The 25 Best Albums of 2012

The 25 Best Albums of 2012


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A Nielsen survey conducted earlier this year revealed that 64% of American teenagers listen to music primarily through YouTube, a shift that highlights the distressing state of the album as a viable art form. Combined with the usual series of big-selling albums mostly comprised of singles and fluff, the further rise of the iTunes store as the modern-day equivalent to the record shop, and the biggest salvo yet from figures-obsessed, singles-oriented hit machines lurking beyond our borders with “Gangnam Style,” signs indicate that the format might be in dire straits. And yet, even in these apparent latter days, the album still had a banner year, with a host of efforts that reinterpreted or reimagined the outlines of the form, from expanded mixtape digressions to gonzo outliers to diamond-hard works of composed throwback nostalgia, resulting in such a crowded field of great albums that it was difficult to just choose 25. The diversity and range was broad and stunning, from bedroom R&B to small-batch hip-hop to electronics-enhanced rock, establishing technology as a savior, putting the means of production more firmly in the hands of artists than ever before, with a wide range of them still interested in making ambitious, cohesive works, even if the payout is lower and the fame is more tempered. Whatever the future holds, 2012 showed that the album remains a viable method of expression at a micro level, whatever the larger economic situation.  Jesse Cataldo

Editor’s Note: Check out our list of the 25 Best Singles of 2012.

The 25 Best Albums of 2012


Thee Oh Sees, Putrifiers II

In most cases, it would be difficult to pinpoint a quintessential album from a band that churns out so many good ones, but Putrifiers II manages to crystallize much of what makes John Dwyer and company tick: hazy, West Coast-style garage-rock that has a charming pugnaciousness running through its SoCal vibe. Putrifiers II manages to distill the group’s various quirks into three or four chunks of pure, distorted joy, from the eerie acid romp of “Lupine Domnius” to the low, rickety throttle of “Wax Face.” Disciplined and on point without ever seeming rigid, Thee Oh Sees skillfully merge the warmth of ’60s-style psychedelia with a much more cantankerous punk sound, proving that playing in an irreverent stoner-rock band and possessing a deft, disciplined hand aren’t mutually exclusive.  Kevin Liedel

The 25 Best Albums of 2012


Shearwater, Animal Joy

More nature fetishism from the fervent poindexters in Shearwater, whose albums continue to function as the musical analogues to top-tier nature specials, fixated on communicating the grandeur of the natural world. Animal Joy is all soaring melodies and operatic crescendos, and while it doesn’t aspire to the topographical mania of The Golden Archipelago (which came with its own 50-page booklet of maps and charts), it beats it in terms of crowd-pleasing songcraft, with lead singer Jonathan Meiburg for the first time writing songs that work as standalone pieces rather than parts in a grand conceptual experiment, more concerned with the acute mechanics of a chorus than the migratory patterns of rooks and terns.  Cataldo

The 25 Best Albums of 2012


Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Psychedelic Pill

Psychedelic Pill is the strangest album Neil Young has released, with or without his band Crazy Horse, in at least a decade. It’s also a furious, classic double disc, all razor’s-edge guitar dueling and tales of sturdiness in the face of aggression. “Ramada Inn” finds Young in tragic-storytelling mode, while on “Twisted Road” he smiles at the memory of hearing Dylan on the radio: “Poetry rollin’ off his tongue/Like Hank Williams chewin’ bubble gum.” For a real fright, “Walk Like a Giant” offers 27 minutes of rueful hippie regret, punctuated by Ralph Molina’s caveman drum-stomp and the eventual appearance of the beast itself. That’s the album, in a nutshell—a slow and sometimes lumbering thing, but awesome to behold.  Ted Scheinman

The 25 Best Albums of 2012


Flying Lotus, Until the Quiet Comes

Taking the multi-genre blur that was Cosmogramma and upping the writhing quotient resulted in Until the Quiet Comes, a teeming, dizzying album even by Flying Lotus’s standards. What listeners get isn’t a careless, ADD-addled carnival ride though: FlyLo’s work here is vignette-like, a carefully constructed mosaic of electronica, dance, and hip-hop experiments that speed gracefully by like nighttime vistas spied from a taxicab window. From the wistful, broken strains of “Me Yesterday//Corded” to the twinkling, glitchy march of “All In,” Until the Quiet Comes is the colorful patchwork of an artist who’s becoming just as mature as he is mercurial.  Liedel

The 25 Best Albums of 2012


Action Bronson, Blue Chips

Rap has always had its lyrical obsessives, from the devoted coke salesmen of Clipse to the magisterially inclined Rick Ross, but there’s never been as culinarily fixated a figure as Action Bronson, a former chef with the bear-like presence to match his gigantic appetites. Of the six albums and mixtapes he’s released in the last two years, Blue Chips is the best, a grimy feast for the senses, defined by super-specific references and an unabashedly low-rent production style (the Mac volume-adjustment sound is audible at some points). Dropping about 80 allusions to edible varieties of cheese (culminating with a loafer/robiola couplet on “Tapas”), Bronson establishes himself as a Ghostface analogue with better taste in food, combining dense funk beats with thorny, complex lyricism.  Cataldo