Thursday, January 3, 2013

Lost in the Bossness: Nathan's Favorites, 2012

[With apologies to close contenders Rye Rye, Elle Varner, Dr. John, Rapsody, Screaming Females, Dinosaur Jr., Kendrick Lamar, Mark Lanegan, Miguel and Waka Flocka Flame]

1. Killer Mike, R.A.P. Music
"The closest I've come to seeing or feeling God is listening to rap music." In 2012, I knew how Killer Mike felt. The Dungeon Family stalwart and radical activist distinguished himself even in an extraordinary year for the genre, providing a compelling, ambiguous tribute to the shared cultural histories of Rebellious African Peoples that was equal parts moving, exciting, and righteously angry. El-P's crushing, mutating production complemented the record's sound and fury.

2. Large Professor, Professor @ Large
When not smithing the best beats for Nas' Life Is Good, Large Professor produced a remarkable "LP Surprise" of his own. From generation-spanning posse cuts to ultrasmooth, ultrasteady hip-hop instrumentals ("Barber Shop Chop" and "Back In Time," even without words, showcased Pro at his best), Professor @ Large was 2012's most unheralded later-career rap album by a Golden Age veteran.

3. Big Boi, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors
I've taken to calling this album "Viscous Lies," as the songs contained take more time and effort to navigate than Big's accessible debut. However, this may ultimately be the more rewarding, challenging album. It may zig where you expect a Big Boi album to zag, but the beats are just as fresh and surprising, and the autobiographical precision of Big Boi's subject matter marks newer, deeper lyrical territory for the historically quick-witted emcee.

4. Rick Ross, Rich Forever
Ross had an extremely busy 2012, but the mixtape Rich Forever--originally intended as a stopgap before the release of his fifth album God Forgives, I Don't--has a singular and exhausting life force that exceeded even his greatest efforts elsewhere. With the exception of the skits, RF is an unrelenting cavalcade of apocalyptic end credit beats and stereo-shattering sirens. At the center of it is Rozay's cartoonishly overconfident persona, which gains a certain amount of depth here.

5. Future of the Left, The Plot Against Common Sense
Andy Falkous is the rarest of songwriters, a lyricist who can make me laugh out loud (see also #7). On his post-Mclusky outfit's punishingly aggressive third album, Falkous gleefully trashes punk articles of faith, from Sheena the former punk rocker to sequels of classic Detroit science-fiction cinema ("Robocop 4 - Fuck Off Robocop"). Thank the dwindling gods of hard rock that Future of the Left seems to be in no danger of becoming complacent anytime soon.

6. Curren$y, The Stoned Immaculate
It was not an easy path to this point, but the New Orleans rapper's first Warner Bros. release does everything I hoped the famously weed-minded rapper could do with a major label upgrade. His rapping style--laconic, monotone, slurry yet intelligible--is augmented by some of the best productions of the year, from the marching beat stomp of "Armoire" to the understated bass tones of "Chandeliers." Curren$y's approach to hooks and drawled-out versescapes has always been distinctive, but with this Doors-quoting album, he crafted a sequence of songs worthy of his style.

7. Donald Fagen, Sunken Condos
For someone who releases about a solo album a decade, the 64-year old Steely Dan singer and songwriter has maintained the same remarkable control over groove that made his classic 70s work so attractive. As anachronistic as Sunken Condos' smooth, complex jazz arrangements may sound in 2012, the rhythms are anything but soft, as evidenced by Fagen's funky cover of Isaac Hayes' "Out of the Ghetto," which might be even better (and more subversive) than the original.

8. Galactic, Carnivale Electricos
The venerable New Orleans funk band--hot off their great 2010 album Ya Ka May--delivers an even more cohesive tribute to the diversity of NO funk with Carnivale Electricos, intended as both an aural accompaniment for the city's Mardi Gras festivities and as a tribute to city carnivals the world over. Carnivale Electricos is so animated with spirit and fresh, live instrumentation that by the time the festivities end and "Ash Wednesday Sunrise" begins, it's hard not to feel a bit sad that the good times can't go on forever.

9. (Tie) Quakers, Quakers and Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury, Drokk: Music Inspired by Mega-City One
Portishead was off the reservation again in 2012, but programmer/DJ Geoff Barrow was more busy than ever. Quakers was a hip-hop project spearheaded by Barrow, a mammoth, Double Nickels on the Dime-ish collection of 41 rap tracks, most under two minutes. Though the Stones Throw release boasted appearances by well-known rappers like Guilty Simpson and the Pharcyde's Booty Brown, the majority of artists on the record were unsigned upstarts culled from MySpace. Drokk, meanwhile, was Barrow and Ben Salisbury's tribute to the British comic book character Judge Dredd. Though an actual Dredd film was released this year, Drokk's fake film soundscapes more cannily recalled classic 80's film music from the likes of the Goblins or John Carpenter. In essence, Drokk was the perfect soundtrack to the 80s Carpenter Dredd film that never was.

10. Odd Future, The OF Tape Vol. 2
The worst thing that could happen to the OFWGKTA clan is if they became respectable. Fortunately, despite the mainstream accolades bestowed upon Frank Ocean and others this year, Odd Future's music remains as compelling, challenging, and occasionally disgusting as ever. From sloppy R&B to rolling weed anthems to goofs on ratchet music ("We Got Bitches"), this OF tape sounded more like a great rap compilation than a cohesive album experience, but Tyler, the Creator and co. manage to wrap their warped sensibilities together with "Oldie," a massive group cut that should be considered the "T.R.I.U.M.P.H." of modern times.

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