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By The Numbers: Ageism In Hip-Hop Doesn't Exist

The argument that rappers must lose relevance after a certain age is as old as hip-hop itself, and artists like Rakim, 50 Cent, LL Cool J, M...

2012 Top 50 Albums: 20 - 11

20. Bob Dylan - Tempest (Bob Dylan – Tempest)

The most clarity a Dylan album has served up in some time, Tempest certainly is no slow burner. You're drawn immediately in to his rockabilly world, Duquesne Whistle strikes, as is always the case, with Dylan's gruff, hardened voice as the major weapon. Lyrically he can lose track, and you might struggle to follow his train of thought, but it adds to the atmosphere of the record. After all, there isn't a soul alive who claims to understand every word he has sung (or growled). You could just dismiss him as another old, angry man. Pay In Blood, for example, see's him angry, threatening 'I'll pay in blood, but not my own'. But it, and he, doesn't sound reckless or rambling, he sounds menacing. The whole record feels beautifully put together, fresher than anything I've experienced this year. It's a brilliant listen from the first to the last. Best Tracks: Narrow Way, Pay In Blood

19. Paul Banks - Banks (Paul Banks – Banks)

The Interpol frontman delivers an excellent English record. He presents as a middle aged man trying to get his bearings, to come to terms with a passed youth and an apparently less than enviable future. It is a snapshot of the man as he is at 34, relationships, inner thoughts, musings, acquaintances. It's a narrative. Young Again is a 'celebration' of a moment of rekindled youth. I'll Sue You is a brilliant take on advancing years and changed reactions. The whole record is wrapped in a modern British alternative package. More biographical than his work with Interpol, it takes a listen or two to connect but when you do Banks doesn't quite draw you in to his world, he sets it out in front of you to react to. Best Tracks: I'll Sue You, Young Again

18.  E-40 and Too $hort - History: Function and Mob Music
(E-40 – History: Function & Mob Music (Deluxe Edition))

One of the most prolific artists of the past few years, E-40 makes up for the slight disappointment that was the Block Brochure series with a thumping release partnering long time collaborator and friend Too $hort. If you like hyphy music, you will just breathe this. Wonderfully put together, the production is back to the high standards that the Revenue Retrievin' set. Droop-E, 40s son, provides some of the hardest beats of the year (Say I). And E-40 and Too $hort are only happy to spaz out on each track, detailing cars, drugs, money and overall, women. Story tellers, but guys who just love a good time, and you will find plenty of party music on this release. The whole project feels tight, there aren't many extra collaborators, E-40 usually leads off a track before $hort drops in with his special brand of off-kilter flow. Their energy and imagined youth are so infectious it's impossible to come out of this album feeling worse than when you went in. Make sure you have the rewind button ready, there are some serious quotables. Best Tracks: Say I, Bout My Money

17. Of Monsters And Men - My Head Is An Animal (Of Monsters And Men – My Head Is An Animal)

These Icelandic pop purveyors have created an enduringdelightful romp through the light and airy side of folk. I was concerned that this record wouldn't withstand the test of time, but it has grown as the year has, and on December 31 it feels just as fresh as the day it was released. It is a record stamped with optimism and youthful energy, propped up by the excellent way Nanna and Ragnar use their voices in tandem. A dash of brass never hurts either. Of Monsters And Men create a lovely playing field for you to relax and dance in, and with tracks like Little Talks and Mountain Sounds you'll be powerless to resist. Best Tracks: Dirty Paws, Little Talks

16. John Talabot - Fin (John Talabot – Fin)

It's a dance record with the BPM turned down. That's not being terribly fair to Mr. Talabot though. There is no sledgehammer approach to electronics, this release has been painstakingly crafted. Moments like the second half of Last Land and When The Past Was Present highlight his ability to create that perfect sound for the last few hours on the dancefloor. When everyone is coming down, when the other DJs have left for their next venue, Talabot soothes your aching joints and your frazzled mind with big fluffy pillows of sound. This is an album to get lost in. Just as relevant if you're lying in bed or tackling a long drive, you will become immersed, Talabot is such a master of the art of deep house you will be mesmerized. Best Tracks: Destiny, When The Past Was Present

15.  Air - Le Voyage Dans La Lune (Air – Le voyage dans la lune) 

Air's last record was the quite brilliant Love 2. You'd think it'd be difficult to turn around from a feature LP and create a soundtrack to a movie from 1902, but Air handle this with aplomb. They have experience in these activities though, the score for The Virgin Suicides was decadently attacked and triumph ensued. You know the term 'score' is going to be loosely applied by the french electro masters. Le Voyage Dans La Lune provides a surprisingly great listen as a stand alone project. The songs don't feel underdone, you get the impression they could stretch each of these ideas much further than the 2-3 minutes most tracks are, but in avoiding this Air create something extremely fresh and manage to pack a lot of ideas and sounds in to a tiny package. The percussion is loud and prevalent, giving a kind of halting quality to the release. Cosmic Trip is propelled by a brilliantly simple bass line, and is a great example of how the entire release evokes this cosmic, space-age feeling. It sounds futuristic, but as if we're listening to it in 1950. It's charming. Best Tracks: Cosmic Trip, Seven Stars

14.  Swans - The Seer (Swans – The Seer) 

I read an article on Swans that scared me. During their heights in mid to late 80s they played live
shows so loud people became physically ill. They weren't just loud and angry in a way you or me have experienced. They were BRUTAL. This is heavy rock, not to be confused with heavy metal. Mother Of The World is the best example, a hulking behemoth of a riff that just repeats, self-serving, until around 4:40 when Michael Gira breaks it open, menacingly uttering his lyrics. Then all is quiet. The song wimpers, peters out depleted. You feel drained. Prepare yourself because the record will push and pull you, drag you in different directions. It is by no means an easy listen. It pounds through your ears and in to your skull where it sits and resonates. It is masterful at this. The title track allows you 8 minutes of peace before attacking again, it builds, you can see it as if it is a bull running at you from a huge distance away. You're powerless against it. The Seer creates such tension in you, the only way to release it is to keep listening and trust that Gira will liberate you. He does, and it's an experience. Best Tracks: The whole thing.

13. Elbow - Dead In The Boot (Elbow – dead in the boot)

I didn't expect a B-side compilation to affect me so. But then this is Elbow. Dead In The Boot is a collection of B-sides dating all the way back to 2001. It is a lovely repose, and surprisingly consistent throughout considering the length of time between the creation of some of these tracks. A quieter version of the Elbow we know and love, Dead In The Boot meanders through its 52 minutes unassumingly, providing the odd temporary heart starter (the trademark guitar explosion halfway through Whisper Grass), and doling out quick snippets of the wisdom and knowledge that Guy Garvey has become famous for. On Snowball he reminds 'the biggest of mistakes can be forgiven, but a snowball of little white lies will crush your home'. Lucky With Disease has him instructing 'I'm in a bad way, call my friends they'll know what to do', a line that gave me goosebumps. Buffalo Ghosts, the best track, is a beautiful movement through acoustic guitar and muted percussion with only Garvey's gift for melody propelling it. The whole album feels as though it was written at 3am on a Monday morning, everyone else had left the party and gone to sleep in preparation for Monday. Garvey and a couple of mates are still up, discussing and drinking, waiting for the sun. Best Tracks: Buffalo Ghosts, None One

12.  Nas - Life Is Good (Nas – Life Is Good)

In 2012, the creator of one of the greatest hip hop records of all time is 39, with a child, and has just experienced a messy, public divorce. Fellow 90s veterans Busta Rhymes, Xzibit and Snoop Dogg all released music that lacked relevance and resonance this year. For the first time since Stillmatic Nas' quality rose to the top and shone brightly through. You could forgive him for dwelling on the Kelis bust up, you could forgive him for reaching for chart success one last time, or even for another Untitled. He incorporates all of this without sounding like he is trying. It's a wonderfully natural release. No I.D. laces it with an excellent array of 90s feeling beats and Nas is in his element. From the wonderful Halftime-era Loco-Motive, to the street number Accident Murders, to the perfect radio hit Summer On Smash (thank you Swizz Beatz), to the epic Cherry Wine (Winehouse wailing 'And I’m alone, and I realize that when I get home' is brilliant), Nas is in vintage form. The best track, Daughters, is a brutally honest introspective on the man as a parent, it resonates. The most symbolic line, however, comes off Loco-Motive: ' 'I know you think my life is good cause my diamond piece / But my life been good since I started finding peace'. Nas is in a good place. Best Tracks: Daughters, Cherry Wine

11. Four Tet - Pink (Four Tet – Pink)

Four Tet, a wonderful project that takes Trance, Techno and Electronica and mixes it up in a big bowl to deliver a far more pleasing concoction than standard purveyors can manage. Pink is a collection of B-sides with two new tracks, but for the sake of casual fans it is a new release. It does feel less of an album and more of a collection, especially when compared to the cohesiveness of 2010's There Is Love In You. That's not to say brilliance does not reside within Pink. It houses perfect examples of subtlety in electronics, and how when coupled with meticulously arranged percussion and bass great dance music can be created. It's also a trip down memory lane for more serious fans. Locked recalls the frenetics that were the undercurrents for Rounds. Pyramid pulses along as Sing did on There Is Love In You. The piano riff that kicks in at 5 minutes is a lovely explosion of jazz. Pinnacles sums everything up, borrowing influences and sounds at will. Radiohead and Air come to mind. There is no time to get bored, Hebden never lets his listeners settle. There is always movement. It's the highest placed release of its kind in 2012 and rightfully so. It is expertly crafted, there isn't a bad moment. You can't say that too often of dance music. Best Tracks: Pinnacles, Pyramid

Top 50 of 2012: 30-21

30. Azealia Banks - Fantasea (Azealia Banks - Fantasea)
Azealia Banks is excitement personified. 212 was easily one of the top tracks of 2011, and her Coachella set, which lasted just 20 minutes was the most hotly anticipated of the weekend. 
Fantasea is an excellent bridge between pop stardom from one song to a hotly anticipated album. It allows Banks to express herself and explore her abilities. Fortunately for us, it houses some brilliant beats and Banks doesn't fall in to the Minaj trap of commercial pop. This is a mixtape by an MC. 'He tricking off, cause my verse perverse / And jerking off when a bitch rehearse him / And when I lift the skirt, your nigga never gotta be coerced / To just squirt and he eats the dessert'. Skillful. Best Tracks: FIERCE, NATHAN

29. GOOD Music - Cruel Summer (Various Artists – Kanye West Presents Good Music Cruel Summer) 
A fluctuating, varied release, Cruel Summer was one of the most newsworthy and anticipated records this year. For me, it didn't disappoint. Kanye and co provided us with some of the biggest beats of the year, with Clique and Mercy performing brilliantly on the charts. There is enough quality scattered amongst the other tracks for Cruel Summer not to flop, and it engages throughout. Whenever Kanye spits, the track thrives, and he's proven he is now one of the best rappers in the world, even if his talent gathering isn't quite up to Jay-Z levels. Best Tracks: Clique, Mercy

28.    Grizzly Bear - Shields (Grizzly Bear – Shields
We finally get the Grizzly Bear album we knew was coming. Always sonically beautiful, the band at times lacked direction and depth lyrically. Shields provides listeners with issues, narratives, insight in to the minds of its creators. Sleeping Ute bounces, halts, grows and entrances. It draws you in to this dark, intentionally anxious world. The album pushes and pulls you, between its beauty of lightness and its aggressive depths. Best Tracks: Sleeping Ute, Yet Again

27.  Twin Shadow - Confess (Twin Shadow – Confess)
Never have i disliked a character that someone has created for themselves more than George Lewis Jr as Twin Shadow. You will grow to hate him too. Yet you'll learn to trust him in the way you trust something that acts consistently. Thankfully, he has crafted what is one of the great pop records of the 00s. Always honest, brutally so, he mixes tales of modern 'player' activities with stunning throwbacks to the late 70s and 80s synth pop to create melodies even the toughest critic would find hard to resist. Dance-able, but only at 5am. Best Tracks: Golden Light, Five Seconds

26.  Django Django - Django Django (Django Django – Django Django)
It sounds, at times, like a 60s surf record, at times a late 70s disco classic, and then out of the blue some crazy futuristic incarnation of Hard-Fi or Hot Chip. It never lulls, there is energy throughout, and the guitar from Hail Bop will honestly pulse through you, instantly recognisable as something you've heard somewhere. Default is one of the tracks of the year. By the time you slide through to the final track it's relaxed and spaced you out. It smacks of youth! Best Tracks: Hail Bop, Default

25.  Chairlift - Something (Chairlift – Something)
From Sidewalk Safari you know you're on track for something a little different. Chairlift don't fail here. The album is a weird but effective mix of spaced out synth beats juxtaposed with clearer than expected vocal performances. It is refreshing, even in the current climate of synth overload. The first few tracks transport you back to the wonderful 80s. If you heard this on your oldies channel you wouldn't question it, yet it progresses through the years to deliver something progressive and futuristic by the time you've hit Cool As A Fire. Best Tracks: Sidewalk Safari, Wrong Opinion

24.  Big Boi - Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours (Big Boi – Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors)
Big Boi always manages to provide something different. As one half of Outkast, you expect no less. VLDR is a progression to a type of hip hop record that hasn't been invented yet. It's a brilliant meld of alternative, indie styling and trademark hip hop. Heavy, very heavy, on hooks, on parts of the record Big Boi sits back and allows his collaborators full control. The result is quite brilliant, one of the most listenable pop experiements of the year but tinged always with Big Boi's southern flavoured brand of rap music. In The A is a particularly good example of how he hasn't forgotten his southern roots. Compare this with Mama Told Me. Very diverse release. Best Tracks: Apple Of My Eye, Mama Told Me

23. Mumford & Sons - Babel (Mumford & Sons – Babel)
Highly anticipated, this record came with a bang but has sort of been glossed over and forgotten in the major end of year awards. Not quite as consistent as their debut, but nonetheless a stand out record.  The title track hits you in the chest as Marcus Mumford gruffly propels in the way only he can. Thumping, stomping. The brilliant I Will Wait a magnificent exploration of sentiment, projected so well by Marcus. Most songs following a familiar style, always finishing strong, makes for an extremely strong release. Lyrically, again Marcus is adept, detailing loss and love in that brilliant voice. Best Tracks: Babel, I Will Wait

22. Beak> - >> (Beak> – > >)
 If you're feeling particularly anxious, don't listen to this album. For some reason it compounds the problem. A frenetically arranged affair, The Gaul details perfectly how in a single track Beak> can create and destroy a theme without breaking a sweat. You'll find elements of dub, EDM, drone, ambient, drum and bass and about 13 or 14 different other genres on display. Essentially, this feels as though it's designed to be a chill out record, but because of the futuristic sounds and madcap song structures you will need to interact with it more than on a relaxing sunday. Best Tracks: Deserters, The Gaul

21. Maria Minerva - Will Happiness Ever Find Me? (Maria Minerva – Will Happiness Find Me?)
A brilliantly quirky release that quickly got lost amongst a sea of quirky electronic releases, Will Happiness Ever Find Me? is a seductive romp through the world of avant pop. There are moments of clarity, The Sound is quite focused for example, but these are happily lost amongst the electronic romp that Maria Minerva leads us on. Coming Of Age even combines elements of drone with 3 distinct melody changes to create an odd track that reminds of Band On The Run by WINGS. You won't get bored listening to this record. Best Tracks: The Sound, Coming Of Age

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