PRINT December 2012

Music: Best of 2012

John Cale

Frank Ocean performing on Saturday Night Live, New York, September 15, 2012. Photo: Dana Edelson/Getty

Erykah Badu performing on Late Show with David Letterman with Mark Ronson, the Dap-Kings, and Zigaboo Modeliste, New York, February 14, 2012.

1 Erykah Badu (Late Show with David Letterman, February 14) Anything the fab Ms. Badu does makes me jump up and wish for a front-row seat in her studio. Her production is flawless yet completely down-to-the-bone human. I’d already bought the Re:Generation album when I saw that she was scheduled to perform her track on Letterman with Mark Ronson, Zigaboo Modeliste, and the Dap-Kings!! I was tickled to see Badu singing in a pair of stiletto ice skates—hadn’t seen that since Laurie Anderson performed wearing skates stuck in blocks of ice!

2 Skrillex I’ve heard a lot of this type of EDM—endless remixes with house/dub/trip/slow/hard; the you-name-it mash-ups of the moment. Skrillex uses all the usual rhythmic elements and tricks of the day, but it was his shards of energy and piercing noises that got my attention. This particularly jarring quality stands out as a sort of brand he has forged, establishing a decipherable identity beyond just the flavor of the moment.

3 Raphael Saadiq Where to begin?! This man has all the chops I could ever want! It’s as if he were born for the sole purpose of reinvigorating the excitement of ’60s soul music, only to give it a forward twist and kick-start it into the future! The voice, the production, the style—Raphael has it all. (Hope it’s contagious!)

4 Dirty Projectors, Swing Lo Magellan (Domino) The thing that keeps me interested in this band is that you never know what you’ll get—soulful, folky, quirky, rhythmic, and usually unique, it’s always good to my ears. I liked the Mount Wittenberg Orca recordings they did a couple years ago with Björk, and their new song “Gun Has No Trigger” really crawled into my head and stayed there.

5 Not The 1s, “You Dress Like An Asshole” (Gold Robot) I really don’t know the story behind Not the 1s, other than that they come from the Bay Area and that the idea of writing a song addressed to wannabe fashionistas, or rather inherent fashion victims, is a great one. I’m sorry, but some people really do need to have this song sung at them!

6 Frank Ocean (Saturday Night Live, September 15) What a breakout year for FO! I owned Channel Orange and knew it was something special, but it wasn’t until I saw his performance on SNL that it really clicked just how engaging a character Ocean is. He gives off that schoolboy charm while walloping you over the head with some slinky production.

7 Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (Epic) After her long time away, it was good to see this new Fiona Apple release. I’ve always been interested in her dark and brooding style (which is something I know a bit about myself!). What makes this album stand out is its sparse production, mostly piano and drumming. There’s always something striking about Apple’s delivery and lyrics; it’s good to hear her so strong again.

8 Slaughterhouse, Welcome To: Our House (Shady) Eminem’s high standards for lyrical style have definitely left their mark on this long-awaited release from Shady Records. No one seems to have noticed that this label could be the new Motown—you can’t go back, so may as well build a new one!

9 Marques Toliver (AllSaints Basement Session) Someone in London had mentioned a new kid from New York who’d been playing violin and singing soul songs, but this sounded like nothing new to me (considering the long tradition from Cajun and zydeco music), so I didn’t give it another thought. Then one day I ran across Toliver’s performance video on the AllSaints website and was blown away! This is not your garden-variety singing fiddle player—his skills are mad indeed!

10 The Sureshot Symphony Solution, Elegant Aggression (Green Streets Entertainment) Not an average DJ compilation: For this album, Shane “Sureshot” Hunt brings in some real, often obscure, voices that need to be heard (the Mighty Pope and Ohmega Watts, to name two). Even with all the modern dressing, this album has an undeniable old-school core.

John Cale is perhaps best known as a founding member of the Velvet Underground and the producer of historic albums from the Stooges’ debut record to Patti Smith’s Horses. Currently on a global tour in support of his fifteenth solo album, Shifty Adventures In Nookie Wood (Domino), Cale will give a series of concerts at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in January based around his Paris 1919 album and the work of his former collaborator Nico.