I have been messing with this list for so long that I almost let 2013 pass me by. 2012 was good. I saw The Afghan Whigs live. I started doing improv which has completely changed my life for the better. I celebrated a year of marriage to the love of my life. THE RAID: REDEMPTION came out. Banner year all around. Let’s get to the tunes!
25. Rufus Wainwright – Out of the Game
I’m not a hardcore Wainwright fan. I like his upbeat stuff more than his ballads, I don’t have any interest in his reenactments of Judy Garland concerts. His last album was horribly self indulgent but this Mark Ronson produced record is Rufus taking the hint to have fun, be loose, and sing songs about Rashida Jones. I’m at the point in my life where the artists who once sang of wild nights and hedonism now sing songs about island vacations with their husband and kids. That album title is heavy.
24. 2 Chainz – Based on a T.R.U. Story
I think we all inflated our expectations for this album. 2 Chainz was murdering guest appearances all over the place, being the best part of every song he popped up on. A whole album of 2 Chainz? Yes please. The highlights tend to be the guests like Drake on “No Lie” and Kanye West on “Birthday Song” but 2 Chainz has charisma and a knack with hooks so you have a pretty fun ride. Delete the Mike Posner track on sight.
23. Blinker The Star – We Draw Lines
90’s could-have-been drops a sleeper. Is this alt or indie? We Draw Lines is super hooky and well produced, which I guess means it isn’t indie. With so many 90’s groups returning with absurd twists on old sounds and songs, Blinker The Star came out with just great tracks that manage the trick if being reminiscent of the old sound without being derivative.
22. Usher – Looking 4 Myself
“Climax” is great and we should be happy just to have that. That the rest of Looking 4 Myself turned out as well as it did is kind of a miracle. Usher doesn’t strike me as the best barometer of taste, and I still recall how bad “Love In This Club” and “Moving Mountains” were, so the style experiments that work on this are nice surprises. The two Swedish House Mafia tracks aren’t mindless EDM like “O.M.G.” and most of the lyrics on the album are introspective in ways I never would have predicted. “What Happened To You” is a particular higlight in this regard. At the same time, the sexual confidence of Usher is largely unfettered and very hilarious. I think we’re like one album away from a song that will have the subtext of “I sexed her so hard she died. My bad.” Can you keep up with Usher sexually? He is doubtful.
21. R. Kelly – Write Me Back
Dude can’t stop. Write Me Back falls right in line with 2010’s Love Letter. Good to great throughout, with the exception of two songs that you can delete from your iPhone like I did. “Feelin’ Single” is one of the greatest songs R has ever written, and “Share My Love” endorses impregnating as many people as possible. See you in July, Robert!
20. A-Trak – Tuna Melt EP
Four bangers and then he steps back to let you collect yourself. A-Trak is one of those “genius takes hours of practice” kind of guys and his time and effort shows on this pretty flawless little EP. I think this bodes well for the years of classic bangers to come.
19. Gucci Mane – Trap God
Gucci Mane also dropped Trap Back last year but Trap God is just a little bit better. I’ve finally come around on Gucci’s mush mouth style and I like it quite a bit. Of course it’s best when coupled with someone frenetic like Waka Flocka Flame, who elevates a track like “Rollies Up” to classic status. Also, do you guys know how much a rolex watch costs? A lot! Having multiple rolexes seems financially irresponsible. Plus who owns a watch nowadays? The time is on your phone, Gucci!
18. Katy B – Danger EP
It only took a year and change for all the dubstep people to switch up their style to actual danceable EDM and what a joy it is to behold. Apparently just a teaser EP for an upcoming full length, B sets the bar high. Even the ballad is good. True story, I listened to “Aaliyah” four times the first day I heard it.
17. Waka Flocka Flame – Triple F Life: Friends, Fans & Family
It is tough to follow a classic. That’s right, Flockaveli is a classic. Deal with it. Triple F can only pale in comparison but Waka still brought the heat. “Lurkin” is an instant classic and “Candy Paint and Gold Teeth” is laidback fun. “Rooster In My Rari” is the kind of crazy fierciness I expect from Waka out the gate. I’m not entirely on top of the vernacular but I’m pretty sure “Rooster” is about getting head a in Ferrari. I COULD BE WRONG.
16. G.O.O.D. Music – Cruel Summer
Hey, I know there are a couple crap songs on this, but it also has “To The World”, “Clique”, “Mercy” and “New God Flow” right in a row at the beginning. And that Cudi song ain’t bad either. “Cold” is fire. Every Kanye verse is a career highlight. This thing is great! Great! (I deleted “Sin City” off my iPhone long ago)
15. Skrillex – Bangarang
I don’t think I’ve come around on dubstep so much as the artists who know what they are doing have managed to make dubstep’s more abrasive elements more fun and listenable. So Bangarang is just uptempo bangers, with very little of that that slowed down drop garage that was the Skrillex calling card on previous releases.
14. TNGHT – TNGHT
Someone somewhere pointed out that this album is just trap beat instrumentals. Good description, person I can’t give proper attribution. Every beat knocks, 16 car shaking minutes.
13. The Presets – Pacifica
This is actually a heck of a lot like the last album by The Presets, Apocalypso. Best tracks are in the middle, kind meanders at the end, fun experiments all around. They do seem more earnest now. Hey, we all get older. It’s fine. “Fall” and “Promises” are dance songs with real emotion within them.
12. Gossip – A Joyful Noise
This is the best Gossip album, full stop, no debate. Total dance party, great production, and Beth Ditto sounds amazing. Worst album art of the year though.
11. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
This album took me a couple months to really start digging. These guys rock faces and do that “Whoa oh!” singing that is a lot of fun to sing along with in the car. “Continuous Thunder” is a great closing track which is saying something since most rock album closing tracks are total bummers. You know who knew how to close an album? Rage Against The Machine. The last song on their first album is “Freedom”, which is a balls out classic. End with a classic. Make me happy I stuck around til the end.
10. Death Grips – The Money Store
I’m not going to lie to you, some of this album is terrible. But it is mostly awesome. The drums and the synths will suddenly merge out of their isolated chaos and sync up into a joyous union of laser anger. That is a pretty accurate way to describe “Hustle Bones”. The guy can’t really rap and the lyrics make no sense but it all comes together on “Hacker”, which goes all disco ball synths out of nowhere and reminds us that angry punks still like to kiss girls.
9. Vitalic – Rave Age
Vitalic drops some hall of fame bangers on this one. “No More Sleep”, “Stamina”, “Next I’m Ready”, all monsters. No one has dropped an all banger, all monster tracks dance record since the duel headed releases of MSTRKRFT’s Fist of God and The Bloody Beetroot’s Romborama in 2009 but this comes pretty close.
8. Future – Pluto/Pluto 3D
You can listen to either version of this album, I’ve just been listening to the 3D release because it has the “Same Damn Time” remix on it and Diddy’s verse is amazing. Also I think having “You Deserve It” as the first actual song is a better look. Future is a hook machine and all of his tracks are hits or hits to be. Like Waka, he knows how to make his guests shine, like T.I. on “Magic” and especially R. Kelly on “Parachute”, where Robert basically hijacks the album to tell all his haters that he is back and better than ever. Truth.
7. DMX – Undisputed
Got intensely into DMX in 2012. It started when i caught his appearance in the concert film Backstage where he suffers no fools, leaves it upon his wife to properly greet Chuck D and answers Chuck’s question about the tour experience saying that every moment not spent on stage is pure misery. Then I watched DMX in Belly and my mind was blown. This guy is too real. I believe everything he says. It isn’t always nice(it is never nice) and it is frequently ugly and it is riveting. DMX is an amazingly consistent artist. His discography is largely dud free and his previous two albums have an incredibly high ratio of bangers to not-bangers and while Undisputed is more 50/50 bangers to not-bangers, X stays X. He’s passionate, he’s angry, and he has a great ear for beats. Swizz Beatz stays DMX’s greatest collaborator. “Y’all Don’t Really Know” is an insta-classic X/Swizz collaboration.
6. Hot Chip –In Our Heads
Such beautiful songs. Hot Chip at their most sincere, at least to me. I haven’t watched any of the videos off this album but all the videos for their previous albums seemed to undercut the emotional sincereity of the songs, like Hot Chip were worried about being too real. These songs sound like they come from a pure place, like they’re talking and “it’s just me and you”. (h/t Kanye) Closing with the one-two punch of “Let Me Be Him” and “Always Been Your Love” is an emotional wallop.
5. Torche – Harmonicraft
It’s all about the tones, man. I don’t know how to play guitar so I don’t know if they’re tapping, plucking, or flicking the strings with a guitar pick but it sounds majestic. And powerful. And delivered with a brevity unseen in metal. Next song! Next Song! Is this metal? It seems too poppy and clean, yet it roars. I’ll leave that for someone else to worry about.
4. Carly Rae Jepsen – Kiss (Deluxe Version)
I still don’t care for “Call Me Maybe” and that horrid song with the Owl City guy but just about everything else here is fantastic. A couple club bangers(“Tonight I’m Getting Over You”, “Wrong Feels So Right”), great pop tracks(“This Kiss”, “Hurt So Good”, basically every other song) and nearly every single one is about forbidden love or risky romance. I think at least a quarter of these songs are about the queasy feeling you get when you first develop feelings for someone, and the rest are either about hooking up with someone even though Jepsen’s character is involved with someone else, or in the case of “Tonight”, dancing away the pain of a breakup. All produced to glistening perfection. Shit’s great. I also deleted all the ballads long ago. We are truly in the future.
3. Deftones – Koi No Yokan
Is this the best Deftones album? Maybe. These guys just keep getting better and Koi No Yokan hits all the sweet spots and never falters. This is easily the best collection of Deftones midtempo slow burn ballad monsters that they’ve been trying to perfect since the self titled album in ‘03. If “Entombed” doesn’t become a metalhead wedding staple I will be very surprised. It still has plenty of blazing riffs but it’s pretty great to hear these gorgeous ballads, with Stephen Carpenter’s guitar just wailing into (what I imagine is) the night sky.
2. Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
“This album ain’t kidding around.”
“C’mon, that isn’t fair.”
– Me listening to this album the first time.
My reactions haven’t changed. Killer Mike and producer El-P go hard for the entire running time, with Mike covering Reagan’s poisonous legacy and telling enjoy stories about Jojo’s conversations with a phantom Ghostface. El-P’s beats are across the board hall of fame shit and “Big Beast” is the kind of monster track that is so perfectly constructed and powerful with two great guest spots from T.I. and Bun B that continues their tradition of being better on other people’s records than on their own.
1. Miguel – Kaleidoscope Dream
Kaleidoscope Dream is the best album of 2012 because it is infused with joy and ingenuity. Miguel is locked in to what he wants his music to sound like and he doesn’t chase any trends, he is undeniably himself. The production is lush and expansive but the focus is always on Miguel’s voice and his lyrics, which are really good. I love The-Dream but the guy traffics in a kind of smart-dumb style, same with R. Kelly at times. Miguel writes himself characters and scenarios that are interesting and funny and sad. “Pussy Is Mine” manages to sound like the deepest lark ever made. “Oh, I was just messing around in the studio on this heartfelt paeon to a woman who I think is going to leave me. No biggie.” Anyone else get goosebumps from the first 30 seconds of “Don’t Look Back”?
Best songs of 2012
1. “New God Flow” – Kanye West, Pusha-T, Ghostface Killah
2. “This Kiss” – Carly Rae Jepsen
3. “Feeling Single” – R.Kelly
4. “Sweet Life” – Frank Ocean
5. “My Life” – Rich Kidz feat. Waka Flocka Flame
6. “Big Beast” – Killer Mike feat. Bun B, T.I. and Trouble
7. “Climax” – Usher
8. “I’ve Seen Footage” – Death Grips
9. “Don’t Look Back” – Miguel
10. “Aaliyah” – Katy B x Geeneus x Jessie Ware
11. “No More Sleep” – Vitalic
12. “Birthday Song” – 2 Chainz feat. Kanye West
13. “Lurkin” – Waka Flocka Flame feat. Plies
14. “The House That Heaven Built” -Japandroids
15. “Snakes Are Charmed” – Torche
16. “Hacker” – Death Grips
17. “Bad Girls” – M.I.A.
18. “Bangarang” – Skrillex feat. Sirah
19. “Fuckin’ Problems” – A$AP Rocky, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, 2 Chainz
20. “Hot Cheetos & Takis” – Y.N. RichKids