Miguel's second full length album 'Kaleidoscope Dream' has been one of the bright spots of R&B in 2012.
(Courtesy of the artist)
As we begin to wrap up 2012, it's time to take stock of the year in music and select our favorites. Team Soundcheck is presenting some of our favorite and least favorite music and moments from 2012, and to help, we've crafted a series of questions including favorite album, favorite song and most memorable concert of 2012.
1) Favorite Album Of 2012 -- Miguel, Kaleidoscope Dream
Since his 2010 debut, All I Want Is You, the Los Angeles R&B singer and songwriter Miguel has hovered on the outskirts of mainstream R&B. His guitar work, his pompadour and his silky croon all add up to a somewhat retro effect. But with Kaleidoscope Dream, which was preceded by a series of preview EPs (Art Dealer Chic Vols. 1-3), the singer saw his popularity and acclaim rise. Now, Miguel is redefining what contemporary R&B can be. The songs of Kaleidoscope Dream are sexy, stormy, and, at times, self-conscious. There's braggadocio, of course, but also a vulnerability on songs like "How Many Drinks" and "Use Me." The record is filled with other standouts, including the burning opener "Adorn," and my favorite, "Don't Look Back" -- a song that ends with a molasses-slow psychedelic spin on The Zombies' "Time Of The Season."
2) Favorite Song Of 2012 -- Japandroids, "The House That Heaven Built" from CelebrationRock
This song from the Canadian anthem-rock duo Japandroids is full of throat-shredding, fist-pumping, defiant stuff, and as exuberant as the title of the band's 2012 album, Celebration Rock.
3) Favorite New Band Or Artist Of 2012 -- Lianne La Havas
The young British singer and songwriter is a newcomer with the voice of an old soul. That is, if that old soul sometimes gets the Vocoder treatment and other times lets loose with a powerfully full depth and range. Her performance in the Soundcheck studio this past September was charming, engaging and just really, really good.
4) Biggest Musical Surprise Of 2012 -- Psy, "Gangnam Style"
My biggest surprise? That a K-Pop song, pretty much sung entirely in Korean, would be one of the biggest hits of the year in the U.S.
5) Biggest Musical Disappointment Of 2012 -- Lana Del Rey
Not that I was anticipating this exactly, but she definitely had us all fascinated there for a short while. Lana, I'm disappointed in you!
6) Most Memorable Concert Of 2012 -- The Afghan Whigs at Music Hall Of Williamsburg, New York
The Afghan Whigs, of course. This year, the Cincinnati soul-punk band reunited for their first tour since 1999; since I wore out my cassette copy of Gentlemen; since I had seen them for the first time, pressed up against the front of the stage; since I was still a teenager and Greg Dulli's angsty howl about love gone bad -- real bad -- first hit my ears.
There was much fanfare around The Afghan Whigs' reunion, so much that I missed out on the very first show of their comeback tour, here in New York in spring of 2012. But I made up for it this fall by getting to see the group twice -- once at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival that they curated and headlined, and again at the intimate, and even more charged show at The Music Hall of Williamsburg.
I was as close to Dulli as I was back in '99 -- not at the very front of the stage, but almost -- and with the clearest of views. So when he sang the title track from Gentlemen and pointed at the audience in a bit of scripted finger-jabbing to all the "yous" in the line "But now I've got time for you. / For you, you, you, you and me too. / Well, come and get it, come and get it," I could have reached out and grabbed hold.
And, their cover of Frank Ocean's "Lovecrimes" was a showstopper.
7) Music Trend Of 2012 -- Full Albums, Live
This year saw more nostalgia tours centered around full-album performances of classic emo records, and I went to my fair share of these romps down memory lane: Braid, performing Frame And Canvas; Pedro The Lion playing Control. As much as I roll my eyes at this trend, if well executed these shows can be so much fun.
8) Worst Music (Song or Album) Of 2012 -- Serena Williams' Rap Song
The debut track from tennis champ Serena Williams, recorded at Baltimore Ravens lineman Bryant McKinnie's studio in Florida, has these select lyrics: "I ball hard no tennis racket / I can't see these haters through my Gucci glasses / I make hits like batting practice / They be like Serena, is you really rapping?" Enough said.
Gretta joined Soundcheck in 2010, having spent several years as a freelance radio documentary producer. Her stories on birders, fishermen, nurses, performance artists and even the Yale Whiffenpoofs have aired on a variety of outlets, from WNYC's Studio 360 to APM's The Story. She holds a B.A. in American Studies from Brown University and studied radio production at The Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. She was a cellist in the rock band Cursive from 2001-2005.