It is the end of December and I keep forgetting that it is also the end of the year. So to commemorate the last days of 2012, I have put together a list of several music favourites that is a bit of an atypical listicle instead of a traditional end of year music blog post. Here are the musicians and their albums that were inspiring, addictive, and my favourites for 2012.
ALBUM THAT MAKES YOU BELIEVE IN MUSIC AGAIN
Grimes was everywhere in 2012 and for a good reason. Her fourth effort since 2010, Visions, is utterly fantastic and hypnotic, aptly described as “witch house.” Visions sounds like no other album before but with its lo-fi dance beats and girlish vocals it is still catchy and, in my opinion, very accessible. I can honestly say that her work makes me have hope that talented musicians can still reach the masses without the requirements of booty shaking and Nickelback replications. Other than Nightmusic (video above), also check out Genesis and its wacky Japanese anime and samurai inspired video.
BEST ALBUM FOR PRODUCTIVE DAYS
I love finding musicians and their albums that serve as background music for work days, and Burial makes quite a few great tracks for this purpose. His Kindred EP came out earlier this year with three strong tracks, and Loner (above) is the highlight of this issue. The Mercury Prize nominated artist has two full albums and several EPs, including collaborations with Thom Yorke and Four Tet, and as I am big fans of both Radiohead and Four Tet I am not surprised that the resulting works are solid.
Listen to more tracks and read my previous posts about music for productivity in these November and December posts: Things That Go Bump in the Night Part One (electronic tracks) and Part Two (alternative tracks). Look out for Part Three for instrumental jazz music and Part Four, to conclude the series, in the new year.
BEST REMIX/COVER ARTIST
I am a big fan of The xx, and love their remixes and covers equally to their original material. On December 17th, BBC Radio 1 published a video of The xx covering Wham!’s Last Christmas which, as expected of The xx, is better than the Wham!’s original version. How does The xx keep doing this? They have so many amazing remixes in their repertoire and continue to churn out amazing The xx original material as well. Also check out their versions of Florence and the Machine’s You Got the Love and Womack & Womack’s Teardrops.
Watch The xx perform with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra in this October blog post.
BEST COLLABORATIVE ALBUM
Black Radio by the Robert Glasper Experiment is the sixth album by American jazz musician Robert Glasper. Black Radio is an album that invites more fusion elements than his previous effort, Double Booked by venturing out of the jazz category. Glasper merges hip hop, R&B, and even grunge rock to his music which is achieved through his collaboration with musicians such as Lupe Fiasco, Eryka Badu, and a cover of Teen Spirit by Nirvana. Despite constantly moving out of the jazz territory into less chartered territories by his fellow jazz musicians, his album is cohesive and a great listen for a weekend afternoon. Also check out Ah Yeah featuring Musiq Soulchild and Chrisette Michele, a favourite song of mine with the contemplative lyrics: “I think beauty’s overrated, ’cause it’s something anyone can be, now attraction is something different.”
BEST LOVE SONG
Frank Ocean released his solo album, Channel Orange, this year after collaborating with Odd Future for several years and writing songs for the likes of Beyoncé and Justin Bieber. His hit song, Bad Religion, is evocative, moving, and makes you yearn on his behalf for a romance that never could be. Channel Orange is quite a solid album as well, and for a happier and quirky love song listen to the track, Forrest Gump.
BEST UPBEAT ALBUM
Nas‘ last album under the Def Jam label, Life is Good, is really, really good. I always enjoyed Nas’ music, and even accepted his cool and cocky demeanour which is omnipresent in rap albums but continues to irritate me regardless. However, Life is Good is upbeat and smooth, and each song on the album is worthy of repeat listening. Highlights includes Cherry Wine, a collaboration with the late Amy Winehouse, and Daughters (video above).
Hear Cherry Wine in this October blog post.
MUSICIAN THAT COMES OFF AS A DOUCHEBAG BUT MAKES GREAT MUSIC ANYWAYS
Speaking of cocky personalities: The Weeknd reissued his three mixtapes and album this past fall, and packaged the new album as Trilogy on iTunes. Trilogy shot up the charts as one of the top downloads on iTunes despite The Weeknd not having achieved a single hit. This is all very impressive for the Toronto R&B singer who has released his mixtapes and album through his blogs. His music is moody and brooding with sex and drugs as the main themes of his work, and sings frequently about strippers and failed romances. The Weeknd also sounds like a guy who would be terrible in relationships; his lyrics regarding bad relationships are accusatory and distant.
When I went to see him live during his tour stop in Montréal, the VIP balcony seats were occupied by several ladies that probably-maybe were adult dancers. While I do not judge these women on their occupation, there presence at the VIP section of the concert made me judge The Weeknd; it is hard not to hypothesize that The Weeknd has trouble seeing ladies as more than sexual conquests. Hence, I feel conflicted about his music — it is sometimes difficult for me to separate the music from what is known or perceived about the musician. So here is a guy who is probably a douchebag but nevertheless makes great music. Therefore I listen to his work and appreciate his talent, but lament over his sexist failings. That is too bad.
Click here to hear the highlight track of his 2011 album, House of Balloons, called Montréal.
ALBUM TO LOOK FORWARD TO IN 2013
Lastly, Yo La Tengo’s Fade comes out on January 14th 2013, marking this Yo La Tengo’s thirteenth album. Their first single, Ohm, is a sneak peek of what is to come and it sounds great — with its main guitar line and concerted vocals it is gentle yet extroverted. If the tracks in Fade are along the lines of Ohm, Fade sounds inviting and intimate like that of 2009’s Popular Songs. And I cannot wait until the new year.