Once again, the time has arrived for that most sacred if clichéd of rock-critic tasks: the annual Year-End Best-of Albums list.
As I note each year on this occasion, the following is my tally not of the most “important” or “successful” releases of 2012, however you define those terms. Instead, I present my tally of the albums I listened to and loved most, which kept me coming back time after time and which grew on me more with each repeated spin, and which I am most eager to hear again right now and to share with you.
Let’s start with the Top 10. (The links are to my reviews of these discs in this space or on Sound Opinions.)
Timeless psychedelic-pop from Kevin Parker and his Australian bandmates, accomplishing the time-honored goal of transporting the listener to alien worlds—sometimes beguiling, sometimes inscrutable but always wildly imaginative—all without skimping on melody or losing the essential drive of the best rock ’n’ roll.
Chicago’s sweetheart gives us the album friends and fans long have been anticipating, a genres-spanning masterpiece that finds her interpreting killer tunes penned especially for her by admirers ranging from Stephin Merritt to Andrew Bird to Robyn Hitchcock, with her powerhouse vocals front and center throughout. (Click here for Hogan’s appearance on Sound Opinions.)
On his first album, this 24-year-old New Orleans native offers a vision for remaking R&B that’s arguably as powerful as those from greats such as D’Angelo, Prince, Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye. Heartfelt, sensual, sexy but devoid of sexism, these tracks are lush and inviting but never less than unflinchingly raw and honest.
Tame Impala’s otherworldly auteur Parker also had a hand in this disc, but it succeeds first and foremost because of the beguiling presence of French singer and songwriter Meody Prochet and her utterly enchanting mix of seductive pop and hypnotic ambience, which conjures the best space-age bachelor pad music at one moment and the most aggressive noise assaults of My Bloody Valentine the next.
“Life is a problem,” space-rock pioneer Jason Pierce sings on the seventh album from his long-running post-Spacemen 3 project, but after years of personal and professional turmoil, he’s arrived at a state of grace—and given us the third classic in the Spiritualized catalog, the conclusion of a trilogy that started with the 1992 debut Lazer Guided Melodies and continued with 1997’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space.
Veteran hip-hop groundbreaker Jamie Meline gives us his third solo album, revisiting the wasted urban landscape familiar from his earlier work, yet with musical and lyrical invention that marks this disc as a brilliant example of what a genre too often confined by rigid expectations could and should be. (Click here for El-P’s appearance on Sound Opinions.)
A retro throwback to ’80s indie-rock? Ha! I hear a timeless mix of killer pop melodies and chaotic guitar noise, an utterly fresh and very relevant gift from Cleveland’s Dylan Baldi, former lo-fi bedroom auteur turned inspired bandleader.
8. Aimee Mann, Charmer (SuperEgo Records)
Easily taken for granted though consistently excellent, the singer-songwriter has given us her most tuneful, brilliant and wickedly sarcastic collection of memorable songs since he contributions to the soundtrack of Magnolia. (Listen for Mann’s appearance on Sound Opinions in the coming weeks.)
Couple a great ear for big, melodic choruses, gripping backing tracks and propulsive beats with an ever-sharpening political consciousness leavened by a healthy sense of humor, and you have an only slightly flawed masterpiece from a Chicago treasure.
British singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Natasha Khan gives us another gorgeous but unsettling dreamscape that indelibly worms its way into your subconscious, even if it frightens you at times.
And now, the next 30…