Stereogum’s Top 50 Albums Of 2012

By Stereogum / December 5, 2012

This year, the three albums at the top of Stereogum’s 50 favorite albums of the year are all, in one way or another, Californian studio-pop singer-songwriter opuses. Admittedly, the makers of two of the three aren’t originally from California (they’re from New York and New Orleans) and even though the maker of the other one doesn’t really ever sing. But all three, coming from musical virtuosos with richly observant eyes and powerful emotional vocabularies, exist in that uneasy mental place where an endless string of 73-degree days can’t make up for the tense and roiling things happening deep inside your soul.

All three brought their own contexts. For Kendrick Lamar, Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City is endless potential made good — a guy from the rising Black Hippy crew and from the endlessly-spinning internet-rap universe seizing on the idea of being a lost kid in a hostile world, looking for depth wherever he could find it and then interrogating the moments of transcendence he does find. For Frank Ocean, there’s almost too much context (major-label shelvings and Odd Future co-signs and litigious former Eagles and, more than anything, a heartening and brave Tumblr missive about his own same-sex love story), but all those disparate strands of thought somehow melted together into a soul odyssey of frightening depth and empathy. And for Fiona Apple, the woman on top of this list, the context is in the years of bungalow semi-seclusion, of past famous and maybe-genius boyfriends, of a skin so publicly thin that her every onstage hand-flutter looks like an act of courage. On her fourth album, Apple dug deep into her own braaa-ee-aa-ih!-aaain and found a musical vocabulary that mirrored her berserk lyrical synapse-firing. And in an extended music-business apocalypse, all three albums came out on major labels and sold in the six figures in their first weeks. High fives for everything.

Looking deeper at our picks for the year’s best albums, we see no grand narrative, just fascinating strands splayed out in different directions. Old gods like Swans, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Converge brought monolithic dread in wildly different ways, while younger guns like Japandroids, Cloud Nothings, the Men, Baroness, and Screaming Females showed that pummeling fuzz-pound is once again, thankfully, on the upswing in the underground. Ocean personified a gentle and genteel soul-music sophistication that also showed up in the forms of Jessie Ware, Miguel, and How To Dress Well. Intricate and sophisticated indie-pop orchestrations endure in the recent records from Chairlift, Dirty Projectors, Tame Impala, and Grizzly Bear. Rap got a series of shots in the arm from outsize characters like resurgent El-P, tracksuit firebrand, Killer Mike, sad-robot fantasist Future, kid out of time Joey Bada$$, snarling head-tripper ScHoolboy Q, and comic-book food-fetishist Action Bronson.

And then there’s a ton of stuff that’s just on here because it’s great. The Walkmen and Chromatics and Taylor Swift and Nude Beach only have one thing in common: They all made great records this year. Check out Stereogum’s editorial staff’s list of 2012’s 50 best albums below…

STEREOGUM’S TOP 50 ALBUMS OF 2012

Flying Lotus - Until The Quiet Comes50 Flying LotusUntil The Quiet Comes (Warp)

Parquet Courts - Light Up Gold49 Parquet CourtsLight Up Gold (Dull Tools)

The Shins - Port Of Morrow48 The ShinsPort Of Morrow (Columbia/Aural Apothecary)

Rick Ross - Rich Forever47 Rick RossRich Forever (Maybach Music)

Matthew E. White - Big Innere46 Matthew E. WhiteBig Inner (Spacebomb/Hometapes)

The Evens - The Odds45 The EvensThe Odds (Dischord)

Bat For Lashes - The Haunted Man44 Bat For LashesThe Haunted Man (Capitol)

Action Bronson And Party Supplies - Blue Chips43 Action Bronson & Party SuppliesBlue Chips (self-released)

Sharon Van Etten - Tramp42 Sharon Van EttenTramp (Jagjaguwar)

Sun Kil Moon - Among The Leaves41 Sun Kil MoonAmong The Leaves (Caldo Verde)

Converge - All We Love We Leave Behind40 ConvergeAll We Love We Leave Behind (Epitaph)

Jessica Pratt -Jessica Pratt39 Jessica PrattJessica Pratt (Birth Records)

Mount Eerie - Ocean Roar38 Mount EerieOcean Roar (P.W. Elverum And Sun)

Joey Bada$$ - 199937 Joey Bada$$1999 (self-released)

Chris Cohen - Overgrown Path36 Chris CohenOvergrown Path (Captured Tracks)

Swearin' - Swearin'35 Swearin’Swearin’ (Salinas)

Future - Pluto34 FuturePluto (Epic/A1/Free Bandz)

How To Dress Well - Total Loss33 How To Dress WellTotal Loss (Acéphale)

Ty Segall - Twins32 Ty SegallTwins (Drag City)

ScHoolboy Q - Habits & Contradictions31 ScHoolboy QHabits & Contradictions (Top Dawg Entertainment)

Torche - Harmonicraft 30 TorcheHarmonicraft (Volcom)

Purity Ring - Shrines29 Purity RingShrines (4AD/Last Gang)

Cat Power - Sun28 Cat PowerSun (Matador)

Beach House - Bloom27 Beach HouseBloom (Sub Pop)

Grimes - Visions26 GrimesVisions (4AD/Arbutus)

Nude Beach - II25 Nude BeachII (Other Music Recording Company)

Sleigh Bells - Reign Of Terror24 Sleigh BellsReign Of Terror (Mom + Pop)

Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music23 Killer MikeR.A.P. Music (Williams Street)

DIIV - Oshin22 DIIVOshin (Captured Tracks)

Screaming Females - Ugly21 Screaming FemalesUgly (Don Giovanni)

Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light20 SpiritualizedSweet Heart Sweet Light (Fat Possum)

Taylor Swift - Red19 Taylor SwiftRed (Big Machine)

Baroness - Yellow & Green18 BaronessYellow & Green (Relapse)

The Men - Open Your Heart17 The MenOpen Your Heart (Sacred Bones)

Grizzly Bear - Shields16 Grizzly BearShields (Warp)

El-P - Cancer For Cure15 El-PCancer For Cure (Fat Possum)

Chromatics - Kill For Love14 ChromaticsKill For Love (Italians Do It Better)

Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!13 Godspeed You! Black EmperorAllelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (Constellation)

Miguel - Kaleidoscope Dream12 MiguelKaleidoscope Dream (RCA)

Tame Impala - Lonerism11 Tame ImpalaLonerism (Modular)

Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan10 Dirty ProjectorsSwing Lo Magellan (Domino)

Chairlift - Something09 ChairliftSomething (Columbia)

The Walkmen - Heaven08 The WalkmenHeaven (Fat Possum)

Japandroids - Celebration Rock07 JapandroidsCelebration Rock (Polyvinyl)

Cloud Nothings - Attack On Memory06 Cloud NothingsAttack On Memory (Carpark)

Jessie Ware - Devotion05 Jessie WareDevotion (PMR)

Swans - The Seer04 SwansThe Seer (Young God)

Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d. City03 Kendrick Lamargood kid, m.A.A.d. City (TDE/Interscope)

Frank Ocean - Channel Orange02 Frank OceanChannel Orange (Def Jam)

Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel…01 Fiona AppleThe Idler Wheel… (Epic)

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Coming up with the Stereogum list meant leaving out some personal favorites of our staff members:

HONORABLE MENTIONS
SCOTT
01 Wymond MilesUnder The Pale Moon
02 James BlackshawLove Is The Plan, The Plan Is Death
03 Dinosaur Jr.I Bet On Sky
04 Ice ChoirAfar
05 Lotus PlazaSpooky Action At A Distance

AMRIT
01 PO PODope Boy Magick
02 Vijay IyerAccelerando
03 YeasayerFragrant World
04 SantigoldMaster Of My Own Make-Believe
05 Delicate StevePositive Force

TOM
01 Roc MarcianoReloaded
02 TragedyDarker Days Ahead
03 Cult Of YouthLove Will Prevail
04 Jack WhiteBlunderbuss
05 CeremonyZoo

MICHAEL
01 METZMETZ
02 LiarsWIXIW
03 …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of DeadLost Songs
04 Bob MouldSilver Age
05 Scott WalkerBish Bosch

CORBAN
01 Chief KeefBack From The Dead
02 Justin BieberBelieve
03 Nicki MinajPink Friday: Roman Reloaded
04 JeremihLate Nights With Jeremih
05 2 ChainzBased On A T.R.U. Story

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And our favorite EPs…

STEREOGUM’S TOP 5 EPS OF 2012
01 SolangeTrue
02 TNGHTTNGHT
03 Dum Dum GirlsEnd Of Daze
04 AlunaGeorgeYou Know You Like It
05 Sky FerreiraGhost

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Let us know what you think in the comments (as if we have to ask). Check out last year’s list here.