10. Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors---Big Boi
Just how under-appreciated was Big Boi's late-2012 offering? The legendary MC's sophomore solo outing debuted at #34 on the Billboard Top 200, below such feared adversaries as One Direction, a year-old Michael Buble Christmas album, and the soundtrack to The Hobbit (Sir Lucious Leftfoot's previous low was debuting at #3). Some fans still don't know it even exists, and while I fully understand why it was never destined for true mainstream or critical success, it's that emphasis on eccentricity that keeps me coming back. The album is hugely influenced by indie rock, owing this tint to simple production change-ups, as well as the presence of Phantogram, Wavves, and Little Dragon. Still, this is Daddy Fat Sax's dominion, lording over these hipster jams with the same control and confidence as the grittier, heavier cuts. VLaDR is the work of a modern master whose prime seems to be unending, and just because everyone else missed out on its purple funk swagger doesn't mean that you should, too. Big Boi is an American treasure: show some respect!
9. There's No Leaving Now---The Tallest Man on Earth
Change need not be drastic, nor earth-shattering in nature. Like the seasons of the wilderness in which his songs seem eternally set, Kristian Matsson's writing and recording techniques change in small, almost invisible ways from one release to the next. 2012 will go down as the year Tallest Man discovered multi-tracking, stacking instruments and textures on top of each other in ways he's strayed away from in the past. That's not to say that anyone who's loved the guy up until now won't feel right at home; his voice is too singular, those guitar strums too distinctive in their alternating intricacy and excitability. Matsson's here to stay, people, a woodland troubadour with his finger firmly on the pulse of yesteryear's simpler wonderments.
8. Bloom---Beach House
It almost came as a surprise, just how unsurprising Bloom turned out to be. After three previous LPs, each more popular and praised than the last, it seemed like the standard, 'try something different,' phase of their career was next on the horizon. Fat chance. No one does dream pop like Beach House, mysterious, etherial, and cinematic in ways their contemporaries can only dream of, and they ain't giving up the throne any time soon. If anything, the duo's 2012 LP slows their deviation, staying within the same sonics as Teen Dream, misting around each room it enters like the holy ghost itself. If you've swooned to the rosy glow of the Baltimore band in the past, then come right on in. If you haven't, Bloom is a damn fine place to start.
7. Slaughterhouse---Ty Segall Band
On which Ty Segall outs himself as a dirty, rotten cheater. The guy must be using some sort of deception because songs like this shouldn't be able to exist. Slaughterhouse is a filthy, sordid plunge into fiery punk and grunge, as its terrifying album cover aptly suggests, but the tracks here double as damn-catchy pop riffs, and immutable capsules of rowdy fun. How can one song be both a prickly assailant and harbinger of party-time mania? I honestly still have no idea, numbers like Tell Me What's Inside Your Heart deftly walking that thematic tightrope, somehow grueling and inviting at the same time. All I know for sure is that no matter how loud I play Slaughterhouse, it's never loud enough.
Fiona Apple is one deranged woman, and my god, is the world better for it! Her particular brand of mania is wholly and completely unique, and had been woefully missing from the musical landscape since 2005's Extraordinary Machine. She's back with a vengeance on Idler Wheel, but also with some deep-diving self-reflection, and diary-style honesty. These have always been the hallmarks of Apple's music, and where previous releases featured lush, varied sound worlds with many rotating pieces, this record favors minimal instrumentation, pushing the woman's voice and words further forward than ever before. She doesn't begin to disappoint, performing vocal gymnastics over Left Alone, spitting spurned fireballs across the madcap piano of Periphery, lending a vulnerable, sexy sheen to twin closers Everything We Want and Hot Knife. It's a grand tour though the mind of one of today's most perplexing and brilliant musical minds, one worth taking time and time again.
5. Channel Orange---Frank Ocean
What is there to say about Channel Orange that hasn't already been said? The de facto album of the year has inspired words of awe and praise across the board, its lightning-rod back-story immediately overshadowed by awe-inspiring quality. Over the course of 17 tracks and just under an hour, Ocean takes us on a seemingly globe-spanning journey through characters, stories, emotions, and revelations. CO is an R&B album like we haven't heard in years, as ready to be jammed to as it is to be deeply, philosophically considered. Those who hear a smooth croon and dismiss it as consumerist mush are not invited: Frankie might use rhetoric that's tried and true, but even the most minimal amount of inspection reveals glorious layers of nuance and meaning. But you probably already knew that, and have been jamming, smooth-grooving, and contemplating ever since you first tasted this LP. If you haven't, trust me, it's delicious.
4. Open Your Heart---The Men
I can be kind of a wuss when it comes to the snarlier side of punk. Though Ty Segall's many offerings managed to titillate my ear drums, other lauded 2012 offerings from grittier acts like Converge and Baroness made a grandparent out of me (turn that racket down!). The same could be said of The Men's 2011 LP, Leave Home, a wily, hairy affair with precious little to hold on to in terms of basic song writing. Open Your Heart, amazingly, retains almost all of this scrappiness while bolstering each tune's accessibility ten-fold. Sure, a lot of this comes from implementing easy verse-chorus-verse structures far more often, but that doesn't explain away how they came up with all these incredible riffs seemingly over-night. Each chord rings so perfectly, each string searing with white-hot emotions that are brought further to the surface by the disc's heart-felt lyrics, immaculate in their simplicity, bone-deep in their connectivity. Part pop feast for the ears, part life-affirming counseling session, part no-holds-barred rager, wholly the best rock album of 2012.
3. Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City: A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar---Kendrick Lamar
At first, I wasn't totally drinking the Kool Aid on GKMC; now, I'm guzzling it by the gallon. No snap judgements of Kendrick Lamar's proper debut LP will prove accurate beyond a very superficial level. The beats and hooks are immediate, all good to great, and there's no doubting Lamar's supreme talents behind a microphone. But the Short Film in question is so much more than that: It's a concept album, a cautionary tale, and a warts-and-all autobiography by the MC himself that proves stunning in emotional grandeur when focused upon, and consumed as a whole. The speedy, seedy opener Sherane A.K.A. Master Splinters Daughter plays more like an introspective chapter in a book than a rap song, and M.A.A.D. City, in both its angular beat and audibly nervous flow, creates a sense of danger that's downright palpable. Poignant voice mail recordings from Kendrick's parents are cleverly interspersed through-out the proceedings, reminding us of the real-world stakes as Lamar falls into alcoholism, and gang violence. He makes it out, of course, and GKMCASFBKL is the symbol of that triumph. Though it goes to places as dark as night, this is an album about learning to do right by your people and the world around you, and as a testament to the talents, demons, and journey of its singular creator.
2. The Clearing---Bowerbirds
Talk about having your thunder stolen! Bowerbirds have been making woodsy, earthy indie folk music since 2006, one year before Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago, and two years before Fleet Foxes' self-titled debut made forested longing all the rage in world of music. In truth, the band deserved to have their figurehead position usurped, their minimal arrangements far too thin and stayed to rival those of Justin Vernon and company. The Clearing is, by any measure imaginable, and enormous maturational leap, their hushed, wispy sound suddenly re-envisioned as a sinewy blend of seldom-heard instruments, ghostly harmonies, and affecting lyrics. Everything here is so tactile, like a late-August stroll through mother nature, observing one earth-based miracle after another with warmth, calm, and gratitude. Where their contemporaries have swaddled both their voices and personas in enigma, Philip Moore and Beth Tacular offer themselves up in full, their beautifully worded sentiments and stories rustling through the disc like a graceful gust of wind. A personal, gorgeous affair, steeped in intricate textures, and earned emotions.
1. Swing Lo Magellan---Dirty Projectors
The first time I heard SLM's lead single, Gun Has No Trigger, I thought I was good letting this one slip by. Those wonky, dissonant harmonies that had so irked me on the band's 2009 break-out Bitte Orca were back once again, as was a chilly aversion to all things inviting and immediate. Finally, the rave reviews broke me down, and low and behold, Swing Lo Magellan is easily my favorite LP of 2012. The talent of the Dirty Projectors was never in doubt; in fact, the band's surplus of ability is, to my mind, the culprit behind their previous over-reaching. Magellan does nothing of the sort, funneling their unique brand of nutty harmonies and stop-and-go structures into tracks that tickle ear drums rather than attack them. Comprised primarily of full-blooded, remarkably human love songs, each positively doused in soul, wit, and eccentricity, SLM is undoubtably a strange offering, but not the kind of oddity that feels the need to prove something. Its individualist, autonomous spirit comes from a place of honesty, of sharing the madness that we all have inside of us, and molding it in to something lurid, relatable, and all together revelatory.
Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2012:
Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2012: