2012 was a year of transitions for me; graduating, finding a job, dissolving a long-term relationship, moving to a different city, and attempting to cope with the end of times is a rather daunting list, in retrospect. My taste is music has shifted as well, in similarly broad strokes. I’ve never before had a top 5 like this. Not that numbering is important, really. I like all these albums enough that parsing out single percentage points between them is probably a waste of time. The exceptions are numbers 1 and 2, which have, from my perspective, quite clearly separated themselves from the pack.
Honourable mentions: Ekstasis by Julia Holter, Tempest by Bob Dylan, and Orcas by Orcas
WIXIW is just another stop on the bizarre and fascinating route that Liars have been charting for over a decade. It isn’t their best album, but it burrows the deepest. Who could have predicted that a) they would go the minimal electronica route and b) pull it off so successfully?
A sprawling, vivid, flawed masterpiece, and a coming out party of unequivocally heroic proportions. The scale and musical latitude of Channel Orange is unheard of in contemporary R&B, and no voice out there invites the use of the word ‘elegant’ like Ocean’s does. Also, “Pyramids”.
Emotionally pungent and crowded with cling-to-your-ribs melodies, this won the horse race v. Wild Nothing for my nostalgia trip of the year. I give the edge to Oshin simply because it was such a genuine surprise. Music that sounds this warm and welcoming from the moment you hit play is hard to come by.
At the moment, this is favourite album to get drunk to, likely because drinking is Japandroids’ favourite thing to sing about. Considering what Brian King and David Prowse went through to reach Celebration Rock, it’s a small wonder that it was ever made. That it also happens to be a head-banging, beer-chugging, puke-your-guts-out good time is worth celebrating.
I had never heard of Mesita before BPM stamped a “Recommended” tag on this record, so my out-of-nowhere award goes to The Coyote. James Cooley’s project cuts deeper than you would ever expect, like sifting through old photo albums, jogging memories that you thought you’d long forgotten. “Ken Caryl” and “Out for Blood” are two of my favourite songs of the year.
A platter of slow-burning techno that nourishes your brain more than your body. Luxury Problems nails the dizzying trifecta of originality, versatility and evolution. It’s exceptional on every level, and it gets better every time I listen to it, which is often.
From a technical standpoint, FlyLo’s latest dwarfs everything else on this list. The liquid, dreamlike essence of Steven Ellison’s vision is a wonder to behold, and those ace guest spots don’t hurt, either. Cosmogramma bent space and time, Quiet just becomes it.
It has become discouragingly rare for an emcee to actually take carte blanche and do something creative with it in the studio. Enter Compton wunderkind Kendrick Lamar. His transition from underground hero on Section.80 to one of the best in the game on good kid now seems like it was inevitable. Your move, Yeezy.
Even when Kevin Parker is off in his own little world (a regular occurrence), Lonerism is unifying and jubilant in a way that vehemently contradicts its own worldview. Picking favourites is a useless exercise; it’s just one gem after another. Tame Impala might be rock and roll’s most exciting band right now.
The dissent is deafening, I’m sure. I honestly can’t help myself. To my ears, nothing else this year was as thrilling, sonically audacious, or downright fun as The Money Store. Death Grips weren’t long for the corporate world, but they took advantage of it while they had the chance. I still can’t get over the image of a dozen Sony execs listening to this in the boardroom. I’ll see myself out, Colin.