2012 was a great year for music. I think the music industry is in a downswing, as everyone is downloading mp3’s and rarely will you have someone listen to an entire album. My list is based on listening to full albums and enjoying the full experience. I welcome your comments, and if you enjoy download (or better yet buy) the full albums listed below.
Channel Orange by Frank Ocean was something new for rap. First of all, Ocean is openly gay, second of all he doesn’t rap about the normal subjects covered by popular rappers these days. He tells stories of love lost, love wanted, and even love found. Its a deep album that deserves respect. Paradise by Lana Del Rey is an EP companion piece to her full length album Born To Die also released this year. Here she takes the themes from the first album and elaborates on them. It’s not as much fun as the first, as it deals with only downtempo ballads, but it is a must listen continuation (and contains one of my favorite songs of the year Ride). And finally is MDNA from the Queen of Pop Madonna. This much maligned album is actually one of Madonna’s best in recent years. Perhaps it is because I saw this album live in concert, or perhaps its my love for Madonna, but a few weak tracks aside – this is nothing but fun. Madonna still plays with genre’s, and still reinvents herself as different versions of dancehall queen. You may have heard it sucked, but put it on at a party, and I dare you not to dance
#10 JACK WHITE – BLUNDERBUSS
Jack White is one of the last true rock originals left. I will admit I have loved his side project producer albums (for Loretta Lynn, Wanda Jackson, etc) more than I have any of his previous solo efforts. However, along comes Blunderbuss – a rip roaring rockstar of an album. There isn’t a weak track in the bunch, and I believe White has finally found his footing as a solo artist. The album contains a sound unlike anything else out there in the rock world. It’s raw and honest, and is simply one of the best albums of the year.
#9 ALANIS MORISSETTE – HAVOC AND BRIGHT LIGHTS
Alanis has had quite the career. Her first (non Canadian pop album) album Jagged Little Pill was one of the largest successes of the 90’s, literally every song was a #1 hit on the charts. She followed that up with the brilliant Supposed Informer Infatuation Junkie, which was not as big of a success but arguably just as strong an album. Then she released 4 more studio albums that were all exciting in their own way, but weak as a whole. 2012 seemed the year of 90’s musicians making a comeback, and thankfully Alanis was among the list. This is the best album since Infatuation Junkie. It plays as a cohesive whole from start to finish. We get sprinkles of all of the Alanis incarnations we have come to love over the years. We have our angry rock goddess, our earth mother, our sinner, and our saint. It comes together in one of the most honest and emotional albums of the year.
#8 MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS – ELECTRA HEART
No album describes celebrity culture (or celebrity pain) in 2012 than Electra Heart. This is quite the departure from the bands first album The Crown Jewels. Here is the land of electro-pop, house hiss, and dance club sweat. However if you listen, its songs are so well written. There’s a sense of fun – and there’s a sense of pain. In the era where we as a people seem to live to see the falls of Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes, etc. – Marina and crew have constructed an album that goes behind those masks. You can’t tell me Primadonna doesn’t hit home for Lindsay Lohan, or that she doesn’t feel the pain of Teen Idol. Its a clever and even sad album – hidden behind the guise of glittery pop. Very exciting stuff.
#7 DIE ANTWOORD – TEN$ION
The South African rap/rave group is back with their second full studio album. This one a grand improvement over the first. Simply put – you will never hear anything like them. The two lead vocalists (Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er) have flows and voices that seem so unreal that you wonder if they are using vocoders. They are not. The music is raw, sexual, violent, insane, and not for everyone. This album puts Yo-Landi front and center, as she has the bulk of the verses here. This is a good thing. She is the most unique female in the rap game currently. But is this even rap? You listen to Baby on Fire and think you’re at a wild rave, you listen to So What and you’re on the street corner in Brooklyn, and then you listen to I Fink You Freeky and you’re on Mars or in hell. Although the “skits” are unnecessary, the music is mind blowing.
#6 MACKLEMORE & RYAN LEWIS – THE HEIST
Like Frank Ocean, who is included in the runner-ups, Macklemore is a rapper who is changing the face of rap music. He is Caucasian – but dont confuse him for Eminem (who I also love). This is storytelling not rap. This is the one album on my list I have listened to in its completion the most. There’s so much to hear and to learn from the album. Whether it’s the first hit single Thrift Shop and ode of how the clothes do not make the man, or the heartbreaking plea for acceptance for the gay community in rap music and in the world in Same Love. And the musical landscape is wide. There are traditional beats, gorgeous piano melodies, string quartets, acapella moments, and symphonies of sound next to a gully base. It’s must hear music that I am shocked hasn’t received worldwide acclaim yet (it will.)
#5 MIKA – THE ORIGIN OF LOVE
Hands down Mika’s best album was delivered this year. As he has fully come out of the closet his music has seemed to get all the more glittery, fun, and important. This is a long album – and shockingly has no fillers. There are standout tracks, but none would I eliminate. There is a sense of maturity on this album not found on his previous efforts. The album revolves around love: having love, losing love, and at its most honest; being completely frustrated with love. His public coming-out seemingly has made his music even more fun and even more honest. However it is a universal record that anyone can connect to.
#4 FIONA APPLE – THE IDLER WHEEL…
No 90’s comeback this year can top the masterpiece of an album Fiona Apple returned with. This is not an easily accessible album. It features some of her most intricate and often-times confusing lyrics, its music veers into chimes, playground screams, and tribal drums. Her piano which once may have sounded easy and serene, now sounds like its being thrown down a flight of stairs as she furiously plays. Yet that husky jazzy voice is still there. It is album that demands something from its listener, which it then repays you for in spades. Is it Fiona’s best album? I would still say that would be When the Pawn.. , however it is easily one of the best albums of the year. The years that have passed since Extraordinary Machine have only made us miss Fiona more, and when she delivers an album like this – it only secures her spot as one of our best lyricists and singers. All hail Fiona.
#3 AMANDA PALMER & THE GRAND THEFT ORCHESTRA – THEATRE IS EVIL
Amanda Palmer has been quite busy since the Dresden Dolls have parted ways. She made a stunning solo album Who Killed Amanda Palmer, a killer Radiohead cover album played on ukulele, a disjointed ode to Australia, released a dance single about pubic hair (Map of Tasmania). I have been along for the whole ride. I am a huge Dresden fan and therefore Amanda fan. She is insanely talented, but I will admit I was losing interest with some her recent output. Then, as if she literally wanted to punch me in the face for saying that, she releases Theatre Is Evil. This is some next level shit. There is quite simply nothing wrong with this album. It is EPIC in scale. Every song builds a crescendo all of its own, and each one makes the hairs on my arms stand on end. I cannot explain how good this album is, all I can do is recommend it.
#2 LANA DEL REY – BORN TO DIE
Ah the much talked about SNL performance. I will address it upfront. People get nervous. Here we have Lana Del Rey, once known as Lizzy Grant, stepping onto the worlds biggest stage. Lizzy Grant made music for years, struggling to get ahead and get noticed. After years she finally got her chance when she was picked up by Interscope. Then she went through a physical transformation, you can google for pictures if you please. She wrote an album on her own – she is the writing credit for it. She goes onto SNL as a relative unknown with an indie hit (one of the best songs ever Video Games) and bombs in front of all America. Thankfully her album still sold insanely well, but a negative connotation seems to follow her around in some places. I am here to put an end to all of that. This is one of our greatest talents, and this album is one of the best not only of this year, but of the decade. Lana is the Scarlet O’Hara of pop music. She is the husky voiced jazz singer of the 30’s. She is Gangster Nancy Sinatra. The writing is clever, coy, biting, and heartbreaking. The singing is sexy and never overdone. Its a voice you recognize the moment it comes on. The talent is there, all the rest is bullshit. She is actually a great live performer, just go to youtube and do some research. However, even if she was terrible live or just a “studio creation”, the fact is she wrote a killer unique album and she sings the hell out of it. This album is a masterpiece.
#1 MYKKI BLANCO – COSMIC ANGEL: THE ILLUMINATI PRINCE(SS)
Thankfully I just got the mixtape/album 3 weeks ago so that it could top my list. You can download this so go ahead and do your search now. Mykki Blanco is a rapper unlike anything you will ever see. His inspiration is Lil’ Kim (who is my favorite) and that can be seen in his fashion and attitude. Michael Quattlebaum, the New York poet and performance artist, has taken on the persona of Mykki Blanco. Blanco performs in drag more often than out of it. He is almost the new shock-rock of rap. She is Marilyn Manson’s worst nightmare at times, and Marilyn Monroe’s competition at others. This is her first full length album, and it is an experimental grab bag. The funny thing is, all of the experiments work. This is club meets camp. This is RuPaul meets Lil’ Wayne. No one out there is rapping this clever. Need examples: “You think I was a mink the way these dogs was sniffin’/ You’d think my name was Homer Simpson to these Peter Griffins/ They hangin’ off my angry word/ Damn these fucking Angry Birds” This is the album of the year. There is no question. Its all I have played over the past 3 weeks, and I imagine it will be all I play in 2013 until I get another Mykki album.
So there you have it! I would love your comments!
And please go out and get this music!