Oddisee and more...
Plainly stated, Oddisee creates the elaborate in a way that feels and sounds effortless. Take Rock Creek Park for example. A mixtape that blends old-school samples with modern hip-hop sensibilities, it’s easy to forget how meticulously each track has been arranged when you find yourself lost in a trance of smooth beats and chill grooves. The D.C.-area native has moved up through that town’s underground rap scene, and has proven himself an adept producer and arranger. There’s nothing overtly original here. Listening to Rock Creek Park is too much like watching an early ‘60s period piece starring Denzel Washington. But the album does show, that if given the chance, Oddisee could become something substantially memorable. Jeb Inge
Although the last Pepe Deluxé album came out in 2007, the critically lauded Spare Time Machine, these sonic scientists have spent the better part of the last six years working on the follow-up. Two years alone were spent waiting for the renovation of the largest instrument in the world, the Great Stalacpipe Organ in Virginia, to be completed so they could record a two-minute interlude on it. Two years for two minutes… That lets you know exactly how much effort they put into making sure every minute detail in their fourth album, Queen of the Wave, was precisely what they envisioned, from the richly analog sounds and engrossing Lumerian lyrics to the elaborate liner notes and intensive album companions. Indeed, few artists have ever attempted to weave such a dense tapestry of timbre, genre, and mythology than they did for this esoteric pop opera in three parts, and even fewer artists have succeeded so brilliantly as they will prove when the album drops in January. 2012 will be the test to see if the world is ready to accept the Age of Aquarius, or sit content in Plato’s cave. Alan Ranta
The electronic duo of Megan James and Corin Roddick like to mix ghostly, ethereal vocals with sticky hip-hop beats in their already-buzzworthy project, Purity Ring. After making their rounds during 2011’s CMJ festival and releasing the outstanding single “Belispeak” (a 7” split with Braids released by Fat Possum), the Canadian duo seem poised for big things in 2012. Plenty of cross-genre comparisons have been made, although Purity Ring sound more like some futuristic combination of crunk-tastic hip-hop and spacey, synthed-out indie pop. When their debut full length arrives next year, that future could very well arrive. Chris Payne
“Clear some space out / So we can space out,” demands Shabazz Palaces on “Recollections of the Wraith”, one of Black Up’s snappiest hooks. Touché. Black Up contains 36 compact minutes of some of the wooziest, most forward-thinking hip hop to come out of freaking nowhere in years. (“If Bedouins herded beats instead of goats and settled in Seattle instead of the Atlas Mountains,” explains the hip-hop collective, “this would be their album.”) But beneath the grainy samples, impenetrable track titles, and fractured, minimalist beats, it’s also effortlessly accessible, approachable, and raw—and good enough for Sub Pop, the historic Seattle that has never before signed a hip-hop act. It’s no wonder that these freshmen aren’t freshmen at all: Ishmael Butler, the group’s lead emcee, was once Butterfly, one-third of New York’s Digable Planets. Last year brought two anonymous EPs from Shabazz Palaces, this year a debut full-length. Only the Bedouins can tell what the next few years will bring. Zach Schonfeld
When members of Swedish retro hard rock acts Witchcraft and Graveyard form a new band, it’s pretty easy to guess what the end result is going to sound like, but Spiders turns out to be a lot less predictable than expected. Sure, the foursome, led by Witchcraft guitarist John Hoyles, is heavily indebted to late ‘60s/early ‘70s heavy rock, but amidst all the references to Pentagram and Cactus lies a strong Nuggets-era garage rock influence as well, as Hoyles’s riffs often channel Fred “Sonic” Smith, Wayne Kramer, and Ron Asheton. Better yet, the presence of the strong-voiced Ann-Sofie Hoyles makes Spiders stand out, her strong, raspy howls bringing some welcome ferocity and personality to such songs as “Gracious Man” and “High Society”, from their 2011 debut EP. With only six songs released thus far the band has already created a stir in the metal world, and by the time their full-length debut comes out, a lot of people will be anxiously waiting. Adrien Begrand