15. Oddisee - People Hear What They See
A chord was hit in the mainstream hip-hop community after Washington D.C producer / rapper Oddisee dropped his 2011 disc Rock Creek Park,
an almost verse-free LP that showed off his ability to create bright
and emotionally resonant melodic soundscapes on top of staggeringly
funky backbeats and well placed samples (Skipping Rocks is one of my favorite hip-hop cuts of the past few years). With People Hear What They See
Oddisee steps out in front of his beats to present a decidedly more
rhyme-friendly, sample-heavy production. Reassuringly, Oddisee's
trademark honesty and eclecticism remains intact, giving us hope the
multi-talented artist still has a few more interesting LPs left in him
before he ascends proper up the ladder to hip-hop royalty.
14. PS I Love You - Death Dreams
Really the only rock
record on my list this year, the Kingston, Ontario indie duo of Paul
Saulnier and Benjamin Nelson delivered a collection of angst-laden tunes
set to Saulnier's screamingly loud guitars and Nelson's pulse-pounding
drumming. Never have I heard such a great record to blast on a summer
road trip containing lyrics that plumb the depths of existential
darkness - also of course accompanied by Saulnier's distinctively
high-pitched vocal stylings. Sentimental Dishes is an asbsolute
blast of infectious rock riffs that sounds like 1970's Rush smashed
together with Canadian punk rock. Not for everyone, but certainly the
most balls out rock record of the year for my money.
13. Danny Michel & The Benque Players - Black Birds Are Dancing Over Me
Popular Canadian singer/songwriter Danny Michel comes the closest we've been to creating a Canuck version of Paul Simon's Graceland with his 10th album, Black Birds Are Dancing Over Me. Taking
his trademark roots-rock sound to Belize to record with musicians from
the Garifuna Collective, a group of Belizean artists and cultural
activists, Michel has created a memorable set of funky, earthy pop
tunes. Like Graceland, Michel mixes the irresistible rhythmic
flavor of worldbeat with contemplative lyrics about the loss of love,
life and life's winding roads. What Colour Are You?, the record's first single, is as worldly as Canadian pop songs get without having been written by K'Naan.
12. ThEESatisfaction - awE naturalE
still not really sure what genre ThEESatisfacion's wonderfully funky, moody debut album on Sub Pop falls into, but what I do know is that
it is one of the most fearless records of the year. Made up of the
Seattle-based duo of Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White, awE naturalE
is a politically conscious, sad, sexy, funny LP that crackles with
rhythmic tension, constantly surprises with gigantic, glimmering vocal
melodies and hypnotizes with lush, harmonically soft soundscapes. Sweat is an absolutely killer latin-funk track with an unrecognizable, downright heavy Earth, Wind and Fire sample.
11. Miguel - Kaleidoscope Dream / Frank Ocean - Channel Orange
2012 was a great year for the resurgence of R&B, seeing two great,
critically and commercially successful albums from California's Miguel
and New Orleans's Frank Ocean. Ocean, currently the more recognized and
mainstream artist of the two, released the sultry, compulsively
listenable Channel Orange this summer to great unanimous acclaim,
setting the stage for a matured, creatively revitalized era for the
genre. The smash radio-friendly hit Thinking About You, with its
throbbing, sexy backbeat and Ocean's earnest, falsetto tinged vocals
became the most replayable R&B single of the last decade.
Miguel, already known in the genre with 2010's All I Want Is You, took his artistry to a new level with his latest, Kaleidoscope Dream.
A potent amalgamation of poppy hooks, funky guitars and creative
rhythmic flourishes, Miguel has fashioned a truly eccentric,
indescribably satisfying R&B record. The the lead single Adorn
is a Marvin Gaye-style slow burn with a fuzzy, grinding bass line that
lurks below a minimalist keyboard harmony and Miguel's delicate,
passionate vocals. Another standout, Do You, is one of my
favourite album cuts of the 2012 from any artist; a hauntingly funky
psychedelic dream that builds to a swirling, kinetic chorus.
10. Alabama Shakes - Boys and Girls
seemingly out of nowhere this Alabama bluesy-rocky foursome blasted
onto the music scene with a handful of explosive performances at this
year's SXSW and a headlining stage on the first night of Bonnaroo.
Carried by the powerful, soulful vocals and guitar work of 23-year-old
lead singer Brittany Howard, the Shakes released their first full length
record Boys and Girls to what seemed like an already rabid fan base buoyed by the recent rise of Southern blues-rock (The Black Keys, Kings of Leon). The album itself though, is an absolute stunner of substantial, uplifting cuts, including lead single Hold On,
an adrenaline-fueled ol' country anthem with a catchy sing-along chorus
and steady, funky rhythmic core. Not bad for what Rolling Stone called
the "best song of 2012."
9. Esperanza Spalding - Radio Music Society
28-year-old Esperanza Spalding continues her complete control over the
pop-jazz genre with her fourth studio album (and second in the Music Society
series of albums), with another dense, meticulously constructed,
emotion tugging and undeniably soulful release. We're given a funkier
and more eclectic collection of songs from Spalding that retain the
notes of Brazilian rhythms heard on her other records, but we get
elements of soul, gospel and hip-hop. Standouts include the latin-jazz
infused cover of Michael Jackson's I Can't Help It and simply sublime lead single Black Gold, a funky dose of positive vibes featuring some of the jazz prodigy's subtle but virtuosic bass work and a killer horn line.
8. Bahamas - Barchords
think Afie Jurvanen has had a great time so far recording and
performing as Bahamas. The former guitarist of Feist and Jason Collett
really came into his own since 2009's Pink Strat with Barchords, a deeply melancholic collection that manages to be sad; soothing; soulful. Lost in the Light
is still a song that I almost yearn to listen to when I think about it.
It's a song that I think perfectly captures the feeling of sincere
romantic longing. It's got an almost four-on-the-floor tribal rhythm to
it that adds a visceral punch to an already punishingly beautiful song.
And the poppy, radio-friendly Caught Me Thinking is a
legitimately funky track that contains great, emotional lyrics like "now
I know beyond a shadow of a doubt its my fault."
7. BADBADNOTGOOD - BBNG 2
On BADBADNOTGOOD's Bandcamp page, you'll find that "...no one above the age of 21 was involved in the making" of the
Toronto trio's second original set of studio cuts. Impressive, sure,
for a few Humber music grads that can count Tyler the Creator, Frank
Ocean (whom the band backed at none other than the festival called Coachella
this year), Aloe Blacc, Lil' B, and other hip-hop/jazz power brokers as
cats they've performed with over the past year. But what really blows
my mind about these guys is the ferocity and pure, youthful adrenaline
rush they've been injecting into the modern jazz scene. On Vices, the ethereal, dissonant second track off BBNG2,
Alex Sowinski sinks his teeth in hard, pounding out a tight, rhythmic
crescendo on his drums with Matt Tavares supplying smooth psychedelic
keys and Chester Hansen laying in a wobbly, trippy bass line. This is
insanely talented, transcendent stuff that has yielded a rabid,
dedicated young fanbase and a definite placeholder in the future of
jazz, EDM and hip-hop.
6. The Slakadeliqs - The Other Side of Tomorrow
the Beatchild is a Toronto based producer for the likes of Divine Brown
and Drake and an altogether intensely prolific artist. He's also put
out some of the most soulful Canadian music of the year, having sunk
four years into writing and recording a beautifully crafted album called
The Other Side of Tomorrow as The Slakadeliqs. A smooth, bright,
acoustic-guitar laden sound permeates the general sound of the record,
with guest stars Justin Nozuka, Tingsek and Shad lending distinct
rhythmic and vocal textures to their respective tracks. Love Controls the Sun and Keep Breathing,
both collaborations with the Canadian singer/songwriter Nozuka are
wholly memorable, singable tracks with a mix of catchy hooks and soft,
serene vocal production. This is pop music at its most blissful.
5. KC Roberts and The Live Revolution - Between The Cracks
Contact is one of the most electrifyingly high-energy disco-boogie cuts I've heard in sometime.
4. Flying Lotus - Until the Quiet Comes
current undisputed king of experimental hip-hop came back with a
vengeance this year, with a powerhouse of an album that saw the nephew
of John Coltrane tread familiar, but also completely new territory. 2010's Cosmogramma
was a challenging and a secretly, (at times) hugely rewarding record.
This one replaces some of the more minimalist tendencies with broad,
shimmering landscapes. Electric Candyman is another
collaboration with Radiohead's Thom Yorke and yet again, FlyLo reduces
Yorke to a ghost, only this time while creating what sounds like a
post-apocalyptic party anthem. This guy's music really warps my mind.
Seriously. I saw him play in November and his live show was as close to
hallucinations as you get without having taken drugs. Putty Boy Strut is the single and its a crazy cool piece of trap-style hip-hop.
3. Lianne La Havas - Is Your Love Big Enough?
most soulful new voice of the year, the 23-year-old British songstress
Lianne La Havas took my breath away with her debut album Is Your Love Big Enough?;
an apt title for such a deeply felt, mature, pitch perfect record. La
Havas is the kind of musician that can stand on a stage armed with just a
guitar and her voice and captivate a crowd of thousands, but toss some
headphones on and listen to Age, easily the catchiest song she's
written. It's a romantic, playful little ditty that finds La Havas at
her sexiest, plucking her guitar with a carefree, bluesy swing and
singing a gorgeous lament about her attraction towards a older gentleman
after having her heart broken by a younger one. Forget is one of
the funkier cuts, with La Havas indulging in a bit of heavy rhythm,
almost like an audition for bigger, more percussive productions in the
near future. Like the best soul music, this is an album and an artist
best consumed by romantics and lovers alike.
2. Mac Demarco - Rock and Roll Nightclub & 2
far the two albums that spent the most time in my headphones this year,
Mac Demarco entered the international bloodstream like a chaotic force
of intense dissonance that carried a cigarette between its teeth. First
came Rock and Roll Nightclub. This is record that sounds like it
was recorded in the basement of a dingy stripmall and contains an almost
transcendent, artful songs like Baby's Wearing Blue Jeans. I actually listened to his second album, conveniently titled 2. 2 just
might be a masterpiece. It is a staggeringly listenable record; to me
Demarco's "slacker rock" is basically progressive Canadian folk-rock
filtered through the lens of afro-pop. I know that might be well...impossible to understand unless you've heard his music. All you have to do is listen to Freaking Out The Neighbourhood
once. Because that's all it took for me. His show at Toronto's Silver
Dollar Room this year was the best hour and a half of live rock music I
experienced this year. Yup, even better than this.
1. Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again
say that Michael Kiwanuka is somehow a soulful jazz-pop artist that
"came out of nowhere" is really to discount the evolution of how a
musical cat like Kiwanuka came to be. With comparisons to Willie Nelson,
Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and my favorite soul singer/songwriter of all
time, Bill Withers, Michael Kiwanuka blew the collective socks off the
soul genre this year with his first studio album, Home Again. A
performer of great ease and natural rhythm, his sound is like an
updated, British version of the late Donny Hathaway. The jazzy, somber
lead cut Tell Me a Tale, showcases a a lyrical tenderness ("Lord I need lovin' / Lord I need good, good lovin") and deft percussively funky touches
that add up to music that sounds like the kind you would want to listen
to on a sweaty, adventurous summer night. Oh yeah, and Bones is my song of the year. Seriously. Here he is covering I Don't Know, a great song by - oh yeah - my favorite soul singer/songwriter of all time, Bill Withers.