And the Album of the Year is…

not Wrecking Ball. So what is it? My curiosity isn’t merely idle either — I’m headed home in a week and need some company on incredibly long drives across a lot of Texas nothing.

(Comments with links to videos or performances are encouraged.)

97 comments on this post.
  1. Njorl:

    Are there still albums?

  2. Seth:

    My favorites were In Our Heads by Hot Chip, Celebration Rock by Japandroids, Channel Orange by Frank Ocean, and that Fiona Apple record.

  3. Seitz:

    In no particular order:

    Tame ImpalaLonerism
    Melody’s Echo ChamberSelf titled
    Dirty ProjectorsSwing Lo Magellan
    The WalkmenHeaven
    SpiritualizedSweet Heart Sweet Light

  4. Djur:

    Defining the music year as December ’11 through November ’12, I think the best album I’ve heard this year was The Roots’ Undun. Close runner up (and #1 if December ’11 is omitted) is Mission of Burma’s Unsound.

    Haven’t listened to a ton of new releases this year, though. Been listening to lots of Roxy Music and Brian Eno and Sonic Youth.

  5. Seitz:

    Japandroids is great. Here’s my list without links in no particular order (the one with links is awaiting moderation):

    Tame Impala – Lonerism
    Melody’s Echo Chamber – Self titled
    Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
    The Walkmen – Heaven
    Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light

  6. Colin:

    I know this is going to come off as painfully hipster (though I’m not one), but [in no particular order]…

    The Seer by Swans, Fiona Apple’s Idler Wheel, Andrew Bird’s Break it Yourself, Sharon Van Etten’s Tramp, and Lotus Plaza’s Spooky Action at a Distance.

  7. Richard:

    Here’s my top ten

    1. JD McPherson -Signs and Signifiers. Post modern retro rocks and roll. Rocks like nobody’s business

    2. Bruce – Wrecking Ball.

    3. Mark Knopfler – Privateer. At his most rootsy with incredible harp by Kim Wilson

    4. Kin – Rodney Crowell/Mary Karr. Collaboration between Crowell and memoirist Karr with vocals by Crowell, Lee Ann Rimes, Norah Jones, Kristofferson, Emmylou, Vince Gill, Lucinda Williams. Best lyrics of the year.

    5. Jon Cleary – Occapella. British born but New Orleans based pianist and singer does great versions of Allan Toussaint songs.

    6. Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas

    7. Graham Parker and the Rumour – Three Chords Good. He’s back and as good as ever.

    8. Bob Dylan – Tempest

    9. Dwight Yoakam – Three Pears. More rock than traditional country. Great comeback record.

    10. Treme – Music from the HBO Series, Volume 2. Great collection of music from the underrated series. Just a sampling of the incredible music found in New Orleans today.

  8. Cols714:

    Cloud Nothings, Attach on Memory
    Beach House, Bloom
    Grizzly Bear, Shields
    Spiritualized, Sweet Heart Sweet Light
    The XX, Coexist

  9. Cols714:

    I’ve been trying to get into the Tame Impala recorde because I really liked their first one, but it just isn’t sticking.

  10. Colin:

    A year spent listening to Sonic Youth is a year well spent.

  11. psh:

    How about Whokill by Tuneyards? That may technically have released in 2011, but Merrill Garbus is fearless and magnetizing. I was also just turned on to Innerspeaker by Tame Impala.

  12. Erik Loomis:

    Whatever hipster.

  13. psh:

    Oops. I meant Lonerism by Tame Impala. Innerspeaker is their first record.

  14. Djur:

    Been planning to get into that Swans album, but it’s pretty intimidating.

  15. Colin:

    It’s true. I’d like to respond, but I need to go trim my thin beard and readjust my assymetrical hair.

  16. Seitz:

    I think it works better as a whole album. I loved the first album, but I think Kevin Parker just took it to a whole new level on this one. Took me five or six listens to really love it. Going Backwards, Keep on Lying, and Elephant all back to back is really the sweet spot.

    He also produced that Melody’s Echo Chamber album, which is very Stereolabby.

  17. Seitz:

    I didn’t really do a ranking of my favorites this year so much as I just broke them into Tiers, but that Lotus Plaza album is just barely outside of the top tier. It’s a really great album.

  18. rea:

    The obvious choice . . .

  19. Colin:

    I second Keep on Lying’s greatness (and the album as a whole is excellent).

  20. justin:

    In more ways than one. Worth the investment though.

  21. CZHA:

    Add David Byrne and St. Vincent’s Love This Giant and Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s Psychedelic Pill.

    There are lots of good sounds in the suggestions in the comments above.

    Have a great trip!

  22. Lev @ LibraryGrape.com:

    The Leonard Cohen album is great. Guy just keeps getting funnier, more accessible and more profound the older he gets. Also, still a great live act.

  23. Uncle Ebeneezer:

    +1 for Andrew Bird. Though I haven’t listened to the new album as much as I’d like, all of his stuff is pretty great. Especially for long drives with great (or no) scenery.

    Not sure if they are from this year, but Alabama Shakes and Band of Skulls both had albums that I played the shit out of.

  24. Uncle Ebeneezer:

    Oh yeah and Brad Mehldau’s Ode (original tunes) and Where Do I Start (all covers) were both pretty awesome jazz albums.

  25. Richard:

    Alabama Shakes is from this year. Good record but, based on their EP from a couple years ago, I was expecting a little better. Needed a few more uptempo songs

  26. Richard:

    Fully agree. Saw him a month ago and the show was amazing (especially for a 78 year old).

  27. rickhavoc:

    Bob Mould’s Silver Age has some moments.

  28. gocart mozart:

    Yes

  29. gocart mozart:

    You failed to specify which year so I’ll say “Greetings From Asbury Park”

  30. Andrew:

    Channel Orange by Frank Ocean, no contest. Here he is performing the album’s best song live on Jimmy Fallon. No one’s suggested Swing Lo Megellan by Dirty Projectors or Local Business by Titus Andronicus yet, so I’ll throw those out there too.

  31. Uncle Ebeneezer:

    Yeah I can see that, though I actually got sold on the mellow Finally Found You-type songs. I totally overdid that album though and after about a month I never wanted to hear it again. Well, not never, but you know, totally burnt out on it.

  32. 'stina:

    I take this opportunity to bring attention to Caravan Palace, for those that aren’t into electroswing.

    Panic came out in March, and it’s outstanding. My husband and I went to London two weeks ago on a delayed honeymoon to see Caravan Palace at the Koko Theater.* PHENOMENAL performance, and they hinted at an American tour next summer.

    Someone put the whole album on Youtube here.

    But this is my favorite cut from the album: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yebo5ILBMC0

    *My husband djed the after-party. Plug for his soundcloud here if you find yourself intrigued with electroswing and want to hear more. There are two mixes up right now for download.

  33. 'stina:

    My sisters flew to Denver to see him last month, and they reported that he was phenomenal live.

  34. john:

    black dice – mr impossible
    The Swans – The Seer
    Talk Normal – sunshine
    liars – wixiw
    burial – kindred ep
    death grips – money store
    Tom Carter/Bardo Pond – 4/23/03
    The Intelligence – Everybody’s Got It Easy But Me
    Ty Segall/White Fence – Hair
    Flying Lotus – Until The Quiet Comes
    Clinic – Free Reign
    the future of the left = the plot against common sense

  35. Richard:

    Its worth a trip to Denver. He’s that good live.

  36. john:

    didn’t mean this as a reply…stupid computer

  37. Chad:

    good kid, m.A.A.d. City, Blunderbuss, channel Orange, R.A.P. Music, Celebration Rock, and Four

  38. Incontinentia Buttocks:

    Some of these have already been mentioned but (in no particular order) my favorite albums to come out this year:

    Channel Orange by Frank Ocean
    The Idler Wheel… by Fiona Apple
    Bend Beyond by Woods
    Blunderbuss by Jack White
    What We Saw From the Cheap Seats by Regina Spektor
    Cancer 4 Cure by El-P

  39. Joseph Slater:

    Saw him in Detroit recently, and he was great.

  40. Joseph Slater:

    No love for Lana Del Ray?

  41. Ben Helford:

    I’m hardly ever able to buy new albums, so I don’t feel qualify to find which is the best one. However, I loved Edward Sharp & the Magnetic Zeros new album “Here.”

  42. Colin:

    I’d inexplicably forgotten about both Liars and Flying Lotus. Excellent picks.

  43. john:

    That Liars is a real grower.

  44. Leeds man:

    Driving across Texas and restricting yourself to this year’s music? Are you fucking crazy? A well-tempered mix of Bach, Miles Davis and Stevie Ray Vaughan is called for.

  45. Richard:

    And my runner ups would include Moot Davis, John Boutte, Dr. John, Gaslight Anthem, Dr. Michael White, Dave Ferrato, Beach Boys, Luke Winslow-King, Alabama Shakes, Justin Townes Earle, Jason Heath, Old Crow Medicine Show, Marty Stuart and Carolina Chocolate Drops

  46. Bill Murray:

    I would choose “In the Pit of the Stomach” by We Were Promised Jetpacks

  47. Scott Lemieux:

    Putting together an iTunbes playlist with the hope that I;ll actually do a top 10 this year, but I’d say The Idler Wheel Etc. Etc. is the frontrunner right now.

  48. Dude:

    Heartless Bastards- Arrow
    Dr Dog- Be The Void
    Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself
    River City Tanlines- Coast to Coast
    Sun Kil Moon- Amongst the Leaves

  49. howard:

    the two jazz albums that came out this year that i’d recommend to non-jazz fans are hank jones and charlie haden’s superb investigation of spirituals, “come sunday,” (which follows on their 1995 cd along similar lines, “steal away”) and vijay iyer’s superb investigation of, well, everything, “accelerando.”

    from a jazz perspective, there’s a few albums i haven’t caught up with yet but my choice is ravi coltrane’s “spirit fiction” (yes, he’s john and alice’s son).

    from a pop perspective, i’ll second both frank ocean and the xx from my more limited listening.

  50. Richard:

    And a link to McPherson

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZGn4LncY0g&feature=player_embedded

  51. Mitch:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVeMiVU77wo

    alt-j: Fitzpleasure

  52. todd.:

    Killer Mike. Kendrick Lamar.

    Was disappointed in the new XX, Andrew Bird albums.

    Turns out I didn’t listen to much new music this year.

  53. todd.:

    Oh yeah, I wasn’t that impressed by the Jack White album, either.

    I did really like this Neutral Milk Hotel mash-up album, though.

    Taste, I haz it.

  54. Andrew:

    Fathery John Misty – Fear Fun

    First Aid Kit – Lion’s Roar

    Bonus points for shooting the video where Gram Parsons was cremated.

  55. todd.:

    Undun is really good.

  56. Jonas:

    Stars “The North” is excellent

  57. Andrew:

    *Father

  58. JB2:

    Spiritualized
    Kendrick Lamar
    Jack White
    Cloud Nothings

  59. Anonymous:

    F*cked Up – David comes to life

  60. Quicksand:

    Doooo it.

    I wouldn’t count it among their very best from the 80s/90s, but it’s quite good, and I’m happy to get any new Swans at all.

    Saw them in SF this year. Gira still has it, and the band is formidable.

  61. howard:

    Maybe.

  62. Western Dave:

    Win.

  63. Western Dave:

    The album for driving across Texas from 2012 would clearly be Some Nights by Fun.. You can sing-a-long at the top your lungs to that sucker for hours and hours. When my students first had me listen to it, I thought rehashed Queen, but man, it grew on me.

  64. Bas-O-Matic:

    That’s last year, Good album, though, if you can get past the lead singers vocals

  65. Kurzleg:

    Is Undun the best post-”Signals” or just best of 2012?

  66. Scott Lemieux:

    I need some jazz tips before I can compile any kind of list, so thanks!

  67. howard:

    More to come when i’m not typing on a phone, but those 3 are a good start.

  68. CaptBackslap:

    Frank Ocean, Channel Orange
    Killer Mike, R.A.P. Music
    Beach House, Bloom (not recommended for long drives, though)

  69. hylen:

    Led Zeppelin IV

  70. laura:

    I thought it was a snoozathon.

  71. laura:

    I liked:

    Blunderbuss (weird for me since I never liked the White Stripes)
    dEUS — Following Sea
    Brian Whelan — Decider
    Future of the Left — The Plot Against Common Sense
    John K Samson — Provincial

  72. DClaynigtgoat:

    Seriously, most of these selections are from bands that don’t really have a certain sense of music. Checked out the Tame impala music that everyone here is raving back. Typical vocals/lyrics accompanied by piano licks that don’t require anyone to actually know how to play piano. This is the problem with modernity, anyone can just pick up an instrument and have a basic concept of music and how it works a impress a generation of easily impressed “children”.

  73. DClaynigtgoat:

    hipster

  74. DClaynigtgoat:

    GIVE ME THE FUCKING WAGNER OR ARVO PART OF TODAY? WHERE ARE THEY?!? WHERE ARE THEY?!? CHANCES ARE THEY ARE SO RECESSED IN THE UNDERGROUND I WON’T HEAR ABOUT THEM, BECAUSE THAT’S NOT WHAT SELLS!

  75. swoof:

    Metz – self-titled
    Baroness – Yellow & Green
    Bat for Lashes – The Haunted Man
    Japandroids – Celebration Rock
    Lambchop – Mr. M

  76. Charles:

    No answer except Japandroids – Celebration Rock is acceptable. It’s the best album of the year by a mile.

  77. bradP:

    I went through Popmatters’ list and pop music has officially passed me by.

    The only album that’s really coming to mind that has made steady play would be The Divine Fits.

  78. bradP:

    Although, listening through the Japandroids album for the first time, it is pretty good.

  79. matttbastard:

    And how — music that demands you raise your fist and yell like hell to the heavens (just make sure the other fist is clenching a cold one).

    The full-length Relapse debut of Royal Thunder, CVI, is another favourite, for those who like a little Southern gothic flavour in their metal (tr00 fans can bite my hipster ass).

    (Will be putting up a proper top-50 of 2012 list — with bandcamp embeds if available — at The Agonist, once I can be assed.)

  80. matttbastard:

    Sorry by White Lung is another top-10 pick for yrs truly — must be something in the water in No Fun City these days (besides dirty needles and used condoms, mind).

  81. John:

    +1 on Japandroids, Father John Misty, Andrew Bird, and Swans. I’d just add:

    Menomena – Moms

  82. Bas-O-Matic:

    1. Death Grips – Money Store. Alternative hip hop on meth. Lots of angry shouting. Fun to turn up and shuffle around like wounded zombie to.

    2. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange. Alternative R&B. Probably should be my number one. Excellent song writing and production. Somewhere in the vein of Prince for the adderall generation maybe?

    3. Beach House – Bloom Beach House has their formula. And they don’t stray from it. Nothing is going to surprise you on this album. Sort of Nico singing over 80′s post-punk like the Smiths or the Cure.

    4. Tame Impala – Lonerism. Basically retro psychedelia. Could be a new album by XTC released as The Dukes of the Stratosphear. Still a good album though.

    5. EL-P – Cancer 4 Cure EL-P also produced the Killer Mike album people mentioned above, and Killer Mike appears on this record as well. Both are good albums. I just (barely) like this one better.

    Honorable Mention
    Killer Mike R.A.P. Music

    Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid MAad City This is topping a lot of best of lists. Frankly I haven’t spent enough time with it to rank it higher.

    Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory

    Japandroids – Celebration Rock

    Alabama Shakes – Boys and Girls

    Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself

    Dr John – Locked Down

    From 2011, But I listened to them primarily in 2012

    Thee Oh Sees – Carrion Crawler/The Dream.

    M83 – Hurry Up We’re Dreaming

  83. rm:

    I liked Iris DeMent, “Sing the Delta”

    and Carolina Chocolate Drops, “Leaving Eden”

    and the Dylan album is very good, much better than the last one and comparable to the previous decade of good albums

    links to videos or performances are encouraged
    Of course they are.

  84. rm:

    I think Neil Young’s “Americana” was this year. It’s completely horrible and inspired. I really enjoy enduring it. It’s awful but I like it.

    I can’t possibly listen to his newest album or read his book because they both have the most ridiculously retro-hippie titles imaginable, and that’s very disappointing.

  85. slimslowslider:

    my top five new releases in no order

    Spacin’ – Deep Thuds
    Goat – World Music
    Black Bananas – Rad Times Xpress
    Blues Control – Valley Tagent
    Pusha T – Fear of God 2

  86. BobS:

    Undun would get my vote, with Blunderbuss a close second. The Roots would also get my vote as one of the best live performers of this or any other year.
    I just picked up used cd copies of Here Come the Warm Jets & Taking Tiger Mountain that I’ve really been enjoying. I have 35 year old vinyl copies that have basically just been scenery for awhile due to my lack of a functional turntable.

  87. BobS:

    I knew I’d forget something- I also liked Means of Deliverance by Bill Laswell quite a lot.

  88. howard:

    Scott, the next 5 i was going to recommend are all on either ratliff’s or chinen’s just published top 10s in the times, so just go there!

  89. todd.:

    Pft. Wish I was that cool.

  90. Scott Lemieux:

    Oh, excellent — both tremendous critics.

  91. Scott Lemieux:

    BTW, already appreciate the tip on Accelerando — fantastic stuff. Are his previous records equally good?

  92. Shaff:

    Driving through Texas? Give Austin’s own, The Sword, a listen.

  93. JB2:

    Wow – totally forgot about Tramp from Sharon Van Etten. Put that up near the top. A great record.

    One problem is that it came out very early in the year; another is that the highs from Tramp didn’t quite match those of her last record. Also (and yes this is provincial) she couldn’t be bothered to appear in Detroit during her last tour.

  94. Matthew Cooper:

    It’s gotta be one of these three; all of them are brilliant, and it’s hard to pick just one:

    Testament – Dark Roots of Earth
    Master – The New Elite
    Threshold – March of Progress

    If we’re going for lyrical sophistication, the obvious choice is Threshold… but man, Master and Testament still know how to throw down some riffs!

  95. Howard:

    finally back in front of a keyboard after a business trip.

    let’s begin with iyer: he’s been a contender from the start but he’s in his prime now, and yes, accelerando is his best (here’s nate chinen’s original review), by a slim margin over his previous (and previous best), historicity.

    more broadly, iyer has three generational peers as a jazz pianist. the best, insofar as “best” means something, is jason moran; moran’s best is his 2010 release ten, but as you know, i often recommend a “starter” cd for an unfamiliar jazz artist (assuming you don’t know moran, maybe you do?), and in his case i’d say modernistic, where he covers both james p. johnson and afrika bambaatas or cassandra wilson’s loverly, where he plays the sideman role on a set of standards, are great places to start.

    the other two of that generation are brad mehldau (who really knocked me out when i saw him live for the first time in 2011) and ethan iverson of the bad plus (and to bring things full circle regarding my recent comments on lee konitz, here’s a nice interview that iverson conducted with konitz a few years ago.

    to return to 2012, yes, chinen and ratliff are both excellent – probably the two best jazz critics currently working – and not only did they both have iyer and coltrane on their lists, but the 5 i mentioned earlier today that i would have futher overlapped were the berne, virelles, terry, truesdale, and okazaki, while i haven’t yet heard either the pelt or the kikuchi (with paul motian on drums).

    my last two to fill out a jazz ten for 2012 off what i have heard are russ losing’s drum music (the compositions of paul motian) and michael formanek’s small places

  96. howard:

    scott, i just wrote up a lengthy comment complete with a bunch of links, but it appears to have been swallowed up and i don’t have the energy to redo (but you may want to check in case it’s just being held for moderation or something!).

    the one thing i’ll repeat is that yes, this is iyer’s best, by a small margin over his previous and previous best, “historicity.” Here’s the nate chinen review when it came out.

  97. Scott Lemieux:

    Thanks for alerting me so I could get it out of the spam file!

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