The year 2012 will be remembered for the quality of new musical ideas produced, not the quantity. The top three albums on this list are three of my favorite albums to come out in the past five years or so; but I will admit, it was tough filling out the rest of the list. I feel bad for all those writers out there that have to make Top 50 or Top 100 lists this year. Good luck to you all.
For the rest of you not taking on that mammoth task: enjoy this short, sweet list of 2012's 10best albums and have a happy new year.
Nas raps hungrily, like he’s still got things he has to prove. He raps stoically, like he brings knowledge that must be heeded. The young bucks running hip-hop these days (Odd Future, Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Mob, Chief Keef ... ) need to listen to “Daughters.” It’s one of the deepest and most heartfelt raps I’ve heard in a while. It talks about what true wealth is, what being a man means, and describes the strength it takes to go from being a thug to a responsible adult, in order to raise a daughter.
I know this album is good, but I’m still obsessing over their previous Bitte Orca, so I can’t rank Swing Lo Magellan higher than #9.
Alabama Shakes strip down music to its most basic and vital elements. It’s powerful and courageous music. It takes some bravery to make music that relies so heavily on soul in this day in age; it’s a lot easier to polish it up, or make it super kinky, in order to get attention. The Alabama Shakes square up and face the listener, and let it all hang out.
The production on Local Business is raw and refreshing. The guitars blare, the drums have that straightforward boldness that all punk rock should have, the bass melds with the other instruments to create singular powerful melodic lines. The songs are brazen, lightweight, agile, fit, and fun. Singer Patrick Stickles arranges his lyrical phrases in very clever ways over the straightforward beats. His lyrics deal with sensitive subjects, like his selective eating disorder (“My Eating Disorder”). His delivery is blunt, ragged, and earnest. I don’t know of any other punk band that can make 5-9 minute songs and can keep them exciting and driving the entire time.
The album has a somber, contemplative vibe. The verses ask big existential questions: “What’s beyond time?” and “When you return to the essence/ What is it back to the essence of?” concepts that are usually too big to fit into a 16-bar rhyming pattern. The band workshopped every verse for the album multiple times, and threw out hundreds of drafts in order to create potent and well-balanced lyrical content. All the verses are barbed and unique. There are no wasted words. It was during this polishing though, that I fear a bit of the pretense and didacticism typical of concept albums managed to creep in.
The album has this feeling of cold scientific distance. It seems at times as if all the rappers are studying this gangster as if he were a specimen in a petri dish, or a better metaphor: as if they were enlightened beings looking down from heaven sympathetically, at the doomed mortals below. It feels too rational, too well-ordered at times for the chaotic subject matter it claims to know. It’s a street symphony, which is beautiful, but life in these streets is chaotic, not symphonic.
The songs on Lonerism are surprisingly poppy and catchy. They will get stuck in your head, but are impossible to sing when you try. One tune will circle in your head all day, and will keep you feeling groovy no matter what kind of bullshit you've got to face.
While The Roots’ Undun describes ghetto atrocities from a comfortable distance, Kendrick Lamar and his listener are right there in the midst of it. You’re digging with him trying to find meaning in the darkness.
The album covers such a wide range of emotions, genres, and styles. Frank Ocean’s writing has done so much for revitalizing the super-clean, over-produced, modern R&B sound that infects pop radio today. “Thinking About You” was a godsend in this respect. The album is impeccably paced. The songs flow seamlessly. From his droll, bored-sounding rap (complimented perfectly by Earl Sweat’s sludgy assonant flow) on “Super Rich Kids,” to his lofty desperate cries on “Bad Religion,” to the trippy harmonies that scold a childish grown woman on “Pilot Jones” — there is no emotion Frank Ocean’s voice can’t express. There is no story the man can’t tell. All his songs sound genuine. They all show mastery.
There is a song for everybody on Channel: ORANGE.
What I mean to say is no matter who you are — old lady who only listens to Count Basie, infant child who only listens to Raffi cassette tapes (What? There are no more of those are there? That was just me, 22 years ago? Alright.), the last disgruntled milk man, the most sober and stern secret service agent (“Lost” will resonate with you particularly) — there is at least one (if not many) song on Channel: ORANGE that you will love, if you listen.
Frank Ocean is our generation’s Frank Sinatra.