Ladies and Gentlemen, Lady-boy’s and She-men, welcome to Part 2 (of 5) in the AdemWithAnE.com Top 25 Albums of 2012 countdown. Step right up, step right up; let’s get on with this show shall we?!
20. AZEALIA BANKS “Fantasea”
The Mix-tape phenomenon isn’t usually one I like to indulge when it comes to these lists but Azealia’s highly impressive “Fantasea” delivered a lot more than any old mix-tape in the past.
What was put on the table (and offered as a free download) had more thought, passion and drive welded into it than most commercially released efforts this year; and all for somebody who hasn’t even dropped their debut album yet. “Fantasea” is a mixed bag of clever samples (The Prodigy, Montell Jordan, AraabMuzik) and strong, thick lashings of Urban basslines fused together with hard, up-front club cuts and tongue-lashing lyrics. 1990′s house and rave music really take a larger viewpoint on this mix-tape than they ever have, with obvious influences hailing all over the dance music capitals of the world. And that’s what I really love about Azealia; not only is she not afraid to play around with serious dance music, she also has an ear for what it actually is about those housey sounds that meld so well with urban beats and knife-sharp raps. Slabs of Detroit techno waver through on the magnetic “Luxury”, one of the mix-tape’s biggest moments, but it’s the highly controversial “Esta Noche” which makes Fantasea worth the download alone. Sampling Montell Jordan’s “Get It On Tonite” gave Azealia what was potentially the most bankable of songs on her mix-tape (which she, or rather her label, ruined with shady back-door dealings with the track’s original producer), and Prodigy-sampling mix-tape opener “Out Of Space” demonstrates the kind of quick, dirty, lyrical prowess Banks is starting to become very renowned for.
Azealia herself claimed that this mix-tape was “a test run” for her debut album (dropping early 2013), and if that is the case, we’re in for a very bankable 2013 because everything on Fantasea is right on the money.
19. NO DOUBT “Push & Shove”
It’s been a long time coming but the return of seminal 90’s pop-rock band No Doubt is a somewhat massive occasion. 2011 saw the return of Courtney Love’s fronted Hole, and the first half of 2012 brought us the re-emergence of another seminal 90’s pop-rock band, Garbage. In an age where the Women of Rock are given the cold-shoulder by music fans, it’s refreshing to see Rock Chick’s like Love, Manson and now Stefani returning to the forefront – where they belong.
No Doubt’s sixth studio album, their first in almost 10 years, not only marks a 26 year anniversary of the band but is also an exciting trip into the adventurous musical world of No Doubt. First single “Settle Down” took the band into 6-minute raggamuffin territory (a place the band have become incredibly comfortable with over the years) but still managed to reign the sound in so that it felt like something from 2012. “Looking Hot”, Single number 2 and rightly so; is the best jam No Doubt have recorded for this record and Gwen has never sounded better. A killer, punchy chorus that comes tapped with Stefani urgently coo-ing and aah-ing her “oh, Oh, OH’s” which, in turn, make for the absolute highlight of the album. Title track “Push & Shove” is a Balearic bassline that trumps through its flaw-free verses before slamming itself into a minimalist guitar-driven nod to Dubstep. The song also houses the record’s best lyric (“Just when you think it’s over, we be on another level like we doin’ Yoga”) and the album’s best middle-8 by a long shot. The freshest and most forward-thinking song No Doubt have on here; and perhaps would have been a better first single choice.
All in all, the return of No Doubt in 2012 has really been one to celebrate. The album is full of hit singles and classic No Doubt mid-to-low-tempo numbers (such as career highlight “Dreaming the Same Dream”); it’s also the album that clearly identifies exactly where Gwen Stefani belongs as an artist, sounding a lot more comfortable and at-ease across this record than she did at any stage on her previous solo effort.
18. T.E.E.D. “Trouble”
Orlando Higginbottom’s debut album “Trouble” is a thick, generous offering of subdued club and house beats with tinges of acid, Detroit techno, progressive house, euphoric trance, and even a splash of Hot Chip influence for good measure; particularly in the way Orlando lays down his vocals for the bulk of the tracks on Trouble.
An incredibly accomplished record (particularly for a debut), the greatest cuts on Trouble are the ones which lend themselves the most to the dance floors of the 1990′s. “Tapes & Money” sounds like it’s come right off the club circuit in Ibiza circa-1993, as does the stunning “Your Love”, which sees Higginbottom team up vocally with a bona-fide 90′s vocal-house diva, burning down the proverbial building with one of the most electrifying moments in dance music this year. Songs like “Panpipes” – a trip into minimalist house – and “You Need Me On My Own” all take T.E.E.D. into a world full of softer-paced beats-per-minute, but it’s really the slammin’ techno of jams like the epic “Closer” or the captivating “American Dream Part II”, both of which may be Trouble’s most colourful, exciting and envelope-pushing moments, fusing 1970′s disco with banging spheres of techno, minimalist and acid house.
The interesting thing about Trouble is that, lyrically, this is primarily a record about love and, in most cases, love that is unrequited. What better way to deal with those issues than with two feet firmly placed on the dance floor.
17. ICONA POP “Icona Pop”
Sweden’s Icona Pop surprised Australian radio audiences this year with the frighteningly good “I Love It”, a song that peaked at Number 6 on the ARIA singles chart – quite the feat when you consider this Swedish duo have not exactly released anything before in our country – and was one of the few Top 10 hits this year to actually be deserving of its placement. The album is an pulsating collection of electropop, house and indie-pop, and instant charmers like “Wanna B With Somebody”, singles “Sun Goes Down” and “Manners” all do a damn good job of solidifying exactly why Icona Pop are one of the most talked about acts of 2012.
The saddest thing about Icona Pop’s debut is the inclusion of “Nights Like This”, a song that was bettered when the band mashed it up with Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita” for a 2011 release and called it “Nights Like Bonita” – the track on its own is a mish-mash of ideas that doesn’t really translate into anything beyond a decent Crystal Castles xerox, but the aforementioned Madge-up takes the song to places never thought possible. Chances are the sample couldn’t get cleared in time for the album release – just an assumption – but if you can I’d highly suggest you investigate it. Swapping them around in iTunes is not that big of a task, and luckily the remains of Icona Pop’s debut is brim-full of instant pop hooks and clever choruses.
16. AMANDA LEAR “I Don’t Like Disco”
Salvador Dali’s former muse Amanda Lear has been recording music in her homeland of France since 1977, making “I Don’t Like Disco” her 22nd studio album affair. The record, which lends itself strikingly to the much-loved Italo Disco movement (which really took european dance floors by storm particularly through the 1980′s with artists like Fancy and Bobby Orlando) and intertwining it with modern-day EDM. Everything from Lear’s raspy English-as-a-second-language accent to the larger-than-life production made this one of the most played records of 2012 for me.
“What A Surprise” is a kicky pop-dance hybrid with a snappy chorus and seductive lyrics, then there’s the twisted, dark and complicated key progression of the sinister “Money Money” which shifts the record into darker territory, all before launching into the Cascada-esque dub cut, “You’re Mad.” The no-bullshit pop moments like “I Need Silence” – which sounds like it could have been originally sung by Fancy himself – and spellbinding album closer “Chinese Walk” (complete with some very interesting lyrics) take the cake as Disco’s biggest, brightest beacons of light, connecting thundering Italo key progression with some of the darkest, thickest techno beats you’ve heard in pop this year.
That combined with Lear’s unique vocal prowess leaves you with one of the most beautifully composed records of 2012.