2012 was a testament to the theory that the album is dying. Singles flourished this year, and mostly in EDM and pop genres. Still, true talent rose to the occasion as exceptions. In a year carried by heavy political and societal currents, these artists gave us music that carried us through. Other notable trends in music include the unavoidable mushrooming of EDM, the exciting transformation of R&B, and the blurry merging of varying genres. The ones who did this well landed on our 2012 Best Albums list.
(Also, check out our picks for 2012 Best Songs.)
25. Lotus - Christina Aguilera Xtina has publicly made a lot of blunders throughout her career. Lotus was her way to show the world that she does learn from at least some of them. Aguilera keeps us devoted with the same vocal powerhouse as always, only with wisdom and strength laced in. Some had written off any work by the rambunctious starlet, as her past few LPs were unapologetically underwhelming. These may be some of the blunders she has learned from, however, as Lotus is the best and closest release since the esteemed Stripped.
24. The 2nd Law - Muse Muse has become a luminary in today's world as a stadium-packing British rock band among a trail of EDM acts. Their sixth studio album fails to match some of their priors, but still breaks ground. Featuring the 2012 London Olympics theme song "Survival," a tinge of pop in "Madness," and even a touch of dubstep to humor the crowd, the band retains their anti-societal content. Expect Muse to set the law in music for a while.
23. Battle Born - The Killers Brandon Flowers turns on the all-American charm in this album for an innovative rock sound both classic and futuristic. Not their best album, but still one of the best of the year.
22. Two Eleven - Brandy Hardcore Brandy fans that have been rooting for the R&B veteran since day one had their fingers crossed in anticipation of her 2012 album. They were finally able to uncross and exhale when they realized that the undeniable vocal talent delivered in Two Eleven. After a sequence of lackluster LPs in 2004 and 2008, we didn't know what to expect--but we were pleasantly comforted to know that the diva's classic runs and rasp sound amazing in any era.
21. R.A.P. Music - Killer Mike If it wasn't, Atlanta's rap veteran's sixth studio album certainly secured his prominence in hip hop. Producer El-P (whose own project justifiably also makes the cut) is impeccable at what he does here in producing the album, and Mike's lyrics on social injustice, politics, and the state of hip hop makes this some of his best work. In a genre of increasing EDM and pop submissives, Killer Mike sticks to traditional hip hop of hey day.
20. III - Crystal Castles The deficiency in album title-naming is deceiving. The album's content is anything but unoriginal and meaningless. The Canadian electronic act refines its use of synth with each album, making their songs all the more dance-provoking.
19. Cancer 4 Cure - El-P Prodigal producer El-P gives himself a run for his money (he also produced our no. 21 nod, Killer Mike's R.A.P. Music) in his self-produced album Cancer 4 Cure. Dedicated to a fallen friend, El-P expresses a range of truths about societal issues through sick lyrics and beats with the help of Killer Mike, Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire, Despot, and Danny Brown.
18. The Lumineers - The Lumineers The Lumineers' whole album is just as sensational as the single, "Hey Ho." A similitude to Mumford, The Lumineers are luminaries with their refreshing Americana folk sound in this digital age of music.
17. Coexist - the xx - Winning the Mercury Prize for their debut album gave the boy-girl duo big shoes to fill with the next album. The melancholy minimalist sound seemed clever the first time, but was it sustainable? The verdict is still out on that question, but Coexist was nonetheless enjoyable.
16. Girl On Fire - Alicia Keys Keys returns to us after having experienced a lot of life. Adult, mother, and wife, Keys pours her heart out about love, life, and what it's like being a girl on fire. Her brilliant incorporation of classical and jazz styles we love about her first few albums is effervescent in this fourth album. The fire in Alicia lights a fire within all of us through this album.
15. Is Your Love Big Enough - Lianne La Havas - British folk/soul singer La Havas exudes talent from Track 1 in her debut album. But unlike her Brit girl power singing sisterhood counterparts (e.g. Adele, Winehouse, Lily Allen), she does so uniquely with a soothing, mellow voice that drapes across the album. You won't find any power ballands on this album, but you will want to listen.
14. Master of My Make Believe - Santigold This LES hipster achieved the impossible this year: she climbed the pop charts without losing any street cred. Her shimmering album showcases the sparkle of producers Switch, Diplo, John Hill, and Dave Sitek--whose combined swag can only match that of the artist herself.
13. Born To Die - Lana Del Rey - As the album's title indicates, Del Rey's melancholically romantic debut is one to play on repeat for days and call it your life soundtrack. Not because it actually describes mundane every day life, but because it's fun to pretend like her life is as suggestive as Lana's seductive songs.
12. Shrines - Purity Ring - This divine album is a juxtaposition of confusion and clarity. The alluring sound will swallow you like Alice into a synth pop Wonderland, the mastery of levels and layers throughout the album as your vehicle.
11. Lonerism - Tame Impala This Aussie hippie group takes us on a magnificently psychedelic acid trip with their second album. The melodious layers of distorted guitar and piano plunking over a wicked rhythm justify their place on a range of Best Albums of the Year lists, from SPIN to Rolling Stone to NME to Fuse.
10. Life Is Good - Nas It's inspiring to know that one of the only original kings of hip hop left can still put out a solid album. Nas has grown up quite a bit since his Illmatic days, and he shares many of the experiences that helped him grow up: "Bye Baby" on his recent split with Kelis; "Daughters" on his relationship with his own teenage daughter . . . brutal candor all atop deep-souled beats FTW.
9. Kaleidoscope Dream - Miguel Along with having one of the best albums of 2012, Miguel might also get the Smoothest Crooner award if there was one. With his voice like molten lava and his swag like Sammy Davis, Miguel's sexy, psychedelic sophomore album takes us straight to Pleasuretown . . . or is it Funkytown?
8. Wrecking Ball - Bruce Springsteen It is never necessary to explain why any album of the Boss lands in a Best Albums list, but this one was particularly special as he was able to synchronize the material to represent the sentiments of Americans (and himself) as they lived through major social and political events in 2012. Representing America through timeless classic rock is nothing new for the Boss.
7. Bloom - Beach House This baltimore synth pop group takes you to a relaxed beach house with their sound. The organ chords and guitar arpeggios meet lead singer Victoria Legrand's liquid vocals at an indeterminable point, making her dark and morose lyrics ignorable. The synth-y eighties-felt fourth album set the tone of 2012.
6. Cruel Summer - G.O.O.D. Music This album served this year with bass-bumping beats and neighborhood-cypher resembling flow. Kanye West's compilation album featured many talents, including Jay Z, Lil Wayne, Ghostface Killah, 2 Chainz, Big Sean, and Pusha T--several of which are signed to West's label G.O.O.D. Music. A number of the album's best songs dominated airwaves this year, but there are other treasurable tracks as well.
5. Babel - Mumford & Sons - There is no wonder why this folk string band's sophomore album is one of 2012's best. Marcus Mumford sings pure praises of love, morality, and faith in a foot-stomping strum-fest so divine, the faithless can relate.
4. good kid, m.A.A.d city - Kendrick Lamar - All the hype Lamar garnered this year was real. Lamar paints vivid pictures with his intricate rhymes of growing up in Compton on his debut album. His confidence and capability are so impressive, it's no wonder Dr. Dre was quick to pick him up to add to his West Coast rap roster. And with the help of Pharrell, Hit Boy, and Just Blaze, this became the top selling hip hop album and is easily the best hip hop debut of the year (maybe in many years). With Jay Z, Eminem, Lil Wayne, Drake, and Kanye West failing to release solo albums this year, could this be an indicator of the new face of hip hop?
3. Some Nights - fun. The New York indie emo-pop trio rocked the world in 2012 with singles from their second album Some Nights, including "We Are Young" and title track "Some Nights." Combining sounds of synth, blissful harmonies, high-noted melodies, and autotune evokes sentiments of hope to young adults around the world this year.
2. Trilogy - The Weeknd - This is the official compiled (re)release of The Weeknd's three-part mixtape from 2011, with the addition of some new tracks. The profound insight with which the new-age R&B crooner sings reaches directly into the soul, exuding wisdom, fear, and shame. It's a good thing he gifted us most of the same music again this year, because we were no where near ready to get over it yet.
1. Channel Orange - Frank Ocean Ocean's work in 2012 was often associated with his sexuality, but his music rises far above any such associations. His second LP continues the trailblazing of the new alternative R&B landscape after his ever brilliant debut album Nostalgia, Ultra. The transcendental groove mixed with keen lyrical content and raw heartfelt vocal talent makes Ocean and his album both original and unbeatable in 2012. We give it the Album of the Year nod . . . will the Academy?