Earlier this month, we revealed our 10 favourite records of 2012 in the form of 10 comment pieces spelling out exactly why those were the ones that stunned and seduced us this year. 10 is a small number, though – it’s fewer than the amount of Lianne La Havas remixes we’ve heard this year, fewer than the amount of guest features on the average new A$AP Rocky song, fewer than the number of people who tried to deny that Usher made the best song of 2012. So, here’s our full list of the 25 albums that soundtracked our year.
- Actress – ‘R.I.P.’ [Honest Jon’s]
What we said about it: “It is worth noting that ‘R.I.P.’ is the one album on our list that eschews any semblance of pop structure (even the ambiguity-loving Dean & Inga dipped their toe in with Track 2 on ‘Black Is Beautiful’). While his contemporaries pondered the pop question, Actress – as ever – kept his head down and eyes fixed on creating his own space. ‘R.I.P.’ is not an album that characterises 2012 but one that responds to it; highlighting our perpetually accelerating times by setting its own pace.” Read Ruth Saxelby’s full review here
- Frank Ocean – ‘channel ORANGE’ [Def Jam]
What we said about it: “‘channel ORANGE’ is littered with open-mouthed “woah” moments, but that unravelling pirouette of “ooh, unrequited love” was the first thing that made me stop in my tracks when I listened through to it for the first time, and even now it makes me close my eyes as if in prayer…To make someone feel this, and simultaneously to make them say “hey, I recognise that PlayStation sound effect / that Dragonball Z character / that snippet of Mary J Blige!” is a resounding achievement. It’s also everything that 2012, musically, was – entrenched in nostalgic reference and yet also intensely (almost uncomfortably) personal, eyebrow-raisingly self-aware and a whole heap of fun.” Read Aimee Cliff’s full review here.
- Jam City – ‘Classical Curves’ [Night Slugs]
What we said about it: “‘Classical Curves’ fills me with a sense of dread, and yet I often found myself returning to it since its release, drawn to it through dual feelings of attraction and revulsion. This dichotomy existed on every track: The Courts might be one of the most inventive club cuts I’ve heard this year, but there’s something about the sneakers-on-a squeaking-floor percussion that sets my hair on end.” Read Selim Bulut’s full review here.
- Grimes – ‘Visions’ [4AD]
What we said about it: “On a technical level [Grimes] doesn’t forego sonic experimentation for song craft, rejecting contemporary pop’s inherent mantra that to go mainstream is to dumb down. And on a conceptual level she channels that aforementioned sensuality into an invigorating portrait of self-possessed female sexuality, turning pop’s well-thumbed, predominantly male fantasy serving, script upside down.” Read Ruth Saxelby’s full review here.
- How To Dress Well – ‘Total Loss’ [Weird World]
What we said about it: “With a forceful sadness that knocks the wind right out of you, the album mirrors Krell’s heart-rending live performance with its minimalist set-up and its maximalist delivery – in the opening bars, a voice floats out of the ether with close-to-the-bone lyrics like “You were there for me when I was in trouble” and “Dear Mama, did you tell me everything was gonna be all right?” This is the tone of ‘Total Loss’: as a listener there’s a constant sense of craning forward and reeling back, both drawn in by the unwavering bravery of the album’s content and the openness of its sonic landscape, and simultaneously feeling the sharp sting of his truthful lyrics.” Read Aimee Cliff’s full review here.
- Laurel Halo – ‘Quarantine’ [Hyperdub]
What we said about it: “What I’ve come to realise through her is that there can be precious little safety and warmth in the personal. Often when you hear someone recall the first time they heard a now-beloved album, they will say that it “spoke” to them. You became enveloped in the private world of the artist, and you were welcome to stay for as long as you wanted to listen. Not with Laurel. Listening to ‘Quarantine’ feels less of an invitation into her world and more of an intrusion born of masochistic curiosity. It forces you to be uncomfortably aware of the loaded implications of the private space within.” Read Lauren Martin’s full review here.
- LV – ‘Sebenza’ [Hyperdub]
What we said about it: “[‘Sebenza’] epitomises that sense of radical change and state of transition that characterises the opening of South Africa’s (and the world at large’s) digital gateway through mobile technology. It’s a distorted, mangled representation of global culture, as Okmalumkoolkat quotes Shaggy and Ricky Martin respectively in Spitting Cobra (“Mista Lova Lova, livin’ la vida loca”) over a decade since those songs were released across the pond.” Read Steph Kretowicz’s full review here.
- Future – ‘Pluto’ [Epic]
What we said about it: “More than anything else, the album is a terrific listen: full of highlights like R Kelly gracing the opening verse of the first song fresh from career-threatening vocal surgery, or the way in which all the destructive, doomed relationships on the album build to Turn On The Lights – a crowning ballad for a Platonic ideal of a female. It’s exactly this kind of rapturous, unsystematic appeal that, when tied with distinct and innovative sonics, makes ‘Pluto’ a real winner this year.” Read Anthony Walker’s full review here.
- Kindness – ‘World, You Need a Change of Mind’ [Polydor]
What we said about it: “The great thing about Kindness is that he’s clever. He’s so clever that our own Ruth Saxelby declared that he should have a PhD in pop music. He’s so clever that on ‘World, You Need A Change Of Mind’ he seemed to distil the entire history of recorded music into 10 simple tracks. He’s so clever that he understands that “letting the music do the talking” is a lie; that the reason a great pop artist can take you to another dimension is the personality and the image behind it all. He knows that in order to make a brilliant album, you have to make sure that everything that surrounds it is brilliant, too.” Read Selim Bulut’s full review here.
- Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland – ‘Black is Beautiful’ [Hyperdub]
What we said about it: “To use a facetious but apt comparison, ‘Black is Beautiful’ has a lot in common with the salient art form of our time, the animated GIF. Both are proudly low-tech, sometimes ugly, often humorous and, crucially, capable of carrying multiple meanings. Just as bloggers repost GIFs with new captions to repurpose a joke, Blunt and Copeland ensure their abstract atmospheres and collaged samples remain open and undefined.” Read Chal Ravens’ full review here.
- Cooly G – ‘Playin’ Me’ [Hyperdub]
The UK funky star stepped up to reveal her soulful side this year with her quietly extraordinary blues ‘n’ bass debut that grows in stature with every play.
- DVA – ‘Pretty Ugly’ [Hyperdub]
Few releases oozed the personality of their maker as much as this Hyperdub debut, which steadfastly refused to play to type with wayward and refreshing reappraisals of the UK dancefloor.
- Kendrick Lamar – ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ [Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope Records]
The kid from Compton came of age with this bold and multifaceted rap narrative that embraced musique concrete to bring his world to life.
- Jessie Ware – ‘Devotion’ [PMR]
A ballsy blend of soul, pop, the odd touch of post-dubstep production and, of course, that enchanting voice saw the South London singer become a consummate star in 2012.
- Lukid – ‘Lonely at the Top’ [Werkdiscs]
Emotionally charged and endlessly shape shifting, the London producer’s fourth album painted new beguiling shapes from the echoes of house, techno and hip hop.
- THEESatisfaction – ‘awE naturalE’ [Sub Pop]
Numerology, contorted soul and Afro-futurism abound on one of the year’s most confidently concise debuts from the Seattle hip hop duo.
- Julia Holter – ‘Ekstasis’ [RVNG Intl]
The LA artist’s follow-up to last year’s exploratory ‘Tragedy’ was a treasure trove of fairy-tale ambience and transcendent, timeless melody.
- d’Eon – ‘LP’ [Hippos In Tanks]
Intricate melodies and ecstatic instrumentation provided the framework to explore ideas of paranoia in the internet age on the Canadian experimental producer’s most pop release to date.
- Holy Other – ‘Held’ [Tri Angle]
Having established himself as one of the UK’s most visceral electronic live acts, the Tri Angle producer transposed his melancholic palette to album form to engulfing effect.
- The xx – ‘Coexist’ [Young Turks]
Three years on from their era-defining debut, the all-black clad trio showcased gentle evolution and melodic maturity on their sunrise-summoning second album.
- Holly Herndon – ‘Movement’ [RVNG Intl]
Punctuated by the artist’s sharp breathing patterns, this eerily compelling debut from the computer composer took a granular approach to techno production to make something alien from the familiar.
- Blondes – ‘Blondes’ [RVNG Intl]
One of 2012’s first releases, the transcendental power of the Brooklyn duo’s deep house mining, duality highlighting debut still floors as the year rolls to a close.
- John Talabot – ‘Fin’ [Permanent Vacation]
Searching, immersive and emotionally ambiguous house on this striking debut from the only Spaniard on our list.
- Egyptian Hip Hop – ‘GOOD DONT SLEEP’ [R&S]
The search for new levels of harmonic high led the ever-experimental Manchester band to this deeply introverted debut that explores polyrhythmic possibilities with tenderness.
- Lone – Galaxy Garden [R&S]
A sherbet dip of an album: the Manchester-based producer left a sugary taste in the mouth with this heady rush of neo-rave fireworks.