Frank Ocean Beats Lana Del Rey, Springsteen: 2012 Best CD
Lana Del Rey closes the year looking more like the future of music than just the advertising face of H&M, Jaguar and Mulberry.
Something like 1,000 review albums have come my way since her “Born to Die,” and it’s still among my favorites of 2012.
She’s just beaten by Frank Ocean. He came to attention with his mixtape “Nostalgia, Ultra,” which was the freshest things I’d heard in ages. Now we have his debut proper, “Channel Orange,” crowned with the glossy, 10-minute track “Pyramids.”
Bruce Springsteen’s “Wrecking Ball” has the energy to see off criticism that The Boss is no longer a cutting-edge star.
Leonard Cohen brought out the ever-articulate “Old Ideas,” Donald Fagen the tasteful “Sunken Condos” and Mark Knopfler the virtuoso “Privateering” -- all sticking to character. Bob Dylan’s “Tempest” has its moments, even with the overdone title track about the Titanic. Along with the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones, Dylan marked 50 years in music.
Bobby Womack has recovered from health problems to make his best CD, “The Bravest Man in the Universe,” with Damon Albarn.
Ry Cooder’s “Election Special” was confidently dashed off, and so was Neil Young’s “Psychedelic Pill,” which came months after “Americana.” The White Stripes star Jack White has been going it alone, with the retro-tinged “Blunderbuss.”
Emeli Sande made an assured start with “Our Version of Events.” It does Sande a disservice to compare her to Aretha Franklin -- that’s a little over the top, though she eclipsed Jessie Ware, whose “Devotion” also showcases an original voice.
Sharon Van Etten’s “Tramp” is a beautiful breakup album and “Visions” by Grimes is even dreamier, with wispy vocals.
Taylor Swift’s “Red” places Joni Mitchell-style maturity in a pop form. Fiona Apple’s fine CD is called “The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do.” If that seems a mouthful, keep in mind that it’s short compared with the 90-word title of one of her others.
Pink’s “The Truth About Love” rises above its brash commercialism, while Regina Spektor’s “What We Saw From the Cheap Seats” is kooky, in a good way. Sinead O’Connor’s “How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?” is an outspoken comeback.
Indie rock is finding its way forward after the demise of its patron saints, R.E.M.
Waiting in the wings to replace them we have the U.K.’s the XX, with “Coexist” taking minimalism to a new level; Django Django, making a self-titled debut; Spiritualized (“Sweet Heart Sweet Light”); Grizzly Bear (“Shields”) and Beach House (the sublime “Bloom”).
Alt-J’s “An Awesome Wave” was a worthy Mercury Prize winner, “Lonerism” by Australia’s Tame Impala gently psychedelic, and “Attack on Memory” by Ohio’s Cloud Nothings a dark slab of vitriol with catchy guitars.
The latest Mumford & Sons release, “Babel,” may appeal to Grammy judges, though it’s not a patch on the finest English folk rock once made by Fairport Convention.
From the Democratic Republic of Congo, it’s worth hearing “Bouger Le Monde,” by a group of street musicians called Staff Benda Bilili. Zimbabwean band Mokoomba fuses African and Tongan rhythms on “Rising Tide.” Blind duo Amadou & Mariam, from Mali, add guests such as Santigold to their joyful “Folila.”
One of the most dramatic returns, after 27 years, was from “Come on Eileen” stars Dexys Midnight Runners, now just trading as Dexys. Singer Kevin Rowland told me that the title “One Day I’m Going to Soar” came to him after a difficult day. It certainly soars.
In writing this column, I soon had many suggestions, but still tweeted around asking for ideas. Those I got back and liked include the latest by Cat Power, Bat for Lashes, Ellie Goulding and Patti Smith; “Boys & Girls” by Alabama Shakes; “Invicta” by the Enid and “Done for Desire” by Damn Vandals.
The music from the London Olympics was a soundtrack of 2012 for many. The two CDs of opening and closing themes are a crash course in Britpop, with the Arctic Monkeys and Underworld among the standouts.
The CDs are priced from $9.99 and download prices vary across services.
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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