Here's a rundown of my personal favourite albums of the year and what I liked about them:
1. Kendrick Lamar - Good Kid, M.A.A.D City
I can't praise this album enough, and since it's already topped nearly every single 'best of 2012' album chart I don't think I need to say anything more. But I will... this album is genius.
2. The Mountain Goats - Transcendental Youth
I've been an obsessive Mountain Goats supporter for many years now but it's been a while since I've been truly blown away by one of their albums, and with Transcendental Youth not only do I feel they've made one of the best albums of the year, but perhaps of their entire, almost 20-year long, career. Every strength of singer/songwriter John Darnielle comes out in this odyssey of disillusioned youth and hopeful degenerates and lost souls. It harkens back to their 2004 effort We Shall All Be Healed in its depiction of desperate individuals and life on the edge, but Darnielle and his band sound more cohesive than ever and the beautiful brass arrangements lend the album a cinematic nostalgia that frames these harrowing narratives with a sense of wonderment and hope.
Having lost a member Memomena came back surprisingly stronger and more assured than ever with Moms, a stunningly produced collection of songs about memory, life and loss filtered through a surreal almost unhinged outlook. Despite the thematic subject matter there is a celebratory approach to the majority of the album, and when the mood dips into darker territory the emotional sentiment is more genuine and moving than any of their past efforts.
Dan Deacon's America is an ambitious, self-indulgent, bloated, frustrating and insanely brilliant work that goes beyond anything he has ever done before and arrived with little notion of what it would entail. Mixing his brand of harsh electronica with grand orchestral arrangements as an exploration of America; the myth and the modern reality, the album features repeated movements and an overarching journey from beginning to end. As a soundtrack to the madness and beauty of our times and the history we carry with us America is a fitting summation and reflection of experience, interpretation and influence that is both engaging and challenging in its sweeping scope and sense of awe.
5. Beach House - Bloom
With Bloom Beach House honed their sound so concisely and assuredly that they could have pretty much written songs about anything and it would have been entirely mesmerizing so the fact that the lyrics are poetically masterful and deeply meaningful mark this as an undeniable entry into 2012's praiseworthy releases. From the lilting arpeggios and haunting beauty of opener Myth to the simple majesty and dense drones of closer Irene the album doesn't contain a single misstep in its existential journey and depiction of human emotion and what it all means, summed up perfectly by lead singer Victoria Grand's repeated conclusion at the end of it all; "it's a strange paradise."
Much has been made of Frank Ocean's revealing letter in regards to his sexuality and what this all means in the world of RnB and hip hop. This aside, Frank Ocean has crafted one of the best albums of the year with Channel Orange, including some of the year's best stand-alone tracks Thinking About You and Pyramids.
As a life-long fan of Xiu Xiu they are bound to make my top ten in any year they put out an LP, and 2012 was one of those years. At a time when a lot of artists were either diluting their sound or playing it safe, Jamie Stewart as Xiu Xiu returned with one of his most aggressive and disturbing albums yet which also, interestingly, contains some of his most tender moments too, not to mention some of his most anthemic.
Swing Lo Magellan marked a move into more 'pop friendly' territory for Dirty Projectors, and yet they still retained much of what makes them special as a left-field indie rock outfit with a penchant for twisting jazz and folk influences into something altogether refreshing and spectacular.
Centipede Hz was an unexpected album for many, especially considering the mainstream success of the electro pop influence of Merriweather Post Pavillion, as it sees the band retreating to their more organic and chaotic early sound. The album is so dense and schizophrenic you almost expect it to fall apart at any moment, but for those who appreciate the sound they pioneered for years before they achieved notable chart success then this is a bold and welcomed move from the indie experimental veterans.
Almost everything that makes this album great is arguably regardless of Rihanna herself, and yet there's finally something engaging at work here as she bares all and embraces the shambolic and nihilistic character that she has come to embody. As a document of fame and fortune in the hands of someone so unlikeable yet so popular it's compelling, with all its drug-referencing, hazy production, dubstep explosions, indie balladry and shameless pilfering, but you do get the sense that the talent behind the album's construction deserve most of the praise.
No Doubt - Push & Shove
Titus Andronicus - Local Business
Matthew Dear - Beams
Bloc Party - Four
David Byrne & St. Vincent - Love This Giant
Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory
Patti Smith - Banga
Flying Lotus - Until the Quiet Comes
Lana Del Rey - Born To Die