As has become tradition, we asked Knox Road writers to provide their Top Albums of 2012 and we got a potpourri of responses. Have a happy holiday season, and thanks for sticking with us for another year.
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1. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
It’s the cliche pick, for sure, but it’s also the only pick I really could have made, considering I’ve been obsessed with this album since its release. I didn’t initially buy into all the Frank Ocean hype when Nostalgia, Ultra. made its rounds on the blogosphere – the mixtape just never struck me as anything truly mind-blowing or groundbreaking. But Channel Orange is a special album. Lost in the frequent chatter about Ocean’s sexual identity, his cultural relevance, and his introspective lyrics is the most important element that makes this album a classic: the music. Ocean’s voice, the lush, expansive production and the melodies are all phenomenal, demanding to be blasted from high-quality speakers. The songs are chameleons, with a remarkable ability to shape-shift their emotional impact – depending on when and how you listen, they can be happy or sad; optimistic or pessimistic, sometimes all at once. There are nine separate songs on this album that have each been my “favorite” for a given period of time. That, to me, represents a record truly deserving of all the hype it’s been given.
2. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
There’s no chance this album would be so high on my list if I didn’t see the Dirty Projectors perform at the 9:30 Club. I’d only given Swing Lo Magellan a few half-hearted listens before that fateful show, when the magic of live music took hold over me in a way it hadn’t since my summer at Bonnaroo. Seeing the Dirty Projectors live wasn’t simply watching a band playing their songs, it was watching the music transform, develop, and collide in thrilling fashion. I now listen to their music in a new light, and the complex – yet ultimately accessible – sounds of Swing Lo Magellan have hypnotized me for good.
For the rest, I’ll cop out and say “in no particular order.” But really, it’s kind of in the order I’m listing them.
Alex Winston – King Con
I promise this will be my last indulgent “blurb,” but I really need to write a paragraph about Alex Winston. It is beyond me why King Con didn’t receive more recognition this year. The only logical explanation is the awkwardly-managed release of the album by her label. Or maybe her squeaky, high-pitched voice is too annoying for most people? But Michael Angelakos of Passion Pit hasn’t had any issues with that, so I don’t really get it. King Con is better than good; it’s excellent. The songs are irresistible, almost painfully catchy. They’re remarkably ambitious pop-rock tracks, with epic, orchestral instrumentation. Many of the verses are just as catchy as the choruses. The album may suffer a bit from Mumford and Sons syndrome, with each song so energetic that it becomes overbearing, but that shouldn’t take away from its overall impact. King Con deserves a listen from anyone interested in fun, energetic pop music from a young, charismatic singer.
The Shins – Port of Morrow
Passion Pit – Gossamer
Fanfarlo – Rooms Filled With Light
Reptar – Body Faucet
Ben Kweller – Go Fly A Kite
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis – The Heist
The Avett Brothers – The Carpenter
Of Monsters and Men – My Head Is An Animal
Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball
Jukebox The Ghost – Safe Travels
Titus Andronicus – Local Business
So, most spins in Abbytown 2012…in no particular order:
Wild Nothing – Nocturne
Alt-J – An Awesome Wave (they were awarded the Mercury last month, people. Can I pick ‘em or what?)
Dignan Porch – Nothing Bad Will Ever Happen
Memoryhouse – The Slideshow Effect
Allah-Las – Allah-Las
Allo Darlin’ – Europe
Veronica Falls – “My Heart Beats” 7” (Full-length LP Waiting for Something to Happen out on Bella Union in early 2013…check it)
And last but not least, counting for 3 of my top 10:
MBV – all catalog reissues. It was, indeed, a good 365 days.
Now if only I could make it to Japan for Tokyo Rocks in February my 2013 will be made as well. Here’s to hoping.
Happy New Year.
per usual, top ten albums of my year, regardless of when they actually came out:
war on drugs — slave ambient  — i moved from denver to philadelphia in june of this year. i started listening to this album — heavily — in june of this year. it just perfectly encapsulted how i was feeling at the time: summer is here. life is here. i’m at the very beginning of something new and wonderful and amazing.
the next few are tied in, i feel, to the grunginess of philadelphia. i know that sounds like it’s a bad thing, but i absolutely love the grunginess of philadelphia. i love the dirt. i love the industrial feel. i love the history of social unrest. and, mainly, that there’s a history of people who make damned sure their voices are heard. and i love these albums.
menace — screwed up/ insane society 7” 
misfits — beware 
the adverts — crossing the red sea with the adverts 
the boys next door — door, door 
bad brains — black dots 
siouxsie and the banshees — juju  this will always be a perennial favorite. seriously, come back next year and read my list — i guarantee this will be on it. this album is perfect and i’m in the mood for it no matter what mood i’m in.
milk music — beyond living EP  this is a new one that i discovered this year. frankly, i’m amazed that an album that sounds this 80’s punk has been released in the last decade.
sharon van etten — because i was in love  … i’m a girl. what girl doesn’t like this album? seriously.
josh ritter — the animal years  a grounding, perfect album that takes me instantly back to 2007; i had just moved back from nashville, i was a little broken, i was a little unsure. but i was ready for life. i think this album will always register when i’m in a new place and trying to figure my way around, as i was this year. i think this album will always register with me, no matter what. you always hear about what people were doing when they found out JFK was assasinated; i’ll always remember what i was doing the exact moment i heard this album. it will always stay with me.
1. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
Chariots of harmonies swing round dirt tracks of metal bashing guitars, purely plucked acoustics and Longstreth’s unending poetry loops. A record that hovers just above everything else produced this year, a birds-eye view of the future grappling with eternal concepts.
2. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
Sleek, sexy, slouching – but also brave and bare-faced in honorable heart-wrenching fashion, Frank Ocean’s fingerprint on this year will be forensically examined for decades to come. His wingspan brings the crack pipe and the mansion closer together than ever before.
3. Purity Ring – Shrines
Shrines saves up woman’s moments of conquest and capture and reduces them into a salt lick – a shrine in itself – to the tears and silences of feminine magic that occur all over the world. Witchery, pregnancy, love, sacrifice and weeping skin, womanhood divined through rune and wreckage.
4. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.a.a.d city
Kendrick’s record is a polaroid of his past and his future. Developing before us with grace and quickness, the young rapper reveals both his propensity for poetry and his dark-flecked history. Production, sampling and flow aside, Lamar feels like a friend relating old memories, an uneasy feat for such a somber story.
5. Bat for Lashes – The Haunted Man
Ghostly with grief, Khan is back to triumphantly revel in her tattered heart. The woman is a bastion of sorrow, but mixes the tears with enough sky-soaring vocals and regal strings to make wallowing feel downright sumptuous.
6. Miguel – Adorn
Late night freeway driving with no worries about speed limit or gas gauges, Miguel’s album Adorn is a runaway love affair with no consequences and no looking back. The passing lights are enough to illuminate that the intimacy of speeding into the dark together will be beautiful – at least until morning.
7. Father John Misty – Fear Fun
Amidst sketches of Los Angeles and sidled up to folk sensibilities, J. Tillman speaks sense through a veil of absurdity. Raucous in sound and regal in thought, this record toes the line between hillbilly and philosopher without feeling two-faced.
8. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
Rare and nearly bleeding, the rawness of this record hits like reading your own old diary entry. Tear-stained tracks sung with some sort of biting courage, Van Etten singlehandedly restores my faith in the female singer-songwriter archetype.
9. King Tuff – King Tuff
Greasy and salty, deep-fried with crispy lyrics that crunch with insistence, don’t allow the deliciousness of this record lead to an underestimation of the four-star musicianship of King Tuff. Star-spangled anthems with enough heart to make patriotism look contrived, Kyle Thomas brings the outskirts of the American countryside to metropolises without asking anyone’s permission.
10. Ariel Pink – Mature Themes
Apothecary musical potions with spells for painting, sex and schnitzel, the wizard Ariel Pink surely concocted this record in a cauldron. It’s easy to believe his sorcery always stemmed from a supernatural-like state – until the croons of album closer “Baby” reveal this mage has a soft spot for pillow talk and mere mortals.
1. Father John Misty – Fear Fun
2. Pontiak – Echo Ono
3. The Avett Brothers – The Carpenter
4. Grizzly Bear – Shields
5. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Alleluja! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
6. Passion Pit – Gossamer
7. The Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving Now
8. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
9. Beach House – Bloom
10. The Lumineers – The Lumineers
11. The Sea and Cake – Runner
12. Bob Mould – Silver Age
13. M. Ward – A Wasteland Companion
14. Hospitality – Hospitality
15. Guided By Voices – Class Clown Spots A UFO
I’d also like to note that there were a ton of essential re-issues this year. I can’t put them on a year end list since the originals didn’t come out this year, but I need to mention them…in no particular order:
1) Both Sugar albums, Copper Blue and File Under Easy Listening. Thank you Merge Records!
2) The Archers of Loaf albums….again, thank you Merge!
3) The Thrill Jockey 20th Anniversary Re-issues. Every one of these should be in your collection if they weren’t there already.
4) Chunklet’s Olivia Tremor Control re-issues. I’m not even sure these came out this year, but you really should pick them up when you get a chance.
The bonus material on all of these albums is worthwhile, not just a bunch of filler to resell a popular album. The Thrill Jockey records didn’t have bonus material, but remain essential stuff.
I didn’t listen to very much new music in 2012. I’m sorry! I’ve gone over this soap opera in the past year’s installments of Hype Hype Hooray, but in case you missed it, my hard drive crashed, I lost all my music, and I couldn’t afford to buy the new hardware required to store and listen to ANYTHING. Instead of pretending I heard any of these albums this year, I’ll give you the top 10 albums I wanted to hear.
10. Alt-J – An Awesome Wave
I don’t know much about this record. I hear it won the Mercury Prize and I hear it’s good. What else could you want? Since I don’t have much of a grasp on what An Awesome Wave actually sounds like, I can’t rank it much higher, but I’ll definitely get to this one.
9. Taken By Trees – Other Worlds
I loved 2009’s East of Eden, so I’m pretty excited about Taken By Trees’ follow-up. Back in ’09 the band’s sound was different and exciting, but I have to imagine it’s a little old three years later. That said, I don’t think these guys can make a bad record.
8. Brother Ali – Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color
I don’t follow hip-hop very extensively, but Brother Ali is one of the artists I like. His bombastic style and political message makes for an interesting listen, and I can’t imagine his follow-up to 2009’s Us is anything less than awesome.
7. Animal Collective – Centipede Hz
I’m sure a lot has been said about Animal Collective’s much-anticipated release. Back in ’09 we gave their landmark record, Merriweather Post Pavilion, top honors, but from what I’ve heard of Centipede Hz, I’m hesitant to give them top billing again. Still, I have to appreciate a band that continues experimenting with sound, eschewing all expectations from the noisy indie blogosphere.
6. Crystal Castles – (III)
I have an unhealthy obsession with Crystal Castles. I haven’t seen many reviews of their third record, but I’m sure I’m going to love it no matter what it sounds like. What can I say? Their music moves me. It moves me in a dark, dirty, beautiful kind of way.
5. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
I love this band, and I especially loved their last proper album, Bitte Orca. The songs that come from frontman Dave Longstreth’s twisted mind are beautiful, in that strange, almost upsetting way. I’ve never heard anybody play with harmonies so well (since the Beach Boys, of course). Although I haven’t heard a single cut from Swing Lo Magellan, I’m confident enough in its quality to stick it at number five.
4. The xx – Coexist
The xx are one of those bands I wanted to dislike. I’m not HUGE on the dark, gothic thing (I make an exception for Crystal Castles), but these guys are so talented they’re impossible to ignore. Their debut, xx was nothing short of genius, and the few tracks I’ve heard from Coexist make me believe it’s a wonderfully beautiful evolution.
3. Grizzly Bear – Shields
There’s not a lot I can say about Grizzly Bear that hasn’t been said a thousand times before. The band is incredibly talented, and haven’t ever made I bad record, in my opinion. They tend to fly under the radar with their understated, yet beautiful, albums, so I have to imagine Shields has received mixed reviews. But if I know anything about my future self, I know he’ll like it a whole lot.
2. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
This is probably one of the most-hyped records of the year, and for good reason. I’ve heard a couple tracks off Frank Ocean’s debut studio album, and I’m seriously impressed. The man is not all hype; dude can write and dude can perform. He has to be the most exciting force in music of any genre. What excites me the most is his potential to change the direction of hip-hop and R&B.
1. Tame Impala – Lonerism
If I was making this list strictly on my critical impression, I would have given the top spot to Frank Ocean. But this isn’t The Top Albums of 2012. This is The Top Albums I Wanted to Listen to in 2012. In 2010 I downloaded Tame Impala’s low-key debut, Innerspeaker, Their powerful psychedelic jams are nearly perfect, and I don’t see them slowing down with their sophomore effort. Nothing makes me wish I had a functioning hard drive more than Lonerism.
Much like Jamie, I definitely did not have the chance to listen to all the ‘buzzed’ about albums this year. However, unlike Jamie, I did indeed listen in my own little music world and have my share of records to list. Some were critically acclaimed, others flew under the radar, but all were repeat listens on my stereos, yo. No order, and there are plenty more.
The Oh Hellos – Through the Deep, Dark Valley
Mina Tindle – Taranta (Severely underrated)
Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
Purity Ring – Shrines
Alt-J – An Awesome Wave (Thank you, Abby, for being on top of them from the start)
Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
Wild Nothing – Nocturne
Julia Stone – By The Horns
Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
Ben Howard – Every Kingdom
Anaïs Mitchell – Young Man In America
Port St. Willow – Holiday
Everything Haim. I am obsessed.