With the end of the world creeping up on us before the end of the week, now is the perfect time to reflect back on some of the wonderful, amazing things human beings have created in the past year. Like albums! 2012 saw some amazing records — some of them highly anticipated sophomore efforts by established, buzz-worthy artists. But others were surprisingly compelling debut efforts by people we are sure to be talking about in 2013. Some you know, others you’ve maybe never heard of. Here, in no particular order, are 12 of the best albums you might have missed this year. Hurry up and listen before we’re all dead!
I know we’re in a cheerful, holiday spirit and everything, but Sleigh Bells is not the band you’ll be hearing mall santas sing as you rush out to do your last minute Christmas shopping. If you’re not so into being completely assaulted by aggressive music flung at you at high volumes, Sleigh Bells might be an acquired taste, but one that’s well worth the listen. Trust me. Reign of Terror, the hotly anticipated follow-up to 2010’s Treats, turns the up the volume and the pressure cooker, and if you’re not listening to Sleigh Bells with the sound all the way up, you’re not really listening.
Santigold’s follow-up to her 2008 self-titled debut was a breakout record of 2012, and it features collaborations with fellow indie darlings like Karen O. and Cody Critcheloe of SSION. This one is more beat driven effort than her last effort, and it will certainly perk up any run or exercise routine. “Disparate Youth” is enough of a reason to buy this record.
How To Dress Well is Tom Krell, a philosophy graduate student at DePaul University in Chicago who’s an emotional genius. This isn’t the happiest album on the list, but it’s certainly one of the most beautiful records of the year. Krell wrote this album in a time of loss, hence the title. With every listen you can fell the raw emotions, haunting melodies, but the tinge of R&B keeps things moving enough that it doesn’t feel so depressing.
Andy Stott is a Manchester, UK-based producer of dubstep, electronic music, and techno. But it’s not the Skrillez-y dubstep you’re maybe used to bro-ing out to on the weekends. It’s a much slower, much more beautiful symphony of electronic beats.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have been around the block, but The Heist is their first official, debut album, even though they’ve been on the Seattle scene for some time now. What’s great about Macklemore is the way his raps are lighthearted and fun, sure, but also with references to same sex love, the ills of consumer culture, Malcolm Gladwell, and white people. And, anyway, you should listen to this record JUST to hear the line: “I wear your grandad’s clothes/I look incredible/I’m in this big ass coat/From that thrift shop down the road.”
You KNOW I love fabulousness, and Diamond Rings is currently Canada’s Most Fabulous Thing. His voice is deeper than it looks like it would be, what with the rainbow stripe across his eyes and all the glitter he is cloaked in. But for this synth pop artist, he’s just being himself, not what you want him to be.
Azealia Banks is basically EVERYTHING. Get into these raps, hunty. The 1991 EP dropped over the summer after the whirlwind success of “212.” Music critics were wondering: Was Banks just another one-hit wonder? Does she have the chops to make it as a real artist, or did she just get lucky with a viral video and a catchy way for everybody to sing about vaginas? 1991 proved that Banks was not a one-hit wonder, and we are certainly not done with her. Her album Broke With Expensive Taste drops in February 2013.
The Projectors are definitely weird, but they know how to mix R&B, kooky vocals and harmonies into a delightful chamber-pop package. If ever you hear a song with weird harmonies that are alllmost out of tune, know you’re listening to The Projectors! Swing Lo Magellan is a good record — not as awesome as 2009’s Bitte Orca — but still one of the better albums of 2012.
Frank Ocean has had one hell of a 2012: a breakout debut album that’s on the tips of everyone’s lips, a coming out of sorts, and getting banned by Target. You haven’t made it as an artist until you’ve been banned by Target! Everyone knows that getting banned just creates even more buzz and publicity. On channel ORANGE, Ocean reads rich kids for filth and speaks poetically about decadence, love, and darkness. A must listen.
10. Burial, Kindered
Don’t be fooled by this three song EP — those three tracks total more than 30 minutes. Kindered features breathy vocals, static, scratches, and intentional skips and cuts, and hard beats that take you on a journey of electronic bliss.
If Diamond Rings are the most fabulous Canadian export, that means Purity Ring has got to be the darkest if not totally macabre. Shrines is probably the spookiest album on this list, with all the references to body parts and all the things you can do to them. But the record isn’t dark in a bad way — there’s a beauty to darkness, especially when pitched against awesome beats.
Why is it that almost everything that comes out of Sweden is so AMAZING? H&M, IKEA, street style, Cheap Monday, Lykke Li, José Gonzalez, The Sounds, and now Niki & The Dove, who are the indietronica act of the moment. Their debut effort Instinct is colorful, upbeat, and addicting. There’s even a song on the record called “DJ, Ease My Mind.” I mean, how can you have a problem with that?