Here and now, in its finest form, is my list of favorite records of the year – A gathered group of information that is filled with albums that I found to be the most captivating, inspirational, and original to me. While some may call this form of organized art subjective, I believe it is a great way to remember, compare and learn about music that has been created by brilliant minds throughout the year. Hope you like my selections and if you feel inclined to, comment and let me know what your favorite records of the year were.
Check out the list after the jump.
20. Deep Time
Austin based prog-pop duo Deep Time makes quirky music that’s fun to listen to and there isn’t a song on the album that I skip when I listen to it as a whole. In an era where singles rule the music market, doesn’t that say a lot?
Much like Nicholas Jaar, John Talabot creates dance music that is too slow for dance clubs. But that doesn’t mean that the elements of trance, dub, and house that Talabot incorporates are used in vein. Every second of his music is crafted with delicacy and never takes a breath of laziness. ƒin definitely deserves recognition for being an album made with so much care, Jiro, the sushi maker, would be shameful.
Oshin is not an album that you remember because of it’s lyrical content, but rather for the melodies of the music itself. Fresh out of the years of Nirvana and My Bloody Valentine, DIIV takes 90s rock to another level of shoegaze and dreamscape.
Liars are usually known for their brash art rock tendencies, but this time around, they’ve taken to keyboards and synthesizers to create a distinctly unique experimental album titled WIXIW. Though it isn’t my favorite of their six records to date, WIXIW is definitely one I appreciate for being ambitious and will consider being one of their best for a long time coming.
Electronic music took a very interesting turn this year when DJs leaned more towards dramatic, futuristic synths rather than making tracks that featured booty shakin’ beats. Shigeto is in the heat of that type of DJs. Like Teebs, Flying Lotus, and Pantha du Prince, Shigeto uses his influence of Jazz great Sun Ra to create intelligent electronic works of art.
15. Kindred EP
Electronic mastermind Burial didn’t go as far as to releasing a full-length follow up to his amazing 2007 record Untrue, but he did give us a taste of his growing maturity as a producer with the 3-track, 30 minute extended playlist titled Kindred. Again, like Shigeto, focusing on slower tempos, Burial uses elements of dubstep to create ethereal soundscapes.
14. Look a Little Closer
Florida based singer-songwriter has a very interesting appeal. Well, at least to me. After releasing multiple single tracks via Bandcamp, he never really released a proper full-length until this year. Look a Little Closer is funky, folky, and retro, and offers a very well balanced take on bedroom music.
My friend Marion said that I should listen to Jessie Ware. She described it as “good pop music” and she was right. Jessie Ware is as emotional and soulful as any pop star should be. She is the whole package.
12. Black Radio
I recently saw Robert Glasper play at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco and was blown away. The way he conducted tracks that originally included vocal takes by Erykah Badu, Bilal and Lupe Fiasco into instrumentals was impeccable. How do you make hum-a-long songs sound like someone is actually singing? Ask Robert. He’s a genius.
Grime’s debut full-length Visions is exactly the opposite of normal and is still one of the most uniquely shaped records of the year. With influences from Japan to the Middle East to America, there isn’t one song that sounds alike on Visions. Who said being weird isn’t cool?
In this day and age, bands that gain mass popularity because of social media isn’t uncommon. Look at Psy, the Korean popstar whose song “Gangnam Style” was the first to reach 1 billion views. Toronto Jazz and Hip-Hop trio whose ages range from 20 years-old to 21 years-old, unfortunately isn’t part of the million views club, but has definitely made a name for themselves by releasing four albums – two studio and two live. On top of giving out their excellent album BBNG2 for free on their website, they have collaborated with some of the biggest hip-hop stars including Frank Ocean, whom they ultimately acted as his backing band. BBNG2 is closer to trash than it is Jazz, but when you look at John Zorn, the king of Jazz Trash, they aren’t too far out. Keep an eye out for these guys as they are going to be huge one of these days.
09. Swing Lo Magellan
Swing Lo Magellan is Dirty Projectors’ most accessible album to date. It is, in fact, so simple, that some listeners do not like it. However, when a band whose leader makes songs more difficult than they need to be a reoccurring habit, it isn’t so oddball to think that sometimes bands can switch from complex to easy. Songs like “Dance For You” and “Swing Lo Magellan” are some of Dirty Projectors’ best songs to date and they aren’t mixed with synths or beats. Even though the Dirty Projectors are made for hipsters, one shouldn’t discount the fact that they are one of the most creative and talented group of individuals producing music today.
Baltimore dream pop duo Beach House released the most intuitively beautiful records of the year. Bloom is a masterpiece as far as Beach House is concerned. While their previous full-length Teen Dream introduced them into a new world of big sound, Bloom takes the band into even larger soundscapes that could easily fill an arena. Songs like “Wild” and “Myth” are incredibly rich with layers and unique songwriting techniques we haven’t seen since 1970, yet remain modern pieces with a modern appeal.
After releasing four albums, Shields is Grizzly Bear’s most accessible album to date. Instead of sticking to the swirly carnival-style sound the Brooklyn Baroque-Pop group took on their previous record Veckatimest, the foursome turned directions to write straight-forward rock songs that still sound like tracks that could fit in well with their second effort Yellow House. Songs like “Speak In Rounds” and “Yet Again” are two standouts that match the criteria of that description with big strumming chords and heavy-breathed vocals. And again, the group finishes the record with their best last track yet titled “Sun In Your Eyes”. Like “Colorado”, “Sun” starts of slow and quiet, then crescendos into a whirlwind of loud crashes and banging drums, with chimes and guitar notes that are simply stunning. Even though the group weren’t nominated for any Grammy’s, Shields is an effort that cannot be overlooked as one of the best albums of the year.
06. Until the Quiet Comes
Of the three albums that Steven Ellison (aka Flying Lotus) released, Until the Quiet Comes is Flylo’s most sophisticated effort to date. Filled with dark warping beats and psychedelic synths, the record takes a sweeping journey through Flylo’s incredible artistic mind. Unlike Flylo’s previous record Cosmogramma, Flylo doesn’t put his musical ancestry of Jazz in the spotlight. Instead, he writes a record where the audience is put to a patience test. It isn’t until the middle of the thirteenth track that you hear a snippet of Flylo collaborator Stepehen Bruner’s Jazzy bass picking that could easily be mistaken as a number by Jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell. Overall, Until the Quiet Comes not only is Flylo’s most beautiful, but also a testament that he is the best producer in the market right now.
05. Conflict of a Man
Even though Jamire Williams (aka Erimaj), didn’t make the Billboard 200, he surely put a huge influential dent of success in the Jazz world. Like BadBadNotGood, the band focused on using social media to help gain a word-of-mouth type of buzz, and they definitely caught my attention. Erimaj is comprised of Esperanza Spalding’s backup singer Chris Turner on vocals and Jazz pianist Jason Moran, along with other talented musicians. Together, the group has released one of the most captivating quasi-Jazz records of the year, which also features one of the best songs to come out of the entire music scene called “Conflict of a Man.” If you haven’t checked out Conflict of a Man yet, I highly advise that you do. You will thank me.
04. Christian aTunde Adjuah
The best Jazz record of the year was released by trumpeter Christian Scott. Christian aTunde Adjuah is a double-album that digs deep into the history of Scott’s ancestry. The record is a mixture of traditional and contemporary Jazz songs with a twist. Every track is intricate with tight grooves and masterful composition, which shows off Christian Scott’s status as one of the most influential Jazz musicians today.
Classic records don’t come easy these days. A lot of success has to do with how many YouTube views and radio plays a band gets during the course of promoting their album. Well, Tame Impala doesn’t have much of either, but they’ve still managed to put out an album that sounds classic, yet new. Lonerism is the follow-up record to Tame Impala’s excellent debut Innerspeaker. Though the latter shared an interesting retrospective approach to rock, Lonerism takes those ideas and improves them by tenfolds. “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” is an instant classic and rumbling psychedelic rock anthem “Elephant” is sure to be a fan favorite.
However, even though the tracks sound great as stand alone songs, the record works a piece as a whole as well. The opening track “Be Above It” sees frontman Kevin Parker take an approach Spoon is known to do by singing a melody to a local-motive train type drum beat that ends up being accompanied by the rest of the band members adding a minor seven chord that adds a large sounding layer meant for arenas. The rest of the album sounds like John Lennon singing to a revamped Dark Side of the Moon and doesn’t really allow for any breathing room in between songs. To make a record that uses old writing techniques and to find a way to make it sound 21st Century is a difficult. However, Tame Impala has perfected a groove that is just that: familiar, but their own as well.
02. channel ORANGE
[Island Def Jam]
“The best song wasn’t the single…” goes the first line of Frank Ocean’s song “Sweet Life”. It was like Ocean himself was hoping for something greater – Like he was shooting success even more than what his hit single “Thinkin’ Bout You” could give him.
Well, success is what he got. 2012 was Frank Ocean’s year. Despite all of the stupid same-sex attraction allegations the media preyed Ocean upon after Ocean wrote an open letter about his feelings towards a younger man years ago, he is up for six Grammy nominations – A feat that proves he is the man of the year; the celebrated musician of the year. While channel ORANGE sounds retro is some respect, the record is full of emotion and story telling that suggests a life lived, even though young, through traumatic events like Hurricane Katrina has an affect on one’s perception of life. Go for it. Don’t let others tell you what to do. That’s what Ocean really sings about on channel ORANGE. Fuck them all. This is my life. This is my story.
01. good kid, m.A.A.d city
Kendrick’s album good kid, m.A.A.d city is full of exquisite story-telling and top notch music. More like a biography of Kendrick’s first 20-years of life, good kid, m.A.A.d city tells the story of a typical kid growing up in a troubled neighborhood. Streaming through Kendrick’s life, we see his first encounter with the bad side of the law, his understanding of women, his idea how frat parties bring about the wrong idea of fun, and all the way to him suggesting he is about to live his life differently than what Compton, the city he grew up in, gave him. After all, at the end of the record, his mom tells Kendrick to tell the world about his story because good kid, m.A.A.d city goes much further than Compton, it goes to the hearts of everyone who is and has tried to find purpose in life.
Like Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar is young, but the difference between Ocean and Lamar is that good kid, m.A.A.d city doesn’t dwell so much on the past, but rather focuses on what was learned from the past. Adolescents is about experiencing different situations in life. It is, in fact, the first time we are exposed to certain good’s and bad’s of life. Ultimately, it is what you make of what you’ve learned, and that is what we learn from Kendrick’s story. Advice from such a young person can only mean that he has much more to grow into. It is the act of showing a wise man in the making.