The 25 Best Albums of 2012
The 25 Best Albums of 2012


Jack White, Blunderbuss

On first blush, Jack White’s first solo album doesn’t present much of a departure for the singer/guitarist/franchise: tight three-chord hooks and plenty of guitar-thrash workouts embedded in songs of convincing moral indictment and a general awe of womankind. But his riffs are more direct than ever: three- or four-note things that somehow buoy whole songs, and heavy songs, too, about jealousy, hypocrisy, and the various other bluesy perils of being mortal. Rotating all-male and -female bands, White recorded more numbers with the women, but both are tight recording units schooled to their leader’s specifications. The songs that don’t blossom into anthemic territory self-destruct in sonic warfare. This is White’s guitar at its sharpest (on “Sixteen Saltines,” he basically does the work of a one-man AC/DC), but the high point is the lone cover, Rudy Toombs’s “I’m Shakin’,” a call-and-response with the female singers that swings hard even as White loses his wits to that demon love.  Scheinman

The 25 Best Albums of 2012


Lana Del Rey, Born to Die

However much hate she may have accrued for her sleepy, sarcastic take on pop stardom, Lana Del Rey emerged as one of the year’s true success stories, pushing past her dreadful SNL performance, past the flash-in-the-pan accusations into a uniquely absorbing post-modern figure, succeeding not in spite of the remarkably exposed, freely exploitative bent of her music, but because of it. Born to Die stands out as a startlingly composed premiere effort, a daring, dead-eyed statement from a chanteuse who wears her character on her sleeve, making herself immune to the flung arrows of detractors by exaggerating the sexuality, vapidity, and artificial gangsterism to cartoonish levels, an album of lush orchestral pop capped by Del Rey’s inimitably somnolent delivery.  Cataldo

The 25 Best Albums of 2012


Father John Misty, Fear Fun

Josh Tillman’s latest effort, under the alias Father John Misty, is a stoned and beautiful act of self-assertion after the singer-drummer-guitarist’s departure from Fleet Foxes. These are misty songs indeed, with lyrics about “Heidegger and Sartre/Drinkin’ poppy tea,” but also disarmingly direct, the sound of a conscience taking stock of itself. Composed after a mushroom-fueled trip down the West Coast and subsequent bout of novel-writing, the tunes on Fear Fun form an ethereal scrapbook of a frame of mind, bursting with ex-girlfriends, books left unwritten, and dreams of flaming swords. Muscle Shoals suggests itself here and there, but the album is buoyed on string quartets and a scratchy, Creedence Clearwater Revival-style Telecaster under Tillman’s gracefully extended secondary vocal lines that float as though wafting down from his smoky perch in Laurel Canyon. One or two suspiciously Fleet Foxy songs appear, but the guy doesn’t need madrigals when his melodies are this good.  Scheinman

The 25 Best Albums of 2012


Japandroids, Celebration Rock

To dismiss Japandroids, as some critics have in this year’s post-analysis, as milking middle-aged white-guy nostalgia is to miss entirely the broad populism that drives Celebration Rock. Songs like “The House That Heaven Built” and “Adrenaline Nightshift” are all about looking at even seemingly inconsequential interactions as an opportunity for deep, personal connections, and then asking if there’s anything that could possibly be more enduring or important. The duo’s massive, perfectly constructed hooks, which build to rousing sing-along choruses, only reinforce the idea of shared experiences. Ultimately, Celebration Rock isn’t about empty nostalgia, but about being truly present in what’s happening now.  Keefe

The 25 Best Albums of 2012


Chromatics, Kill for Love

A too-long, wispy ramble of an album, or a brilliant statement on reclamation and decay, exhaustion and inspiration? Either way, Kill for Love contains an embarrassment of riches, full of songs that push beyond the typical ’80s fetishism, spinning those tropes into odd, repetitive exercises in genre-tweaking. Opening with a remarkably disassembled version of Neil Young’s “Into the Black,” the group uses this virtuoso reimagining as the template for a series of daring digressions, from the hypnotic echo effect of “Lady” to the washed-out soundscapes of “A Matter of Time,” using Ruth Radelet’s lonely voice as an eerie siren’s call.  Cataldo