Friday, January 11, 2013

CAC's Top Music Albums of 2012

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

I'm 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 

Fact: 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

From 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

The 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

I 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." 


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

Slakah 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

A highly revered Toronto-based guitarist, front man and songwriter, KC Roberts creates original, highly kinetic and deeply satisfying funk music. I've been following KC since seeing a performance at 2007 Toronto Beaches Jazz Fest where the sheer rhythmic virtuosity and natural ability of KC and his 7-piece band absolutely blew me away. Most recently, KC undertook a crowdfunding project to raise money to record the ambitious Parkdale Funk 2, a two-disc follow up to the (undisputed masterpiece, in my opinion) first Parkdale Funk album. This record, Between The Cracks is a straight live-off-the-floor recording put together in one day at Metalworks studio that captures KC's band at their most spontaneous and progressively funky. Contact is one of the most electrifyingly high-energy disco-boogie cuts I've heard in sometime. 

4. Flying Lotus - Until the Quiet Comes

The 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?

The 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

With by 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

To 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.

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