As the dust settles in the wake of all the best music of 2012 lists, one thing is clear: some music has gone under the radar. Some LPs and EPs were critically unappreciated, underplayed, or underhyped throughout 2012. And at The Airspace, we think that is just wrong. So here is our list—not merely of the best music—but of the best music you probably overlooked.
In alphabetical order.
‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! — Godspeed You! Black Emperor
What You Missed: ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! is the fourth studio album from Canada’s premier post-rock group, Godspeed You! Black Emperor (GY!BE) and their first in a decade. Representing a comeback for the collective of musicians, it was originally released on vinyl 12” LP and 7” accompanying record. With four songs and a length of 53 minutes, the vinyl format proved a little strange, calling upon listeners to play side A1 on the 12” and then side B1 on the 7”. Nevertheless, the album proved a critical success for the group numerous year-end lists and garnering a Metacritic score of 81.
Why You Missed It: Length.
As exquisite as GY!BE’s sound can be, their droning post-rock can be slower and more eerie than their more approachable contemporary Explosions in the Sky. That coupled with the odd release, makes it more likely than not that the person you hear praising ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! is regurgitating indie reviews. For proper appreciation, it requires a listener to commit to 53 uninterrupted minutes.
Why You Should Listen: The desolate soundscapes proves extremely moving. GY!BE picks up right where they left off, making some of the most exquisite post-rock in recent memory.
Alone Together — Karriem Riggins
What You Missed: Alone Together is the first solo album for Karriem Riggins, a drummer/producer with an impressive list of associated acts across genres. It follows a rich tradition of Stones Throw Records production, combining a variety of sounds into top-tier hip hop beats. Stones Throw is also the home of Madlib and Jay Dilla’s famous Donuts, to which this album is greatly indebted.
Why You Missed It: Publicity.
Stones Throw does not have the strongest publicity department. Sometimes it seems as if they relish in their indie quality, guiding off the notoriety of Donuts and Madvillain. Another factor? Youth. At the age of 37, this is Karriem Riggins’ first release, and instrumental albums are really made by the rappers that co-opt them. Without up and coming rappers working with the beats, it’s tough to get noticed as a truly talented producer.
Why I Like It: Immediately reminiscent of the magnificent Donuts, this essentially jazzy mix expands far beyond its spiritual predecessor. A wide variety of sounds fill the album, accompanied by warm vocal complements that make for a smooth yet eccentric piece.
AmeriKKKan Korruption — Capital Steez
What You Missed: This debut mixtape from Pro Era member Capital Steez features much of the same quality rapping and old-school production as his fellow contributor Joey Bada$$ (who also makes appearance as producer and featured artist). It blends urban awareness with juvenility in a fun yet meaningful manner.
Why You Missed It: Overshadowed.
Joey Bada$$’s 1999 mixtape was the talk of the town. And while it directed many people to Capital Steez’s work—particularly after his killer verse on Survival Tactics—an over-crowded spring for mixtapes mean his work didn’t get as much attention Joey’s similar successor. And it’s a shame because the title really begs to be noticed.
Why I Like It: AmeriKKKan Korruption is great for the same values as 1999: it has a throwback self-conscious style without taking itself too seriously. And it shows immense promise. Unfortunately, Capital Steez took his life on December 24th of the past year before fully realizing his rapping abilities.
BBNG2 — BadBadNotGood
What You Missed: BadBadNotGood is a Canadian jazz trio, all under 21, who attracted a lot of attention with their past releases, full of covers of contemporary hip hop standards. This release is no exception, featuring covers of James Blake, Earl Sweatshirt, and Kanye West alongside original material.
Why You Missed It: Underappreciated.
The zany covers brought me to the album, as it did others, but few people got past the covers for the original material that bind it all together. So in many cases, it seems to have been written off.
Why I Like It: Those original songs, and even the expansions on the covers (see: Flashing Lights) are incredibly inventive and moving. This is Yeezy like you’ve never heard him, tapping into the jazz roots of hip hop with their expansive and original music.
Black Lodge Vol. 1 — Face Vega
What You Missed: You missed a cloud rap album based on Twin Peaks. Let me repeat that in all caps: YOU MISSED A CLOUD RAP ALBUM BASED ON TWIN PEAKS.
Why You Missed It: I don’t know.
It came out right around the same time as AmeriKKKan Korruption, and it seems to have all the keys for success in an indie-writing world dominated by Twin Peaks fanboys. Perhaps it had trouble finding traction in hip hop blogs because of the concept, but nonetheless, it combines most of the trillwave/cloud rap sound that is popular.
Why I Like It: The album has the drugged out qualities of “Laura Palmer’s Theme” from the original Lynch series, grabbing A$AP Rocky and Clams Casino beats and stepping up to the challenge entirely. With eerie lyrics to boot, the album promises all the slowed-down terror of Twin Peaks in a single, hazy package. It is reminiscent of The Weeknd at his rapping best.
Don’t Break My Love: A Collection Of Lost Memories From Sunset & Clown — Various Artists
What You Missed: Also known as “The Prism,” this collection of songs features some of the greatest tracks from Nicolas Jaar’s overlooked and blossoming juggernaut-of-a-record-label Sunset & Clown. It is like Cruel Summer of Jaar’s psychedelic and jazzy house music, with him making appearances and combining with other musicians to produce stellar tracks.
Why You Missed It: Packaging.
In some ways you were supposed to miss “The Prism” because it was released in rare and fragile packaging. Specifically, all its music is contained within a small aluminum cube with four buttons (on/off, play, pause, volume), two headphone slots, and a USB charging cable. Unless you shelled out the $40 for this allegedly unreliable music box, there was simply no way for you to catch the entire collection—until, that is, it received a full digital release late this year.
Why I Like It: Jaar and his companions are masters at mixing tracks and creating music with a certain atmosphere that is both terrifying and soothing. Nico Jaar’s BBC 1 Essential Mix starts, not unlike Black Lodge Vol. 1, with a clip from Twin Peaks. In the same way, Don’t Break My Love represents the delicate, beautiful, peaceful and otherwise terrifying image of Laura Palmer’s dead body that haunted the series.
History Will Absolve Me — Billy Woods
What You Missed: History Will Absolve Me makes rap frightening straightforward. This hip hop album by Billy Woods pulls no punches with his deep and biting lyricism, and its production lacks the lush beats of most of the other popular work of the year.
Why You Missed It: Style.
This album can be hard to get through at times. With 18 tracks, some can’t stand up to the magnificence of others. It’s a sort of Death Grips-like alternative and eclectic mix of hip hop that never quite picked up the attention of the indie blogosphere.
Why I Like It: Like the speech it is named after, History Will Absolve Me is angry and potent. The beats are raw, loud, and angry—just like Woods.
Ocean Roar — Mount Eerie
What You Missed: Ocean Roar was Phil Elvrum as Mount Eerie’s second release of 2012. It is primarily droning, noise folk, but maintains Elvrum’s long tradition of soft and delicate sounds mixed with harshness.
Why You Missed It: Fatigue.
Many recognized Clear Moon as a great edition to Phil Elvrum’s already stacked noise folk catalogue, and if you’re anything like me, you played it a bunch. By the time Ocean Roar came around months later, you probably had enough of the Mount Eerie sound. Not only that, but Ocean Roar is Mount Eerie on steroids, containing some of his harshest and most powerful music yet.
Why I Like It: Because it’s like Mount Eerie on steroids. It provides a refreshing counterpoint to Clear Moon’s delicate lushness with some equally delicate primordial power. It ebbs and flows, but at high tide, it can be Phil Elvrum’s most potent music yet.
Quakers — Quakers
What You Missed: This is the debut album of the hip hop production supergroup Quakers, featuring Geoff Barrow of Portishead, 7-Stu-7, and Katalyst. The album is stocked full of expert featuring spots from an absurd number of artists, most taking one track by themselves. The result is that each track has a unique flow but a consistent style for a fantastic mix of music.
Why You Missed It: This came out on Stones Throw Records, also, so I’m chalking it up to publicity again. And while it has many rappers who would presumably promote it to their fan base, a significant portion of the artists were discovered on MySpace and are without much acclaim.
Why I Like It: Quakers is an experiment in eclectic hip hop, and within it lies a wealth of unrecognized talent. Its alternative style represents a magnificent blend between Stones Throw soul and a Portishead-type trip hop.
Silent Hour/Golden Mile — Daniel Rossen
What You Missed: This EP from Grizzly Bear and Department of Eagles Daniel Rossen represents rejected or scrapped tracks for Grizzly Bear’s 2012 release Shields. At five songs and 23 minutes long, Rossen does almost all the work himself in this folkier version of Grizzly Bear more reminiscent of their early work and Yellow House.
Why You Missed It: Underhyped.
The album itself is quite modest. It doesn’t aim to be soaring or wonderful, but in its modesty it accomplishes both. Nevertheless, the idea of it being songs rejected for both Department of Eagles and Grizzly Bear casted a shadow on its quality that I don’t think the EP overcame in the critical world. Reviews were scarce.
Why I Like It: It is tough to see how any of these songs didn’t make it on to Shields, because they’re all gorgeous. Rossen puts enormous heart into each of these songs, and makes them uniquely his own. Somehow, that is reconciled perfectly with the album’s baroque nature.
Themes For An Imaginary Film — Symmetry
What You Missed: Johnny Jewel (Chromatics) and Nat Walker (Desire), leading producers in nu-disco, came together to score a film allegedly for Drive—though, ultimately, for an imaginary film. It has all the trademarks of a score, clocking in at two hours and 37 minutes mixing the soaring synth that characterizes Jewel’s work with a minimalism that recalls an empty road.
Why You Missed It: Timing.
Themes For An imaginary Film was released in that music blogging hole that is the few days after Christmas—it is a time when people produce or digest their year-end lists. And traditionalists would also exempt it from landing on any year-end lists, as it’s not quite 2012 and it came too late to hit the 2011 window.
Why I Like It: Granted, film scores do not make for the most popular albums. At over two and a half hours, it can be tough to grapple with, but it has its own rises and fall—silences and crescendos, long-running synth chords and short viola notes. Altogether, it creates a comprehensive sound landscape unlike any other.