Top 50 Albums of 2012 (30-21)
Counting Down the Albums of the Year
Posted by Martin Holmes
14, December, 2012
The continuation of The Shirker's Top 50 Albums of 2012 countdown, as we reach the top 30. Celebrating the music of 2012 that made a lasting impression, was technically brilliant, or simply downright enjoyable. Just to recap the rules, no compilation albums and no re-releases.
Artist: Action Bronson and Party Supplies | Album: Blue Chips | Label: Self-released | Released: March
Action Bronson has put out consistently top-tier work for the past two years – and the majority of it for free. Bronson has a thing for working with one specific producer on each album, whether it be Statik Selektah (Well Done), The Alchemist (Rare Chandliers), or in the case of Blue Chips, Party Supplies. Not only does this create a consistent sounding album but the one-to-one collaboration allows Bronson's personality to truly shine through in his music. The themes here are not particularly deep or complex, these are common hip hop tales of weed, food, girls and sleazy escapades, but Bronson is such a witty story-teller that everything feels so fresh and fun.
Artist: Sharon Van Etten | Album: Tramp | Label: Jagjaguwar | Released: February
Sharon Van Etten is a wounded soul and she bravely opens up those wounds on her third album Tramp. Van Etten was virtually homeless while recording this album and spent most of her time in the studio with The National's Aaron Dessner, who helped produce this album of broken relationship anguish. Van Etten becomes the 'tramp' or vagabond of the album title, in a state of limbo and searching for answers. Tramp is a painfully frank album that holds no punches. It is not an angry record though, it is contemplative and melancholy, held together beautifully by Van Etten's soft yet equally powerful voice which sits atop of mostly gentle acoustic guitar strumming. Much like St. Vincent and Lykke Li in 2011, Sharon Van Etten has produced a defining album.
Artist: Jeremiah Jae | Album: Raw Money Raps | Label: Brainfeeder | Released: July
Raw Money Raps is an eclectic haze of hip-hop / electronic fusion. In many ways, it’s a typical Brainfeeder release, but Jeremiah Jae’s vocal presence is the key point of difference. Drowning his vocals under his own production may have been risky, but the up and comer undoubtedly pulls it off in what is one of the most surprisingly refreshing albums of the year. With its thematic dark and dusty approach, Raw Money Raps is as intriguing as it is mysterious. Jae often relies on incredibly short loops with stumbling drum patterns to create an off kilter sound, while he speaks of the concerns and struggle regarding money. Listen out for Flying Lotus dropping his finest beat this year on ‘Cat Fight’.
Artist: Aesop Rock | Album: Skelethon | Label: Rhymesayers Entertainment | Released: July
There was a brief period in time where Aesop Rock was the poster boy for underground hip hop. His album Labor Days a genuinely fantastic alternative hip hop album; imaginative, detailed, witty and stuffed with mind-bending wordplay. Then Def-Jux collapsed and Rock's music became almost paradoxic of nonsensical, overly-wordy, 'space-rap'. But on his latest album Skelethon, Rock proves why at one time he was the backpacker's rapper of choice. We are finally allowed a glimpse at the man behind the mask - Ian Bavitz. After the destruction of his marriage and the loss of his best friend, Bavitz brings those feelings to the table to create a magically dark yet captivating album that features superior production and intelligent lyrics.
Artist: Big K.R.I.T | Album: Live From The Underground | Label: Def Jam | Released: June
While Kendrick Lamar and TDE represents the new West Coast and Joey BADA$$ and A$AP Rocky represent the new East Coast, it is Big K.R.I.T who is holding it down for the new South. Much like how BADA$$ is indebted to late 90s boom-bap, K.R.I.T's sound is drenched in Southern funk and owes a lot to the likes of Outkast and the Goodie Mob. K.R.I.T wears his influences proud and effortlessly shows off his exceptional rapping skills over bluesy guitar samples and bouncy bass lines. After a series of critically lauded mixtapes, K.R.I.T's major label debut Live From The Underground maintains all of what made those releases special: the tight Southern production, cohesive story-telling and gifted rapping ability.
Artist: Metric | Album: Synthetica | Label: Metric Music International | Released: June
“I'm just as f**ked up as they say”, sings Emily Haines on Metric's latest album Synthetica, the Canadian band's fifth album that shows no signs of a group slowing down. Having achieved their greatest success with their previous self-released album Fantasies, Metric have also found freedom, able to create the music they want to create without the outside pressures. Synthetica follows the theme of authenticity with Haines questioning the fallacy of the modern age over James Shaw's shredding guitars which mix beautifully with bawdy synths and ambient aesthetic to create exciting electro-rock inspired pop tunes.
Artist: Norah Jones | Album: Little Broken Hearts | Label: Blue Note | Released: April
"I always heard the old stories about how you write better songs when you go through some shit. That sucks, but it's true!", Norah Jones told Rolling Stone while promoting her fifth album Little Broken Hearts - an ode to a doomed relationship. The topic here isn't new ground but the collaboration with producer Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) is certainly a new sound for the usually more jazz-pop stylings of singer-songwriter Norah Jones. It is the most significant and interesting departure in Jones's career so far, placing her gorgeous vocal in an overall more dark place and propelling her in to the realms of rich indie-pop alongside the likes of Feist, St. Vincent and Cat Power.
Artist: The Shins | Album: Port of Morrow | Label: Aural Apothecary | Released: March
The delightful indie pop of The Shins flourishes once again in Port of Morrow. It’s fair to say it comes without the element of surprise, The Shins have known their sound ever since Oh, Inverted World, and are masters of their craft. But Port of Morrow is perhaps their most refined effort yet, which is to their credit, considering three former members leaving the band since their last album in 2007. The pleasant, melodic pop of Port of Morrow does owe itself to a more mainstream approach, but the band can hardly be accused of changing their ways. Maybe the alternative edge that was present in Oh, Inverted World has become clouded, but you can hardly bemoan this record after a good listen.
Artist: Flying Lotus | Album: Until The Quiet Comes | Label: Brainfeeder | Released: October
Flying Lotus may still be irritated by his lack of mainstream recognition, but his music certainly doesn’t depend on it to be appreciated in other circles. His Dilla-esque sampling forte has earned him plaudits while his warped and distorted style has set a foundation for his own label Brainfeeder. Strangely enough, Until The Quiet Comes is actually Flying Lotus’s most conventional effort to date, but that being said it is still a complete trip of bent and screwed electronic experimentation. Trying his best not to alienate anyone, his latest album begs to capture the minds of a wider audience, but his left field methods might mean he has to settle for his place in underground royalty.
Artist: Macklemore and Ryan Lewis | Album: The Heist | Label: Macklemore LLC | Released: October
Macklemore continues his honest approach to rap music, veering on the right side of preacher and Lupe Fiasco. His Pacific Northwest accent has a rasp that brings a rawness to his lyrics, certainly not the most lyrically impressive rapper to ever hold a mic, but there is something real and refreshing in his words, whether he is discussing his struggle with sobriety ('Neon Cathedral'), shifty record labels ('Jimmy Iovine'), or same sex relationships ('Same Love'). Everything is held together by the cinematic production of Ryan Lewis who is sure to become a much sought after name in the hip hop world within the next year after his impressively diverse display of talent throughout The Heist.
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