Per annual reflection, here we are with another year of groundbreaking sentiments. From Frank Ocean‘s landmark R&B-hued coming-out-of-the-hip-hop closet, to another genius literate metal thrashing from Converge, 2012’s pens were just as mighty as their amplified tuneage counterparts. We chose a solid 10, arranged in alphabetic order, because of our love for words and all, rather than numbers:
On this album, Natasha Khan – aka Bat for Lashes – does what all musicians aim to do: put a wide range of influences (some unintentional) in a blender. Some of the ingredients, as far as we can tell: Patti Smith’s and Bjork’s voices, St. Vincent’s bassy feel, and Radiohead’s experimental instrumentation. The result echoes all of these, but doesn’t bite too much off anyone. The theme of uniquely-flawed relationships, romantic and otherwise, gets spelled out in conversational eloquence. That’s then backed by an orchestral piano ballad on “Laura”, one of the many vibes here, including indie-dance (“Winter Fields”) and heavy synth grooves (“Lilies”). khan’s perfectionism, exemplified by the paralyzing writer’s block she suffered pre-Haunted Man, and cured with advice from Thom Yorke, shines through across the board: [LISTEN] – Karl Fagerstrom
You say that they’ve all left you behind
Your heart broke when the party died
Drape your arms around me and softly say
Can we dance upon the tables again?
Converge consistently expand the limits of steel-wool-in-your-eyes hardcore punk, but have also confirmed they can out-emote your typical, bearded singer-songwriter. They cover the usual sense of loss (“All We Love We Leave Behind”), but also fierce indictment (“Aimless Arrow”) and the weighty world of abuse (“Tender Abuse”). The title track is this album’s “Jane Doe,” only more concise and energetic – a teary eulogy for vocalist Jacob Bannon’s recently departed loved ones, as well as acknowledgement of his relationships sacrificed for Converge’s art. Not satisfied with brutality for brutality’s sake, Converge forcibly prove that which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. It doesn’t take a ‘hardcore kid’ or ‘metal-head’ to appreciate that: [LISTEN] – K.F.
I’m so sorry that I missed your lives
While I was on the road, learning to survive
You deserved so much more than I could ever provide
Thank you for loving me and bringing light to my eyes
All we love we leave behind
It isn’t everyday that an album comes along that name checks Chris Martin, Ke$ha, Bon Iver, Yoko Ono and Nick Cave on the one track listing. But then again, The Flaming Lips are far from everyday. Monster props to the Oklahoma kooks for persuading such a respected array of artists to get their goofball on for what surely is the finest clusterfuck of the year. Maybe ever? So take my advice and give in to this cosmic adventure, gliding atop groovy anthems about oversexed aliens and NASA employees and swoops low between ballads about robot dogs and David Bowie dying] – since you will never experience another trip quite like it: [LISTEN] – Jess Grant
We’re only gonna get some cosmic love and we all can jump inside
Riding our horses, holding a balloon
We know that it’s the future, so let’s go for the moon
2012 saw an influx of underground lyricists, a new school movement that created a tectonic shift in hip-hop’s landscape. But for Doom it was just another year. His m.o. was to lay low, stay sharp, and let the hype beasts maul each other while he plotted his scheme for world domination. Key to the Kuffs finds him teaming back up with Jneiro Jarel, and together they craft a proper sounding board for Doom to unleash his fury. Everything is in place; his blunted narratives, colorful punchlines, and of course, his fuck-all sense of humor. Doom has tipped the scales yet again, changing the physics of hip-hop: [LISTEN] – Jeff Min
Defeats the purpose
Greedily slurp up the surplus
And Burnt puss
So nervous you can hear the shirt must, gush
Hush hush, trust
Three weeks was all it took. Three weeks of intensive writing for Frank Ocean to lay down the foundation for Channel Orange, a certified classic worthy of six Grammy nods. It’s a staggering thought to have considering the whirlwind surrounding the album, specifically Frank’s open letter to the world. But it goes beyond that. Frank knew he had to come up with a masterpiece, to trump all the candy-coated hype, and he succeeded in every aspect, looking to his own experiences as a guide. Channel Orange covers a wide spectrum of emotions, some of which he had to figure out as he went along, and it’s a project that has changed the entire landscape of R&B, a measuring stick for years to come: [LISTEN] – J.M.
You’re my shrink for the hour
Leave the meter running
It’s rush hour
So take the streets if you wanna
Just outrun the demons, could you
A deceptively sinister blend of post-R&B, synth-pop and witch house, Canadian duo Purity Ring more than lived up to the blogosphere hype with their brutally visceral debut album, Shrines. Backed by Corin Roddick’s mad scientist production, Megan James’ enchanting girlish tones delivered a series of increasingly twisted fairytales that bordered on the grotesque with references to ‘cutting rib cages open‘ and ‘drilling holes into eyelids.’ The invented compound words given to each of its eleven tracks (“Lofticries,” “Belispeak,” “Obedear”) also helped to draw you even further into an unsettling fantasy world obsessed with the human body and its spiritual form. And whilst largely indistinguishable on first listen, Shrines’ charms slowly unfolded to reveal the most hypnotic, creepy and strangely sensual record of the year: [LISTEN] – Jon O’Brien
The creepers blood is seeping
From this undead wooden headboard
Punish my forehead red in evenings
Drift down over my jowls
Hither writhe and sprout their heavy feathers
Lift my drooping head
Their first release since the departure of Alejandra Deheza’s twin sister, New York outfit School of Seven Bells’ strikingly beautiful third album suggested three may have been a crowd. A huge leap forward from 2010’s Disconnect From Desire, the duo executed the album’s concept, a tale of a young girl named Lafaye and the ghosts surrounding her, perfectly with an eerily atmospheric and reverb-laden wall of sound befitting of a Victorian horror. Fusing shimmering shoegaze, lush dream-pop and gothic electronica with forlorn themes of regret, loss and despair, its haunting qualities were at their most effective when Deheza’s other-worldly multi-tracked vocals appeared to offer insight into her sibling’s exit, namely the stunning Cocteau Twins-esque opener, “The Night.” A truly captivating and immersive experience from beginning to end: [LISTEN] – J.O.
Is this the way you thought it would be?
Do you feel the same without me, darling?
You have my arms, you have my legs
We are one contented skin, we are in continued pain
Oh, our meeting lit a fuse in my heart
Devoured me, devoured me
With his voice of John Lennon and face of Steve Marriott, it is as if Tame Impala front man Kevin Parker was destined for his role as commander-in-chief to the Revivalist Movement. Not through choice, of course. Which may explain why, quite unlike Innerspeaker‘s precarious pastiche leanings, Lonerism – whose ISFP lyrical content is, yup, pretty much summed up right there – breaks free of any 1960s headlock. No doubt, lazy writers will try and tell you otherwise, but believe me – Lonerism is absolutely not an album pumped full of lifeless psych satire, but inspiring, innovative and illuminating rock music, made for the here and glorious now: [LISTEN] – J.G.
I guess I’ll go home, try to be sane, try to pretend, none of it happened
Destined to be, lonely old me, whoops a daisy, I thought I was happy
How to follow up a landmark Springsteen-dipped oi-it with 14-minute twenty-something cathartics framed around the Civil War? It’s apparent New Jersey scrap-poet Patrick Stickles probably won’t ever run out of sentiments to scream to. Though TA ditch the pretenses here, shooting for the same shambolic sweet spot they hit with their …Airing of Grievances debut, when they could give two shits how people analyzed the dents they made from heel-kicking their garage doors. Eating disorders, big city woes, smoking habits, Stickles could write a thousand words about a glass of milk. And you’ll get a sense of him and his generation after it. And though he uses only two on a waste of a track called “Food Fight!” he’s cemented himself as the Bukowski of punk from the very first verse of the record: [LISTEN] – Gavin Paul
Okay I think by now we’ve established
Everything is inherently worthless
There’s nothing in the universe
With any kind of objective purpose
A breed of comedic word nerd that was whiteface posturing political improv tunes in his teens, lyricist Josh Armoudse is a kind of David Byrne in training, taking hilarious, yet poignant stabs at the ever evolving American Dream. Rounded out with a rich bed of textures from multi-instrumentalist Raki Sastri – accordion, woodblock, knuckle cymbal punches – the Boston-area two have churned out a folkish clattering that would sound a lot like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah with just two members, Armoudse taking guitar-leading shots at suicide and “three-car garage and swimming pool” ‘delusions‘ with the same intensity as a Marty McFly time-traveling joke. Or rather, they have a song called “Fat and Happy.” And this is merely record the first: [LISTEN] – G.P.
Now the fishes on the TV fly, in circles all the same
Like little children terrified, by what they can’t explain
But when the suburb and the sky, are both awash in flame
Oh the television won’t survive, and it always ends the same