Guest Contributor Amy B.
Typically, at the end of every year I narrow down my favorite albums to the top 20 or so. And then, inevitably, I have to create all sorts of side categories to make sure albums and EPs and random songs and rad YouTube videos don’t get missed. This year I’m cutting to the chase by skipping the arduous process of trying to sort out my top 20 and going straight to the more interesting categories of random things I’ve made up. Hope the tunes of these awesome bands bring some joy to your ears as you wrap up 2012 and head into 2012!
Ed: Each of the links below will hook you up with an 8-track playlist home-brewed by the one and only Amy! Happy listening.
alt-J – An Awesome Wave
This is my absolute favorite album of 2012, hands down. Earlier this year, public radio station KCRW put “Breezeblocks” into its rotation and I’ve been attached at the hip to this entire album every since. (I can’t believe I just anthropomorphized a record. Okay, yes I can.) Their style isn’t easy to describe—maybe guitar rock with folk, synth pop, and psychedelia all mixed in—and their lyrics are full of completely obscure film and literary references, but their songs manage to be catchy and mainstream radio-ready anyway. I thought any excitement I get when I play this album would have worn off by now, but months and months later that’s not the case.
Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
Ocean hit the scene in a big way. He made his TV debut on Jimmy Fallon’s show with a riveting performance of “BadReligion,” a song about falling in love with another man (not exactly common ground in the hip-hop scene); and hours later released this flawless album. Prior to this, he had published on his own website personal stories of past love and rejection and questioning sexuality. He continues these themes on Channel Orange, where he is confessional and introspective about love, money, sex, and drugs while managing to go beyond the “same ole, same ole.” His lyrics are inventive and intelligent and unlike what have come before them. All the hype and praise for Ocean is beyond deserved.
Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…
Guys, can you believe we waited seven years for this album? It was a long time, but Apple certainly didn’t disappoint and managed to live up to all the hype. She brought her signature raw emotion and honesty, and coupled it with her clever and atypical songwriting and piano-playing. Apple still carries with her some rage and heart-break, but I think this one has some love in it, too. The closing song seems utterly triumphant as she compares herself to a pat of butter and her lover as a hot, hot, hot knife. (I added the extra hots, but I think Apple was thinking it.) Welcome back, Fiona!
Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
Dirty Projectors caught a lot of people’s attentions when they released an album covering an entire Black Flag album from memory. I was totally on board, but I could see how many found it campy and maybe even overwrought. Each subsequent album has managed to be experimental while also inching toward mainstream acceptability, and I think Swing Lo Magellan is the most accessible yet. Everything is a bit more stripped down, a bit warmer, and (dare I say it) a bit poppier. If you admired this band before, but could never really get into their music, give their latest a spin.
Cat Power – Sun
Chan Marshall’s past albums have all carried a bit of sadness with them. These were songs for rainy days, hours spent alone, and moments of grief. In fact, You Are Free has reliably gotten me through numerous break-ups for nearly a decade. While Marshall was helping me cope, she herself was facing a rough road of substance abuse and bankruptcy and bad relationships. Sun is the light at the end of a dark, dark tunnel with its strong anthems full of confidence and passion. Marshall is ready to conquer the world (Saudi Arabia, Dhaka, Calcutta…), and we’re all invited to come along for the ride. Continue reading