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Summer 2012: Best in Music

A list of five records worth checking out.

By Matthew Castagna
On August 28, 2012

  • The cover to Frank Ocean's debut album, channel ORANGE.


   Now that our vacation has come to an end it's time to get back to the grindstone. But with summer still in our recent memory, it's the perfect time to reflect on some of the key musical releases that helped make the past few months so enjoyable. Below is a multi-genre list of some of the biggest albums of summer 2012.

1.     "BBNG2," BADBADNOTGOOD - BADBADNOTGOOD, the instrumental Urban-Jazz trio from Toronto, are far from masters of their trade. With an averaged technical efficiency that falls short of standard post-bop expectancies, it's easy to see how some of the more classically gifted would disregard this collective as nothing more than a couple of youthfully inspired wanna-bes. But, what BBNG lack in mechanical sophistication they achieve through pure entertainment. They know their weaknesses, and they flaunt them with an air of self confidence that plays to their chosen cards of pure energy and relatable melodies.

   As with their two previous mixtapes, BBNG 2 features a well-balanced mixture of instrumental hip-hop covers and originals. From James Blake's "CMYK" to Kanye West's "Flashing Lights," BBNG cover an ambitiously broad range of material, injecting each with their signature "jam-out" style. That's not to say that there is no sense of subtlety, as many of the tracks here are founded on patiently wandering build-ups. But when things get heavy, you cant help but join in on the groove. Cymbals crash, keys fidget restlessly and the bass oozes instantly recognizable hooks; it's all very unsophisticated, but it's fun and brings a much-needed modern feel to a genre that is often disregarded as "grandpa music."

2.     "The Idler Wheel..." Fiona Apple - Fiona Apple has a knack for flying high off seemingly inescapable mid-career dropouts. "The Idler Wheel...," her fourth studio album, is her second hiatus break-out record following 2005's "Extraordinary People." And like "People," her newest work is incredibly fresh and surprisingly interactive for an artist whose relevance was near non-existent at the time of its release. 

   The most notable aspect of "Idler Wheel," is the sheer strength of Apple's vocal command. Her pronunciations fluctuate between dribbled mumbles, sharp proclamations, raspy moans and soothing trail-offs. Just when you think you've got the track pegged, Apple flips the emotional dynamic, leaving you scrambling to catch up. It's sudden changes like these create such a believably complex personality that is mysterious, dramatic, raw and sexy all at once.  

3.     "L'Enfant Sauvage," Gojira -"L'Enfant Sauvage" is not intended for the weak of heart; you have to want to like it. But that's okay, because its commitment and open analysis that make French thrash-metal band Gojira's fifth album so enjoyable. Clocking in at nearly an hour of non-stop electric ferocity, Gojira's mold of riff heavy black metal makes small-dose digestion a beginner's necessity. But once the tunes begin to work their way into familiarity, the overshadowed complexities start to expose themselves.

   From the Muse-like trance of "The Wile Healer" to the shifting bases and rhythmical patterns of "This Emptiness," "Sauvage" keeps the instrumentation tense and interesting, even if it does take a few listens to kick in.

4.     "channel ORANGE," Frank Ocean - Riding off both a dedicated cult-following and a highly admired/criticized "coming out," ODDFUTURE veteran/R&B ghostwriter Frank Ocean's "channel ORANGE" has become the most significant pop album of 2012 thus far. With a fresh new approach that combines multi-genre influences with the dream-like aesthetic of his previous mixtape, "ORANGE" exceeds on nearly every possible level creating an album that is not only socially symbolic, but also incredibly satisfying. 

   Sampling from just about every genre thinkable, Ocean creates a fluent collage of colorful stories that criticize pop-cultural foundations ("Bad Religion," "Super Rich Kids") while still romanticizing the public mind-frame ("Sweet Life"). Tracks like the celestial "Pilot Jones" pace ethereal R&B alongside the appropriately fitting drug-laced narratives, while lead single "Thinking Bout You" places high-strung orchestral backdrops around a study of the typical strained relationship. No matter what type of music you're into, there is bound to be something you will enjoy here.  

5.     "Life Is Good," Nas - "This for my trapped-in-the-90's n***az," concludes Nas on "Loco-Motive," "Life Is Good"'s second track. He never makes it clear to whom he is referring, but the remainder of the album suggests that perhaps this vague dedication is actually a call to self. Unlike his first wave of albums, Nas has had a difficult time adopting his street-worn spits to the modern rap scene, often producing albums that, for all their merits in lyrical delivery, feel awkwardly dated. "Life," on the other hand, see's the twenty-plus year rap giant actively analyzing his past as opposed to coasting off it's fading rewards.

   Like all of his previous works, Nas is clearly the center of attention here, effortlessly bending his free-rhythm spits with intricate showmanship and storytelling. "You Wouldn't Understand" funks up the tiresome rags-to-riches tale with humorous self-attacks, while "Stay" metaphorically transposes Nas' recent marriage collapse to the Five Percent mythos. Overall, "Life" may not be the best rap album of the year, but it is a refreshing rejuvenation that should satisfy any hip-hop fan.






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