Hip-hop has been on a creative upswing in the last year or so, evidenced by the fact that 3 of the year's best rap albums, the records from Black Hippy members Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q all didn't make the cut. However, the year also saw the first truly great album from Outkast/Dungeon family affiliate Killer Mike, produced entirely by alt-rap wunderkind El-P, an influx of awesome gay and lesbian rappers, the most exemplary being rapper/producer and Das Racist affiliate Le1f, producer Flying Lotus putting on his rapper cap for an album of stoned, pitch-shifted psychedelic rap that recalls MF DOOM, Quasimoto and elements of Odd Future as Captain Murphy, Meyhem Lauren puting together a hard, funny, classic-sounding and mostly-overlooked second album of 2012 (the first being this summer's solid Respect the Fly Shit) and 16-year-old Barbadian/Brooklyner Haleek Maul teaming up with Chicago production duo Supreme Cuts for a dark, moody future trap album, all of which I could by no means exclude from my year-end list.
Black metal has shown itself to be more than a one-trick-pony over the last 20-plus years, and the black metal records that I loved this year came from pretty much ever corner of the genre. The doomy Coloradans in Velnias brought a folk-flavored, ancient-sounding brew, while Nihill's Verdonkermaan was a lo-fi, occult tornado of riffs and blasts and Ash Borer turned in another LP of long-form, almost post-black metal brilliance (I'd say "transcendental black metal," if that term hadn't taken on a tainted character in the last few years).
The doom-and-drone-influenced post-whatever of Canadians AHNA and Californians Wreck and Reference came out of nowhere this year, and while similar compared to other bands on this list, each band took a unique and unexpected path to turn in an awesome album. AHNA's crusty, drone-sludge howl took my ears hostage with its bass-heavy, dirge-to-blast approach, and Wreck and Reference delivered a jaw-dropping, almost unclassifiable mix of post-punk, Swan-esque doom, drone, and noise that includes clean singing and replaces the usual guitar with an electronics-centered approach.
Grindcore and powerviolence continued their proliferation with another strong year that showed bands looking both backward and forward for inspiration. Cellgraft turned in an Insect Warfare and Assück-reminscent final release of ear-shattering traditional grind, Black Hole of Calcutta mixed the traditional grindcore approach with black metal and thrash for their satisfying second self-titled record, the Canadian newcomers in Violent Restitution blasted on to the scene with a gut-level LP that made them my favorite new grind band of the year, and Sakatat unfortunately heralded the end of their era as a band with their short-but-sweet first full-length. Dephosphorus transcended grindcore with their magnificent, skyward-looking debut LP, Column of Heaven mixed powerviolence and grindcore with noise and unusual instrumentation to tell a disturbing tale about a serial killer that's made more disturbing by its scope and basis in reality, The Kill delivered the snarling, blistering, no-nonsense breakout album I'd always been willing them to make and the Australians in thedowngoing continued their growth as an angular, tech-noisegrind duo with an equal interest in art and destruction.
While (good) indie rock was not as prolific as in years past, a few standbys brought creative and memorable albums to the table. Electronics weirdo Dan Deacon continued his avant-garde mixing of goofy electronic pop and classical composition with a warmer, more expansive album that's presented as a love song to the American landscape, and Ariel Pink (also a weirdo) brought an album that bridged the unrelenting strangeness of his older bedroom-pop material and the higher fidelity and tighter construction of last year's Before Today as well as paid reverence to lost-in-the-shuffle rockers Donny and Joe Emerson.
See below for album streams and samples, and keep your ears tuned in this year for a ton of great announced and already-released albums.
- Killer Mike- R.A.P. Music (Sample tracks: "Untitled," "Reagan," "Big Beast")
- Nihill- Verdonkermaan
- Column of Heaven- Mission from God
- The Kill- Make 'em Suffer
- Dephosphorus- Night Sky Transform
- Wreck and Reference- No Youth
- Meyhem Lauren- Mandatory Brunch Meetings
- Velnias- RuneEater
- Cellgraft- Cellgraft LP
- Dan Deacon- America (Samples: "True Thrush," "Lots," "USA Parts I-V")
- Sakat- Bir Devrin Sonu
- Violent Restitution- Violent Restitution LP
- Supreme Cuts and Haleek Maul- Chrome Lips
- Captain Murphy- Duality
- LE1F- Dark York
- thedowngoing- ATHOUSANDYEARSOFDARKNESS
- AHNA- Empire
- Ash Borer- Cold of Ages (Samples: "Phantoms," "Convict All Flesh")
- Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti- Mature Themes (Samples: "Kinski Assassin," "Symphony of the Nymph," "Baby (Donnie and Joe Emerson Cover)")
- Black Hole of Calcutta- S/T #2