Monday, December 31, 2012

DDoff's 66 Favorite Albums of 2012

Annual Preface: I liked more than 66 albums this year, much more actually. If your favorite album is missing from this list, I'd love to hear about why I screwed up in the comments section. 

There is also a Spotify playlist for for your listening pleasure at the bottom of this page. Looking forward to your feedback -- ddoff

66. The Lumineers The Lumineers
65. Of Monsters and Men My Head Is an Animal
A barrage of happy-go-lucky retro-folk hit unbearable levels this year, a train wreck that I call The Mumford Bandwagon. The craze reached a tipping point when the most recent American Idol "winner" gave his best Ed Sharpe impression, but a mainstream wave of crap will always include its share of exceptions. "Ho Hey" is just one catchy tune among a very strong Lumineers album, and OM&M's five-piece collective brought sheer fun to a genre that takes itself far too seriously.

64. Chester French Music 4 Tngrs
The story of Chester French is similar to most acts on major labels: band gets signed, band receives inexplicable hype met with unattainable expectations, band gets dropped when inexplicable hype fails to meet unattainable expectations. Most acts, you never hear from them again -- fortunately, D.A. and Maxwell didn't quit and Chester French remain one of my favorite pop duos.

63. Bob Dylan Tempest
What's left to be said about Dylan? This album is just another testament that the dude's still one of the best storytellers around. 
62. Wiz Khalifa O.N.I.F.C. 
My year-end list gets to have Bob Dylan and Wiz Khalifa on it, because it's my list and I say it makes sense. Wiz's comfort with pop stardom is evident on this much-improved follow-up to his promising-but-aimless Rolling Papers effort from the previous year. 
61. Lupe Fiasco Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album, Pt. 1
Lupe has reached a degree of preachiness that average hip-hop fans would rather not hear, a notion that was exemplified by the seemingly come-and-go nature of this release. The frustration Lupe holds with his radio audience is obvious, but longtime fans continued to get their money's worth on another solid piece of work from the poet with a never-ending chip on his shoulder.

60. Spoek Mathambo Father Creeper
Fans of The Streets, Das Racist and Dizzee Rascal will enjoy this Afro-futurist's spin on off-kilter trip-hop; this album is not for faint ears, but a jam-packed ride of fun for those who can follow.
59. Imperial Teen Feel the Sound
58. Divine Fits A Thing Called Divine Fits
Both of these albums offer cool collections of catchy synth-pop and melodic garage rock from seasoned veterans: Imperial Teen is a SF-based foursome that's been around since 1996, while Divine Fits is brought to you by members of Spoon, Wolf Parade and more.

57. Brother Ali Mourning In America and Dreaming In Color
Brother Ali's thought-provoking, politically-charged rhymes have always been consistently above-average; his latest effort, perhaps inspired by an election year in an increasingly polarized country, was one of his best in an already-decorated career.

56. The Neighbourhood I'm Sorry... - EP
It's too early to tell which route these moody California rockers will explore next, but a solid and catchy debut nonetheless -- look for this group to make major waves in 2013. 
55. C2C Down The Road
It makes me feel old to say (or even think) this, but it's important for the EDM generation to witness real turntablists and understand there is more to DJing than pushing buttons; C2C can be the ambassadors who bridge that gap. Ugh, I'm so old. 
54. Avett Brothers The Carpenter
53. Band of Horses Mirage Rock
52. Cat Power Sun
Three solid albums from three acts likely to never miss this annual list -- Cat Power's first album of all-original material in six years was an especially welcome return.

51. King Tuff King Tuff
50. Smoke & Jackal EP No. 1 - EP
Lo-fi rock has never been my forte, but I had fun nodding along to King Tuff's dive bar melodies and distorted riffs. S&J was an overlooked side project consisting of Kings of Leon bassist Jared Followill and Mona singer/guitarist Nick Brown. If you aren't familiar with Mona, they sound a lot like Kings of Leon -- so take a gander at what you'll get when listening to the EP.

49. Purity Ring Shrines
48. The xx Coexist
The xx have brought an entire sound of dark dream-pop to the masses, and perhaps the best addition to that landscape is blossoming Canadian duo Purity Ring. 

47. Bahamas Barchords
Alfie Jurvanen is my latest favorite "mellow singer/songwriter who has a band, even though it's really just one dude, but hey, that's cool anyway."
46. Aer The Bright Side
45. Rebelution Peace of Mind
The feel-good niche-genre of nü-reggae has never received proper merit. The duo Aer are standout newcomers, while California vets Rebelution have quietly become the stars and elder statesmen of a scene once dominated by the likes of Sublime. 

44. Swans The Seer
To paraphrase the Game of Thrones meme, "one does not simply listen to a Swans album." The newly-reformed group showed a new generation what rock operas were and are all about with an epic symphony that few could have seen coming.
43. Electric Guest Mondo
A fun album, through and through. Reminds me of Fitz and the Tantrums. And bright colors, and rainbows, and marshmallows. 
42. El-P Cancer 4 Cure
Definitive Jux's off-center brand of alternative hip-hop left a small-yet-noticeable hole in the hip-hop landscape since its 2010 hiatus, a wound partially healed by label boss El-P's return to the mike.
41. Torche Harmonicraft
When I was recommended this album, I had no idea I would be diving into an opus of electrifying sludge metal -- and surely enough, I loved it! All genres have a proper time and place to be enjoyed, and this epic extravaganza happens to be just what the rock doc ordered.

40. Big Boi Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors
39. Killer Mike R.A.P. Music
38. The Game Jesus Piece
Big Boi brings us another volume of genre-bending hip-hop, something we've come to expect from the genius in recent years; his ATL protege Mike, of course, continued a mean streak of his own. The Game, on the other hand, has somehow become underrated, and I am here to remind you that gangsta rap ain't dead, son! It helps to have a Rolodex of hip-hop royalty at your desk, and the list of impressive guests on Jesus Piece is never-ending; if you like any of the following artists, you might want to give this album a listen: Kanye West, Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, Kendrick Lamar, Big Sean, 2 Chainz, Fabolous, Pusha T, Wiz Khalifa, Common, J. Cole…you get the point. 

37. Lord Huron Lonesome Dreams
This serene collection of pop-sensible dream-folk helped fill a void left by Fleet Foxes and Local Natives, neither of whom released albums this year. 
36. First Aid Kit The Lion's Roar
The "pale-skinned, girls-next-door with acoustic guitars" theme ain't the most unique look in Hipsterville, but First Aid Kit's tight-knit harmonies over retro-western melodies are good enough to make you double-check the release date on the back of the record. 
35. David Byrne & St. Vincent Love This Giant
This unlikely collaboration is everything we'd expect it would be: ambitious, adventurous, and alas, imperfect. Annie Clark was a proper yin to David's yang for this creative project; and while Byrne certainly tips the crazy scale a few times, that's why we love him after all.
34. Matthew E. White Big Inner
This Virginian newcomer beautifully walks the line between lush instrumentation and ultra-mellow vocals. Early-adopting hipsters will hate this analogy, but if Jack Johnson had grown up in the South rather than Hawaii, his music might have sounded something like this. 
33. Dr. John Locked Down
32. Norah Jones Little Broken Hearts
As we learned on the collaborative project Rome, magic happens when Danger Mouse and Norah Jones team up in the studio. Similarly, New Orleans legend Dr. John experienced a similar outcome with Black Keys singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach. Of course, Auerbach and Danger Mouse have also collaborated in the past...I think we're onto something here.

31. Azealia Banks 1991 - EP
30. Santigold Master of My Make-Believe
I'm not sure why more people didn't notice Santi's auspicious sophomore release, especially when it seemed like the whole world fell in love with her not-so-distant 2008 debut. Her latest effort featured a who's who of collaborators (Diplo, Switch, Dave Sitek, Karen O), but perhaps it was the beats and antics of newcomer Banks who stole her spotlight.

29. POLIÇA Give You the Ghost
28. Grimes Visions
Haunting vocals, sweeping rhythms and brilliant melodies made these two of my favorite debuts of the year -- and if you get the opportunity, they are both great live acts as well.

27. Big K.R.I.T. Live from the Underground
26. Beach House Bloom
Beach House's 2010 debut was my #4 pick in 2010, and this lower spot in 2012 is not meant to insinuate that my love for them has worsened -- there's simply so much new music to be celebrated this year. Similarly, Big Krizzle didn't vault to the levels that I predicted he would reach when I listed his Return of 4eva mixtape as my #9 pick of 2011. Self-aware of my southern bias, I loved K.R.I.T.'s major debut but know that he's left more to be enjoyed; nonetheless, it's something I know we will all experience in future years.

25. G.O.O.D. Music Cruel Summer
Rick Ross helped repopularize the "posse album" with his Self-Made compilations, and who better to one-up a showman than disruption extraordinaire Kanye West? Despite a handful of forgettable tracks, the hard-hitting trio of "Mercy," "New God Flow," and "Clique" was a knockout combo of instant-classic cuts that is rarely seen today. 
24. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis The Heist
Macklemore's talent has been recognized in recent years amongst hip-hop nerds and bloggers alike, and his partnership with producer Lewis made tremendous leaps in 2012, both lyrically and sonically. And let's be real here: "Thrift Shop" is the catchiest tune any of us have heard in ages.
23. Dirty Projectors Swing Lo Magellan
A group that accomplished quite a feat in 2012: testing limits and pushing boundaries better than anyone in music today, while also becoming more listenable than ever.
22. Miike Snow Happy To You
The swedish trio's highly-anticipated follow-up continued to break barriers and meld genres, despite not featuring a ubiquitous hit like the previous album's "Animal."
21. Lana Del Rey Born to Die / Paradise
Were hipsters trying to be ironic when they shunned a hipster icon for allegedly hiding her affluent past? Because don't hipsters pretty much do the same thing by fleeing the suburbs for "real life" in Brooklyn? Skinny-jeaned people confuse me, but I'll take Lana's talent at surface level, and with a smile.
20. Escort Escort
19. Jessie Ware Devotion
Whether it was Jessie's Janet-like escapades or Escort's Gloria-esque multicultural flavor, these two albums provided '80s dance floor nostalgia in more ways than one.
18. Angel Haze Reservation
While Azealia Banks's buzz roller-coastered through shuffling managers and release dates, NYC underdog Angel Haze brought rough-and-tumble overtones to a hip-hop arena where her female counterparts (Banks, Nicki Minaj, etc.) have become more glitz-and-glam than ever.

17. Father John Misty Fear Fun
Former Fleet Foxes member J. Tillman showed us an outstanding display of self-reliance with this solo project. Tillman has downplayed his involvement with the indie-folk mainstays, but the band's influence rubbed off in the best ways and this is clearly Tillman's most accomplished of his eight albums.

16. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros Here
While the first paragraph of this list might suggest I have scornful feelings toward the indie-folk revival, I give Mr. Sharpe and company much credit for continuing to deliver on this feel-good follow-up to their 2009 debut. 
15. Geographer Myth
My favorite San Francisco band showed more of what we already knew: these guys have a serious knack for funky grooves, catchy melodies, and a safe amount of emo that doesn't make you feel like an insecure high schooler when the songs end. And that final part is, in the truest sense, quite the lost art form.
14. Rick Ross God Forgives, I Don't
The boss of Miami remains top dog of fast-money, fast-life hip-hop rock stardom. The spectacle of G.F.I.D. brought legends (Dr. Dre, Andre 3000) out of the woodwork, and a monster production budget (J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Pharrell, Cool & Dre) made for one blockbuster masterpiece of hip-hop braggadocio.
13. Cody ChesnuTT Landing On a Hundred
Best known from the Roots' "The Seed 2.0," ChesnuTT recorded a gem of a debut in 2002, only to seemingly disappear for the next decade. His long-awaited follow-up, filled with soulful bravado and heartfelt songwriting, suggests Cody didn't miss a beat during his hiatus.

12. Bobby Womack The Bravest Man in the Universe
What do you get when you pair a '70s soul legend with Gorillaz/Blur music futurist Damon Albarn? A beautiful marriage of old-school and new, that's what.
11. Nas Life Is Good
The hit-or-miss nature of Nas albums is something hip-hop listeners have come to expect over time, and patient fans were treated this year to a 58-minute therapy session: a brutally honest, no-holds-barred exercise in post-divorce catharsis. Nas's odes to his ex-wife Kelis and daughter Destiny are poems which beautifully illustrate the beauty of family life; a theme becoming commonplace among hip-hop greats, and a nice sign of things to come as the hip-hop generation matures to middle age.

10. Michael Kiwanuka Home Again
Kiwanuka's acoustic-soul style is so purposely nostalgic, the artist can't help but accept comparisons to greats such as Otis Redding and Bill Withers. A solid debut from an artist who should be around for a long, long time.
9. Django Django Django Django
I want to compare them to Muse, but that's a bit of a cop-out: what does that even mean? This new art-rock group takes influences from all sides of the musical spectrum -- they rock, they have groove, they are just really damn good. 
8. Gary Clark Jr. Blak and Blu
7. Jack White Blunderbuss
For the first time in decades, the two best blues guitarists on the planet might both be under the age of 40. Gary's full-length debut had a couple of production-heavy head-scratchers, but the talent is simply undeniable. And Mr. White? If you didn't check out his record, you might want to quit living under that rock.

6. alt-J One Awesome Wave
5. Grizzly Bear Shields
Two offerings of rich, layered indie rock where you might discover something new with each listen. British phenoms Alt-J quickly propelled themselves to the top of the experimental-alternative stratosphere; Grizzly Bear, meanwhile, is a band that truly improves with each release.

4. Alabama Shakes Boys & Girls
Time will tell if the Shakes can mold a long-term niche into a crowded blues-rock space already full of legends; what we do know is this young band gave us a whole lot to cheer about, via this instant-classic debut.
3. Tame Impala Lonerism
The best part of this album is its ability to so-perfectly exude the emotions of its title. These guys sound stupidly similar to acid-era Beatles, but what's not to love about that? 
2. Kendrick Lamar good kid, m.A.A.d city
Kendrick's previous effort scored the #4 spot on last year's list, so one can safely assume there were high expectations leading into this major-label debut. Judging by the #2 spot this year, one can also safely assume the young Angeleno delivered...and then some.

1. Frank Ocean Channel ORANGE [Island Def Jam]
Writing about an album as special as Channel ORANGE would do it no justice, so let's allow the #1 ranking to speak for itself, and thank and congratulate 25-year-old Frank Ocean for giving us two classic albums in two years.