"The Clarity," Sleep
After 11 years out of the game, you might wonder if stoner-metal band Sleep has lost a step. Thankfully, their new ten minute masterwork of the genre, "The Clarity," shows that they have not. Think of this like the metal version of Dr. Dre's Detox.
You never thought Sleep would emerge from their post-marijuana haze to ever record again, and when they did, you could hardly believe your ears. Yet here it is, and unlike the still as-yet-unreleased Detox, it's real and it's spectacular. COREY DIETERMAN
Note: this article has been amended to reflect the fact that Death Grips is no longer with us.
Antemasque Fitzgerald's, August 4
After putting on some of the most exciting live shows of the last decade with their bands At the Drive-In and The Mars Volta, El Paso natives Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala are back with their latest band, Antemasque. Texas has the distinct pleasure of hosting their first round of shows with their new band, rounded out by former Volta and Killer Be Killed drummer Dave Elitch, which should be just as rocking as every other show the pair has hosted in Houston. COREY DEITERMAN
"Big Blue Hole," David Olney
"Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, all them saints are dead and gone / Amy Winehouse and Curt Cobain, they ain't comin' back here again." David Olney is like the black sheep rounder uncle the family wanted you to stay away from. A former running bud of Townes van Zandt, Olney plays and sings like he'll cut you if you don't get it.
His new album, When the Deal Goes Down, has more edge than a straight razor and cuts just as deep. If you're into music for good news, fairy tales, cotton candy or dance beats, move on. Your life is in danger here. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
"Best I Ever Had"
Every dude wants to be the best his girl has ever had, and this So Far Gone track solidifies Drizzy's over-the-top confidence one hashtag-rap line at a time. It also perfectly samples the amazing Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds song "Falling In Love." MARCO TORRES
"Don't You Have a Man," feat. Little Brother
The idea of Drake as a rapper of serious intent started forming around Comeback Season, his 2007 mixtape where he seemed far more interested in rapping like Phonte of Little Brother than being his own man. The two worlds collided on "Don't You Have a Man," a track that now seems pretty humorous when it falls in line with the "Drake's a Nice Guy" narrative. There's some whimsy here. Both Phonte and Big Pooh rap with the self-awareness of being the other man and then there's Drake, more than ready to admit he's got one up on the other guy in a cute-romance sort of way. BRANDO
"Collard Greens," Schoolboy Q
If you enjoy beats that conjure images of huddled, bouncing basketball teams moments before tip-off, you'll enjoy "Collard Greens." If you also enjoy raps about having game, money and weed, you'll return for a second helping. And, if you want to hear Schoolboy Q's Black Hippy mate Kendrick Lamar drop profane rhymes in Spanish, you probably like tons of pepper sauce on your greens.
Schoolboy Q's been serving this up since last year, but I got my first taste only last month; can't believe I was missing out on this soul food. But, if you were too, try it out 'cause This Is It. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
"A House Is a Home," Ben & Ellen Harper
Grammy winner Ben Harper teams up with his mother, Ellen, for Childhood Home, which releases this week. This is the first single from the album. Their tender harmonies and reflections here are like flipping through a family photo album, reminding us of every trial and all the successes our own families experience. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
"Africana," Los Rakas
One of the hottest Latin acts is this Hip-Hop duo of Panamanian cousins who hail from the Bay Area. With a little bit of reggaeton and a lotta bit of cool, Los Rakas released their first full-length album, El Negrito Dun Dun & Ricardo, on April 15. This track is my favorite of the bunch, with a mix of sweet melodies and ass-shaking bass. I'm anxiously waiting until they make another stop in H-Town. YO SI SOY! RAKA! MARCO TORRES
A funny thing happened to our old buddy Snoop Dogg last year: he got religion. And not just any old religion, either. In a move that we probably should have seen coming, the Doggfather formally embraced the Rastafari movement, a Jamaican spiritual ideology with fewer than a million adherents worldwide by most estimates.
Perhaps understandably, this conversion was taken by many to be yet another sign of Snoop's devotion to ganja rather than God. While Rastas' sacramental cannabis usage is pretty widely known (and celebrated) at this point, most of the movement's spiritual pillars are more poorly understood by your average gangsta rap aficionado. Rastafari began popping up in the 1930s during the reign of Ethiopia's Emperor Haile Selassie I, whom the faithful revere as an incarnation of God.
Continuing with our year-end panorama, Rocks Off asked our contributors a simple question with a not-so-simple answer: What was your favorite local album of 2012?
ALEXA CRENSHAW: Whatever I say here, I'm going to want to take back shortly because there's so much good stuff out there, y'all. Although they haven't released an album this year, I ran across one of Listenlisten's tracks which lead me to stream their  dog LP a bit. listenlisten's folk is simple, yet scenic. [If a 2010 record became someone's favorite in 2012, we're not going to quibble -- ed.]
Allowing ourselves to become dangerously sentimental, Rocks Off polled our regular contributors to ask them the one music-related thing they're thankful for this year. We'll stop before we cue up Dido.
Chris Gray: Besides being grateful to be here at all -- in a way that, an all-too-short time ago, I was most certainly not -- I am thankful to be working with all the people from whom you are about to hear. Of course it's not all sunshine and roses (how could it be?), but I am proud of all their work on this blog, and proud to have them here. I find that their enthusiasm for music, especially the local scene, has a way of renewing my own just when it's starting to flag.
A close second is that local scene I just mentioned, which may never, ever get the kind of credit it deserves -- which I also find to be its most endearing attribute. May it ever be underestimated, and may those who do always be pleasantly surprised when they do found out how much it has to offer. A distant third is my iPhone, because this year I finally discovered (to my bank account's peril) exactly how easy and fun it is to download music from iTunes. This is, I shit you not, how I became a proud Little Big Town fan.
Has it really been two years already since Jagi Katial and Omar Afra became the new owner-operators of Fitzgerald's? Apparently so, because the Free Press Summer Fest partners celebrated their second anniversary at the rickety old live music club on White Oak a couple weeks back with a weekend's worth of bands, headlined by the Walkmen. Time flies, as they say.
When the pair bought the club from longtime owner Sara Fitzgerald, who opened the place back in 1977, local music fans were pleased to see the place remain open, but a little unsure what would become of a historic venue where a lot of happy memories have been made.
Two years later, it's pretty safe to say that the takeover has been a resounding success. That's why we toasted Fitzgerald's as the city's Best Live Music Venue in this year's Best of Houston issue.