Best of 2012


Albums, singles, rarities, reissues, mixes, remixes: we’ve listened a lot of them over the past 12 months, and have unearthed a fair few gems in the process. We suggest you clear your schedule, put on your headphones and get stuck in to our comprehensive run-down of the year’s finest records…


The top 10

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    Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE (Explicit Content – Parental Advisory) (Explicit Version)
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    channel ORANGE (Explicit Content – Parental Advisory)
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    (2012)
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    by Frank Ocean
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    Tyler, The Creator might have hogged the limelight in 2011, but it was his Odd Future-compandre Frank Ocean who made the biggest, er, splash in 2012. From the Stevie Wonder-esque swing of ‘Sweet Life’ to the string-laden, tear-stained R&B of ‘Bad Religion’, via an almighty, nine-minute-plus, digital-funk opus named ‘Pyramids’, Channel Orange confirmed what mixtape Ultra/Nostalgia implied: Frank Ocean is one of the finest songwriting talents of our times.

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    Grimes - Visions
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    Visions
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    (2012)
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    by Grimes
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    Having sailed live chickens, 20 pounds of potatoes, a sewing machine and her boyfriend down the Mississippi on a homemade houseboat, we’re not surprised that Claire Boucher wasn’t fazed by the challenge of topping her acclaimed last long-player, Halfaxa. Visions showcased Grimes’ pioneering spirit, and subsequently helped the 22-year-old subvert the mainstream with a feast of compelling, avant garde, electronic treats, rooted in K-pop, IDM and R&B.

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    Django Django - Django Django
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    Django Django
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    (2012)
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    by Django Django
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    When we asked Django Django to sum up their sound, the best they could muster was, “Tramp-rock mixed with booze, broads and barbershop.” Honestly lads, what about the 8-bit synth-shuffle of ‘Zumm Zumm’? Or the electro-tinged souk-rock of ‘Skies Over Cairo’? And what about ‘Life’s A Beach’, which sounds like some wonderful, jangle-laden hybrid of The Beta Band and Franz Ferdinand?! Still, with songs this strong who needs shameless self-promotion?

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    Jessie Ware - Devotion - The Gold Edition
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    Devotion - The Gold Edition
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    (2013)
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    by Jessie Ware
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    London lass Jessie Ware was a fledgling journo before a chance phone call from old school pal Jack Peñate diverted her career. Journalism’s loss was definitely music’s gain: off the back of that tour with Peñate, Jessie’s turned in dreamy vocal performances for SBTRKT, Joker and Sampha, and secured a record deal of her own. Her supremely classy debut comes with some pedigree too, touched as it is by the hands of Julio Bashmore and The Invisible’s Dave Okumu. Driven by icy beats and subterranean bass, we reckon the downtempo R&B on Devotion reveals a musical talent that ranks with Aaliyah’s and Sade’s.

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    Julia Holter - Ekstasis
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    Ekstasis
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    (2012)
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    by Julia Holter
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    In an industry dominated by attention seekers, an unassuming artist like Julia Holter could have been easy to overlook. Were it not for her sophomore album, that is. Combining twinkling harpsichord, gently pulsating keyboards, sparse drum machines, and layer upon layer of echo-laden vocals, there was a quietly ethereal quality to Ekstasis, redolent of Tender Buttons-era Broadcast, or vintage Laurie Anderson. Utterly bewitching stuff.

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    John Talabot - Fin
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    Fin
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    (2012)
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    by John Talabot
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    Barcelona-based, publicity-shy, dance producer John Talabot stepped out of the shadows in January and delivered 11-tracks of, what was ostensibly, hands-aloft house music, but actually concealed a brilliantly brooding heart. The subsequent comparisons that he received to Caribou and Pantha Du Prince have probably blown his cover for good, but in our books that’s no bad thing. Because on the strength of this debut, we’re hoping Fin is just the beginning.

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    Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city
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    good kid, m.A.A.d city
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    (2013)
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    by Kendrick Lamar
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    Following a string of hyped mix-tapes and an acclaimed LP, the pressure on Kendrick Lamar to keep delivering the goods could have crippled a lesser talent. Instead, Dre’s protégé kept focused and has just dropped a major label debut that both the blogs and the indie press are already hailing the finest rap record of 2012. Thematically, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City plunders the light and shade of his upbringing on the streets of Compton, and these extremes are mirrored in the music. From the laid-back swing of ‘Money Trees’, to the murky, T-Minus-produced ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ – where the 25 year old’s rapid-fire flow is redolent of vintage André 3000 – it’s astonishing listening.

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    alt-J - An Awesome Wave
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    An Awesome Wave
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    (2012)
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    by alt-J
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    With the Mercury Prize-winning An Awesome Wave, Leeds-formed four-piece alt-J transported us to a world where key shortcuts seemed cool, geometry was just a metaphor for filth and mid-song Bhangra breakdowns sounded implausibly well-judged (and really quite thrilling). Alt-rock? Math-pop? Folk-step?! Hell, even we’re not sure how to define the ambitious sonic smorgasbord here. But we do know that, thanks to ‘Tessellate’, we’ll probably never look at triangles in quite the same way again…

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    Grizzly Bear - Shields
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    Shields
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    (2012)
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    by Grizzly Bear
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    On paper, even attempting to match the genius of Veckatimest looked like an unsurmountable task. Happily, Grizzly Bear made light work of it on their magnificent fourth album. Whether they were showcasing those trademark tricksy time-signatures on ‘Sleeping Ute’, their tumbling guitar licks on ‘Half Gate’ or an aptitude for beatific piano-pop on ‘A Simple Answer’, on Shields the Brooklyn boys delivered melody in spades.

The rest of the best...