Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012 Year in Music

This has been a quiet year here on RMWMTMBM, but I didn't want the year to end without my annual retrospective wrap-ups of 2012.  Following in the tradition of the last couple of years, I'll break the lists up by topic, beginning with 2012 Year in Music. (If you're feeling nostalgic, check out 2011 Year in Music and 2010 Year in Music.)

I'm not even going to try to defend my picks for 2012.  They are, for the most part, pretty mainstream.  Maybe I just wasn't feeling sonically adventurous this year.  I don't know.  Many of the albums that made it to the tops of other year-in-review lists never really took hold with me, some for reasons I can easily explain and others for reasons that elude me.  For example, Taylor Swift's Red isn't on my list, because I think Taylor Swift is awful.  But other albums, like the Alabam Shakes' Boys and Girls and Frank Ocean's Channel ORANGE, were albums that I liked-but-didn't-love, and so they didn't quite make the cut.  Then there were the ones that a lot of people loved but just weren't my cup of tea at all, like the Japandroid's Celebration Rock and Smashing Pumpkin's Oceania.  Taste is a funny thing, I guess.

In no particular order, here are the albums that got the play-and-repeat treatment from Dr. J in 2012:

Fun., Some Nights:  This may be my favorite album of 2012.  Down to a track, it delivers exactly what the band's name promises, that is:  Fun. Period.  (I love that the band's name is "Fun(period)".  That's just brilliant.)  Some Nights is pop-perfection.  It's hooky, at times anthemic, full-on endorphin-producing and (despite its being played almost endlessly and everywhere since February) it hasn't gotten old or tiresome yet.  Lead singer Nate Ruess, who has more than a little bit of Freddy Mercury in him, manages to deliver the sometimes over-the-top lyrics ("some nights I rule the world/ with bar lights and pretty girls") with a healthy dose of charming self-deprecation ("but most nights I stay straight and think about my mom"). They definitely threw in everything AND the kitchen sink on Some Nights-- the regular guitars, keys, drums and bass, of course, BUT ALSO horns, synthesizers, adult and childrens' choirs, strings, and even the inimitable Janelle Monae-- which is a pretty impressive smorgasbord for a 3-piece band.  In their song "Stars," Ruess repeats the refrain "I know I could be more clever" over and over... but I'm unconvinced.  

Bruno Mars, Unorthodox Jukebox:  Bruno Mars' sophomore album is every bit as fun as Fun.'s and twice as eclectic.  I would hate to be the iTunes employee that had to assign a genre to Unorthodox Jukebox, because Mars' incredible facility with (and willingness to) not only genre-bend but outright genre-jump-and-shout makes this album nothing short of a tour-de-force.  A couple of weeks ago, much to the chagrin of my Motown-loving friends, I suggested that Bruno Mars was the new Smokey Robinson.  It's always dangerous to compare the up-and-comers to the greats, of course, but I'd still argue that if Bruno Mars had the full force of a studio like Motown or Stax behind him, he would be every bit the star now that Smokey Robinson or Otis Redding or Al Green was back in the day.  For the record, I've since revised my comparison-- I now think that Mars is more of an Otis than a Smokey.  The Otis-revision is inspired, mostly, by the fact that Mars is not only a great singer/songwriter but also a consummate performer, a bona fide showman.  The only thing that would make listening to Bruno Mars' Unorthodox Jukebox better would be to have Mars and his entire horn-posse right there in the room to do it justice.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, The HeistThere were several notable rap albums released this year, but my pick is The Heist.  Macklemore & Ryan Lewis showed up on my radar first when a student of mine forwarded me their simple, sweet and sensitively-delivered "Same Love," a kind of queer-affirming reflection on homophobia.  (If you crossed the lyrical message of Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" with the musical-styling of's "Yes We Can," you'd have Macklemore's "Same Love.") Macklemore is an interesting, hard to characterize, white rapper.  He's got skill, for sure, but he's not hyper-hard (like Eminem) nor is he corny/ironic (like Asher Roth), which seem to be the two categories into which most white rappers inevitably fall.  Macklemore is passionate but joyful, honest but sincere, attentive to and reflective about the world's many woes but hopeful still.  What's more, he and Ryan Lewis have a great ear for just-right hip-hop melodies, which  make most of the tracks on The Heist contagious, if not downright earworm-y.  "Cant Hold Us" is one of this year's definitive dance-club hits, but my favorite track on the album is without a doubt the hilarious "Thrift Shop."  

MoZella, The Brian Holland Sessions: I don't know why more people don't know about this album, or why it isn't on every "Best of 2012" list.  MoZella (née Maureen Anna McDonald) has created what can only be described as an homage to Motown.  Seriously, it's impossible to listen to The Brian Holland Sessions and not be immediately transported to Detroit in the 1960's.  (The "Brian Holland" of the album title was one-third of Motown's Holland/Dozier/Holland songwriting trio, which produced hits for The Marvelettes, The Supremes, The Four Tops and The Isley Brothers.)  MoZella reproduces all of the sweetness and syrupy goodness of Hitsville USA without hint of irony.  This is only speculation, but my guess is that MoZella and her album probably got lost in the shadow of Adele, who she sounds a lot like.  Still, this is definitely the album of 2012 that I would recommend first, if only because my bet is that whomever is asking hasn't heard or heard of it.  For just a taste, check out the (obviously Supremes-inspired) "You Don't Love Anyone But Yourself."  Then go listen to the rest of it.

Leonard Cohen, Old Ideas:  There's not really much to say here.  In any given year, if Leonard Cohen puts out an album, that album is going to be on my list.  If you know anything at all about Leonard Cohen, there will be nothing at all surprising to you on this album.  It's slow, brooding, tortured, equal parts consonance and dissonance, full of reflections of the vicissitudes of life and love as they are always seen in Cohen's fun-house lyrical mirror.  It's poetry.  When I listen to any of Cohen's albums, I feel like the narrator of the second track on this album ("Show Me The Place"), left helpless to say anything other than "show me the place where you want your slave to go."  I guess this is true for a lot of his fans, but I find Cohen's songs inescapably gripping.  They grab hold, squeeze tight, hurt a lot but caress a little, too.  He's always sounded old and wise, but there's something even older and wiser about Old Ideas.  And something that convinces you that there probably aren't really any new ideas anymore, anyway.  

Flo Rida, Wild OnesI'd like to say that Flo Rida is one of my guilty pleasures, but that would require that I feel at least a modicum of guilt about my pleasure.  Which I do not.  I have both of his previous albums (2008's Mail on Sunday and 2009's R.O.O.T.S.) and this one is every bit as good.  If you need something to get you up and moving, "Wild Ones" is a winner, but my favorite track is the absolutely addictive "Whistle."  If you've heard the song, you might find this interview with Flo Rida amusing, since he explains that "Whistle" is just a song about "getting my attention" and NOT  what most people think, namely (in Flo's words), "some real freaky stuff."  The first track of Wild Ones ("Run") is a high-energy pairing with RedFoo of LMFAO, and somehow manages to take an otherwise LMFAO-sounding track and give it just the right dose of barbiturates. For the best hip-hop sampling of 2012, I'd nominate Flo Rida's "I Cry," which samples the Bingo Players' "Cry (Just A Little),"which itself included a sample of Brenda Russell's "Piano in the Dark."   That's some meta-musical-goodness.  

Rolling Stones, GRRR!Last but not least, I have to include the newly-released, 3-disc mega-compilation of Rolling Stones' hits. What's noteworthy about GRRR!, other than the obvious fact that it's ALL STONES, is that it includes two previously-unreleased tracks, "Doom and Gloom" and "One More Shot," neither of which are anything to write home about really.  Compilations can be tricky sometimes if the work compiled is not uniformly good.  But it's not tricky at all with the Stones.  Just push play on GRRR! and you get more than three straight hours of the greatest rock-n-roll band of all time.  It's that simple.  Just hang your tongue out like a gorilla and growl to your heart's content.

Honorable Mentions:I would've included Katy Perry's Teenage Dreams: The Complete ConfectionNicki Minaj's Pink Friday... Roman Reloaded and Ke$ha's Warrior, but all three are technically "re-releases," that is, expanded versions of previously-released albums.   I also really liked The Wallflowers' Glad All Over, but it sounds like every other Wallflowers' album (which is fine by me).  Ne-Yo's R.E.D. was another close call; it didn't make my list but definitely counts as the R&B album that beats out Frank Ocean this year.  Finally, I'm a little surprised myself that there isn't any alt-country/roots music on my list this year, but if there were, the nods would definitely go to The Avett Brothers' The Carpenter or The Lumineers' The Lumineers.

That's it, readers.  Feel free to let me know what I missed in the comments section.


Scu said...

Thanks for the suggestions. I had also missed MoZella. My suggestion for you are the new Andrew Bird albums. Particularly Hands of Glory. It has all of the technical mastery of his previous albums, but now with a real country soul.

Also, are you going to be/at the APA?

DOCTOR J said...

Thanks for the rec, Scu! I'll definitely check out the Andrew Bird. And, no, I'm not going to be at the APA. (Good luck to you if you're there, though!)

Scu said...

I am at the APA. Just doing job interviews. So, you know, nothing stressful (I so wish that was true).