[DISCLAIMER: This is not a "Best Albums of 2012" list. Rather a list of my favorite albums of the year. And it was a lot longer but I've whittled it down substantially. It was a good year for me.]
Baroness - Yellow & Green
Baroness became one of my favorite Metal bands when they validated their debut with the beautiful “Blue Album”. “Yellow & Green” takes the litany of influences to another level, stirring all sorts of ingredients together to make a pretty, if haunting, “metal” album.
Local H - Hallelujah! I’m a Bum
Lyrically, musically, and thematically, this is the record Scott Lucas has been itching to make for possibly the entirety of his career. Hopeful, pessimistic, and very Chicagoan, “I’m A Bum” reaches down into its guts and heart to rip out an outburst of understated political criticism.
Brother Ali - Mourning In America, Dreaming In Colour
Similar to Local H’s album in many, many ways, Ali returns to the full-length after the all too happy “Us” with a scathing critique of the American political process with one finger always on the button of hope. Probably the most apt title of the year.
JJ DOOM – Keys To The Kuffs
MF Doom – or whatever he’s calling himself now – collabs with one Jnerio Jarel to present a sound that hearkens back to his Madvillain days with a slight tinge of Electronica to boot. The bizarre and compelling backstory behind the making of this album, and the themes, is as interesting as the sound it inspired.
El-P – Cancer For Cure
After yet another five year break between solo records, El-P’s newest album is definitely his most accessible: heavy, catchy, conceptual without being taking it too far. His production and lyrics are both the stars, with the former tackling complex synth based beats and the latter walking further down the tracks of 21st Century alienation and paranoia.
P.O.S. – We Don’t Even Live Here
This is the most non-political political album of the last five years. Though you wouldn’t know it from the reviews, the message is simple: free yourself from a system that doesn’t work for you, doesn’t accept you, or both. Production and appearances from German techno dudes to Justin Vernon to Ryan Olson keep things very, very interesting.
Aesop Rock – Skelethon
It took Aesop Rock over a decade to finally trust his chops enough to make an album with all his own beats; the result is the most personalized and soulful record of his career. His trademark high-concept lyricism is in full effect, but it feels like the imagery and metaphors are pulled straight from the last 5 years of his life.
Flying Lotus – Until The Quiet Comes
Steven Ellison continues his acclaimed, multi-genre discography with a wonderful, mysterious 15 track album grounded in where it came from but still forging ahead without inhibitions of any kind. The features are spot on with the likes of Thom Yorke and Erykah Badu lending vocals.
Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city
Mainstream Rap music takes a huge step forward this year with Kendrick’s proper debut LP, a concept album about growing up in Compton under the shadow of previous West Coast Hip-Hop and the underbelly that comes with it, both metaphorically and literally. The final step in Rap music entering the 21st Century, and growing up.
Swans – The Seer
There’s a reason why this punk/hardcore/??? band’s 2 hour-ish magnum opus has been making list after list of late… it is one bold, massive, go for the throat piece of work that rewards listeners for repeated listens and just simply getting to the end. This is what happens when rules and limitations go out the window: the results are often stunning and powerful.
Death Grips – The Money Store/No Love Deep Web
A tie for the most anti-corporate band’s two albums of 2012 because, really, they work in conjunction. Together, “The Money Store” and “No Love Deep Web” form an admirable and poignant story about the limits of control, capitalism, and the record business in the second decade of the 21st Century.
Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
I don’t know about everyone else, but for me there was a fear that El-P’s beats would overshadow the veteran Atlanta rapper’s rhymes on the Adult Swim sponsored “R.A.P. Music”. That didn’t happen. As it turns out Killer Mike keeps pace with the heavy, heavy production and maybe even surpasses it. The best album of his career by far.
Grimes – Visions
Clair Boucher – better known as Grimes – is a one woman wrecking crew of ethereal, primal, yet futuristic witch house that will bite at your soul while making you want to dance. “Visions” takes her looping and overlaying style to a whole new degree: at times there are 4 or 5 Clairs singing in conjunction to form 13 fresh and undistinguishable Electro tracks.
Dan Deacon – America
Nowhere else is it more clear that Dan Deacon studied electo-acoustic and computer music composition than on “America”, an album that encompasses everything Dan Deacon does to its absolute best form. The hearty, thick analog sounds are here, as are the intricately laced runs of synth scales. Awesome record.
Purity Ring – Shrines
Another Canadian outfit, this time from the East (Montreal), presents to the world a very, very good debut that sparkles and shimmers even amongst a whole lot of good 2012 Electro albums from seasoned veterans of the genre. Really hope this 21 and 24 year old stay together and keep making music for years to come.
Black Moth Super Rainbow – Cobra Juicy
I’ve introduced Black Moth Super Rainbow to as many people as I can. And for good reason, there’s really nothing out there like them… even in a year so influenced by the sound they’ve pioneered. “Cobra Juicy” sees the band getting a little less dreamy and trippy and a little more dancey.
The Bad Plus – Made Possible
Why I still haven’t seen the Twin Cities best modern Jazz trio I do not know; but The Bad Plus are players to be reckoned with, each of these guys get a 10 on skill alone. Which can often overshadow soul, but “Made Possible” serves up both. And in spirit of democracy ([laughter]) each member gets a chance to write multiple tracks.
Gary Clark, Jr. – Blak and Blu
This guy keeps getting anointed as some iteration of “best new artist”, which is a little deceptive: he’s been recording officially since 2004. And there’s lots of bluesmen out there, few invigorate their brand of tunes with such energy and variety. At least not lately. But even calling this album “blues” paints it into a corner it doesn’t sit it for too long at a time.
Robert Glasper Experiement – Black Radio
“Black Radio” is my biggest surprise of the year. Previously to it I only had briefly heard Glasper’s name barely in passing. The ringleader and his amazing band though make modern Jazz as cool as any other type of music the kids may or may not be listening to. It doesn’t hurt that the album features one of the best (and strangest) Nirvana covers I’ve ever heard.
Polica – Give You The Ghost
Hype can be a bit of a problem sometimes. This Minneapolis band began garnering hype for their debut long before its release. Deserved or not… it’s hard to deny the uniqueness of Polica’s sound. Ryan Olson’s synths and Chaney’s processed vocals over one hell of a rhythm section is, if anything, just damn entertaining to listen to.
How To Destroy Angels - An omen_EP
As hard as it is for me to include this album due to it feeling like a short and sweet prelude to some other great piece of work further down the line, it’s still the best thing Reznor and co. have done yet. And I know this might be hard to read, it’s certainly hard to write… I think I like How To Destroy Angels’ sound better than NIN. Gods forgive me.
A Place To Bury Strangers – Worship
A Place Bury Strangers suffers from that all too often affliction of lavish praise upon debut, only to have those heaping on the praise forget about you and move onto the next hot new band. It’s a shame because “Worship” takes everything them made them so dangerous before and adds all kinds of new dynamics and layers.
Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself
I’ve only gotten into Andrew Bird lately and boy is it overwhelming trying to catch up. His discography, like his arrangements, is fairly daunting. But with Andrew Bird – and the band he’s assembled for “Break It Yourself”, including a couple of my favorite MN instrumentalists – the amount of work you put in is far surpassed by what you get out of it.
Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…
Fiona Apple remains to this day a curious case of semi-successful independent musicianship. Not many late 90’s chart toppers are willing to name their newest album using 23 words, or craft the types of songs that appear on “Idler Wheel”. These are bizarre and quirky tracks, but would you expect or want anything less from her?
Guided By Voices – Let’s Go Eat The Factory
So Guided By Voices released a boatload of music this year: 3 LPs, all featuring 20-ish tracks. It was a little difficult picking which one. The other two are good, and GBV is one of those bands whose quality remains very, very consistent. But “Let’s Go Eat the Factory” saw their return from an almost 10 year hiatus. And Robert Pollard and co. came back with the hunger of a band in their 20’s.
Matthew Dear – Beams
Matthew Dear has been making Electronic music for over 10 years, and a lot of it is really good. But it feels like on “Beams” he finally found his creative sweet spot. The music is comfortable in its own skin: confident but perhaps a bit shy at the same time. And this album perhaps has some of the best lyrics of the year.
Blut Aus Nord – 777: Cosmosophy
This French black metal band (with a German name) ends its “777” trilogy in stunning fashion with an almost ambient take on the genre. While so many other metal bands, particularly this brand of metal, limit themselves within the confines of what “metal” is, Blut Aus Nord branches out beyond the borders and the results are awe-inspiring, majestic, and very beautiful.
Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill
It’s hard not to applaud the aspirations – or maybe balls – of a record that opens with a half-hour track of 70’s jam band psychedelica about those very days some 40 years ago. Normally I’m weary of nostalgia in almost all its forms, but “Psychedelic Pill” brings it in droves and you will find yourself thinking, “Damn I wish it was 1972 right now”.