Hot Jamz of the Year: The Best Tracks of 2012

10. King Krule: “Rock Bottom” from Rock Bottom 7″
When I write about Archy “King Krule” Marshall, I have to be careful not to paraphrase myself. Over the last two years, I’ve written extensively about nearly everything he’s released, and I’ve covered all of the major bases: the maturity and perspective that belies his years, the Joe Strummer comparisons, his ginger hair, that voice. While we are still waiting for a traditional debut LP, “Rock Bottom” and its lovely b-side “Octopus” show that the 17 year-old isn’t considering a very early retirement.

One of the things that makes Marshall such a unique artist is his impeccable, varied taste. He’s never shied away from wearing his influences on his sleeve — Ian Dury, Strummer, the stabbed guitar of the Specials — and on “Rock Bottom” he gives us a new one: Mike Skinner. When he quotes Skinner’s classic “Empty Cans,” it feels like it comes out of left field. However, when you look at the two artists, they share a huge amount of thematic common ground, namely a keen interest in chronicling the state of the urban environment from which they came. Skinner may be about 15 years his senior, but Krule proves Skinner’s classic point: “around here nothing seems to change, same old thing every day.”

9. Japandroids: “The House That Heaven Built” from Celebration Rock
Even though everybody’s moaning about the state of rock music, there is still a massive market for the kind of red-blooded, dyed-in-the-wool sound of yesteryear. The Canadian duo’s homage to living like there’s no tomorrow/seizing the day/fucking chicks (whatever the hell rock music is supposed to be about) taps into the same feelings that Springsteen did all those years ago. So next time someone bitches to you about how rock music is dead, play them this.

8. Future: “Straight Up” from Pluto
Future should be a truly awful artist. He brags about sounding like T-Pain, rarely bothers writing lyrics that rhyme, and is obsessed with space travel. But somehow, the ATLien’s debut album, Pluto, just works. He isn’t one for subtly and certainly isn’t for the lyrically-focused, but the Dungeon Family-affiliate’s album is bursting with his boundless energy and exploratory spirit. Its best song, “Straight Up,” is 180 seconds of pure, blissful Future hyperdrive, which is the only real speed he goes. It certainly isn’t for everybody, but his voice is one of the most infectious and likeable in hip-hop.

7. Sky Ferreira: “Everything is Embarrassing” (Original Mix) from Ghost
When I first heard this track, I thought Ms. Ferreira had serious Lana Del Rey potential, which was honestly a bit of a backhanded compliment. As it turns out, the Dev Hynes-penned wistful jam never made anything near the waves that “Video Games” did. There was no SNL performance, no bloated debut LP, no vicious backlash. There was only the song.

And while the hype never caught up, the song quickly surpassed anything LDR has ever done. Ferreira is a limited vocalist, but she attacks Hynes’ lyrics about dealing with the fallout of telling someone how you feel about them with palpable vigor and tenacity, which creates the tension that drives the song on to its soaring heights.

PS: That bridge. The world stops when that fucking bridge is on. It’s the best bridge I’ve heard, since Yeasayer’s “O.N.E.”

6. Twin Shadow: “Run My Heart” from Confess
People deal with heartbreak in a lot of different ways, often at the same time. Some search for answers (think Frank Ocean’s “Bad Religion”), some break down (think most other R&B songs), and some come out swinging. Hubris has always been an essential part of the George Lewis Jr. experience, and it isn’t surprising that he would take the latter route. For five captivating minutes, the jilted Lewis brazenly declares that he’s fine, that he isn’t in love, that he’s just a boy, that she’s just a girl.

Part of moving on is convincing yourself that you’ve moved on, even if you patently haven’t. This is what’s so beautifully captured here. When he declares “you don’t run my heart,” he’s not talking to her. He’s talking to himself.

5. Chief Keef x Lil’ Reese: “I Don’t Like” from Back from the Dead
I haven’t spent more time thinking about a music scene than Chicago’s burgeoning drill scene. I hesitate to use the word obsessed, mostly because it feels weird to admit being “obsessed” with something started by a group of teenage boys. And it wasn’t just their brutal, bleak take on trap music. It is all about context. It’s the fact that its rise coincides with one of the bloodiest summers in Chicago history. It’s their nihilistic, dead-eyed world views. It’s the unsettling slice-of-life music videos. And most interestingly, it was getting to see it transparently unfold through social media.

The man at the center of it all is 17 year-old Keith “Chief Keef” Kozart, It seemed like every week we were reading an eyebrow-raising story about Keef or one of his Glory Boyz Entertainment cohorts. The stories ranged from the sublime (kids from some of the worst ghettos in the country signing multi-million dollar deals, working with Kanye West) to the ridiculous (getting banned from Instagram, this interview) to the ridiculously disturbing (the awful YouTube video that captured Reese attacking a woman, Keef gleefully tweeting about the murder of a 16 year-old rival rapper). The best music forces reflection, and nothing made me think more about my role as a music fan and an (ex) music critic than Keef and his crew. Though I still don’t know how I feel about all of it it, I do know that I couldn’t stop playing this song in 2012.

4. Kendrick Lamar: “Black Boy Fly” from Good Kid, m.a.d.d. City (Bonus Track)
Jealousy is a common theme in rap (Jealous Ones Still Envy, haters gon hate, etc.), but I’ve never heard someone approach the most unsavory form of human emotion like the Compton MC did on a track from his masterpiece, Good Kid, m.a.d.d City. Admitting vulnerability ranks just ahead of admissions of bi-curious thoughts on the scale of rappers favorite topics to rap about, but Lamar opens up about feeling jealous of a pair of very different Compton kids who made it out: straight-laced Orlando Magic swingman Aaron Afflalo and ex-G. Unit affiliate Jaceyon “The Game” Taylor.

As cool as it is to hear a successful artist confront his own envy, the really fascinating part about “Black Boy Fly” is why Afflalo and Taylor’s success made him so jealous. It wasn’t simply about them having something he wanted; it was the feeling that their success made his dream seem impossible, due to the pure, grim demographics of the city that they grew up in. It offers fascinating, deeply human insight into the mindset that growing up in the ghetto creates, while giving us a penetrating window into the soul of one of the most important MCs in the world right now. Brilliant.

3. Jessie Ware x Disclosure: “Running” from Ware’s Running 7″
People who believe that pop music is cyclical are the same people who believe that the economy just sort of fluctuates naturally. Like the economy, pop music is reactionary — it is a never-ending pattern of cause and effect. Nowhere is this more evident than in the future garage/post-dubstep/insert-meaningless-genre-title scene. It is a direct reaction to the metamorphosis of dubstep, from an atmospheric, progressive, oft-quiet brand of bedroom electronica to the clumsy, gauche, unimaginative womp-womp dross that so many know it as today.

Instead of fighting to reclaim the genre, artists like Disclosure simply fucked off and started crafting a sound that mixed the introversion of Burial with the extroversion of radio R&B and pop. The result is a brand of music that lives between the margins, as comfortable on the dancefloor as it is on your earbuds on a rainy night. Whatever you want to call it, it was the soundtrack of my year.

2. Usher: “Climax” from Looking 4 Myself
To me, this is the “Midnight City” of 2011. There is nothing that I could possibly say about “Climax” hasn’t been said before. You love it. I love it. We all fucking love it.

1. Frank Ocean: “Pyramids” from channel orange
Pop quiz, hotshot: name the last artist who crafted a 10-minute song that captured the music zeitgeist and redefined the parameters of his genre. Hint: his first name stars with “Mic” and his last name ends with “ackson.” That’s all I really need to say.

It’s a the high-point of an exceptional year in music — the best since I’ve been making these lists. Here’s to an even better 2013.

Posted on by TP1.COM in Columns, Featured, Hot Jam of the Day

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