The basic reality about 2012 for pop music is that there hasn’t been that many really good albums this year. But before you check me for grasping at 20 or so very short straws, I’m gonna say that this Top 30 is actually the best indication of the variety of music I have really enjoyed this year.
Even though pop continues to dominate a good deal of my aural persuasion, the last 12 months have left me thirsty for different kind of beats, different styles and characters.
Getting my ass on Spotify and discovering new artists I normally wouldn’t have come across has been really instrumental in broadening my tastes, which was kinda a little mission of mine when I put the blog on hiatus a few months ago.
Well. Now that I’ve cleared the room of all One Direction and Calvin Harris fans. Let’s go check out my Top 30 albums of 2012, starting from #30 to #21 this week:
- #30 –
If Australian pop had a definitive flavour in 2012, Timomatic‘s breakthrough album served it by the bucket loads. The Australia’s Got Talent star’s brilliant partnership with prolific Aussie songwriting/production duo DNA Songs essentially laid out the blueprint for homegrown pop. The energetic dance-infused singles ‘Can You Feel It’, ‘If Looks Could Kill’ and ‘Set It Off’ were of such international standards – you’d mistake them for Taio Cruz or Jason DeRulo platinum-sellers.
Timomatic is everything you could wish for after hearing the singles. We’re talking about a relentless sonic energy of cardio-jamming dance with slick vocal productions and radio-friendly hooks from start to end. It’s the kind of instantly gratifying pop that seizes its listeners from the first hit – no hidden agenda or radical new concepts that would require time and a journey to discover, just straight up unapologetic pop that we’re not ashamed to export.
Album picks: ‘Can You Feel It’, ‘Set It Off’ and ‘Rest of Our Lives’.
- #29 –
Human Condition: Pt. 1 Doleo (EP)
2012 presented us with the artistic redefinition of Wynter Gordon. After stopping us dead in the tracks with her flaw-free debut pop album With The Music I Die (which made Feed Limmy‘s Top 10 Albums of 2011), the uber talented and quirky American singer/songwriter decided to expand her musical identity beyond the realms of dance music.
Human Condition: Pt. 1 Doleo propels Wynter fans into a new soundscape, traversing organic musical textures and honest lyrical landmarks that complements the tone set by ‘Still Getting Younger’ and ‘Back to You’, two personal tracks from the aforementioned With The Music I Die.
The project’s key track ‘Stimela’ marries atmospheric synths with crisp African percussion that resonate well with its passionate chorus, sung in Zulu. The track stems from Hugh Masekela‘s anti-apartheid song of the same name and it is absolutely bewitching to the ears right from the very first listen.
Doleo also unveils some spectacular essences of vintage Phil Collins, Kate Bush and even a little Red Hot Chilli Peppers - again, do a double take if you were just guzzling alcopop to her stroblit hit ‘Dirty Talk’.
There are no rose coloured glasses worn on this record. The 26-year old singer packs a fuck load of brutal honesty on tracks like ‘Kids’, a song about someone she grew up admiring who lost his way and gave up on himself. “I learned to forgive, let go of the pain. But you’re holding on, holding on to the past. You give guilt trips like no other, left your kids without a mother. You know, you used to be my hero…”
Doleo expresses the breadth of Wynter’s songwriting abilities in a way we haven’t really seen before. Passion, depth, authenticity and growth – these, to me, feel like the cornerstones of why Doleo and hopefully the rest of the Human Condition EPs should be on your watch list.
EP picks: ‘Stimela’, ‘Kids’ and ‘Waiting’.
- #28 -
Maroon 5 really went all balls to the wall with this, didn’t they? I mean, it’s obviously the band’s poppiest album to date and you gotta admire the commitment here to create an album of radio hits. A-list producers were called in – everyone from Max Martin to Ryan Tedder, Shellback and Benny Blanco had their finger in Adam Levine‘s pie. And a delicious pie, it was.
Overexposed was flavoured to taste with spoonfuls of pop/rock, reggae, funk, disco and dance. The chart-topping single ‘One More Night’ is album’s prime cut of brilliant summery pop. The “oooooooh-ooh-ooh-ooh” bit tends to make us ordinary people without the aid of pitch correction sound like utter fools when we try to sing it. Much like the Bollywood siren wails in Britney‘s ‘Toxic’ dance breakdown, you should never try to sing these sections in company of sober people.
‘Doin’ Dirt’ is a romping nouveau disco track that shimmers with a certain melancholic quality in the verses. I don’t recall ever hearing a sexier Maroon 5 beat, to be honest. Elsewhere the stroblit dance/pop midtempo ‘Love Somebody’ feels like a massive anthem designed for festivals and mass waving of arms. All in all, a thoroughly good value megabucks pop album.
Album picks: ‘One More Night’, ‘Doin’ Dirt’, ‘Love Somebody’ and ‘Lucky Strike’.
- #27 –
Lianne La Havas
Is Your Love Big Enough?
I saw this English folk/soul singer songwriter being touted everywhere I went in London: on posters plastered on phone booths, alleyways, HMV, fucking everywhere. Is Your Love Big Enough? was about to drop and Lianne’s word-of-mouth hype was already heating up to skin-moistening levels. Immediate comparisons were made to Adele‘s 19 and Corinne Bailey Rae‘s records, but La Havas totally holds her own with this collection of playful and personable tunes.
‘Age’ – a charming ditty about falling for an older man – is a stand out. “Is it such a problem that he is old? As long as he does whatever he is told. I’m glad that it is just my heart that he stole, and left my dignity alone…” she sings. Elsewhere, the ethereal ‘Au Cinema’ sound precisely like the kind of record you want blaring in your bathroom on a lovely springtime evening as you primp yourself for a date. Barefoot-on-bar-stools ballads like ‘No Room for Doubt’ (with Willy Mason) and the aching ‘Lost & Found’ are endearingly raw exposures that complete the listening experience.
Album picks: ‘Age’, ‘Au Cinema’ and ‘Lost & Found’.
- #26 –
Return to Paradise
I had such high hopes for this new Sam Sparro album after learning that he was dabbling in disco and 80s pop, but I don’t think my expectations were ever quite rewarded with Return to Paradise. To be honest, I had no real point of reference because the breadth of this project’s musical influence goes beyond anything I had really experienced.
Return to Paradise is one busy attic of styles and influences – arranging relevant pieces of 70s and 80s disco, funk and soul with a forever musing art curator’s approach. While I would’ve preferred a cohesive album of unabashed disco and funk – like what was teased with ‘The Shallow End’ and ‘Closer’ – I came to really love the different musical textures offered on Return to Paradise.
There’s beauty in the light and dark tones on this album – it’s actually quite hard to believe that some tracks sit literally a few minutes from each other, within poking distance, if you will. One minute we see the heavens part and doves ascend into God’s palms in the gospel-lit ‘Let The Love In’ and the next, it’s a bitter monologue in the stunning pop ballad ‘I Wish I Never Met You’ (which was originally written for Erik Hassle).
Album picks: ‘Happiness’, ‘Let The Love In’, ‘The Shallow End’ and ‘I Wish I Never Met You’.
- #25 -
Was this one of those tremendous pop albums that everyone slept on because it dropped in a particularly busy month? I’mma say ‘yeah’. Dragonette‘s third studio album Bodyparts is a cluster of contagious electro pop with renderings of new wave – giving you visions of what a modern day Cyndi Lauper album should sound like.
After filling the bank with two lucrative singles with Martin Solveig, the Canadian band plugged back into their own brand of head banging fluoro pop, which fans have been gagging for since their 2009 release: Fixin’ The Thrill.
Bodyparts definitely feels more like a live band album than Fixin’ The Thrill. There’s irrepressible megawatt energy pulsating through every track, driven by crisp drums and raging synths. Martina’s raspy vocals instantly makes everything cooler and a thousand times more suited to a Tsubi jeans commercial.
The vibrant singles ‘Let It Go’ and ‘Live in The City’ are massive pop numbers that hit you like first dose of caffeine in the morning. Elsewhere, ‘Untouchable’ hears the band switch gears from their typically active lyrical content to something a bit more alluring. “If I could only bring you down to my moral low ground. Your buttons won’t budge and I want you undone. Why don’t you get up and walk away if it’s getting too hot for your cool body.” Do yourselves a favour if you haven’t already absorbed this. Bodyparts is an unmissable project for any fans of summery, infectious pop.
Album picks: ‘Let It Go’, ‘Live In The City’, ‘Untouchable’ and ‘Ghost’.
- #24 -
The 21-year old rapper from Harlem is evidently one of 2012’s primary fresh faces in music, taking her relentless blend of rap and house music all the way from tastemakers’ blogs to fashion houses. Although I did go back and forth deliberating whether I should put up 1991 or the Fantasea mixtape in this utterly self-indulgent countdown, I think we’d all agree that the 1991 EP is a more potent and defining representation of Azealia Banks‘ stamp on 2012.
Banks brought the aesthetics of 90s house music back in vogue with ‘1991’ with round after round of rapid-fire scatterbrained rap. Everything about this EP’s execution feels underground, even though her project is being minded by major labels and probably the best in the game.
There’s an immediacy about these records, which you will either appreciate or perceive as being basic. Sometimes it feels like Banks just freestyled her way over a demo-quality dance beat with the barest of post-production work implemented before bouncing it down to iTunes. You race past sung sections on some tracks and wonder if she was merely mumbling the first melody that came to her head in hopes that she’ll further develop it in the next studio session.
The explosive breakthrough single ‘212’ packs punchy rap over dirty house beats that recall 2004/2005 trends. Somewhere between the repeated C-bomb droppings and bonkers call-out hook, Azealia manages to impress a desperate desire for fame and validation. “Why you procrastinate girl? You got a lot but you just waste all yourself. They’ll forget your name soon, and won’t nobody be to blame but yourself…”
Only time will tell whether the fierce femmecee will continue to blow up in 2013 after her eagerly anticipated album Broke With Expensive Taste drops.
EP picks: ‘1991’ and ‘212’ (feat. Lazy Jay). Also recommended from the Fantasea mixtape – ‘Fierce’.
- #23 -
There’s something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue on this record. I’ll let you sort out amongst yourselves which one the T-Boz collabo falls under.
Last year’s UK X Factor winners – Little Mix – knocked out a colourful pop album that rekindles the love I reserve for early 00s pop/R&B girlbands. With DNA, there’s a return to familiar and innocent themes of friendship, crushes, self-confidence and boy troubles, which were all so well canvassed in the countless bubblegum pop songs I immersed in as a young teenager harbouring an embarrassing bowl cut.
The sassy lead single ‘Wings’ almost much shut down the competition in 2012 for me as far as female pop groups were concerned. The empowering horns-driven rhythmic cut nailed every point I wanted Little Mix to prove with their debut “proper” single. It prominently featured their signature vocal harmonies, it sounded youthful and exuberant, and it didn’t wash out like everything in the Top 40 at the minute.
I’m really proud that the girls took the time to co-write most of these songs themselves, which in turn really helped create a unified feel to every track on DNA – even though they are quite stylistically diverse. The project’s second single ‘DNA’ is the night to ‘Wings” day, a stormy electro pop midtempo that sound like a female accompaniment to Justin Bieber‘s ‘As Long As You Love Me’. There’s also a bit of Spanish guitar-powered pop/R&B in ‘Going Nowhere’, which was co-written with Nicola Roberts. Arguably one of the most effective pop songs on the album after ‘Wings’. Elsewhere, ‘Love Drunk’ mixes Bollywood beats with throbbing electronic synths and a joyous hand-clapping chorus. All in all, DNA is pleasing first outing for a girl band with great potential. Gold star sticker.
Album picks: ‘Wings’, ‘Going Nowhere, ‘DNA’ and ‘Stereo Soldier’.
- #22 -
When it comes to the quality of songwriting and vocal performance, this is hands down the best Guy Sebastian album yet. A KFC namecheck tends to earn you this kind of glowing review on Feed Limmy. It’s no surprise to any follower of this Aussie pop prince’s nine-year career that his work just keeps getting stronger and stronger with every release.
Armageddon feels like a mature, universal pop album that would appeal to young and old, broken and fulfilled alike. The emotive political ballad ‘Get Along’ is possibly the best single Sebastian has ever released. I just can’t get over how great his observant lyrics about religious wars are. The hook – “Dear God, dear soul, dear Mary, Mohammed… can we all just get along?” – absolutely rips right through the heart. Have this shit soundtrack some Christiane Amanpour feature on CNN, yo.
Elsewhere, the title track is a colossal midtempo with James Cameron disaster movie theme song etched all over. “This building may crumble but under the rubble there they will find us intertwined. There’s an asteroid approaching… and I’m leaving nothing unsaid, nothing undone, nothing untouched,” Guy sings. Y’all know the keynote single ‘Battle Scars’ (featuring Lupe Fiasco) is already an epic success in Australia and America, so fingers crossed the rest of this era will continue to funnel international interest in Guy‘s work.
Album picks: ‘Get Along’,’Armageddon’ and ‘Battle Scars’ (feat. Lupe Fiasco).
- #21 –
Brandy‘s artistic renewal has to be one of the most exciting events in R&B music this year, as far as I’m concerned. Being the only die-hard B-Rocka stan in my friendship group has been rather trying at times, but I can proudly say that Two Eleven pretty much delivered the goods to all parties concerned: core Brandy fans and core Brandy fans.
The project unabashedly plays to Brandy‘s strengths by showcasing her immaculate vocal runs and multi-tiered harmonies at every turn. The 90s R&B diva has never had a more vocally impressive album and that is saying something given how fucking high she raises the bar every time she puts out a record.
Sonically, Two Eleven delivers an ultra slick fusion of futuristic urban electronic beats with pure grown ass woman soul. It’s a modern combination that is its own identity, that is tailored to Brandy rather than pilfering from familiar flavours of the moment. Album highlight ‘Wildest Dreams’ is a modern-soul single marrying raw emotive lyrics with some crisp, bass-heavy beats. The ice-cool mid-tempo ‘Slower’, which was hemmed by M.I.A.‘s producer Switch, is an immediate winner that hears B-Rocka swiftly manoeuvre between smooth soulful verses to rapid-fire spoken word rap hooks. Elsewhere, the pleading ballad ‘Without You’ comes through with a massive hook that would appeal to any takers of Alicia Keys‘ ‘Girl on Fire’ single.
Album picks: ‘Wildest Dreams’, ‘Slower’, ‘Without You’ and ‘Hardly Breathing’.
Feed Limmy‘s Top 30 Songs of 2012: #30 – #21 will be published on Saturday 8 December. The next instalment, #20 – #11 Albums of 2012 will drop next Tuesday.