Best of 2012
Critic: Josh Potter
If “experimental” and “pop” ever belong in the same sentence, they best describe Claire Boucher’s bedroom electronic project, Grimes. Imagine Madonna scoring a post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie, and you’ve got Visions.
2. Tame Impala
“Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” is probably the best song of the year and Lonerism, as a whole, is precisely the album everyone knew Kevin Parker had in him after his Australian band Tame Impala released their debut a couple years back.
Until the Quiet Comes
Steven Ellison’s rap debut, Duality under the moniker Captain Murphy, very nearly made this list, but forward-thinking beats are what Ellison does best, as Flying Lotus. With Erykah Badu and Thom York guesting, Until the Quiet Comes is this year’s gold standard for beat-craft.
4. Father John Misty
If Father John Misty’s debut sounds like a more playful, more-L.A. version of Fleet Foxes, that’s because singer-songwriter J. Tillman is that band’s former drummer. Fear Fun sounds like it could have been recorded in Laurel Canyon in the ’70s but the lyrics are as 2012 as can be.
5. Fiona Apple
The Idler Wheel . . .
The Idler Wheel . . . is as elemental and dramatic as anything Fiona Apple has ever recorded. If anyone deserves a major-label contract to hole up for seven years and neurotically craft a song cycle, it’s her.
6. The Dirty Projectors
Swing Lo Magellan
The Dirty Projectors have been doing their thing long-enough that younger bands are starting to bear their undeniable influence. Swing Lo Magellan is affirmation, though, that David Longstreth is still just hitting his stride, even while he insists he’s “about to die.”
7. The Parlor
Our Day in the Sun
This year, We Are Jeneric became the Parlor, taking the B3nson sound and giving it all the production value it deserves.
8. Purity Ring
Edmonton’s Purity Ring are yet another guy-girl electronic pop duo, but the beats are heavier and the hooks are catchier than their immitators.
9. Death Grips
The Money Store
I defy you to find an artist in any genre that goes harder than Death Grips. One part hip-hop (MC Ride) and one part thrash-metal (Hella drummer Zach Hill), these guys put out two LPs this year but this first one hit like a depth charge when it landed.
10. Peaking Lights
“Psychedelic” can mean a lot of things these days, but almost all connotations relate to Peaking Lights, a husband-wife band who deal in dub, lo-fi, noise and good-trip psych-pop.
Critic: David King
1. Crystal Castles
A sublime goth-techno masterpiece that pounds more on the heart strings than on the dance floor.
2. Flying Lotus
Until the Quiet Comes
How is it that something so neurotic and claustrophobic can also be so sweet and this smooth?
3. Cloud Nothings
Attack on Memory
Modern shoegazers take their eyes off their sneakers and shout, “I thought I would be more than this!” And, presto, they are.
4. Dinosaur Jr.
I Bet on Sky
Dinosaur Jr. bring that pain one more time with big riffs, and that deep ache.
5. Frank Ocean
You are probably listening to this right now, with good reason.
6. Godspeed You Black Emperor
‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
It was a pretty good year for shoegaze, and then Godspeed released a new album and it got pretty great.
Is it Scandinavian black metal or American folk? The best guess is neither but the album is a trip and a half.
Back together, for at least one night, Blur close out the Olympic ceremony with a classic set full of heart-swelling sing-a-longs, off-kilter dynamics and the kind of dysfunction that makes their Brit-rock matter.
All We Love We Leave Behind
Converge manage to do again what critical darlings Mastodon continually fail to do—make epic, thinking-man’s metal with blazing musicianship and a terrifying sense of fury—except that Converge actually deliver human emotion rather than bullshit redneck hunting stories dressed up as concept albums.
10. Purity Ring
Synth-pop and noise so cute it hurts but in a really weird way.
Critic: Raurri Jennings
1. Father John Misty
With the Fleet Foxes and his solo albums as J. Tillman in the rearview, Josh Tillman decided that, rather than “singing about [his] pain like a fucking decrepit wizard,” he’d make a darkly comedic chronicle of Hollywood decadence as Father John Misty. Tillman’s songwriting, coupled with producer Jonathan Wilson’s slick Laurel Canyon sound, combine to create a classic album that will be cherished and puzzled over for years to come.
2. Adrian Younge Presents Venice Dawn
Something About April
Adrian Younge’s psychedelic soul masterpiece, despite its retro leanings, sounded incredibly current in 2012. Something About April’s hybridization of Wu Tang, Portishead, Ennio Morricone and Curtis Mayfield will break your neck with its unstoppable head nod and seduce you with slick soul ballads.
3. PJ Katz
’92 Renault Music
No one reps local music harder than the region’s MCs and producers. Whether it is a turf battle or simply a celebration of your block and your crew, representing your city isn’t just a recurring theme, it’s ingrained into the genre. “Cap City, have mercy one time!” ’92 Renault Music is a victory lap for 518 hip-hop and should be on your rap radar.
Tame Impala impressed with their debut, Innerspeaker, filled with heavy riffs and echo-laden earworms. Lonerism represents a step forward in leader Kevin Parker’s songwriting, and “Apocalypse Dreams” may be the best thing he’s written to date.
5. Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten’s voice is draped all over 2012. Tramp was released in the dead of winter and she has toured almost the entire year—during which I saw her three times. Her mourning dove falsetto is backed by a wall of electric guitars and spare arrangements on this fantastic follow-up to 2010’s Epic.
6. Frank Ocean
All hail Frank Ocean for bringing back the vocal stylings of Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye and the Isley Brothers with a poetic touch; all hail Frank Ocean for being brave enough to come out to the entire world; all hail Frank Ocean for putting out the best pop record of this year. We forgive you for inviting John Mayer to the party.
7. Captain Murphy
It is rare that one is literally hypnotized by a record, but Captain Murphy (AKA Flying Lotus) set out to do exactly that, imbuing his MF Doom-nodding mixtape with YouTube clips of Heaven’s Gate leader Marshall Applewhite and “how to” videos on cult generation and leadership. Although, Until the Quiet Comes was FlyLo’s big release this year, Duality vibes harder.
8. Daniel Rossen
Silent Hour/Golden Mile
While his band Grizzly Bear put out a great record, Shields, this year, it is Rossen’s solo EP that still haunts me. Rossen proves to be one of the most unique guitarists of his generation with songs like “Return to Form,” but he’s also a tremendous songwriter and arranger on the piano dirge “Saint Nothing.”
9. Hiatus Kaiyote
Oscillating between a beat-tape aesthetic and more fleshed-out progressive soul, this New Zealand band’s debut EP puts them on the same playlist as Stevie Wonder, Erykah Badu, J Dilla and Flying Lotus. The opening track, “Mobius Streak,” combines these influences with Jeff Buckley’s guitar-driven ululating and vocal virtuosity. Tawk Tomahawk was one of my favorite discoveries this year.
10. Joey Bada$$
Joey Bada$$ makes me feel old for a few reasons. First, the kid is 17 years old and all raw talent and savant skill. Second, he and his Pro Era crew bring back an NYC hip-hop vibe that was in vogue when I was in sixth grade. “Don’t Front” is the summer jam of 1997 that I never had and it came out when young Bada$$ was in diapers.
Critic: Kirsten Ferguson
1. Dr. John
From the album’s opener and title track, “locked down” is good choice of words to describe the New Orleans’ artist’s latest. Featuring Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach, who produces, this album is a locked-down, swampy feast of feverish grooves.
2. Alabama Shakes
Boys & Girls
Alabama Shakes’ singer Brittany Howard is the kind of person you want to root for—a Gibson-toting, glamour-eschewing, seemingly shy frontwoman in her early 20s who rose from a small town in Alabama to sell out shows around the world this year. When she opens her mouth onstage you can tell why—the pain of a lifetime pours out in a righteous howl.
3. The Figgs
The Day Gravity Stopped
They may be celebrating a hard-to-believe 25 years of rocking this year, but the Figgs have never stopped evolving. Their latest—covering two albums worth of tunes—is one of their best recordings yet, from the Pete Donnelly power-pop masterpiece “Wait ‘til Dawn” to Mike Gent’s gauntlet throwdown, “No Time Is the Wrong Time to Groove.”
4. Nada Surf
The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy
Alongside Fountains of Wayne, Nada Surf are one of the most underrated bands from the ’90s still making great music today—both bands hamstrung perhaps by being best known for kitschy hits that never fully did them justice. This is some of the smartest, most poignant power-pop of the year.
5. King Tuff
Brattleboro, Vermont’s Kyle Thomas made irresistibly catchy indie rock with his quirky group Happy Birthday and sludgy stoner rock with J. Mascis in Witch. Here he returns to fuzzy garage-rock form for the Sub Pop King Tuff debut. “Alone & Stoned” may be the song of the year. Now we just need to get King Tuff to play a show in Albany.
6. The Golden Boys
John Wesley Coleman
The Last Donkey Show
Austin singer-guitarist John Wesley Coleman featured on two great releases this year—with Dirty Fingernails, his rock & roll band the Golden Boys dispensed a nonstop blast of heartfelt, sing-along garage tunes, while The Last Donkey Show was an equally memorable, organ-fueled, blues-punk rave-up.
8. Sharon Van Etten
The silver-throated indie singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten—dare we say—outshone Conor Oberst when she opened up for him at the Egg this year, and then she followed with a smoky, mesmerizing headlining set at the Restoration Festival in September. Her third album, Tramp, featured heavily in those sets—from the emotionally resonant “Give Out” to the whirling kiss-off of “Serpents.”
9. Lee Ranaldo
Between the Times and the Tide
In the wake of Sonic Youth’s breakup, hiatus or just generally uncertain current situation, guitar great Lee Ranaldo put out a solo album that sounds like the best of his material from the Sonic Youth back catalogue—“Eric’s Trip” meets “Wish Fulfillment.”
“For the Love of Ivy”—a tribute to the Gun Club—is the best cover of the year. “The Nights of Wine and Roses” and “The House That Heaven Built” could duke it out for rock anthem of the year.