Here are my top 10 albums of 2012. The full list of 50 albums will be up on my blog, Matt on More Music, at www.easternecho.com in the coming weeks.
1. Kendrick Lamar: “good kid, m.A.A.d city”
“good kid, m.A.A.d city” is a masterpiece. It’s a concept album that not only doesn’t let the story get in the way of the music, but actually has the story advance the music. The tale of young Kendrick manages to be as involving as a good book or movie, and certain parts manage to be quite emotionally affecting (especially the voicemail message from his dad in “Real”). “good kid, m.A.A.d city” is both the most superb album I’ve heard so far this decade and the most brilliant hip-hop album since Kanye West’s “Late Registration.”
2. Frank Ocean: “Channel Orange”
While many people have gradually thought less of “Channel Orange” as the year went on, I love it more with each listen. “Nostalgia, Ultra” was certainly a great achievement and, comparing the two as whole pieces, I might opt to call that one the superior record. As a collection of songs, however, “Channel Orange” kills “Nostalgia, Ultra.” In fact, as a collection of songs, “Channel Orange” kills most albums.
3. Todd Snider: “Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables”
In 2012, everybody seemed to want to record the great Occupy Wall Street album. The strangest example of this was “Occupy This Album,” a 99-track (for the 99 percent, clever) protest album. It was mostly terrible, and even the songs that weren’t awful were hard to find among gems like Richard Barone’s “Hey, Can I Sleep on Your Futon?” (my pick for worst song of the year) and Michael Moore’s cover of “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” Besides, Todd Snider already released the great Occupy Wall Street album, and it was only 10 songs long. He gets so much out of those 10 songs, though.
4. Neil Young & Crazy Horse: “Americana”
Neil Young and Crazy Horse go through American folk songs, make them rock and end with the British national anthem. Since the first time I heard this album, I’ve wondered whether it’s a celebration or satire. I still don’t know the answer, but it’s impressive Young still has the ability to make people think.
5. Steve Lehman Trio: “Dialect Fluorescent”
Jazz is dead? Hardly. “Dialect Fluorescent” is a fantastic record, and Steve Lehman invites comparisons to many of the all-time jazz greats. Standout track: A cover of “Pure Imagination” (from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”).
6. Azealia Banks: “1991”
At 16 minutes, “1991” is very short. But every song is unbelievably good and, other than the skit at the end of “Van Vogue,” this EP never wastes a second.
7. Saint Etienne: “Words and Music by Saint Etienne”
Never a scholar on Saint Etienne, I was surprised by how much this album moved me. The running theme throughout the album is music, and the power it has over all of us. The title is, therefore, accurate. Without the words, the music wouldn’t mean as much, and without the music the words would have little impact. The band gets them both perfect, though, creating the best album of their career.
8. Dr. John: “Locked Down”
Produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, “Locked Down” is an album I shouldn’t like. I’ve never been a big Dr. John fan and I can’t stand the Black Keys, but, somehow, this album just works. I call it the “Smooth” principle: Two artists you don’t care for can, together, create something better than they are capable of making on their own.
9. Serengeti: “C.A.R.”
The best of the three records that Serengeti released in 2012, “C.A.R.” is short and sweet: Eleven songs in 30 minutes that cement him as the greatest character-rapper in the world. And as he does his thing, Jel and Odd Nosdam make sure that the production does him justice.
10. Low Cut Connie: “Call Me Sylvia”
Adam Weiner may be one of the coolest people in music, but the most fun part of “Call Me Sylvia” is watching his partner-in-crime Dan Finnemore become an excellent songwriter. Finnemore is more subtle than Weiner, their styles mix well and the two together create a sophomore album that is not only as good as their debut but even better.