Top 10 Albums of 2012: Alabama Shakes, Winterpills, Frank Ocean and more

Alabama Shakes’ “Boys & Girls” is Listen, Dammit’s No. 1 album of 2012. Photo by Pieter M. van Hattem / Contour by Getty Images

It was a eclectic year for music, with only a handful of consensus albums. That said, it was also a good year for music. Here are my 10 favorite LPs of 2012.

 1. Alabama Shakes, “Boys & Girls” (ATO). A deep burst of bona fide soul from a band with depth and chops far beyond its members’ comparatively young ages. Singer Brittany Howard sounds as if she’s wringing every ounce of emotion out of her vocals on guitar-soaked songs that start and stop on a dime. The effect is electrifying, both on album and in concert. (Listen on Spotify)

2. Winterpills, “All My Lovely Goners” (Signature Sounds). Stately, solemn and deeply tuneful, Winterpills’ latest is a masterpiece of mood and texture. Singers Philip Price and Flora Reed  have never harmonized as seamlessly (which is saying something) and lead guitarist Dennis Crommett is at his most tastefully adventurous on these enveloping chamber-pop songs. (Listen on Spotify)

3. Frank Ocean, “Channel Orange” (Def Jam). After playing ensemble and supporting roles with hip-hop’s bold-face names, Ocean steps out on his own with a brave, wrenching album that flips R&B inside out. Instead of oversexualized braggadocio, Ocean applies his supple, feathery voice to introspective songs full of keenly observed details and often lacerating emotion. (Listen on Spotify)

4. JD McPherson, “Signs & Signifiers” (Rounder). A flawless homage to vintage rock ‘n’ roll and R&B, McPherson’s debut is a riot of jumped-up guitar, sleek slap bass and boxy drums on impeccable songs that fairly leap out of the speakers. It’s at once out of its time and timeless, with the finely honed edge that made this kind of music essential in the first place. (Listen on Spotify)

5. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, “Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!” (Constellation). Brooding and powerful, these four songs (two are six minutes, two are 20 minutes) comprising the Canadian band’s first album in a decade seethe with a mesmerizing dark majesty. (Listen on Spotify)

6. Grizzly Bear, “Shields” (Warp). Few bands are better at making dense, intricate songs sound as effortlessly engaging. Grizzly Bear’s fourth LP is full of knotty twists and noisy turns that are both virtuosic and inviting, as if the band is sharing an intimate confidence with someone who already knows the context. (Listen on Spotify)

7.  Japandroids, “Celebration Rock” (Polyvinyl). The British Columbia duo celebrates rock ‘n’ roll with eight songs that feature massive walls of guitars towering over cacophonous drums and shout-along vocals, with a frayed-end aesthetic that only makes these tunes more compelling. (Listen on Spotify)

8. Death Grips, “The Money Store” (Epic). Fearless and confrontational, “The Money Store” is a collection of jarring songs packed with jumbles of bombastic rhythm, tangled blares of synthesizers and sharp, barked vocals. For all their simmering abrasion, though, these songs are often explosively catchy, especially album closer “Hacker.” (Listen on Spotify)

9. Santigold, “Master of My Make-Believe” (Atlantic). Coming four years after her wide-ranging debut, “Master of My Make-Believe” feels less adventurous only because everyone else had a chance to catch up to Santi White’s future-pop vision. Still, she outpaces the field with a blend of pop, R&B and electro-rock that’s smarter and catchier than anything her would-be contemporaries are doing. (Listen on Spotify)

10. Miguel, “Kaleidoscope Dream” (RCA). In a year full of gloriously weird R&B, Miguel tied together disparate sounds and styles on his second album, which piles on guitars roaring in the background, weird electronic squiggles rooted somewhere between the Flaming Lips and “Super Mario Brothers” and alluring vocals on frank, off-beat songs. (Listen on Spotify)

 

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