Top 15 albums of 2012
This year's most popular songs revolved around the cheapest of thrills. "Call Me Maybe" forced itself into our heads with its shameless catchiness, while "Bands A Make Her Dance" excited with its over-the-top raunchiness. However, who's to say these hits' popularity will last until next year?
What makes these albums special is how they spread these cheap, oft-forgettable tricks over 10 or more tracks. There is much more substance. The excitement doesn't spread thin but cuts deep.
The editorial staff (and assistant creative director Brian Keschinger) was at each other's throats trying to make this list. But just as our diverse tastes seemed too much to overcome, we were able to come to a consensus of albums that ranged from tight-narratives to chart-topping powerhouses. It wasn't about representing each genre; these 2012 standouts were good enough to transcend those boundaries.
So without further ado, here are the top 15 albums of 2012. - Brian Josephs, Senior Managing Editor
15. Zac Brown Band - Uncaged: After the band's 2010 release of You Get What You Give, 2012's highly anticipated Uncaged doesn't disappoint. The album showcases lead singer Zac Brown's impressive vocals and the unity of what is arguably the best act in country music. Folk, reggae and jam rock are all featured styles that create a thoughtful album that even a staunch country-hater could enjoy.
Choice Cuts: "Uncaged," "Natural Disaster"
14. El-P - Cancer 4 Cure: El-P is more than 15 years and he's still pissed. While not asdisconcerting as Fantastic Damage, C4C is a cacophonous trip through a dystopian New York. It should repulse the listener, but this journey ends up being addicting with its harshbut compact beats.
Choice Cuts: "$4 Vic/Nothing but You+Me (FTL)," "Oh Hail No (ft. MFN eXquire and Danny Brown)," "Drones Over Bklyn"
13. Esperanza Spalding - Radio Music Society: Jazz hasn't seen its immersion into the pop scene since the New Orleans blues explosion of the 1900s, and it's happening once again. Esperanza Spalding is a highly acclaimed artist who has rejoined this genre's complex structure with the mainstream ear. Radio Music Society has become Spalding's most successful album to date, sneaking into the top 10 on the Billboard 200as well as scoring number one on Billboard Top Jazz Albums. This Grammy winner is definitely getting some attention.
Choice Cuts: "Radio Song," "City of Roses"
12. Miguel - Kaleidoscope Dream: R&B crooner Miguel managed to not only escape the sophomore curse with Kaleidoscope Dream, but solidify himself as a threat to his musical peers. This album encompasses the passionate side of the Chicano singer and less of the mainstream R&B hits that flood radio waves today. His hit "Adorn" took over urban airwaves for weeks and has peaked on Billboard's Hot 100 at 17, among the likes of Taylor Swift, Kanye West and Pink.
Choice Cuts: "Adorn," "Use Me," "Do You ..."
11. Beach House - Bloom: Victoria Legrand's vocals and lyrics are notably affected by heartbreak, loneliness and longing. This makes Bloom's musical climaxes - those moments of triumph - that much more epic and intense. The apexes in "Lazuli" and "Irene" are mere moments, and yet, they feel so unworldly. The tracks end just when these peaks feel like they are about to overwhelm the listener. That's when they want to hear those tracks over and over again.
Choice Cuts: "Lazuli," "Myth"
10. Passion Pit - Gossamer: Passion Pit's sophomore studio album Gossamer proves to listeners the band's first album wasn't a fluke. This time around, lead singer Michael Angelakos has toned down the signature chipmunk voice effect and swapped it for a more genuine tone. This sense of vocal authenticity gives listeners a better idea of not only who he is, but also what the band is capable of. Ranging from upbeat and danceable to somber and even seductive at times, Gossamer will have listeners grooving with their eyes closed regardless of current mood.
Choice Cuts: "Carried Away," "Constant Conversations," "Where We Belong"
9. Mumford and Sons - Babel: Mumford and Sons set lofty expectations with the band's debut album, Sigh No More, but Marcus Mumford and his band of soulful musicians backed up the hype with this year's sophomore output, Babel. The record is intrinsically upbeat, and it is best viewed as a 15-track novel. While some songs seem to try a little too hard to start a dance party, Babel is a solid album nevertheless. Though "I Will Wait" is the most popular song on the album, some of the less well-known songs are the best efforts in Babel.
Choice Cuts: "Below My Feet," "Not With Haste," "Lovers' Eyes"
8. Taylor Swift - Red: Taylor Swift isn't the naÃ¯ve 16-year-old we heard on her self-titled debut album in 2006. Red is Swift's first real attempt at a "grown-up" album - she's taking responsibility for relationship mistakes instead of black-listing men - and it's her first real non-country album since she started moving away from the genre with Fearless. If you've turned your nose at Swift because of her bubblegum-sweet innocence, it's time for another listen.
Choice Cuts: "All Too Well," "Treacherous," "State of Grace"
7. Grizzly Bear - Shields: Three is the magic number for Grizzly Bear. It takes that amount of time for the band to come out with classics, as evident in the three-yeartransition between Yellow House and Veckatimest. The same case is withShields, a masterwork that enthralls listeners with the intensity of its instrumentals and the fragility of its vocalist.
Choice Cuts: "Sleeping Ute," "Yet Again," "Sun in Your Eyes"
6. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...: Just like its 23-word album title, Fiona Apple's 10-track album may be a bit much to handle. The singer's delivery is as volatile and raw as a frayed wire, but the sparks are made thrilling with poetic lyrics and intimate instrumentals.
Choice Cuts: "Every Single Night," "Daredevil"
5. The Shins - Port of Morrow: James Mercer is the only remaining orignal member of The Shins, a band that hasn't released an album in five years. Port of Morrow sounds like it could've been made in the last decade, but it doesn't feel at all outdated, making it a seamless comeback effort. It sounds fresh with its tightly constructed instrumentals and Mercer's introspective lyrics.
Choice Cuts: "Simple Song," "The Rifle's Spiral"
4. Japandroids - Celebration Rock: Is there a better album title? It's a disservice to categorize Celebration Rock as minimalist solely because it's short and it is comprised of only guitar and drums; the duo has enough energy to fill the largest of stadiums. This album truly is a celebration.
Choice Cuts: "The House That Heaven Built," "The Night of Wine and Roses"
3. Flying Lotus - Until The Quiet Comes: You know an album is great when you listen to it in its entirety, but can't name one single track. Until The Quiet Comes is the type of album that transitions from track to track beautifully and the listener will become lost in the realm of electronica. You'll become entranced and before long, you notice that you've been sitting in a chair, staring at the ceiling without a care in the world; track names are no concern.
Choice Cuts: "All In," "Tiny Tortures," "Putty Boy Strut"
2. Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city - Kendrick Lamar went from underground sensation to mainstream success over the last year and good kid, m.A.A.d city is the fruit of his labor. With smooth beats, subtle tunes and harsh storytelling, this was an album that suits Lamar's past growing up in Compton, Calif. It's more than just an album; it's a loose narrative of Lamar's life. A must listen for hip-hop enthusiasts.
Choice Cuts: "Swimming Pools (Drank)," "Poetic Justice (ft. Drake)," "Money Trees (ft. Jay Rock)," "Backseat Freestyle"
1. Frank Ocean - Channel Orange: This is more than that famous letter he wrote. We're hearing about prostitutes and lovers, romance and hopelessness, narcissism and seduction. Channel Orange feels like mediation on the human condition, but what makes it resonate is that it all sounds beautiful.
Choice Cuts: "Pyramids," "Thinking About You," "Pink Matter (ft. Andre 3000)"
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