Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Best Albums of 2012

Once again, here are my favorite albums of the year. I've created a handy Spotify list that cribs a key track from as many albums as I could find.

1. Jessie Ware - Devotion

If Sade ever decided to work with producers under the age of 30, it might sound something like this album. While Sade has updated her sound slightly with each subsequent album, Jessie Ware provided a true 21st century vision of the places that chilled R&B can go. It's a sound that's been explored in various branches of trip hop and downtempo, but done so here with more emphasis on emotion than vibe, which Devotion actually exceeded on both counts. There is sensuality and tranquility in abundance, which means that the album barely goes above a whisper, only if because that's where its power is at.

2. Frank Ocean - Channel Orange

To set the record straight, R&B has steadily been turning out adventurous music, which even includes the post neo-soul era (take a glance at some of my past lists on this blog for proof), but it certainly was a special year for the genre and Channel Orange was at the front of the pack. Despite all of the headlines and hype, it still holds up as a high quality piece of work. The bounty of silky melodies here are made that much more special with Frank Ocean's distinct, poetic style of songwriting, which is earnest enough to bring out the adolescent in a person and smart enough to know that simple yet strong visuals are the way to the heart and mind.

3. Sleigh Bells - Reign of Terror

With their first album, Treats, I could only enjoy Sleigh Bells in short sugar-fueled bursts and it was easy to get lost in the lack of variety. There aren't as many explosive moments on Reign of Terror, but as a whole I listened to it more because there was a sense of drama. If Treats was a rookie running back playing smash mouth football, crashing and colliding violently into defensive players for an extra yard or two at a time, Reign of Terror is more like the methodical veteran that knows when to head out of bounds to avoid hits and only looks for contact at key moments. It's still crunchy, it's still brash and Heaven knows it's still loud, but Sleigh Bells revealed their staying power when they pulled back for relatively quieter tracks like "You Lost Me," "Road To Hell," and "Born To Lose."

4. Bat For Lashes - The Haunted Man

At this point, you can already expect a Bat For Lashes album to sound (ahem) haunted and to have a heavy Kate Bush influence, and true to form, Natasha Khan's third album further cemented her comfort with that combination, yet with a more rousing atmosphere this time around. Bat For Lashes has already proven adept at creating a mood, albeit a ghostly one, and once again she's created a heavily layered album with her striking presence at the center of it all. As far as I'm concerned, when it comes to providing a soundtrack for dusk, she is officially the modern queen.

5. Jeremih - Late Nights With Jeremih

I'm sure I'm not alone, but I was very skeptical to get onboard with Jeremih based on his initial offerings, which played it too safe for my ears at times. Along with last year's self-released track "Another Song" and this mixtape, I'm convinced that Jeremih is full of colorful ideas that the major label system has suppressed. Late Nights With Jeremih is often bold and sexual, but is never too occupied with prowess to forget that the ears can be an erogenous zone as well. Like The-Dream and R. Kelly before him, Jeremih has been able to balance the fine line between catchiness and authentic baby-making music.

6. Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d. city

I still feel it's too early in the game to label good kid, m.A.A.d. city a classic, but I can't deny how moving it is and that the album bore repeated listening. One of the encouraging things I took away from its success is that it forced a younger generation to play an album with intent, hanging on to every word in order to be rewarded with its depth. I hadn't been challenged like that in a very long time and as I've gotten older and my day-to-day schedule became more crowded, good kid, m.A.A.d. city took me back to a time when I was a kid with hours to spare and only a few albums to my name, but all my attention was dedicated from beginning to end. Throughout its candid story arc and the references to 90s music, Kendrick Lamar took me on a cinematic journey that reminded me of the power of imagination and simultaneously raised the bar for ambition and creativity in hip hop for the 2010s.

7. Miguel - Kaleidoscope Dream

With the Art Dealer Chic EPs, one could tell that Miguel's second album was going to be vastly different than his debut. Kaleidoscope Dream made good on that promise and then some by expanding on its arousing laid-back tones and making it more eclectic. On tracks such as "Do You..." and the title song, Miguel played around with psychedelia and made it palatable enough for R&B fans to accept him in the bedroom and for rock critics to find enough range to crown him. As I said earlier, this was a landmark year for the genre and Kaleidoscop Dream was a huge reason why.

8. Tame Impala - Lonerism

Regardless of whether Tame Impala created one of the best albums of 2012 or 1967, they remain proof that beyond all the trends and scenes, that it's all about the music at the end of the day, silly, not a cred-drenched backstory or relevance to the current cultural climate, which I think tends to skew critical acclaim at times. Lonerism is simply just a fuzz-induced, upfront rock album that is remniscent at times of Cream and T. Rex and done at a superb quality. In an indie world that has recently tended to favor minimalism over chops except in a few cases (think of the technical skills of Grizzly Bear and St. Vincent), Tame Impala has managed to create an album heavy enough for dads and with enough hazy cool for their offspring.

9. The Mynabirds - Generals

Armed with dingy guitars and Laura Burhenn's lower register, Generals was at times one of the best pure rock albums of the year, evoking the feeling of a dimly lit swamp, but one modern enough to have access to satellite television and at others a dark pop effort that wasn't afraid to embrace a striking chorus. The dust and sand of their debut album has been replaced with an electricity and aggression that powered these ten tracks along some of the best music of 2012. Second-half songs such as "Disarm" and "Greatest Revenge" are high points that prove it's only a matter of time before The Mynabirds connect with a larger audience.

10. Carly Rae Jepsen - Kiss

Sincerity is a trait in music that is likely to be mocked instead of celebrated as one gets older, although no one told that to 27 year-old Carly Rae Jepsen, who managed to make one of the most youthful albums of the year while knocking on the door of 30. Kiss is unabashed in where it wears its heart and does so with a fervor only thought capable of Disney Channel multi-hyphenates. What makes this album so special for me is in all the details in which Jepsen nails adolescent longing. A couplet such as "But if you cut a piece of guitar string/I would wear it like it's a wedding ring" might make the the cynic in us gag, but we'd be hard-pressed to not remember anyone in our teen years who didn't embody that sentiment, unless that person was yourself.

And the rest...

11. Jack White - Blunderbuss
12. Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan
13. Nas - Life Is Good
14. Melody's Echo Chamber - Melody's Echo Chamber
15. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
16. BJ The Chicago Kid - Pineapple Now-Laters
17. Graffiti6 - Colours
18. Elle Varner - Conversational Lush
19. Chairlift - Something
20. Kimbra - Vows
21. Grimes - Visions
22. Purity Ring - Shrines
23. Gold Motel - Gold Motel
24. 2NE1 - To Anyone
25. Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music
26. Schoolboy Q - Habits & Contradictions
27. Crocodiles — Endless Flowers
28. THEESatisfaction - awE naturalE
29. Lissy Trullie - Lissy Trullie
30. Beach House - Bloom
31. Future of the Left — The Plot Against Common Sense
32. MNDR - Feed Me Diamonds
33. Gregory Porter - Be Good
34. Joey Bada$$ - 1999
35. Ski Beatz - 24 Hour Karate School Presents Twilight
36. Escort - Escort
37. Grizzly Bear - Shields
38. Kids These Days - Traphouse Rock
39. Now, Now - Threads
40. Santigold - Master Of My Make-Believe
41. Esthero - Everything Is Expensive
42. Lee Fields and The Expressions - Faithful Man
43. The Dollyrots - The Dollyrots
44. Sharon Van Etten - Tramp
45. Elle Varner - Perfectly Imperfect
46. Hospitality - Hospitality
47. Yuna - Yuna
48. Ke$ha - Warrior
49. Future - Pluto
50. First Aid Kit - The Lion's Roar

Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order):

Action Bronson & Party Supplies - Blue Chips
Air - Le Voyage Dans La Lune
Alabama Shakes - Boys & Girls
Allo Darlin' - Europe
Jade Alston - Single On A Saturday Night
Steve Aoki - Wonderland
BadBadNotGood - BBNG2
Willis Earl Beal - Acousmatic Sorcery
Bear In Heaven - I Love You, It's Cool
Best Coast - The Only Place
Big K.R.I.T. 4 Eva N A Day
Big K.R.I.T. - Live From The Underground
Butterfly Boucher - Butterfly Boucher
Cadence Weapon - Hope In Dirt City
Céu - Caravana Sereia Bloom
Chancellor Warhol - Playlist for Edie
Cheap Girls - Giant Orange
Chiddy Bang - Breakfast
Childish Gambino - Royalty
Children of the Night - Queens...Revisited
Cody ChestnuTT - Landing On A Hundred
Cloudbirds - Cloudbirds
Curren$y - The Stoned Immaculate
DJ Rashad - Teklife Vol. 1: Welcome To The Chi
Kathleen Edwards - Voyageur
Eux Autres - Sun Is Sunk
Chet Faker - Thinking In Textures
Fiend & Cookin' Soul - Iron Chef
Jonas Friddle - Belle De Louisville
Jonas Friddle - Synco Pony
fun. - Some Nights
Garbage - Not Your Kind Of People
Macy Gray - Covered
Angel Haze - Reservation
Japandroids - Celebration Rock
Teresa Jenee - Electric Yellow
Jesse Ruins - Dream Analysis
Norah Jones - ...Little Broken Hearts
Killa Kyleon & Mouse On Tha Track - Welcome To The Fish Fry
Kindness - World, You Need A Change Of Mind
Lianne La Havas - Is Your Love Big Enough?
Kirby Lauryen - Risk It All
Lil' Reese - Don't Like
Lute - West 1996
Madonna - MDNA
Kendra Morris - Banshee
Neneh Cherry & The Thing - The Cherry Thing
Of Monsters and Men - My Head Is An Animal
Robert Glasper Experiment - Black Radio
Roc Marciano - Reloaded
Xenia Rubinos - Magic Trix
Georgia Anne Muldrow - Seeds
Saint Etienne - Words & Music By Saint Etienne
sami.the.great. - sami.the.great.
The School - Reading Too Much Into Things Like Everything
Solange - True
Sonnymoon - Sonnymoon
Esperanza Spalding - Radio Music Society
SWV - I Missed Us
Sofia Talvik - The Owls Are Not What They Seem
Tanlines - Mixed Emotions
Team Me - To The Treetops!
Tennis - Young and Old
Tenniscoats - Papa's Ear
Traxman - Return Of The Westside Boogie
Vertikal - Vertikal


  1. Yes, I love Jessie Ware's Devotion album, too! A recent discovery on my part. God bless online serendipity :D

  2. It's a really intoxicating listen. Very hard to get tired of it.