20 discs you need

By JIM MACNIE  |  December 21, 2011

It's all about him buckling down and trading jammy wobble for pop concision. The fruits are obvious. The sing-along quotient is high, even when the Malkmusness of his lyrics tries to dominate.

M83 | HURRY UP, WE'RE DREAMING | MUTE

Peter Gabriel in Smashing Pumpkins clothing — something I'm not often attracted to. But Anthony Gonzalez's grand ruminations on youth have just enough hazy thrust to whirl you into his synth-centered dream world.

DAS RACIST | RELAX | GREEDHEAD

Homes turning to dust, tiny ass hamburgers, kicking it like Rockport — the music they call panic attack rap is brimming over with ideas. Sometimes that's a headache. Plenty of 'em get wasted. But many more are put to good use and, as the trio spits its opinions on how the guy with the most cake wins, they make you grin pretty hard.

TIM HECKER | RAVEDEATH, 1972 | KRANKY

If you're of the mind that music should engulf you, here's a presentation that turns from being a blanket to a shroud to a sundress. The Montreal keybster's ambient swells have an orchestral aura.

THE ROOTS | undun | DEF JAM

Odd how their most pithy joint seems like their most expansive. Glancing over their shoulder to tell the tale of Philly's deadly street trade, they give their music its most pop feel ever, and the most far-reaching as well. The instrumental coda is to die for, literally.

PAUL SIMON | SO BEAUTIFUL OR SO WHAT | HEAR

He never has a problem with being poignant. Bittersweet couplets have fallen from his lips for decades. But being playful is a different game. This time out, what seems like lyric-driven tunes sustain themselves due to shimmering melodies and a youthful elan.

DRAKE | TAKE CARE | CASH MONEY

Rap's little boy blue writes his diary entries for all of us to hear, and the forlorn aura his team expertly individualizes becomes more and more addictive. No, not for dancing.

KENDRICK LAMAR | SECTION.80 | TOP DAWG

About a month ago a co-worker threw so many exclamation points at the end of his declaration that this was the disc of the year, I had to give it fourth or fifth listen. It's messy for sure, but as the LA MC chases his muse around, he bounces off some engaging ideas. During a mid-air sex fantasia, he rhymes "terrorist" and "asparagus." That's gotta count for something.

TIE: SHABAZZ PALACES | BLACK UP | SUB POP | BLACK KEYS | EL CAMINO | NONESUCH

This was a headphones year for me, and the beats that skull-fuck your brain on Black Up border on the surreal. That's attractive when the real-life blues are hitting you. Escape music, right? The Keys' pounding does something similar, though their thud is appreciated for its predictability and pleasure.

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  Topics: CD Reviews , Marcus Strickland, John Hollenbeck, lookback2011
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