instead of looking inward and reflecting something sincere or even remotely original. Along with Grizzly Bear and a handful of other bands, Tame Impala is in the “exceptional talent” category- the bands that will have longevity based off of their skill and creativity, instead of trendy buzz. Frontman Kevin Parker told Pitchfork in an interview earlier in the year that Lonerism was inspired by bubble-gum pop music (not exactly the hipster’s forte). When listening to the band’s sophomore album it wouldn’t be obvious though. Lonerism is 51 minutes of psychedelic brilliance. Parker has always been fond of the gritty spacey sound of ’60s psych-rock songs. Tame Impala’s music is a throwback to that era, but an expression from a Generation Y perspective. What’s most respectable is that the band isn’t trying to be anything but itself. Tame Impala is proof that talent talk, trend-chasers walk. No other band on this list released a song this year with the same kind of edge and funk as “Mind Mischief.” Its music will without a doubt stand the test of time.

 

Best 3 tracks: “Mind Mischief” ~ “Feels like We Only Go Backwards” ~ “Elephant

 

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

 

1. good kid, m.A.A.d city by Kendrick Lamar [Top Dawg Ent./Aftermath/Interscope 2012]

 

GKMC

 

Excerpt:
“Lamar doesn’t simply glorify the violence, he explores the psychology of black youth in the hood, providing a critical defense for behavior and conditions often condemned by larger society. His argument is not one that is unique to his life alone; there are many other young people who grew up in South LA (or other inner-cities) who consider themselves “good kids,” but are capable of slipping down a troubled path with the wrong influences and decisions. Good kid, m.A.A.d. city isn’t just an album with exquisite production and a creative presentation, it resonates with young people who are in similar situations as K. Dot. It is a pivotal voice in post-Gen. X hip-hop. Another reason why Lamar’s sophomore LP is a success is because his rhyming skills are clearly superior to many of his Gen. Y peers. Laziness has consumed commercial hip-hop, with rappers putting in less and less effort with the art of lyricism. Lamar, like his predecessor Nas, is able to paint colorful realistic pictures of street tales in his songs; he lives up to his title as an artist. Besides the witty wordplay, good kid  also excels because of the contributions of talented young producers (ie: Scoop Deville, Sounwave, and others) who took a sophisticated complex approach to creating music with Lamar. Some beats improve upon the trap music trend, while others provide throwbacks to ’90s hip-hop (gangsta rap and jazz-hop). The album manages to sound contemporary, retro, and futuristic all at the same time. Some music fans ask whether it’s too soon to call good kid, m.A.A.d city a classic; the ingredients for the recipe of a classic are all present on this album. Lamar is the most invigorating artist hip-hop has seen in years, and what’s most exciting is the fact that this is just the beginning of his career.”

 

Best 3 tracks: “Poetic Justice (featuring Drake)” ~ “m.A.A.d. city (featuring MC Eiht)” ~ “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”
 

To read the full album review and analysis of good kid, m.A.A.d city click HERE. 

 

Honorable Mentions

 

*Author’s Note: I didn’t get the opportunity to review Trouble Man: Heavy is the Head by T.I. because it was released after my wrap-up period for my year-end list.

 

The Coup- Sorry To Bother You
Meshell Ndegeocello- Pour une Âme Souveraine
Andrew Bird- Hands of Glory
The Smashing Pumpkins- Oceania
David Byrne and St. Vincent- Love This Giant
Twin Shadow- Confess

 

Mixtape of the Year

 

Duality by Captain Murphy

 
CM
 
The mystery of Captain Murphy kept hip-hop fans contemplating throughout the year. Most of the guesses involved Tyler the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt, and Flying Lotus. At a Los Angeles concert in November Captain Murphy unmasked himself and was revealed as FlyLo’s rap alter-ego. The production on Duality is wildly psychedelic, even moreso than Big Boi’s LP. It’s  cleverly narrated by an archive video of the Heaven’s Gate cult who committed mass suicide in 1997.
 
Honorable mention: Joey Bada$$- 1999
 

EP of the Year

 

1991 by Azealia Banks

 
azealia-banks-1991
 
The New York rapper dominated clubs this year with her raunchy blend of retro-house and street hip-hop. Banks puts as much effort in her lyrical delivery as she does in her image. When she’s not popping off at people on Twitter and putting Perez Hilton in his place, she’s acting as a spokesperson for Mac- an example of indie intertwining more with the corporate world. She’s the most promising female rapper since “Monster”-era Nicki Minaj. Hopefully, she won’t drown in the plastic of the pop world when her major success comes.
 
Honorable mention: Solange- True
 
Check out the Year in Review.

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