For someone who devotes a majority of their spare time to listening to music, the Internet is an absolute necessity of a tool for discovering new artists and albums from day-to-day. While it’s crystal clear by now that the top albums of 2012 are dominated by all-stars such as Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, Japandroids, Grimes, Fiona Apple, and a slew of other artists, there leaves several underdogs of the year out of the picture. The Internet is a refuge of dreadful music, but every so many weeks appears a gemstone of an artist that actually demands attentive ears before vanishing under the tornado of forgettable tunes the Internet forces in public sight.
Hopefully, this list sheds some light to some of the more secret albums of 2012. While I am not uncovering solely underground artists, all of the releases on this list definitely define independent music making, and all of them bleed of pure emotion. Naturally, the finest part of this list is the fact that each of these albums are up for download entirely free of charge.
Dads – American Radass (this is important)
Dads is a two-piece emo/punk group from New Jersey, who effortlessly capture high energy emotion throughout their entire album. I honestly don’t think I’ve heard a raw sound as organized and noisey quite like this recently. Japandroids’ Celebration Rock record of this year comes to mind, but the lyrics and mellowness of Dads are a bit more complicated and endearing than that. Imagine if Japandroids and Cymbals Eat Guitars had an emo child together (that was also a two-piece band), Dads would be just that, and then some. Lyrics bleed all over the awesome guitar swells of the album, and the slightly falsetto singing on the album create a very raw and emotional feeling to American Radass (this is important) overall. American Radass (this is important) is a loud, beautifully noisey album composed of pure energy. And best of all, it’s entirely free.
Spook Houses – The “Trying” LP
Spook Houses is a four piece indie-folk/rock band from Ridgewood, New Jersey, that put out a very solid release for 2012. The “Trying” LP is one of the best releases of the entire year, hands down. The entire LP sounds terrific, with lofi vocals and grand echoing guitar throughout, providing catchy sing-along anthems and memorable lyrics. It’s a shame more people don’t know about Spook Houses, or the calming vibes they provide for the listener.
Big K.R.I.T. – 4eva N A Day
Big K.RI.T. is truly a solo rapper. 4eva N A Day was entirely produced by himself, with guest appearances only being other people on guitar and saxophone. The tape is fantastic. It’s dreamy, poetic, and smooth southern music for the soul. K.R.I.T. grew up on UGK, 8Ball & MJG, OutKast, and Scarface, and the influence really bleeds on each track. It’s soulful hip-hop for all to enjoy, really.
Himanshu – Nehru Jackets
Himanshu (or Heems) of Das Racist fame dropped this solo mixtape way back in January of this year, and it’s a hard-hitter. This is a personal favorite of mine from 2012, even when including commercially released albums and tapes of the year. Nehru Jackets is a lengthy (25 track-span) release, full of loud New York boom-bap beats, mixed with a touch of Indian inspiration from the mixtape’s sole producer Mike Finito, and somewhat unconventional lyrics. Every beat on the tape is strong and loud, ensuring the listener to turn up the volume and nod their heads alongside Heem’s strange rap style and hilarious and witty lyricism. As an added bonus, guest features on Nehru Jackets include fellow Das Racist member Kool A.D., label mates Big Baby Gandhi and Lakutis, Detroit phenomenon Danny Brown, comedian/rapper Childish Gambino, and fellow New Yorkers Mr. Muthafuckin’ Exquire, Action Bronson, and Despot. I highly recommend checking out Nehru Jackets, or even Himanshu’s recently freely released mixtape Wild Water Kingdom, if you’re looking for a fresh feel with hip-hop.
Wreck and Reference – No Youth
Wreck and Reference is hard to place into one genre. The band is all over the place, touching elements of punk, metal, noise, drone, electronic, industrial, experimental, and maybe even indie rock. It’s shocking to say as well, but the entire album has absolutely no guitars on it. Instead, the band has traded their guitars in exchange for buttons – they use samples and droning synths for their unique music. But what exactly do they sound like? To simply put, noise. They’re a very noisey band, but they’ve produced an amazingly unique sound together that really brings out some uneasy feelings to the listener, making a paranoid and creepy album as a whole. The mixing of every droning sound and how they play through speakers give off an insane vibe when blended together with chaotic drumming, especially when topped off nightmarish yelling from the band’s lead singer. No Youth is a strong release for those open to a challenging musical listen.
Download/Official page here.
Action Bronson & Party Supplies – Blue Chips
On the surface, Action Bronson is just a big fat white guy from Queens, New York who sounds almost identical to Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah. In all honesty, if you haven’t heard an Action Bronson mixtape by now, Blue Chips can really get you to love the guy. With production done exclusively by Party Supplies, Bronson spits some really tough metaphors and bars over very classy and jazzy beats. The results are as smooth as silk.
Joey BadA$$ – 1999
For those of you who don’t know this buzzworthy rapper, Joey BadA$$ is an extremely young talent who really knows how to grab the style of hardcore and backpack 90’s hip-hop music. This is a wonderful feat, being that Joey is only 17 years old (born 1995), and already has become a blogworthy rapper and critically acclaimed musical artist. All of the production on this tape feature dirties 90’s beats, providing boom bap and old jazzy samples, similar to old A Tribe Called Quest and early Nas/Jay-Z songs, with some beats being taken by MF DOOM and J Dilla. Joey’s also got a couple of unheard and underground producers who provided original beats for the tape, such as Chuck Strangers and Knxwledge, as well as guest verses by his fellow crew members of Pro Era. As far as rap mixtapes go for 2012, Joey BadA$$’ 1999, is the most nostalgic I’ve heard. His flow on songs such as “Daily Routine,” and “Funky Ho’$,” showcase a young New York rapper who was heavily inspired by everything that existed in the 90’s, and really wants it back. But this is a good thing, as the tape still has a new feeling to it, featuring lyrics that stand up and low-key punchlines that will make listeners grin.
Download the tape here or here.
Sir Michael Rocks – Lap of Lux
In case you were unaware, The Cool Kids broke up this year due to becoming two different artists with different sounds. They split up, but Sir Michael Rocks is ensuring his solo career will be something worth really listening to. While Lap of Lux is a bit different from The Cool Kids’ duo raps, Michael Rocks still has his suburb rapping ability strapped under his belt. Worth a listen, especially if you’ve heard Sir Michael Rocks’ previous solo work and features.
Captain Murphy – Duality
Captain Murphy was one of the coolest mysteries of 2012. The rapper came out of nowhere in the middle of the year, with absolutely no previous credits on another song or album. All he had was a song with Earl Sweatshirt and Flying Lotus. Murphy kept releasing tracks via YouTube, featuring his cartoon-self in looped video form, and never explained who he was via Twitter or otherwise. While most fans thought this was an Odd Future offshoot, it was later revealed that the rapper was actually music producer Flying Lotus himself who had earlier produced the first track that Captain Murphy would first rap on. The album features deeply pitched vocals that frantically change throughout each track, alongside very strange lyrics, referencing Quasar galaxies, using German words, Street Fighter, and many other obscure cultural references. The sound is sweet, unique, and fun.
Here’s Captain Murphy’s official website and download link.
No Anchor – The Golden Bridge
I haven’t heard a band with the subgenre handle of “stoner rock,” since Fu Manchu, but these guys are definitely just that. This is some very heavy stuff, reminiscent of classic Queens of the Stone Age and Kyuss, but with a bit more sludge than that. The clanging of the drums and heavy bass sound (there’s two bassists in this band!) allow for some heavy grooving and tapping. I really enjoyed the lyrics and vocals on The Golden Bridge, as they work tremendously well together over the heavy mayhem of sound. A cool fact about this record is that it was mastered by Mel Dettmer, who has also worked with Sunn O)) and Boris. If that doesn’t catch your eye, along with the fact this release is entirely free, I don’t know what will.
RAGANA – All’s Lost
Now this is some really dark stuff. RAGANA’s album All’s Lost is a very melodic album, which dabbles with black metal, punk, and sludge. The guitars are loud and distorted and yet very sweet, while the female singer screams over the blaring guitar, sounding reminiscent of a hardcore riot grrl act. All’s Lost is a strong album, featuring terrific female vocals and a very strong chemistry between the duo, using only drums and a guitar.
Download/Official Site here.
elvis depressedly – mickey’s dead
mickey’s dead is a 10 track album full of sadness and lo-fi recording. If that seems up your alley, elvis depressedly is certainly what you’re looking for. It’s mellow and somewhat dreary music for any Bright Eyes fan to enjoy, for sure. I can’t find a better fitting name for someone whose song lyrics include “I ain’t loved my father since I can’t remember when/ I don’t know if I’ll ever love him,” or “all these so-called friends sell me out to meet their ends/ your pathetic, judge yourself, I don’t wanna need your fucking help.” But it’s great stuff, really, and I do enjoy the freak-folkish stylings of the man.
Download/Official Site here.
Rick Ross – Rich Forever
Hip-hop heavyweight (pun intended there), Rick Ross, released this hard-hitting mixtape this year, and it’s absolutely crisp. This is a mixtape for the streets and the commercial outlets – fans who are unaware of Rick Ross’ music can get his entire persona here, while longtime fanatics of Ross and Maybach Music Group will definitely be bumping this today, even after his commercial release of the year, God Forgives, I Don’t. Rick Ross spits vicious bars over every beat provided, creating an atmosphere of hype music that warns other rappers to stay in their lines.
breatherholes – come home
breatherholes’ come home is a weird folk album that’s pretty dark sounding, but still holds a delightful feel to it. This is some wretched stuff though, with random panning of instruments seemingly all over the place or even improvised at times. come home is not for everyone. It’s downright too weird for some, and the banging of most of the percussion and thumb piano may be a little too much, but overall, I find it to be a pleasant listen that’s worth a listen.
Kool A.D. – 51
Himanshu had a solo mixtape earlier this year, while Kool A.D. released his a little later, back in April. Surprisingly, it’s very different from Heems’ mixtape, and even their Das Racist music. Kool A.D. is all over the place, spitting extremely weird raps and goofy words out of his mouth flawlessly over bay-area sounding beats and chill beats. Whatever he’s talking about, he’s always rapping over the beat effortlessly, and for that, 51 is a fun listen to throw on whenever. It’s just fun hip-hop, plain and simple.