I don't care to admit this, but 2012 was (for me) a disappointing time for albums. Never in a one year have I been completely turned off by a number of albums, even albums that were "fantastic" for a majority, just didn't do it for me. A herd of bore fests, paltry comebacks, hyped-up chores, meandering retreads, and spotty creations came my way making me believe the idea of the album is a dead art.
Well, that's the pessimism on boil, so I'll turn down the heat, and say that the idea of albums isn't all that defunct, as there were some exceptions to the rule this year. Exceptions that brought their A-game and delivered entertaining, even risk-taking sets that lingered long after they closed out. Those 30 albums are present on this series of list....and we begin with the bottom ten after the jump...
Two Eleven - Brandy
If ever there was a comeback that bated breath warranted, then Brandy was that such reemergence. Intelligently, Brandy saves herself from the toothless drag of 2008's Human, and makes Two Eleven into a celebration of all that she has been paving in the R&B market for now close to two decades, and what is to come for the future. She does stumble a bit (the
Notable Tracks: Music, Wildest Dreams, Do You Know What You Have?, Wish Your Love Away
Master Of My Make-Believe - Santigold [Review]
Well, it took almost four years and a name change, but Santigold finally made her sophomore effort a reality. It wasn't as unexpected and brash as her 2008 debut, but that is my own error for putting it on such a high pedestal to the point where I had to come down from the clouds and count the blessing that Santigold is still dedicated to not play nice nor for the crowd. On Make-Believe she is just as frank, eccentric and experimental as before, but older and wiser. Her talks about disenchantment and awkward climbs to adulthood, are artfully painted on such like "The Keepers", "Fame" and the glorious single, "Disparate Youth", and far from bratty she is as she drives the blunt edge of her agenda on home.
Notable Tracks: Disparate Youth, The Keepers, God From The Machine, This Isn't Our Parade
Boys & Girls - Alabama Shakes
With a certifiable licence of azure tinted rock, the little band from Athens, Alabama made a huge splash this year when they unearthed the roots of rock yore, to concoct an album of such natural progression and girth, that you can probably hear every sweat and tear pouring out the pores when you press play. Rough around the edges Boys & Girls is, and it is an album that is vintage sake just to be making some sort of pretentious agenda. Nah, this album is what it is, and its a hard machine of raw and taunt rock n' blues. What is the bonus in all of this is the peerless vocal stylings of frontwoman, Brittany Howard, who just cooks up a mean Southern fried cuisine as she wails and testifies throughout....and boy, does she preach.
Notable Tracks: Heartbreaker, Hold On, Hang Loose, Be Mine
Look Around The Corner - Quantic & Alice Russell with Combo Bárbaro
It is summer all year 'round as far as Look Around The Corner is concerned, as a warm an inviting breeze flutters in right from the opening note. Sounding very much like the album Dusty Springfield and Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass Band never did together, Quantic and Alice Russell make quite a pairing on here, as they bring out the spirit of Columbia with songs that are invigoratingly throwback, and down-right relaxing. I've been knowing that Ms. Russell has a set of pipes on her, and zealous she is once again as she zips and dives in the array of styles present.
Notable Tracks: Look Around The Corner, Travelling Song, Similau, Magdalena
The Rainbow Ride - Princess Freesia
Whoever said Disco is six feet under in the defunct genre graveyard is sorely mistaken, as obviously they haven't partaken in the free-wheeling folly that is Princess Freesia's The Rainbow Ride. Brimming with the spin and sparkle of yesteryears mirrored balls, Soulpersona's glossy production, and the vibrancy of Freesia's vocality, have this set locked into a niche that is inexplicably infectious. Literally this whole album questions you as to why you are listening to this album while sitting down in a room, when obviously you need to take to the lighted dance floor to rock, skate, and bounce along in its bountiful crackle of polished up funk.
Notable Tracks: I Can See It, Taffeta, Gonna Be Alright, Pom Pom, Stellar Sight, Freesia
MDNA - Madonna [Review]
Madonna could have gone various ways with MDNA. A sprawling ode to matrimonial demise a la Like A Prayer with a mature-minded experimental slant this side of Ray Of Light seemed operative, even welcoming. Then shit happened. "Shit" meaning "Give Me All Your Luvin'" which is easily the worst single of Madonna's career that lead hopes to be dashed. Her Madgesty was going for the dull "commercial" thing, because she's an "aging" pop star and has gotta keep up with those meddling kids *sigh* Still a ram-bam explosion of techno-pop occurs on MDNA and gives a neat middle-finger to all those wannabes to say that she's still here taking names and playing Mother Goose of all Pop-dom. Tracks like "Love Spent" kicked major tush, redeeming the set, along with "Beautiful Killer", and the ballads here are some of the best she's done in years. It's true that this isn't the most perfect Madonna album, or the album I was really hoping for, but it's still entertaining and uninhibited as ever --- and that's just how I like my Madonna to be.
Notable Tracks: Love Spent, Beautiful Killer, Falling Free, Masterpiece, I'm A Sinner, Gang Bang
awE NaturalE - theeSatisfaction
So how would you like your soulful feminist hip-hop? As for me, I'll take theeSatisfaction, a duo out of Seattle that covers all these fronts and then some. Rooted in Afrocentricism, but drawing from all faucets of the musical spectrum, these sistas construct an album that has the attention span of a punk album (all of the songs barely clock in at three minutes), but harbors the intuitive of candid soul, and that to me is what it means to be 'naturalE'.
Notable Tracks: QueenS, Sweat, Existinct, God, Earthseed, Deeper
P R E S S U R E - Rochelle Jordan [Review]
I wonder if a number of séances that were being conducted this year were overseen by the new R&B starlets on the come up. I say this because 2012 marked when Aaliyah was resurrected among the new brethren of R&B songstress, leaving her brooding girl-next-door grooves to somewhat appear in their prospective projects. Rochelle Jordan was one of the many who captured the spirit of Baby Girl, and wrote and produced her debut set on that crest of inspiration. Obvious of this homage comes with the superb single, "Losing". Still Ms. Rochelle, while influenced, doesn't bite off more than she can chew, as she scribes a love letter to the R&B days of yore with this insulated mood piece, while maintaining a sense of a self and paving a way for future endeavors.
Notable Tracks: Pressure, Losing, Visions, Could've Been, Make Me Wanna
Girl On Fire - Alicia Keys
Katniss Everdeen aside, Alicia Keys couldn't have had a more aptly titled album this year, as she blazed ahead into what I can figure as the second phase of her career. The true beauty of 2009's The Element Of Freedom began to gleam as it matured with the passing years, but those subtle touches are front and center here as Fire sizzles with tender hooks and reflective narratives that expand on Freedom's agenda. Its a quiet fire, that gives flickering shades of a woman in the midst of progression. Thankfully, this is so musically, as Keys keeps things controlled leaving little room for wild up-tempos (and there is an option to obtain the title track without that bleating sheep named Nicki Minaj) and gives more quality time to her piano and her ability to wax poetic. Her earlier efforts still are king, but Girl On Fire, notes that Keys' still is the same girl we fell in love with almost ten years ago, but has matured in ways that are plainly and beautifully noticeable.
Notable Tracks: Fire We Make (feat. Maxwell), Listen To Your Heart, Girl On Fire, Brand New Me, Limitedless, When It's All Over, Tears Always Win, Not Even The King
Landing On A Hundred - Cody ChestnuTT
I have said quite a few times this year that I have become increasingly fatigued over the whole Motown-revival trend that dominated the later half of the '00's and tried to squeeze it's way into the '10's. I swore I wouldn't even listen to another album that was embroiled in that style, but that was until Landing On A Hundred came along --- and it is the guitar grooving gospel truth. It's rare these days for an artist to take a political approach to their material without sounding like a 1% whiner, but Mr. ChestnuTT has escaped all that as he takes a social-politico stance with tracks that are Recession Era inspired and that rattle from the deep trenches of the soul. Hard to believe that about 90% of this album is quite cheery and meant for some serious hip-swiveling.
Notable Tracks: Under The Spell of the Hand-Out, Till I Meet Thee, What Kind Of Cool (Will The Think Of Next), Don't Wanna Go The Other Way, Where Is All The Money Going