Let’s be brief. Here’s a sentence (or thereabouts) about 20 of my favorite albums of 2012. I’m not the most impartial critic (if I can even call myself that). Most of these picks are from favorite artists, and I probably would have picked their albums regardless. Whatcha gonna do?
For Alive’s definitive best albums of the year list, head over to Chris DeVille’s article found here. As always, this is a purely subjective favorites list.
20. Doe Paoro – Slow To Love
Doe Paoro, with her smooth blend of Badu-like R&B and hip-hop, reminds me of one of my favorite artists from last year: Dessa. Doe’s track “Born Whole” rarely left my ears all year (much as Dessa’s “Dixon’s Girl,” rarely did last year).
19. Aesop Rock – Skelethon
One of my least favorite Aesop Rock albums (they can’t all be Labor Days) still managed to crack my top 20. That should tell you how much I love Ace Rizzle.
18. Damien Jurado – Maraqopa
Jurado consistently turns out good to great albums. This year’s release is one of his best yet, drawing heavily from the Jesus People’s Movement from the 1960s/1970s psychedelic folk and guitar scene (think a less sunny Father John Misty with more psych meanderings).
17. Joey Bada$$ – 1999
Best hip-hop trend of 2012? The return of classic New York boom-bap. Even if it adds nothing new to the canon, I’ve enjoyed everything Joey Bada$$ put out this year.
16. Japandriods – Celebration Rock
Second biggest concert regret of 2012? Not getting to belt out “The Night of Wine and Roses” while slightly drunk (er, mostly drunk?).
15. Father John Misty – Fear Fun
Dare I say, this surpassed anything Fleet Foxes has done since its self-titled EP?
14. Field Report – Field Report
My grower album of 2012, Field Report’s self-titled LP floored me like few others this year.
13. Mayhem Lauren – Respect the Fly S---t
This mixtape feels like what it was: a mixtape made with little regard for commercial considerations (read: few, if any choruses) in a mad dash of creativity and inspiration and recorded in a hotel room by a bunch of high-as-kites rappers at the height of their powers. In other words: it was amazing.
12. Ab-Soul – Control Systems
I can’t get enough of Ab-Soul’s weird Phillip K. Dick-esque paranoid freak-outs and conspiracy theories. This, coupled with Schoolboy Q’s LP, Habits & Contradictions (narrowly cut from this list), and Kendrick’s major label debut might have propelled the Black Hippy crew above Odd Future in my book.
11. Future – Pluto
I never expected to like this album as much as I did, but then again 808s & Heartbreak (somewhat of a touchtone for Pluto) is, somehow, my second favorite Kanye album.
10. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
I know many were disappointed with this album and felt it was inferior to 2009’s Bitte Orca, but I’m not one of those people. I loved this album’s slightly soulful bend, and found myself listening to it when I wasn’t in the mood for anything else.
9. Nacho Picasso & Blue Sky Black Death – Lord of the Fly
The third album from this duo didn’t produce anything spectacular or groundbreaking compared to their earlier work, but I don’t really care. I ATE IT UP. I guess if this list proves anything it’s that I bite hard for drugged-out hip-hop, particularly if it features icy synths and horror-tropes. I bumped this non-stop for months (which is a lifetime in the world of most mixtapes).
8. Domo Genesis & The Alchemist – No Idols
I might be the only one I know whose favorite Odd Future rapper is Domo. He’s not the most technically gifted or charismatic, but there’s something about his mix of hunger and weeded-out bliss that strikes a sweet spot for me. Pair that with one of my favorite producers of the moment, The Alchemist, makes this release dyno-mite.
7. Oddisee – People Hear What They Want to See
Oddisee, seen here reviving what I loved about mid- to late-’90s Tribe, made the jump from producer to rapper about as successfully as can be done (see also: Blueprint). Of all the hip-hop I pushed on friends this year, Oddisee’s was the second most well-received.
6. P.O.S. – We Don’t Even Live Here Anymore
P.O.S. keeps his aggressive punk edge while moving toward a more dance-/EDM-oriented sound without sounding like Pitbull (a momentous accomplishment, quite frankly). In my humble opinion, the year’s most slept-on hip-hop release.
5. Miguel – Kaleidoscope Dream
I loved Miguel’s EPs that led up to Kaleidoscope Dream, but I never suspected this spectacular jump, which, from a pure adrenaline rush/enjoyment/replay standpoint, I probably preferred more than Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange.
4. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
That said, the scope and ambition of Ocean’s major label debut made my head spin. Despite a recent minor backlash over critics’ fawning of Channel Orange, I have no doubt this album will rightfully be considered as one of a few landmark albums from 2012.
3. Killer Mike – R.A.P.Music
Of all the hip-hop albums I pushed on friends this year, R.A.P. Music was the most enthusiastically embraced. I enjoyed El-P and Killer Mike’s take on classic Ice Cube/Public Enemy more than any rap album I’ve listened to in the last five years, perhaps. Insanely repeatable, too.
2. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city
Another album topping year-end lists that’s been subjected to a minor backlash (I don’t understand it either). good kid, m.A.A.d. city will go down as a rap classic for brilliantly adding a conscience to the melodicism that Dre added to the N.W.A. G-funk sound.
1. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory
I can still vividly remember the rush I felt the first time I listened to this album. Cloud Nothings’ foray into rock and aggression reminded me of the best parts of emo and ’90s post-punk/post-hardcore — Sunny Day Real Estate, early Jimmy Eats World, Jawbreaker. Basically, every band I was weaned on. Add a dose of existential angst, genuine rockery and hooks, and, well, it doesn’t get any better for me.
Honorable mentions: Flying Lotus, Until the Quiet Comes; Solange, True;Action Bronson & Party Supplies, Blue Chips; El-P, Cancer for Cure; Nas, Life is Good; Boldy James, Consignment; Schoolboy Q, Habits & Contradictions; The Walkmen, Heaven.