Best Music of 2012CoS Exclusive FeaturesPlaylistsStaff Lists

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?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 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

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

 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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December 18, 2012 at 7:47 am

wheres the game- jesus piece? he should be in the top 10 though

December 17, 2012 at 10:48 pm

Leave The xx off, really?

December 17, 2012 at 10:32 pm


Aaron Wnioc Black
December 17, 2012 at 10:32 pm

Future is on this list therefore making it irrelevant in its entirety.

December 17, 2012 at 10:23 pm

Both my favorite artist made it and in the top 3 ^.^

December 17, 2012 at 9:55 pm

where the FUCK is jack white.

Youssef Malcom
December 17, 2012 at 9:43 pm

Kendrick deserves the #1 spot, this album is such a creative album that we havent seen in years

December 17, 2012 at 9:32 pm

I think 1999 should’ve been a lil higher up

Angel Garcia
December 17, 2012 at 9:15 pm

nas on 50? lmao wtf

Dzianis B
December 17, 2012 at 3:45 pm

1. Wovenhand – The laughing stalk
2. Om – advaitic songs.

that is all.

Joe Kristufek
December 17, 2012 at 3:12 pm

The Muse album was horrible. The Killers record was very average.

December 17, 2012 at 3:04 pm

16 pages…with the last 10 on individual pages? Screw you COS. I’m giving up on your blog. I’m tired of loading a ridiculous number of pages for one story, just to fulfill your lust for pageviews.

December 16, 2012 at 7:39 pm

Why are u people so mean holy shit. They have a lot of good albums on here and just because you dont agree with any or all of it, doesnt mean it sucks just oyhfmf CALM DOWN

December 17, 2012 at 9:22 pm

werd I was gonna complain about some cd’s ranking and then I read the other comments … I’m a just be happy my favs made the list

Ian Shepard
December 16, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Man, “Blunderbuss” is proof that Jack White can drag his ass across a rug, and people will huff the skids until their noses bleed.

Nice list, crew. I agreed with about sixty percent of it, which is as much as I’ve agreed with any “Best Albums” list this season. My only major disagreement is with Frank Ocean. “Channel Orange” was a good album, but it’s nowhere near the caliber of “Voodoo,” “Innervisions,” “What’s Going On,” “The Miseducation…” [insert classic experimental soul album here]. If he can pull off an album full of tracks like “Pyramids,” then he’ll get there, but he’s not at that point yet. Personally, I think that his “open letter” overshadowed the quality of his music, in the same way that Wilco’s record label politicking overshadowed “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” or that Bon Iver’s isolated back story overshadowed “For Emma, Forever Ago.” It’s contextual bullshit – it doesn’t make the album any better or worse, it’s just _there_.

Anyway, my personal top ten goes:

10.) Aesop Rock – Skelethon
9.) Lambchop – Mr. M
8.) Deftones – Koi No Yokan
7.) El-P – Cancer 4 Cure
6.) Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind
5.) Dark Time Sunshine – ANX
4.) Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel
3.) Ghost Mice – All We Got Is Each Other
2.) Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city
1.) Swans – The Seer

December 17, 2012 at 12:23 am

I agree with you that Blunderbuss is highly overrated. It probably deserves a spot on this list, but most likely in the bottom 10. I also agree that this is probably the best year-end list I’ve seen so far. Much better than the ones I’ve seen from NPR, Rolling Stone, Spin, Paste, or The Guardian. I’m pretty sure Pitchfork hasn’t released theirs yet. COS covered most of my favorite albums of the year on here except “Confess” by Twin Shadow and “Beams” by Matthew Dear and the newest Hot Chip. Good list.

December 17, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Yes, Deftones!

December 17, 2012 at 10:26 pm

I agree all the way but i think Channel orange and GKMC should trade place

December 16, 2012 at 3:34 pm

These writers pick THEIR favorites, It’s not like they have better taste in music than yourself. It’s obvious they have a thing for Frank Ocean. They want to usher more unknown artists instead of what really deserves to be on this list, it’s pretty obvious.

Sutton Lloyd
December 15, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Haha this is another joke. Japandroids are terrible, and no Animal Collective Centipede Hz? A terrible final list to wrap up a shitty annual report. I’ll be going back to pitchfork after this. Thanks CoS, you suck

December 16, 2012 at 5:28 pm

Don’t think this has been a vintage year so why did you miss off Beth Orton’s Sugaring Season. Or Jack White, Dexys and Ben Howard. Frank Ocean is overrated – give me Billy Ocean any day (OK that’s a joke). I could go on. A lot of my favourites are missing but that doesn’t make it a terrible list or a shitty annual report. The standard of writing on CoS is invariably good and much of it great. Keep it up.

Michelle Castro
December 15, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Besides JACK WHITE;s “Blunderbuss,” here are 2 more great records from 2012 that you overlooked:
REDD KROSS “Researching The Blues”

David Jenkins
December 15, 2012 at 3:40 am

strange that the Walkmen’s Heaven didn’t make the list. I do appreciate my favorite album of the year (Bloom) so high, and even Metz…..but no Evens? Yes to Swans. Yes to The Money Store (and not what came next). No to no Moms.

Ian McNaught
December 14, 2012 at 11:14 pm

Blunderbuss is definitely the most glaring omission. Shields should be higher also but at least it’s here.

James Le
December 14, 2012 at 6:41 pm

sigur ros?

Bunny Lane
December 17, 2012 at 10:28 pm

you’re joking, yah? That record was boring as fuck.

December 14, 2012 at 6:26 pm


December 17, 2012 at 10:27 pm

His album was average it wasn’t as good as most of these albums listed

December 14, 2012 at 5:50 pm

good to see Tig there, that album is strength and raw

December 14, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Ceremony’s “Zoo” should be included.

John Nesiba
December 14, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Forget about Blunderbuss? Didn’t you guys give that a high review? I don’t always disagree, but there is just no consistency.

Rory Biller
December 14, 2012 at 3:34 pm

Diggin Cloud Nothings at #4 and that you included Godspeed’s new album. Leonard Cohen was a worthy nod as well.

No David Byrne & St. Vincent though? No Mars Volta? No Jack White? No Mark Lanegan? C’mon naa

Alec Sye
December 14, 2012 at 3:29 pm

COS has really let themselves go. Remember when they gave death magnetic a 4 1/2? Hahahaha, different times. They’re trying too hard nowadays.

December 14, 2012 at 2:18 pm

No Blunderbuss? Its not like it was one of your guys most hyped albums of the year and then got great reviews or anything. Let’s also no forget that it is up for album of the year and ummmmm f’ing rocks. Great omission cos… NOT!

December 14, 2012 at 2:03 pm

You forgot Coheed and Cambria, Murder by Death and Circa Survive.

Alex Murphy
December 14, 2012 at 9:46 am

Jack White??
The Killers??

Why are they not here!

Casey Smith
December 14, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Muse? Killers? you obviously don’t listen to bands like Godspeed, because once you do, you’ll wonder how you ever even listened to a band like The Killers in the first place.

Jackie Tilley
December 17, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Muse had a bad album, anything their usual standard and i would be up in arms. I listen to god speed and i still regard the killers as fantastic as they made the first album I ever loved. dont bash the guys taste in music you just sound pretentious.

December 31, 2012 at 10:22 am

Hey Dude, the Godspeed album is horrible – listen to it. Still love their old stuff, but come on, the new album is nothing.

December 14, 2012 at 6:47 am

…and Norah Jones is snubbed again. Just ridiculous

December 14, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Yeah for good reason

Chris Gettel-gilmartin
March 10, 2013 at 2:01 am

I think that Happy Pills is a good song of hers from the latest album, but I haven’t heard anything else besides that. Should I listen to the album or not?


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