No best album list is complete without something from Detroit. Nowhere else is as no frills and unvarnished. It operates as a palate cleanser to remind you to stop indulging your taste for bullshit. If Chicago drill rap bears a sonic debt to the trap of the dirty south, Detroit’s sound has always mirrored the slums of New York — or Newark if you consider the Eminem-Outsidaz connect. Danny Brown may have found fame as an asymmetrically-haired hipster icon, but his roots are on display on House Shoes’ Let it Go. Black Milk and Guilty Simpson make appearances. So do Quelle Chris and Roc Marciano, the latter of whom pops up on “Dirt,” arguably the most appropriately titled song of the year.
House Shoes has spent a decade and a half building a rep as a DJ’s DJ. A guy who inhabits the traditional role to a tee. He is a connecter and a selector, a curator and turntablist, a sample chopper and a nose bone smasher. His first solo record is a product of the man. A collection of diseased soul instrumentals and drums hard and black as igneous rocks. It’s a producer’s compilation with a clear vision. This was a solid year for the spawns of boon-bap. Homeboy Sandman dropped a good album and two equally 100 EPs. Guilty Simpson and Apollo Brown continued to keep things gully. And Ka and Roc Marciano both appear lower on this list. But House Shoes not only kept the spirit of Dilla and the D alive, he did it his own way. Hard-core and head nodding — the only way he knows how. Big Sean should be locked in up in solitary and forced to listen to this until he stops calling himself “B-I-G.”. — Jeff Weiss
When I recently interviewed DaVinci and his producer/manager Al Jieh, one word and theme came up repeatedly – lineage. We spoke for two hours, and most of that time was spent on history. Mainly the history of the neighborhood which inspired the name of this album, the history of rappers who came from there, and how DaVinci fits into the context of it all. And that’s essentially what the album itself is all about too. Not in obvious ways. It doesn’t try to capture the sound of any particular era nor does it tell a continuous linear narrative. But the air of tradition and nostalgia is plainly there, giving a sense of heft and gravity to the otherwise modern composition of the music; imbuing it with an extremely personal feel.
This ability to impart the presence of a wizened soul is the key ingredient in DaVinci’s appeal. He is obviously talented but he’s rarely prone to experimentation, his approach never feels outdated but it’s never groundbreaking or uniquely original either. As a musical artist he’s not particularly concerned with expanding or redefining the boundaries of his genre. Rap is more like an outlet for him, a way to tell his story and add another chapter to the Fillmore tradition he came from. — Alex Pivevsky
The phrase “Internet rap” conjures up images of nerdy white kids rhyming about HTML and overhyped blog-supported no-names desperately trying to get someone, anyone to listen to their mixtape. Every once in a while, however, the net allows for serendipitous combinations. Take Deneiro Farrar and Shady Blaze, two kindred spirits separated by a continent and brought together via the wonders of e-mailing each other verses. Seamlessly combining their efforts over beats by Soundcloud’s finest including up and coming talents Ryan Hemsworth, $ines, Lunice and Keyboard Kid, the duo’s efforts are almost enough to have you declaring free Wifi as the 5th element of Hip-Hop.
Of course, you wouldn’t know it by their content: Kill or Be Killed is strictly about the trials and tribulations of the streets, a mournful and downcast set of gangsta rap that wouldn’t know swag if it walked in the room and tried to teach someone how to Dougie. Don’t be afraid of the XLR8R-approved production list or the cloud rap tag: this is gangsta rap in disguise. — Son Raw
Regal Degal is a great new-ish band who made a great album this year and were ignored by most music critics. (Jeff threw them some shine in an LA Weekly column, but that was about it.)Hopefully, that doesn’t mean shit to them, and neither should this blurb, since they don’t know me from any of the other working music critics raised in the internet age (unless they love music criticism, mine in particular, in which case I accept your acceptance of my forthcoming praise Regal Degal).
What you should know, is that Regal Degal made one of the great albums of 2012, somehow figuring out how to combine post-punk and blurry drone-rock in a way that makes sense, even if those two sounds seem totally antithetical to each other. “Logs in the River” sounds like a standout from a Sacred Bones compilation, melancholy and upbeat, depressing and catchy. “Diminish Him” is one of the two best DIIV songs put out this year (the other one actually coming from DIIV).
Every song here is smart, dense and catchy, and despite that pleasantly dissonant wall-o’-sound, the lyrics are intelligible, a hybrid of Douglas Martin music that’s slightly more approachable than the work of equally great bands like Women and No Joy. This is approachable niche music and the fact that RD didn’t garner much attention this year should be inspiring for bands of similarly high-caliber—success is more a matter of luck than anything else, and the idea of “making it” shouldn’t extend past making a really excellent album. — Jonah Bromwich
Jeff made the call in his September review that he’d had grave concerns for the artistic validity of Wu-Tang Pulp, and I’d guess most of the Passion writers felt a similar way. But the Wrecking Crew’s Zilla Rocca is not only a friend of this site (and occasional contributor) but also an unapologetic realist. And as the months (years?) rolled by and the project crawled towards competition, his disappointment with its pace was offset by regular excited reports about the results.
That excitement turned out to be justified. Wu-Tang Pulp is a project that doggedly paints its own lane, far removed from the wide array of source material from which it draws. Its samples have been broken down, reconstituted, flipped and fried until their original use is forgotten. Whether you’re a Wu diehard or not, Pulp also provides an opportunity to witness three of the best MCs around (plus guests) blast through an entire tape of muscular beats, playing off off each other like brothers: Zilla Rocca the street-fighting youngest, his square-cut boasts a curt fist to the face, Has-Lo a pragmatic, perceptive middle child, and Curly Castro the crazed first-born, his raps cranked and twisted by what he witnessed.
All three of these guys are head down in individual projects, but Wu-Tang Pulp is arguably their finest work to date. It draws them even closer to each other, and you can’t help but feel together is where their future lies. — Matt Shea
Whether you’ve been down since Music by Cavelight or only know his name via that Aesop Rock record your college roommate wouldn’t shut up about, Interludes After Midnight (the title comes from a late-night adult cable-access show that aired in Manhattan during the ‘80s and ‘90s) is more than worth your time.
It’s a great headphone album—though I’m told it plays fine on speakers—that really does work well when you’re trying to drown out the “Creeps Crouchin” on the train (BART up here in the Bay). With headphones you really get to appreciate the subtle nuances of each track. And you won’t catch a lot of things until the third or fourth listen. Go check the latest boom-bap beat tape from that same college roommate and I guarantee it isn’t anywhere near as cohesive or emotive. With Interludes After Midnight, Blockhead has captured a feeling, a ride down the NY rail lines of his formative years. Whether it’s the Zen-vibe of “Hangover like Whoa,” the haunting ‘rise of the machines’ movie you’ll see in your head playing to the tune of “Tools of Industry,” or the taught and eerie “Snapping Point,” analogous only to a chase through the train yards after a late night art session, this record will take you places while you’re waiting for your favorite program (come on Arrested Development) to return — Max Bell
Chief Keef might be the break-out star from the Chicago’s drill scene in 2012, but musically, Lil Durk’s had almost as good a year as his younger contemporary, even though he spent parts of the year in prison. Durk’s more of a rapper’s rapper than Keef is, and, at 19, already shows a natural capacity for rapping that many rappers take a decade to acquire, if ever. His raps have a forward-only momentum; there’s no time to rest in Durk’s world, let alone go backwards, and his raps have a restless determination, a sense of urgency that give his songs a grim seriousness.
Which isn’t to say that Durk doesn’t know how to have fun. I’m Still a Hitta is definitely fun in places, but it’s a very specific kind of fun. “I Get Paid” hypnotizes with its blunt-force hook, and Durk dances all over the track’s intricate snares, popping up here and then ducking behind corners there. It’s a nihilistic sort of fun—YOLO with a fatalist streak. “L’s Anthem” lurches forward, screams in the background, warbled Auto-Tune propping up Durk’s melodic flow. “Eater” shows Durk’s ear for thick, satisfying hooks, and “Rite Here,” similarly focused on melody, reaches anthem status without losing the snot-nosed snarl. This is the thing with these Chicago kids; no matter how immediately accessible their poppier tracks how, no matter how much crossover potential they have, they’re still hard as fuck. Still a hitta, indeed. — Renato Pagnani
I’ve played Black is Beautiful more times on my iPod than any other record this year. There’s something about Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland’s hazy, half (or perhaps fully) baked mood pieces that lends itself to long walks through the rain. Equal parts nostalgia for a lost past of VHS tapes and Cocteau Twins cassettes and anticipation for a future where Grime producers conduct symphonies in Fruityloops and every city looks like Hong Kong or Tokyo. The album rewards repeated listens, clawing at your subconscious. Whispered Japanese vocals, tossed off Footwork, long-form dub jams, icy cold Gangsta rap and 70s pop covers shouldn’t belong together, but passed through Hype Williams’ lo-fi equipment and warped sensibility, they suddenly don’t make sense any other way.
When I told Hyperdub label head and A&R Kode9 that the record “clicked” for me when I listened to it in the midst of a fairly debilitating flu, his face lit up and he mentioned A&Ring in altered states, most notably when suffering from a lack of sleep. And while I don’t recommend catching an infectious disease or staying up for 3 days straight, I do recommend this release for hangovers, insomnia, blunt sessions or any other time when your head isn’t quite screwed on right. Think Chillwave except awesome. — Son Raw
I’m 89% sure that Wale’s spirit animal is Fiona Apple. The eccentric New Yorker may have been known for a lot of things other than her music in 2012, including but not limited to: long album titles, getting arrested for hash possession, and canceling the last leg of her tour because her dog got sick. But in spite of all that her latest album, titled (deep breath…) The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do was able to turn all of those external commotions into a powerful and raw expression of Fiona’s shattered self.
The Idler Wheel is beautiful for the same reasons it’s inaccessible: the torrent of stripped down emotions on top of bare-bone production isn’t for everyone. Every pain and slice of indecisiveness is dragged from the depths of Apple’s closet and laid out in front of the ever-demanding spotlight. Fiona’s pain is evident throughout the project and creates an uncomfortable air, similar to what one would experience as a stranger peeking into domestic dispute from the safety of a busy street. Writers love to gush about an artist’s emotions. But it’s worth noting that the painful content delivered on The Idler Wheel caries the same themes and emotion that hip-hop journalists have been bestowing onto Future and Pluto for this entire year. After you listen to The Idler Wheel in it’s entirety, it’s hard to see any artist in any genre as being truly honest. — Slava P
As our Great Leader pointed out, Madvillainy has had an unsung influence on a generation of young rappers looking to capture the essence of Doomlib’s magnum opus. Since Doom dropped the MF and is off in permanent exile in the Queen’s country (thus unlikely to finish the long promised sequel), we will just have to make due with the evil cult leader, Captain Murphy, instead. Captain Murphy, the brainchild of Los Angeles beat maker, Flying Lotus marks his debut into the field of rapping after years of lording over the L.A. instrumental beat scene.
Practically everything on Duality is built on the bones of Madvillain. The songs are short, the samples are dusty and the rapping is irreverent. Songs like “Mighty Morphin Foreskin” and the Earl Sweatshirt assisted “Between Friends” showcase Flying Lotus as a goofy prankster on the mic peppering his verses with pop culture references from Street Fighter 2 to Sealab 2021. The album’s highlight is “The Killing Joke,” a chilling creeper of a track, that pays homage to the Joker. Tracks like this prove that Duality is a fitting legacy to one of the greatest hip hop records of the 2000s. Maybe next time, Doom will emerge from his lair in Latveria so hip hop can feel the wrath of the world’s first rap Super-Villain Team-Up. — Doc Zeus
It says a lot about the power of Kenny Dennis that you automatically move to
describe Serengeti’s actual self-titled albums in the context of this ludicrous alter ego. But then it’s a natural thing to do, to relate the tribulations of the comedian through the prism of his onstage work.
Regardless, Kenny Dennis, the 45-year-old Buick-driving, O’Doul’s-sinking, Brian Dennehy-loving boor who’s as dedicated to softball as he is his wife Jueles, took another step to the left with Geti’s Kenny Dennis EP. With a newly completed backstory to draw upon, including a Chicago-area group called Tha Grimm Teachaz and an ill-faited 1993 deal with Jive Records, his creator had licence to skew Kenny
towards the ridiculous. So you have cuts like “Shazam”, a powder keg diss on Shaquille O’Neal after the
former basketball giant and occasional 90s rapper mocked Dennis’s moustache at a Jive Records Showcase. Or “Top That”, unearthed from a set of lost Grimm Teachaz tapes and featuring the zinging hook, “I’m hot! You’re Not! / And if you wanna mess with me I’ll give it one shot / Top that! Top that! Top that! Top that!!!”
If this all sounds too ridiculous for words, it’s because it is. The Kenny Dennis EP is something to be listened to and enjoyed (or not), rather than talked about. Perhaps more importantly, though, Kenny Dennis’s journey into the outer reaches of absurdity suggests in Serengeti an artist who’s more comfortable than ever with being himself. After the manic highs of Kenny, Geti’s C.A.R. full length is very much the Chicagoan coming back down to earth, like he’s been caught alone with his thoughts for once and can’t escape.
Still, in the depths of depression when he’s applying that overactive mind inward to ways of chastising himself, Serengeti still can’t help but get his groove on. He sometimes drifts towards the indie fuzz rap of Buck 65, but the writing’s better and he hews closer to the bass-driven heart of the genre, particularly on cuts like the childhood perv of “Peekaboo” or album highlight “Go Dancin,” where he makes a hopeless stab at reinvigorating exhausted love. Whether Serengeti is being himself or Kenny Dennis, he’s far too often overlooked. His mind’s a rabbit hole – get your hands on these records and go explore. — Matt Shea
On his third album in as many years, L.A. rapper Open Mike Eagle casts a skeptical, sardonic eye on the American financial system, student debt, self-help, self-hating backpackers but most of all, himself. The album is loosely structured around Mike’s visit to the titular hospital, a kind of Chapel Perilous where Mike confronts his personal failings.
4NML HSPTL is a more personal record than Rappers Will Die From Natural Causes. On “HSPTL” Mike regrets boozing habits, hating on friends’ music and spending potential rap checks on a “big rare cockatoo.” Despite HSPTL’s personal bent, the many guests abet our host’s subtly caustic humor. “Cobra Commander” brings in Danny Brown to blame the world’s ills not on Illuminati or the Elders of Zion, but the G.I. Joe villain. On “Your Backpack Past,” Has-Lo and Mike reveal the secrets for concealing a history filled with FatBeats 12’s and dirty Lugz: coke, belting Auto-Tuned R&B, fitted tees and penning think pieces in a mock neck.
On “Universe Man”, Serengeti and Mike offer life advice from lunatics, interpolating They Might Be Giants for the hook. 4NML HSPTL is produced entirely by frequent collaborator Awkward, whose glitchy, static-dusted beats slap and churn like gears turning in Mike’s brain. “Self Medication Chant” is the centerpiece, an examination of Mike’s everyday travails and what those pull out of his head. Even burdened by systematic racism, emotional emptiness and headaches, we keep pushing. Finding inspiration in Eustace Tilley even though he reminds you of slavery. These songs are panacea, everyday proclamations for the mentally taxed and artistically frustrated. — Aaron Matthews
Proving one needs neither a label nor the last name of Palmer to succeed, Black Moth Super Rainbow kicks out its best ear candy in a minute with Cobra Juicy, a Kickstarter-funded affair that has to be all the more fulfilling for the band for that fact alone. While the phrase I’m hearing most often is “their most accessible work yet,” fuck that noise — it merely diminishes what a stellar album Tobacco et. al compiled on their own merits.
Opening with a crunching guitar that has to make Dan Auerbach nod his head in respect on “Windshield Smasher,” the band muscles its way through a technicolor acid trip smoothed back with a heady sativa chaser. This is music for candy flippers. The full spectrum of head trips are approached, from the 70s high school movie projector soundtrack of “Like a Sundae” to the muscular dance floor romp that is “Gangs in the Garden.” Other standouts include the gut bucket groove of “Hairspray Heart,” the beautiful, semi-acoustic slop of “We Burn,” and the fuzzed out bliss of album closer, “Spraypaint,” which basically adds up to damn near every track here. Cobra Juicy is a succulent mess. Enjoy every gooey moment of it. — Chris Daly
This probably sounds terrible, but I was glad to hear 100s extol the virtues of cocaine. Weed and lean make you relaxed and sleepy, molly and ecstasy make you want to dance and hug random people. That’s all fine, but a cool playalistic motherfucker needs something with a little more edge and that’s where the blow comes in. See Superfly or Iceberg Slim’s Pimp: if you’re gonna be a playa you’re gonna need some coke and a coke nail. 100s got those, and the skills to back up all the game he is laying down. And obviously he’s got the hair for the job too.
The younger generation is sorely missing guys like these, the exaggerated hustler anti-heroes of rap, the progeny of Dolemite dripping with fur and jewels. Rick Ross is the closest approximation of this archetype in the mainstream and veteran regional playas still abound, but these are all people in their late 30s. The underground up and comers are more apt to talk about Pimp C than be about it, and they rush to the scene well before being ready for prime0time. Maybe that’s why 100s’ album makes such a strong impression. His character appeared fully formed, his style fills a void and brings a welcome counterbalance. Among a field of weird haircuts in progress, a well groomed perm stands alone. — Alex Piyevsky
While certainly not his most fulfilling album to date, Until The Quiet Comes still exists as an excellent snapshot of Flying Lotus’ progress as a producer over the years. Gems like “Putty Boy Strut” and a video for “Tiny Tortures” starring Elijah Wood managed to keep the album’s buzz alive, but throughout the album’s 18 tracks, you get the sense that FlyLo was somehow lulled in to a false sense of security during production. As much as songs like “The Nightcaller” and “DMT Song” stand out, Until The Quiet Comes seems unjustifiably weighed down by filler. Even the Thom Yorke collaboration “Electric Candyman” seems mildly phoned-in. But that’s the thing about Flying Lotus. We hold him to a different standard. Phoned in for him is fully wired for anyone else. Once you re-calibrate your expectations, it reveals itself to be a gorgeous holding pattern — even though it may end existing as “that one album” in between Cosmogramma and whatever he does next. — Aaron Frank
Genre cross-pollination has been near constant in music since the turn of the century, so it’s no wonder we don’t remark upon it much anymore. Even when Peaking Lights’ masterful debut came out last year, most of the focus was on the band’s backstory (something this sunny from a beautiful Wisconsin couple?) or to the particulars of the individual songs. But with the group’s second album Lucifer being as good as it is, the point becomes almost impossible not to make. In spite of the rise of mash-ups, the slow death of distinctive regional sounds, and the deplorable rise of EVERYONE feeling comfortable enough to rap, the fact remains—anything that results in albums like these is good for music.
Peaking Lights themselves provided an illustration of this fact, by releasing Lucifer in Dub, a version of their album which essentially shoehorned their multi-dimensional music into a single genre. Though a very solid listen in its own right, for the most part, the dub album really just made you remember how great that original copy of Lucifer was. The sharpness of Indra Dunnes voice on the standout “Beautiful Sun.” The fuzzy brilliance of “LO-Hi.” With Lucifer itself, the dub is there all along, but when coupled with five or ten other distinctive worlds of sound, the role of that Caribbean vibe becomes more well-defined, playing off the other genres without ever becoming tedious.
Most credit should go to Aaron Coyes and Dunnis—they clearly love so many different kinds of music that it becomes impossible to separate their influences or to prioritize one sound over any other. But a small thank you also has to go to the total dissolution of genre boundaries: please let music this strange, psychedelic, soulful and funky continue to come out on an annual basis and I won’t ask for much else. — Jonah Bromwich
Near the end of the ominous machine/robot noise, chopped vocals, and static that is the intro to Gaslamp Killer’s Breakthrough, a voice asks a question, looped to repeat: “Do you understand what I’m trying to say?” But before the track does actually end, the question fades away and melts into some soul soothing ‘60s psychedelia that I’m unable able to identify. How did I get here? It’s the question I kept asking myself on my first listen. Things were dark, and then suddenly they were light. It’s not where you would expect to go. You’d expect to launch right into “Veins,” the haunting violin suite featuring Gonjasufi telling you to “cut your vein out of your heart.” But this is what Gaslamp does. He is the crazed beat junkie carney pulling the lever on the sonic rollercoaster for the soul. He wants the light to creep in just before you launch down the tunnel thumping with the sound of bass and Turkish rock.
At 17 tracks, the record clocks in just over 45 minutes. It’s a wild ride, one filled with loops that will give you a head rush and twists and turns that will leave you flailing in raucous rhythm. As far as categorizing this record goes, most will mislabel it an electronic album. It’s not. Go listen to Daft Punk for that.
Breakthrough has too much soul. “Holy Mt. Washington” (with Computer Jay) sounds like Dam-Funk with harder drums and more grime, and “Dead Vets” (featuring Adrian Younge and MRR) is a sinister, organ-grinding cut complete with guitar stabs analogous only to the pain of a needle puncturing the arm of a soldier. For me, the record doesn’t get much better than “Nissim” (with Amir Yaghmai), a deeply personal and meditative track (it’s named after his late brother and grandfather, both of whom passed at 43) that’s inspired me to check out any and all music with a yayli tambur and to learn how to use the repeat function on my Itunes.
If you asked me to form a response to the question the record asks at the beginning, I couldn’t do it. Even if I did give you an answer, it wouldn’t do the man with the message behind his beats any justice. So, do I understand what GLK is trying to say? Maybe. I only know that I feel it. — Max Bell
Sometimes it’s impossible to know what you’re building until it’s complete. Kieran Hebden, aka Four Tet’s Pink is mainly a compilation of 12″s released over the last year and a bit. They were not originally intended to form an album, but they absolutely work in this context. Bundled together, they document an immensely impressive stretch of production.
Pink is an inversion of the aesthetic Hebden was working towards on 2010’s There is Love in You. While that record was introspective and demure, Pink extends itself outwards, roots itself firmly on the dance floor, stretches to embrace everything at once. This underlying sense of connectedness permeates the record. Hebden reaches backwards to draw from the roots of electronic music. He opens “Jupiters” with intricate, interlocking synth patterns that recall early practitioners like Laurie Spiegel before dropping into a modern, minimal house groove. He puts dance music’s past in conversation with its present. Surprise, surprise: it sounds like the future.
Zadie Smith wrote a great piece wherein she discusses being on ecstasy at Fabric and feeling that she was more than joyful, she was joy itself, a part of a communal pooling of emotion greater than the sum of all the individual experiences in that room. There are parts of Pink that orbit this idea. When the bass line propelling “Pinnacles” hits, it’s not hard to imagine yourself lost in a throng of bodies moving in unison, traveling somewhere you can only go together. This moment will collapse on itself, but while you’re in it you are warm, safe, part of The Joy. — Adam Wray
With their second album Lonerism, Tame Impala somehow managed to encapsulate the the trauma of the quarter-life crisis without getting mopey or being too overt. While not exactly a concept record, most of the lyrics on the album relate back to the fear and uncertainty of growing older, but the topic is handled deftly by frontman Kevin Parker’s poetic tongue. The rugged, psych-pop sounds of “Elephant” and “Apocalypse Dreams” soundtracked the majority of my summer. But when Lonerism finally leaked and “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” surfaced, it marked the turn of a new era for this Australian five-piece, who might have never crossed our radar without the powerful reach of the web. —Aaron Frank
I didn’t even realize that Ascent had one, let alone two, folk-rock songs until about the 10th listen. It’s unclear where I go when I hear it. My ability to focus disintegrates. I revert to some primitive zonked-out sloth state. My antennae tunes in to some psychedelic pirate rock station in ’68 Tokyo. You start thinking weird scattered thoughts. None of it makes much sense. Ascent is the sort of album that makes you see past lives, extinguished civilizations, psychic casualties. Does that sound melodramatic and heavy? So does this record. Hendrix. Neil Young. Les Rallizes Denudes all in ashes at Ben Chasny’s shrine. Ascent is both a bulldozer to your trivial daily headaches and the feeling of severe pressure clotting against your temples.
Read Stewart Voegtlin’s review. It’s as cuneiform as Ben Chasney’s knotted guitar tones and primeval wails. This is Woodstock in ruins, grotesque and overrun with scavengers. Guitar rock as jagged as a Himalaya, with groove smooth as a getaway car. “ Ascent never quite commits to whether it wants to soar or scatter. It is less concerned with making sense than sensory transformation. Your brain turns into cake batter. Your blood turns to bile. Cruel scarred beauty, offering ascension but never allowing you to leave its gravitational force. — Jeff Weiss
Hair is a warped radio signal from a nonexistent, unspecified 1960s where coifs were longer, six-strings were louder and feedback flooded through razored up speakers. Ty Segall and Tim Presley, under his solo name White Fence, both make their bread with warped revisions of garage rock and psychedelia, respectively. So their collaboration album is not a throwback, exactly; it’s a bit more like jumping through time backwards to ’65 with a Nirvana CD in hand. It’s a rolling ball of guitar fuzz, hiss and fractal shapes, where songs move from soft-focus folk pop to raging garage punk in the blink of an eye.
This is where Segall’s bloodthirsty crunch meets Presley’s mellower pastures and finds common ground. “I Am Not A Game” pairs a declarative Kinks/Who brand chorus which dissipates in a sea of whirring, churning organs before culminating in the album’s most insistent hook. “Easy Ryder” is a sly recasting of the Hendrix song of the same name; it peels back decades of counterculture badassery to reveal insomniac paranoiacs on motorcycles, hopped up on pills and cruising to surf rock. “The Black Glove/Rag” is a Love-style song suite that grafts across a rough divide between Presley’s peaceful psych-pop and Segall’s savage riffage on the second half. You could rattle off names like Arthur Lee, Syd Barrett, the Beatles and the Sonics for days but Presley and Segall hold the ingenuity and wit to really have fun with 60s rock. Irreverence is the word, and the secret to paying tribute now that’s everything been done. –Aaron Matthews
While most UK producers kowtowed before monolithic House trends this year, Pangaea said fuck all of that, going darker, weirder and more idiosyncratically English than practically any of his peers. The Hessle Audio producer combined wobbling bass, amphetamine driven tempos, alien drum patterns and masterful sound design into a wholly unique beast: a dance music collection that rewards front to back listening and that defies easy categorization.
Opener “Game” and the penultimate “Aware,” bounce, tick and twist like dark Garage’s demented
cousins with no discernible center or pulse, demanding you bump and flex until you truly feel the groove’s hidden internal logic. That sly Missy Elliot sample didn’t hurt either. The title track chugs along like an evil train, rumbling like primordial Dubstep crossed with the most cinematic of electronic music. “Time Bomb” and “Trouble” both reshape darkness and shadow into shapes as unconventional as
they are danceable and “Majestic” and “Middleman” alternately tackle the darkest of techno and sullen stomping pirate music. It’s thrillingly dark music that takes an idea rather than a genre as a starting point and continues from there, breakingrules, creating new ones and ultimately synthesizing its characteristics into a rare auteurist work that owes as much to a music scene as individual inspiration. We’re ready for that album Pangaea. —Son Raw
No one in 2012 did paranoia better than Ab-Soul. That’s important because in 2012, there was a lot to be paranoid about. Hurricanes, fiscal cliffs, semi-automatics, having to register our biological property… Control System is significant not because of how it compares to the rest of Black Hippy’s output this year, a lens many are content to settle for, but because of how compelling and relevant of a world view it presents. What is so striking, so unsettling, so memorable, is how far Control System stretches into schizophrenia.
No song here feels comfortable with itself – even the deliberately fun ones demand you watch your back. The celebration of drugs and life that is “Showin’ Love” still questions, “I don’t know if I’m on the red carpet or on Mars” over panicking, frantic high-hats. Which doesn’t even touch the levels of manic suspicion on songs like “S.O.P.A.” or “Terrorist Threats.” Soul and Schoolboy trade boastful challenges to the system thinly veiled as anger over Internet censorship. Danny Brown sprinkles some existential dread about drug-addiction. “Pineal Gland” presents Ab at his most frayed and tripped out, worrying about letters from Andromeda that plan to shrine his bladder.
It’s all fantastically imaginative, as well as an arresting way to frame hedonism. The Abstract Asshole, the Black Lip Bastard, revels and struggles in vice both in justification for and response to how incomprehensible his surroundings are. Control System is lush with Ahmad Jamal and Paul Simon samples turned frantic and lyrics dense with obtuse confusion. It achieves heights of fear during a scary-ass year, heights of psychotic anxiety as the Mayans prepare to end us all. When it happens on Friday, make sure you’re registered to donate your organs to science, bitch. — Tosten Burks
Spitta Andretti has made this list for the last three years running. If this is any indication, I’m sure he’ll be here again in 2013. Really, that says more about Curren$y than it does our preference for his immaculately stoned offerings. The man consistently drops solid projects. It’s a highly potent formula: Pick a few smooth beats every day, write raps about women, cars, kicks, video, games, green, and greenery, then record. That’s real “penmanship pimping.” In other words, that’s why much of what Spitta’s output sounds so effortless: he practices his craft regularly. How else could he put out as much material as he has in the last year? For anyone who’s counting, that’s two albums, one Jet Life record, and four (give or take one) mixtapes.
Priest Andretti just happens to be the best Curren$y project of 2012, (Cigarette Boats was a close second for me). With sonic assistance from long-time collaborator Monsta Beatz, Cardo, Harry Fraud, and a few other big name producers, Spitta channels the spirit of Priest, Ron O’ Neal’s character in Superfly (1972), doing what he does best over supersaturated Blaxploitation suites. There are no pauses for punchlines, they are delivered through the smoke and then it’s on to the next one. “Contacts,” “Stainless,” and “Cleopatra Zones” are where you should start. The rest I leave up to you. The tropes essentially remain the same, the backdrop changes slightly (compare the beats on Covert Coup, Cigarette Boats, and Priest Andretti), and as per usual, Curren$y comes out smelling like a weed and Versace. That’s good, right? — Max Bell
If you’ve listened to enough Bronsalino throughout his short career, you should be pretty well-aware of his list of obsessions, including but not limited to professional wrestling, tossed salad (both as artisanal dish and euphemism) and cheesy-ass action movies. As the tribute to the latter, Bronson enlisted 2012 first-ballot MVP The Alchemist– and a few perfectly curated guest rappers– for his second album of the year (the cover of which both gives way to the way fictionalized somersaults and should win all of the Album Art of the Year awards), a tour-de-force of his magnetic charisma, sharp rhyming skills, hysterical sense of humor, and vivid imagination.
After an unskippable intro from everybody’s favorite Albanian felon (not even David Chang’s rice and soup game is equal to that of Big Body Bes), Bronson spits a great many of the year’s best rap verses over much of the year’s best rap production– which is saying a lot given how unspeakably great 2012 was for rap. In the two-movement “Eggs on the Third Floor,” he pushes a Coupe DeVille and then hops into a cypher for the one of the most genuinely enjoyable musical moments of the year.
On lead single “The Symbol,” Bronson lives out his Steven Seagal dreams over rock god guitar soloing that could level the broad side of a Blunderbuss. (He takes it even further in the song’s video,wearing a ridiculous blonde wig, doing karate chops, and basically having the time of his and everybody else’s life.) Sure, Blue Chips has “Hookers at the Point” and “Thug Love Story 2012,” but Rare Chandeliers proves that Bronson is just as powerful a spitter as he is a songwriter. — Martin Douglas