I swear my ears fell in and out of love with albums this year like they were Taylor Swift. This in love one week, out of love next week, in love again cycle made it harder to pick a favorite album this year than the previous three years I compiled my favorite albums. Like Ms. Swift, I am recounting my infatuations, only these involve albums that I still love. These 10 albums are NEVER EVER leaving my iPod.
Below are Cajun Tomato’s 2012 Favorite Albums Pt. 2.
Also: Read Pt. 1 of Cajun Tomato’s 2012 Favorite Albums here.
10. Joey Bada$$ – 1999
This Brooklyn teen ushered in a thousand debates about the merit of “real hip-hop” in 2012, almost two decades after Nas did the same with his classic, Illmatic. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call young Bada$$’ 1999 mixtape an instant classic it is enough to make him the top prospect in the game, in my eyes. Bada$$’ flow is smooth beyond his years, his wordplay dexterous, and his confidence high without being off-putting. The jazz-hop beats on 1999, a handful of which came from up-and-coming producer Chuck Strangers, sounded like nothing else in 2012 – mostly because they sounded imported from the mid-1990s. Throwback, yes. Big talent, yes. Badass, yes. PS: RIP, Capital Steez.
9. Miguel – Kaleidoscope Dream
Miguel’s sophomore album, Kaleidoscope Dream, flew under my radar until I moved to New York in late September. One of my roommates, a club promoter, played the album at least once per day along with the latest club-worthy hip-hop. Thus is the genius of Miguel, a 26-year-old California native whose voice sounds bred to plead and whose hair resembles a 1950s pompadour. His Kaleidoscope Dream existed in a comfortable space between the eccentric, artsy R&B popular with the indie crowd and the late night seductions popular with the mainstream. Yes, “Adorn” is the staple but Kaleidoscope Dream offers much more, in its compelling web of reality and fantasy. Miguel won’t sneak up on anyone anymore. He’s nominated for five Grammys in 2013.
8. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist
Music writers spilled much ink on Macklemore’s issue-driven lyrics this year. Rightfully so. He touched on marriage equality, drug and alcohol abuse, and the music industry’s misuse of artists in witty, lucid fashion. What these scribes are missing is how much fun The Heist is. A large portion of the credit goes to DJ Ryan Lewis for building beats around live instrumentation and vocals rather than samples. Macklemore also scores points for going all-in on tracks like “Thrift Shop”, which turn mainstream rap’s greed and consumerism on its head. The album’s high water mark – “Same Love” – succeeds not just because of its message but because of the warm, piano-driven music around it, the gorgeous hook sung by Mary Lambert, and Macklemore’s first-hand account of how LGBT issues impacted his life. There’s an underlying depth to this album that feels out of place in the hip-hop scene in 2012. That’s, no doubt, for the best.
7. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Exhibit A of my statement about falling in and out of love with records in 2012. Celebration Rock is a laser-guided rock’n’roll missile straight to the heart of nostalgia and restlessness for days past. At some point the celebration became more tempered for me – after dozens and dozens of listens, I would add. When I loved Celebration Rock I LOVED Celebration Rock. Songs like “Younger Us”, “Nights of Wine and Roses”, and “The House That Heaven Built” all feature a gravitational pull that exists in the here and now. They’re mission statements demanding more to life than wasted days and glum faces. Hell, maybe all I need to love Celebration Rock, as much as I did earlier this year, is to go out drinking more.
6. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city
Section 80 made Kendrick Lamar an artist to watch. good kid, m.A.A.d. city placed the Compton rapper in the discussion among the finest MCs of his generation. On his sophomore album, Kendrick Lamar became a household name. His album sold 500,000 copies in a month, his single “Swimming Pools (Drank)” ironically turned into a club anthem, and he worked with such notables as Dr. Dre and Lady Gaga. He achieved mainstream success while retaining the best qualities of Section 80 – the storytelling flair, the memorable refrains, the consciousness, the new god flow, etc. The glossier production offered a larger spotlight, and Kendrick Lamar willingly stepped into that spotlight and became one for the ages.
5. The Walkmen – Heaven
Perhaps the most triumphant record I heard in 2012. Heaven’s opener “We Can’t Be Beat” summed up the NYC band’s latest work, transforming unexpectedly from understated and starry-eyed to a joyous stomp. What followed ranked among the Walkmen’s best, marrying the band’s earlier, drunken best with more stately fare. “The Love You Love” is a raucous, unhinged number that recalls prior standouts like “The Rat” except vocalist Hamilton Leithauser is more resigned than pissed, more clear-eyed than drunk. The title track “Heaven” is a gem, all propulsive beats and shimmering guitar notes. “Line by Line” is the centerpiece, a windswept show-stopper with a quiet dignity and grace that leaves me speechless. Truly a slice of heaven.
4. Jessie Ware – Devotion
Devotion sounds like an album that could have dropped in 1992 – dark, soulful, British R&B peppered with subtle dance influences. Ware, a 28-year-old who cut her teeth as a backup singer, possesses a voice, at turns, as achy as a sore throat and as soothing as a cough drop. She eschews unnecessary, showy vocals, in the process making an exemplary match with the percussion-heavy beats present from UK producers Joker and SBTRKT. The majority of songs on her debut could stand alone as singles. Yet taken together the 11 tracks on Devotion offer a cohesive and well-rounded take on love, loss of love, and the lengths people go to find love – a winning recipe regardless of what decade it’s released in.
3. Frank Ocean – channel Orange
The wave of hype that declared R&B crooner Frank Ocean MUSIC’S BIG THING in 2012 initially dimmed my interest in channel Orange. This despite the fact I loved his mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra, released one year prior, and my view on his decision to “come out” as ballsy, no pun intended. I did not, however, like how the media ordained his album the album of 2012 as soon as it dropped. My bias notwithstanding, once I gave channel Orange, not just its singles, a listen, I discovered it merited the universal praise it received. The singles – the sparse, dreamy “Thinkin Bout You” and the nine-minute opus “Pyramids – are sensational. So too are album cuts like “Lost” and “Sweet Life”. And “Bad Religion” is the best love song of 2012, hands down. Minus the hype, I would have loved this album right off the bat. The hype affixed to channel Orange feels like a hindrance but that’s in no way Ocean’s fault. He made a great album that should be recognized as such.
2. Cloud Nothings – Attack On Memory
You could read something into my psyche this year that I sided with the dour, anti-nostalgia Attack On Memory over the triumphant, pro-nostalgia Celebration Rock as my favorite rock album. Attack On Memory via Cleveland, Ohio’s Cloud Nothings can be boiled down to one line: “I thought I would be more than this.” Dylan Baldi sings and shouts the line throughout the eight-minute run time of “Wasted Days.” It’s a call to arms, disappointment and frustration as motivation. What springs from the song’s hoarse-voiced climax, though, is not depression but a feeling of catharsis. On the surface, the eight songs on this album are bleak, hopeless, and the sonic equivalent of gray skies. The sheer energy, urgency, and perpetual motion populating these tracks breed moments of euphoria and exhalation unexpected given titles like “No Future/No Past.” Baldi’s voice is a bratty, sneering acquired taste. The music’s pummeling intensity, in particular Jayson Gerycz’s muscular drumming, and Baldi’s vocals strike the right note, even as his voice cracks. Nothing, not the past, present, or future, is perfect but Attack On Memory is better because of this.
1. Alabama Shakes – Boys and Girls
The South rose again in 2012. Um, southern rock rose again in the form of five twentysomethings under the name Alabama Shakes. Freebird, this wasn’t. Alabama Shakes’ debut album, Boys and Girls, showcased the dynamic talents of frontwoman/guitarist Brittany Howard, an old soul whose wails and shrieks reminded the boomers of Janis Joplin and carried an emotional heft unlike anyone else this year. Forget Joplin, forget southern rock labels. Alabama Shakes existed in its own area code with points bittersweet, heart-wrenching, and uplifting in between. Peep the message of “Hold On” or “You Ain’t Alone”, the latter of which left me glassy-eyed on more than one occasion. Howard’s lyrics resonated with their maturity and emotional shoulder to lean on. Howard and her mates succeeded in crafting concise, compact tunes that provided ample room for Howard to emote. No disrespect to those who deemed Ocean 2012’s breakout star but that title should have been bestowed upon Howard.