Did You Miss 2012’s Best Indie-Soul Releases?

What is independent soul? The term itself seems like an oxymoron. Soul artists that aren’t signed to major labels don’t have the same kind of cultural impact that, say, indie-rock and indie hip-hop artists can have. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Over the past decade, a thriving network has emerged for Grammy-nominated ensembles like the Foreign Exchange, entrepreneurial-minded singers like Eric Roberson, and R&B veterans like Bobby V and Faith Evans (who both record for the mini-major EOne Music).

And 2012 may be the best year for indie-soul since 2009, when the cutting-edge funk and future jazz of Dam-Funk’s Toeachizown and Sa-Ra Creative Partners’ Nuclear Evolution: The Age of Love exposed an underground more sonically diverse than just neo-soul and quiet storm balladry. Some of the renewed attention is due to the Weeknd, whose Trilogy compilation gathered three EPs he released on the Internet in 2011; and Solange Knowles, who recovered from her disappointing stint on Columbia by signing with Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear’s Terrible Records and issuing her True EP. Their justifiably acclaimed efforts are signposts of a creative renaissance that’s remarkably deep.

Here’s a brief but not comprehensive list of the best; some of the artists whom didn’t make the list below include former Arrested Development singer and ‘90s neo-soul diva Dionne Farris, who just issued the surprisingly experimental Lady Dy: The Mixtape; and Ruby Velle & the Soulphonics big-band ‘60s pop debut It’s About Time.

Dawn Richard: Richard’s Armor On mini-album is everything the Diddy Dirty Money project should have been. Unlike Last Train to Paris, she eschews glossy EDM beats and Notorious B.I.G. back-from-the-dead cameos for elliptical songs like “Bombs” and boasts like “Just feed me beats and let me eat up all y’all.” Amid lyrics that range from swaggeringly confident to quietly introspective, she builds towards a single, bombastic, hands-in-the-air moment, and when she finally delivers it with the ecstatic “Faith,” it’s a delightfully climatic reward.

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