10. Rick Ross – Rich Forever
This summer, Rick Ross released his blockbuster LP God Forgives, I Don’t. And, like most blockbuster LPs from superstar rappers, it kinda sucked. Boring, bombastic, and bloated, God Forgive, I Don’t plays like the slow deflation of an enormous hype-balloon. But Rich Forever was the reason that balloon got so big in the first place, and ten months after its release it stands as the finest work Ross has ever produced. This 19-track mixtape is so suffocatingly intense that it manages to make Diddy and Drake scary. Indeed, the stars are all over this release: John Legend reminds us that money is cool on the title track, Kelly Rowland manages to sound just cheesy enough on “Mine Games,” and Nas does what Nas always does on “Triple Beam Dreams.” Rich Forever is easily the best mainstream hip-hop release of 2012, and that’s before even considering its greatest quality: it’s free.
9. Meyhem Lauren – Respect the Fly Shit
I’m not going to succeed in hiding my biases on this list: I have a penchant for mid-90s New York City hip-hop. Biggie, Nas, and especially Wu-Tang wrote my personal high school soundtrack, and any release that reminds me of those times is going to appeal to me. Meyhem Lauren’s debut LP Respect the Fly Shit appeals to me more than most: with the Raekwon/Ghostface-style interplay of Lauren and Action Bronson, and with the RZA-circa-Supreme-Clientele-style production, this tape is like 1997 all over again. Yes, Lauren is a bit conventional at times. Yes, he gets shown up by his co-signs on occasion (e.g. Despot on “Pan-Seared Tilapia”). And yes, I could do without the blow-by-blow account of a fellatious evening that is “Top of the World.” But minor flaws aside, Respect the Fly Shit is one of the most enjoyable slices of hip-hop you’re likely to hear this year. And while you’re listening, think about this: these guys recorded this LP at this year’s SXSW…in two days.
8. Roc Marciano – Reloaded
Did someone say Wu-Tang? The beats on Roc Marciano’s outstanding Reloaded are straight crimonology rap, but the real star of this record is Marciano’s relentless, rhyme-riddled wordplay. This record is full of the kind of evocative, abstract, mind-bending wordplay on which New York City was built. It should be no surprise that Q-Tip, The Abstract himself, stops by to drop a beat on this record. This record is a gift for those who believe in the true art that is emceeing.
7. Joey Bada$$ – 1999
If Joey Bada$$ were nothing more than a 17-year-old kid from Flatbush with a phat rap name, I’d still love him. Fortunately, he’s so much more than that. This preternaturally skilled rapper whose confidence and insight belie his age. Unlike his peers in Odd Future, who make no effort to hide their age-appropriate sophomoric attitudes, Joey Bada$$ clearly views himself as the inheritor of a tradition, the next in a long line of New York rappers whom he has the responsibility to respect, to honor, and to make proud. And, with 1999, make them proud he does.
6. BBU – bell hooks
Politically conscious hip-hop has been on life support for the last 20 years, but 2012 saw a few concerted efforts to resuscitate it. No effort was more concerted than that of BBU, whose mixtape bell hooks fearlessly attacked corporate America and guilt-driven liberalism with equal furor. But if militant music scares you off, fear not: the tape is filled with the kind of infectious party beats that will raise your spirits and move your ass. In a year of outstanding hip-hop releases, this one has been criminially underappreciated.
5. El-P – Cancer 4 Cure
For a relatively small group of us who were music nerds graduating from college in the early 2000s, El-P is something of a legend. He was the man behind Funcrusher Plus, The Cold Vein, and a slew of other records that re-defined hip-hop in the minds of many an impressionable youth. The “indefinite hiatus” embarked on by his Definitive Jux label in 2010 appeared to mark the sad end of a remarkable era. Thankfully, El-P was resurrected this year, nowhere more prominently than on his third and best solo record Cancer 4 Cure. Our hero does an admirable job of rapping on the album, and many of raps new underground idols (Danny Brown, Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire) stop by to lend their talents, but as always it is El-P’s unique, psychosis-inducing production that is the star. Take a deep breath and spin Cancer 4 Cure; you may not breathe again until it’s over.
4. Schoolboy Q – Habits & Contradictions
Peter Lillis said everything that needs to be said about this remarkable record upon its release in January; its “stories of depravity, sacrilege, honesty, violence and pills” remain as compelling, engrossing, and terrifying as they did ten months ago. Habits & Contradictions set the bar high for hip-hop in 2012, and although a handful of releases cleared the bar, there’s no question that Schoolboy’s statement provided the starting point for a spectacular year.
3. Action Bronson & Party Supplies – Blue Chips
Listen: just don’t play this one for your mom.
2. Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
The stylistic depth of Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music cannot be overstated. El-P’s compositions have always been the stomping grounds of hyperkinetic “underground” emcees, but R.A.P. (produced by El-P in its entirety) shows what can happen when southern rap legends, political militants, and straight-up gangsters get ahold of them. To wit: something spectacular. From the star-studded blitzkrieg of “Big Beast,” through the bellicose disenchantment of “Reagan,” to the celebratory strains of the concluding title track, Killer Mike’s latest bathes in the glory of hip-hop. It’s hard to believe that there was a rap record better than this in 2012.
1. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city
But there was. You’ll be hearing a lot more about this one in the days and weeks to come. For now, suffice it to say: it’s a masterpiece.
If you weren’t aware that there is a massive psychedelic revival underway, don’t worry: you’re not alone. As lovers of the spaced-out and groovy, we at FP decided to put together a top 10 psychedelic list last year, only to watch it become one of our most-viewed pieces of all-time. As a result, we were particularly attentive to anything that might have the smallest chance of blowing your mind this year. And now, at the conclusion of a particularly kaleidoscopic twelve months, we bring you are ten most consciousness-expanding records of 2012. Enjoy the ride.
10. Pond – Beard, Wives, Denim
Given that the band shares members with the better-known Tame Impala, it should come as no surprise that Pond’s debut Beard, Wives, Denim sounds like a distant cousin of that bands excellent 2010 debut Innerspeaker. But, where Innerspeaker came off as a practiced and polished labor of love, BWD has a looser, riskier, unrehearsed feel. Throughout the record Pond sounds as if it is trying on for size the many branches of psychedelic music, from the crunchy garage-rock of “Fantastic Explosion of Time” to the hallucinogenic “Sorry I Was Under the Sky.” Although the music press has filed them away in the dreaded “side project” folder, Pond can stand proudly by this diverse, spirited debut.
9. Moon Duo – Circles
Another entry in the side project file, Moon Duo shares mind-bending guitarist Ripley Johnson with Wooden Shjips, whose 2011 LP West landed third on last year’s version of this list. Unlike Pond however, whose sound is clearly tied to that of its big-brother-band, Moon Duo bears little resemblance to Wooden Shjips, and the only thing Circles shares with West is its tremendous far-out-ness. While West was full of meandering guitar-driven explorations, Circles is fundamentally groovy, filled with a kind of meditative minimalism that is central to the psychedelic state-of-mind. It’s the kind of record that would make Ralph Waldo Emerson proud.
8. Gonjasufi – MU.ZZ.LE
While MU.ZZ.LE features significantly fewer long-haired guitar heroes than, well, every other record on this list, it’s inclusion on a list of mind-bending psych records is indisputably warranted. Indeed, Gonjasufi and production partner Psychopop make psychedelia for the prescription-drug generation, a kind of hyper-relaxed, haze-soaked music with a slightly paranoid undertone. Briefer and perhaps less ambitious than 2010’s excellent A Sufi and a Killer, MU.ZZ.LE. is nonetheless equally arresting, equally mystical, and equally worthy of your attention.
7. Woods – Bend Beyond
For each of the last four years, Woods have put out a new record, and every one of them has been great. If anything, the band is a victim of its own consistency: its albums are so uniformly excellent that they surprise no one, finding themselves ranked seventh on lists like this (as they were last year as well) when they probably deserve much better. Bend Beyond is perhaps somewhat brighter than the band’s previous record, and the guitar freak-outs are a bit more restrained, but all the analysis is a bit beside the point. If the record says “Woods” on the cover, you should be listening.
6. Foxygen – Take the Kids Off Broadway
Foxygen is the clear winner of “portmanteau band name of the year,” and so it’s appropriate that their first commercially available album is full of sonic portmanteaux, throwing everything from The Kinks to Elephant 6 into a musical blender and serve up some delicious results. I could go into details, or I could just tell you that this album has a 10-minute song called “Teenage Alien Blues.” Checkmate.
5. Ty Segall & White Fence – Hair
And here’s the crazy part: this is only Segall’s third best record THIS YEAR.
4. Royal Baths – Better Luck Next Life
Allow me to quote FP contributer Tim Myers’ review of Better Luck Next Life: “It’s an album drenched in violent lust and strung out on speed. The scene is always a seedy one, evoking images of back alley drug deals and ravaged motel rooms. The subject matter is undeniably dark, as singer Jigmae Baer details vampiric sex scenes and murder fantasies with an icy detachment that makes the album feel that much steamier.” Um….awesome.
3. Six Organs of Admittance – Ascent
If I ever make a list of “The 10 Best Albums full of face-melting guitar solos of 2012,” this will be #1.
2. Goat – World Music
I desperately wanted to put this album at #1, and I struggled long and hard before deciding to move it down a notch. Goat, whose members wear masks while performing, whose album features songs entitled “Goatman” and “Goatlord,” whose membership may include the entire population of Korpilombolo, Sweden, are the quintessential psychedelic band. Filled with chemically drenched drumming, orgiastic organ, and cosmic tales spun on an electric guitar, World Music is as mind-altering as rock music comes. Goat emerged like a lightning bolt in the night sky this year, and in any ordinary year, their debut would have stood head and shoulders above their psychedelic brethren.
1. Tame Impala – Lonerism
But, 2012 was no ordinary year: it was the year that Tame Impala dropped Lonerism. A lot has been made of this album’s relationship to Revolver, and perhaps the greatest compliment one can pay it is: the comparison isn’t ridiculous. Indeed, Tame Impala have managed to do what I dare say no other band has achieved to date. They have created a psychedelic album for the 21st century, an album that manages to stay true to all of the principles of 1960s pop without sounding dated or derivative in any way. From “Apocalypse Dreams” to “Music to Walk Home By” to “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” every song is a 4-minute gem more valuable than the last. In fact, why don’t you stop wasting your time reading this review and just listen to the record. You can thank me later.
Enjoy Side B of our “monthly” mixtape below. If you missed Side A, you can check it out here.
Our monthly mixtape slipped through the cracks last month, but we’re back with twice the music. Enjoy the music below, and check back later in the week for Side B. Hopefully you’ll find something you hadn’t heard before.
6. Le1f – “Wut”
Let me make something clear: I am a nerd. Not one of those pickles-and-plaid, post-ironic, twenty-first century nerds either. I’m talking about a data-hungry glutton for the esoteric, a devoted slave to pedantry, a straight-up Urkelian nerd. My glasses are so thick that, were you to try them on, you’d think you were dropping acid. In the second grade, I read myself to sleep with an international book of flags. My favorite shape as a three-year-old was the trapezoid.
It should come as no surprise, then, that it has been my life’s dream to appear on Jeopardy!. Read the rest of this entry »
(To check out songs 30-16 on our list, click here)
15. Peaking Lights – “Beautiful Son”
Far out, man. Far out.
Making a Top 30 songs list is a lot trickier than making a Top 30 albums list. One’s opinion of a song is rarely static, changing with the mood, the time of day, the season. Additionally, the shear volume of songs released in any given year ensure that any list will prove grossly incomplete. Why even bother?
Well: because it’s fun, I suppose. Because we get to have ridiculous debates about the quality of various 3-minute compositions. Because we get to listen to all of our favorite songs over and over again in preparation. And, most importantly, because we get to share them with you. Here’s hoping that you find something you like below, and if you think we’ve left anything out, please let us know in the comments section. Let the countdown begin.