We're all going to die on December 21, which is fine. Nothing like going down in a big, fiery blaze because some long-dead culture decided December 21, 2012 was the perfect day for civilization to meet its maker*. In any case, at least we as music fans had a great year. Besides the obvious, incendiary Hip-Hop projects we here at TSS covered, there were plenty of other LPs worth celebrating--and, inevitably, taking to our grave--across the music spectrum: Beach House's Bloom! Channel ORANGE! Japandroids' Celebration Rock!
So here are our favorite 12. Of course, there were lots, tons, silos-full of awesome non-Hip-Hop music released this year, so let us know what else you thought deserved our attention. Maybe we can fit in a listen before the apocalypse.
* - Although, the Mayans never took into account leap years, so maybe we're all dead already. Trippy.
Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE
Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE didn’t reinvent the wheel. No, it took the best aspects of modernized R&B--gut-wrenching introspection and immersive, soulful production--and greased it to perfection. Want groovy keys and horns? Frank gave you “Sweet Life” and “Sierra Leone.” A ten-minute mind-bender? Frank delivered his magnum opus, “Pyramids.” The only knock you could make against channel ORANGE is the interludes (“Fertilizer” and “End”) should’ve been longer. Oh, and if you’re privy to this sort of strawman fallacy, he could be gay. But when you have a project this solid, front to back, both become moot. As they should be.
Father John Misty - Fear Fun
Here’s a simple timeline: Fleet Foxes form in Seattle in 2006. They release album-of-the-year contenders in 2008 and 2011. Drummer J Tillman leaves band in January 2012 to reignite his solo career, creates a new moniker for himself (“Father John Misty”) and drops a rollicking, trippy and excellent folk LP, Fear Fun, that rivals some of his former band’s best work. No one knows what 2013 holds, but Fleet Foxes fans hope Tillman’s got something as invigorating as Fear Fun, especially if there won’t be another Helplessness Blues on the horizon.
The xx - Coexist
Many thought it wasn’t possible, but it happened: The xx went even more minimalist on their sophomore LP, Coexist. All listeners had to do was listen to the introductory guitar chords of “Angels.” That maudlin, chilly ambiance looks good on the British group, as they build upon their fantastic debut by not so much growing their sound as contracting it. That’s not the average career trajectory of a band, but hey, it happened.
Animal Collective - Centipede Hz
The world went to shit the last time Animal Collective made an album. Merriweather Post Pavillion burst like a megalomaniacal high before falling off into infinity--much like the gluttony leading into the 2008 financial crash. Animal Collective’s 2012 album, Centipede Hz, mirrors the current age in the same way, a sugar rush built on the myriad messages spinning around our heads on a daily basis. It’s chaotic, but just what music lovers need: the perfect noise birthed from all the dissonance around us.
Beach House - Bloom
What’s it like to stare at the aurora borealis? Is it anything like listening to Beach House’s excellent Bloom, hearing gigantic, austere keys and Victoria Legrand’s voice swirl overhead like colors in the sky? It has to be something like that, but actually tangible--something you can turn on and off an iPod. Because when you hear tracks bubble up like “Myth” or explode like “Wild” you can see the music working. It’s there, it’s real and it’s damn good.
Miguel - Kaleidoscope Dreams
Miguel's 2012 was simply a tour de force, beginning with the careful roll-out of his Art Dealer Chic series, and culminating in his gem of a sophomore LP, Kaleidoscope Dream -- the fully realized expression of Miguel’s unique ability to fuse accessibility and ambition. Packed front-to-back with undeniable singles (“Adorn”), potential future smashes (“Use Me,” “Do You...”) and affecting album cuts (“The Thrill,” “Pussy Is Mine”), Kaleidoscope Dream moves through its influences with a confident ease, never forgetting to showcase Miguel’s sweet, rangy vocals in all the right places. It’s a star making album, one that positions Miguel as one of the leading voices of R&B’s exciting new guard. -- Samir S.
Japandroids - Celebration Rock
There’s always that really loud album that releases to critical acclaim every year, an album so gloriously noisy that it’s like receiving a swift kick to the dick and a bat to the head at the same damn time. Japandroids threw their hat into the ring for 2012’s noisiest affair, by blowing off club doors with Celebration Rock. The title’s no lie: from tracks like “The Nights of Wine and Roses” to “The House That Heaven Built” the Vancouver duo are all about celebrating the good times in life. Their celebration just happens to be louder--and catchier--than everyone else’s.
Flying Lotus - Until the Quiet Comes
After a two-year disappearance, Los Angeles producer Flying Lotus came back big in 2012. He first oversaw the fantastic “Between Friends” single with him, his alter ego, Captain Murphy, and Odd Future’s Earl Sweatshirt before dropping Until the Quiet Comes in October. The album’s not eccentric like Cosmogramma or straightforward like Los Angeles, but it’s the perfect distillation of FlyLo: heady production and hazy, obscure vocals with all emphasis on the whole rather than the individual. And “The Nightcaller” should be a club’s late-night dance choice. Oh, and his Duality mixtape as Captain Murphy should warrant consideration as one of 2012’s top mixtapes. What a year.
Alabama Shakes - Boys & Girls
Excuse listeners if they thought Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard was Janis Joplin within the first minute of Alabama Shakes’ 2012 LP, Boys & Girls. She obviously isn’t the queen of Port Arthur, Texas, but summons the same swampy, hoarse growl that made Joplin such an endearing lead woman. Her presence on each of Boys & Girls’ tracks makes Alabama Shakes the perfect bar band, expertly blending bluesy, soul-tinged Southern licks with scream-till-you-croak lyrics. And if the group’s Bonnaroo appearance from this year is any indication, then Howard’s well on her way to capturing the same sort of transcendent stage presence that the late Joplin coined.
Cloud Nothings - Attack On Memory
Lo-fi’s so 2009. Cleveland, Ohio’s Dylan Baldi, the brainchild behind Cloud Nothings, hit the scene running with 2009’s phenomenally underproduced Turning On during his first semester at college, but decided the bookish route and the lo-fi aesthetic just weren’t him. So he got a band, beefed up his tinny garage rock sound and dropped Attack On Memory, a fully focused sophomore effort. Baldi incorporates punk snarls with Green Day sing-a-longs on “Fall In,” grunge catcalls on “No Future/No Past” and Strokes-like riffs on “Stay Useless.” The lo-fi movement’s dead, but Cloud Nothings is alive and well, with sounds for everybody.
Rihanna - Unapologetic
Like clockwork, Rih Rih releases a new album each year, somehow always outdoing herself. Everything about Unapologetic is, well, unapologetic, with Rihanna singing about strippers over a Mike Will Made It beat, and trading verses with Future. -- Julie J.
Avett Brothers - The Carpenter
The Avett Brothers have been churning out some of the most accessible folk music in the genre since the turn of the millenium. Their long-awaited seventh studio album (released after a three-year studio hiatus) continues the trend, another ideal soundtrack to a lazy Sunday afternoon. We’ll give you a pass if you forgot to visit your favorite folk-rock blog and didn’t hit download. -- AJ