Ten albums from 2012 that still come up on shuffle on my small mp3 player (yes the one above), in no particular order. List may look nothing like this come two weeks from now. No regrets.
Submerse – Tears
When Cheshire producer Rob Orme moved from the UK to Tokyo, he changed more than just his country code. Hanging out in Tokyo with some of the freshest minds in Japanese electronic music, Submerse took his “Lil’ Burial” sound and infused it with urban levity. So while Burial might be the king of weary atmosphere, Tears shows that Orme doesn’t need to live under his shadow. For Garage diehards, Submerse displays his interpretation of distinctly UK ennui on the excellent “It’s Over, I Lost” and “Tears.” But there’s pure house here (“Parades”), forays into loopy cut-and-paste, and all sorts of other stretching at the seams. Tears feels very international; a bridge over an emotional ocean few people are privy to.
Andy Stott – Luxury Problems
A fantastic performance at this year’s Decibel Festival followed by a fantastic full-length album from the Manchester producer. Luxury Problems is Andy Stott’s most accessible and most focused release yet; “Numb” is just a lovely song no matter what your frame of reference. But despite flaunting a more concrete and languid sound, Luxury Problems is still a distinctly Modern Love release, brimming with sinister energy, balancing cascading bouts of ritual anarchy with hypnotic post-dub. Stott’s journey finds him venturing even further into the heart of darkness, leaving only scorched earth in his wake.. A sublime payoff after the tease of a pair of stellar 2011 EP’s.
BIGBANG – Still Alive
I already wrote about it for Pop Cult but to reiterate: if you asked me what the fuss about K-Pop was about, I’d hand you this album. G-Dragon and his merry men make real good on this album, delivering a solid K-Pop EP (harder than it sounds) with not one, but two contenders for song of the year. “Fantastic Baby” is a banger to end all bangers, and features that lovely choral chanting coda that producer Teddy Park goes back to on G-Dragon’s solo single “Crayon.” And “Bad Boy” is just a clinically smooth R&B track, finessed to perfection by each member’s own vocal sensibility. Few groups can boast the talent of these five guys, and fewer still can reliably spin that straw into gold.
Okadada – When the Night Comes
Tokyo producer Okadada has been a netlabel staple for years, producing tracks and remixes for the likes of Maltine Records and all sorts of other remix projects. His self-released full-length is a treat out of left field: silky smooth samples caressed with his meticulous sense of rhythm. When The Night Falls is playful and flashy, but also complicated, both technically and emotionally. Every track is a deftly layered vista, a rainbow of muted color that grows paler as time lingers. You can practically see the Tokyo sky falling when the staccato clicks of “Cee” washes over you.
Capsule – Stereo Worxxx
If Capsule’s World of Fantasy hadn’t come out last year, Stereo Worxxx would be a revelation, an astounding work of art from a producer at the top of his game. But as it stands, Stereo Worxxx is just as good as last year’s album, and in fact, works better as a companion to the rolling, feverish highs of World of Fantasy. Stereo Worxxx is the best hangover you could ever have: ethereal, emotional electro-house, injected with life where World of Fantasy was drained of such temperament. World of Fantasy is the carnal need to dance while the world burns; Stereo Worxxx is the hug at the end of the night and the walk home afterwards.
Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city
An astounding talent, a prolific wordsmith, a free persona. Kendrick Lamar represents what people believe as a real future for Hip Hop, one free from hype and swag and posture and image. Those of us who were privy to his earlier stuff anticipated his 2012 album to be good, real real good. But few of us expected an album of such unexpected vision. good kid, m.A.A.d city is one of a dying breed: an album that cares more about being a cohesive idea, moreso than crapping out a handful of chartable singles. Kendrick outshines even the highest-profile celebrity flier, from Drake to Dr. Dre, and does it without costume or conflation. good kid is a stellar, storytelling rap album, told honestly from the point of view of a normal kid who just happens to be at the top of the game.
Grimes – Visions
I’ve read arguments for and against the importance of Claire Boucher’s existence, and I have to say that, based on the fact people are even having these conversations, coupled with my general enjoyment of her work on her breakthrough album Visions, cause me to fall in the “fine by me” camp. At times Grimes‘ sound resembles an art student’s fumbling with sonic toys she barely comprehends. But, to her credit, she is exactly that. And then sometimes she’s able to draw on her influences and her infirm artistic visions and just realize them, without really having to compromise her own personality to do so. So you have this very honest, very raw kind of composition, not to mention performance, and sometimes it peaks and sometimes it plateaus. And in the meanwhile she’s using this album as a platform for relating to young fans, empowering them to do the same, to make sometimes incredible, sometimes shitty music, to wear their musical hearts on their sleeves, because in a year where so many things have gone wrong sometimes music is the only chance we have to get it right.
Basically her album was just like that last paragraph: rambling and awkward, but honest.
Merchandise – Children of Desire
Oh boy my token rock record. Except I swear, I listened to this one a lot! A few years ago everyone was swooning about A Radio Dept’s Clinging To A Scheme, describing it in ways that it could not possibly live up to. What I imagined people felt like when they heard that album is what I feel like with Children of Desire, a beautiful blend of nostalgia and modernity bolstered by songwriting chops that hang with the best of them. Rock’s best hope won’t be someone who takes themselves too seriously. Merchandise have the talent, the attention to detail and the levity to make guitars cool again.
Humming Urban Stereo – Sparkle
One of my favorite Korean language releases has very little to do with the well-documented K-Pop machine. Humming Urban Stereo has been active since 2004, producing adorable Shibuya-kei-esque electro pop for a number of years. But after composer/songwriter Lee Jeereen lost his favorite vocalist to an unexpected heart ailment, HUS has been on another emotional level. Sparkle, the first full-length since Lee Jin-hwa’s death, is good as any pop album this year (sorry already revising my list from a couple weeks ago (that’s why I hate lists)) and explores all the classic spaces you’d expect a great album to go. Basically, I’m a sucker for adorable + sad + honest + angry but I mean who isn’t?
Lil B “The BasedGod” – God’s Father
In 2012, Brandon “Lil B” McCarthy released 17 mixtapes. 17.
Here’s the part where I agree with most of you: That’s too many mixtapes. He’s watering down his catalogue. He’s tired, running on fumes half the time. Only five or so of these mixtapes are listenable to an average Lil B fan, and of these five, only three really hold up to the rest of his catalogue. Not an I’m Gay in the mix.
But God’s Father comes close. There’s the usual doses of whimsy and honesty, some stellar quintessential Lil B tracks in “I Love You” (dope FFX sample) and “February’s Confessions,” some just straight up good rap tracks like “I Own Swag,” and in general just a consistent effort through and through. And that’s all the Task Force really asks of the Based God, consistent effort.
Special acknowledgement to the track “Obama BasedGod” which is just pure go-dumb kind of fun, the stuff B did great on albums like I’m Thraxx and 6Kiss.