Some classic UK R&B has been coming out this year, but Jessie Ware is the one most worth paying attention to. She doesn’t look like your typical pop or soul star, yet perhaps the best comparisons have been made to Sade, one of the greatest R&B vocalists to ever step out of the UK. Whether Jessie is epically belting about your “Wildest Moment”, or playfully singing a catchy pop tune like “Sweet Talk”, the sounds coming out of her are raw and beautiful. In a world of pop music that’s trying too hard to be sexy, Jessie Ware’s naturally sexy tone is breath of fresh air. Also, did you know she found her earliest success in a taxi? Yep, check this out:
Since their album Islands, I have been falling in love with the work Jamie, The XX’s DJ does. He has created some of the most original and beautiful remixes I have ever heard or imagined. With The XX, he generally creates an atmosphere for Romy Madley Croft’s soft and haunting voice. Their 2012 album, Coexist does more of the same of what they do best. Their sound feels detached, as if they are primarily creating a world to step into, rather than communicating an idea or expressing an emotion. This is one of my favourite records to play while doing administrative catch-up, or to discover is being played in a coffee shop.
10. MTMTMK – The Very Best
This year I was able to go see The Very Best live in Seattle, and had no idea before I got there that they even had a new record out. I have appreciated everything this Malawian lead and Swedish DJ have ever produced, so it was no surprise that I bought the new album as soon as we got home. MTMTMK stands for “More to Malawi Than Madonna’s Kids,” and features a bit more dance music than The Warm Heart of Africa did. If you are still unfamiliar with these guys, look into both albums – the first for a more African feel, and MTMTMK for more of a sense of blended cultures. This album also brought some attention to Seye (pronounced like Cher), the Nigerian-born, London-bred singer-songwriter who toured and collaborated with The Very Best. I would have considered one of Seye’s songs in my top 12, only that my favourite is not actually available yet. Still, here’s a video of him singing J.O.A.N.N.A.:
9. True – Solange
I was racking my brain whether to include E.P.’s on this list. There were a few really great and really promising short albums that came out this year, from Brandi Carlisle, Shad, and Azealia Banks, for example. But there is something about this 7-track collection from Beyonce’s younger sister that I simply can’t exclude. Maybe it’s the 80’s R&B throwback (the record is full of drum tracks, synthesizer, and even retro sounding harmonies) just when we most miss Whitney Houston’s early years. Maybe we’ve all been secretly wishing to know what Beyonce would sound like if she weren’t an epic diva. For whatever reason, True feels as though it’s exactly what a musical doctor would prescribe. I can’t find a full album stream, but here’s the Rdio preivew.
This album may still be in the “Under $8” section on iTunes. That’s how I picked it up, only having really listened to the two tracks that had viral videos, “Same Love,” and “Thrift Shop”. I actually forgot I had purchased it, until one day a song popped into my headphones while my ipod was on shuffle (a rare moment, indeed). Macklemore surprised me by being far more than your average white rapper. He does hip hop justice by both speaking out on issues, and having a sense of humour, two things that I believe hip hop music does at its best. There are a couple moments that could feel slightly preachy to some, but for the most part this is a solid record built on thought and guts.
I think this collaboration makes more sense than any I’ve heard of in a long while. Two incredibly talented, brilliant, and quirky musicians from different generations team up to give us exactly what you would expect, plus some extra horns. The only downside to Love This Giant is that Annie Clark (St. Vincent) doesn’t have nearly enough guitar solos. Still, it’s clear through the work they did produce that both David and Annie respect and generally enjoy each other’s music and style, which along with their stunningly complementary vocals, makes this team-up worth every effort.
6. …Little Broken Hearts – Norah Jones
Like no Norah you’ve heard before, …Little Broken Hearts shows off the jazz standard singer’s versatility, and producer Danger Mouse’s ability to transform an artist’s sound. Like Adele’s 21 the year before, …Little Broken Hearts is an album dedicated to a break-up, and although it hasn’t reached nearly the level of mainstream success that 21 did, I find it refreshingly more mature and balanced on the dejected-to-irate spectrum. Highlights for me are “Sad Goodbye”, “Happy Pills”, and “Miriam”. Just click on the album image to stream all the songs.
5. Boys and Girls – The Alabama Shakes
The Alabama Shakes have the secret power of time travel. Every time I play Boys and Girls I have to remind myself that I do not actually live in the 60’s. The album kicks off with the addictive single, “Hold On”, and then does nothing less than restore my faith in Rock & Roll. The album is filled to every last edge with lyrics of desire, anger and sadness that are only deepened by Britney Howard’s soulful, raspy, low croon. I have yet to see them live, but I’ve heard this is necessary, so if you have the chance, don’t pass it up.
I did not like this right away. At first listen, I couldn’t handle the macho and misogyny long enough to get past the first half. Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City tells Lamar’s own coming-of-age story, and at first, Kendrick tries to prove himself a man with the usual tough act. In order to see him grow, you need to give the album/story time. Punctuated by voicemails left by Lamar’s parents (beginning angrily asking for the car back but eventually become gentle invitations to come home) this solid rap record leaves a surprising message of manhood: that it’s not perfected in violence but in taking care of family. Although it is heard best in context, I’ve embedded my favourite song off the record below.