What were your favorite albums and/or EPs of the year? Leave a comment and let me know!
Akua Naru - "Live & Aflame Sessions" (Jakarta)
Rather than simply recording live versions of her 2011 "Journey Aflame" release, she drastically evolved the tracks for her band Digflo and recorded them in single take sessions, many of which are available to view on YouTube. She brought in a few extra features and delivered an album that stands up to every possible measurement of expectation.
Brett Gretzky - "Brett Gretzky Mixtape" (Indyground)
This is my pick for local album of the year, despite it being a mixtape in format. The tracks chosen for production were very diligently selected, only using one track familiar to many people (originally released by the Pharcyde), and mixed expertly by DJ Mahf to create a unique album. The two emcees are both talented recording and performing artists, with amazing chemistry together.
C2C - "Tetra" (On and On)
It's ridiculous that this is a debut album. These DJs have been winning contests (namely the DMC Team Championship) for nearly a decade, and finally put out their own material in 2012. They first released the "Down the Road" EP, which is easily the top EP of the year, excluded only because four of the five tracks were included on the full-length LP. In addition to their truly unique and impressive production, which seems to mesh at least four styles of music in every track, they brought in an array of excellent features to add vocals to an otherwise instrumental style. The album itself demonstrates a true appreciation for music across all genres.
Chance Waters - "Infinity" (Shock/Permanent)
His sophomore release goes miles beyond his already solid debut release Inkstains (as Phatchance). Lead by one of the year's top tracks (the title cut), the album drifts from upbeat songs with indie-rock flavor to an incredible stretch of mellow grooves with keen observations throughout the smoothly delivered flow. If he continues to develop, Chance Waters may easily fight for #1 album with his next release.
Hilltop Hoods - "Drinking From the Sun" (Golden Era)
This album won the ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) award for Best Urban Album this year, and I don't disagree in the slightest. This trio simply does not disappoint, ever, with anything they release. They put together killer singles, including featured artists like Chali 2na and Classified. With this much talent and recognition, the Hoods might just rise to international success.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - "The Heist" (Macklemore)
An album that just isn't possible to exclude from this list. There are a couple tracks I simply don't care for, but without any disrespect for the message and creativity involved. "Same Love" stands out as a particularly potent track; it serves as an example to all about what can be done with style, content and production, all in one song. But the strongest point is the connection that every listener instantly feels with Macklemore. An incredible album that I'm glad didn't skirt my attention this year.
Mega Ran - "Language Arts Vol. 1" (RandomBeats)
Language Arts was released in three volumes in 2012, although each volume has its own distinctive nature. For me the first volume stands out in both content and style, and the poppy, electric title track connects you to Random and his passion as both an educator and musician, something that you can feel spreading to all he reaches. Among the other amazing tracks is a musical translation of Kafka's "The Metamorphosis," something pretty unexpected in the genre of hip-hop. The album is original, powerful and downright entertaining.
Solillaquists of Sound - "The 4th Wall (Part 1)" (Solilla)
This was definitely one of my most anticipated albums of the year, and when it arrived, I was a bit taken back by how different it is from their previous releases. After the shock of defied expectations wore off, I found it to be an innovative and well-composed album. Additionally, it's part of a movement that the crew has started to "break down the 4th wall" and connect personally to their many fans using the Internet and range of media options.
Toussaint Morrison - "Toussaint Morrison is Not My Boyfriend" (Urban Home Companion)
I'd call this one both the biggest surprises of the year, and the mixtape of the year. I hadn't heard of Toussaint Morrison before this album popped up in a distribution feed, and I had even forgotten to add it to my library for many weeks after downloading it. But then I finally did and was amazed by so many aspects. Morrison combines melodic vocals with an often light and peppy flow ripe with relatable viewpoints and intriguing narrations. Many of the beats selected were familiar from other artists and pop culture, but Dr. Wylie takes them and rearranges them with sheer ingenuity. So many great albums came out of the twin cities this year, but this is the one I want to listen to again and again.
Urthboy - "Smokey's Haunt" (Elefant Traks)
Initially I was excited about this album coming out, but then got anxious after hearing the lead singles, which seemed a bit poppy for my taste. However, as I explored the album and got to know it more intimately, including those tracks that seemed to steer me away, I discovered a deep and thorough value. Before I realized it, I had left the album running in my car an entire weekend, and was still eager for it to flip and start again. Urthboy continues to prove to be one of the most potent musicians in a monstrously deep Sydney scene.
Caveman Chronicles - "Caveman Chronicles EP" (Indyground)
The first installment in a series of EPs that Matthew Sawicki will be doing with local emcees, and to kick things off with a bang, he hooked up with Farout for this one. Running off the inertia of producing a full-length LP completely sample-free with KC artist Steddy P, Sawicki tapped into his deep range of musical education, experience and taste for this one. Despite slothy deep tones, the album is still full of energy and blends well with Farout's peppy and poignant lyrics. EPs like this speak very well for the local hip-hop scene.
Dumbfoundead - "Love Everyday EP" (Self-released)
It wasn't obvious that this EP was fantastic. It was released very casually as a treat around Valentine's Day, but proved to be full of solid tracks with sweet grooves. I'm not slain by any track in particular, but each one proves to be enjoyable and well crafted. It juggles the theme of love, but that helps develop a stable tone throughout. It also introduced me and many listeners to vocalist Breezy Lovejoy, a featured guest with a track of his own on the EP.
K.Flay - "Eyes Shut EP" (Self-released)
It's not often that an EP can actually change your taste in music, but this gem from the bay area songstress broke through many of my preconceived musical barriers. The production came on pretty hard throughout with deep bass tones and harsh guitar samples; contrary to my expectations, I loved every minute of it. There are multiple contenders for the top tracks of the year on this one; it hit me just in time to get this wonderful performer into the studio this summer. I cannot be any more impressed with K.Flay and all she has put into this one.
Toby - "Evolutionary EP" (QN5)
Toby came out with two EPs this year, this one and "Evolutionary 2," and I know for a fact that he believes the latter is the superior release. Both were excellent, but my personal tastes are more aligned with the first release. This EP is largely more mellow and groovy than its sequel, which aggressively addresses taking the next step in Toby's music. I also feel that the style is more stable, creating the feel of a wholly-composed record. That being said, both releases provide well-delivered, apt lyrics about deep concepts and observations and creative production featuring a bevy of influences across the musical spectrum. If I didn't favor the first one, the second would hold this same spot in my top five.
Mr. J. Medeiros - "Pale Blue Dot EP" (DeMedeiros)
This EP came out right when I was at the peak of my budding interest in this talented lyricist and producer from the Procussions. His music had gone a few interesting directions in his releases since his debut solo work "Of Gods and Girls," which is a personal favorite, but this album returned to the jazzy and soulful style of the first album. Excellent features include live band work, creative remixes and the sweet voice of Giannina Ashe on the title track. With work on a new Procussions album on the way, I will continue to be eager for each and every Medeiros release.