Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Album of the Year: #1. Frank Ocean: Channel Orange

Frank Ocean's Channel Orange is the cream of the crop, the best of the best of 2012.  Maybe it's an obvious choice--Ocean has been all over the place this past year, from coming out of the closet via internet, to releasing his new album shortly afterward, to being seen on Saturday Night Live, among other places.  The album doesn't always hit on all cylinders, there are stronger songs than others, but the album flows so well.  The lesser songs tie into the stronger songs so they need to be a part of Channel Orange, making it all work.  I definitely feel the influence of Prince on songs like "Forrest Gump" and "Bad Religion", I feel the influence of D'Angelo on tracks like "Sweet Life" , and I even sense some of the electronic experimentation of Radiohead and Flying Lotus on songs like "Pyramids".  Frank Ocean is the real deal.  I'm very interested to observe the growth of his career in the future for this young artist, as he released a gem of an album in Channel Orange, my pick for album of the year in 2012. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Best Albums of 2012: #2. Tame Impala: Lonerism

Tame Impala's Lonerism is my favorite rock album of 2012.  Tame Impala is basically Australian's psych-singer-songwriter Kevin Parker's project, and his second full-length release.  His debut, 2010's Innerspeaker was equally as goodI dig the drums, the psych-era John Lennon-esque vocals, the fuzzed out guitars, and the more prominent synths, which Parker has emphasized more on this album than the debut.  I highly recommend Lonerism, one of the main reasons to rock out in 2012. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Best Albums of 2012: #3. Kendrick Lamar: Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City

Kendrick Lamar's major label debut is the best hip hop album of the year, and has been appearing on many critics lists as best album of the year.  Kendrick Lamar was previously in the hip hop supergroup, Black Hippy, along with Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q, and now has branched out on his own and released Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City just a few months ago.  It's lyrically a concept album ("a short film", as Lamar calls it)--an autobiographical account of growing up in Compton.  Ironically enough (as I just featured Nas on my last post), I recently read an article on "Hip Hop Dx" comparing Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City to Nas's Illmatic album, calling it "the West Coast Illmatic".   I agree with that comparison as Lamar is a great storyteller and rapper, just as Nas can be when he's on his game.  I can't necessarily put it up on Illmatic's level yet--it has to stand the test of time, but Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City is definitely a solid, entertaining release and one of my favorite albums of the year.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Best Albums of 2012: #4. Nas: Life Is Good

 "Nas is back", I've heard (and read) many times over the years after each new release has dropped.  This time it's for real.  After years of spotty releases, Nas has released Life is Good, undoubtedly his best album since his famed debut Illmatic dropped in '94.  What is so cool in regards to Nas is that as he is approaching 40 years old, he is tackling topics that pertain to his age and where he's at in his life (a rare occurrence in the rap game--hip hop generally tackles subjects that pertain to dudes in their teens and twenties).  He's not trying to sound like some young rapper dude.  Instead, he is tackling subjects like on "Daughters" about raising his teenage daughter and the mistakes he's made as a single parent.  Life is Good also features my favorite single of 2012, "The Don". 

Plenty of head nodders on this album. Life is Good is #4 of my favorite albums of 2012.  It's great to see Nas release such a solid album from beginning to end (with the exception of "Summer on Smash"-yikes). One of my favorite MC's of all-time, I definitely recommend you pick up this album. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Best Albums of 2012: #5. The Weeknd: Trilogy

Trilogy is compiled of three different mixtape albums that Abel Tesfaye (a.k.a The Weeknd) released throughout 2011.  While these albums were recorded in mixtape format in 2011, Trilogy wasn't released in the stores until November 2012--which is why I'm counting it as a new release of 2012, and #5 in my top seven releases of 2012.  Equal parts R&B, Trip Hop, and Dubstep, all three albums that make up the Trilogy are compelling.  If I had to pick a favorite, it would be the first one, House of Balloons.  It's a little edgier, and has my favorite track, "Wicked Games" on it.  Trilogy is definitely worth picking up, and while you can download the albums in mixtape format, it's worth picking up the 3 album/cd release of the Trilogy because it is remastered, giving it a crisper sound quality. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Best Albums of 2012: #6. Quantic & Alice Russell: Look Around The Corner

Only in these past few months have I been turned onto DJ Quantic, though I've been aware that he's released some solid soulful/funky music over the past ten years.  I've really enjoyed this release, also featuring UK Soul singer Alice Russell and the musical stylings of the Combo Barbaro.  Equal parts soul, funk, jazz, boogaloo, and salsa, Look Around The Corner is a solid album from beginning to end and fits nicely in my top seven of my favorite releases in 2012.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Best Albums of 2012: #7. Robert Glasper Experiment: Black Radio

Since generally most "best of" polls consist of a top 5, 10, or 20 list, I decided to buck the trend and go with my top 7 albums of 2012, although there are some honorable mentions that I could've included.  Number 7 on my favorite albums of the year is Black Radio by the Robert Glasper Experiment.  Robert Glasper is a Jazz Pianist with a healthy influence in old school hip hop and soul.  The Robert Glasper Experiment Black Radio features his jazz piano stylings, but also features tons of neo-soul types like Erykah Badu, Lalah Hathaway, Bilal, and hip hop dudes like Mos Def and Lupe Fiasco.  Though it sounds like a combination that wouldn't consistently work, surprisingly everything works on this album, and even some of the appearances by the guests are better than their solo albums (except Erykah Badu--all of her albums are great and her appearance singing "Afro Blue" is no exception).   

Friday, December 7, 2012

Best of 2012 Coming Up!

In the next few weeks I will be featuring seven of my favorite albums of 2012.  The positive about this year is even though generally I felt disconnected among the current musical trends as always, I felt slightly more in-touch than I did in 2011, which is good, I suppose.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Smiling Faces Sometimes: Who Does It Better?

I'm a sucker for that late 60's/early's Norman Whitfield written, funky Motown productions.  It seems as though there were a handful of bands that overlapped when recording Whitfield's tunes.  As has been well-written, Whitfield's songs became more political in nature while nearing the end of the sixties, which came out in both the lyrics and the increasing funkiness of the music.  Here are a few bands that successfully recorded "Smiling Faces Sometimes", one of my favorite Whitfield tunes.   

Starting with The Undisputed Truth (the first of the Motown groups to record the track)
Next, with the funky-rock group Rare Earth:
Of course, The Temptations were one of Motown favs, and recorded many of Whitfields' songs (taken off of one of my favorite albums of theirs, Sky's The Limit:
Lastly, a little more obscure version by a band formed in the army in the early 70's, East of Underground.  Highly recommended album--extremely funky and quite unlike anything I would ever except a group of military dudes to sound like:
I'd have to go with The Tempts version as my favorite, but it terms are sheer funkiness, East of Underground takes the cake.