You know, 2012 might of been the first year of my life where I actively listened to new releases that came out throughout the year. Sure, I’ve always been a pervasive music listener, but I’ve also acknowledged myself as someone who likes to play catch up, and I often find myself in the mood to listen to older music. This year, however, I found myself more appreciative of current happenings in the spectrum more than ever, devouring new releases month in and month out like they were proverbial Halloween candies. Still, it was really hard for me to make this top ten list, even after spending so much time concentrating on albums that came out this year. I might find myself disagreeing with this list somewhere down the road, but for right now all ten of these albums were chief reasons to rely on headphones for the last 12 months.
10. Shields – Grizzy Bear
Like 2009, this was a year for Brooklyn-based “critics” bands, with Dirty Projectors, Animal Collective, and Grizzy Bear all coming out with new albums. The latter, however, arguably put out the best of the bunch, as Shields is possibly their most diverse work to date. Described by the band as a more collaborative album, Shields showcases the talents of the entire band, from Rossen’s valuable piano playing to Edward Droste’s haunting vocals. It’s an album that’s often somber, but so full of life at the same time. Veckanimist was certainly a hard album to top, but this is possibly as close as the band could of come to doing so.
9. Attack on Memory – Cloud Nothings
Cloud Nothings’ first album as a full band, transforms Dylan Baldi’s pop-punk ventures into truly addicting post-hardcore. Seemingly giving a real jolt of life from producer Steve Albini, the album’s brisk 30 minutes play like a lo-fi reminder of all the great 90s underground acts like Pavement or Sunny Day Real Estate. Baldi hasn’t forgotten his poppy side though, as the songs are still uber-catchy, but they have enough affable angst and creative fixtures to keep the Pitchfork forums happy. Cloud Nothings can indeed be uttered in the same breath as other punk-esque contemporaries like Titus Andronicus and The Men.
8. Channel Orange – Frank Ocean
I have to admit I had lost a lot of interest in OFWGKTA since Goblin came out. Fortunately, Frank Ocean’s solo debut cast aside all my doubt. Lyrical, insanely polished, highly intelligent, and socially relevant, Channel Orange is quite possibly the best R + B album in years, and not just because it’s so different from what you usually hear from the mainstream hip-hop landscape. So he can sing, but he can also sing about something
7. R.A.P. Music – Killer Mike
Killer Mike continues to prove he’s one of the best southern rappers here, but the true motor oil on this album is producer El-P. The genius Brooklyn beat maker has indeed giving Mike a sound that stays true to his essence, while also sounding starkly different. It almost feels like an early Ice Cube album, with Killer Mike’s angry lyrics, pulsing beats, and scathing political commentary (Reagan is just begging to start controversy). Lacking any sketches, and clocking in at a mere 12 songs (less than 45 minutes), R.A.P. Music is exactly the type of album we need to see more of in present day hip-hop: no filler, all killer.
6. Ekstasis – Julia Holter
Holter’s second album is a most haunting listen. Etheral in its sound, and always emotional, this album shows how beautiful electronic music can be when paired with such a talented singer. Simply put it this way: It sounds like the lost Broadcast album.
5. (tie) The Money Store/No Love Deep Webb – Death Grips
Death Grips’ top-notch mixtape Exmilitary was enough to get the music world talking, but their first two official albums are masterpieces beyond what anyone could of expected. It’s hard to imagine that this unclassifiable act is on a major label (Epic) as this isn’t your pop’s rock/rap group. Death Grips is pure expression, making music that is often danceable, rough, and abstract in the most unsettling way (“She shoot pussy through your chest you die”). If people ever want to start using the term post-hip-hop, then Death Grips is exactly the group to look to as a genre start.
4. Bloom – Beach House
Teen Dream was a remarkable album, but Beach House’s follow-up is even more…dreamy. Stronger lyrics and sound scapes make for an album that is the definitive anti-summer album. The duo continue to make beautiful music that recalls everything from Cocteau Twins to Stereolab.
3. good kid, m.A.A.d. city – Kendrick Lamaar
The best hip-hop record of the year, if not several. Kendrick Lamaar proves that he’s an A-list rapper here by his unpredictable flow switches, but what really makes the album a masterpiece is that it has heart. Lamaar’s lyrics about materialism, gang violence, sexuality, and substance abuse both question the whole gangsta-rapper lifestyle without condoning it. If Dr. Dre never releases Detox (likely), I think he should be more than happy with what his protege has concocted here, as this is a full-on celebration of the west coast legacy.
2. The Seer – Swans
Fucking epic! I know so many albums are described as such, but the twelth studio album from Michael Gira’s legendary No Wave band is hard to describe in any other way. Gira claims the album is the product of his 30 years as a musician, and it’s hard to argue otherwise. At a massive two hours (including two songs that go north of 20 minutes) The Seer could of been a self-indulgent mess, but instead it’s an intense and fluid album that fully encompasses the band’s godly themes. Oppressive, devastating, brutal and completely necessary, The Seer is without a doubt the best album to come from a band that has seen no shortage of masterpieces throughout their decades-long career.
1. Bish Bosh – Scott Walker
Scott Walker is a figure I wouldn’t hesitate to call music’s most enigmatic artist. His last two albums (Tilt and The Drift) saw him turn from a highly creative pop artist, to a Samuel Beckett-esque provocateur. His latest album is just as mind rousing and frightening as his last two, but I also feel it’s his funniest to date too. While still filled with disturbing music and lyrics (“I’ve Severed my gonads. Fed them to your shrieking Face”), I feel that listeners will be highly rewarded if they catch on to Walker’s more eccentric side (“If brains were rain, you’d be a desert”). With obscure references, chant-like singing, and an unequivocally morose tone, Bish Bosh is pure Scott Walker, and as masterful an album of his as any other.
Honorable Mentions: Swing Lo Magellan – Dirty Projectors, All Hell – Daughn Gibson, Oshin – DIIV, Celebration Rock – Japandroids, Local Business – Titus Andronicus, All We Love We Leave Behind – Converge, Lonerism – Tame Impala, Luxury Problems – Andy Stott, Transcendental Youth – The Mountain Goats, Visions – Grimes