I somehow pulled together 30 albums for my list last year, but for 2012, I guess you'll have to settle for a lean 25. As usual, this isn't my attempt to encapsulate the Year in Music. It's just a list of albums that came out this year that I listened to, enjoyed, and purchased. Except for the ones that were free. I couldn't pay for those. But I like to think I would have. Stealing music is so 2009.
Here's my list:
I think Das Racist beardo Kool A.D. intends his mixtapes to be challenging, but at some point, just like with the stuff he does with DR, you have to wonder if he's just fucking with you. Parts of 51 are out-there enough to be gripping, but other spots just feel like filler. His mixtape from last year was like that, too, but it wasn't an hour long like this one is. Still, I listened to this quite a bit, because I could never remember what would happen next. You can download this album for free here.
At this point, I'm always excited for an eXquire release, and though this one didn't slow his roll, it did feel a bit like something that was pushed out when it didn't necessarily need to be. It's only 18 minutes long, and one 90-second track is just a dude talking. So, yeah, there's some questions here, though they probably don't bear answering. However, I would like to know how eX got me to like a track that has "(feat. Gucci Mane)" in the title. That's a first. Didn't hurt that El-P did the beat.
"Telephuck (feat. Gucci Mane)"
Daedelus is a dude who puts in work with Busdriver, and though his solo work was, initially, a little too electronic for me, I've learned to like it. It's complex without being busy, and it's never cornball. This EP houses five tracks, but it's almost a half-hour long, and it's free from the good folks at Scion A/V.
When a man who feels like he can do no wrong does some wrong, it resonates. This album isn't terrible, but considering whose name is on the cover, it can definitely feel like that at times. I'm not sure if Big Boi felt like he needed to cater to the Pitchfork crowd, but some of the tracks here feel like blatant pandering: the hooks are syrupy-sweet and completely out of place, which is a bummer, because a lot of the raps are still (duh) really strong. Dude: we're not looking for you to bridge the gap between hip-hop and indie rock. Just make rap. You're good at it.
"Mama Told Me"
I'm still not sure what the exact title of this mixtape is, but I think that's a good approximation. Del flips the funk here, crushing samples and making them into two-and-three-minute tracks that are both loose and lyrically dense. I guess that's been his formula for a while, but this album surprised me: Del has never really tried to switch up his flow, and I think it still totally works. You can download this for free from the link on this page.
"Message to tha Hip-Hop Snob"
Part compilation of previously released songs and part grab-bag of tracks rejected by other artists that Bumpy stepped in and wrecked like only he can, this is probably the most straight-up hip-hop album I picked up this year, and I didn't think it would be anything but. Preem on the beats, Bump on the lyrics about how he's going to punch you to death, and only a few guest spots: what's not to like?
I know K.R.I.T. released his major-label debut this year, but I never got around to listening to it. Instead, I rocked this mixtape, which feels like a continuation, and possibly a conclusion, to all the music he released before it. The beats here are slinky, and K.R.I.T. continues to be more believably sincere than most other rappers out there. Smooth. Download this one for free here.
Heems, the other rapping dude from Das Racist, had a busy year. This was his first mixtape, released early in 2012. I loaded in onto my phone and took it with me on a trip to California, and listened to it while I walked around the streets of Anaheim, right near Disneyland, during a warm and rainy January. Somehow that made perfect sense. You can download this album for free. The official link is gone, but just type it into Google and some stuff will come up.
"You Have to Ride the Wave (feat. Danny Brown and Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire)"
When I first heard these dudes, I wrote them off as wack Gravediggaz wannabes, but after I downloaded this mixtape, I realized there was more to it. (Though I still think some of their style is rooted deeply in everything Six Feet Deep, but I doubt they'd deny that.) Some of the tracks on this collection are abrasive just to raise eyebrows, and the recording quality is dicey in spots, but there's something here that kept me coming back. If these goons can keep their heads on straight, I bet they'll do something semi-major in the next year or two. Download this bad boy for free here.
I'm a guy who likes my rap music fast and hard, with the possibility of getting my dick knocked in the dirt. Open Mike Eagle is not a rapper like that. He's calm, precise, and premeditated. I didn't realize how much I needed that until I bought this CD. I've been listening to OME for years, but this marks his first real big push, album-wise, and the dude made it work. If you like intelligent hip-hop that doesn't need to preach or get pedantic, this is your shit right here. Plus, he cops lines from Zappa and Frank Black. That's MY shit right there.
"Your Back Pack Past (feat. Has-Lo)"
Wang alert! As if Death Grips releasing their major-label sophomore effort for free on the internet without their label's consent wasn't wacky enough, they went ahead and put drummer Zach Hill's dong on the cover. Bold move. Bold music, though, too, and none of this shit would have mattered if these songs didn't kick so much buttocks. I know that Death Grips isn't for everyone, but man: this album was every bit as good as I wanted it to be.
"World of Dogs"
It's been said too much about this record already, but I'll say it again: the title to this LP is wholly accurate. I'm no Flying Lotus expert, but the stuff I'd heard before was borderline abrasive; the kind of music that my wife would beg me to turn off in the car. This stuff is almost the opposite: tempered, blippy tracks that mildly swell and never really explode. Yet I listen to it all the time. So there's something here. I'm just not sure exactly what it is yet. I'm OK with that.
I don't think I like this album as much as the rest of the world, because they seem to be shitting their collective pants over its brilliance, and my pants have remained relatively clean and dry. But the more I listen to this record, the more I understand why people are excited about it. Dude's good with the words, and he's not big on glamorizing a lifestyle that doesn't deserve to be elevated. He's also got a feature on here from MC Eiht, which feels both completely left-field and not like a surprise at all. He knows the deal.
This is Heems' other mixtape from 2012, and it felt a little more digestible to me than his first one - maybe a little more focused. The title track is a killer, and Heems keeps things mostly to himself here, only featuring a few guest spots, one of which being Childish Gambino, who I usually don't care for but don't actually mind on "Tell Me," the song he does here. Yeah, it's still Heems so it's flighty, but this thing is getting me excited for his first "real" solo album.
"Wild Water Kingdom"
I'm really not sure that A.C. Newman gets the respect he deserves as a songwriter. Between his solo career and fronting the New Pornographers, the dude is not only busy, but consistent. This record doesn't have a stinker on it, and every song feels fully realized. Does it sound pretty much like a New Pornographers record? Yeah, mostly. But who cares.
"I'm Not Talking"
Maybe this record wasn't the earth-shattering revelation that everyone hoped it would be, but I do think it got overshadowed by a nonsensical backlash and a lackluster SNL performance. There are some great songs on this LP, and it deserves to stand directly next to their debut. I understand why people enjoy shitting on Sleigh Bells, but it all feels so nit-picky to me. I still think they're great at what they do.
Not only has Jennifer Herrema survived the now-long-ago dissolution of Royal Trux, she's also managed to forge her own sound that both references her old band and takes things in a totally new direction. Sure, it can be overwhelming and hard to listen to, but so was Royal Trux, and so was her first solo band, RTX. Black Bananas is basically RTX with a new name, but I can't help but think that it breathed some new life into her creativity. This record came out towards the beginning of the year, and I still rock it on the regs.
I'm really not sure how much longer the mainstream (even the indie mainstream) can ignore these guys. It's not like they don't get their shine, but I don't remember seeing this album on a ton of year-end lists, and that's a shame. If you're looking to branch out and explore hip-hop outside your comfort zone, start here. These two dudes are doing shit you haven't even thought of yet. If nothing else, the beats here will grab hold of you, guaranteed.
"Never Cry Wolf"
If Chan Marshall had come out of nowhere and released this record, the world would have lifted her up as music's new hope. Instead, I feel like this got labeled as "really good for a Cat Power record," which is selling it short. These songs don't sound like anything she's done before, and they're filled with more legitimate feelings than almost anything in her catalog. I bought this and listened to it for two weeks straight, at which point I had to take a break because it was consuming me. That's always a good sign.
I kind of feel like this record and No Love Deep Web can be played like one continuous mind-fuck of an album, but maybe I reached for this one more because it was the only physical copy of a Death Grips album I could get on vinyl. Either way, I listened to this a lot, and it warped my brain and made driving in the dark on the freeway something that I looked forward to because I would turn this up really loud and rattle my speakers and forget about life for a while. Or maybe I just really liked how uncomfortable the beats made me. Or maybe it just scared me.
It seems like this record came out and sort of disappeared just as quickly, as least as far as the internet was concerned, but I lived with these songs for the entirety of 2012, and never grew tired. It was a bit of a new direction for Busdriver, and maybe one that seemed too much for some people. Not saying I'm on some other-level shit so I can read between the lines, but I do feel like his previous releases were leading to this as their logical next step. Not sure why this didn't get more play, because it certainly deserved it.
"Bon Bon Fire"
I can't really say much about this record that the rest of the Internet hasn't said already, but I can speak from personal experience: I knew a Killer Mike/El-P collabo would be good, but I never knew it would be this good. I bought this when it came out and listened to it so much that my wife knows all the words. And if you haven't seen the epic video for "Big Beast," you need to. Right now. Watch it. It was so good it made me love T.I., and that's a huge compliment coming from me.
Every five years or so, Fiona Apple puts out ten songs that are better than the ten songs she put out before. This was one of the years where she did that. I hope it keeps happening. And yes, I'll be the first to admit that this record might seem a little out of place on this list, but I'm not going to sit here and act like I didn't buy this LP and play the shit out of it. Because I did. And I will continue to do so.
This record only came out a few months ago, and I'd estimate that I've listened to it 200 times since then. Everything that made The Evens great on their first two records is here, but with more precision and feel. Amy Farina sounds more confident than ever in both her drumming and her singing, and Ian MacKaye's dexterity on the baritone guitar - not that it was ever lacking - is more pronounced than ever. The only low point here is the weirdly whiny "Competing with the Till," but that gets quickly erased by what is probably my favorite rock song of the year, "Timothy Wright." Good god, I have listened to that song so many times. Because it is awesome.
It seems like El-P's name got thrown around more this year for his production work on Killer Mike's R.A.P. Music, but for my money, this is where it's at. El doesn't release records very often, and when he does, you can tell he's spent the years between perfecting every single bleep, buzz, and warble. This record is a front-to-back beast, and one that I still can't stop listening to. It probably spent more time in/on my stereo than any other record on this list, and that's why it's at the top. That, and because I just think it was the best record that came out in 2012.
"The Full Retard"