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Top 50 Albums of 2012

on December 14, 2012, 1:00am
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annual report albums e1355108850421 Top 50 Albums of 2012

Alas, our 2012 Annual Report has come to an end. Over two long, grueling weeks, we’ve shared this year’s top stories, photos, videos, and songs, in addition to our picks for artist, band, rookie, and festival of the year. It ain’t over until several of you argue about your favorite albums, so that’s where today fits into the picture. Below you’ll see 50 of our favorite albums, all ranked and argued for your pleasure. Some you might have heard, others maybe not so much, but either way, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to let you listen and experience each album for yourself. Consider it our holiday gift, and in return, feel free to send us those tin cans of sugar cookies or Garrett’s popcorn or, hell, even a mogwai — something like that.

One more thing: Stay tuned next week as we still have a few stocking stuffers left in our year-end extravaganza. We’re calling them “leftovers,” and c’mon, who doesn’t love those?
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nas life is good Top 50 Albums of 2012

50. Nas – Life Is Good

Contrasting the hard-knocks of the past with the joys of the present isn’t a new thing in rap, but with Life is good, Nas takes full advantage of the concept by presenting the divide both lyrically and musically. As he navigates the space between “the hood that birthed me” and his current tenure as “The Don”, the album traces the chronology on the production end, with beats that pull from stripped ‘80s R&B (“Reach Out”), Illmatic-style boom-thwap (“Loco-Motive“, which actually features Large Professor), and wholly contemporary Watch the Throne-levels of opulence (“No Introduction”). And not only does the time-warping make the album play like a career-spanning greatest-hits collection, much of it would fit right in on an actual one. -Mike Madden

Buy: Amazon | Insound
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flying lotus until the quiet comes e1342620571552 Top 50 Albums of 2012

49. Flying Lotus – Until the Quiet Comes

Quiet may be the most ill-fitting adjective to describe FlyLo’s triumphant follow-up. Albeit subdued by comparison to 2010’s sprawling Cosmogramma, the album sharpens an already heightened sensibility for glitchy beats and salient samples. The collaborations roam, giving the album an abysmal depth of creativity that expands with each listen, from Thom Yorke to notable Brainfeeder collaborators Thundercat and the late jazz pianist Austin Peralta. FlyLo’s latest marks a pivotal moment in the orgiastic marriage of hip-hop, electronica, psychedelia, and even shoegaze, where, at the end of the day, reason and rhyme become very much intertwined. -Paula Mejia

Buy: Amazon | Insound
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dirty projectors swing lo magellan e1337178150549 Top 50 Albums of 2012

48. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan

“But without songs, we’re lost / And life is pointless, harsh, and long,” David Longstreth croons on the final track. He bids his listeners farewell with the type of sentiment that means a lot to the music scholars subscribing to the avant-garde intricacies of the former Yale student and his ever-changing tribe for nearly a decade. The band has tried on many hats over the years, and Longstreth told Pitchfork that 2009’s Bitte Orca was about the idea of songs, while the contents of Swing Lo “are just songs.” When Longstreth starts to fade into his previous habit of using words for their beauty rather than their meaning on “Unto Caesar”, fellow band member Amber Coffman adorably interrupts, “Uh, that doesn’t make any sense, what you said.” The coupling of words that actually make sense with the band’s most accessible arrangements to date made this a record for fans old and new. -Amanda Koellner

Buy: Amazon | Insound
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bobmouldsilverage e1338999278902 Top 50 Albums of 2012

47. Bob Mould – Silver Age

Although the title Silver Age befits the remarkable endurance of Bob Mould’s career, the record could have just as easily been called Iron Age. Mould comes to his tenth solo album armed and armored to the teeth, fighting his way through 38 minutes of return-to-form power-pop that fumes with aggression. And yet even when caught in his orbit of testosterone and steel-nerved chords, Mould never loses his sense of introspection. On “The Descent”, seemingly about his time in Hüsker Dü, he skirts the easy route of skewering his former bandmates and turns his anger inward for some healthy remorse and self-analysis: “I didn’t want to play the song / That gave people so much hope / I turned my back and turned away / Here’s the rope that made me choke.” In a year marked by several triumphs for rock, some catchy punk nostalgia would have been enough. But Bob Mould opted for growth. -Dan Caffrey

Buy: Amazon | Insound
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codeorangekids.cover 1 Top 50 Albums of 2012

46. Code Orange Kids – Love Is Love // Return to Dust

No, they are actually kids, all under 20, and when Reba Meyers hits your face with “I have never felt as empty as I feel today” in her black-metal screech on the opening track, you’ll be jealous of their youth. Under the engineering tutelage of Kurt Ballou of Converge (more on them later), Code Orange Kids forge an album that’s enigmatic, topographically diverse, and heavy as shit. One minute it holds you up with progressive hardcore like 108 or Burn and the next it’s rubbing shoe-gaze post-rock salve on the wound. The psycho-personal lyrics of Jamie Morgan and bloody-knuckle aggression are what make this precocious debut an essential hardcore LP, but the dynamic map of the album is what makes it essential on any rockist’s shelf. -Jeremy D. Larson

Buy: Amazon
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allo darlin Top 50 Albums of 2012

45. Allo Darlin’ – Europe

Sure, 2012 saw genres from R&B to hardcore offering landmark releases seeking real change, both musically and beyond. Europe, in contrast, seems almost equally rebellious in its lack of cool, with the band comfortably demonstrating an unabashed love for the twee palette regardless of current musical trends. Europe proves irresistible to any with the slightest inclination toward twee, and the lasting impression is a reminder that the day-to-day emotional experiences of life are not necessarily rendered trivial by larger global issues. Who knows, in the face of this year’s numerous “Death of Indie” thinkpieces, a built-in commercial ceiling and realistic impression of artistic life could soon make niche-dwelling bands like Allo Darlin’ the face of independent music once again. -Philip Cosores

Buy: Amazon | Insound
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joey badass 1999 Top 50 Albums of 2012

44. Joey Bada$$ – 1999

Hailing from Brooklyn’s Edward R. Murrow High School, it was easy to miss 17-year-old Joey Badda$$ amid the several other wunderkinds the rap world spat out in 2012. Yet the aptly titled 1999 was in a class all its own. JB immerses himself in ’90s style, taking beats that sound like they were picked up off the floor during the Reasonable Doubt sessions and injects them with a present vitality. His grand accomplishment is never sounding hokey or overly reverent. On “Waves”, he bewails, “I know niggas who trash rapping / Worried ‘bout the trending fashions rather than ascendin’ passion.” 1999 is truly an impressive feat for someone barely old enough to buy cigarettes. -Bryant Kitching

Download: 1999
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 Top 50 Albums of 2012

43. The Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania

After toiling in band overturn and lackluster singles for a few years, The Smashing Pumpkins did the impossible. Of Oceania, Billy Corgan recently told Rolling Stone that, “It’s really just turned a key that many people said could never be turned again.” He’s right. Zeitgeist’s forced rawk is replaced by a group of songs that breathe above keyboards just as often as they skitter along guitar chords and thudding rhythms. Corgan embraced Pumpkins v3.5, and as a result reinstilled faith in a band that many gave up on years ago. The ghosts of Siamese Dream-era Pumpkins still appear on “Inkless” and cherubian “Quasar”, but better yet are the synth-driven “Wildflower” and multi-layered title track. Their best since Adore – maybe even Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. -Justin Gerber

Buy: Amazon | Insound
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themenopenyourheart Top 50 Albums of 2012

42. The Men – Open Your Heart

The Men’s Open Your Heart deals in dreams. Some are brought on by fever, such as the swirling intensity within “Ex-Dreams”. Some plead with near-hopeless abandon, as the yearning title track represents. Emotions get emoted, people don’t care if they get played on the radio, and somewhere along the way rock ‘n’ roll lives to see another day. There’s an energy permeating the record that can only be defined by drums, bass, guitar, and vocals; the coalescing of those elements display a band raging and weeping on album number three. Between furious play (“Turn It Around”) and gradual builds (“Oscillation”), The Men figured out how to turn those dreams into a reality we sometimes fear to experience. Or maybe already have. -Justin Gerber

Buy: Amazon | Insound
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 Top 50 Albums of 2012

41. Tame Impala – Lonerism

Through surges of synthesizers and warped delay-pedal mastery, the concept of solitude never comes off as a self-pitying identifier. It’s a declaration and an ultimate acceptance of the self, those who embrace lonerism and the complexities that accompany it. The reincarnated alter ego of John Lennon, mastermind Kevin Parker’s distant vocals conceptualize a lucid tapestry of psychedelic pop that spans decades, retaining a stark intimacy of a collective unconsciousness, comprised of wandering souls channeling their doomsday dreams into audible delights. Lonerism’s ultimate majesty lies in unpredictable arcs. You drift along the wave itself, coasting with the bubbling “Music to Talk Home By” to the space-age dream of “She Just Won’t Believe Me”. As the album crests and recedes into the ambiance of “Sun’s Coming Up”, hidden complexities wash up along the shore, propelled by a crash so gentle you almost don’t feel it submerge you entirely. -Paula Mejia

Buy: Amazon | Insound
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