1. Frank Ocean - Pyramids
Frank Ocean made waves with last year's Nostalgia, Ultra but 2012 he really stepped out into the limelight with one of the most formidable records of the year. It's safe to say that channel ORANGE is an instant classic and Ocean a confident ambitious artist. There are many bright moments in this album but the one song that towered above them all was the epic "Pyramids." Clocking in at nine minutes and fifty-three seconds this song is massive. I am going to make the audacious claim that this is the best long playing R&B song since The Temptations' "Papa Was A Rolling Stone." This song is a perfect example to show how far soul music has come since the early days. "Pyramids" is broken up into a few different parts. It starts off with allegorical mystical lyrics about Cleopatra during the times of the pharaohs. But then with a key change it is revealed that Cleopatra is a stripper and the pyramid is the club. The song lyrically switches from ancient to modern times seamlessly. It's a song that is too slow to be a club banger but too fast to be a slow jam. With "Pyramids" Frank Ocean put himself in a league of his own.
2. Fiona Apple - Werewolf
Fiona Apple had been away for seven years, but she returned with a bare-bones and brutally beautiful record with the impossible to remember title: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. While every track on this album filled with perfectly crafted stories of love and love lost the album seems to be centered around "Werewolf" and it's thesis, "Nothing wrong when a song ends in a minor key." Fiona really opens up her heart on this song which makes it immediately accessible. The song culminates with the sounds of children playing at recess in the background. Apple has said in interviews that she struggled to find a powerful background noise to add to this song until she heard these kids playing outside her apartment in New York.
3. The Magnetic Fields - Andrew In Drag
"Andrew In Drag" The lead single off of Love at The Bottom of the Sea reminds us all of singer songwriter Stephin Merritt's impeccable wit. This song is scandalous on so many levels. It's the tale of a man who realizes he's gay when his friend Andrew does a drag show as a joke at a party. This story is told in the most tongue-in-cheek way imaginable. "Andrew In Drag" is reminiscent of "Lola" by The Kinks. It's a shame songs with this much jest seem to be a dime a dozen.
4. Hot Chip - Flutes
With LCD Soundsystem hanging it up, Hot Chip has assumed the role of most important dance band on Earth. They returned with a good but not great record called In Our Heads. While I thought overall this record was a step down from their previous release One Life Stand, this record did yield one tremendous song called "Flutes." This track is a nod to the 80s house music style Balearic Beat. A laid back but extremely infectious groove, "Flutes" allows Hot Chip to show off their confidence as a band and really sink their teeth into the song. Hot Chip are certain this one will get your body moving. Hell the chorus itself is dance instructions! A great song to let loose to and one of my new go-to tracks for party playlists.
5. Kendrick Lamar - Swimming Pools (Drank)
While I don't want to get too much into Kendrick Lamar's album Good Kid, m.A.A.d City (we'll save that for next week) What amazes me is that months before the album came out Kendrick released Swimming Pools as a single and it gained a bunch of attention and radioplay. When the album came out he reworked the song and added another verse. This shows me how much of a perfectionist Kendrick Lamar is. He's not afraid to take something that is already recognized as being great and rework it until it's perfect in his eye. What I love about this song is that while the chorus is obviously a party anthem that celebrates drinking "Nigga why you babysittin' only 2 or 3 shots? I'ma show you how to turn it up a notch First you get a swimming pool full of liquor, then you dive in it." The song's verses are actually a sobering look at the pressure and consequences of that lifestyle. "Some people like the way it feels, Some people wanna kill their sorrows, Some people wanna fit in with the popular, That was my problem." Kendrick is not afraid to show both sides of the coin which is what makes the album but in particular this song tremendous.
6. Beach House - Lazuli
Beach House follow up Teen Dream with Bloom by sticking to their formula of painting lush beautiful landscapes and it certainly paid off. "Lazuli" is what the rest of the record was built around, it is the heart of Bloom. There's just no other way to put it, it's just a beautiful piece of music.
7. Killer Mike - Reagan
Killer Mike delivers what I have wanted for years, especially from Hip-Hop; timely and in-your-face protest music. Mike uses the deceased President to show the political injustice that is happening in our communities as well stating how Presidents are puppets in the hands of corporate interest. I haven't heard such frank political-protest since Rage Against The Machine. Of course this song will be on pretty much nobody's radar since at the peak of the track the beat bottoms out and Mike belts "I'm glad Reagan's dead." It's a shame that many musicians shy away from politics in their music since it's alienating but, people are hurting out there and Killer Mike isn't afraid to take a controversial stand that some people can rally behind.
8. Here We Go Magic - How Do I Know
Here's another overall disappointing record that had a few gems in it. Here We Go Magic are a band that have released several great tracks on several decent albums. It seems like the band can never decide on what they want to be, and thus constantly release inconsistent LPs. However when they do get it together they can make some truly magical music. Case in point the blissful strumming of "How Do I Know" a joyful song perfect for long car rides with the windows down. Also check out the music video to this, one of the best of the year.
9. Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Walk Like a Giant
The first time I heard Walk Like a Giant was when Neil played it live at The Hollywood Bowl. The record hadn't even been out yet but I knew that this song was one of the better jam songs he had ever written. It was the highlight of the concert and the highlight of the album. This song stomps along with gigantic guitar solo breaks in between Young's lyrics of trekking across a desert. It's a song that only Neil Young could ever get away with.
10. Animal Collective - New Town Burnout / Monkey Riches
If someone were to ask me what Animal Collective sounds like I would direct them to the songs "New Town Burnout" and "Monkey Riches", which I treat as one piece since they seamlessly transition from one to the other and they even play these songs live as one mega track as well. If you didn't know already Animal Collective has two singers that each have their own unique approaches to music. On "New Town Burnout" we have Panda Bear at the helm. Panda Bear's songs tend to be very melodic with a strong emphasis on his powerful Brian Wilson-like voice.While Avey Tare tends to be the more animalistic and yelpy of the two. His song "Monkey Riches" focuses on the cacophony of sounds and the beat of the drums. These two songs serve as some of the best material these two individual artists can do. How these two very different sounds come together and blend is what is at the core of what makes Animal Collective so great.
Make sure to stop by next week as I reveal my top 25 albums of 2012!