Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Favorite Albums of 2012

2012 was a big year. It started with the birth of my nephew, my apartment almost being burned down, and the death of my grandmother. In May, my wife and I found out we were expecting and bought a house within a 24-hour period. I moved out of San Francisco, my home for 19 years, to the East Bay. I finished a Master's degree. I grew professionally. And through it all I managed to write a review or two a week. Every year I wonder if I am too old to listen to hip-hop anymore. The answer I came up with this year is yes and no. There is a lot of rap music that I am too old to listen to. Street rap like Chief Keef or King Louis is too nihilistic for my old man ears. Club rap like Pitbull is too far removed from my life. I am far past the age of popping bottles in clubs. In fact, I never was at that age.

There was a lot of music that spoke to me, though. For one thing, a lot of thirtysomethings put out solid albums in 2012. Aesop Rock, Brother Ali, El-P, Killer Mike, Guilty Simpson, and Oddisee all released excellent albums that showed a depth and maturity that you don't see in younger rappers. Unless that younger rapper is Kendrick Lamar, who released one of the best albums of the year. "Good kid M.A.A.D. city managed to walk the perfect line between mainstream rap and backpack rap, conscious rap and gangsta rap. It's a bummer that so many of his songs are so foul-mouthed. The album has been 86'ed by my wife because it is so full of profanity.

I'm going to have a daughter in early 2013, and I'm not sure how that will impact the music I listen to. I can't imagine a baby being into noisy music, and I can't see myself listening to profanity-laced rap music around my kid. I'm already wondering if I should start buying the edited versions of albums so that I can play them around the house.

I spent a lot of the year stressed out and studying, so listened to a fair amount of mellow music. Much of that took the form of old jazz albums, but I also explored ambient music and instrumental music. I'm especially enamored with the so-called instrumental hip-hop coming out of Los Angeles's Low End Theory scene - Flying Lotus, Gaslamp Killer, Nosaj Thing, etc. I'm not really seeing the connection to hip-hop, but it is some of the more interesting electronic music being made today.

I didn't listen to a lot of new punk or indie rock this year. I'm not sure why. I liked the albums by Metz and Ceremony well enough, but they didn't make my heavy rotation. I've downloaded the Tame Impala record everyone loves but haven't listened to it enough to make up my mind about. My favorite albums were side projects by two members of the Vivian Girls. I'm not a huge fan of the Vivian Girls, but I loved the new albums by La Sera and the Babies. I also loved Grizzly Bear's Shields, despite my efforts to hate it for its utter pretentiousness and preciousness.

Here's a list of some of my favorite new albums of 2012, in alphabetical order.

Aesop Rock, Skelethon
Babies, Our House On the Hill
Brother Ali, Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color
Burial, Kindred EP. 
Death Grips, The Money Store/No Love Deep Web
El-P, Cancer 4 Cure
Flying Lotus, Until the Quiet Comes
Gaslamp Killer, Breakthrough
Grizzly Bear, Shields
Kendrick Lamar, good kid, M.A.A.D city
Killer Mike, R.A.P. Music
La Sera, Sees the Light
Quakers s/t

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