1. Death Grips – The Money Store
Death Grips’ first major label album, and first of two albums released last year (though not as good as their debut mixtape Exmilitary), was incredible. Hard hitting, sharp synth based instrumentals and truly chaotic drumming mixed with the signature harsh vocals of MC Ride creates a truly dark, rough listening experience that is really incomparable to anything else. Exceptional, but not an easy listen. Give it some time to sink in.
Best Track(s): Get Got, Hacker, Bitch Please
Worst Track(s): Fuck That
2. TNGHT – TNGHT
Okay, it’s an EP. But it is so goddamn perfect I had to include it. At only fifteen minutes long this is the little trap EP that could. Some of the best and punchiest dance music I have ever heard, and this isn’t hyperbole. If you can sit still whilst listening to “Goooo”, you’re probably paralysed. The best thing about this beauty is that it is so popular that rappers are freestyling it (check out Captain Murphy’s take on “Bugg’n” on his track “Shake Weight”) and those that aren’t are getting their producers to move towards a more trap oriented sound. However, the combo of Hudson Mohawke and Lunice promised Danny Brown some beats for his upcoming album Old and never delivered, so on principle, I can’t give this top spot.
Best Track(s): Bugg’n
Worst Track(s): Easy Easy
3. Ondatrópica – Ondatrópica
Because of my lack of exposure to the genres this album covers I can honestly say I didn’t expect a foreign language album in my top 10 list this year, let alone so high up. This collaboration of (primarily) Colombian musicians was designed to try and modernize and diversify Latin music and it is glorious. Taking from cumbia, ska, reggae, samba, hip-hop and jazz, this album is bright, festive and above all, versatile – including both a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” and an 82 year old man rapping for the first time. If you listen to only one album from this list, I’d recommend it be this, because, more than anything, it’s fun.
Best Track(s): Rap-Maya, Dos Lucecitas, 3 Reyes de la Terapia
Worst Track(s): Bomba Trópica
4. LIL UGLY MANE – MISTA THUG ISOLATION
This album is quite literally everything the media would have you believe rap is about. It’s (on the surface) unintelligent, it has repetitive, dark instrumentals sampling what sounds like a 70s cop show. It’s misogynistic, violent, offensive, crass, encourages drug use and thuggish behaviour. But that’s exactly why I love it. It’s hilarious (“I’d like to report a murder, a dead body or something” “Where at?” “In tha alley”), UGLY MANE has a lot of charisma and some really well written lines (I had to use a dictionary a couple of times to even understand them), and the hooks are ridiculously catchy. An excellent tongue-in-cheek deconstruction of gangster rap.
Best Track(s): TWISTIN, BITCH I’M LUGUBRIOUS
Worst Track(s): MONA LISA OVERDRIVE
5. Joey Bada$$ – 1999
Whilst technically not an album, the utter quality of this mixtape begs inclusion. Ignoring how inadequate Joey makes me feel by being a 17 year old, he has serious talent. With the exception of a couple of cringe-worthy lines (including a diss directed at the Based God), his flow and lyrics surpass people twice his age. As a mixtape, Joey has taken a lot of beats from well known producers like MF DOOM and J Dilla, but in doing such a good job with them, brought a lot of attention to himself from other producers – he’s one to watch. As a side note, this tape had my favourite cover of the year.
Best Track(s): Killuminati, Don’t Front
Worst Track(s): FromdaTomb$
6. Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid, m.A.A.d City
Probably the most critically acclaimed album on the list, Kendrick’s incredibly ambitious album paid off dividends. In my review last year I stated with confidence that GKMC would be remembered as a classic album, and I stick by that. Kendrick’s versatility on this album, as well as the overarching story (and the story telling which delivers it) and his witty yet often touching lyrics make this an unforgettable listen.
Best Track(s): m.A.A.d City, Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe, Backseat Freestyle
Worst Track(s): Compton, Real
7. Kettel and Secede – When Can
This somewhat under the radar IDM collaboration between Sending Orbs record label-mates, Kettel and Secede is precisely what you’d expect from these two artists. Very bright music infused with childlike wonderment, yet with a tinge of sadness or nostalgia. Though not similar to the critically acclaimed Tryshasla, the influence of Secede can be seen in the very subtle aspects of noise and track foreshadowing (i.e. the melody of “Kirsten” appearing very gently in the opening track). This album is transporting, and quite literally broaches music that sounds like something from a medieval court as easily as it does a very minimal track of bleeps and bloops and a cat meowing.
Best Track(s): Kirsten, Fullmoon
Worst Track(s): Pentimento
8. El-P – Cancer 4 Cure
Underground hip-hop king pin and ginger New Yorker El-P’s third full length solo album. Hard hitting, futuristic beats and dense verbose lyrics invoking a vaguely dystopian image of Brooklyn are Jaime’s bread and butter, but he expands his range here with some excellent collaborations with Nicholas Thorburn and the heartfelt finishing track dedicated to his dead friend and fellow musician, Camu Tao. That isn’t to ignore the very solid and punchy hip-hop production on the rest of the album – particularly the track “The Full Retard”, nor the features from Danny Brown and Mr MFN Exquire, which, along with the more emotional tracks, come together to create a very solid LP.
Best Track(s): The Full Retard, Oh Hail No, Stay Down
Worst Track(s): For My Upstairs Neighbour
9. Burial – Kindred EP
Burial is an IDM producer from London whose 2007 album, Untrue is one of my all-time favourites, and his 2012 EP is a relief to hear in that he shows he hasn’t lost whatever spark it took to make Untrue so perfect. This is the sort of music you listen to on the bus, in the rain, at 3am whilst coming back from a particularly bad night shift. Dark, shadowy, muffled and atmospheric synths with sharp percussion and ghostly vocal samples comprise the skeleton of the songs on the EP, but there is variety and distinction enough to make this a very enjoyable listen.
Best Track(s): Loner
Worst Track(s): Ashtray Wasp
10. Solar Fields – Random Friday
Solar Fields probably became best known for doing the Mirror’s Edge soundtrack, but Magnus Birgersson has been creating ambient and psytrance for over a decade, and Random Friday really shows this expertise. His ability to compose not just interesting rhythms, but also manipulate the timbre of the synths into creating something truly beautiful certainly shows a progression from his earlier works if not also distinguishing Random Friday as a great album on its own.
Best Track(s): In Motion
Worst Track(s): Lift Off
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