What a strange year for music — or, at least, for my listening habits. R&B seeped into my consciousness in unprecedented ways. Rap tightened its stranglehold on me. Indie guitar music, despite “returning,” mattered less to me than it ever has. I stopped pretending I will ever be a metalhead. Relatedly, I bumped “Call Me Maybe” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” repeatedly without shame.
In the end, a few albums floated above the noise. Obviously, these are favorites, and there’s no such thing as best. Behold: Some music I loved in 2012.
10. Future, Pluto
Future perfected a new breed of gangster rap this year, huffing and wheezing sad-sack bellows into synth-laced, AutoTune-laminated trunk detonations. Stacked with hits and bursting with ideas, Pluto plays like a thugged-out sequel to Kanye’s divisive 808s & Heartbreaks.
9. Justin Townes Earle, Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now
Earle’s intimate set of country amblers is 2012’s best late-night drive music.
8. Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel...
Even if you missed Apple’s dumbfounding display at the Palace, you couldn’t miss the (absolutely warranted) hype about her incendiary comeback album. Frayed nerves and fearless expression have rarely been so rewarding.
7. METZ, METZ
Here’s a thrill: Loud, angry Canadian punk rock that reminds me of Sub Pop’s former specialty.
6. WIN WIN, Double Vision
Two DJs and a video collagist carried LCD Soundsystem’s torch through Paul Simon’s tropics and Super Furry Animals’ alternate universe. There’s nothing cartoonish about Double Vision, though. All those ideas and influences add up to a wildly entertaining, forward-thinking stab at pop.
5. Cloud Nothings, Attack on Memory
After two records demonstrating his pop chops, Cleveland indie rock prodigy Dylan Baldi flew his Wipers flag and transformed Cloud Nothings into a vehicle for raspy, gravel-encrusted, darkly despairing post-punk (with pop chops).
4. Fun., Some Nights
Misguided purists shivered when alt-rockers Fun. embraced AutoTune and hip-hop production. Those who objected to the band’s inventive, infectious cyborg metamorphosis ought to free their milquetoast minds. Some Nights is radio-ready manna.
3. Frank Ocean, Channel Orange
Everything about this groundbreaking R&B album is brave, and most of it is beautiful.
2. Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d. city
Everyone instantly bestowing G.O.A.T. status should pump the brakes, but there’s no doubt Kendrick delivered something of tremendous value here, a rich statement that continues to reveal new layers of brilliance with each listen.
1. Miguel, Kaleidoscope Dream
With his gorgeous genre mash Kaleidoscope Dream, Miguel delivered the most sonically luxuriant, melodically mesmerizing, adrenaline-rushed record of 2012. Let’s hope he’s just getting started.