It’s the time of year where we need to start looking back at what 2012 has given us, and what 2013 has in store ahead. One of my favourite articles to write each year is the best albums of the year, because it gives me a chance to recap everything I’ve been listening to in the last 12 months and share the best bits with the world. Of course, it’s incredibly subjective, but here’s our list of the 10 best albums released in 2012.
The second album from the Massachusetts band came with high expectations. Off the back of their hugely successful debut album, Manners, they were given the dreaded task of following up and proving their unique sound was more than a one hit wonder. Passion Pit came back with style, delivering catchy singles like “Take A Walk” and “I’ll Be Alright”, as well as a more mature sound on tracks like “Constant Conversations”. No album on this list captured the sound of summer as well as Passion Pit, and they have a unique ability to transport you to the beach no matter where you physically are. Gossamer wasn’t a massively evolved sound from Manners, but it refined the platform they had already built.
The debut album from the Nottingham singer songwriter was one of the most welcome surprises of the year. Coming from nowhere, Jake Bugg brought a unique and refreshing sound to the table with the easiest comparisons drawn to a young Bob Dylan. With witty lyrics and an exceptional ability to story tell Jake Bugg has launched from small town Nottingham to national star in a matter of weeks, and despite polished production from Mercury Records his raw talent and hunger for good music is apparent throughout the entire album.
Another debut album here from a Canadian electro duo, Purity Ring. Whilst Passion Pit delivered the sound of summer with their synths and pitch shifted vocals, Purity Ring took a similar route with a very different outcome. Shrines is an incredibly haunting album, sitting somewhere in between Burial and early Crystal Castles. Purity Ring were a great surprise as I had no previous knowledge of them before hearing Shrines but was absolutely blown away. They will be touring the UK in March and I thoroughly recommend everyone makes the trip to see them, as they will be one to watch in 2013.
The American indie rock band, headed up by the charismatic Channy Leaneagh have had a great year. Coming from relative obscurity in 2011 they rocked SXSW, were described as “the best band I’ve ever heard” by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and were picked by Jay-Z as his favourite indie band. If there was one band on this list that you might not know but definitely will in the future, this is it. Give You The Ghost is one of the strongest debut albums in recent years, best described in a quote from Rolling Stone – “It’s the sound of heartbreak and celebration happening simultaneously”. Having seen them perform at Heaven a few months back I can 100% vouch for their live performance and Channy’s stage presence, and look forward to seeing Poliça continue to grow in the next few years.
Beach House have been around for a while now, though Bloom is by far their strongest offering to date. When researching this article I tried to define what their sound was and found one of my favourite genre definitions on their Wikipedia page – Dream Pop. As silly as it sounds it’s incredibly fitting as Bloom has an incredibly ethereal sound to it, as if you should be listening to it as you walk through a world made entirely of clouds. There isn’t a bad song on the album and it is definitely worth a listen.
This came as a very nice surprise as I downloaded it with no knowledge of who Jessie Ware was or what to expect, off the back of a poster on the London Underground. What I found was one of the best pop albums in recent years, with a sophisticated soulful sound from an incredibly exciting UK songstress. Clash described Jessie as “filling the gap between Adele, SBTRKT and Sade”, which is a perfect description of her blend between pop vocals and darker beats.
I will freely admit that though I am not proud of it, Visions was the first time I had heard Grimes. Her single, Oblivion, is arguably the best single of the year, and the whole album manages to deliver on the high level that Oblivion sets. 2012 seems to be the year of ethereal vocals and Grimes follows in the trend set by Passion Pit, Beach House and Purity Ring, layering her voice in a variety of ways to build an eclectic sound unlike anything else on this list. Unfortunately Grimes cancelled her European tour due to depression, so we will struggle to see her in a small venue before she blows up to a much bigger scale, but when she’s playing arenas in 2014 we’ll all be able to look back and remember how great this album was.
George Lewis Jr. is one of the most controversial figures in indie music, often overshadowing his own music with his controversial statements and egotistical attitude. However, Confess managed to eclipse it’s creator with an 80s fueled road trip of an album, best accompanied with a Jack Kerouac novel. Detailing his journeys on tour and his failed relationships, Confess is the most raw album from Twin Shadow so far and easily his best. At times it seems almost farcical how much emotion he puts into it, but there genuinely isn’t a weak song on the album. We were lucky enough to see him at Brixton earlier this year and it was one of my favourite gigs in the year with every song filling the venue with his husky vocals and over the top emotive body language.
I took so long trying to determine whether this should be #1 or #2 as it is probably the most important album on this list. Redefining the genre of R&B and reclaiming it from the hands of Jason DeRulo and NeYo, channel ORANGE showed the world that R&B still has plenty more to give. Before this release Frank Ocean was best known for his collaboration with the OFWGKTA rappers (Tyler The Creator, Hodgy Beats, Earl Sweatshirt, etc), as well as for coming out as being bisexual before the album’s release. However, once the album came out all of the background and build up became irrelevant as Ocean brought soul back to music in 17 tracks of near perfection. An incredibly emotive album, channel ORANGE was possibly the most impactful album of the year and one of the bravest releases in recent times. Frank Ocean put everything into this album and the world responded with open arms.
The debut album from the indie rock quartet is the best release of the year with a huge range of styles and layers of music that takes several listens to sink in fully. On first listen a few songs will instantly jump out (Fitzpleasure, Tesselate, Something Good) and you will instantly realise that you’re listening to a good album. You’ll probably obsess over these for a few weeks, not really paying attention to the other tracks on the album. One day you’ll be travelling on the train and you’ll forget to put it on repeat, and you’ll find yourself listening to Taro, Bloodflood, Dissolve Me, and all the other tracks on the album and you’ll realise you’ve stumbled on to something amazing. The tracks are incredibly diverse with Joe Newman’s vocals layering a consistent thread throughout. Having recently won the Mercury Prize 2012, alt-J are here to stay and may well take the main stage as the darlings of British indie in 2012.
There were a ton of artists who released albums this year that were fantastic but did not make the top 10. Here’s our abridged list:
The xx, The Maccabees, Solange, Band Of Horses, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, Sleigh Bells, Michael Kiwanuka, Best Coast, Two Door Cinema Club, Grizzly Bear, Crystal Castles, Tame Impala, Dirty Projectors, Cat Power.
So there you have it, our albums of the year! Did we miss any off our list? Who would be your #1? Let us know in the comments!