Year in Review - Music
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Best albums of 2012 | Randall Roberts

Year in Review - Music
Click through the gallery to view my favorite albums of the year, in alphabetical order. (Lawrence K. Ho, Genaro Molina, Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Alabama Shakes, ‘Boys & Girls’ (ATO)
Those reared on American rock ‘n’ roll structures codified a half-century ago in the South will find little to argue with in the debut album by Alabama Shakes. As convincing an introduction to a group as was released this year, the Athens, Ala., four-piece’s record highlights the overpowering vocals of Brittany Howard, whose take on Southern blues rock places her in a continuum that stretches back decades. But if the rest of the Shakes didn’t have the muscle to wrestle with her, “Boys & Girls” would be less thrilling. As it stands, the band burns. Live, they’re undeniable. (Getty Images / ATO / AP)
Fiona Apple, ‘The Idler Wheel ...’ (Epic)
Few records were consumed by my internal jukebox as intensely as this. Words and lines that I as a reasonably reserved gentleman never expected to sing out loud in my car — “He makes my heart a cinemascope screen/ Showing a dancing bird of paradise” — have poured forth over the six months since its release. Apple’s 10 compositions on her fourth record are thick with requisite Apple drama — detractors might call this melodrama — but she’s matured in the dozen years since her debut, as evidenced by the admirable restraint and bounty of nuanced silences, suggesting Joni Mitchell’s “Hejira” as if haunted by the spirit of Berthold Brecht. (Genaro Molina, Los Angeles Times / Epic)
Cafe Tacuba, ‘El Objeto Antes Llamado Disco’ (Universal Music)
Why this Mexican band’s fantastic eighth record hasn’t been more lauded is a mystery; it’s as exciting and adventurous a statement as was released this year. Over 10 songs, the four-piece art rock band merges guitar, bass, rhythms both acoustic and digital, synthesizers and a spirit of unlimited possibility. Translated, the title means “The Object Formerly Known as Record,” suggesting, like the music, a past and a future. Muse fans who don’t know this record are missing out on a better band. (AP / Universal Music)
Django Django, ‘Django Django’ (Ribbon Music)
The most vital characteristic for a young artist is specificity of voice: to convey a set of musical ideas that’s unique to him, her or, in the case of this British rock band , them. The young group’s sound is immediately recognizable, pushing Beach Boys falsetto harmonies through competing guitar strums, analog Kurbrick-ian synths noodles seemingly teleported from “2001: A Space Odyssey” and propellant, danceable beats. Songs like “Hail Bop” and “Waveforms” float on structures that constantly surprise, as though Kraftwerk were composing for the Pacific Coast Highway. (Getty Images / Ribbon Music)
Dr. John, ‘Locked Down’ (Nonesuch)
A rollicking, expansive late-period masterpiece crafted by piano mystic Dr. John, “Locked Down” is not only a favorite but one of the best records of composer Mac Rebennack’s illustrious career. Produced by the Black Keys’ singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach, “Locked Down” was recorded in Nashville with a dynamic young band, and all that fresh inspiration has filled the man’s lungs and fingers with new energy. (Joshua Black Wilkins / Nonesuch)
Julia Holter, ‘Ekstasis’ (RVNG)
Los Angeles singer-composer Julia Holter rose alongside kindred spirits Ariel Pink, Nite Jewel, John Maus and others schooled in music and visual art at CalArts. Holter composes the most graceful and delicate music of the bunch, exquisitely crafted bedroom baroqueness that suggests the Cocteau Twins and Joanna Newsom but with keener attention to intricate detail, like a Laura Owens painting come to life. (Rick Bahto / RVNG)
Kendrick Lamar, ‘good kid, m.A.A.d. city’ (Aftermath/Interscope)
Kendrick Lamar of Compton has been headed toward this moment for the last few years, anointed by L.A. rap royalty Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and the Game as the so-called future, and with “good kid” his promise has been confirmed. A brilliant, dynamic, lyrically sophisticated artist whose words on the page are as riveting as they are coming out of his mouth, the rapper on “good kid” has created a snapshot of Los Angeles 2012 as vivid and important as any piece of art this year. But what’s best: You can dance to it. (Wally Skalij, Los Angeles Times / Aftermath / Interscope)
Frank Ocean, ‘Channel Orange’ (Def Jam)
The most magnetic record of the year, “Channel Orange” would be so even without the boundary-busting truth of “Forrest Gump,” a tortured ode to Ocean’s unrequited love for another man. As a whole, though, gender on “Channel Orange” matters less than Ocean’s skill as a songwriter and vocalist. Sitting in that sweet spot among Marvin Gaye, Prince and R. Kelly, where softness supplants bombast and layers of sound add depth, “Channel Orange” feels like a work that as the years pass will only grow in stature. I can’t wait to hear where he goes next.  (Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles Times / Def Jam)
Andy Stott, ‘Luxury Problems’ (Modern Love)
A breathtaking excursion into a synthetic cavern, British beat producer Andy Stott on his second full-length album conjures ghosts of early Massive Attack, Tricky and the Bristol rhythm sound of the ‘90s while focusing on the sonic present. “Luxury Problems” features eight tracks that harness clicks-and-cuts minimalism and oceans of bass to conjure a deep, dark vibe, which Stott examines along with vocalist Alison Skidmore.  (Modern Love)
Swans, ‘The Seer’ (Young God)
New York band Swans have been floating between two extremes for 30 years now. Early aural assaults sat alongside Sonic Youth in the New York noise scene, but over the course of founder-composer Michael Gira’s creative life, he’s drawn in folk, balladry, tension/release dynamics and pure artistic confidence. “Mother of the World,” which clocks in at 10 minutes, is a relentless guitar mantra a la the Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray,” but with more peaks and valleys. Pumped at full volume, it will give you shivers. “A Piece of the Sky” has the heft of a Richard Serra sculpture. (Jennifer Church / Young God Records)