The Top 10 Albums of 2012

by Matthew Bailey

10. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange

It’s number ten on my top 10 favorite albums of the year.  So how much did I really like it?  If I were answering honestly I’d say, “Yeah, It’s good,” but if I were feeling unusually harsh that day I’d say “It’s inconsistent and forgettable.” The high point is “Pyramids,” one of the year’s truly great songs, but the rest of the album lacks the edge shown here.  There are moments throughout – you don’t generate the universal acclaim CO has without some legitimacy – but it’s the 10th best album I heard in 2012.  I got chills seeing “Bad Religion” on Fallon like everybody else, but it didn’t make this album feel any less disjointed.  Grade: #1 in laziest cover art, no question. 

9. Tame Impala – Lonerism

It’s 2012, and I’m having a falling out with RocknRoll.  15 year old Matt is looking back at me in the mirror, in tears, saying “What’s happening, Matt? Why don’t you wanna rock out to “Stranglehold” anymore?” and maybe, “Tell me I’m going to be able to grow a beard someday.  Please?” And I’d say back to him, “You know, in my defense, Radiohead didn’t put anything out this year.  And besides, new Unknown Mortal Orchestra is dropping in February.  That’ll be fun!”  This isn’t the list’s only rock album.  In fact it’s the one I liked 4th best.   The opener, “Be Above It” is an ominous, coercive steamroller that feels coercive and unsettling.  I get the same feeling during Elephant.  What fucking time signature is that anyway?  It’s cool.    Grade:  DAS DAT DEEP PURPLE SHIT

8. Miike Snow – Happy To You

I’m a late adopter to this one, so maybe it’ll feel a little funny once it digests.  I can already sort of feel myself tiring of it, actually.  It reminds me a lot of Caribou’s 2011 release “Swim,” except not as good.   No disrespect –  Swim was incredible.  Kobe isn’t as good as Jordan either.  Let’s adjust that to scale… Nate Robinson isn’t as good as Jameer Nelson either.  Black Tin Box has been one of my favorite tracks all year, and it admittedly took too long to listen to the album as a whole.  The album has fantastic production.  Sharp metallic synth riffs, drum sounds with character.  I haven’t enjoyed a dance track (“Paddling Out”) this much from a band since LCD. That being said, these points of reference fail to reach the heights of the artists I’ve unfairly compared them to.  Grade: I may or may not listen to it again in the next 6 months

7. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan

July was a weird time for this album to drop.  I liked SLM then and I like it now, and my point here suggests that over time, I might enjoy this album more.  But this didn’t feel like a summer album to me.  It might just be the cover art.  Oftentimes cover art can fit the aesthetic of the music inside my head.  I think it’s probably characteristic of record store dwellers.  At any rate, I thought this album’s first side was much stronger than the second.  “Gun Has No Trigger” is brilliant. I’ve described this album as their most accessible, and that track probably has a lot to do with it.  They should revisit Gun’s simplicity more often.  Grade:  The 2nd best album by a band that sounds like Dirty Projectors

6. Sleeping Bag – Women Of Your Life

These guys make pop rock sound too easy.  Dave Segedy has so much heart, and his lead vocal is ripe with congeniality.  You’ve gotta love that his nerdy, vulnerable (“Creepy Nightmare”)  musings emerge from behind the drum set, because you get the sense that he’s probably physically hidden himself at least once in his life.  If you heard Sleeping Bag’s debut, it should be immediately apparent how much of a step forward this is for them.  The new production spices are all working, and the guitars sound great, but the formula is simple: write great pop songs.     Grade: Bloomington wins again

5. El-P – Cancer For Cure

Everybody made room on their “best of” lists for this album.  And what a year for hip hop. Way to go, you guys.  This blog will soon incorporate my father (Hilljack) in a very prominent role.  I bring him up now, because I feel like this is the type of hip hop I could spin for him without he acting like I just spat in his mouth.  Congratulations, El-P, among your various accolades from 2012, this has to be the first time anybody has crowned you the godfather of dad-hop.  I say this because the beats on CFC are so musical.  There’s a reason there was an instrumental re-release.  This is not some amateur shit, and the result is immense quality.     Grade: For being my introductory course on Despot: A-

4. High School Girls – I’m In Heaven, Major Sevens

On April 1st, 2012, I stood outside of the Knickerbocker Saloon with SoH contributor Natty Morrison.  High School Girls was on the bill with No Hay Banda, our now defunct band.  HSG lead singer and guitarist Eric Taylor was standing near, occasionally chiming in to nearby conversations (because hes that fucking sociable).  Natty asked me what I thought of this album, and like a fucking asshole, I gave a remark akin to “eh.” I can’t remember if I knew who Eric was at that moment, but I know for sure he heard me.  To be honest, I hadn’t even listened to much of the album outside of the opener, “I Would Be a Great Lover For You” – a song I didn’t care for then and have grown to love.  Since then, I’ve gotten to know Eric, Eric, and Jeff, and I’ve shouted praise for this album ad naseum.  It’s the type of album I’ll never stop listening to.  I can’t wait to tell me kid one day that, “This band opened up for my band once” whether that be true or not. Grade: Way better than “eh,” even if Googling images of them has my IP address flagged. 

3. Action Bronson & Party Supplies – Blue Chips

It takes a great effort to knock off dad-rap titan (aka “Cancer For Cure”) for my best hip hop album.  Action Bronson dominated my headphones during a year in which I listened to the most hip hop since I was 11.  Fun fact: the first cd I bought with my own money was Meth & Red’s “Blackout.”  Whether it be on Blue Chips or on somebody else’s release, I sought out AB’s verses, because let’s face it, this guy can seriously rap.  Even the moments scattered throughout where his flow trips up, you’re still right there with him through the pauses, ready to hear a verse to its completion.  His shit was consistently  smarter and funnier than everybody else in 2012, while still being vulgar as fuck.  I could have done the whole mixtape without a guest appearance (no disrespect to Roc Marciano) because I just wanted AB to keep going.  The man is an East Coast Hip Hop progeny, and it comes through in its dusty lo-fi genes.  Not to mention he’s got to be the only rapper dropping Frank Zappa samples on his mixtape.  Grade: Classic

2. Miguel – Kaleidoscope Dream

If nothing else, writing about how fucking wonderful this album is has gotten me to the point where I know how to spell kaleidoscope without second guessing.  Hopefully that comes in handy down the line.  I was a very late adopter to KD, admittedly.  In fact, I didn’t listen to it in full until December.  It doesn’t matter, because this is IT.  This is an artist with an artistic vision realized. You can feel it front to back.  It’s as much brash as it is subtle.  It’s a throwback instrumentally and probably incredible to see live.  His voice is damn near perfect, but he chooses to layer harmonies regardless.   It has some great fucking lyrics, such as “Do you like Huuuuuuuugs?”  It’s everything that Channel Orange could have been if it had any focus.  If The Weeknd’s House of Balloons had a big brother that had been through some shit, it’s KD.   Grade: The type of cool you couldn’t possibly achieve

1. Ava Luna – Ice Level

Sort of anticlimactic, right?  I think the big publications probably try to turn heads with their top choice.  That’s probably why everybody reads those and nobody reads this.  I’ll go ahead and pick a band nobody has heard of anyway – at least nobody that’s been in close proximity to me since February.  Even still, I’d say about half of those people didn’t like Ice Level when I forced it down their throat.

I can’t say I’m surprised, because it’s probably the least accessible album on this list. Outside of the title track, it takes some decoding, for sure.  As sporadic as it may be throughout the entire listen, the HOOKS on this album are incredible.  Every track has at least one hook, and it can be frustrating because of the constant need to rewind and listen again due to the fact these hooks come in such brief spurts.  What makes this album so creative is you can trust that there will always be another around the corner.  It’s not a perfect album.  The moments of glory are often too fleeting, and you wonder if Hernandez realizes there are limitations to his voice, but that’s the kind of character reserved for my top spot.  Every aspect is remarkably bold, so why pull in the reigns with the lead vocal?   It’s a genius album, and hopefully a reference point for a long and interesting discography.  Grade:  Uncomfortable, Convoluted and Beautiful

Honorable mentions: Captain Murphy – Duality, Tanlines – Brothers, Frankie Rose – Interstellar, Dino DNA – All Male Garage Rock, Grizzly Bear – Spades, Menomena – Moms, Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music, Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, Sharon Van Etten – Tramp, Beat Culture – Tokyo Dreamer, Burial – Kindred, Four Tet – Pink, Daphni – Jiaolong, Stars – North, Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
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