5 Best Albums of 2012.

first-aid-kit-lions-roar5. First Aid Kit, The Lion’s Roar. The second album from Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg, barely into their 20s, arrived at the beginning of the year. Reviewed by me earlier here, it’s a pitch-perfect concoction of dreamy Americana, draped, carefully, in the cloak of melancholia.

4. Metz, Metz. The talk of the town at this year’s CMJ – see my review earlier here – the trio from Toronto produce a torrent of visceral noise fuelled by the adrenalin of undiluted but carefully channeled youth.

Soar3. Dexys, One Day I’m Going To Soar. News that Kevin Rowland and Dexys were about to resurface with a new album and an accompanying tour was met, understandably, with skepticism and trepidation. Remarkably, as I reported earlier here, both were a minor sensation. A glorious and painfully honest album that continues to glow.

2. Frank Ocean, Channel Orange. In an ever so slightly disappointing year, this is the one album on everyone’s end of year list. Reviewed by me earlier here, this is as lyrically complex as it is musically sophisticated. And its genre-hopping confidence suggests that an heir to the regal Prince might finally have emerged.

Katie Kim "Cover & FLood"1. Katie Kim, Cover & Flood. When this album came out last February it somewhat slipped under the radar. Which is most unfair as, as I wrote in my earlier review here, Katie Kim pulls off the significant feat of being as remarkable in the studio as she is on stage. And this, her second album, is a hauntingly evocative work that conjures up an impressively moody dreamscape.

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Frank Ocean’s Pitch-Perfect Debut Album “Channel Orange” Soars.

 

Ever since they arrived so very loudly in the hood a couple of years ago, everyone has been wondering who it was that would emerge from the Odd Future collective.

Not withstanding all the bombast and sheer noise, it was obvious that someone would raise their head above the parapet, and it was sort of assumed that that person would be their unofficial lead singer, Tyler, The Creator.

But his official debut solo album Goblin (actually his second, and they all of them release a steady stream of mix-tapes) was surprisingly unimpressive, and was reviewed earlier here.

But with the arrival of Channel Orange, the official debut from Frank Ocean, we have our answer. This is the real deal, and so, clearly is he.

Truth be told, he’s not really part of the Odd Future gang, but hooked up with them after they’d already come into being to act as their sort of unofficial mentor. He’d moved to LA five years beforehand after Katrina had devastated his home town of New Orleans.

By the time Odd Future formed he’d already established himself as a successful jobbing song writer, producing work for, amongst others, John Legend and Justin Bieber. You can read more in Jon Caramanica’s excellent New York Times profile here.

Channel Orange charts the same kind of confessional RnB territory that Drake mined in last year’s, whisper it, somewhat over-praised Take Care. But whilst the baring of his soul is once again the impetus for the album, there is a lot more going on here than that. Ocean is clearly a far richer writer than Drake, and the panoramic vistas he evokes are significantly broader.

The characters that people “Sweet Life” and “Super Rich Kids” for instance, are clearly related to those that drift through Bret Easton Ellis’ seminal Less Than Zero, and to some of those you find more recently in the colourful short stories of Junot Diaz. This is a world where existential angst is played out against a backdrop of urban ennui.

The latter by the way features Earl Sweatshirt, the other individual of substance to emerge from Odd Future.

But as Sacha Frere-Jones notes in his New Yorker review here, the emotional heart of the album is “Bad Religion”, performed here on the Jimmy Fallon Show. It’s also one of the few tracks that alludes to his much discussed sexuality.

Demonstrably, he’s as impressive vocally as he is compositionally. And his ability to cooly move in and out and master any number of genres, and to marry them effortlessly with pitch-perfect production all add up to spell just one thing; Prince.

Ocean is a major find, and this is comfortably one of the albums of the year. 

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