What better way to reflect on the last twelve months than a year-end list of your favorite albums? We certainly live in an age dominated by singles, where one stray viral hit can launch an artist into underserved fame. And even beyond the cultural ramifications of singles vs. albums, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as having an entire LP of great songs from your favorite artists to tear through over and over again. There are some I’d love to see on this list (Haim, Icona Pop and St. Lucia – to name a few) but we’ll have to wait for 2013 to see how those play out.
As a final disclaimer, this is purely a personal list of favorite songs. While I can make the argument for a zeitgeist-y album like Macklemore x Ryan Lewis’ The Heist as a Top 10 album of the year, these are the ones that I loved the most.
Formerly known as the The Morning Benders, the Berkeley indie pop outfit moved to Brooklyn, changed their name to POP ETC and embraced the cheesy adorability of real pop music. And by “real,” I mean they took elements of all the genres listed on their album cover, put them in a big stew and laid them out over a delicious bed of radio-friendly pop. That’s not to say it’s hokey – what happened next was an extremely accessible, unassuming, pure album you can’t bring yourself to feel guilty about.
Along with the Black Hippy crew featuring Jay Rock, Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar made the strongest case for the return of South Central LA as a powerhouse of hip hop. With Dr. Dre acting as his mentor, K. Dot dropped good kid, m.A.A.d city and immediately became one of biggest names in rap. Connecting to listeners through rich narratives similar to his idol Tupac, Lamar eschews typical braggadocious rhymes of money and violence, and opts for an honest portrayal of life in a tough world. It’s an instant classic.
This one is kind of a doozy. London artist and poet gets his heart broken into a million pieces, locks himself in his apartment and starts recording songs for the hell of it. At the urging of friends, puts a couple tracks on the internet and gains worldwide buzz. Keaton Henson’s Dear is a breakup album at its most genuine and real, managing to be equally distraught and absolutely gorgeous. Hopefully he’ll pull a Taylor Swift and start getting dumped out of habit to produce more gems like this one.
A late contender for a year-end list, Big Boi’s second solo album is more of a delightful experiment than a complete hip hop album. He’s got backup from a diverse cast of characters ranging from the likes of T.I. and Kelly Rowland to Phantogram and Wavves. After 20 years of assumptions that Andre 3000 was the creative genius behind the wacky stylings of Outkast, this album cements Big Boi as an equal partner in their progressive yosky wosky-ness. His tight, weaving rhymes fit perfectly against today’s electro pop.
By any sort of academic measure, Crystal Castles’ third album might not warrant a Top 10 listing because it isn’t a huge differentiation from past LPs. But this was sort of my gateway drug to their discography. I’d always found their music slightly more chaotic than my taste (save for that brilliant track with Robert Smith), but III is breathier and seemingly more melodic – opening a door to their escapist, transfixing landscapes. Was listening to this album the other night on the bike ride home from work and thought I was tripping. Seriously.
Purity Ring has had some weird sub-genres ascribed to them, like witch house and post-dubstep, but the only accurate way to describe the sound is “Makeout Music for Indie Kids.” Splitting off from the dissonant, noisy electronic band Gobble Gobble, Megan James and Corin Roddick went on to make some of smoothest, cutest experimental electronic music to come out this year. If Crystal Castles is the night out at the bar, Purity Ring is the bedroom at the end of the night.
Alt-J came onto the scene this year much in the same way Yeasayer did in 2007, with a sound unlike anyone had heard before (and yes, I call bullshit on the Radiohead comparisons). Winning NME’s Breakthrough Album of 2012 award, An Awesome Wave was a mesmerizing concoction of folk, quasi-dubstep, indie rock and world music sounds. Listening to the album sometimes make you feel like you’re processing a piece of gallery art. For those looking to hear something that felt completely brand new, this was the album of the year.
If good kid, m.A.A.d city was a narrative about transcending violent, urban areas then King Tuff’s self-titled LP is a narrative of transcending white normalcy. As someone who lives for the weird and unexpected, it’s almost as if this album was written for me. It’s a lo-fi, garage rock manifesto to life filled to the brim with glorious fun. Lastly, for those who feel burned by their favorite artists turning out to be boring assholes, this Pitchfork interview is one of the best Q&A’s you’ll ever read.
Philter is the project of relatively unknown Norwegian producer Magnus Gangstad. Without fear of exaggeration I can say that his latest album, The Blossom Chronicles, is some of the greatest electronic music ever made. Actually, that goes for just about everything he’s done thus far. It’s lush, haunting and beautiful in a very immediate and accessible way. The track listed here isn’t from this album as his music is hard to find in Hype Machine-friendly embeddable forms, but one listen to any of it will have you lost in the rabbit hole.
Okay, so I cheated on this one. Prisoner makes the list on the technicality of the US release date being in 2012. It’s my blog, eat me. Australia has been a hotbed of indie rock this year and none have struck a chord like The Jezabels. Like the previous entry on this list, it’s almost impossible to describe the music other than to say you just have to listen to it. Few bands are able to achieve the intensely powerful, emotional level that lives in every track on this album. Judging by the number of plays it’s received, Prisoner will live as one of my favorite albums of all time.