This was a very good year for music. A very, very good year. At least 30 albums — many of which we’ve covered throughout the year in our 5 Albums Coming Out This Week That Don’t Suck feature — could have easily made the top-10 of the year list. Meaning: a lot of great stuff was left out. But, after much discussion, we decided on these 10 albums being the best representation of music in 2012. (Sorry, Smash Mouth fans.)
Without further delay, here are UPROXX’s 10 Best Albums of 2012. Let’s hear your favorites, too.
Attack on Memory by Cloud Nothings
All We Love We Leave Behind by Converge
Koi No Yokan by Deftones
Swing Lo Magellan by Dirty Projectors
Kaleidoscope Dream by Miguel
Local Business by Titus Andronicus
Blunderbuss by Jack White
#10. Blue Chips by Action Bronson
Action Bronson, real name Arian Asllani, is a Quentin Tarantino character come to life. The Queens-born rapper/food aficionado is impossibly cool, despite his physical presence suggesting to the contrary, and on the hiss-filled Blue Chips, he flips between genres (predominantly soul and funk) and styles as seamlessly as Tarantino goes from vampire thrillers to slave revenge fantasies. In Bronson terms, Blue Chips is as fine as a “salami cheese…from the cave/Wild dandelion greens dressed up on the plate/Parmesan crisp.” Also, he’s friends with Mr. Belding, so bonus points.
#9. Hypnotic Nights by JEFF the Brotherhood
(From guest contributor Burnsy)
When I first grabbed the JEFF the Brotherhood album, Hypnotic Nights, it fell victim to a little thing I like to call “Forgetting that I purchased it”. So the album was originally released on July 13 and I probably didn’t listen to it until September, which makes me sad now, because it is one of my favorite things that was created this year.
The first thing that came to mind when I listened to Nights was that JEFF the Brotherhood reminded me of Local H, and it turns out that’s a solid comparison because both bands are two-piece rock groups with a grungy, garage vibe. That said, I think one of the reasons that Nights resonated so well with me is that it’s not of this time, in that this band and a video for “Staring at the Wall” would have fit in perfectly in the 90s, leading off 120 Minutes or Alternative Nation, as I snuck out my window to smoke a Marlboro Red.
From the simple chords of the albums opener, “Country Life”, to the closing track, a haunting, trippy cover of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Changes”, Hypnotic Nights isn’t groundbreaking or something that we’ve never heard before. However, it is a kickass reminder of rock music that says, “We just don’t give a f*ck.”
#8. Lonerism by Tame Impala
Lonerism sounds like it’s from a time when Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band ruled supreme, when psychedelia, lead singers with soft voices, and noises that drift on and out of the mix, like the tides receding from the shore, crowded the top-40 charts. Think the Flaming Lips, too, but without any of the obnoxious theatrics. But there are enough modern day flourishes, like brief drops of shoegaze, for Lonerism to be simply written off as disposable nostalgia. If anything, it proves that psychedelic rock is not dying, it is not dying, it is shining, it is shining.
#7. channel ORANGE by Frank Ocean
In July, not long after Frank Ocean discussed his sexuality in a widely read Tumblr post, Beyonce also posted something online: a poem she wrote for Ocean. It read, “Be fearless. Be honest. Be generous. Be brave. Be poetic. Be open. Be free. Be yourself. Be in love. Be happy. Be inspiration.” Her message could double as a review of channel ORANGE, one of the most exciting and organic R&B albums in years. It’s intended to be listened in one, long, swirling, woozy-eyed journey, and that’s when it’s at its best. And all from a 25-year-old kid who not long ago was hidden in the shadow of Tyler, the Creator. Don’t write that novel, Frank.
#6. Bloom by Beach House
Beach House’s third album, Bloom, doesn’t crack and immediately pop as much as 2010’s excellent Teen Dream; the lyrics are a little darker and murkier, a lot more heartbreaking. But you’d never know it by listening to the way Victoria Legrand’s dreamy voice bobs in time with the dream-like organ and Alex Scally’s guitar arrangements. It’s an intoxicating juxtaposition — pain teamed with whimsy — and one that no one’s mastered as well as Beach House.
#5. The Seer by Swans
“Lunacy,” the opening track from The Seer, is over six minutes long — and it’s one of Swans’ shorter songs on the album. The Seer tests you; it doesn’t want to be listened to passively. It’s a two-hour challenge, full of double-digit-length drones and spiritual murmurs, with an occasional acoustic respite in the form of a song that ends with “Use your sword/Use your voice/And destroy.” But it’s worth the commitment.
Beneath the punishing, abyss-staring noise, there’s a certain beauty and grace and self-reflection to the album; plus, try listening to it while performing a mundane chore around the house. Doing the laundry will never seem as important as does right then. No wonder frontman Michael Gira called The Seer the “culmination of every previous Swans album as well as any other music I’ve ever made, been involved in or imagined.” He wasn’t being hyperbolic, either.
#4. R.A.P. Music by Killer Mike
Other albums in 2012 may have been better (three, specifically), but none felt as vital as R.A.P. Music. Or as angry. Over a filler-free, well-paced 45 minutes, the blindingly confident Killer Mike, with a flow as “sweet as potato pie,” sounds equal parts vicious and paranoid, his Southern drawl spitting out venom towards Ronald Reagan and parties in the Hamptons and, well, basically everyone and everything, over El-P’s merciless, synth-heavy beats. No need to settle for Pippens when you’ve got a Jordan right here.
#3. The Idler Wheel… by Fiona Apple
Fiona Apple is a once-in-a-lifetime creation. She’s brilliant, maddening, frenetic, impossible to pin down, fierce, flirtatious, scary, and hilarious. And it’s those eccentricities, and a dozen more just like them, that makes, sigh, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do so riveting.
The album, a jazzy, raw career culmination that can either inspire or destroy you, depending on your mood, sounds different with every listen; you half expect Fiona’s deeply personal voice, hollering, squeaking, and mischievously bouncing all over the place on the album, to flicker out of “Werewolf,” like the subject in a Hogwarts painting. Idler is a confession, and you never want Fiona to stop confiding.
#2. good kid, m.A.A.d city by Kendrick Lamar
Believe the hype. Kendrick Lamar is rap’s newest superstar. In our review of the album in October, we wrote, “[Kendrick’s] insightful, effortless lyrics about growing up in Compton are imaginative, without [resorting to clichés], and the beats never overwhelm, yet always impress. It’s no wonder he’s considered the savior of West Coast hip-hop.” If anything, good kid, m.A.A.d city, the savior of the mainstream, has only gotten better.
It’s the year’s best coming-of-age story.
#1. Celebration Rock by Japandroids
You sip a beer. You finish a beer. It tastes good, so you have another beer. Five minutes later, you’re done, and you’ve got a nice buzz going. You have a third. Why not? It’s a party. Two beers later, you’re feeling really good, like you could do anything. (Except drive; don’t drink and drive, kids.) Your head is swimming slightly, but in a good way — you don’t have to puke. You’re invincible and the world is yours.
That’s what Celebration Rock feels like. It’s sweaty, F*CK YEAH, hands-to-the-heavens rock ‘n’ roll, made by two guys. And just two guys, making as much OH OH OH OH OH OH noise as they can with a guitar and drum set. The only extra flourish on the album is the crackling fireworks that begin and end it. The album title is spot-on: Japandroids made a celebration of everything good about rock, about music, about 2012.