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Our music critics continue their look at the best of 2012

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Just as we always do at this time of year, we've asked some of our resident music critics what their favorite albums of 2012 were. Three writers weighed in last week, and this week we present three more opinions on the matter.


Curtis McCrary

In order of awesomeness:

Alabama Shakes, Boys & Girls (Rough Trade/ATO)

Festival circuit breakouts Alabama Shakes walked the walk on their debut, an album that blows a giant hole in the notion that rock is dead, or will ever die, for that matter.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, The Heist (Macklemore LLC)

Hip-hop heads, especially those in the Northwest, were on to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis long before the release of their debut full-length The Heist took everyone else by surprise this year when it plopped right down atop the iTunes chart and landed at No. 2 on Billboard. "Thrift Shop" was 2012's most fun song and "Same Love," a remarkably powerful attestation in support of gay rights, still gives me chills. The fact that it's a self-released album tells you all you need to know about how much the landscape has changed—the only gatekeeper now between any act and an audience is quality.

Tame Impala, Lonerism (Modular Recordings)

Tame Impala must have a time machine, because there's no way they didn't record this in 1971 and bring it to the exact moment in the future when its bell-bottomed, heavy psychedelia would be again welcomed with open arms. I realize that this premise makes no sense, but then neither did the movie Looper, conclusively demonstrating that time travel is confusing.

Grizzly Bear, Shields (Warp)

Despite lacking anything nearly as hook-y as Veckatimest's "Two Weeks," Grizzly Bear's third record is decidedly their most assured, and best.

Cloud Nothings, Attack on Memory (Carpark)

Recording with a band rather than as a one-man-operation was a wise and necessary move by Dylan Baldi, and asking Steve Albini to engineer Attack on Memory seems entirely necessary, based on the buzz-bomb nature of the result, even if Albini occupied himself mostly with Facebook Scrabble during the sessions.

Ty Segall Band, Slaughterhouse (In The Red)

This young rock maniac is bringing new meaning to the term prolific, with three full-length albums this year bearing his moniker. So it's tossed off, then? Hardly. Slaughterhouse is the standout but Hair (Ty Segall and White Fence) and Twins (solo) are also worthy efforts.

Divine Fits, A Thing Called Divine Fits (Merge)

This album brought together the pleasingly orthogonal songwriting talents of Spoon frontman Britt Daniel and Wolf Parade/Handsome Family singer Dan Boeckner, with Sam Brown of the New Bomb Turks on the ones and twos. And, lo, a "supergroup" was born. However it's the lowest-profile member of this entourage, keyboardist Alex Fischel, who makes the biggest impact.

Calexico, Algiers (ANTI-)

Posted without elaboration.

Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d. city (Aftermath/Interscope)

The most talented young rapper to come along in a generation shows what the mixtape-generated excitement was all about on his major label debut. That it's one of the five best albums released this year seems to be a more or less consensus opinion across all seven Internets. You like rap, yes? You like this, then.

White Rabbits, Milk Famous (TBD)

As tempted as I am to continue comparing White Rabbits to Spoon, I'll not do that here, except, goddamn it I just did it. Anyway, Milk Famous goes off in several pleasingly newish synthy directions, kinda like how Spoon does that on some of their songs. Fuck!

Honorable mention: Jimmy Cliff, Rebirth (Universal); Frank Ocean, channel ORANGE (Island/Def Jam); Dr. Dog, Be The Void (ANTI-); Miike Snow, Happy to You (Downtown); Father John Misty, Fear Fun (Sub Pop); Cat Power, Sun (Matador)


Michael Petitti

(in order of preference)

Swans, The Seer (Young God)

Dread and beauty—core ingredients of the sublime—here are masterfully twisted and extended. A willful encapsulation of a peculiar 30-year career, The Seer is an inspired collage of anxiety, excitement and horror. It's a peerless work, nimble enough to balance the caterwaul and the whisper, the ephemeral and the epic.

DIIV, Oshin (Captured Tracks)

A moody album that isn't morose; a dreamy album that isn't soporific; Oshin is a consistently thrilling release. With seemingly only an accent of vocals, waves of guitars and piles of melodies, it's a shimmying, slivery and smart work capable of mesmeric grandeur.

Frank Ocean, channel ORANGE (Def Jam)

An immensely funny, sad, silly and lovely album, channel ORANGE speaks of a world of endless freedoms and intense boredoms. Ocean inhabits this spoiled, decadent landscape with velvety vocals, smooth production and studio flourishes both inspired and absurd (John Mayer's guitar noodles for an incidental track? Sure!).

Beach House, Bloom (Sub Pop)

That an album so ornate, so affected, swerves past overwrought into transcendent is a minor miracle. An incredibly gorgeous release, Bloom brilliantly melds Victoria Legrand's throaty vocals with twinkling, lush dream-pop.

Bob Dylan, Tempest (Columbia)

It feels irrefutable when Dylan bellows, "I ain't dead yet/ My bell still rings," deep into Tempest—an elegiac work masked as a venomous blues record. As loose and angry as nearly anything in Dylan's 50-year canon, it finds the iconic troubadour striking a delicate balance between prickly codger and bemused romantic.

Kendrick Lamar, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City (Interscope/Aftermath/Top Dawg)

Easily the year's best, most ambitious hip-hop album (or "short film"). Here, Lamar runs through a well-trod story about rising above environment and influences, yet succeeds by fusing the sacred with the profane, mixing religious incantations with scrubby crunk and smooth jams. The resulting work is both exhausting and exhilarating.

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Mature Themes (4AD)

Calling this a more palatable dose of Pink's fractious, batty avant-pop still makes it the strangest album to find a critical and commercial foothold. From lascivious, smoldering disco-pop to jangly, Laurel Canyon folk rock, Pink embraces the silly, introspective, glib and apocalyptic with impunity, making it all the bolder.

Spiritualized, Sweet Heart Sweet Light (Fat Possum)

On the heels of a deep, severe illness, Jason Pierce returns with a shaggy, confident rock album. Staring down the abyss with cool aplomb and vulnerable honesty, Pierce relies upon a children's choir, oceans of guitars and organs, Dr. John, and his skewered, redemptive worldview. The resulting album is a frank meditation on love and death that is neither trite nor maudlin.

Titus Andronicus, Local Business (XL)

Bratty Jersey punks return stripped down—meaning abandoning 14-minute bagpipe-encrusted paeans to the Civil War for 10-minute garage-blues boogies—without losing too much bark or bite. Barnburning punk and grandiose rock nestle alongside Patrick Stickles' always loquacious, often witty observations on wretched modernity.

Cat Power, Sun (Matador)

Heartbreak, Paris and Miami can make, on paper, for a horrible cocktail of gaudy misery, but here Chan Marshall funnels her anger and environments into a muscular, meditative pop album. The whole affair is informed by dire sadness, but Marshall circumvents the ponderous by processing her grief through buoyant calypso, electronic panache and skittering pop.


Eric Swedlund

Here are, to my ears and in no particular order, the best and the next best of 2012:

Chuck Prophet, Temple Beautiful (Yep Roc)

A love song to San Francisco delivered on a hot plate of raucous rock 'n' roll, Temple Beautiful is instantly catchy. From the churning chords of opener "Play That Song Again" (which I did, again and again) to the celebratory "Willie Mays Is Up at Bat," Prophet makes San Francisco come to life in all its enduring, freaky glory.

Kelly Hogan, I Like to Keep Myself in Pain (ANTI-)

Kelly Hogan enlisted a who's who of songwriters to pen tunes for her first solo album in 11 years. The title song (from Robyn Hitchcock) and "Ways of This World" (from the late Vic Chesnutt) are particularly well suited for Hogan's gorgeous voice, which amid all the excellent words and music (including Booker T. Jones on organ) still rises above.

The Helio Sequence, Negotiations (Sub Pop)

The Portland, Ore., duo put together a new practice space/studio alongside this album, working for four years on Negotiations, which balances the band's sense of shimmering cool with an entrenched sense of isolation. It's a night record, full of reflection, doubts, comforts and haunts.

Japandroids, Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl)

Appropriately beginning with the sound of fireworks exploding, this head-rush of an album fits its title to a T. Celebrating big guitars, pounding drums and hooks galore, Japandroids made their mark on rock 'n' roll this year with simple perfection.

The Walkmen, Heaven (Fat Possum)

Without entirely abandoning the urgency of the band's early albums, the Walkmen stretch out and slow down a bit on Heaven, their most irresistibly melodic batch of songs yet.

Jaill, Traps (Sub Pop)

In a taut 34 minutes, Jaill delivers an album packed with jangly guitars, big garage riffs and psychedelic tangents. It's the sound of a scrappy band making good on 10 years of hard work.

Metric, Synthetica (Metric)

Metric's best-yet record, Synthetica is a sci-fi concept album—exploring disorientation, disillusionment and the defiant search for authenticity—packaged as a muscular and thrilling dance-rock record.

Jens Lekman, I Know What Love Isn't (Secretly Canadian)

Swedish songwriter Lekman returns after five years with a lush, wistful album that explores a painful breakup through his inimitable songwriting voice, which combines tenderness, wit and honest self-awareness.

Dr. Dog, Be the Void (ANTI-)

Be the Void finds Dr. Dog thriving with a joyful, live spontaneity that bounds from song to song without ever losing the band's magnetic catchiness. It's an eclectic, adventurous, ramshackle album that swings between abstraction and dialed-in melodies.

Divine Fits, A Thing Called Divine Fits (Merge)

Shockingly more than the sum of its weighty parts, this collaboration between Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs, Wolf Parade) and Britt Daniel (Spoon) treads adventurously beyond "supergroup" expectations to deliver 11 fantastic, compelling songs.

Honorable Mention: Bob Dylan, Tempest; Shearwater, Animal Joy; Alabama Shakes, Boys and Girls; Giant Giant Sand, Tucson; Sharon Van Etten, Tramp; Nada Surf, The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy; Plants and Animals, The End of That; Calexico, Algiers; Field Report, Field Report; Kathleen Edwards, Voyageur; Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball; Jay Farrar, Anders Parker, Yim Yames and Will Johnson, New Multitudes; Heartless Bastards, Arrow.

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