Like many critics, Billboard editor and Soundcheck regular Joe Levy sums up the year in music with two words: Frank Ocean, and catches us up on why it was such a big year for the R&B singer. But, that's not all -- Levy also has some surprising picks, including his favorite song, which came from actor and comedian Donald Glover -- a.k.a. Childish Gambino. Plus, Levy looks at the thread running through almost every pick on his survey -- social media phenomenons.
Joe Levy Answers Soundcheck's 2012 Music Survey
1) Favorite Album -- Frank Ocean, Channel Orange
There were albums I liked more on first listen (Pink, Twin Shadow, Fiona Apple) and there were albums I played more for fun (Miguel, The Sword, Leonard Cohen). But there wasn't anything that demanded to be heard as an album more than Frank Ocean's Channel Orange. In fact, there wasn't anything more demanding than this record: Demanding of attention (it really doesn’t work that well in the background), demanding of concentration, demanding of love. Not beholden to the past or the future or anything but itself, it just was.
2) Favorite Song -- Childish Gambino, “We Ain’t Them”
This song turned up online one day out of nowhere. It's conversational instead of funny, with nods to his brother, his grandfather who bought his own freedom, and his mom and dad, who made it past 50, unlike Whitney.
3) Favorite New Band Or Artist -- Death Grips
Anti-capitalist ranters who seemed like the strangest major-label signing of all time, then proved it by getting kicked off Epic by flipping said major label the bird and putting up its next album -- No Love Deep Web -- online.
4) Biggest Musical Surprise: The Miguel album was deeper than one great song.
5) Biggest Musical Disappointment -- Das Racist Breaking Up
Smart and funny in a way that didn’t so much as open a new frontier in hip-hop as make you wonder why more smart, funny collegians weren’t doing what they did. Das Rascist will continue to do it solo, but the dream of a hermeneutic Run-DMC is over.
6) Music Trend of 2012 -- Social Media Phenoms
Social drove breakouts as varied as Frank Ocean, PSY and One Direction, all in different ways, all on different platforms. Carly Rae Jepsen too. And though Kendrick Lamar was less social-media based, he still used the Internet to build an audience. There's an argument out there that this means broadcast media doesn't matter anymore. That's an exaggeration. Radio and TV picked up on Ocean, PSY and Carly Rae, amplified their reach and impact. One Direction didn't need radio or TV. Neither did Kendrick. Which is about all they have in common. But it's an interesting time, with both organic and engineered approaches really taking hold with new artists and new audiences.
7) Most Memorable Concert -- Wussy, The Mercury Lounge with Low Cut Connie.
The Cincinnati band Wussy is in its 11th year, playing a kind of indie rock that’s at least ten year older than that. Great songs, I knew that going in, but I was unprepared for high level of guitar mysticism, which was grand and filthy at the same time, and kicked ass in a very heavenly way.
8) Worst Music (Song or Album) -- One Direction
Worst is an exaggeration here. More like most confusing. Yeah, yeah, I get it: It’s not made for me. But neither was Britney or Backstreet, and I loved their great singles. I'm a poptimist by nature, but this pop sensation left me cold. Then Savan Kotecha -- part of the songwriting/production trio who made “What Makes You Beautiful” and “Live While We’re Young” -- told Billboard, "We wanted to make it very vanilla. You’re aiming for teens and tweens with boy-band guilty pleasure music. We weren’t trying to be urban or rhythmic." And that cold feeling made sense.