The top two artists on my list this year are mix-tape graduates, so I’m hoping the hours I spend digging for gold on freebie digital dumping grounds like DatPiff and Bandcamp will point to some major players for 2013.
good kid, m.A.A.d. city
The autobiographical story arc of falling in with the wrong crowd suits the prodigious rapper’s multifaceted flow, which ranges from cocky and confident to panicked to reflective. The beatwork ebbs and shifts accordingly, offering a seamless blend of old-school Compton hip-hop, Beach House and Janet Jackson samples, and a majestic Just Blaze–produced boom-bap finale that serves as the official coronation of King Kendrick Lamar.
Whether you focus on the game-changing sexual politics behind Ocean’s breakthrough LP, or on how the singer swapped out the heavy sampling of his Nostalgia, Ultra mix tape in favour of swooning, organic neo-soul (“Sweet Life”) and sly, pop-rock perfection (“Lost”), Channel Orange is an insanely impressive affair.
Meghan Remy spit-shined her U.S. Girls project for GEM, but rather than dilute the dolled-up-but-dirty guitar-glam tracks (“Slim Baby”), witchy synth processions (“Rosemary”), or spectral tape manipulations (“Curves”), the extra studio sheen just made her latest song cycle all the more memorable.
The dum-dum simplicity of the Toronto trio’s fuzzed-out grunge-pop bangers—prime examples including “Get Off” and “Knife in the Water”—had me pumping my fists and primed to crowd-surf like it was the ’90s all over again.
Jessie Ware got her big break on a SBTRKT song, but the U.K. singer’s debut, Devotion, works much more than the post-dubstep circuit. Whether her vocals rest Sade-like on the sun-warped synth-pop stunner “Sweet Talk” or reach the rafters on the stadium-size love anthem “Wildest Moments”, her sultry set of pipes have already locked down a number of devotees.
Described by Swans leader Michael Gira as an album 30 years in the making, The Seer is a tense, jarring work of cyclical, 30-minute terror drones and moody, boot-shaking goth-country that comes to a frightening close with a nerve-shattering, popcorn-blast drum solo. A twisted choir’s refrain at the start of the collection effectively sums up the spirit of The Seer: “Lunacy.”
No Can Do
Local boys Ladyhawk took four years off between their last record, Shots, and their latest LP. In the process, they lost their boozier bar-rock inclinations, scrapped the solos, upped the tempos for some pop-punk stompers, and made the strongest record of their career.
“Some Things Never Seem to Fucking Work” and the infectious yet heartbreaking R & B wiggler “Losing You” point to crumbling relationships. But Solange and producer Dev Hynes’s ’80s-indebted first collaborative effort highlights a near-perfect partnership—and that’s the truth.
Rock and Roll Night Club
Viceroy-puffing Vancouver expat DeMarco employs a jokey baritone on much of this late-night, lo-fi perv-pop platter, which especially befits the pair-of-Lee’s-praising foreplay of fetish number “Baby’s Wearing Blue Jeans”. It’s sleazy tunesmithing at its finest.
No one expects to throw a Twista-assisted track on their top 10, but the fast-rapper and Chi-town crooner Jeremih’s “Ladies”, a soulful and sped-up celebration of rhino-legged beauties, eclipsed most other club jams for me this year. The rest of the bed-blazing R & B set sizzles too.