Below, are our staff choices for PastaRunMusic’s top 10 albums of the 2012 calendar year. Before we begin we wanted to thank you fans for gifting us with a truly amazing year; 2012 was a huge year of growth for PRM and saw us able to reach new readers, interview interesting artists, and review some fantastic concerts and we hope all that will continue to grow in 2013. We are truly excited for what we’ll be able to offer you over the course of the next year. With that said, thank you readers, and without further ado, our list:
Gramatik is a huge proponent of free music for fans and creative purposes, of course, if you didn’t get that from his latest LP #digitalFreedom, you may be in the wrong place. I had originally gotten hooked on Gramatik’s unique and incredibly grimy dubstep remixes, but #digitalFreedom has given me a newfound respect for the Pretty Lights’ label MC from Slovenia. One of the most active producers in terms of social commentary, Gramatik is remarkably able to convey his message without the use of lyrics. Sure, the album title and Gramatik’s Facebook chatter give away his opinions, but the sonic diversity on the album certainly reflects the value of a large, free source of music to be sampled. With a track aptly named, “23 Flavors”, Gramatik serves up a tasty dish of music that jumps around the spectrum of sound continuously. Don’t look now, but that track just changed… or did it? The whole thing runs together very well, making for a seamless listen. And if listening to #digitalFreedom leaves you wanting more, there’s no need to worry: Gramatik is working on a new album due out this spring, and you can bet that his stench will be all over it.
Kristian Matsson’s latest offering as the traveling vagabond known as ‘the Tallest Man on Earth’ showed immense growth as an artist. The wandering troubadour expanded the depths of this album, by adding more instrumentals to back up his Bob Dylan-esque vocals and poetic lyrics. Using newly tuned mutli-layering skills, Kristian is able to layer woodwinds, drums, and additional guitar twangs for the first time, truly providing a new sound and a sense of restlessness to his tracks. Matsson’s take on this folk motif is unique as he mixes the americana folk that he so reveres with his Swedish upbringing and surroundings. While the lyricism can sometimes be vague and tangled, there’s no question it supplies beautiful imagery and in songs like the hit single ’1904′ provide Matsson with a passion which truly comes out in his talented vocals. The passion is dialed down on this album, as he provides more of a somber musical feel, it no longer appears as if he is singing his dying words on each track; however, the emotions are still palpable. This album is a true work of art for the Swedish folk singer, and anyone who’s ever enjoyed a Bob Dylan song should give it a shot.
With all of the talent on this list, I would argue that none have more vocal range and creativity than Regina Spektor; her use of voice is really unparalleled. Accompanied most often by baroque-pop piano, Spektor focuses on every detail of her singing and breathing to create story-book songs full of life and enchantment. Be it the gasping intakes in “Open” or the heartfelt and endearing vocals throughout the emotional, “How”, Regina Spektor is always experimenting with her range, yet always remains in control. “All The Rowboats” marks a change of pace for the piano-pop artist, and the use of bass and synth create a powerful symphonic experience. My personal favorite, “Jessica” is a rather simple song (especially for Spektor), but is touching and sincere nonetheless. An incredibly diverse album, Regina Spektor branches out from her origins a bit and shows the full range of her talents. What We Saw from the Cheap Seats truly has something for everyone and features a wonderfully inviting vibe throughout.
Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city is a fearlessly excellent album that will be talked about over the next decades in the same vein as influential albums like “Illmatic” or “The Slim Shady LP.” This concept album was truly a work of art and did it’s best to display the story of a young man growing up in the streets of Compton. The skits throughout provide a visceral realism to the struggles Kendrick, and his brethren, have experienced and truly bring those emotions to the front of his music. The album was subtitled: “A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar” and there is no doubting the truth in those words, this album truly comes to life in front of you. Kendrick doesn’t make the album too heavy though, he mixes in some party tracks like “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and the absolute banger “Backseat Freestyle.” Adding in a few monster features from the likes of Drake, Jay Rock, and one of the best versus Dr. Dre has spit in a minute on the bonus track ‘The Recipe.’ I’ll leave you with a quote from one of the skits that truly resonates with me and I feel sums up the album perfectly: “When you do make it, give back with your words of encouragement. And that’s the best way to give back to your city. And I love you, Kendrick.”
The Lumineer’s debut album was an experience of true americana perfection. Hailing from Denver, Colorado this rootsy band gives everything it’s got to give you the impression they truly hail from 1930′s depression ridden America, and it works to perfection. The album utilizes a variety of instruments and sounds from shellac crackles in ‘Flapper Girl’ to the slicing cello of ‘Dead Sea,’ however where the album truly succeeds is in its simplicity and spaciousness. The simplistic feel immediately gives a Western- Roosevelt-Era feel to the record, and allows any audience to connect to the music on an emotional and lyrical level. When the band is at it’s best however, are the barn-burnin’ foot-stompers like ‘Ho Hey’ or ‘Big Parade.’ The threesome shows their range on forlorn love songs like ‘Stubborn Love’ and the whistful ‘Classy Girls,’ which were all tied together by the amazing voice of lead singer, Wesley Schultz. Ultimately this was an amazing showing by the rookie band, and I’m excited to see what they come up with next.
5. Of Monsters and Men – My Head is an Animal
It should be a testament to how truly amazing this album is, that not only was it featured as No. 3 on our top albums of 2011 list, but that it has permeated the top five of our 2012 list as well, only dropping two spots after more than a years worth of music was released (the album was released overseas in 2011 and in the US in 2012.) What can you say about this album that hasn’t been said, the Icelandic quintet has officially unseated Mumford and Sons as the Kings, and Queen, of folk music. Crafting absolutely beautiful, fairy tale esque songs, the band uses a variety of instruments as well as the beautiful lead male/female vocals of Nanna and Raggi. The album beats out other folk bands, by refusing to be a one trick pony, each song has multiple layers within itself and is completely different from the others on the album. From the foot-stomping, hand-clapping ‘Little Talks,’ to the lamenting ‘Love Love Love,’ the album does folk music, but is able to keep it fresh. The group proved they weren’t a one trick pony, by recording two new songs for the US release ‘Mountain Sound’ and ‘Slow and Steady’ after they had begun to experience their fame; and they were arguably better than anything they had released before! I’m truly excited to see where OMAM goes in the future, but regardless of that, this album is, and will be forever remembered as folk perfection.
Kishi Bashi is one of the most refreshing new artists of the year. His cinematic and orchestral soundscapes masterfully chop, cut, and screw together a plethora of sounds to create a warm and inviting sound. This is even more impressive given the unfamiliarity of Kishi Bashi’s soundboard, which sounds straight out of a fantasy world. Rich and uplifting, songs like “Bright Whites” and “It All Began With a Burst” which illustrate K’s talent for looping sounds, were on repeat all summer. While this winter, I’ve grown new respect for “Atticus, In the Desert”, which is a completely different animal, with big-room folk vibes coming from the vocals and upbeat instrumentals that combat a more minor tone. If you haven’t listened to 151a, I can safely guarantee that you’ve heard nothing else that compares. While I can’t promise you’ll love Kishi Bashi as much as myself, I think you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised if you give 151a a fair chance.
With his stunningly smooth yet crisp vocals, and his unassuming demeanor, Michael Kiwanuka delivers authentic, new soul with audible roots in the past. A man of opposites, Kiwanuka was awarded BBC’s Sound of 2012 award whilst performing music that sounds more appropriate for the Sound of 1972. His melodic songs are quietly powerful, and his ability to captivate the crowd in the days where heavy bass and electro reign supreme should not be downplayed. Fans and non-fans alike can’t look away when this shy young man from London starts to croon. Heavily influenced by Bill Withers and Jimi Hendrix, Michael Kiwanuka and his band have the perfect recipe to keep you grooving slowly. His debut album, Home Again is over 40 minutes of relentless soul. Deep and mellow, Kiwanuka’s vocals will ease your troubling mind without a doubt. Honestly, recordings don’t do his voice due justice, and Kiwanuka is an artist best scene live for the full effect. Yet to make an appropriately large splash in the US, my instincts tell me the best is yet to come for this young star.
2. Jack White – Blunderbuss:
Jack White’s debut solo album was easily my personal most anticipated album of the year, and every second of it lived up to my expectations. The rock diva hasn’t given himself a true spot in the limelight since 2007′s release of The White Stripes’ Icky Thump, instead releasing three albums from 08-10 with the Raconteurs and The Dead Weather. It was great to hear Jackie-Boy take the reins again. The first single off the album ‘Love Interruption’ showed a scorned White realizing he can’t control love, and to live on the whims of chance; while the second single ‘Sixteen Saltines’ restored my faith in rock n’ roll with Jack’s signature piercing electric guitar rock. That’s not even to mention fantastic songs like the nostalgic ‘Freedom at 21′ or the fantastic semi-retro cover ‘I’m Shakin’” Jack utilizes a mix of fantastic male and female players and singers to back him up on the album to truly bring it together. This genre-defying album with hints of folk, rock, soul, and even more, will not be forgotten quickly, and should (I’m truly hoping) propel a fantastic solo career for one of the most talented artists alive today.
In a year where folk-music reigned supreme: think Mumford & Sons’ sophomore album, The Lumineers’ rise to fame, and Of Monsters and Men’s US invasion; I would argue that no band asserted themselves so quickly and as such a talented force as the Alabama Shakes did. Playing heartfelt Southern Rock, Brittany Howard and Co. quickly jumped on the scene in 2012 with the single, “Hold On” and a stunning live show at SXSW. Featuring some of the best rock/blues vocals I’ve heard and an incredibly catchy guitar riff, the quality of the hit single proved to be the standard, rather than an anomaly, for the Alabama Shakes. The release of Boys and Girls reinforced my growing love for the Shakes. The band boasts excellent sonic diversity as they hit their stride in both fast and slow songs, and they possess an uncanny ability to perfectly compliment Howard’s vocals with memorable guitar riffs. Receiving 3 Grammy nominations already, including Best Rock Performance, something tells me The Alabama Shakes are past needing my seal of approval. Nonetheless, if you haven’t already, buck up and listen to the Alabama Shakes impressive debut, Boys and Girls
Other notable albums that didn’t quite make the top ten list include:
Gary Clark Jr. – Numb
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – Home
Purity Ring – Shrines
Willy Moon – Yeah Yeah EP
The Neighbourhood – I’m Sorry… EP