Monthly Report: December 2012 Albums

1. Bruno Mars - Unorthodox Jukebox
One thing I always try to do every year is keep my ears open to any good December releases that could storm my year-end list at the last moment -- in recent years Diddy-Dirty Money and Fall Out Boy dropped all-time favorites that I was happy to be among the few to put on my Pazz & Jop ballot. Bruno's latest didn't quite get on my top 10, but "Locked Out Of Heaven" did, and in general this project just turned around my perception of this guy as someone I grudgingly respect for his often poorly applied talent to a flawed and inconsistent but still kind of essential pop artist of the moment.

2. Wei Zhongle - Live On WDBX
In January I saw this really strange, wonderful band called Wei Zhongle from Carbondale, Illinois play a show in Baltimore -- two clarinets, a guitar, bass, and drums, really odd vocals and song structures. When I got back from the show I looked them up online and saw that their Bandcamp page had a live radio session, or more or less the same set I saw in Baltimore, that they had recorded in Illinois less than a month earlier. Really strange, great stuff.

3. Wiz Khalifa - O.N.I.F.C.
I've never had much investment in Wiz Khalifa -- "Black & Yellow" is undeniable, but otherwise who gives a shit -- so the prevalent idea among a lot of hip-hop fans that his pothead rap is so much more boring now because he says the names of some designers now is kinda funny. But really this was one of the best-sounding rap albums of the past year on a production tip, and the rapping doesn't keep up its end of the deal but it also doesn't get in the way as much as I thought it would. "Fall Asleep," which was produced by Oak & Pop (also of the Elle Varner and Miguel albums), sounds especially incredible, as does "No Limit," but the whole thing works pretty well. If this is the ear Wiz is lending to exec produce the Juicy J album, that could turn out pretty awesome.

4. Chief Keef - Finally Rich
I'm kinda glad I'm catching up on December's releases now, so that I can look back on this album with a little bit of hindsight after a lot of the hysteria has died down. To me, Finally Rich is not remotely as good as its champions say it is, and not remotely as bad as its detractors say it is. Keef is an almost shockingly clumsy  and inarticulate rapper even for someone of his age who just barely graduated out of the mixtape world, and will probably never graduate from anything else ever -- the vocals on "Hallelujah" and "No Tomorrow" and "Kay Kay" and several other songs wobble so unnervingly on and off beat that they're almost unlistenable to me. The album gets praised a lot for retaining the mixtape aesthetic that many major label debuts sand the edges off of, but I'm not sure that's such a triumph here, he probably could've used more polishing. The album has its moments -- "Diamonds" is a jam, "I Don't Like" has aged well. But I'm kinda glad his singles are sinking off the charts and his career has probably already peaked, this guy isn't really worth the opportunities he got. If I want an album with drab rapping and exciting production, I'll put on that Wiz record.

5. T.I. - Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head
I appreciate that he switched up the title so that it wasn't the same thing as the Marvin joint, but oof, that subtitle. Almost as much of a trade down as from King Uncaged to No Mercy. Album ain't too hot either, which is a shame because Tip can still rap and gets some good beats, but he's still rolling with the Paper Trail crossover formula too much of the time and his moment for doing that his over, he should've at least tried to catch the wave of what's happening in Atlanta at the moment (like, how is this the one major label album of the past year without Future or 2 Chainz on it?). "Who Want Some" is pretty sick, though.

6. Green Day - ¡Tré!
The whole debacle with Green Day's triple album release was pretty hilarious, mainly because they've been so much more successful than they deserve to be for so long that even if they have their moments, I was happy to see a big public failure. One of the most puzzling aspects of the Billie Joe rehab fallout, though, was that the third album that they were set to release in January was then pushed up to December. It's not only the best of the three albums by some distance, but it would've been smart to, y'know, leave a release for 2013 for when they're eventually gonna tour for all these records. Radio hasn't even played anything but two singles from the first album, haven't touched anything from the last two yet.

7. Blink 182 - Dogs Eating Dogs EP
This is better than Neighborhoods, no doubt, but not by such a margin that these guys should act too proud of themselves for finding the magic again. Nice that they were at least able to admit the first reunion attempt didn't quite take, though. "Pretty Little Girl" is kinda dope but then that title and Delonge's voice are just so so gross and then the Yelawolf verse happens and I dunno.

8. Dawn Richard - Whiteout EP
It's funny to write about this now that Dawn's album Goldenheart is out, because the album is amazing and this EP was just a little teaser a month beforehand, that wasn't even as substantial as the other EP she released earlier in 2012. It's all good and within Dawn's aesthetic, but there's nothing really amazing here that I can say should've been on the album, besides maybe "Miles."

9. Big Boi - Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors
Big Boi is a great rapper and deserves better than the Andre 3000 sidekick status he gets saddled with by so many people, but sadly he spent like a decade of his best years waiting for Andre to want to rap with him again (I did a count recently and I believe the two of them have rapped on the same song a total of 9 or so times since Stankonia 12+ years ago). When he finally moved on, Sir Lucious Left Foot was a fine record, but at that point just holding down that Dungeon Fam sound almost counted as a retro move, and on this record he just sounds adrift grabbing any hook and wacky collaborator that comes his way (what the fuck is a Phantogram?) and not even rapping that much. It has its moments, though, Big Boi is still Big Boi.

10. My Dick - My Dick's Double Full-Length Release
This ridiculous Bandcamp curio has gotten some buzz online. I don't know if I will ever listen to the whole thing twice, but I have to admit that the one joke behind the whole thing does take on this whole new dimension as they implement that joke in increasingly surreal and unexpected ways over the course of the album. "Dancing In My Dick" is especially great.

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