Matt Slaybaugh

Top 12 of 2012

Matthew Dear
“Get the Rhyme Right” and “Ahead of Myself”
Ghostly International

I’m not ready to endorse the entirety of Matthew Dear’ latest, Beams, because I just don’t think it lives up to the consistent quality of Black City. But on these two tracks, Dear inserts a little more soul into his robotic grind and finds a new warmth in his electro-grooves.

Dirty Projectors
Swing Lo Magellan

Swing Lo Magellan is a fucked-up, forward-thinking classic. All my favorite records aim for a perfect balance between simple enjoyment and serious thought. To my mind, deeper engagement should reveal deep pleasures. As evidenced by their wide variety of celebrity fans—Jay-Z to Björk—the Dirty Projectors have a knack for hitting that particular target almost without fail.

Karriem Riggins
Alone Together
Stones Throw

Robert Glasper
Black Radio and Black Radio Recovered: The Remix EP
Blue Note

I guess folks finally realized that Madlib wasn’t ever going to truly follow up on Shades of Blue, his collaboration with the Blue Note archives. And as rap music has moved ever further from the influence of J. Dilla, the jazz and hip-hop venn diagram has been left with a gaping hole right in the middle where the soul of the beats used to reside. Luckily guys like these Riggins (a little more hip-hop) and Glasper (a little more jazz) have rushed in to fill the niche.

Jamey Johnson
Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Chochran

Jamey Johnson’s evolution into the icon of contemporary country outlaws has won him a lot of passionate fans, many of whom are bewildered by the kinder, gentler left turn he took with this release. At Johnson’s concert in Columbus, when he transitioned from the good ol’ boy classic “Set ’em Up Joe” into the lead track from Living for a Song, “Make the World Go Away,” the guy next to me yelled “What’s this bullshit? Christmas music?!?!” But Johnson’s explorations have only made his music better with each release, so I hope this is just a sign of more evolution.

Cody ChesnuTT
Landing on a Hundred
Vibration Vineyard

This was the perfect album for the day after the election; I remember waking up that morning, pulling on my Obama-as-Superman t-shirt and practically skipping to the coffee shop. Album-opener “Till I Met Thee” is the best “bright, sunshiny day” song since Johnny Nash, and it perfectly matched the feeling of having my faith in humanity finally restored after so many months of ugliness. That didn’t last long, of course, but for that clear-eyed moment, Cody was just what I needed.

John Talabot
Permanent Vacation

Talabot isn’t being very overt about anything on Fin. His grooves are tight, but never aggressive. The sonics are frequently odd, but never discomforting. Sometimes the music feels ambient, despite the ever-present percussion. The album can fade into the background as you’re reading or driving or working, and then a few minutes later you realize you’re moving your head or that your whole upper body is locked-in to the syncopation. Subtle. Tricky. Addictive.

Frank Ocean
Channel Orange
Def Jam

Late Beatles, mid-80s Prince, Radiohead in 2000, Kanye West (let’s debate when)—it’s very rare, but occasionally the arcs of commerce and artistic integrity intersect and a musician simultaneously ascends to both startling popularity and arresting brilliance. Holy shit did Francis Ocean get there fast! Like those influential artists before him, he almost enabled his extracurricular activities to steal the spotlight, but 10 or even 20 years from now, that’ll all be a sociological footnote, and his achievements on Channel Orange—as deeply personal as it is universal, as topical as it is timeless—will be undiminished.

How to Dress Well
Total Loss
Acéphale/Weird World

In his Agit Reader interview, Tom Krell quoted a French philosopher: “Attentiveness is the natural prayer of the soul.” This is certainly a record that requires careful attention since Krell has made himself so vulnerable here. Even on Total Loss’ funkiest moments, it sounds like he’s crying (sometimes from joy) and bleeding on the tracks. Frequently the music is quiet enough for the small hours of the night, but it can quickly swell to overwhelming proportions. You can’t really put this on at a party or just let it fill in as background noise. But if your empathy needs a workout, Total Loss has got your back.

The Walkmen
Fat Possum

This is they’re most cheerful album, right? And it’s fantastic. That’s funny to me, since it’s not something I would ever have thought to ask for from these moody men. But it shows how The Walkmen are continuing to find new aspects to their band’s multiple personalities. Unlike most of their contemporaries, The Walkmen are building a catalog that rewards longtime fans ever more as time goes on. You actually feel like it’s worth talking about Heaven’s place in their oeuvre. What other band has emerged since the millennium that deserves such devoted scrutiny?

Twin Shadow

It would be difficult to argue that this album won’t sound pretty dated in 10 years, but of everyone I listened to in 2012, George Lewis Jr. brought the most urgency to his craft. Whether it’s the straight-ahead charge of “Five Seconds” or the slower thrust of “Be Mine Tonight” (isn’t that the beat from “Push It?”), Lewis always sounds like there’s something just out of reach and he wants/needs it badly and now.

Cloud Nothings
Attack on Memory

This band is fierce, and more than once I’ve seen concertgoers literally alarmed by Dylan Baldi’s throat-shredding release. No surprise then that Cloud Nothings’ Attack on Memory is the most persistently cathartic record I’ve heard since emo went pop. It had me screaming along all year. So, if you are, like me, sick of The Shins, disgusted by Avetts and their new folk sons, and ready to smash every record bearing a Ben, a Colin, a Justin, or any trace of Sufjan, I recommend Cloud Nothings to firm up the flaccid regions of your music-appreciation apparatus.

Fat Possum

It took five years and was absolutely worth the wait. Like David Foster Wallace with a rap degree, El Producto set a new standard with Cancer4Cure, both for brain-blazing linguistics and intricately crafted, brutal production. Even if it’s another few years until he releases the next one, no one has any hope of catching-up.