Welcome to the first post in my new blog about Pop Culture & Politics! I’m sure once I start learning fancypants computer codes, this blog will polish up real nice, so check back for the evolution. But this post just couldn’t wait! What better way to celebrate the new year AND a new blog than to begin with a Best-Of list (I’ll be posting my Best Songs of 2012 list soon). I LOVE lists! I love making lists. I love reading lists. I love talking about lists. I love typing about lists. Whoa. OK. Here we go…
#15. ALABAMA SHAKES – Boys and Girls <——-Click on the blue links for more info!
Brittany Howard is gonna throw a honey-coated soul bomb in your face. She’s the lead singer for the roots rock Southern band that uses gritty guitars and heart as their tools for creating their unique, but familiar blues sound. Alabama Shakes is reminiscent of many greats: Lynyrd Skynyrd, Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, and Otis Redding, which would explain why they were nominated for three Grammy’s, including Best New Artist.
#14. SCISSOR SISTERS – Magic Hour
The Scissor Sisters could fart and it would make my list. While Magic Hour was not as solidly mind-blowing as 2010’s Night Work, there are some great tracks. “Baby Come Home” is a bright opener, followed by the jittery “Keep Your Shoes On”, which is a kyoot ode to quickies in the bathroom. The stand out track is “Let’s Have A Kiki”, which opens with a hilarious voicemail to someone who is about to have a house party, whether they like it or not. “Lock the doors, lower the blinds” – a “kiki” is a loose term for a gathering of friends at someone’s home instead of going to the club. The rest of the album is an uneven mix of bouncy standards and unimpressive ballads, but I forgive the Scissor Sisters because I want to make sweet sweet love to all of them.
#13. SUFJAN STEVENS – Silver & Gold
Sufjan is an extremely talented musician. A sexy savant. A born-again Christian who is obsessed with Christmas. With a staggering cornucopia of 58 tracks, Silver & Gold eclipses his previous seasonal album, Songs for Christmas (which only has a pithy 42 tracks). Some standouts include: “Lumberjack Christmas”, “Angels We Have Heard On High”, and “Christmas Woman”. Whether he is putting a unique touch on traditional Christmas songs or presenting original, sometimes loony Christmas jingles, this musical mad scientist has truly become part of my winter wonderland.
#12. GOTYE – Making Mirrors
This album actually came out December of 2011, but Americans are slow to culture. Including myself sometimes. Gotye’s last album was back in 2006, but he proves good things come to those that wait. His intricate stylings are exactly what I want to hear when I’m enjoying a glass of white wine at dusk on a Spring day. “Somebody That I Used To Know”, featuring New Zealand weirdo, Kimbra, was a huge radio hit, but you really owe it to yourself to explore the rest of this lovely album. My favorites are “I Feel Better” and “Easy Way Out”. There is a quick instinct to compare his vocals to Sting, but that light association is only the beginning of the craftsmanship inside Making Mirrors.
#11. JUPITER – Juicy Lucy
With it’s disco roots, this Parisian duo delivers masterful synth-pop that is perfect to put on when you walk through the door after a night out on the town and you want to keep the party going. Airy female vocals dance on a rolling new wave parade with highlighted tracks being “One O Six” and “Juicy Lucy (Needs A Boogeyman)”. Jupiter has concocted a retro sound that I automatically respect just because they’re French. And French people know their electronic shit.
#10. CALVIN HARRIS – 18 Months
You know that Rihanna song everyone loves? It’s called “We Found Love”, but it’s not actually Rihanna that makes the song so catchy and memorable – cuz she’s an idiot. The hero of the dancefloor is Calvin Harris. With an impressive entourage of guest vocalists (including Florence Welch, Ne-Yo, and Kelis), he manages to create a sound that’s just different enough to be brilliant, but still has commercial mass appeal. I’ve been a big electro-indie fan of his since 2007’s I Created Disco and 2009’s Ready for the Weekend. He’s an experienced beat dropper for the pill poppers and I’m happy to see him have such a widely appreciated album this year.
#9. FRANK OCEAN – Channel Orange
Smooth R&B vocals blend perfectly with the potpourri of funky samples that Frank Ocean engineers in this robust example of afternoon sex music. Seriously. Put this album on and try not to spring a stiffie. Ocean was raised in New Orleans and you can hear the jazz influences in his work, which includes writing songs for John Legend, Justin Bieber, and Brandy. 2012 was a noteworthy year for him because, in addition to this album that is topping lots of Best-of lists, he publicly announced he was gay. He was moved to tears because he finally felt free to express who he really is. Kudos to you, Frank! And thanks for the bone tones!!
#8. MUSE – The 2nd Law
These Englishmen are so. effing. dramatic. Some of their past songs have found their way into my collection, but it wasn’t until this album that they had my full attention. The 2nd Law takes it’s name from the second law of thermodynamics. Entropy. “An economy based on endless growth is unsustainable”, says a TV reporter before turning into an evil dubstep robot on the track “Unsustainable”. A high-concept album that tells the tale of possible global collapse through the eyes of modern day glam rockers. Easily, the standout track is “Madness”, that seduces you with electric warbles and carnal vocals.
#7. KENDRICK LAMAR – good kid, m.a.a.d. city
When I looked at some other Best-of lists for the year, Kendrick Lamar’s first album under Dr. Dre was at the top of many. In the last few days, this gangsta rap has been calling me like a gyrating siren’s song. I cannot stop listening to it! Lyrically astute, his flow is full of deep character. Lamar refers to his album as “a short film”, which is easy for me to get behind because this is visual music. “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” and “Swimming Pool (Drank)” are must hear tracks. Weaving his way through a cinematic story of a young West-coast rapper growing up in Compton, he delivers some of the most powerful thematic elements I’ve heard in a minute. Pure storytelling. A real poet.
#6. MICHAEL KIWANUKA – Home Again
Son of Ugandan refugees, Kiwanuka was born in London, England, where he grew up playing jazz guitar. As a back-up musician for Adele, he shined. In Home Again, his solo debut, he brings a surprising, gentle blend of African folk, Van Morrison, and 1960’s soul. A voice so pure that all he needs for accompaniment is an acoustic guitar. Songs about love, finding your place in life, and the fire in our hearts is his focus, and ours, in this devastatingly gorgeous album.
#5. MORGAN PAGE – In the Air
Progressive house music albums from a DJ based in Los Angeles could be a nickel a dozen, but Morgan Page stands out because he strikes a synergy between vocal harmonies and pulsing beats that you want to shove directly into your ear. Page has assembled a solid list of guest vocalists, but my favorite surprise is lesbian folk superstars, Tegan & Sara, on one of my favorite songs of the year, “Body Work”. Whether you’re burning calories on a treadmill or speaker humping on ecstasy, this delightful, dancing daydream is your soundtrack.
#4. THE KILLERS – Battle Born
Having been a huge fan of The Killers from first notes of “Mr. Brightside”, I am still constantly astounded by their musicianship. The Las Vegas based band is uniquely All-American and their fourth album is a true piece of theater. Lush guitar anthems that mount a Mustang and ride off into the rock and roll sunset. They navigate the senses with a primarily alternative rock foundation, but skillfully blend a little electrobeat here, a dash of 80’s throwback there, and the next thing you know, you’ve experienced an album that feels like one long, cohesive song. Brandon Flowers’ lead vocals are, as always, indelible.
#3. CARLY RAE JEPSEN – Kiss
Carly will forever be hailed as the summer pop voice of 2012. If you didn’t hear “Call Me Maybe” at least 372 times, then you weren’t on planet Earth. She easily could have been a one-hit wonder, but after signing with School Boy Records, Justin Bieber and his posse have created confection perfection. Definitely check out “Turn Me Up”, “Drive”, and her collaboration with Owl City in “Good Time”. As a Canadian Idol runner-up, Miss Jepsen has cemented herself in the Top 40 world. She’s not even in danger of being replaced as my favorite house cleaning music!
#2. DRAGONETTE – Bodyparts
Absolutely the best dance album of the year. A little Robynesque. A dollop of Goldfrappy. A toucha Yeah Yeah Yeahsish. Memorable melodies by Martina Sorbara, a Canadian songstress, are delicious against Joel Stouffer and Dan Kurtz’s well produced dance beats, drums, and guitars. After two previous albums, Dragonette has finally gelled into their upbeat sound. You can’t help but race everyone to the dancefloor and that’s exactly the type of electro-spirit I crave.
#1. EDWARD SHARPE & THE MAGNETIC ZEROS – Here
During my crazy summer adventure on reality TV, this album was my motivation, my rest, my salvation, my sin. The hippy-dippy ensemble, who sometimes have up to 25 musicians on stage at once, is a talented crew. A cornucopia of instruments are necessary: tambourines, didgeridoos, woodwinds, and strings are just the tip of the soulful iceberg. Formed out of the need to create after getting sober, Edward Sharpe is a fictional folk messiah breathed into life by Alex Ebert, the man behind the patchouli curtain. My favorite moment on the album is “I Don’t Wanna Pray” – a light-hearted take on spirituality and having a relationship with whoever God is outside the context of religion. “I’m looking to become not the prayer but the prayer” is truly a simple, wonderful thought.