Well we’re nearing the end of 2012, so it’s only fair that we try and rank some of the stand-out albums of this year… And it’s taken some doing! The last 12 months have undoubtedly been superb on a musical front. Once the skin of ordinary music that graces the majority of our mainstream radio stations has been waded through, there really is a huge range of records that are deserving of a place on our list. After much conflict, debate and 842635982365th listens, we’ve come up with this, which is as definitive as it gets! Please comment, share and discuss, we want to hear your take on what should be where! A very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!
1. Deftones – Koi No Yokan
In our opinion, there hasn’t been an album in 2012 that tops Koi No Yokan. The aural spacetrip that the record takes you on is a stringent metaphor to the English translation of its title, and further proof that musically, there is no limit for the Sacramento rockers. Meticulous mood and tempo shifts replicate the rollercoaster that falling in love ultimately is, and the balance of serenity and aggression create the most dynamic kaleidoscopes of sound. Deftones have refined the science of intertwining ruthless loud with infectious quiet for almost 20 years, and with each album this refinement is further demonstrated.
Key tracks – Swerve City, Romantic Dreams, Poltergeist, Tempest, Goon Squad
2. Tame Impala – Lonerism
Tame Impala are some fucking psychedelic Aussies. The brains behind them, Kevin Parker, is undoubtedly a genius who can use generation defining music that has preceded him to forge new masterpieces of his own, and with Lonerism, his band displays this with a cacophony of dreamy, psychedelic groove rock. Tame Impala have followed up 2010’s debut Innerspeaker, which was excellent in its own right, with a watertight album which has received critical acclaim from anybody and everybody, and after your first listen, it’ll be easy to see why.
Key tracks – Endors Toi, Apocalypse Dreams, Feels like We Only Go Backwards, Elephant
3. Rival Sons – Head Down
Off the back of the success of The Black Keys’ El Camino late in 2011, Rival Sons are responsible for just as big of a blues-rock surge in 2012. The flamboyantly attired LA 4-piece provide a modern, razor sharp cutting edge to the blues-rock scene, channelling Jim Morrison from the grave and garnishing Zeppelin and Free-esque riffs with a sublime vocal performance from frontman Jay Buchanan, minimising any expected cheese in the process. Much like Tame Impala, Rival Sons have followed up a solid debut album with a further refined second effort, and we’re eager for the next instalment.
Key tracks – Keep On Swinging, Until The Sun Comes, Run From Revelation, Jordan, Manifest Destiny (Parts 1 and 2)
4. Jack White – Blunderbuss
The artwork of Blunderbuss depicts a pensive Jack White with a vulture on his shoulder. Where most would have an angel or a devil, Jack White has a distorted but brilliant mind, and you will get no better insight into the mechanics of it than through Blunderbuss. His first solo full length record is a dynamic listen, bringing together a variety of sounds that White paints onto a blank canvas. The insight into his music and his mind is intriguing to behold, and vestiges of both early and late White Stripes, The Raconteurs and more recently The Dead Weather are all here…. But this time, it’s personal.
Key Tracks – Sixteen Saltines, Freedom at 21, Love Interruption, Trash Tongue Talker
5. alt-J – An Awesome Wave
The album that won this year’s Mercury Prize is without doubt fully worthy of all the plaudits that have come its way. This debut from a creative 4-piece born in the halls of Leeds University is beautifully ugly, meticulously disorganised and refreshingly haunting. The size of the scale that this album accounts for defies belief, bringing together flashes and snippets of everything remotely indie since OK Computer with the most original sound. The abrupt direction changes and awkward vocals typify the dynamism of this record, and the somewhat nerdish bunch even manages to make geometry arousing. Very intriguing to see what’s next from alt-J.
Key tracks – Tessellate, Breezeblocks, Something Good, Matilda
6. Soundgarden – King Animal
Chris Cornell is the first to tell you that they’ve Been Away Too Long, and the opening track of King Animal puts an image of four men in and around their fifties more excited than a 5-year-old on Christmas morning. From here, Soundgarden delve deep into the world of impossible rhythms, swirling time signatures and complex riffs, and reassure rock and grunge purists that they’re not just back for the cash. King Animal is an excellent record that showcases the unparalleled astuteness of each member and his instrument, defying the vast majority of the doubters that this would tarnish their reputation rather than enhance it. We can hope for a 2013 UK tour… Oh, and Cornell’s wail is as powerful as ever!
Key tracks – Non-State Actor, By Crooked Steps, Worse Dreams, Rowing
7. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
The only hip-hop album that has made our list. Perhaps we’re a little bit biased, but gone are the glory days of Jurassic 5 and De La Soul, aren’t they? Yep, hip-hop today isn’t my forte, but the quality of Channel Orange simply cannot be ignored. Following on from the critically acclaimed 2011 mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra, Ocean’s debut album has received consistently top-shelf reviews, and throughout it he demonstrates his gift for story telling in a voice smoother than Lionel Richie’s silk pyjamas. Channel Orange is a monologue of emotional clarity, and on other site’s lists, it will be higher than 7th place. However, the fact that a hip-hop record has made it onto this list at all is testament to its strength.
Key tracks – Thinkin’ Bout You, Pyramids, Lost, Forrest Gump
8. Grizzly Bear – Shields
After the success of 2009’s Veckatimest, Grizzly Bear returned this year with another strong effort, further building upon the sound they have made their own. Once again, Edward Droste’s experimentalism interacts beautifully with an avant-garde, gentle serenity unique in its quirkiness, to create a thoroughly sui-generis landscape that is a canvas for the balance between urgency and horizontalness that has come to personify the band. Lyrically excellent and riddled with abrupt time signatures, Shields is their most adventurous album to date, and its execution is thoroughly deserving of a place in the top 10.
Key tracks – Sleeping Ute, Yet Again, Gun-shy, Sun in your Eyes
9. The Invisible – Rispah
Something I’d really like in life is for more people to be aware of The Invisible. Their brilliant debut was the critics’ choice for iTunes Album of the Year in 2009, as well as being nominated for the Mercury Prize. 3 years later, their follow up, Rispah, is infected by the same space-age, minimalist, haunting beats that were a hallmark of their debut. The opening interlude threatens to break into something that doesn’t sound too dissimilar to I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing, before Generational announces ‘This is serious’. This album is full of oxymoronic, haunting experimentalism, whilst maintaining prominent beats and invigorating the listener. Rispah is another album that creates an aural kaleidoscope, this time of subtle, dark, cold colours. Get a hold of it!
Key tracks – Generational, Wings, Surrender, The Stain
10. Walking Papers – Walking Papers
Earlier in 2012, a supergroup that will thoroughly excite any die-hard grunge fanatic formed in, yep, Seattle! 2 members of The Missionary Position, seasoned grunge campaigner Barrett Martin and former Guns n’ Roses’ bassist Duff McKagan combine to produce a very solid record that reminds us all of a landscape that the likes of Soundgarden, Screaming Trees, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains were central to creating. It incorporates blues and hard rock into this landscape in a soulful pilgrimage, delving into the depths of rock music and providing it with a sense of modernity. The rhythm section really is special on this album also, with McKagan and Martin proving a very efficient groove machine. Rounds off our top 10!
Key tracks – Already Dead, Your Secret’s Safe with Me, Two Tickets, Independence Day
11. Dinosaur Jr. – I Bet On Sky – they’ve still got the capacity to make solid albums, maintaining their sound in the process
12. Melody’s Echo Chamber – Melody’s Echo Chamber – We mentioned at #2 how much of a mastermind we consider Kevin Parker
13. Bloc Party – Four – Kele and co. are back to their roots, a very tight album that doesn’t plagiarise itself
14. Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again – The BBC Sound of 2012 winner has more soul than the Dementor’s of Azkaban could contend with
15. Mark Lanegan Band – Blues Funeral – A supremely consistent, soulful, bluesy, grungey descent into the brilliant mind of Lanegan
16. Japandroids – Celebration Rock – Canadian noise-rockers bring punk and classic rock together in an excellent effort
17. The Mars Volta – Noctourniquet – Mars Volta continue to baffle with the levels of complexity they manage to execute
18. Bat For Lashes – The Haunted Man – This voice continues to haunt. Could she make a bad album?
19. Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania – They’re back. Much like Soundgarden, they’ve defied the odds with a solid record. Corgan’s songwriting and guitar playing shines as always, even without the fuzz of a Siamese Dream
20. Silversun Pickups – Neck of the Woods – The Pumpkins prodigies bring more dynamism than before into this record. Intruding basslines and urgent vocals interact seamlessly
21. The Pineapple Thief – All The Wars – More people need to be aware of The Pineapple Thief. Their 9th effort bleeds progression and solidity
22. The Tragically Hip – Now For Plan A – Gordon Downie and co. are back with their 13th full length. Their shortest yet, but flawless vocals entomb an exhibition of songwriting
23. Jeff Ament – While My Heart Beats – Pearl Jam bassist returns with his second solo effort, an interesting journey that will leave you wondering where the last 45 minutes went
24. The xx – Coexist – Will be in the shadow of their superb 2009 debut, but still good enough to make our cut nonetheless. Continue to fill the void in your music taste you didn’t know you had
25. Witchcraft – Legend – Swedish stoner-rockers bring psychedelica into their repertoire with an impressive effort.
Well there we have it! Tweet us, comment, discuss… We want to hear where your views would fit in. What would rank higher? What would rank lower? What have we missed? Listening to a handful of these albums would allow you to look back on 2012s output overall rather fondly. We’ve seen seasoned pros return and continue to build on their grandeur, and new bands burst onto the scene with innovation and panache. Let’s hope 2013 follows suit!