It’s that time of the year again. When everyone starts posting their best of lists for 2012. For me these are the 10 best albums of 2012. I’ve also posted YouTube videos of my favorite cuts from the albums.
10. John K. Samson-Provincial
I’m going to be frank. I love the Weakerthans. I’ve been waiting with baited breath for a new Weakerthans album since 2007. If this John K. Samson solo release is as close as we come for the next 5 years, I will be perfectly happy. In fact this album would probably be farther up my list if Samson didn’t cop a few songs from earlier EPs, but that said it actually flushes the songs out a bit better. Provincial is inspired by the various roads that weave through his Canadian home in the province of Manitoba. The characters that populate Samson’s album are not prone to dramatic flair but rather quiet brooding and reflection on their life. “When I Write My Master’s Thesis” could be an anthem for everyone who talks about accomplishing any large project only to find themselves playing video games. “Heart of the Continent” takes you on another tour of Samson’s hometown of Winnipeg and could almost be a companion piece to “One Great City!” from Reconstruction Site. Provincial is for those quiet moments in our lives where we are not quite sure where we are going. And that sometimes you don’t need to. My one request of Mr. Samson would be to make another album, but have it come out sooner than 2017.
Best Cuts: “Cruise Night”, “When I Write My Master’s Thesis”, “Heart of the Continent”, “Stop Error”.
9. Neneh Cherry & The Thing-The Cherry Thing
Neneh Cherry & The Thing are a completely new band to me. I first heard about them through the Sound Opinions podcast and got their album. The album, sadly, sat on my computer for the better part of a month before I finally sat down with it. You could call The Cherry Thing a jazz album and you wouldn’t be wrong but it almost glosses over the elements that are at play here. There a various parts of R&B, jazz, hip-hop, doo-wop, and just plain bonkers. Although these are mostly covers, they don’t sound like old jazz standards. Neneh Cherry tears into every corner of these songs with the fervor of a zealot. One struggles to really figure out where the covers end and the originals begin. The Thing, Cherry’s band, are in terrific form on this album. However, the secret weapon on this album is Mats Gustafsson, who is an outstanding saxophone player. He is all over this album and on tracks like “Too Tough To Die” he brings the roof, the windows, and the rest of the building down. Yes its jazz, but its also everything else.
Best Cuts: “Too Tough To Die”, “Dream Baby Dream”, “Golden Heart”, “Dirt”.
8. EL-P-Cancer 4 Cure
EL-P actually has the distinction of being involved of two of my choices on this list. Cancer 4 Cure takes EL-P’s claustrophobic robotic beats and places his machine-gun style flow over top of them. He fits more words per verse than any rapper has a right to, while talking about a host of topics including robots hunting people in Brooklyn, helping his upstairs neighbor kill her abusive husband, and all manner of politics. Ultimately it’s his mastery of the producer board and his broad subject matter that make Cancer 4 Cure such an fascinating and interesting listen.
Best Cuts: “Drones Over BKLYN”, “For My Upstairs Neighbor (Mums The Word)”,”Sign Here”, “Tougher Colder Killer”.
7. Bats for Lashes-The Haunted Man
If I was just giving out the award based on album covers, Bats for Lashes would have been the out and out winner. Bats for Lashes is the project of British singer/songwriter Natasha Khan, who gained prominence with her two earlier albums Fur and Gold and Two Suns. The Haunted Man finds Khan recovering from an intense bout of writer’s block. After Two Suns she was having such difficulty writing songs that she called Thom Yorke and asked him “What do you do when you feel like you’re going to die because you can’t write anything?” Thankfully for everybody, The Haunted Man is a great return to form Khan. The album is at times rhythmic, brooding, sensual, or even downright creepy. Sometimes even within the same song. This album sounds like something Kate Bush would have written after watching too much Werner Herzog. Regardles, Bats for Lashes is back. Let us rejoice.
Best Cuts: “All Your Gold”, “A Wall”, “Laura”, “Deep Sea Diver”.
Please don’t be afraid of the way this album looks. It is not in fact a death metal album, but one of the best electronic releases of the year. Grimes (a.k.a. Claire Boucher) is an artist, musician, and music video director from Vancouver B.C. While being danceable, her music doesn’t sacrifice any of that danceability for artistry. With titles like “Genesis” and “Visions” you kind of get the idea that maybe you should pay attention instead of just dance. The grooves, however, are so infectious that you can’t help but move to the music. There are also some very insidious undertones to some of the music, which is probably why I like it so much. This album is what I hope most dance music will be, but it sadly never is. Let’s hope Grimes keeps it going in the new year.
Best Cuts: “Genesis”, “Visions”, “Visiting Statue”, “Eight”.
4. Cloud Nothings-Attack On Memory
Really, Attack On Memory is a 90’s record. It’s has all of the lo-fi bedroom feel that recalls Pavements, Jawbreaker, and maybe even PJ Harvey. Also it was produced by Steve Albini. Dylan Baldi plays around a lot with pacing on this album. He makes a very brave choice by starting the album off with the slow rocker “No Future/No Past” and then follows it up with the eight minute rocker “Wasted Days.” The Cloud Nothings prove to be retro without actually sounding repetitive. Attack On Memory truly is just a balls to wall guitar rock record, which is one of the many reasons its great.
Best Cuts: “Wasted Days”, “Stay Useless”, “Fall In”, “No Sentiment.”
3. Frank Ocean-Channel Orange
Everyone has been talking about Channel Orange in reference to Ocean’s sexuality. I just happen to think that Channel Orange is one of the best R&B albums in a while. The music takes pieces of soul, electro-pop, and psychedelic rock and jumbles them around. You know, what from here on out each of the top three doesn’t need a Best Cuts. “Thinkin Bout You” is classic soul, “Pyramids” is an awesome experiment that works, and “White” features John Mayer. Channel Orange is an inventive album with songs that are beyond the years of the artist they were written by. That makes 2013 all the more promising.
2. Killer Mike-R.A.P. Music
EL-P produced Killer Mike’s 2012 release and the symbiosis is perfect. The beats sound like they were meant for Killer Mike to rap over. The first single “Reagan” takes down the last 16 years of government in four minutes. Nothing on this album is sugar coated, Killer Mike just shows you the hard truth. “Don’t Die” is R.A.P. Music’s answer to “Fuck Tha Police.” Really, it’s just nice to hear a rap album that talks about the issues and not about women or ice. The album also looks at where hip-hop is really at (see “R.A.P. Music”). Killer Mike could earn the moniker of “the CNN of hip-hop” but that would be wrong. Killer Mike is way more fun than CNN.
1. Japandroids-Celebration Rock
So this is it? This is my number one album. Japandroids deserve this for a host of reasons. One being that they manage to sound like a quartet while they are, in fact, a duo. Brian King and David Prowse have outdone themselves on this album. This album makes you want to take a swig of beer and sing along. The guitars create a wall of sound while the drums spur the song along. This album plays like a pure party album but also has one eye on the idea “what happens when the party is over?” This gives Celebration Rock a certain balance that not every album of this type has. The songs are great, the music is great, and they are probably one of the best live bands I have ever seen. I don’t think Japandroids can top Celebration Rock but I’m really looking forward to seeing them try.
Kelly Hogan-I Like To Keep Myself In Pain
Dr. John-Locked Down
Future of the Left-The Plot Against Common Sense
Kendrick Lamar-good kid, m.A.A.d. city
Nick Waterhouse-Time’s All Gone
Titus Andronicus-Local Business