By the BTR Editorial Staff
Yesterday, we brought you the first half of our two-part feature on the best albums of 2012 our DJs felt were ignored by the buying public (the blogosphere, music press, and more) this year. It should be noted that we took no other publication’s end-of-year list into account, other than we had a good feeling what records would likely end up on top of those lists and, more importantly, how much great music wouldn’t get mentioned at all.
Focusing squarely on music that arrived to the world without much fanfare, we bring you another slew of DJs with their selections on the year’s most initially underrated records. Below, we hear from the likes of DJ Meredith, who shares her thoughts on the year in dancehall and afrobeat as well as dance music from all corners of the world, five records of esoteric rawk courtesy of DJ Patrick Kolodgy, all about Third Eye co-host Matthew DeMello’s favorite Philly DJ, and much more.
For more, check out the podcasts for each of the DJs below.
Host of The Afrobeat Show, Xtreme Endurance, and Caribbean Fever
1. A Hill of Feathers — Hannah Williams & The Tastemakers [Record Kicks]
After independently releasing her first single on Mondegreen Records, then bouncing quick to Italian label Record Kicks, Hannah and her Tastemakers have hit the international club scene hard. For a bunch of white kids, they could give most of the Daptone roster a run for their money. “This album is the funkiest, featuring stunning vocal performances from Hannah Williams, which put her at the level of Amy Winehouse & Adele!” writes DJ Meredith. “The band has great discipline and together they capture true emotion on every track. If you’re a fan of deep soul, this is an album you surely can’t miss!”
2. Sweet Jamaica — Mr. Vegas [MV Music]
Hailing from Kingston, Mr. Vegas has been a staple in the reggae scene since 1997’s “Nike Air.” Not only did he find fame in his native Jamaica, but also in the UK and his debut album hit #5 on the US Reggae charts. Sweet Jamaica marks not only a love letter to his homeland but an ambitious turn in Vegas’s career. “This is a classic, double disc album from Mr. Vegas!” says DJ Meredith. “The tracks are hits from start to finish and they give you the perfect balance of Dancehall and Reggae. If you are a music lover and a dance fan you have to check this album out. This is my most played album of the year!”
3. Summer In Kingston — Shaggy [Ranch Entertainment]
Another Kingston native, Shaggy (yes, that Shaggy) made like most of the tweens who came of age in the success of “It Wasn’t Me” and moved to Flatbush, Brooklyn when he was 18. Beginning a long and arduous career that VH1’s upcoming What the Hell Happened in the 00’s? special won’t give him credit for, it’s easy to forget Shaggy first broke with 1993’s Pure Pleasure. True to its title, his latest album finds him back in his homeland, and sampling the local sonic cuisine. He is most known in the states for his hit singles “Boomtastic” in 1995 and, of course, the one about getting caught red handed with the girl next door. He is a Grammy winner, philanthropist, and continues to release new music among other endeavors.
“This album is catchy, upbeat and fun!” raves DJ Meredith. “After listening to it, it always leaves me in a happy mood! The songs are full of energy and make you feel alive. It will bring you great memories of the summer time during the winter months!”
4. Kingston Story — Vybz Kartel
Born in … we’ll let you take a wild guess, Adidja Azim Palmer endured several failed musical endeavors before changing his name to Vybz Kartel and being taken under the wing of notorious Dancehall Deejay cohort, Bounty Killer. More than a decade and a brief stint in the can later, Kartel’s more recent work focuses on positive messages, including an endearing respect of women and mothers. Suck on that, Tyler the Creator?
“Kingston Story proves that Vybz Kartel is much more than controversy. The album follows traditional steps of island music and was given a contemporary, hip-hop feel thanks to Brooklyn-based producer Dre Skull. This along with a wider array of content made this one to remember in the genre!”
5. Mental Maintenance — Koshens
The title of this album refers to the self-confessed mood-swings that Garfield Spence (a.k.a. Koshens) uses to craft a song for every emotion and situation, making for music that serves as both medicine as well as meditation. On Mental Maintenance, Spence assimilates all of Meredith’s favorite genres — hip-hop, rock, dancehall, pop, roots, reggae, and R&B — in his choice of both instrumental and vocal rhythms.
It makes for a compelling tapestry of cross-cultural influences. “I like the way everything just flows on this album,” says Meredith. “Even the skits have an emotional dimension for increased staying power.”
DJ PATRICK K
Host of The Rock Show and Overnight Sensation
1. 2006-2008 — The Barbaras [Goner]
Formed in Memphis in 2006, The Barbaras became known for their onstage energy. Not after long, they were taken under the wing of indie punk maven Jay Reatard, who recruited two of their members for his touring band. Time commitments and tour restrictions led to their eventual demise after the release of just one single. After which, half the Barbaras split to join Wavves and the other half formed the Magic Kids.
“The Barbaras 7″ was my favorite record of 2008,” explains DJ Pat. “Back then there was talk of an LP, but it never came together… Earlier this year, they recovered the tracks from Jay Reatard’s hard drive, remixed them, and released them. I gotta say, it was worth the wait! The Barbaras excelled at writing ambitious, highbrow (sometimes overwrought) Brian Wilson-style pop tunes, then destroying them with punk rock arrangements and lo-fi production techniques. This balance is what made them the best band in Memphis back in the day. RIP Barbaras. Magic Kids kinda suck.”
2. Just Deserts — El Jesus de Magico [Columbus Discount]
Formed in Columbus, Ohio, El Jesus de Magico is “a hard band to pin down,” admits DJ Pat Kolodgy. We know all too well since our research team had quite a difficult time scrounging up any trustworthy biographical information on the band from anywhere on the world wide web.
“At times they’re a loud and imposing psychedelic jam band, at other times they’re a tight noise-pop/punk band. Sometimes they’re just doing hazy drones,” writes Pat. “All of which is to say, they’re the perfect Columbus band. This record is packed with little moments of transcendent beauty buried beneath the layers of filthy psychedelia. Sounds like all the good Columbus bands of past and present rolled into one.”
3. Leaving Atlanta — Gentleman Jesse [Douchemaster]
Formerly of Paper Lions and Some Soviet Station, Jesse Smith is now the bass player for the Carbonas as well as the frontman for his own band of miscreants, called Gentleman Jesse & His Men. Formed in 2005, the band found success with their first single, “Don’t Wanna Know (Where You Been Tonight)” in 2006. Leaving Atlanta follows the tried and true if-it-ain’t-broke routine and as far as DJ Pat is concerned, focusing on building chemistry without changing the formula paid off for the band.
“This record is a veritable hit machine!” raves DJ Pat Kolodgy. “Musically, it’s not really a departure for Gentleman Jesse. He still straddles the line between the twangy, jangly sound of early-70s powerpop and the tight, nervy sound of late ’70s powerpop. But this is by far his strongest crop of songs since his first 7″. ‘Shivers’ to ‘Careful What You Wish For’ is probably the best 1-2 punch on a record all year!”
4. Crap Culture — G Green [Mt. St. Mtn.]
Lead vocalist, bassist, and guitarist Andrew Henderson made music by his lonesome for a while, and then formed a band with friends from around northern California. In a demonstration of their wider appeal, G Green didn’t land with a bang but recently made Matador Records’ Top LP list of 2012. Other outstanding accolades would come along for the band after the release of this year’s Crap Culture, including DJ Pat’s approval.
“I’ve been following G Green since it’s start as a lo-fi loner bedroom folk project,” boasts DJ Pat Kolodgy. “Since then, he’s found friends in California, started up a loud rock band, plays shows all the time, and finally got these age-old songs released on vinyl. If that’s not the American Rock n’ Roll Dream, I don’t know what is! And that is a comfort to me.”
5. Glow Kit — Glow Kit [FDH/Alcopop!]
Glow Kit is a duo from Denmark whose blend of cymbal-cracking, stomp-worthy jugband punk claims strong strumming influences like mid-period Black Lips and solo Jay Reatard. The latter is an association not lost on DJ Pat. “Perfect pop-punk that carries on the tradition of the late, great Jay Reatard,” writes DJ Pat Kolodgy. “Glow Kit actually sounds so much like Reatard’s solo stuff that it might come across as cynical. Personally, it doesn’t bother me too much.”
Host of DJ RePete BTR
1. Rhythymnals — Luke LaLonde [Paperbag Records]
At only 26, Luke LaLonde made a name for himself outside of being the lead singer for the Toronto-based Born Ruffians. Originally from Midland, Ontario, the Ruffians formed in 2004, releasing their first EP two years later. All the while, LaLonde’s ability to make an aquarium’s worth of effect-tinged instruments swimming circles amidst a great big fishbowl of bedroom pop has yet gone unnoticed.
Alas, humility is a virtue. Rhythymnals is his most tantalizing yet tactful set, just teeming with ambition that stops short of risking bombast by overdosing on song lengths and arrangements. “This album has it all: strings, electro, acoustic, anthem vocals, all with an underlying bass beat, and, well, rhythmic as the album name evokes,” writes DJ RePete. “A great album to chill out to and wind down. Looking forward to more from LaLonde.”
RePete says, start with “Inamorataos.”
2. Eboracum — The Glass Caves [Self Released]
A strong contender for next year’s best new U.K. act, the Glass Caves is a five piece band from West Yorkshire who, despite moderate press attention, gained themselves a substantial word of mouth following through gigging across the U.K. As of this writing, they are currently working on additional tour dates for 2013 in the hopes of conquering the infamously tepid press of their home country.
“It’s only a matter of time before this UK band gets on the radar of most all major outlets, and BTR has been happy to get them to you first!” exclaims DJ RePete. “Often found busking in the streets of UK cities (as this DJ discovered), the band’s upbeat alt pop sound is addictive.”
Start with the title track, “Eboracum.”
3. Orifice Origami — Reptar [Vagrant Records]
Can a quartet from the notoriously thinking man’s town of Athens be as meta-stupid as their band name would let on? Reptar always thrived on the energy of a crowd and maybe should be better counted as one of 2012’s better live acts, given how little they care about recording studios. Taking influence from a variety of genres, NME and NPR showed love for the new wave nostalgists, but they couldn’t manage to get too much in the way of PR from anywhere else.
“Bust out the red polo, and bust out the John Hughes films as you flash back to the ’80s with this album—-and that is a compliment in every way,” raves DJ RePete. “There’s something about the beatbox voice to the title track that will just take you back; trust this DJ.”
Start with “Orifice Origami”
4. Blood on the Streets (“7) — Young Lungs [Self-Released]
Comprised of three high-energy individuals from the Montreal area, Young Lungs pride themselves on all-inclusiveness through their entire creative process. Frantic and anything but one-dimensional, the Canadian trio can evoke Morrissey along side of Adam Ant with relative ease. Blood on the Streets is only a two track 7”, but demonstrates as many sounds as a full length. One ominous genre branding sticks out to RePete, though: “The Montreal band describes themselves as post-punk, which is spot-on. This DJ, for one, can’t wait to see them live!”
Start with “Attack of the Montana Red”
5. Hard Times, Go Parts 1 & 2 — Beat Radio [Awkward for Life]
Brian Sendrowitz is known to the world as Beat Radio, a DIY pop everyman who found some serious applause with his debut, The Great Big Sea. He has since recorded three additional albums before starting his own record label, Awkward for Life. Hard Times Go marks Sendrowitz’s most ambitious effort yet — a double album, each disc of conventional LP length, that gives deep excavation of influences through a handful of covers, retrospective insight, and bold creative left turns.
“A ton of range on the first 6 track disc of this double LP, and with electro undertones,” writes DJ RePete. “Beat Radio’s signature sound is alive and well on this double-album with their ability to make every song feel like it could be the soundtrack to your life reflection montage. That is to say: epic. Experimentation also abounds throughout, especially via the track: ‘He Brought a Guitar to a Knife Fight.’ And a pair of covers to boot!”
“Part 2 is decidedly mellower than Part 1, but plenty of gems including ‘Calico Dress,’ ‘East Coast,’ and the provocative ‘Strange Harmonies. If this is your first introduction to the NY State band, I highly recommend getting their whole catalogue.”
Start with the title track, “Hard Times, Go!”
DJ WAYNE SKI
Host of BTR’s Hip-Hop Show and the Electric Ride
1. Kolexxxion — Bumpy Knuckles & DJ Premier [BBE Records]
Bumpy Knuckles is none other than James Campbell of Westbury, New York. After making his debut in 1986 with a group called Supreme Force, Knuckles bopped around many more groups, scenes, and eras before finding career stability from recording soundtracks. Alongside Gang Starr veteran DJ Premier, the MC brandishes enough bravado and work ethic to bring two darling albums into the world this year, Kolexxxion in particular caught DJ Wayne Ski’s ears. “The best boom bap album of the year,” raves DJ Wayne Ski. “Raw talent by two legends. A secret is Bumpy took all the beats the other MCs said no to. Just listen. Crazy!”
2. Russian Roulette — The Alchemist [Shady/ELC/E1]
Russian Roulette finds the former Eminem tour DJ riffing with the likes of an A-list of young guns — Danny Brown, Schoolboy Q, Action Bronson, Guilty Simpson, and more — at times bringing out the best of a guest roster, many of whom already released some substantial music this year. Yet, some of the best moments on the record are reinforced by some little known cross-coast talent like Fashawn, Evidence, and Roc Marciano — the latter of which brings his best game to the table on the ominous howl of “The Turning Point.”
“Some of the dopest MCs from the US,” says DJ Wayne Ski. “Alchemist production throughout the Album. Listen to Apollo’s Last Stand.”
3. Reloaded — Roc Marciano [Decon Records]
With Reloaded, Roc Marciano climbs out from behind the daunting shadows of his old mentor, Busta Rhymes, as well as his last project, the U.N. out of Uniondale, New York. He has been rapping solo as Roc Marciano since 2010 and with his sophomore release, proves that the ‘10s can be as good a decade for second albums (especially hip-hop second albums) as the ten years before it. “This is pure Hip Hop,” writes DJ Wayne Ski. “The music. The Rhymes. Roc always comes thru with heat. Check his Catalog.”
4. Trophies — O.C. & Apollo Brown [Mello Music Group]
Mello Music Group can lay waste to a music editor’s email inbox on any given Monday morning, but usually they do so with some genuinely grand and criminally ignored hip-hop in tow. They’re a label who knows how to work in pairs (i.e. the many wonderful Gensu Dean and 7even Thirty collabs of this year) and Trophies is no exception. While never afraid to get political with tracks like “Prove Me Wrong” and “We the People,” social consciousness doesn’t sell Trophies as much Brown’s looping string sections, ethereal pads, and fat, late ‘90s drum samples. “Apollo Brown is sick,” exclaims DJ Wayne Ski. “O.C. destroys every song. If you’re into lyrics check this album. It’s a keeper.”
5. Dice Game — Apollo Brown & Guilty Simpson [Mello Music Group]
Where Trophies left off with miniature essays on the world at large, Apollo turns inward with fellow Mello Music labelmate, Guilty Simpson, for Dice Game. Leaning harder on broader beat patterns and a brand of catharsis that’s still unfortunately outside the vogue of mainstream rap, the pair still find time to make asses bounce with the chunky chorus swells and sharp snare hits of “Nasty.” “Well another Apollo Brown produced album,” admits DJ Wayne Ski. “If you know about Guilty Simpson you need this. One of my faves.”
Host of Worldwide Hour and DJ Wynn BTR
1. America — Dan Deacon [Domino Records]
Out of Baltimore, Maryland hails a man who has dubbed himself “an absurdist composer and electronic musician,” and with America, he fully lives up to his own title. Deacon is beloved by the old McCarren Pool Party crowd for his antics in the bully pit and pushing soundsystems to the brink of insanity. 2009’s Bromst proved he could transcend pop and sugar with genuine musical vision, setting a high standard for hyperactivity others have tapped to reach audiences lacking serious attention spans (we’re looking at you, Math the Band). All the while, America effectively incorporates a greater sense of modernist compositional theory without losing its vibrant color or lust for life.
“Take this with you on a cross country trip,” advises DJ Wynn. “Drive through a bustling city at night and try to make the sunrise appear over mountains. Dan Deacon channels Philip Glass to create classical music with electronic flourishes and he’s gonna make you dance at his concerts to them.”
2. Ice Level — Ava Luna [101 Distribution]
The six members of Ava Luna met in a New York public high school and stuck together to become what they are today — to which some might call another Dirty Projectors, and a kinder crowd might call the next best thing since James Murphy retired. After slowly but surely gaining a groundswell of attention after building a serious reputation a few SXSW’s in a row, Ava Luna’s latest works hard at separating the band from those simple comparisons. For DJ Wynn, however, it’s all about the intimacy of their stage performance.
“I have brought people to their first Ava Luna concert because they need to see them while they are in small rooms,” explains DJ Wynn. “Enjoy being close to these voices and harmonies. Any one of them could lead their own band. They are the future of soul/r&b/rock/post-punk/funk hybrids.”
3. 51 — Kool A.D. [Greenhead]
2012 might have been Heems’s year (if Heems had anything to do with it) and lord knows the peanut gallery be blaming him for the end of Das Racist for now ’til kingdom come, but lucky for us, Kool A.D. proved he was no one’s third wheel with 51. Packed with cooler, poppier synths perfect for feeding the aural munchies of a much more upbeat species of indie hip-hop stoner, Kool lived up to his name and solidified his brand of lassez faire just before calling it quits with the act that made him a star.
“‘You got some weed dude? Me too and boo-boo.’ Kool A.D. jogs your memory with a makes-it-look-easy flow and has a fly squad of producers,” writes DJ Wynn. “Especially Amaze 88 who makes beats for smooth rides on the west coast. It’s also free.”
4. Solo Piano II — Chilly Gonzales [Gentle Threat]
Hailing from Canada, Chilly Gonzales broke the world record for longest solo artist performance when he managed to sit in front of a piano, playing notes for 27 hours, 3 minutes and 44 seconds. Maybe that’s a poor sell for an album that’s only 39 minutes, not including bonus tracks, but after an early career striking it out with rock bands, it does say something about Gonzales’s commitment to formalism. Waltzing with ease between Gershwinesque melodies, Jacki Byard jive rhythms, “Moonlight Sonata,” and a few shades of Bill Evans, Solo Piano II corners a horde of influences wholly foreign to the many subcultures of cool — reaching for broader, more ambitious territories in classical form with the only instrument any musical creative will ever need.
“Perfect piano music that brings back memories,” says DJ Wynn. “Any piece could slide into the Amelie soundtrack. It makes walking in the rain feel better.”
5. 1999 — Joey Bada$$ [Cinematic Music Group]
Just when the mainstream music press used up every off-color comparison between Odd Future and Wu Tang, Joey Bada$$, a 17-year-old Brooklyner from a hip-hop collective called The Progressive Era, released a mixtape in June and by December, ruled the proverbial world of indie hip-hop. Yes, the man has all the press he would need by now but victories like these tend to last about as long as a round of Risk. So it goes in the era of DJbooth and DatPiff. Yet, what made Joey Bada$$ such a standout in 2012 was how much he was able to say without shock value or overhanded grandiosity. Flying along with cool-as-ice Rhodes pianos, smooth-as-silk flows, and videos shouting out Brooklyn’s Edward R. Murrow High — Joey became the hometown hero everyone wanted to root for in 2012. “Fun and easy on the ears,” raves DJ Wynn. “I think Bonita Applebum would approve. Also Free.”
MATTHEW DEMELLO (DJ MATT)
Co-host of Third Eye Weekly and Co-Editorial Director of BTR
1. Plateau Vision — Lushlife [Self-Released]
The Philadelphian DJ is probably best known for his competent-to-awesome 2005 mashup of Kanye West’s College Dropout and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. On Plateau Vision, he proves his worth as a producer/auteur in spades, pulling samples from Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell’s dialogues in The Power of Myth series, arranging cascades of 8-bit turmoil, as well as courting worthwhile contributions from the likes of Styles P and Heems.
“Lots of the press surrounding Lush focused on how Plateau Vision bled with this ’90s throwback production,” writes DeMello. “But there’s too much about it that sounds as fresh as anything 2012 had to offer, from the monumental ‘Still I Hear the Word Progress’ to the hilariously titled, ‘She’s a Buddhist, I’m a Cubist.'”
2. Lineage — Shigeto [Ghostly International]
“This is the second record in two years from the Ghostly International label that I’ve found to be ‘criminally ignored’ by the mainstream press,” writes DeMello. “The last one was Glimmer by Polish producer/composer extraordinaire, Michal Jacaszek, and like that record, Lineage works with a pallette of darker tones to weave a compelling but humble electronic tapestry.”
Zach Shaginaw earned his musician stripes in the Detroit/Ann Arbor music scene but made a name for himself as Shigeto by remixing dub driven electronica acts like Mux Mool and Tycho after studying jazz at NYC’s New School. Lineage practically oozes with promise, blending cool fusion textures with compositional intent and gently repetitious melodies.
3. Transformer — Grace Woodroofe [Modular Fontana]
Discovered five years ago by the obscure tastemaker (and sometime Oscar winning actor), Heath Ledger, the 21-year-old Australian singer-songwriter ultimately decided to flavor her debut album, Always Want, with shades of ‘70s prog and fusion. That’s not to say Woodroofe left tradition by the wayside, Always Want is a song strong record with personal themes to match. Tracks like “Transformer” and “Battles” find female voices offering themselves as objects while in the background, sledgehammer riffs and xylophones express underlying resentment with a touch of distortion in all the right places. After exploring defeat and bitterness in nearly all its forms (even touching on her old mentor’s death on the idiosyncratic “H”), Woodroofe pays creedance to maybe the best ballad about giving up with a note-for-note cover of Bowie’s “Quicksand.”
“It’s too strong a performance to call a mere bonus track but what sticks out the most is how it ties together themes of struggling between perceived inferiority and superiority that the chanteuse expands on through the rest of the record in intriguing detail,” writes DeMello.
4. Melt — Young Magic [Carpark]
When Scarlett Johansen asked TV on the Radio’s David Sitek to produce her debut album comprised entirely of Tom Waits covers, the goal was to achieve a ““a cough medicine/Tinkerbell kind of vibe.” According to DJ Matt, “Ever since the two toured the independent press junket to promote the resoundingly disappointing Anywhere I Lay My Head, I’ve been waiting for a record of that lives up to that description.”
While lacking a pixie-dusted vocalist, Young Magic certainly delivers plenty of cough medicine by stretching their strung out ambient balladry to the brink of sentience for optimal emotional resonance.
5. awE naturalE — THEESatisfaction [Sub Pop]
THEESatisfaction have all the indie hip hop cred they need having risen to acclaim alongside Pacific Northwest heavyweights and Sub Pop labelmates, Shabazz Palaces. However, the meters and rhythms of their debut don’t lend themselves to conventional rap origins as much as they do to a long lost era of spoken word and free-jazz collaborations. That said, awE naturalE is no anachronism but more an exercise in deliberately shaking up accepted approaches to syntax — though in ways not as obvious as their band name or record title would suggest.