Exclaim's Most Unappreciated Albums of 2012
Published Dec 20, 2012A lot of great music comes out in a year, and not all of it gets the attention it deserves. Some get a fair bit of credit, but not enough; others even sell well, but critics don't appreciate them; some don't get any love at all. We've dug back into the year that was 2012 in the hopes of uncovering those special albums that got buried, to unearth the gems that went unappreciated this year. Below, we hold them up to the light.
Exclaim's Most Unappreciated Albums of 2012:
(Clown & Sunset)
Known for his 14-hour DJ sets at Berlin's Bar 25, Acid Pauli is the moniker of Notwist member Martin Gretschmann, who also has amassed a substantial discography as Console. Mst was released in July to much less fanfare than it deserved. Sharing the Latin-infused, off-kilter, downtempo rhythms of label boss Nicolas Jaar with Mr. Scruff's jazz-sampling sense of humour, Mst is one of the most unique releases of the year.
Sounding like he snuck into Nas's Illmatic recording sessions then cranked the dial on his DeLorean forward 18 years, Joey Bada$$ raps with a style and an assuredness that belies his age (17). From its title to its creator's stomping grounds (Flatbush is back!) to the dollar-sign S's, 1999 is a refreshing, essential throwback. "I'm in Marty McFly mode," Joey spits, "so tell 'em that the future's back." Welcome home, New York.
Live from the Underground
Blame the mixtapes. Big K.R.I.T. — a triple threat who raps, produces and sings hooks — wrung his soul into the pre-album freebies, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here and 4eva N a Day. So when he opted for live instruments for his proper debut, not enough of us paid attention. Even though it's tricky to label a CD that hit No. 5 on U.S. Billboard overlooked, Underground deserves a second spin. From a slavery tale voiced from three disparate viewpoints to a strip-club banger in which the lyrics are actually subtler than the bass, the King seizes his role as the heir to the trunk-rattling artists who first dirtied up the South.
Mourning In America and Dreaming In Color
The same elements that make Mourning In America and Dreaming In Color a solid album are perhaps the same aspects that made it one of the more overlooked projects of this year. Politically charged as all get out, the Muslim rapper Brother Ali (by way of beats/production from Jake One) crafted a deeply honest, utterly incisive album that serves as social message via head nodding medium. It's an album that deserves to bend a few more ears.
Ryan B. Patrick
(Hippos In Tanks)
Hard to believe that "an oratorio in four movements" based around a concept of searching for Gabriel the Angel of Truth in the internet to "demand an explanation for God's communication blackout" could be overlooked. But the Montreal producer's classical/R&B/electronic pop opus failed to capitalize on his previous split with Grimes. It's a shame considering he even managed to make some highly accessible moments that you could ostensibly dance to.
Life Is People
The famously reclusive Fay was finally coaxed back into a studio by his biggest fan, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, and the results are stunning. The 60-something Brit's fragile folk-pop seems more relevant today than it was when he first appeared over 40 years ago, and his sage-like lyrics are never less than inspiring. Fay may be the Terrence Malick of the music world.
Frankie Rose is restless. After the '50s girl-group vibe of her debut, the drummer-turned-frontwoman embarked on a journey deep into new wave and synth-y soundscapes that somehow eschewed reverb yet retained a thick, atmospheric vibe. The result, Interstellar, is a mix of ponderous soundscapes and bouncy, energetic numbers that demonstrate Rose's ability as both a songwriter and a producer.
With a baritone voice that can be safely described as Calvin Johnson doing his best Johnny Cash singing Scott Walker, Carlisle, Pennsylvania's Daughn Gibson helped redefine the limits of country music. The former truck driver's debut presented dour, bone-chilling songwriting with an acoustic guitar and… cold, electronic programming? It sounds like little else out there because it is. Expect to cherish Gibson's next album, when it drops on Sub Pop in 2013.
The Great Sabatini
There is a bilious swampyness that defines this record, like stepping in stagnant water and having the sucking mud close in over your foot. The thickness of the atmosphere, dense and oppressive as a mythical bog, belies Matterhorn's technical dexterity, a cutting nimbleness of execution that operates in contrast to the viscosity of the tone. "City Limits" is a prime example: the emotional tone is steep and sheer, the riffs barbed and the tightly winding structure taut, but the pace and tone conveys a thick, wallowing ache.
Natalie Zina Walschots
The sludge metal that comes out of New Orleans is like no other. But despite exceptional sophomore record Husks, Haarp have yet to receive the recognition they deserve. Produced by legend Phil Anselmo and released on his Housecore Records, Husks is an unrelenting onslaught of doom-infused sludge. The record has a dark, hopeless vibe, featuring low and thick, groove-heavy riffs that embody the decay, hatred and self-loathing that all great sludge releases possess.
The Los Angeles songstress's second album wasn't under-appreciated by Domino, who snapped her up to reissue Ekstasis and deliver her third album next year. Expect the singer's ethereal mix of dense, harmonized electronics, strings and vibraphones, and her hushed, cooing vocals to make the mark she deserved to make this time around.
Through the '90s, R&B threatened to be rapped into irrelevance, but a decade later its aesthetic looms large. Aaliyah is that era's latter-day saint, and Rochelle Jordan is one of her present day acolytes. Pressure, Jordan's second release, built on the promise of her debut. Jordan's voice comes at you in layers and her future funk is strong. Her music has a refreshingly harder edge to it than most of the bathetic male mewlers of PBR'n'B vintage this year.
Sees The Light
While her day job in Vivian Girls ensures that Kickball Katy Goodman's La Sera sits firmly in the "side-project" category, the singer-guitarist's second solo outing was easily the best thing the trio have produced as individuals. It was also a fantastic break-up record that focused on affirmation rather than self-pity. Mixing '60s girl-group harmonies, buzz-y '90s and lines like "I love my life without you," Goodman created an understated ode to emancipation.
In meditating on the meaning of existence, in part a tribute to the late Vic Chesnutt, Lambchop's driving force Kurt Wagner produced the band's strongest collection of songs since the band's 2000 masterpiece, Nixon. The contrast between the Nashville collective's trademark lush sound and Wagner's plainspoken vocals was never more striking, making Mr. M an album that revealed itself more with each listen. Although unbound by any sense of tradition, Lambchop continues to make music purely from the soul.
Anyone who heard the motorik patter and slow swaths of dense, moody synth on first single "Brains" were hooked immediately by Lower Dens' captivating second record. Problem is, not many did. Had they, the stirring chorus of "Lamb" and Amnesiac-esque swoon of the epic "Nova Anthem" might have pushed them to the top of critics' year-end lists, but give it time: if the slow build of its musical contents is anything to go by, Nootropics will be absolutely huge in a few years.
Tame Impala hogged the "psych-rock-that's more than psych-rock" spotlight this year, but Kevin Parker wasn't the only one making throbbing guitar rock fun again. Ripley Johnson sharpened his pop chops on this third outing with drummer Sanae Yamada. The hooks are sticky and hypnotic, recalling Can and the Velvet Underground crashing into the songwriting ambitions of San Francisco's Summer of Love. Punctuated by crisp production, sunny melodies and Johnson's soaring solos, Circles was a rare marriage of artistic pretension and pop ambition.
The lines between indie, punk and garage rock aren't just blurred: they're bleeding into one another, and Toronto's Teenanger are sitting right in the middle. Fast paced, snotty and surprisingly groovy, the band's second effort was a shot of adrenalin with a dash of sonic clarity thrown in thanks to producer Howie Beck, who ensures that all of singer Chris Swimming's nasal-tinged sneers are heard loud and clear. Regardless of which side of the guitar-rock fence you sit on, Frights offers something to love.
Following the demise of San Franciscan indie pop act Magic Bullets, the three original members opted to continue as the more compact Terry Malts and make a racket with their "chainsaw pop." Debut Killing Time hits you with the frantic pace and keen ear for melody of the Ramones, while utilizing the fuzz and distortion of the Jesus & Mary Chain's early singles with wry, observational jokes. How could you not love it?
Neo Neo Acid
Analogue gear and aesthetics were very much back in vogue this year, with acts from Gatekeeper to Recondite dusting off their vintage Rolands, or software clones. With Neo Neo Acid, Tin Man returned to the style he became known for back with his Global A releases. The resulting album is a confident work of melancholic yet upbeat tracks made on the 303 that work equally well in a dance-floor set or an introspective headphone session.