Best EPs of the Year:
5. Azealia Banks
Azealia Banks is somewhat of a YouTube sensation, I guess. But she seems more like something MTV would eat up instead (if there is a difference). In the potentially awkward realm of the likes of Nick Minaj and perhaps more fittingly, Missy Elliot, Azealia Banks is a young Brit pop star in the making. If only she can find a suitable manager or something. Anyways we have an EP and a mixtape this year (idk what happened to that LP), and the EP builds on the track she deservedly got famous for on YouTube (212). It has at least one other good song (1991), and the rest of it is okay. I don’t know what will happen to Miss Azealia Banks, but I know she has a lot of star potential.
Quite frankly, this EP goes harder than any other release that I know of this year. These hip hop/trap beats are huge. Building and swirling into some kind of anthem-esque mayhem that one cannot properly explain without subs. It’s absolutely adrenaline pumping and I really can’t think of any other release that resembles such audacity. ‘Goooo’ is my personal favorite, but this EP is basically 15 minutes of ass kicking instrumentals that demand freestyles. Rappers ASSEMBLE.
3. Mister Lies
- Hidden Neighbors EP
This release seemingly came out of nowhere. Mister Lies is Nick Zanca, a 19 years old residing in Chicago. Hidden Neighbors is his debut release, a succinct 4 track EP. Two of these tracks are absolutely stunning (False Astronomy, Cleam), and another one continues to randomly pop into my head (Morgan). I cannot wait for his debut LP, due next year. Lots of expectations for this Midwesterner.
- Vacation EP
Shlohmo, to be honest, is unofficially my hero. I don’t know exactly why I feel such a connection to what he’s released, but it just hits me in an unexplainable way. It started with the Places EP, but since that moment I’ve delved into everything else I can find with a Shlohmo stamp on it, including his remixes of other artists (which are prolific and undeniably pro). Here we have a brief 3 track EP, Vacation. His sound has evolved some but remains identifiably Shlohmo. ‘The Way U Do’ features an emotive vocal sampling and a clicking, rhythmic beat that I can only approve of. I think his style is something that can only invoke one of two responses: meh or my god. It’s certainly not for everyone, but it is for me.
Shigeto is a Michigan beat maker worth comparing with the likes of other intimate beat makers such as Mister Lies & Evenings, but also Teebs, and even Shlohmo. However, here he does something so stylistically his own that I can only hope for more, and soon. It’s not enough, dammit! ‘Ann Arbor, Part 3 & 4’ is sublime, and easily one of my favorite tracks of the year. ‘Soaring’ soars. His sounds leave me smitten, but longing for the next release.
Best Albums of the Year:
10. It Is Rain In My Face.
– It Is Rain In My Face.
This one has been one of my favorite discoveries of the year. ‘It is rain in my face.’ is Matt Jones, a North Carolina native now living in Brooklyn. The production on here is great, and his vocals remind of something like Washed Out but with a southern twang... or something. It’s actually a very unique sound and feels like a very global release, with lots of international influences. The track ‘Macknowledge has an undoubted far eastern element to it. And then on my personal favorite, ‘Duck in a Row’ there is a glitchy beat with aggressive drums. Both upbeat and downbeat, this guy has a lot going for him. I’ll be sure to keep my ears out for future releases.
- Mixed Emotions
Tanlines had been working on this album for a while. They originally released the track ‘Real Life’ in 2010. Instead of rushing out an album immediately afterwards they built a sound they could swim in, and Mixed Emotions is the result. It certainly has a spring/summer sound to it and would probably be most appropriately listened to while poolside. But it works outside of that context as well. I’ve found that this album has lots of replay value. Songs like ‘All of Me’, ‘Not The Same’ and ‘Real Life’ demand repeated listens. It’s also an age friendly album that would be pleasing to 3 year old and 30 year olds alike. Well done!
- Feel Me
Groundislava aka Jasper Patterson, has surrounded himself with the right people. Now on the FoF Music label shared by my beloved Shlohmo, his label debut ‘Feel Me’ is indeed full of feeling. ‘Cider’ opens up the album and immediately gives it contrasting vibes. It’s fresh and yet nostalgic, with an almost 90s videogame feeling synth sound to it that reminds me of something out of Donkey Kong Country. Incorporating fellow Los Angelite ‘Baths’ on the second track, ‘Suicide Mission’, and I’m good and sold. The rest of the album is no let down. Check out tracks such as ‘Cool Party’ and ‘Bottle Service’ (featuring Shlohmo) for further proof. Groundislava has demonstrated that he has wonderful production skills, and a particular sound that I look forward to him defining further.
- The Slideshow Effect
This album feels controversial for all the wrong reasons. If you were to listen to it alone you wouldn’t find it controversial at all. It’s subtle and soothing, but carefully NOT controversial. None of the songs particularly stand out or demand your attention. Maybe this is why it’s so controversial. Memoryhouse put out an intimate, ‘bedroom’ EP a few years ago called ‘The Years’ and developed quite a cult following for doing so. Many a hipster youth yearned for this album, and once it finally was released there was an undoubted backlash against it. It wasn’t good enough. It was boring. It wasn’t nearly as good as that EP from years ago. I disagree. It IS as good. Hell, it’s better. They added strings! They fleshed out the very ideas that got them here and still managed to stay true to themselves. I don’t know. I have to admit even I was initially underwhelmed and after a few listens I almost forgot about The Slideshow Effect altogether. But after randomly revisiting it a few weeks ago while driving around in some dreary weather I realized how much I liked it. The songs are soothing and so subtlety good that it’s easy to feel asleep at the wheel while listening. But that is the Slideshow Effect. And it IS good.
Ahh, Beach House. Almost an indie music cliché; Teen Dream turned them into Superman, going from underappreciated to overrated in a single bound (depending on who you talked to). Now we have their follow up, Bloom. Is it better? No. Is it worse? No. Somehow, Bloom manages to take everything that worked on Teen Dream and add to it without depreciating its value. You could call this Teen Dream 2, but it is its own creation and deserves to be seen as independent of its predecessor. I think it fits nicely into their discography, and solidifies their place amongst the top of my music charts. Beach House are indie pop done right, and to say that they’ve bloomed would be accurate.
- Fragrant World
I didn't even want to listen to this album. If not for the suggestion from a friend up north who I once saw Yeasayer with years ago (thanks Bob!), I undoubtedly would have ignored it all together. Their last album left a bad taste in my mouth. They moved from an earthy, folkish sound that I fell in love with on their debut (All Hour Cymbals) to a future-pop sound that I did not enjoy. This time around, however, that future-pop sound suddenly worked, and worked well. On first listen I thought, "Hmm that was better than expected." An understatement, but Fragrant World really did creep up on me slowly if not for ‘Fingers Never Bleed’ which immediately revised my thinking on Yeasayer’s change to that future-pop sound. Months later I realized the rest of this album was quite awesome as well. Yeasayer have evolved into something that sounds like it arrived on a spaceship from some alien planet, otherworldly in all the right ways.
4.The Gaslamp Killer
Gaslamp Killer is on Flying Lotus' label, Brainfeeder. I think most people putting lists together this year would be more inclined to include Flying Lotus' release, but I think Gaslamp Killer's 'Breakthrough’ is better. He has put out several other releases, but this is his first proper LP and thus called 'Breakthrough'. Unfortunately, I don't think he quite broke through for most people. He remains mostly off the collective music listening consciousness, but oh so undeservingly so. This album is thoroughly interesting and engaging. The more I listen to it the more ear candy I discover. Twice on here he features his label mate and the seemingly aboriginal elder Gonjasufi, and it works well. His sense of humor even shines through (fuck is quite a versatile English word) at one point, and overall I think the albums represents his live nature; energetic and eccentric, playful and provoking. Don't sleep on this man.
Purity Ring are really a 2011 sensation. One by one they released 4 tracks (Ungirthed, Lofticries, Belispeak, and Obedear) all of which appear on this LP, and with every new release anticipation collectively grew. Finally in 2012 we had the entirety of their first album, Shrines. And man, does it deliver the goods. The beats are futuristic. The vocals are poppy and pure. There are no obvious weak points, and so many strengths. My personal favorite track is ‘Saltskin’, where the instrumentals fade in slowly behind an unusually front and center voice. It’s a striking change of pace from the rest of the album which mostly emphasizes the beats first and foremost, and her soaring and sweet vocals second. But there are so many stellar singles on Shrines. It is a perfect example of what should be all over the radio in 2012, but isn't. While bands like Yeasayer evolved into future-pop, Purity Ring have been future-pop from day one. And I would crown them as king, at least for now.
2. Frank Ocean
- channel ORANGE
This is the second year in a row Frank Ocean has put out my second favorite release. I don't quite know what he has to do to get higher on my annual pedestal, but man I'm glad he's up here and he deserves only gold medals for what he's put together thus far. His voice blossoms on Channel ORANGE. His confidence grows. He isn't afraid of who he is or where he's been. He sings about modern life and love. And he seems to be rather pragmatic in love, being both infatuated with another man's muscles in one breath while also seeking out luscious lady strippers in another. I think Frank Ocean's honesty and insights into the human experience are something we can all appreciate. He isn't confused about anything, and the awesomeness of this album isn't very confusing either.
Bassy. Intimate. Electronic. Explosive. XXYYXX (Marcel Everett) was 16 when he put this album together. From the moment I first listened to his self-titled LP I thought "This is the future.", or at least the future I'm interested in. It's truly hard to believe someone so young could put an album together that sounds so expertly polished, euphoric, and engaging. I haven't been able to go more than a few days at a time without listening to tracks such as 'About You', 'Alone', 'DMT', etc. But really I love the entire album apart from one track, 'Set it off’; which I feel is the only track that shows his age. Everything else is on another level, and leaves me wanting to listen to nothing else. Find some bass friendly speakers/headphones and immerse yourself into one of the best, and perhaps mostly introverted, audio experiences of the year.