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


Dirty Projectors, Swing Lo Magellan

Without sacrificing too much in musical intricacy, David Longstreth offers ever-more-inviting albums with each passing year. Take 2012’s Swing Lo Magellan, a more straight-ahead effort than 2009’s Bitte Orca. Longstreth’s much-touted, medievally derived vocal arrangements remain alluring, but they’re less likely to spin your head this time around, even on good speakers: Simpler arrangements win the day, and Swing Lo Magellan is Dirty Projectors’ most tuneful disc to date. The canticle-turned-rocker (“Offspring Are Blank”), the piano-led meditation (“Impregnable Question”), and the horn orgasm (“Unto Caesar”) are all winners, but the lead single bears more than cursory attention: “Gun Has No Trigger” finds Longstreth sounding less like a choirboy and more like Thom Yorke. In other words, “the bowl of tears” finally sounds as though it belongs to him. Sure, the band’s lyrics still include verbs like “redact.” But what with all the acoustic leg-stretching and sing-along arrangements, Longstreth’s suddenly coming off as a musician rather than a magician. It’s a neat trick.  Scheinman

The 25 Best Albums of 2012


Bat for Lashes, The Haunted Man

The Haunted Man is the least immediate of Natasha Khan’s extraordinary trio of art-pop albums. In particular, “Horses of the Sun” and “Oh Yeah,” one of only a few tracks not adorned by an orchestral arrangement, aren’t as initially inviting as the lush synth-pop offerings on 2009’s Two Suns. But your attention is greatly rewarded, as exquisite details like the softly chugging aquatic pulse that underpins album closer “Deep Sea Diver,” reveal themselves. Though the album lacks an obvious crossover hit like “Daniel,” a would-be smash single in a much cooler universe than ours, the muted, Brazilian-inflected guitar on lead single “All Your Gold” is reminiscent of the Luis Bonfá sample from Gotye’s ubiquitous “Somebody That I Used to Know.” Stardom, however, might be out of reach for Khan, as she seems to get a little bit closer to Earth with each new album.  Cinquemani

The 25 Best Albums of 2012


Santigold, Master of My Make-Believe

With her punk-yelp drawl, Santigold at first seems to be trying to affect Karen O’s style on her second album’s first single, “GO!,” but then the beat drops out and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman herself takes the mic, all elongated syllables and spliced-up vocals, and it’s clear Santi isn’t just playing dress-up, but skillfully, reverently co-inhabiting Karen’s world. Santi is a shapeshifter, and the beats and arrangements of each track are likewise perfectly tailored to their lyrics. “Don’t look ahead, there’s stormy weather,” Santi warns just as guitar licks crackle like electricity on “Disparate Youth,” an expertly layered piece of dub-pop, while her cavernous background vocals reverberate beneath the mechanical rhythm section of “God from the Machine.” Even if hip-hop-leaning tracks like “Freak Like Me” and “Look at These Hoes” feel more derivative than the album’s copious nods to new wave and synth-pop, Master of My Make-Believe is still a genre-defying exercise in exerting one’s mastery over all.  Cinquemani

The 25 Best Albums of 2012


Jessie Ware, Devotion

Quietly, almost sneakily, a modern wave of British-born soul has slinked its way back into musical vogue. Adele’s success has certainly helped, but the tracks currently being laid down by the xx, Burial, SBTRKT, Roses Gabor, and Jessie Ware seem to be a better—and more diverse—indication of the coming soul-pop renaissance: simple, chilled, house-infused concoctions that borrow liberally from both indie electronica and Sade-style R&B. With the dusky, siren-like Devotion, Ware switches easily from darkly romantic electro-ballads (“Running”) to breezy late-night jams (“110%”) to trickling dream-pop (“Something Inside”) without ever seeming forced or contrived, quickly establishing herself as the most promising and versatile of the young vanguard.  Liedel

The 25 Best Albums of 2012


Frank Ocean, Channel Orange

In a year where plenty of artists simply toyed with the seductive power of ’90s-style R&B, Frank Ocean full-on pursued, captured, and tamed it to produce the saga that is Channel Orange. But the album’s smooth confidence, evident in everything from the jazzy bounce of “Super Rich Kids” to the juiced-up funk of “Crack Rock” and “Pyramids,” is only part of the draw. The remainder is Ocean’s storytelling, where he breathes life into dozens of imperfect, alluring characters that are just as desperate, confused, and beautiful as their narrator. Channel Orange did more than just prove that Ocean is far and away the most talented of the Odd Future crew; it established him as a songwriter whose lyrical and musical craft borders on the literary.  Liedel