It really doesn’t matter when and if an album leaked or not. In the end we just want an amazing album. I asked our writers to compile a list, using only three albums and one Youtube video each, from 2012. It’s definitely not an easy task to summarize a year’s worth of albums into simply three titles. But then again, all of our writers are amazing. The good news is that you don’t have to agree with their lists either, you just have to put your own list in the comment section.
Channel Orange, this was a no-brainer. Frank Ocean managed to top his earlier 2011 release, Nostalgia Ultra, with Channel Orange: a brutally candid record manifesting a variety of emotions and themes: unrequited love, confusion, optimism, the entitlement mentality of wealthy kids, and of course the nearly ten-minute classic grand ode to the stripper known only as Cleopatra in “Pyramids,” one of the best R&B songs produced in quite some time.
The first time I listened to Liars WIXIW, I immediately thought, “This doesn’t sound like Liars.” Eventually though, I realized what a ridiculous notion that was – the band has shifted gears musically with every record they have made in their 12-year existence. The overall opaque atmosphere of this experimental and electronic-based album is what kept me listening despite my initial skepticism, and it remains the best Liars effort to date.
Critics praised Sleigh Bells personal, darker tone of this sophomore record Reign of Terror, while some fans were disappointed with the slower pace and lack of upbeat “party songs”. While I was initially conflicted, the track that do stand out on Reign of Terror make it worth being on the end of year Best of lists. Take the fabulous “Leader of the Pack”, a surprisingly buoyant take on the fragility of life and loss. Only Alexis’s sugary sweet voice could make the sorrow of death sound so saccharine.
A year after the hurricane high that was our introduction to Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, one man stands alone among the ensuing slump of wreckage with massive credibility and star power (at least until Earl Sweatshirt releases his upcoming album in 2013)., Channel ORANGE Frank Ocean’s debut album took the world by storm this summer and has planted him in the hearts of all, indie or mainstream. The record was brave, vulnerable and beautiful; masterfully created, allowing the privileged listener minute glimpses into every facet of Ocean’s being. This album was easily my favourite release of the year.
Picking second and third place was harder, as there were many that could take the silver and bronze respectively. I have gone for two rock records, but from opposite ends of the spectrum in Given To The Wild by The Maccabees and Celebration Rock by Japandroids. The Maccabees surprised everyone with this immensely matured layered sound to their new release Given to the Wild. Each track grows on every listen. Previously unheard elements constantly open themselves up for your perusal like some sort of leveling up system, opening new doors to new passages that you had not known to exist before. To not get too ‘reviewy’ about it, Celebration Rock is just an immensely fun album to listen to. A perfect soundtrack to a summer of rebellion or a winter of fun and adventure, this release from Japandroids fits any mood.
Never easy for me to choose a favorite or best anything. When it comes to music different albums can register in a number of ways. Albums can be seen as fantastic or a huge failure ranging from the weather outside, a listener’s immediate mood, past thoughts on a band release, or any handful of other factors. Personally I like variety and this past year musically that centered on a lot of hip-hop. Smoke DZA’s Rugby Thompson album was always fitting into a playlist, especially with Odd Future rapper Domo Genesis contributing to the track “Ashtray.”
Variety is the spice of life though and Canadian Jazz trio BADBADNOTGOOD certainly provided that with a sophomore release, BBNG2, that left me floored. You expect awesome things from great musicians but the group really came to play on these original tracks. Cursive in many regards also exceeded my expectations with their seventh full length release I Am Gemini. Kasher’s voice is better than ever and the lush instrumentation branded onto these tracks alone places this release at the top of my music collection. A smattering for everyone’s musical taste in 2012, enjoy in hopes that 2013 will wow us right out of the gates.
To me, 2012 has been a diverse year, one that has shown that artists who aren’t afraid to push boundaries of their genres and experiment can actually be rewarded by both critics and fans. The best example of this for me is Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, a hazy downtempo album that shows that hip-hop artists can bare their souls and abandon the ho’s and cash subject matter that dominates the genre.
Grimes is another artist that doesn’t really fit nicely into any genre conventions, and I think that’s what made her album Visions was my favorite of 2012. Grimes’ sound is sort of a perfect blend of electronica and psychedelia that nobody else out there is making. Along with the stunning music is Grimes’ voice, which is ethereal and dreamy, creating a fever dream of an album that is somehow both inscrutable and immediately accessible at the same time.
A lot of people dismiss Childish Gambino (aka Community’s Donald Glover) as a novelty, but I think that his mixtape Royalty completely disproves that. With Royalty, Gambino delivered an album that was even more impressive than his 2011 debut Camp, with an incredibly diverse cast of guest stars featuring Danny Brown, Schoolboy Q, Beck (who has apparently decided to rap again), and Tina Fey (seriously).
As a bit of a postscript, even though she made no really official releases, 2012 saw the debut of Kitty Pryde, a rapper that, despite all the hype building around her, has shown that she is an incredibly talented rapper that could do some amazing things in the next few years.
It came as a surprise to many when Brooklyn, New York indie rockers The Antlers abruptly announced release plans for a new EP this past summer. Titled Undersea, the EP stands at only four songs in length but satisfies an ambitious musical craving with its blend of evocative vocal arrangements and sonic undercurrents that is sure to put the listener in a state of listless pleasure.
With post-rock on the rise over the last few years, 2012 was an advantageous time for Deer Leap to put out its first full-length album, Here. Home. The lush vocal melodies and atmospheric guitar work on Here. Home. ask questions with the amount of scope the likes of Explosions the Sky and Mogwai have yet to touch on. This album contains songs varying from pop-rock, vocal-driven tracks to sentimental, instrumental opuses which have the powerful ability to evoke nostalgic memories of forgotten past life moments.
Lastly on my list is The Modern Shape by British rockers Burn The Fleet. The band has made leaps and bounds since its debut, self-titled EP came out two years ago. Fans of Alexisonfire and Thrice will appreciate the The Modern Shape’s explosive, anthemic opening tracks as it quickly settles into a comfortable, slower pace midway through the album, before concluding with “Irish Eyes,” a song sure to impress fans who’ve enjoyed the raw emotion of acts like Brand New and Manchester Orchestra over the years.