MD Picks: Surf Rock, Blue Note & Mali

Much like albums released last year by Japandroids and Natural Child, this is a record of gleefully raucous rock & roll hedonism made by folks having a good time for folks having a good time. Fidlar hails from LA and they like to surf, skate, drink (cheap!) beer and rock out. The music is punk but it’s not sneering. It’s loud but still inviting. On “No Waves” singer Zac Carper informs us that he feels “like shooting up” but he also feels “like a grandpa.” This album is a whole lotta fun.
Recommended Tracks: “Cheap Beer”, “No Waves”, “Max Can’t Surf”
More after the jump

The GrowlersHung at Heart
Another SoCal group of surfing rockers, The Growlers released a noticeably less polished cassette, Beach Goth on Burger last year. This album contains some very pretty surf-pop melodies, though, like the excellent album cover, there is darkness surrounding the beach-y vibe. A country influence shines through on the melancholy “Living in a Memory.” And “It’s No Use” is slowed down, warped and psychedelic. Also, “Use Me For Your Eggs” is one of the best song titles I’ve heard lately.
Recommended Tracks: “Living in a Memory”, “It’s No Use”, “Use Me For Your Eggs”
José JamesNo Beginning No End
If you’re tired of waiting impatiently for the long anticipated D’Angelo comeback, José James can provide a much needed fix of smooth soul/jazz/hip-hop. The gifted singer is signed to Blue Note, so as you would expect the arrangements on the album are exquisite: low key, but still avant-garde, allowing James breathing room to do his thing. James’s father was a saxophone player in Panama, and he clearly has a great ear for instrumentation. This is his fourth release, but his first on Blue Note. More soul than anything, James may be lumped together with the current R&B renaissance, but he’s definitely got more of an old school sound than many of his contemporaries. He spoke to Leon Ware, Marvin Gaye‘s collaborator, before making this album. Pianist/producer Robert Glasper and Moroccan Berber/French singer Hindi Zahra also appear on the record.
Recommended Tracks: “It’s All Over Your Body”, “Trouble”
Ballaké SissokoAt Peace
As I previously wrote about here, the current situation in Mali is very precarious and that is especially the case for music, which Islamist groups have banned in the North. Mali happens to be one of the greatest countries in the world for music, and Ballaké Sissoko has long been one of its masters. He plays the kora, a harp with 21 strings and comes from a traditional Malian musical heritage, as his father, Djelimady Sissoko was a noted griot, or storyteller/musician. The title of this album clearly refers to the war currently raging in Mali, and the music here is indeed exceptionally peaceful and beautiful.
Recommended Tracks: “Maimouna”, “Boubalaka”

Chart of the Week: Kendrick Lamar! YOLO!

1    KENDRICK LAMAR    Good Kid In A M.A.A.d City    Top Dawg-Aftermath-Interscope
2    YO LA TENGO    Fade    Matador
3    PILE    Dripping    Exploding In Sound
4    EVENS    The Odds    Dischord
5    TAME IMPALA    Lonerism    Modular

Rest after tha jump

7    DAVID FORD    Tennessee [EP]   
8    HERITAGE BLUES ORCHESTRA    And Still I Rise    Self-Released
9    DALE WATSON AND HIS LONESTARS    El Rancho Azul    Red House
10    JEFF PEVAR    From The Core    Pet Peev

11    PSYCHIC ILLS    One Track Mind    Sacred Bones
12    LUST FOR YOUTH    Growing Seeds    Sacred Bones
13    MARIA GILLARD    Mending   
14    DUCKTAILS    The Flower Lane    Domino
15    GRAHAM PARKER AND THE RUMOUR    Three Chords Good   

16    PETE SEEGER    Pete Remembers Woody    Appleseed
17    KURT CARR AND THE KURT CARR SINGERS    Bless This House   
18    FURTHUR    12-13-12 Bill Graham Civic Auditorium   
19    PINK FLOYD    Smoking Blues   
20    DUKE ELLINGTON    Masterpieces By Ellington    Legacy
21    DOLLY PARTON    Little Sparrow    Sugar Hill
22    JONN SERRIE    Thousand Star   
23    LUNGFISH    Necrophones    Dischord

24    MATTHEW DEAR    Beams    Ghostly
25    ONDATROPICA    Ondatropica    Soundway
26    PETER MULVEY    Notes From Elsewhere    Signature Sounds
27    ROXY MUSIC    AVALON    Warner Bros.
29    WAIFS    Temptation   
30    UMEK    Spank   

Mixtapes of the Month

Here’s a new feature that should become a regular here: some of the best mixtapes that dropped in the past month.
Après le jump

Oab JenkinsDifferent Personalladies
Oab first came to my attention with his excellent one-off “Danny DeVito,” which makes good use of hilarious sound-clips by the song’s namesake. This is the first mixtape by the Virginia State junior. As the title indicates, the album is entirely written about the ladies of Oab’s life and he admits on Datpiff that this was not the easiest topic to write an entire album about. I do wish that Oab had allowed himself a bit more freedom with regards to song topics. However, this is definitely a promising debut, and it’s got some nice production on it by Oab himself, along with 9th Wonder on “Misses in Action.”
Recommended Tracks: “Misses in Action”
9th Wonder & Jay-ZBlack American Gangster
American Gangster is one of the more underrated items in Jay-Z’s discography. It did well critically and commercially but didn’t feature any majorly successful singles. This is a nice opportunity to revisit some of Jay-Z’s best, most focused rapping (along with a reminder on “Hello Brooklyn (Still Politics)” that before Lil Wayne became a sad joke he was a good rapper). 9th Wonder was the main producer for Little Brother and he’s been one of the best out there for years, specializing in oh-so-smooth soul samples. The two collaborated once in real life on the stellar “Threat” off The Black Album. Jay-Z has always sounded right at home over this kind of production (see Kanye’s work on The Blueprint).
Recommended Tracks: “I Know (What You Like) (ft. Pharrell & The Jackson 5)”, “Black American Gangster” 
RaekwonLost Jewlry

Raekwon has enjoyed a surprisingly excellent late-career resurgence since 2009’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. 2. This mixtape, like Raekwon himself, is not flashy. It’s mostly a solo effort, with only four features (including Freddie Gibbs and the lesser known Maino, who puts in a memorable verse on “To The Top”). The production isn’t handled by any big names, but rather a collection of hard-working veterans and up-and-comers. In particular, the relatively unknown Roads-Art makes a big impression with work on four of the 13 tracks. Overall, this mixtape is not really anything new for those familiar with Raekwon’s career, not that there’s anything wrong with that. While “gangsta rap” has basically become a meaningless term, Raekwon has made his career on literally rapping about being a gangster, doing it quite convincingly and inventively. And while rappers have referenced movies like Goodfellas and Scarface for decades, few other rappers’ albums sound like they could easily be made into excellent, grimy crime movies. The only real missteps on here are the two “love” (or as close as Raekwon songs can get to love) songs with R&B singers on them and weak production (“Hold You Down” and “86′”).
Recommended Tracks: “Never Can Say Goodbye”, “For the Listeners”

Chart of the Week: WESU Loves Charles Mingus

Normally I just give you the chart, but this week we have Charles Mingus topping the charts on the strength of his new box-set that we were lucky enough to get at a discount from the record label. Mingus is one of the greatest geniuses in music history–and one of the craziest. Here’s his Cat Toilet Training Program (“The main thing to remember is not to rush or confuse him”!). Here’s a nice post about the time he punched trombonist Jimmy Knepper on stage. Now, on to the charts!

After the jump

1    CHARLES MINGUS    The Jazz Workshop Concerts 1964-65   
2    MENAHAN STREET BAND    The Crossing    Dunham
3    BUDDY GUY    Live At Legends   

4    BEN SERETAN    New Song   
6    RODRIGUEZ    Searching For Sugar Man    Legacy
7    FOXYGEN    We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace And Magic    Jagjaguwar
8    TORO Y MOI    Anything In Return    Carpark
9    A$AP ROCKY    LongLiveA$AP    RCA
10    CHRISTOPHER OWENS    Lysandre    Fat Possum

11    YO LA TENGO    Fade    Matador
12    BLACK MOTH SUPER RAINBOW    Cobra Juicy    Rad Cult
13    BOB DYLAN    Tempest    Columbia
14    BLEEDING RAINBOW    Yeah Right    Kanine
15    CAT POWER    Sun    Matador

16    MYSTICAL WEAPONS    Mystical Weapons    Chimera
17    TAME IMPALA    Lonerism    Modular
18    KENDRICK LAMAR    Good Kid In A M.A.A.d City    Aftermath-Top Dawg-Interscope
19    PORT ST. WILLOW    Holiday    Self-Released
20    ZZ WARD    Til The Casket Drops    BOARDWALK
21    FLYING LOTUS    Until The Quiet Comes    Warp
22    TIM MAIA    World Psychedelic Classics 4: Nobody Can Live Forever: The Existential Soul Of Tim Maia    Luaka Bop

23    MASSIVE ATTACK    Blue Lines    EMI
24    PEOPLES TEMPLE    More For The Masses    Hozac
25    CLINIC    Free Reign    Domino

26    BORIS/ASOBI SEKSU    Boris/Asobi Seksu Split [7-inch]    Sargent House
27    THE COUP    Sorry To Bother You    Anti
28    THEE OH SEES    Putrifiers II    In The Red
29    MYKKI BLANCO    Cosmic Angel: Illuminati Prince/ss    UNO NYC
30    ANGEL OLSEN    Half Way Home    Bathetic

New WESU Chart: Psychedelic Pill Poppin’

1    NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE    Psychedelic Pill    Reprise
2    BOB DYLAN    Tempest    Columbia

Rest of chart after the jump

3    BUDDY MILLER AND JIM LAUDERDALE    Buddy And Jim    New West
4    DIRTY PROJECTORS    About To Die    Domino
5    JAPANDROIDS    Celebration Rock    Polyvinyl
6    KING TUFF    “Screaming Skull” [Single]    Sub Pop
7    KENDRICK LAMAR    Good Kid In A M.A.A.d City    Aftermath-Top Dawg-Interscope
8    TAME IMPALA    Lonerism    Modular
9    DINOSAUR JR.    I Bet On Sky    Jagjaguwar

10    MYKKI BLANCO    Cosmic Angel: Illuminati Prince/ss    UNO NYC
11    SKY FERREIRA    Ghost    Capitol
12    METALOCALYPSE: DETHKLOK     Dethalbum III    Cartoon Network
13    THE COUP    Sorry To Bother You    Anti
14    BLACK MOTH SUPER RAINBOW    Cobra Juicy    Rad Cult
15    TOY LOVE    Live At The Gluepot 1980    Goner

16    TORO Y MOI    So Many Details [7-inch]    Carpark
17    TITUS ANDRONICUS    Local Business    XL
18    TY SEGALL    Twins    Drag City
19    FLYING LOTUS    Until The Quiet Comes    Warp
20    BAND OF HORSES    Mirage Rock    Brown-Columbia
21    BARBARAS    2006-2008    Goner
22    ZZ WARD    Til The Casket Drops    BOARDWALK
23    GODSPEED YOU BLACK EMPEROR    Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!    Constellation
24    MENAHAN STREET BAND    The Crossing    Dunham

25    SWANS    The Seer    Young God
26    SCOTT WALKER    Bish Bosch    4AD
27    TYVEK    On Triple Beams    In The Red

28    PORT ST. WILLOW    Holiday    Self-Released
29    FRANK OCEAN    Channel Orange    Def Jam
30    FRIGHTENED RABBIT    State Hospital    Canvasback-Atlantic

At Least 18 Reasons To Be Excited About 2013

2012 was a stellar year for music. Check out my post here for evidence. Just since I wrote that year-end list, Freddie GibbsBaby Face Killa mixtape crept onto my list for honorable-mention status, on the strength of this incredible video. Others like Miguel‘s Kaleidoscope Dream, Starlito‘s Funerals and Court Dates, Action Bronson & Alchemist‘s Rare Chandeliers and Roc Marciano‘s Reloaded might make it on there with a few more listens. 2013 has the potential to top that year, good as it was. Already, what I’ve heard from it– new music by A$AP Rocky, Toro Y Moi, Foxygen, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Christopher Owens, and the Azealia Banks dis track Angel Haze put out yesterday– is highly, highly encouraging. Here’s what to expect:

List after the jump:

1. Christopher OwensLysandre (1/15)
I downloaded a leaked version of this today (don’t worry, I’m definitely buying it when it’s out officially) and listened to it several times on repeat. This album demands and rewards your attention all the way through. I am happy to report that this album is full of sincerity, love, honesty, beautiful songwriting and musical arrangements. It’s missing some of the more rocking elements of his work with Girls, but this is a mature, classy, delightful concept album. The only comparable record I can think of is Histoire de Melody Nelson. He uses a repeated theme, like 70s albums, such as Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, Red Headed Stranger and The Last Waltz. And it stands up against any classic from that time period.

2. A$AP RockyLong.Live.A$AP (1/22)
The debut single for this album, “1 Train” features a veritable who’s who of elite up-and-coming rappers: Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, Yelawolf (who steals the show), Danny Brown, Action Bronson & Big K.R.I.T. A$AP is definitely a good dude to see rising in popularity– even if he’s not the most talented rapper, he’s got a definite ear for beats, surrounds himself with talented individuals, and challenges common conceptions of hip-hop. As he puts it in a new interview with Complex: “Why is it so fucking hard to accept the fact that we’re heterosexual men who love fashion? We get along with gay people, we accept gay people. We get along with white people, we get along with Asian people. We love everybody.”

3. FoxygenWe Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic (1/22)
I’ve covered Foxygen before here. They are a very fun group and this album is a big leap forward from last year’s EP. I pre-ordered this and the label sent me a link to download it even though it hasn’t been officially released yet. “No Destruction” has one of the best lines I’ve heard in a while: “There’s no need to be an asshole. You’re not in Brooklyn anymore.” Hopefully, this album will get a lot of recognition. Foxygen should be a big deal soon.

4. Toro Y MoiAnything In Return (1/22)
Still associated with the joke-genre, chillwave, Toro left that behind for good in 2011 with the funk-influenced Underneath the Pine and Freaking Out. Now he’s turning his attention to pop. This isn’t exactly the type of stuff you hear on the radio, though. It’s sophisticated, exquisitely crafted, dreamy pop music. Check out the video for “So Many Details”, in which Toro wears a turtleneck and looks moody while his girl’s in the hot tub for evidence of his eccentric genius.

5. Unknown Mortal OrchestraII (2/5)
The first single for this album, “Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)” has been out for a while. It’s one of the best songs released in 2012, a song about isolation and loneliness that is at once beautiful, heartbreaking, and somehow hopeful, much like Tame Impala‘s Lonerism.

6. Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge– Twelve Reasons To Die (3/19)
It’s been seven years since Ghost put out the inimitable one-two punch of Fischscale and More Fish. Though he’s put out a lot of quality material since then, it’s high time for one of the best rappers alive to put out another classic. This one looks like it’s got the potential to be that. Adrian Younge has scored the Black Dynamite soundtrack, and put out the outstanding psychedelic soul record Something About April in 2011. If you’re a Ghost fan, you know the man loves his soul music and is one of the best to spit over soulful beats. So this team-up makes a lot of sense. Plus, RZA is executive producing. And, good lord, that cover is great.

7. Kurt VileWalkin’ on a Pretty Daze (Spring)
This is what Kurt’s saying about his new album: “The guitar playing is better and the ideas are new. It’s classic, it’s epic, with many more solos.” Can I get a hell yeah?! I’ve been a big fan of Kurt’s since 2011’s Smoke Ring for My Halo. And I would not expect him to be one for idle boasting.

8. Queens of the Stone AgeTBA (First half of 2013)
The band recently sent out this message to Mojo Magazine. Apparently “the record sounds like running in a dream inside a codeine cabaret.” And even they don’t know what that means. There are a lot of reasons to be excited about this album, especially the return of Dave Grohl and Nick Oliveri to the band (missing since 2002’s classic Songs for the Deaf, which, believe it or not, came out over ten years ago now. You’re old.

9. Danny BrownOld (TBA)
Danny recently revealed collaborators on this album are going to include A$AP Rocky, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, Kitty Pryde and Purity Ring. He also said the album’s going to be “more mature” and “If people are just looking for dick-sucking jokes, there isn’t too many of them this time.” A more mature Danny Brown is almost hard to conceive, but I’m definitely looking forward to hearing what that sounds like. And more collabs with Ab-Soul.

10. Earl SweatshirtDoris (TBA)
Earl’s recently released single “Chum” is probably the best thing he’s done so far in his young career– an autobiographical track that shows off his cleverness, way with words, and emotional depth (despite speaking in a monotone). It’s also far more mature than his impressive but definitely immature debut, 2010’s EARL. Maturity definitely seems to be a theme of a lot of these albums in 2013. And that’s not a bad thing. Music can be intelligent and thoughtful without being boring. Especially if you’re as ridiculously talented as Earl.

11. Freddie Gibbs & MadlibCocaine Pinata (TBA)
After putting out two excellent EPs together, Thuggin’ and Shame, Gangsta Gibbs and Madlib are putting out a full length. And it’s called Cocaine Pinata. I’m excited, anyway.

12. Pusha TMy Name Is My Name (TBA)
Pusha T was instrumental in bringing Chief Keef to greater attention, telling Kanye West about the young Chicagoan, leading to the G.O.O.D. Music remix of “Shit I Don’t Like.” But don’t forget that Pusha is still capable of being a vital, relevant artist himself. It’s been six years since Pusha released one of my favorite albums with Clipse, Hell Hath No Fury. The debut single off this album, “Pain” is very encouraging, as is the rest of the work he’s been doing since becoming a part of Kanye’s inner circle.

13. The UnderachieversIndigoism (TBA)
This group is signed to Flying Lotus‘ label. They have so far put out a handful of songs and videos on Youtube. Despite the limited output, The Underachievers are a very promising young group, who set themselves apart with some tremendous rapid-fire spitting and lyricism. They also share with Ab-Soul a fascination with the secrets the pineal gland (or “third eye”) may unlock.

14. Ab-Soul & JMSNUnit 6 (TBA)
Ab-Soul & JMSN released one track together last year called “Nibiru,” which starts out with Ab-Soul theorizing that aliens probably built the pyramids. As with The Underachievers, Ab-Soul comes close to the sort of conspiracy theories you might see on the History Channel. However, that doesn’t take away from how good his music is, and there is something intriguing about this movement in hip-hop. JMSN appeared uncredited on several tracks on Kendrick Lamar‘s good kid m.A.A.d. city, and also released an experimental R&B album, Priscilla last year, which features a gorgeous Sigur Ros sample on “Hotel.”

15. My Bloody Valentine– TBA (TBA)
My Bloody Valentine hasn’t put out an album since 1991’s Loveless, the record that is the definitive, perfect, and pretty much only essential shoegaze album (and also bankrupted their label at the time, Creation). Recently the band announced that they have finished mastering this album, though other details remain sparse.

16. The Arcade Fire– TBA (TBA)
Arcade Fire have reportedly already recorded 35 songs. They’ve also been working with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem. I’ll just leave it at that.

17. Snoop Lion– Reincarnated (TBA)
Snoop Dogg has managed to remain one of the most iconic and beloved rappers despite arguably putting out only one classic in his career, Doggystyle way back in 1993 (or two if you count The Chronic). However, his transformation into Snoop Lion will at the very least renew interest in what he’s doing musically. Since converting to Rastafarianism, he’s abandoned hip-hop for reggae and adopted a more positive persona. This isn’t exactly a shocking move for one of the most famous weed-smokers in the world. As Drew Magary puts it in a recent profile in GQ, “A hundred thousand years from now, there’ll be nothing left but a pile of rocks and Snoop, perched upon the rubble, smoking a blunt, having outlived and outsmarted us all. The lion: king of the weed jungle.”

18. Tyler, The Creator– Wolf (TBA)
His last album, 2011’s Goblin was one of the most disappointing albums in recent memory– an album so bad it almost made everyone (including me) look stupid for thinking Odd Future were anything more than a bunch of immature kids who make rape jokes and hate everything. However, Frank Ocean‘s critically acclaimed Channel Orange, Domo Genesis‘ solid No Idols mixtape with Alchemist, and Earl Sweatshirt‘s “Chum” have all proven that Odd Future definitely do have something special to them. Another reason for hope: Tyler has expressed admiration for Toro Y Moi and The Stepkids, artists making music quite a bit more mature and easy on the ears than the nihilistic mess that was Goblin.

Other artists that (hopefully) will be putting out albums in 2013: Action Bronson & Harry Fraud, Andre 3000, Angel Haze, Beck, Boldy James & Alchemist, Cloud Nothings, Deerhunter, DOOM & Ghostface Killah, Dr. Dre, Frightened Rabbit, Iceage, Juicy J, Kanye West, King Krule, The Knife, Madvillain, Major Lazer, Metal Clergy (Ka & Roc Marciano), MGMT, Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire, Oab Jenkins, Schoolboy Q, Sky Ferreira, The Stepkids, Talib Kweli, Tinariwen, Vampire Weekend, Yo La Tengo and many, many others. Truly there will be an embarrassment of musical riches in 2013.

Best Albums of 2012

As 2012 draws to a close, it’s time to take a look back at the best music this year, and there’s a whole lot of it. This is just one man’s list and a totally subjective one– these aren’t necessarily the most important albums of the year, but they’re the one’s that I liked the most.

Click through to see the list

1. Ab-SoulControl System

Kendrick Lamar’s album is getting all the attention this year, and for good reason. He’s made two classics in the past two years. But Control System has more highs than good kid, m.A.A.d city (including my favorite song of the year, “Book of Soul”). Kendrick and Ab make up half of the Black Hippy crew, which may be the best group of rappers who all seem to like each other since the heyday of Wu-Tang. Ab-Soul is the mascot of the band, the only one who actually looks like a hippy. He’s also the most out-there, rhyming about stuff like the pineal gland. This is what he said about that song in an interview with Complex, “Because you like the song you might want to ask somebody what a pineal gland is. Feel me?” I feel it. There’s a very strong theme of paranoia to Control System, much like another of the year’s best album’s, Cancer 4 Cure. As the album title indicates, Ab-Soul is drawing attention to systems of control– the military, the government, the police, etc. In “SOPA,” he takes on internet censorship. “Double Standard” takes on sexism. But there’s nothing preachy about Control System. He’s not Lupe Fiasco, railing against the system from some moralistic high-horse. His influences range from Eminem and Jay-Z to Basquiat and Banksy, but he’s definitely his own man. As he puts it on “Illuminate”: “I used to wanna rap like Jay-Z, now I feel I can run laps around Jay-Z.” That’s not empty bragging. Ab is a seriously gifted MC, who can hit you with punchlines that make you pause the track. Then there’s “Book of Soul,” an autobiographical tour de force about getting Stevens-Johnson syndrome (the reason why he’s nicknamed Black Lipped Bastard and wears sunglasses all the time) and the tragic death of his girlfriend, Alori Joh, who’s featured both on this album and Kendrick’s Section.80. It’s one of the most emotionally powerful rap songs I’ve ever heard.

2. JapandroidsCelebration Rock

Like Control System, Celebration Rock gives you a good idea of what to expect in the title. Do you like Celebrations? Do you like Rock & Roll Music? Then you, my friend, will dig this. It’s good to have a band that rocks out as hard as these guys around. There’s nothing particularly deep or game-changing about this album, but it kicks more ass than just about anything else.

3. Natural ChildHard in Heaven

Natural Child also rocks hard. They are a group of scruffy long-haired Southerners who sound like they’re playing at the best, seediest bar in Nashville circa 1976. This was the year that I discovered Burger Records, and this is my favorite out of the treasure-trove of weird, wonderful albums that label puts out.

4. El-PCancer 4 Cure

This album is even more uncompromising than Control System in its dystopian vision of America as an authoritarian police-state. No song in 2012 may be more prescient than “Drones Over Bklyn.” On “The Full Retard,” he even has a cartoon voice mock him: “You are so fucking paranoid.”Oh in case you were wondering whether he cares about whether that song title offends you: “Did I give a shit? Of course not.” El-P has been an underground hero for a long time– member of Company Flow, producer for Cannibal Ox, founder of Def Jux. Recently he’s been reintroducing himself to a new generation of underground hip-hop fans, working with some of the best: Das Racist, Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire, Killer Mike and Danny Brown (the last three appear on this album). He’s got an auteur’s vision for his production– dark and almost hallucinatory, like a Cronenberg movie. And “For My Upstairs Neighboor” is the best rap song about domestic abuse that I’ve heard.

5. Killer MikeR.A.P. Music

This album starts out with the best banger of 2012, “Big Beast,” a song that teams up Killer Mike with two other legends of Southern rap, Bun B & T.I. The video is one of the best things that happened in 2012– a tribute to slasher movies and Drive with zombie strippers, El-P in a Ronald Reagan mask, and T.I. hilariously looking like a kid next to Mike and Bun. This album is a collaboration between Killer Mike and El-P, who produced every song on the record. It’s an unexpected but inspired partnering of two men from very different worlds– the Dungeon Family and the New York underground– who share a strong love for rap music and a questioning, critical political sensibility. Like Control System and Cancer 4 Cure, this is another album that challenges the persistent perception of hip-hop as a misogynistic art form. “Untitled” is Mike’s tribute to women, and he has admitted in interviews that having a daughter has made him change some of his previously-held sexist views. “Reagan” is a political dissertation in song form– the most thorough expression of hip-hop’s fascination with and hatred for Ronald Reagan. “JoJo’s Chillin'” is old-school Slick Rick-style hip-hop storytelling. “Willie Burke Sherwood” is about Mike’s late grandfather, and I saw him tear up in concert when he played it.

6. Kendrick Lamargood kid, m.A.A.d. city

The cover tells you a lot about this album– it’s Kendrick’s coming-of-age film, a strongly cinematic album that holds together as a complete narrative about a good kid trying to find his way in a very tough place– Compton, California. The three song cycle from “m.A.A.d. city” to “Swimming Pools (Drank)” to “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” is unbelievably good. MC Eiht, a Compton veteran, delivers a scene-stealing verse on “m.A.A.d. city,” a song about how a kid gets drawn into crime. Kendrick made it to household-name stature with this album, and he’s got some big names helping him out– Dr. Dre and Wheelchair Jimmy, who appear on this album, along with Lady Gaga, who thankfully did not. But far from depending on those established acts or on input from label executives to polish him into some commercially viable rapper, Kendrick made an ambitious, personal statement without compromising his artistic integrity one bit, and it worked! This is the most reassuring story for the music industry this year.

7. Tame ImpalaLonerism

As someone who has spent a lot of time alone in the Jardin de Luxembourg, this album cover hit almost too close to home. The themes of the album– loneliness and unrequited love– are likely familiar to just about anyone. But this isn’t a album that broods in unhappiness. Rather, it’s dreamy, psychedelic music that can make you smile in spite of whatever troubles you. The boys from Perth have surpassed the high expectations placed on them after their stellar debut, Innerspeaker. This album recalls the greatest psychedelic music of the sixties and seventies, but it’s not derivative. Along with other Tame Impala-associated acts, Pond & Melody’s Echo Chamber, Lonerism is an exciting indication of a psychedelic rebirth.

8. Dirty ProjectorsSwing Lo Magellan
Dirty Projectors have a pretty unparalleled ear for melodies and beautiful arrangements. Thankfully, they also know how to rock out, as the album opener “Offspring Are Blank” demonstrates, starting off pretty, but featuring some badass guitar riffery. While other “indie” acts like Grizzly Bear, the XX & Bat for Lashes went minimalist this year, making boring, lifeless music, every song on this record sound full of energy and possibilities. It’s a highly varied album musically, which makes sense, considering David Longstreth has cited everything from Lil Wayne‘s Da Drought 3 to “Homeboy” by Eric Church as influences on the record.

9. Blue Sky Black Death & Nacho PicassoExalted
Nacho Picasso is a character. He raps about topics like Greek and Norse mythology and makes 80s pop culture references, just as much as he touches on subjects like drugs, sex and violence. This album is one of the funniest of 2012, but it also sounds like the soundtrack to a movie about a dark, twisted criminal underworld. The beats by Blue Sky Black Death are hard hitting, dark, and synth-y, almost like the Drive soundtrack, but harder edged. Both are vital elements of a surprisingly awesome Seattle hip-hop scene, which features the likes of Shabazz Palaces, THEESatisfaction and Kingdom Crumbs. Possible line of the year: “I say my name and I do a little chuckle.” I would too, if I was named Nacho Picasso.

10. King TuffKing Tuff

This is a thoroughly fun glam rock album made by a man who sounds like he would be a whole lot of fun to hang out with. King Tuff AKA Kyle Thomas is perhaps best known as the singer and guitar player in Witch, a stoner metal band that features J. Mascis, who put out a killer album of his own this year, Dino Jr.’s I Believe in Sky. It’s hard not to be in a good mood when you listen to this album.

Runners Up (in no particular order):
Lil BObama Basedgod
The CoupSorry to Bother You
Cult of YouthLove Will Prevail
Curren$yMuscle Car Chronicles
Dinosaur Jr.I Believe in Sky
GLCThe Anti Simp
Angel HazeReservation
KaGrief Pedigree
Gucci ManeI’m Up
Kane MayfieldRhymes By Kane: Thievery Corporation Edition
NasLife Is Good
Niki & The DoveInstinct
SpaceGhostPurrpMysterious Phonk: The Chronicles of SpaceGhostPurrp

WESU Radio 200: Swedish Pop on Top

1    EL PERRO DEL MAR    The Pale Fire    Control Group
2    FLYING LOTUS    Until The Quiet Comes    Warp
3    PRINCE RAMA    Top Ten Hits Of The End Of The World    Paw Tracks
5    EVENS    The Odds    Dischord
6    MR. MUTHAFUCKIN’ EXQUIRE    The Man In The High Castle   
7    METRIC    Synthetica    MMI-Mom And Pop

Click through to see the rest of the chart, featuring The Coup, Cactus Channel, Ex-Cult, Ab Soul & Converge

8    THE COUP    Sorry To Bother You    Anti
9    SUFJAN STEVENS    Silver And Gold    Asthmatic Kitty
10    KING TUFF    “Screaming Skull” [Single]    Sub Pop
11    ROC MARCIANO    Reloaded    Decon
12    TITUS ANDRONICUS    Local Business    XL
13    TOY LOVE    Live At The Gluepot 1980    Goner

14    CACTUS CHANNEL    Haptics    Hope Street
15    KAKI KING    Glow    Velour
16    MATH THE BAND    Get Real    Anchor Brain
17    U.S. GIRLS    Gem    FatCat
18    FATHER JOHN MISTY    Fear Fun    Sub Pop

19    EX-CULT    Ex-Cult    Goner
20    DUM DUM GIRLS    End Of Daze    SUB POP
21    MENAHAN STREET BAND    The Crossing    Dunham

22    AB-SOUL    Control System    TopDawg
23    NON/BOYD RICE    Back To Mono    Mute
24    ALVARIUS B    Alvarius B    Abduction
25    MAC DEMARCO    2    Captured Tracks
26    SIDEWALK DAVE    Hard On Romance    Telegraph
27    KENDRICK LAMAR    Good Kid In A M.A.A.d City    Aftermath-Top Dawg-Interscope
28    TAME IMPALA    Lonerism    Modular

29    CONVERGE    All We Love We Leave Behind    Epitaph
30    GODSPEED YOU BLACK EMPEROR    Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!    Constellation

WESU Chart: Mac DeMarco Rocks WESU

1    MAC DEMARCO    2    Captured Tracks
2    FRANK ZAPPA    HOT RATS    Rykodisc
3    LITTLE FEAT    Rooster Rag    Rounder
4    FOXYGEN    Take The Kids Off Broadway    Jagjaguwar
5    EL PERRO DEL MAR    The Pale Fire    Control Group

Click through to see the rest of the chart, featuring Dum Dum Girls, Niki and The Dove, Panzerballett & Kaki King

6    DUM DUM GIRLS    End Of Daze    SUB POP
7    TAME IMPALA    Lonerism    Modular
8    CAT POWER    Sun    Matador
9    TWIN SHADOW    Confess    4AD
10    EVENS    The Odds    Dischord
11    SUFJAN STEVENS    Silver And Gold    Asthmatic Kitty
12    PRINCE RAMA    Top Ten Hits Of The End Of The World    Paw Tracks
13    SKY FERREIRA    Ghost    Capitol

14    NIKI AND THE DOVE    Instinct    SUB POP
15    KING TUFF    “Screaming Skull” [Single]    Sub Pop
16    TEEN DAZE    Inner Mansions    Lefse
17    VARIOUS ARTISTS    Chimes Of Freedom: The Songs Of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years Of Amnesty International    Amnesty International
18    INDIGO    Wake [EP]

19    PANZERBALLETT    Tank Goodness  
21    HUMONGOUS    Miniature Pinscher  
22    MENAHAN STREET BAND    The Crossing    Dunham
23    KATE NASH    Death Proof [EP]    Have 10p
24    DESERT    Camins   

25    KAKI KING    Glow    Velour
26    NATURAL CHILD    Hard In Heaven    Burger
27    VARIOUS ARTISTS    More Music Compilation 2012   
28    FOUR TET    Pink    Text
29    MATH THE BAND    Get Real    Anchor Brain
30    EX-CULT    Ex-Cult    Goner