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Playboy.com's Picks 2012: Albums
  • December 09, 2012 : 08:12
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Every year about this time, lists recapping the year’s best whatever start to surface, and we’re telling you right now they’re all bogus, save ours.

Over the next few weeks, Playboy.com’s Picks 2012 will provide you with the year in review, from movies to music to viral trends, political and celebrity scandals and even ideas. We’re showcasing the year’s best across the board and on tap this week: the year's best music albums.

Check out Playboy.com's Picks for Movies, Top Viral Trends and Celebrity Scandals.

Band of Horses – Mirage Rock

Ben Bridwell has made it pretty damn near impossible to pin down the bedrock influences of his little Southern rock revival project, Band of Horses; Everything All the Time had a raw ELO-y feel, Cease to Begin walked a tightrope between old country folk and indie fad, a la The Shins, and Infinite Arms, their best-selling album to date, treaded terribly close to the Canadian sound, a sort of Weakerthans/Matt Mays melodic mélange.

So it comes as no surprise that Mirage Rock, the band’s fourth studio album, is as slippery as a snake, combing through the ages of rock ’n’ roll for a finely curated sound. Part Zeppelin aesthetic (the power chords punctuated by high hanging notes on “How to Live”), part “Horse with No Name” America (the ghostly calm vocals and bouncing melodies on “Slow Cruel Hands of Time” and “Dumpster World”) with some Stones Sticky Fingers (“Everything’s Gonna Be Undone”) and some ’90s thrash (“Feud”) thrown in just for good measure. You might think there’s no way one band can pull off all these influences on one album, but you’d be wrong; Mirage Rock, so aptly named, shifts seamlessly and is tied together by musicians who are hitting their peak and with any luck can stay there for some time.

Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city

Out from behind all the curtains that have cloaked hip-hop since its humble beginnings—the stage names, the boasts, the coasts, the bling and the bitches—comes Kendrick Lamar, a Compton-born artist whose critical acclaim was established long before his first major label release, good kid, m.A.A.d city. With an internet following as rabid as any celebrity cat’s and collabos with BFDs like Dre, Drake, Young Jeezy, Talib Kweli and Lil Wayne, Kendrick Lamar has been consorting with some pretty heavy company for quite some time.

Which makes this release all the more mysterious; Lamar rose to fame on the back of self-released mixtapes and independent labels, perhaps biding his time, mastering his craft before going mainstream. Sure, he popped up here and there and for a while held the moniker K-Dot, but we only got a taste; even his independent release Section.80 didn’t give us the full picture. good kid, m.A.A.d city does. A concept album in an age of singles, it sheds all the pretensions so commonly associated with a rap star hitting the big time and just features some raw lyrics, complex but well-crafted production and some staple West Coast hooks.

Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls

Lost among the months, among release after release from seasoned veterans like Dylan, Springsteen, Cohen and the Stones, came Alabama Shakes, a sort of throwback to simpler times when samples and synthesizers didn’t dictate the pop charts, when the lyrical genius and musical mastery of the aforementioned forefathers did.

They call it roots rock and rightly so; the blues and soul sounds of Boys & Girls are not so much an underlying theme as an overwhelming sensation. Lead singer Brittany Howard’s vocals are expansive (Jon Dolan of Rolling Stone noted she’s got “as much Robert Plant as Janis Joplin”) over the deep bass riffs that carry the album and are punctuated only by the lofty twang of Heath Fogg’s guitar. The album’s first single, “Hold On,” is a testament to the simplistic beauty only the fusion of Southern blues and soul can create; “You Ain’t Alone” has Howard’s full vocal range on display; “Heartbreaker” brings in some swing; and the album’s title track “Boys & Girls” caps it all off, balancing the loneliness of the genres with the complexity of the music. All in all, it’s an exceptional first album for a band that came literally from rural obscurity into the limelight in only one short year. Their only problem now will be following it up.

Honorable Mentions: Tempest by Bob Dylan, Life Is Good by Nas, Swing Lo Magellan by The Dirty Projectors and Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! by Godspeed You! Black Emperor

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