The best (and worst) music of 2012: Sophie Harris' picks

Frank Ocean made a major-label debut as mature and thoughtful as it is experimental and poetic

  • Frank Ocean, Channel Orange

  • Lambchop, Mr. M


  • The xx, Coexist

  • Cat Power, Sun

  • Various artists, Cruel Summer


  • Bob Dylan, Tempest

  • Bat For Lashes, The Haunted Man

  • Michael Kiwanuka, Home Again

  • Daughn Gibson, All Hell

  • Simone While, Silver Silver

Frank Ocean, Channel Orange

The best albums

Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean, Channel Orange (Island Def Jam)

In an age of quick thrills and idiot memes, Ocean made a major-label debut as mature and thoughtful as it is experimental and poetic, moving deftly from musky longing (“Thinkin Bout You”) to existential malaise (“Pyramids”) via a spectrum of sparse beats, sweet hooks and blue moods.

 Download on iTunes    Download on Amazon

Lambchop, Mr. M

Lambchop, Mr. M (Merge)

Kurt Wagner’s Nashville ensemble nearly titled its 11th album Major League Bummer—written, as it was, for Wagner’s dear friend Vic Chesnutt, who took his own life a few Christmases ago. As it happens, Mr. Mis among the band’s loveliest records, a beautiful tribute glowing with humor and shrugged sweetness.

 Download on iTunes    Download on Amazon

The xx, Coexist

The xx, Coexist (XL Recordings)

On the follow-up to its lauded debut, the slinky London trio turned the lights down even lower; Coexistis so intimate, you can practically hear the sheets move.

 Download on iTunes    Download on Amazon

Cat Power, Sun

Cat Power, Sun (Matador)

During a grim year in which she split from her actor boyfriend (who then married a model), Chan Marshall delivered this fiery triumph, with disco beats and pop hooks nuzzling up to the singer’s sensuous voice.

 Download on iTunes    Download on Amazon

Various artists, Cruel Summer

Various artists, Cruel Summer (GOOD Music)

Those seeking a definition of fresh beats would do well to listen to “Clique,” from Kanye West’s GOOD collective—the single features Yeezy, Jay-Z and Big Sean; a colossal, wobbling bassline; and a vocal riff that sounds like it’s been lifted from a ’70s horror movie. Follow up with the lyrically outrageous “Mercy,” and enjoy a curious feeling of total satisfaction and mild agitation.

 Download on iTunes    Download on Amazon

Bob Dylan, Tempest

Bob Dylan, Tempest (Columbia)

Behind the worst album cover in decades came the best freewheeling, gruff-voiced, 13-minute epic-ballad title track. Cheers, Bob.

 Download on iTunes    Download on Amazon

Bat for Lashes, The Haunted Man

Bat for Lashes, The Haunted Man (The Echo Label)

Gorgeous, glistening arrangements made The Haunted ManNatasha Khan’s most luscious offering yet.

 Download on iTunes    Download on Amazon

Michael Kiwanuka, Home Again

Michael Kiwanuka, Home Again (Interscope)

The debut album from London soul/folk star Kiwanuka simulated the mood of a deep shag pile carpet, gentle snow outside the window and a log in the fire.

 Download on iTunes    Download on Amazon

Daughn Gibson, All Hell

Daughn Gibson, All Hell (White Denim)

If they ever remake Twin Peaks, Daughn Gibson will be the guy singing onstage in the roadhouse, favored haunt of bikers, lovers and weirdos. On his debut album, the former trucker trailed his dark-brown voice over rock & roll guitars, clipped beats and reverbed piano riffs.

 Download on iTunes    Download on Amazon

Simone White, Silver Silver

Simone White, Silver Silver (Honest Jon’s)

L.A. singer-songwriter Simone White has the smallest, sweetest voice you could hear: the sonic equivalent of a snowdrop. Silver Silver, produced by Fol Chen, matched that voice to electronic beats and found sounds, to mesmeric effect.

 Download on iTunes    Download on Amazon

The worst

Lana del Rey

Lana Del Rey on Saturday Night Live

Viewers who tuned into SNL and hadn’t heard of Lana Del Rey thought they were watching a skit, so miserable was her performance. Juliette Lewis tweeted (then deleted), “Wow watching this ‘singer’ on SNL is like watching a 12 year old in their bedroom when they’re pretending to sing and perform.” NBC’s Brian Williams called it one of the worst outings in SNL history. And now, nearly a year later, Del Rey models for Burberry and Jaguar; has worked with her idol, David Lynch; and has a hit album. Go figure.

The singer tried to stay relevant. Photograph: Diana Sonis

Chris Brown

The singer is rewarded time and again by the recording industry (he won a Grammy in February), despite his bloody awful behavior (he became violent in March after a Good Morning America interview when asked about Rihanna). More examples? This year, Brown dressed as an Islamic terrorist at a party, got a tattoo of what looks like a battered woman on his neck and had a Twitter fight with comedian Jenny Johnson (“take them teeth out when u Sucking my dick HOE,” he blurted), leading to Johnson receiving death threats from Brown’s fans.