Top Albums of 2012

December 29, 2012

It’s been a while and I figured the best way to get started writing again would be to focus on something light: pop culture.

So, here’s a look at my favorite albums of 2012 (in no particular order).

Frank Ocean – Channel Orange

Frank Ocean already established himself as someone to watch with “Novacane” and providing the hook on last year’s “No Church in the Wild“. With Channel Orange he’s cemented himself as the future of R&B. Ocean has deep production behind his interesting story-telling style of delivery. In “Bad Religion”, compares unrequited love (“a one man cult”) to monotheism, both being one-way streets except that religion is driven in the car pool lane. These aren’t schlocky retread sentiments, nor are they solipsistic observations. Frank Ocean has created an album we will gladly revisit over and over again.

Beach House – Bloom

Bloom sounds like Sigur Ros in English – which isn’t a bad thing. The lead track “Myth” has a tranquil, dream pop sound that’s perfect for late-night listening.

Lana Del Rey – Born to Die

Fucking odd music videos, impossibly full lips, and an incredible vocal range that she might not be able to replicate live (see her performance on SNL and you’ll know what I mean). “Video Games” gives a good sense of her almost amotional monotone voice with sudden changes into her Marilyn Monroe-influenced airy/flirty voice. This is a woman with a difficult past and it shines through in her songs, and (more uncomfortably), in her music videos.

Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music

While I can’t go quite as far as Killer Mike in my dislike of Reagan (the man, not the song), the man can rhyme. This is an outstanding mid-career effort from the 37-year-old rapper. Few tracks soar, but the album remains consistently good from 1 to 12. Most hip hop artists peak by their second or third album, R.A.P. Music is Mike’s 6th (!!!) and it feels like he’s just getting started.

Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan

If there was a more eclectic album this year I didn’t hear it. Honestly, I don’t even know how to classify them. There’s no one word to describe this album or the Dirty Projectors in general beyond “varied”. Try the whole spectrum from “Offspring are Blank” (an absolute microcosm of the entire album in its changes of pace, volume and intensity) to “Dance for You” to “Unto Caesar” and everything in between. Then do it again. Odd. Lovely. Unpredictable.

Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid, M.A.A.d. City

With everything from horrorcore to nerd rap already covered over the preceding two decades there isn’t much new ground for anyone entering the rap game so far as subject matter is concerned. Luckily Kendrick Lamar is able to repackage old themes in a new, interesting, and entertaining way. Plus, for his older (ahem) audience, any song that molds the production from classic g-funk with second-wave Wu is good in my books.

The xx – Coexist

Hushed vocals, minimalistic production – stripped down pop rarely sounds this good. The trouble is we heard this on their last album. The remixes should be interesting.

Grizzly Bear – Shields

Yet Again” is a marvelous track, but I have to temper my praise of Grizzly Bear. I’m not sure that my like (not love) of them is erroneously influenced by the fact that Ed Droste’s songs feel like they came from Thom Yorke, and Daniel Rossen‘s sound like Win Butler. Ahh, this speaks volumes. 2012 wasn’t a terribly strong year for music.

Honorable mentions: Metz – Self Titled Album, The Weeknd – Trilogy (this is cheating, I know), Crocodiles – Endless Flowers,  The Luyas – Animator, Toy – Toy, The Shins – Port of Morrow, Nas – Life is Good, Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls, Grimes – Visions, Liars – WIXIW,  Roc Marciano – Reloaded, Tame Impala – Lonerism, Japandroids – Celebration Rock