Top 5 Albums of 2012
How To Dress Well – Total Loss
I know that almost everybody this year was waiting in anticipation for the sophomore album from UK trio The XX and unfortunately it was slightly underwhelming. Perhaps expectations were too high. That is why it was so exciting and surprising when Total Loss, a minimal R&B gem of an album, was dropped at around the same time. It more then picked up the slack for melancholic downtempo lovers. How To Dress Well is a one man project from philosophy graduate student Todd Krell, which explores through moody R&B beats and his own awkward ethereal voice the loss of both his best friend and mother in the same year. Poignant, sad, yet uplifting, it’s music to listen to in your most existentialist of moments.
Bobby Womack – The Bravest Man in the Universe
Mr. Womack is a soul legend who has not released in an album over 15 years and is perhaps most famous for the tune “Across 110th Street” used so effectively by Quentin Tarantino in his film Jackie Brown. Ironically, one of his songs was covered by the Stones for one of their first hits in the early Sixties and now it is a Brit, Damon Albarn, who has helped resuscitate his career by co-producing The Bravest Man in the Universe. Womack’s career unfortunately has been riddled by controversy – from cocaine addiction to marrying Sam Cooke’s wife just weeks after he was murdered – but these are the very life tragedies that allow the words in his songs to resonate with even greater meaning. Over a soundtrack of sparse futuristic beats highly influenced by the both Massive Attack and the UK bass scene, the beautiful crackle and croak of his withered voice will haunt you, forcing many repeat listens.
Flying Lotus – Until the Quiet Comes
LA’s Stephen Ellis, better known to the world as Flying Lotus released this his third album to much acclaim in the fall. Thought by many critics to be a possible breakthrough album of sorts for the techno artist, it still does not contain what one would call a hit in order for him to really branch out to a mainstream audience. The presence though of guest vocalists Erykah Badu and Thom Yorke might help. What you get instead then, is an artist at the peak of his creative powers bringing a futuristic jazzy sophistication to techno music that the genre is definitely lacking, without having to resort to contrived horn samples. Perhaps being the nephew of jazz great Alice Coltrane, it is in his blood. Either way, Until the Quiet Comes, released on legendary UK label Warp Records, proves there is a lot more to electronic music then the Bass rave of Skrillex and Deadmau5.
Tame Impala – Lonerism
I don’t listen to very much “rock” music these days but every year there is at least one album that piques my interest, last year it was Girls’ Father, Son, Holy Ghost, this year it is Lonerism. It would be easy to write off Melbourne-based Tame Impala as just another in a long line of hipster psychedelic rock revivalists, except they don’t approach the sound with the reverence you would find in most American bands who are exploring the same era. Instead listen to intro track “Be Above It” and you find a Beatles-esque melody refrain floating above an echoing,dubbed-out, clanging drum track. In my mind, Lonerism is the first really successful psychedelic rock album produced by a bedroom electronic artist – the epic symphonies are equally at home in your white earbuds as on your vinyl hi-fi. Indebted as much to the Chemical Brothers as the Flaming Lips, it is exciting to still hear some artists taking rock upwards in new directions.
Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
Killer Mike is a long standing member of the ATL rap scene and frequent collaborator of Outkast, who until this album has never really been able develop his own niche. In 2012, with the help of EL-P’s Bomb Squad inspired production, he found it big time. In an age when most hip hop is obsessed with rampant materialism and stripper booty, Killer Mike comes correct with the best political rap album to hit the street since Public Enemy were still relevant. R.A.P. Music hails back to the day when rap music was the CNN of the black community, not the TMZ. One listen to the track “Reagan”, where he connects the dots between Reganomics, the War on Drugs, and today’s recession, would convince all that Killer Mike has finally released a bonafide R.A.P Music classic.