This year, we saw the rapid rise and fall of controversial singers (Lana Del Rey), excellent releases from veteran rockers (Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen) and the revival of R&B (The Weeknd, Frank Ocean). But of all the exciting albums in 2012 the 10 below were my favourites, based both on artistic merit and complete emotional bias.
10. Animal Collective, Centipede Hz
Unlike the electronic weirdoes' last two beloved records, there is no chance your mom will like a single track on this album. Filled with stuttering bleeps, sporadic shrieks from frontman Noah Lennox (a.k.a. Panda Bear) and heaps of droning loops, it is a challenging release. But, given enough time and attention, songs like "Applesauce" and "Father Time" begin to morph into (something resembling) pop music.
9. Grimes, Visions
In the insular music media world, the rise of this Montreal synth-pop powerhouse — a.k.a. Claire Boucher — dominated the first half of the year. Appearing like a manic pixie apparition out of nowhere, her impossibly high-pitched vocals, damn catchy beats and brilliantly calculated image as half wide-eyed innocent, half astute tastemaker, landed her in the pages of Vogue, Rolling Stone, The New York Times. The best part: Visions lived up to the hype.
8. DIIV, Oshin
I describe this record to anyone who will listen (i.e. my mom) as the perfect soundtrack for driving the Sea to Sky highway. Gentle, almost fluid guitar is given equal placing to Zachary Cole Smith's quiet, droning vocals to create a dream-pop album with a punk undercurrent.
7. Tanlines, Mixed Emotions
If you haven't heard this record — which melds synth-pop with calypso and reggae — don't bother until spring thaw. Though lyrics take on topics of heartbreak, musically, it's better suited for sunny day lounging. Staring out the window, watching snowmaggedon wreak havoc while listening to "Real Way" was, by far, the biggest mistake I've made today.
6. Perfume Genius, Put Your Back N 2 It
Warning: not for the emotionally fragile. After battling a serious drug addiction, Seattle's Mike Hadreas sequestered himself in his mother's basement to pen this gorgeous, somber album. Taking on topics from prostitution to death to struggling with being openly gay and pairing them with spare piano chords, the songs are not easy listening, but they're worth the effort.
5. Cloud Nothings, Attack on Memory
These scrappy Cleveland punks won my heart at Manhattan's Mercury Lounge earlier this year. Aggro bros headbanged aggressively on one side of the stage while a set of skinny boys slammed into each other on the other. Buoyed by unapologetic hooks and melody, the record is equally fit for fans perched in heels or those throwing elbows.
4. Purity Ring, Shrines
It's a tale as old as SoundCloud: electro-pop duo posts a couple of singles online, earn stamp of approval from tastemaking music publication Pitchfork, sign to venerable label 4AD, and live happily ever after. That's the story, in a nutshell, of Edmonton ex-pats Corin Roddick and Megan James. Only, unlike most Internet fables, theirs stretched out over an entire year. Instead of riding the buzz over their bewitching 2011 singles "Ungirthed" and "Belispeak," the pair took their time labouring over the release — which features James' haunted, honeyed vocals and Roddick's ethereal beats — to create one of the most exciting records of the year.
3. Frank Ocean, Channel Orange
This was the most universally loved record of 2012 — and for good reason. To start, there's Ocean's voice: epic, sprawling, gorgeous. But more than that, his storytelling is both captivating and original. There are confessionals like "Bad Religion," in which he pours his heart out to a taxi driver about unrequited love, but he also sings about the trappings of an opulent life in "Super Rich Kids" and its opposite, the stronghold of addiction, in "Crack Rock." Musically, the record ping pongs from jazz to dance-pop to love ballad. Six Grammy nods later, there's no disputing this was the year of Frank Ocean.
2. Japandroids, Celebration Rock
Anyone who knows me well is snickering. (Stop it, you guys.) I loved this anthemic rock album loudly, fiercely and unconditionally. Maybe it's because the Vancouver guitar-drum duo wrote it for people just like me: sentimental, prone to premature nostalgia with a penchant for wild rock shows. If you're drawn to heaps of guitar fuzz, fist pumps and endless wails of "Whoa oh oh ohs," they wrote it for you too.
1. Dirty Projectors, Swing Lo Magellan
This record is the musical equivalent of a bad-on-paper date: describe their qualities and it seems pretty obvious that you should stay away. But you won't and, in this case, it's the right decision. The harmony-heavy Brooklyn band has almost no consistent rhythm, an aversion to choruses and a lead singer whose wonky yelp seems to take on a life of its own. But it's precisely that beautiful chaos that makes it so thrilling.
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