The 50 best albums of 2012
Another year, another crop of great albums – make sure you don't miss them
Tue Dec 18 2012
On the surface of it, 2012 didn't look like a classic year for albums. There weren't any sweeping successes of the magnitude of Arcade Fire's 'The Suburbs' or Kanye West's 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' for example. But, having dug a little deeper, we found there were many gems. R&B had its best year since the ’90s, with Frank Ocean, Jessie Ware and Kindness all showing how funky tunes could also be soulful. Rap hit a new peak of aggression with Death Grips and woozy, reverb-drenched guitar sounds profilerated thanks to Diiv and Mac DeMarco. Some of the best music of 2012 was made in bedrooms. Why don't you pay homage to that fact by kicking off your shoes, climbing onto the bed and having a good listen to these guys – all 50 of them. You know you want to…
Kindness – ‘World, You Need a Change of Mind’
It’s the London choice. A record that could only have been made in the most musically vibrant and diverse city in the world – where you can be inspired by arty disco in Dalston (as on ‘Cyan’) old-school funk at the Jazz Cafe (‘Gee Up’) or by melancholic electronica at Corsica Studios (‘House’). Adam Bainbridge – aka Kindness – soulfully blended these influences and more into an album that perfectly evokes London cool.
Death Grips – ‘The Money Store’
Anger, paranoia, drugs, bloodlust – Death Grips put these themes on spin cycle and spat out ‘The Money Store’. The first of the Sacramento trio’s two albums this year layered harsh beats with deranged stream-of-consciousness rap and sounded as dangerous as a ‘Deerhunter’-themed games night. If the world does end this on December 21, this will be the perfect soundtrack to the apocalypse.
Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs – ‘Trouble’
Orlando Higginbottom – aka TEED – provided delicate songs about unrequited desire to offer solace to all the sad boys crushing on girls, while his bass- and bleep-heavy production gave the house kids something to groove to. Extra points given for gigging in a dinosaur onesie.
Jessie Ware – ‘Devotion’
Some top-notch songwriting (‘Wildest Moments’ and ‘Running’ knock Emeli Sandé and her ilk into a cocked hat) and the immersive, detailed production of The Invisible’s Dave Okumu among others made this a soulful, old-school, late-night pop album of the highest order.
Frank Ocean – ‘Channel Orange’
Diffuse, political and startlingly poetic in detail, the 24-year-old New Orleanian’s superb self-produced debut album rewrote the rules on the R&B love song. Also, in the buzz around Ocean’s sexuality, his repeated use of ‘you’, rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’ provoked the biggest debate about the gendering of pronouns since Shakespeare’s sonnets.
Diiv – ‘Oshin’
It was the soundtrack to the summer, and its appeal has lasted right through into the winter. ‘Oshin’ twisted the now ubiquitous jangly surf-pop sound of American indie into something drifting, sparkling and elemental, like the sound of sunlight filtering into the sea. Astounding.
John Talabot – ‘Fin’
In the year when house music came out of the shadows and back into style, this was the record that intellectualised the art of ‘hntz-hntz’. Spanish producer John Talabot bypassed cheese and piled on the Balearic dreaminess with this intoxicating collection.
Cooly G – ‘Playin’ Me’
The tripped-out debut effort of South London producer/singer Cooly G was a journey through gauzy, digi-soul and richly textured spacescapes. It was the sound of hazy, end-of-night befuddlement rendered via music software. Just ignore the fact that she covers Coldplay’s ‘Trouble’.
Alt-J – ‘An Awesome Wave’
Jarring beats, odd time signatures, ‘broom-shaped’ sexual references and a lute – erudite indie four-piece Alt-J somehow managed to make all these stylistic choices work together. Their debut is weirdly accessible, and a fitting winner of this year’s Mercury Prize.
Mac DeMarco – ‘2’
If lo-fi Canadian guitar-slinger Mac DeMarco was any more laidback he’d be sleeping on the job. But on ‘2’ his lazy drawl hid a heart that aches, a mind that wanders and an ear that can pick out sweetly beautiful melodies.
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