Without much commentary (these aren’t full reviews, after all, rather succinct/impetuous – depending on who you ask – musings), I’m always loathe to list my favorites in any particular order – I’ve lived with each of these albums more than any other throughout the year, so it’s hard to commit to such a limited inventory. So take the order of the listing merely as what pops into my head while typing. Save for the first three of four, which if I had to choose would be my Top 3 or 4, all equally warrant your attention. (Same can be said for the shit way below.)
Baker’s Dozen Plus: My Favorite Albums of 2012
LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III Older Than My Old Man Now The ghosts surround Wainwright on his latest collection; the ghosts of his old man, the specter of a former sex life, the ectoplasm of his failed marriages and the brokenness of his relationship with his children, and the ghost of mortality itself. With his only peers probably Dylan and Cohen – though his sense of humour has always surpassed their dour sensibilities – no one else has ever dared create a cycle of historical familial strife so funny, pungent, bittersweet, and obvious, while employing said family on the cycle itself.
EMELI SANDE Over Version Of Events As with any great modern singer, the influences only inspire, and as with any great soul singer, that inspiration is divine. While miniscule British imports abound on the charts and over the airwaves, Sande’s American near-anonymity is a crime.
FUN. Some Nights A hook-infused smorgasbord of melodious, bombastic choruses, cryptic sweeping verses, self-help placards, and Nate Ruess’ glorious range and tone – the singular male vocalist of the year. An exhilarating exercise in grandiosity.
PINK The Truth About Love She morphed from the next evolution of teen pop to steadfast hitmaker – and songwriter extraordinaire – four albums ago. What makes The Truth About Love almost perfect is the way it makes us wonder if these 13 tracks are autobiographical or if she’s merely an oracle for today’s women-on-the-verge. Then of course, there’s that voice.
KENDRICK LAMAR good kid, m.A.A.d city A documentary of potency and importance, the narrative is deep, the stories resonant, and the skill sonorous, this is the ‘concept’ album (or “short film” as he titled it) of the year in a year littered with throwaways and ringtone rap. With his riveting eye and pen, Lamar raises a bar that desperately needed raising.
IRIS DEMENT Sing The Delta After 15 years – following a great debut with two classics (Infamous Angel, My Life and The Way I Should respectively) and a curious 2004 gospel-tinged covers collection (Lifeline) – DeMent has no grand proclamations to make, rather her still-perfect drawl settles on the simplicity of her own self. More gorgeous, more cerebral, more breathtaking with each listen.
SPOEK MATHAMBO Father Creeper Epochal collection from talented Johannesburg wordsmith. The amalgamation of hip hop, electronica, rock and rap and dubstep is intentionally dizzying and despaired, brutal and beautiful – like the tales he weaves throughout this exceptional album.
TODD SNIDER Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables A more valid source for political commentary than any legit news source and that’s probably not what Snider wants to hear; he’s first a master storyteller – and a damned-well sardonically brilliant one at that – documenting our humanity, or lack thereof, more precisely, and more hilariously, than none other.
FRANK OCEAN channel ORANGE After self-releasing his masterpiece nostagiaULTA last year (my favorite album of 2011), channel ORANGE became the cause celebre of 2012 and deserving of all it’s accolades, Ocean has created an intense, formless, brave and archetypal collection – for a modern Soul maestro still sojourning his way to nirvana, it’s visionary.
SINEAD O’CONNOR How About I Be Me (And You Be You) Sadly mostly a tabloid footnote in the decades since she jettisoned into the public consciousness, this is her most striking, haunting, gorgeous and coherent since then. There’s still that voice, aged but still both ethereal and a mammoth force of nature, and there are the songs themselves, confessionals (of course), private but universal.
BRUNO MARS Unorthodox Jukebox Circumventing the sophomore slump is a prodigious task when the debut is an indelibleclassic. But Unorthox Jukebox is another slice of musical heaven, a collection of dance-pop masters, Soul tour-de-forces, and a soupcon of disco-infused gems.
FIONA APPLE The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do Were we really ready for a mature, fully realized Fiona Apple release? Sure, the vagaries of her pen often need cryptanalysis, but as it flows and coalesces, it’s epiphanous. And she never panders to anyone, least of all herself – she rarely, if ever, sounded so sure, so potent while singing about uncertainty, jealousy, obsession, solitude or revenge.
BETTYE LAVETTE Thankful N’ Thoughtful A half-century into this, and almost a decade into her renaissance, LaVette hasn’t dissipated her intensity, her funk or her master interpretations. Her Soul – and soul – aches and thrives.
SOLANGE True / AZEALIA BANKS 1991 (tie) It might be cheating summing these up as a tie, but since they’re both EPs (7 and 4 tracks, respectively) I’ll do as I deem worthy. If longevity escapes Banks, it would be a shame – not only does she possess the mightiest skills of any rapper this year, but her dextrous wordplay would give the most seasoned pro pause. Sure, she’s a potty mouth. That’s called love. Solange, dimmed in the spotlight of her megastar sister (that would be Beyonce, to the uninformed) and her long-time collaborator, Dev Hynes, crystallize the past and the future with the present; he supplies the grooves that coalesce, but they wouldn’t be as sumptuous without her perfectly, intentionally restrained vocals. “True” is a precursor to a full-lengther that drops in January. If it’s half as determined and realized, it’ll be worthy come award season. And, also:
ADAM LAMBERT Trespassing, JAPANDROIDS Celebration Rock, PATTI SMITH Banga, BETH HART Bang Bang Boom Boom (import – the domestic release drops in April 2013), BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN Wrecking Ball, MIGUEL Kaleidoscope Dream, MADONNA MDNA, NEIL YOUNG Americana, AMADOU & MARIAM Folia, MACY GRAY Covered, LEONARD COHEN Old Ideas
Dirty Dozen: The 12 Worst Albums of 2012
CHRIS BROWN Fortune Sometimes you have to separate the ‘art’ from the ‘artist’ and judge the work independently. But when a supercilious shithead (consistently) releases execrable shit, then all bets are off.
CHRISTINA AGUILERA Lotus A cacophonous, tuneless assortment only her fans could love. (Hey, where are her fans?)
CARRIE UNDERWOOD Blown Away Four – count ‘em four – duds in a row for this shrill chanteuse, this isn’t her usual apocryphal shit for Country fans – it’s an emboldened (in theory, at least) manufactured pop machination masqueraded as country-politan dreck for the beyond-Idol audience of her dreams. And those arena-rock fantasies have been fulfilled. That’s okay, though. Artistically, she’ll never be Miranda Lambert.
MAROON 5 Overexposed A decade ago, Adam Levine forged his Stevie Wonder delusions, selling blanched white R&B-influenced pop wholesale. Soon thereafter, he laboriously morphed his group into an auto-tuned homologous dance bad, indistinguishable from the consortium of such ilk, with Levine’s ubiquity the key ingredient to their charting mainstay, as this collection of atonal musings solidifies. Consumer fraud alert.
RACHEL MCFARLAND Haley Sings Big brother Seth’s “Music Is Better Than Words” was passionless, (unintentionally) hilarious, and wan. Apparently bequeathed traits. Particularly when sung by a cartoon character.
TRAIN California 37 Tolerable as a singles act (with the eternal “Drops Of Jupiter” their crest), they’ve defined corporate pop-rock for years. But who would’ve thought that a departing guitarist would relegate them to the dustbins? No hook in sight by a California mile.
KREAYSHAWN Something Bout Kreay Subbasement white-girl (c)rap mixed with bargain-basement production, she blessedly managed to diminish a guaranteed 15 Minutes of Fame into about 8, maybe 9. Good riddance.
GEOFF TATE Kings and Thieves At least, back in the day, Tate’s vacuous voice evoked a yearn to escape the lunkhead metal of his sub-genre, he now sounds like complete shit – which would be okay if the material best suited his goal. Self-parody is never sadder when derived from the already parodied world from whence you came. I mean, come on! Wasn’t Queensryche jokey enough?
OWL CITY The Midsummer Station Adam Young’s offensive Ben Gibbard For Morons has long outlasted his (un)welcome; he’d be a full-blown menace to society if anyone cared enough to purchase – or buy into – his shit.
ONE DIRECTION Take Me Home I don’t object Simon Cowell’s crass commercialism – hell, every “boy band” from the Monkees to Backstreet Boys was manufactured for mass appeal. It’s 1Ds passionless readings of even the most banal lyrics that’s most offensive. One-ups their debut in chutzpah, though.
AEROSMITH Music From Another Dimension With the promise to the return of their signature style, I was disappointed with the news – sure, their drug-induced canon created some great American rock n roll in the 70s, but there’s a special place in my heart for their cheesey comeback for the ages that started in the late 80s, which cross-channeled sexy geezer attitude with bubblegum MTV pop to varying degrees of delicious audacity. Then, as their stars faded once again, Tyler found Nigel Lythgoe and after two heinous seasons as the resident perverted sycophant, which included a solo atrocity even Idol wannabes scoffed at, they release what I pray is the final stopgap into the catacombs of history. Whose, title, by the way, is the most misleading in their existence.
WILSON PHILLIPS Dedicated Lifeless necrophilia masqueraded as parental homage.