Stereogum's Top 50 Albums Of 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)

//

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

//

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

//

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

 
Comments (430)
  1. nice list, the list of best EP is similar to my list, well is the same list, great! i don’t know why so many magazines are including the shitty Taylor Swift!!!

  2. Thank you for finally giving some love to Cloud Nothings and Mount Eerie!

  3. #11-6 are just a beautiful combo.

  4. I don’t know if I understand why Taylor Swift is so polarizing. I feel like a few years ago she was really hated by indie leaning music fans. Now she is being lauded by members of that same community which is of course causing tons of backlash. I haven’t heard her new album, I’m sure it’s catchy, but for the most part I find her to be kind of dull.

    She HAS gotten super hot recently, I never found her all that attractive until the last few months.

    • “She HAS gotten super hot recently, I never found her all that attractive until the last few months.”

      I think on this point, we can all rally together behind the common goal of celebrating this girl’s hotness. Stereogum – where allegiances of goodness are formed on a daily basis.

      • crabtron  |   Posted on Dec 5th, 2012 +2

        Yeah, I’m quite taken by her switch from curly to straight hair, and by the color red as symbolic of a more mature feminine sexuality (as opposed to pink, I guess?).

        Approaching musical quality as inherently linked to hairstyles (it isn’t, but…), could it not be suggested that Radiohead’s slight drop-off in quality is somehow linked to Thom Yorke’s lacklustre long hair? PROVE ME WRONG (shouldn’t be too hard, actually). Let’s see, where’s the “Submit Comment” button? Ah, here it is…

      • I still get gas.

  5. Seriously, Wild Nothing . . . Nocturne. Just give it a try, have it on in the background.

  6. For some reason, I’ve been holding out on checking out Screaming Females; this list finally pushed me into it. Wow, what a freaking great rock band.

    Other things I like here: Matthew E. White, Jessica Pratt, Converge, Dirty Projectors, Fiona at the top, and Amrit’s HM for Vijay Iyer.

    Shedding a tear for Deerhoof, though. Why hasn’t the world’s best rock band gotten any love for their last two albums?

    • Yeah, Deerhoof went from being one of the most beloved, challenging, unconventional bands in indie rock to being an afterthought overnight. It’s not like they put out a shit album or anything either.

  7. Great list you guys, congratulations.

  8. hot damn you rule Stereogum

  9. Title Fight – Floral Green

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  11. C’mon man what about ‘Twin Shadow – Confess’
    Not even an honorable mention
    SRSLY !?

  12. Great list ‘Gum.

  13. Defending Taylor Swift is like defending Tim Tebow. They both have too many fans and too much recognition to need any individual’s profound analysis or praise. Still, I consider praising Taylor Swift like celebrating Tim Tebow for throwing a touchdown pass. Perhaps our expectations of them were too low to begin with and we’re compensating with shock and surprise. Taylor Swift is a fine writer and performer. She’s always been those things. But we don’t need to dedicate SportsCenter or the Grammys to either one.

    • eat shit

      #teamsweazy

    • Wait until Tim Tebow’s high concept trip-hop album about the gradual, but undeniable decline of Glee drops in 2013.

    • That analogy doesn’t hold up considering Tebow actually sucks at what he does.

      • lol you’re making my point. “Tebow sucks” is a nonsense statement. But because people say it so much, it causes Tebow disciples have a freakout when he does anything good. If rational people simply said, “Tebow is average. His problem isn’t that he can’t ever win, it’s just that he can’t win enough”, he could be a backup in peace. In the same way, Taylor Swift does not suck. But when enough people say she does, the backlash causes some to believe she made the 19th best album in 2012. Which is equally farfetched.

  14. Maybe I’m just being pedantic, but why oh why do media outlets put out “best of the year” lists AT THE BEGINNING OF DECEMBER???

    • More time for consumption. By the time we get to the end of December, I’ll be gearing up for 2013 releases.

      • I usually don’t have a very good idea about where I rank the year’s albums until March of the following year at earliest.

    • It’s because magazines release their lists in late November/early December to get people to buy their end of the year issues. Once they get the ball rolling, online outlets follow suit. When you think about it, it’s one of the few remaining cases where the necessities of print journalism dictate how online outlets work.

    • It’s because magazines release their lists in late November/early December to get people to buy their end of the year issues. Once they get the ball rolling, online outlets follow suit. When you think about it, it’s one of the few remaining cases where the necessities of print journalism dictate how online outlets work.

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  16. Missing:

    -Shugo Tokumaru’s In Focus?
    -mewithoutyou’s Ten Stories
    -Passion Pit’s Gossamer
    -Titus Andronicus’ Local Business

  17. That is a weird list. Was the Taylor Swift inclusion serious?

  18. I guess Perfume Genius won’t be on many lists this year. That’s a shame.

  19. Oh god I miss Corban already.

  20. every years these lists make me remember how much i hate people

  21. did anyone else give The Luya’s Animator a listen? I’m digging it but have not seen it get any year-end-list love, anywhere :(

  22. The only problem i have with these lists this year is that Taylor Swift, fun., and Minaj are consistently showing up, but with no justification behind it. Stereogum, how does T Swift make the cut and not, say, Metric? Nobody has an answer to these ridiculous picks!

  23. GottaBeAboveItGottaBeAboveItGottaBeAboveItGottaBeAboveItGottaBeAboveItGottaBeAboveIt…..

  24. Just came by to say Burial – “Kindred” (I thought we went over this in June)

    Otherwise really like how the list evolved from the 2012 So Far list. Not only is Death Grips no longer higher ranked than Chromatics, they’re nowhere to be found on this list. I approve.

    But yeah. Happy to see the Top 5 EPs list. TNGHT at #2 is pro, but no Burial is like, what?

  25. The thing I like about stereogum is that their coverage is comprehensive not just to the indie sphere but to all music. Allowing for equal discourse on something as polarizing as the Taylor Swift album within the same page as people praising their choice of Fiona Apple as #1. Everything is Equal. Love you guys.

    Here’s my favs of the year (if anyone cares).

    1 Chromatics – Kill For Love w/(Running from the Sun, Symmetry)
    2 How To Dress Well – Total Loss
    3 Jessica Pratt – S/T
    4 Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid/Maad City
    5 Mount Eerie – Clear Moon w/(Ocean Roar)
    6 CFCF – Exercises
    7 Burial – Kindred
    8 Miguel – Kaleidoscope Dream
    9 Hype Williams – Black is Beautiful w/(The Narcissist II, London 2012)
    10 Grizzly Bear – Shields
    11 Jessie Ware – Devotion
    12 LOL Boys – Changes
    13 Grimes – Visions
    14 Jeremih – Late Nights
    15 Laurel Halo – Quarantine

  26. No love for Frankie Rose from anyone???

  27. i think this is the first year where the general consensus picks don’t overlap at all with what I loved. Aside from merely liking the new DP album, can’t say I loved or liked a single album on this top 10.

  28. +Buke & Gass in the EP category

  29. Did anyone else like Mac Demarco -”2″? The only mention of it I saw on this site was when it was referred to as “annoying” in the blurb about all the albums released for the Album of the Week post. It would probably be top 15-20 for me.

    • I liked Rock and Roll Nightclub a lot more but “2″ was pretty solid too. His music is kinda annoying though in that endearing stoner trickster way, like the guy who hangs out in front of skateboard shops trying to land a trick but never being able to despite his affirmations that he totally can!

      • Mac is my newcomer Artist of 2012. And I liked “2″ much more than “RnR Night Club” because it sounded more Hi-Fi, decent, charming and witty than his stoner-indie-rock “debut”. Every time I listen to “2″ I try not think of his “annoying” slacker/Hipster appearance in his photos on last.fm…and I succeed!

    • Best guitar pop album this year. So many hooks.

  30. out of respect to this, my long-time favorite music blog, i clicked PLAY on Taylor Swift for the first time. i almost made it through the first line of her lyrics. lots of good shit on here, but… wow was that ever terrible.

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  32. I dig it. only issue: there’s no way to find 5 EPs better than Burial’s Kindred. though I guess it was almost album-sized anyway.

  33. “Ocean personified a gentle and genteel soul-music sophistication”

    Wait, Ocean’s a genteel? Class war!

  34. super happy to see Parquet Courts on here, prolly the best of the year IMO; and Nude Beach, top ten for me

    .. but get the fuck out of here Taylor Swift

  35. Man, I want to love the Chromatics album more than I do. It’s got some really strong tracks on it and I love the vibe. But there are just too many weak, drawn-out moments for it to be top-tier for me.

    • I had it as my # 2 fav album of the year above, but I def zone out a little during those middle 4-5 tracks. Perfect albums don’t come along too often, for me there was just so much to love.

      • Not to mention key tracks “Candy” and “Birds of Paradise” begin in a way that instantly pulls you out of the lulls caused by the softer more drawn out tracks. Like the album purposefully sends you out only to pull you back in instantly.

        And I know eldave gave me a hard time about this earlier this year, but I still think the only true way to appreciate “Kill For Love” is to take it for a Night Drive. Your car window is the movie projection screen. “The River” is a road.

        • Both great points. I’ll try (1) a night drive, and (2) appreciating the sensation of being “pulled out of the lulls.”

          I do have to say, “Lady” is one of the best songs of the year. Or ever.

          • Big hell yes to “Lady” — without a doubt my favorite track on the album.

            But the first 10 seconds of “Candy” & “Birds of Paradise” are legendary.

          • Lady is so dope, not sure if that will get much recognition as one of the best songs of the year since I don’t think it was a single, but it would easily be in my top five.

            I wish I remember what song they were playing when I fainted over the summer, I guess I was too busy trying not to die.

  36. Have yet to see any love for Daniel Rossen’s solo EP on any publication’s list–wtf? It’s far superior to Grizzly Bear’s latest. He is the voice of this generation, imo.

    Also shocked at how low/little love BLOOM is receiving. It’s the tits!

  37. 11-6 are my top 6 of the year I think, though not in that order. So that’s nice. But an off-year for indiewhatever music as a whole, I think.

    I like these lists primarily because I like to see what I HAVEN’T heard and might like, so ‘Gum’s is automatically the best because of the linked songs. Can’t wait to go through the list. Thanks, Gummos.

  38. Once again no Perfume Genius? And no Trust? I thought it would’ve been the sleeper hit because they loved Austra so much last year!

    And what’s up with all this Taylor Swift brown nosing!

    Besides that the list is looking pretty goddamn healthy, nice job SG!

    • Seriously! Trust’s album is great, I was hoping they would get a little year end love from Sgum since I’m not sure who else would give it to them (well, maybe Pitchfork?).
      Also, looking at the lists that have been coming out I’m apparently the only one who just flat out doesn’t like Cat Power’s new one…

      • I know! It’s like a giant compilation of lost 90′s goth-dance hits. Gorilla VS Bear also left them out, hopefully Pitchfork, though highly not likely. They gave it a lukewarm 7.4.

        Not a big fan of Cat Power’s Sun either, I like a couple tracks off it but for some reason I don’t think her voice works too well with really cheap sound drum machines and synths.

        By the way, I believe your icon picture is Goldfrapp circa Black Cherry, another greatly underrated band. Seems like we think alive blackdove24.

        • Yes! Goldfrapp is amazing, and I was obsessed with Black Cherry and everything about that era for the longest time. After this I did see one of your comments on another post and thought it was spot on too, so it looks like we do think alike. : )

          And yeah, “Ruins” is great and there were one or two other ones on Sun that I should listen to more, but for the most part I’m having a hard time getting past the sound of the album… it just reminds me of something from the late 90s where artists would throw some electronic shit in just for the hell of it. That did actually make for some good music back then and some of it still holds up really, really well, but here, coupled with the “uplifting” elements of the music, it just sounds dated and cheesy to me.
          Anyways, I’m glad that Chan Marshall is in a better place now and i wish her the best, I’m just surprised that Fiona Apple is missing from like half of these lists and yet (if I remember correctly) Sun is on every single one.

        • Yes! Yes it is. Goldfrapp is amazing, and I was obsessed with Black Cherry and just everything from that era for the longest time. I also saw one of your comments on another post yesterday that I agreed with too, so it looks like we do think alike! : )

          Hmm, I thought Pitchfork gave Trst a higher score, but maybe they just gave it a higher score than I was expecting them to give it. I don’t go to that site all that often, so how their rating system *actually* works is still slightly mysterious to me…

          And yeah, I really like “Ruins” and there are one or two other songs on there that I should listen to more, but overall I just don’t like the sound of the album… it reminds me of a late 90s album where everyone was throwing in electronic shit with more old fashioned instrumentation. And I hate to be all “it’s not cool because it’s not trendy,” some of that stuff was amazing and holds up really well, but on Sun it just sounds dated and cheesy to me. Maybe because it has such an “uplifting” feel to it?
          (I don’t begrudge Chan Marshall her happiness and I’m glad she’s not quite the wreck she used to be, all I’m saying is that it surprises me that Fiona Apple’s album has been on like half of these lists, but Cat Power’s has been on every one I think.)

          • Oh man me too! I couldn’t stop watching Alison give these hilariously bitter interviews of Black Cherry. Not to mention the killer deep cuts on that record: Deep Honey, Tiptoe, Slippage. Felt Mountain is one of the best records I’ve ever heard too. I hope they work on something I can obsess over again. Head First was disappointing.

            I mean a 7.4 is quite a good score for a debut, and they did say some quite positive things about it but it’s not enough to make their top 50. I’m hoping for an honorable mention though.

            Same here, it sounds incredibly dated. Not to mention that terrible eagle sound effect on Cherokee. I do like that Chan is experimenting though. To me it reminds a lot of Kate Bush’s record The Red Shoes, when all the drums went digital and edgy for the time but it really hid what could’ve been outstanding songs and melodies.

            Completely agree on the Fiona aspect. To me The Idler Wheel… feels so much more timeless and compelling than Sun. At least it got some love here!

  39. Once again no Perfume Genius? And no Trust? I thought it would’ve been the sleeper hit because they loved Austra so much last year!

    And what’s up with all this Taylor Swift brown nosing!

    Besides that the list is looking pretty goddamn healthy, nice job SG!

  40. Nice to see Chris Cohen getting some luv.

  41. Stereogum, you guys should be proud. This is a solid list, definitely my personal fav.
    fiona

  42. Anais Mitchell – Young Man in America, fantastic album that has been deeply under-appreciated this year

  43. I wonder if Fun.’s ever been hanging out at a bar and “Cecelia” comes on the radio and someone says, ‘hey, your song’s on the radio!’ and then they have to explain that it’s not them, it’s Simon & Garfunkel. That must be awkward for everyone.

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  45. So Taylor Swift made an album better than Converge and Chromatics? Yeah, sure she did.

  46. Well done, Stereogum! Awesome list. I’m also a little bit surprised that Death Grips didn’t make the cut, but hey – maybe you guys didn’t like it that much.

    Taylor Swift is annoying, but she totally delivered with her latest album. It might not cater to your specific tastes, but her target audience completely loved it.

  47. ridiculous placement for taylor swift.

  48. in addition to the california-based top 3 of fiona, frank and kendrick, we could add flying lotus, japandroids, ty segall, cat power (recorded in at least), white lung, and schoolboy q to say this really was the west coast’s year…

  49. stereogum’s list is SOLID. my personal top ten for 2012:

    1. The Swans- The Seer
    2. Godspeed! You Black Emperor! ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
    3. Black Bananas- Rad Times Express IV
    4. Kendrick Lamar- good kid, m.A.A.D. city
    5. Frank Ocean- channel ORANGE
    6. Crystal Castles- III
    7. Death Grips- The Money Store/NoLoveDeepWeb
    8. Thee Oh Sees- Putrifiers II
    9. Liars-WIXIW
    10. Mazzy Star- Common Burn/ Lay Me Down (not an album but hopefully soon will be)

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