The year-end hysteria is complete, if not a little late. A sincere "thank you" to each and every one of you. 2012 was my most productive year yet and you guys rewarded my effort by coming back again and again. I've got a few things up my sleeve for the new year, so let's get started.
#10. Passion Pit - Gossamer
Earlier this year Pitchfork ran an incredible cover story on "the brilliant and troubled mind" of lead singer, Michael Angelakos. Listen closely to Gossamer and you'll find genuine anxiety wrapped in a nice shiny bow. While they are definitely not the first band to do this, they are currently the best. Every time you sing along to I'll Be Alright, do you even notice the line: I drink a gin and take a couple of my pills, or are you too busy enjoying the music as it flashes past you?
#9. Animal Collective - Centipede Hz
In all honesty I'm not sure if I caught up with Animal Collective or if they simply slowed down. On Centipede Hz the guys keep the psychedelic vibe heavy, but give it to you in smaller, more focused bursts of energy. You can make "experimental" music without it turning into a bizarre, long-winded, train wreck. Here's the proof.
#8. Gary Clark, Jr. - Blak & Blu
Prior to the release of Blak & Blu, Gary Clark Jr. had already found fans among some of the best guitarist in the world. He's played Eric Clapton's Crossroad Music Festival, Metallica's Orion Festival and was a special guest for the Rolling Stones during their recent US shows. Most of the album finds him deeply rooted in Blues; that is not a complaint. Even more promising are the moments where he takes a few chances. The hip-hop feel of The Life or the soulful croon of Please Come Home should be enough to prove his worth. The blistering cover of Third Stone From The Sun/If You Love Me Like You Say is just icing on the cake and maybe a bit of showing off.
#7. Action Bronson & Party Supplies - Blue Chips
If you say you were listening to Action Bronson before he hooked up this year with Party Supplies, you are lying. Reviews of his early material rarely spoke of anything other than Ghostface Killah comparisons. What a difference a producer makes, huh? Party Supplies didn't bring some leftover beats, they crafted a story and laid out a path for Action Bronson to crush, song after song, verse after verse. For a few months, Steve Wynn and that strolling bass line was the only thing I listened to on my way to the train. Get the entire mix tape for free right here.
#6. Andrew Bird - Break It Yourself
Prior to recording the album, Andrew was asked to submit a few songs for consideration for The Muppets soundtrack. Ultimately, the songs didn't make the cut, but the reminiscent Lazy Projector takes on a whole different meaning when you consider it was originally written for Kermit the Frog. Whether or not we have Jim Henson to thank for the change is tone is not important. Either way Break It Yourself is Andrew's most accessible album of his career, trading his distant, jargon-filled compositions in for candid, emotional stories.
#5. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...
A 7-year gap between albums is usually the kiss of death, unless you're Fiona Apple. Nothing comes easy for the constantly embattled singer. But it's the struggle that makes for such amazing entertainment and heart wrenching songs. Each one reads like a journal entry, brutally honest and contemplative. When most artists put on a filter to appeal to the masses, Fiona shows off her bruises with pride and appreciation.
#4. Purity Ring - Shrines
Where some people might say that Shrines offered nothing unique or groundbreaking, it succeeds where so many other albums fail; it's entertaining. I'm not concerned about the next "big" thing if it loses sight of the goal. Music is supposed to get your feet tapping, it's supposed to have you humming a tune all day, it's supposed to be infectious. What more do you need?
#3. Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city
Every once in a while something will come out of the West Coast that is cinematic. good kid, m.A.A.d city goes well beyond an album. It's a cautionary tale that has more in common with "Boyz in the Hood" than The Chronic. With Dre and MC Eiht dropping in for a verse or two, you can claim it's Cali all day, but there are some Outkast moments in there too and just enough Chicago love to make it feel universal.
#2. Jack White - Blunderbuss
If you ever want to know how to run a label, take a look at Jack White's Third Man Records. On top of the wide variety of artists, Jack has also become a champion for vinyl with limited releases and refreshing ways to present his product. So it should come as no surprise that his first solo album would be as unique as his Triple Decker Poster, or Balloon Delivered Flexi-Disc. Sixteen Saltines is exactly what you'd expect, but the soft-spoken Blunderbuss or ivory tickling Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy could only come from one man.
#1. Frank Ocean - Channel ORANGE
Frank Ocean got me singing again. No, you won't find me at open mic nights or in the studio. But I can't tell you how many times I hit the high notes of Thinkin Bout You stuck in traffic. At work, I'd find myself singing Pilot Jones, including the embarrassing line: And no I don't want a child/But I ain't been touched in a while. With each listen you'll find another melody more inviting than the last and before you know you're whistling that little break in Forrest Gump. I hope so, or else I have a real problem.