For the rest of the year, we’ll be spotlighting our KEXP DJs Top Albums of 2012, leading up to our 2012 Top Album Countdown, as voted on by our listeners! Voting ends on Friday, December 21st, so let us know your favorites now, and tune in on Friday, December 28th to hear if your picks made the list!
1. Kelly Hogan, I Like to Keep Myself in Pain (Anti-)
For my money, Kelly Hogan is the finest singer alive. I’m not talking about glass-shattering high notes and all that American Idol-style crap. I mean sheer interpretive ability. No wonder she’s always being tapped to sing backup for folks like Neko Case, Drive-By Truckers, and Jakob Dylan. Sometimes it pisses me off that she uses her gifts in services of others so much, rather than making more records of her own. But she’s a sly one, our Hogan. She called in all those favors for I Like To Keep Myself in Pain, and wound up with a record full of new songs from Robyn Hitchcock, John Wesley Harding, Andrew Bird and the late Vic Chestnutt. And she sings the hell out of them. Hogan, you are a genius and I will never question your methods again.
2. Neneh Cherry & The Thing, The Cherry Thing (Smalltown Supersound)
Neneh Cherry has an amazing back story that goes way beyond “Buffalo Stance.” She played with the Slits early on, fronted funky post-punk combo Rip Rig + Panic, and was part of Massive Attack’s Wild Bunch posse. Oh, and her stepfather was the groundbreaking trumpet player Don Cherry. Yeah. This collaboration with Scandinavian jazz trio the Thing applied her half-sung, half-spoken vocal delivery to a program dominated by interpretations of Suicide, MF Doom, and Ornette Coleman, each as fearless as the originals.
3. THEESatisfaction, awE naturalE (Sub Pop)
In my other life as a music critic, I had to listen to a ridiculous amount of mainstream hip-hop in 2012. The majority of albums were long on running time and short on ideas. THEESatisfaction flip the script. This is the rare album that leaves me wanting more. Much more. Plus it’s no secret that the LGBT community is woefully underrepresented in hip-hop, yet the genre’s finest album of the year was made by two lesbians of color. Brava!
4. Dirty Projectors, Swing Lo, Magellan (Domino)
5. Shearwater, Animal Joy (Sub Pop)
I have this quote from Brian Setzer of Stray Cats pasted into my high school photo album: “sometimes we get bored, so we dye our hair.” I’m self-identified Art Trash and both these albums spoke to that part of my sensibility, cobbling together irregular rhythms, oddball timbres and slightly affected vocals into songs that were incredibly moving nevertheless. And my head is still swimming from the Dirty Projectors gig at the Showbox.
6. Dr. John, Locked Down (Nonesuch)
Dr. John’s jazz records are all well and good, but I prefer his spookier, swampier side. The Black Keys guys not only rekindled the glory days of the Night Tripper, but also prompted Mac to write some of the finest lyrics of his long career.
7. Bill Fay, Life Is People (Dead Oceans)
Bill Fay? Never heard of him. Then MOJO magazine started raving about how this was the best record ever. Period. So I bit. They’re right. Fay made a couple albums in the early ’70s, and his work has been championed by Nick Cave, Jim O’Rourke, and Jeff Tweedy. The Wilco connection pops up twice on Fay’s first proper album in over 30 years. Tweedy chimes in on the original “This World,” and Fay’s cover of “Jesus Etc.” slots in perfectly with the overall spiritual tone of the album. Soothing salve for troubled times.
8. Iris Dement, Sing the Delta (Flariella)
Iris hadn’t made an album of original material since 1996. This one was worth the wait. As I wrote a review elsewhere, it lives up to its evocative title, favoring tempos as unhurried as the pace of summer in the Deep South and vowels elongated by the singer’s honeyed drawl.
9. Cults Percussion Ensemble, Cults Percussion Ensemble (Trunk)
Not the Cult and not Cults. Cults Percussion Ensemble. A group of Scottish schoolgirls (including a young Evelyn Glennie) from the aptly named hamlet of Cults. Amazing what teenagers can do with marimbas and xylophones. Originally released on private press in 1979. God bless Jonny Trunk for rescuing another archival oddity from the dustbin of history.
10. Frank Ocean, channel ORANGE (Def Jam)
The sentimental favorite. My boyfriend Mark and I were on our way to a wedding in Leavenworth this summer when an accident on Route 2 brought traffic to a complete halt for hours. So we rolled down the windows and listened to this record on repeat. And I never listen to anything on repeat, but Ocean’s forward-thinking R&B is an exception I can live with. That he came out of the closet shortly before the album’s release didn’t hurt his favorable rating Avec Chez Toro either.
DJ El Toro hosts the variety mix show on Wednesday nights from 9 PM to 1 AM on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle and kexp.org. His weekly rant, “Weird At My School,” appears infrequently on the KEXP Blog. Please follow DJ El Toro (aka Kurt B. Reighley) on Twitter and/or Tumblr!