Things I Loved In 2012: Top 10

And finally… the cathartic wrapping up of my favorites from last year. Here’s my top 10 from 2012 in no particular order. Thanks for reading everyone! It feels good to be back.

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Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city

“Okay…  now open your mind up and listen me, Kendrick / I am your conscience, if do not hear me then you will be history, Kendrick”

A complex and stirring reflection on growing up in Compton, Kendrick Lamar‘s good kid, m.A.A.d city is a record that has all parts working for it. Kendrick’s mind-boggling flow effortlessly rides between snare slaps and 808 kicks, transforming at a moment’s notice to complement this LP’s exceptional production in endlessly inventive ways. Yet for all his technical flair, it is ultimately the poignant narrative of good kid, m.A.A.d city that ascends this masterpiece to the status of modern classic. The strengths of Lamar’s storytelling are many, but remain grounded in his ability to weave together the looming themes of family, peer pressure, alcoholism and substance abuse, violence, love and lust, loss, anxiety, and survival, all the while capturing smaller moments with such detail that you feel like you’re right there with young Kendrick rollin’ down Rosecrans.

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Kendrick Lamar – Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe

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Kendrick Lamar – Swimming Pools (Drank)

Buy: Pick up good kid, m.A.A.d city over at Amazon.

cashmere_cat-mirror_maruCashmere Cat – Mirror Maru EP // “773 Love” (Cashmere Cat Edit)

In an era where access to music is unprecedented, mysterious bedroom producers often find themselves with a unique piece of promotional capital— their lack of identity. When everything is at your fingertips, there’s nothing like a little inscrutable piece of information to drive the internet crazy. Of course, first and foremost you’ve gotta have the skills to garner the initial attention in the first place. Cashmere Cat definitely had it all.The incredible Rustie BBC Essential Mix introduced the world to “Mirror Maru”, a tune the BBC tracklist initially miscredited to “Swag5″. Within a few days it was revealed that this mix highlight was indeed the work of the 24 year old Norwegian producer born Magnus August Høiberg. Apparently he has been in the game for a little while now— appearing at the DMC World Championships as DJ Final in 2008— but really blew up in 2012 with just a taste of this track and a series of inventive and impressive remix work, peaking with his superb edit of Jeremih’s “773 Love”. He went on to release the Mirror Maru EP on DJ slow‘s Belgium-based label Pelican Fly and drop a sick remix for Ed Banger Records.

At the end of the day, I simply can’t get over Cashmere Cat’s approach to production. The spazzy, syncopated arrangements, the crisp drums and synth, the rich instrumentation and layering of sounds, the sense of space within the compositions— all pushing a perfect balance of building tension and breezy vibes. Keep your eye on this one in 2013; I guarantee he’ll be making big moves.


Buy: Get a copy of the Mirror Maru EP from Beatport and download the “773 Love” edit for free via the SoundCloud widget above.

nicolas_jaar_no_bbc_edit_2Nicolas Jaar - The Essential Mix (BBC Edit)

Nicolas Jaar‘s monumental BBC Essential Mix was unlike any mix I heard last year. Or any other year for that matter. Ever a wizard of sound, Jaar touches on just about everything over these two hours— Twin Peaks, folk, Jay-Z, classical, jazz, teen pop, juke, contemporary classical, soul, minimal techno, and the obscured spaces in between. Yet for all its eclecticism, this mix is remarkably seamless, skewing all into a dark and reflective vibe that has Jaar’s inimitable fingerprints all over it. Even sweeter, Jaar’s label Clown & Sunset made an edit available that removes all the pesky BBC Radio 1 station drops and banter. Shouts out to Pete Tong, but frankly this opus deserves to stand alone. I’ve listened to the mix in full over a half dozen times at this point and it’s still astounding.

Buy: Download this mix via the SoundCloud widget above.

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Rustie – BBC Essential Mix

Rustie also forged one of the most exciting pieces of music in 2012 with his contribution to the BBC Essential Mix series. An eclectic masterpiece altogether different from Nicolas Jaar’s work, this mix is propelled by dense, low-end heavy electronics, huge club jams, hip-hop bangers, Zelda samples, and Rustie’s propensity for the maximal. The results are mind-blowing. Rustie’s frenzied mix is two hours of fervent energy with just the right amount of respite, leaving you teetering on the edge of exhaustion as the cool waves of the unreleased Rustie jam “444Sure” wash over you at the finale. Full of exclusives, this mix was also the source of much clamoring on internet forums and blogs for a number of unbelievably dope tracks— Baauer‘s massive trap anthems “Harlem Shake” and “Dum Dum”, Dorian Concept‘s sick remix of Cid Rim‘s “Draw”, Cashmere Cat‘s indelible “Mirror Maru”, and of course a veritable LP’s worth of new and unreleased material from Rustie himself. Will those Rustie tracks ever see the light of day? Who knows. Until then, enjoy this epic mix at the stream below.

Andy Stott - Luxury ProblemsAndy Stott – Luxury Problems

Before the release of his excellent Luxury Problems, I had the pleasure of seeing Andy Stott perform during the Modern Love Records showcase at Decibel Festival in Seattle. In the basement underneath Melrose Market, Stott laid down a mind-melting set that was ultimately my favorite of the entire festival. Most of the material he played was from this unbelievably heavy LP, which is a big step forward even after last year’s excellent pair of EPs: Passed Me By and We Stay Together. The haunting compositions of Luxury Problems build slowly upon murky drones and loops, swampy 4/4 bass kicks, and haunting, angelic vocal work from Andy Stott’s childhood piano teacher Alison Skidmore. A balance between delicate beauty and ominous dread, this record feels like death. Not a terrifying death, but rather a patient, creeping shift into another dimension, the ethereal voice of forgotten ancestors guiding your way through the shadow to the other side. No finality, simply a beautiful and mournful transition to another world.

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Andy Stott – Numb

Buy: Get a copy of Luxury Problems over at Bleep. You can also stream the whole LP at the Modern Love SoundCloud page.

john_talabot-finJohn Talabot – ƒIN

2012 was a year saturated with excellent electronic releases, as many producers propelled house, bass, garage, juke, and the like into new territory. Barcelona’s John Talabot took a particularly fresh and forward-thinking approach to house music, infusing his balaeric cuts with spectacular depth. The sonically rich ƒIN is alive with mood and texture, full of dense compositions that plunge through a murk of melancholy up to introspective, crescendoing highs. Talabot’s varied and propellant percussion, tropical melodies, and lush layers of synth converge to form a vibrant pulse that never allows the record to stray too far into darkness. And it’s that cool interplay between the light and its shadows that make ƒIN one of the more nuanced and rewarding listens of 2012. Stream “Destiny” and “So Will Be Now”, two standouts from the record featuring vocalist/producer Pional, below.

Buy: Pick up ƒIN over at Bleep.

lil_ugly_mane-mista_thug_isolationLil Ugly Mane – Mista Thug Isolation

Bitch, I’m morose and lugubrious / I’ma let the uzi spit / turn his face into gooey shit

Word is that before he became a rapper, Richmond’s Lil Ugly Mane was deep in the noise/black metal scene. A fact not all that surprising when you consider the monumentally harsh gloom of his 2012 LP Mista Thug Isolation. Building off that classic mid-90s Memphis sound, this is a record birthed from the darkest underbelly of the 9th circle of southern hip-hop. The theme is executed with tight precision— from the lurid cover art, to Shawn Kemp’s dense and gritty production, to Ugly Mane’s brutal and pessimistic lyricism. Of course, it’s also all cleverly delivered with a subtle tongue-in-cheek self-awareness that imparts a grimy intellect and sick sense of humor to album: “I’ma slit my wrists, no tourniquet, I’m murderous / My crib got more burners than furnishin’ / Got a lot of haters, not concerned with it / The Earth revolve around earning currency, Copernicus / I leave you scared stupider than Earnest is“. The many layers of Mista Thug Isolation easily transcend Lil Ugly Mane from proficient horrorcore-thug revivalist to a one of hip-hop’s most exciting MCs.

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Lil Ugly Mane – Serious Shit

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LIl Ugly Mane – Cup Fulla Beetlejuice

Buy: Grab Mista Thug Isolation for $5 over at Lil Ugly Mane’s Bandcamp page.

baauer-harlem-shakeBaauer – “Harlem Shake” b/w “Yaow!”

Baauer was taking trap to the next level before it became an absurd playground for e-tarded bros at HARD Festival. Which didn’t take much time at all. The internet’s consensus is that trap was birthed when Flosstradamus dropped their huge remix of Major Lazer’s “Original Don” a little over a year ago. O Trap how quickly ye have grown! Yet, however oversaturated or polluted with knockoff artists this genre tag may become, Baauer feels like a producer who will continue to hold it down and elevate for as long as he’s fuckin’ wit it. Both “Harlem Shake” and its flipside “Yaow!” are nothing less than bangers of gargantuan proportion. Huge low-end radiates through rave synth squelch, pitch-shifted vocals, Lion roars, snare roll bursts, and Lex Luger-like crescendos. Try to drop these tracks and not go H.A.M… it’s just not gonna happen.

Buy: Download the “Harlem Shake” b/w “Yaow!” single for free via the SoundCloud widgets above.

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Ryan Hemsworth – Slowed Summer

In a year where Ryan Hemsworth totally outdid himself, it was difficult to decide on just one offering from this rising Halifax producer. However, I felt this particular mix— and he put out many this year— perfectly captured the collective consciousness of internet rap nerd culture in 2012. An amalgam of #RARE SNES and PS1 bootlegs, exclusive trap bangers, future bass anthems, and dumb, boastful hip-hop, Slowed Summer sounds like my adolescence crashing head first into the here-and-now. Diddy Kong‘s takin’ shots at yer crew while Alucard‘s poppin’ bands in the club, all to a soundtrack of the best thugged-out SoundCloud jams you never heard. Damn. And in 2013 this guy is straight up sampling Final Fantasy VI?!? Don’t hurt ‘em, Hemsworth.

va_westindust2012

V/A – West In Dust 2012

In my opinion, West In Dust 2012 was by the far the most promising label compilation I heard last year. The joint project of Rave Deep (aka David Reep, aka Elephant & Castle) and the notably busy Glenn Jackson — who plays in James & Evander and Hoodcats, produces tracks under his own name, helps head blog/web-label MAPZZZ, and writes for XLR8RWest in Dust is a new electronic label based in Oakland that is full of burgeoning talent from the Bay Area, Chicago, Montreal, Melbourne, and beyond. Their inaugural comp is an incredibly consistent offering that flows as well as any album, yet also highlights the individuality and distinct talents of each featured artist. That is, West in Dust 2012 presents an impressively unified artistic vision without ever becoming homogenous or repetitive. Even more exciting for me was the fact that I really only knew a handful of the artists that make up this comp. To have all of them deliver is unexpected to say the least and speaks volumes not only of their talents, but also of the taste levels of selectors David Reep and Glenn Jackson. West in Dust will likely be a force to reckon with in 2013, so be sure to pay attention.

Buy: You can download West in Dust 2012 over at the West in Dust Bandcamp page.