If there had to be any trend from my top 10 albums from 2012, the word of the year would be "lean." I admire the understated displays of self-editing. Fiona Apple's album didn't have a note or breath wasted; Miguel's tracklist was tidy, whereas Frank Ocean could learn to trim; Kendrick Lamar and Killer Mike ably balanced comedy and drama with carefully selected words; and mostly-instrumentals like Swans, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and the Dirty Three sequenced those excesses into something tangible and rare.
Other trends: I fell in love with very few country and Americana albums this year, though there will be plenty of those artists that dominate my songs lists. I did, however, fall in love with Emeli Sande, who is clearly the Real Deal. So is How to Dress Well, who broke my heart 10 different ways. I don't think Tallest Man on Earth or Grizzly Bear can make a bad album. Hundred Waters -- who were the first signees to Skrillex's label -- surprised the hell out of me and I hope the hype index of the IDM poster-child won't have a negative impact on their future successes. Matthew Dear, Goat, Burial and Diiv make dark-rooms music.
You can hear samples of most of these albums -- if not just most all of the artists -- on Immaculate Noise's 2012 Top Albums Spotify list.
Some people make great collections of songs, and some artists make albums. Here are 30 of my favorite albums from 2012, with their artists, because 30 is a nice round number...
- Fiona Apple, "The Idler Wheel…"
- Matthew Dear, "Beams"
- Emeli Sande, "Our Version of Events"
- Kendrick Lamar, "good kid, M.A.A.d city"
- Swans, "The Seer"
- Miguel, "Kaleidescope Dream"
- Killer Mike, "R.A.P. Music"
- Godspeed You! Black Emporer, "Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!"
- Hundred Waters, "Hundred Waters"
- Dwight Yoakam, "3 Pears"
- How To Dress Well, "Total Loss"
- Dirty Three, "Toward the Low Sun"
- Thee Oh Sees, "Putrifiers II"
- Goat, "World Music"
- Diamond Rugs, "Diamond Rugs"
- Metz, "Metz"
- Death Grips, "No Love Deep Web
- Beth Jeans Houghton & The Hooves of Destiny, "Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose"
- Frank Ocean, "Channel Orange"
- Tame Impala, "Lonerism"
- Sean Price, "Mic Tyson"
- ***CHEATERS ADDITION" Polica, "Give You The Ghost" (technically late 2011, mass distro in 2012)
- Titus Andronicus, "Local Business"
- Tallest Man on Earth, "There's No Leaving Now"
- The Chariot, "One Wing"
- Jamey Johnson, "Living for a Song: Tribute to Hank Cochran"
- Diiv, "Oshin"
- Grizzly Bear, "Shields"
- Graveyard, "Lights Out"
- Japandroids, "Celebration Rock"