Thursday, January 3, 2013

Taking On 2012: Top Albums

After yesterday's look at the best songs of 2012 and seeing just how much changed and shifted, as I started looking over my list for albums I wasn't sure exactly how much was going to change since I last updated in October. There were ultimately some movements, a few new additions, and even a few personal surprises. Once again I cannot stress enough that, despite 2012 not being the greatest year for all genres of music, it was definitely one of hip-hop's best years in recent memory. And with that preface, on to this year's list of the Best Albums of 2012!

10. Lana Del Rey - Born To Die (-2)

Though as the year went on it seemed that the massive amount of buzz that Lana Del Rey accumulated toward the end of 2011 had mostly turned to a venomous backlash, when I think about which albums remained the longest lasting I keep coming back to Del Rey's debut. For what could be a throwaway pop record, Del Rey creates an expansive sound that is her own. Combined with her Paradise EP release later in the year, 2012 was pretty great for Lana.

Standout Songs: "Dark Paradise", "National Anthem", "Diet Mountain Dew"

9. Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city (NE)

In a year dominated by great hip-hop, Kendrick Lamar's latest stands out as one of the most cohesive releases. Aided by a very clear through line that allows him to concentrate on creating a personal yet still accessible portrait (or short film, as the album's occasionally used subtitle echoes) of the harsh realities on display in America and how one can both succumb and transcend them.

Standout Songs: "Sing About Me, I'm Dying Of Thirst", "Backseat Freestyle", "m.A.A.d city", "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe"

8. Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light (-4)

Another long standing staple of this list I'm not sure what more can be said about Spiritualized's most recent album. Like Kendrick, this is also a complete and cohesive work. It's not just a collection of tracks, it's a connected experience that echoes many of the great albums released by bands that were largely absent from 2012.

Standout Songs: "Hey Jane", "Mary", "Life Is A Problem"

7. Joey Bada$$ - 1999 (-2)

Pro Era poster boy Joey Bada$$ released this homage to 90's hip-hop to much fanfare. I'm not sure if he has since turned 18 or not, but given what he was able to accomplish at such a young age, drawing influence from (and even besting this year) MF DOOM, the future seems nothing but bright for Mr. Bada$$. Additionally, last year was massive for the return of dollar signs in names.

Standout Songs: "Survival Tactics", "World Domination", "Waves"

6. the Mountain Goats - Transcendental Youth (NE)

It seems that, on a yearly basis, John Darnielle puts out the highest quality poetry currently written. It's gotten to the point where it's kind of just an expectation now and the fact that he is probably the most prolific artist currently going isn't properly appreciated. I even question if, despite him almost always making my top ten, I'm not giving Darnielle enough credit for what he does. It's truly staggering. He is the greatest living poet.

Standout Songs: "Cry For Judas", "The Diaz Brothers", "Counterfeit Florida Plates", "Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1"

5. Progressive Era - Peep: The Aprocalypse (NE)

The reemergence of the hip-hop collective was a trend from 2011 that spilled over to 2012 as Black Hippy found mainstream success and groups like Progressive Era began surfacing on more people's radars. I'm not really sure if Black Hippy or Pro Era would take the title for best collective in 2012, but this 11th hour release that I nearly didn't get to by the end of the year makes a strong case for Pro Era to take the title down. Each member comes with their A game, proving that, just as Black Hippy is far more than just Kendrick Lamar, Pro Era goes even deeper than just Joey Bada$$.

Standout Songs: "Wreckord Out", "K.I.N.G.S.", "Vinyls"

4. Death Grips - The Money Store (+5)

Not too many albums actually climbed the charts, but leave it to Death Grips to not fully reveal their complexity until the near end of the year. The sheer force that permeates this hip-hop hybrid is one of the most unique, layered, and engaging listens to be found this year. There is plenty of controversy surrounding them offstage, but when it comes down to the music there are very few who come close to the sheer audacity and ambition of Death Grips.

Standout Songs: "Hacker", "Hustle Bones", "Bitch Please"

3. Ab-Soul - Control System (No Change)

Though Kendrick Lamar was met with massive amounts of love, it was actually crew member Ab-Soul who clearly had the best 2012, thanks in large part to his album. Though he released a string of singles and features as well, the way Ab-Soul confronts the conflicting systems in America that are designed to maintain class division is a refreshing breeze. Even more traditionally boastful songs like "S.O.P.A." are more complex than they initially appear. For all intents and purposes the best hip-hop in the year of hip-hop.

Standout Songs: "Terrorist Threats", "S.O.P.A.", "Black Lipped Bastard Remix", "Illuminate"

2. Willis Earl Beal - Acousmatic Sorcery (No Change)

Aside from taking best song honors, the entirety of Willis Earl Beal's debut album is a methodically paced, soulful jolt that places the focus squarely on his voice and the lyrics he sings. What Willis Earl Beal perfects is a lost art, a sound that has seemingly lost its place in a world so concerned with electronics and clean noise. There's a grit to his music, and it's that combined with the haunting lyrics that make him one of last year's biggest surprises.

Standout Songs: "Evening's Kiss", "Ghost Robot", "Masquerade"

1. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (No Change)

Yet, even with so many other great records, Fiona Apple's latest tour-de-force conjures up all the perfect notes, the beautiful words, the lush sounds and mixes them together to create the most engaging and rewarding listen of the year. Her ability to tap in to raw emotions, the way her voice works in relation to the instruments, the scope of the record. They are all executed near flawlessly. If there's only one album from this year that I could listen to again it would be this one, and that is completely deserving of the year's highest musical award.

Standout Songs: "Periphery", "Werewolf", "Every Single Night", "Hot Knife"

And for the complete list of all the albums I listened to, check below:
  1. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel...
  2. Willis Earl Beal – Acousmatic Sorcery
  3. Ab-Soul – Control System
  4. Death Grips – The Money Store
  5. Progressive Era – Peep: The Aprocalypse
  6. the Mountain Goats – Transcendental Youth
  7. Joey Bada$$ - 1999
  8. Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light
  9. Kendrick Lamar – good kid m.A.A.d city
  10. Lana Del Rey – Born To Die
  11. Lil B – God's Father
  12. Schoolboy Q – Habits and Contradictions
  13. Aesop Rock – Skelethon
  14. Lana Del Rey - Paradise
  15. Animal Collective – Centipede Hz
  16. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
  17. El-P – Cancer 4 Cure
  18. Passion Pit – Gossamer
  19. Flatbush Zombies – D.R.U.G.S
  20. JJ DOOM – Key to the Kuffs
  21. Purity Ring - Shrines
  22. The Tallest Man On Earth – There's No Leaving Now
  23. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti – Mature Themes
  24. MA_DOOM – Son of Yvonne
  25. The Alchemist – Russian Roulette
  26. Killer Mike – R.A.P Music
  27. Xiu Xiu – Always
  28. Big Boi – Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors
  29. Big K.R.I.T. - Live From The Underground
  30. A$AP Mob – Lord$ Never Worry
  31. Jonny Greenwood – The Master OST
  32. Ellie Goulding – Halcyon
  33. Nas – Life is Good
  34. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
  35. Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror
  36. Charli XCX – You're The One EP/Heartbreaks and Earthquakes
  37. Grimes – Visions
  38. Lambchop – Mr. M
  39. G.O.O.D. Music – Cruel Summer
  40. Bobby Womack – The Bravest Man in the Universe
  41. Heems – Nehru Jackets
  42. Guided By Voices – Class Clown Spots a UFO
  43. 2 Chainz – Based On A T.R.U. Story
  44. The Walkmen – Heaven
  45. Jack White - Blunderbuss
  46. The Beach Boys – That's Why God Made The Radio
  47. The Shins – Port of Morrow
  48. Serengeti – Kenny Dennis EP
  49. Perfume Genius – Put Your Back N 2 It
  50. Animal Collective - Honeycomb/Gotham
  51. Odd Future – The O.F. Tape Volume 2
  52. A$AP Rocky – Live, Life, Purple
  53. Childish Gambino – Royalty
  54. Grizzly Bear – Shields
  55. Beach House – Bloom
  56. Metric – Synthetica
  57. Azealia Banks – 1991 EP
  58. Mount Eerie – Clear Moon
  59. Cadence Weapon – Hope in Dirt City
  60. Best Coast – The Only Place
  61. Of Monsters and Men – My Head Is An Animal
  62. Sharron Van Etten – Tramp
  63. Heems – Wild Water Kingdom
  64. Girls Generation – The Boys
  65. Curren$y – The Stoned Immaculate
  66. The Alabama Shakes – Boys and Girls
  67. Lil B – White Flame
  68. Hot Chip – In Our Heads
  69. Weird Dreams – Choreography
  70. Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday...Roman Reloaded
  71. Lil B – The Basedprint Volume 2
  72. Curren$y – Here EP
  73. Fun. - Some Nights
  74. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory
  75. Homeboy Sandman – Subject: Matter
Did I not listen to something that I absolutely have to? What should be higher, what should be lower? Let me know below in comments, and check back soon for 2012 Film (and maybe TV) wrap up lists!


Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

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© 2013 Richard James Thorne


  1. The ones that I immediately recognize as being absent from your list are "Walk the Moon" by Walk the Moon, "Write Me Back" by R. Kelly, and "Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose" by Beth Jeans Houghton & the Hooves of Destiny.

    Otherwise nice list. I don't really listen to hip hop so there is some on your list I am unfamiliar with, but the rest is quite nice :D

    1. I almost forgot about that R. Kelly album, not sure why I didn't listen to it. I really liked that "Share My Love" song.

  2. "Additionally, last year was massive for the return of dollar signs in names."

    You can say that again.

    "I'm not really sure if Black Hippy or Pro Era would take the title for best collective in 2012."

    Pro Era!

    Totally forgot that Lana Del Rey album came out this year. Did you not listen to that mixtape K.R.I.T. released early in the spring (4EVA N A DAY)? I like it way better than the album. Some other recommendations: Action Bronson's BLUE CHIPS (you can skip RARE CHANDELIERS), Bishop Lamont's THE LAYOVER, Fab's THE SOUL TAPE 2, BABY FACE KILLA by Freddie Gibbs, Game's JESUS PIECE, GLC's SILENCE OF THE LAMES, GrandeMarshall's 800, Hot Sugar's MIDI MURDER, JR&PH7's THE GOOD LIFE, Meek Mill's DREAMS & NIGHTMARES, and that Kweli/Z-Trip mixtape.

    1. Er, that should probably read: "You can $ay that again"

    2. Yeah, Action Bronson was the huge hole in my library this year for sure. Look forward to catching up with him.