Top 50 Albums of 2012

2012 may not have been a vintage year for music, but it was certainly eclectic, throwing up a diverse set of records that were hard to pin to any one genre or trend. While there were triumphant comebacks from old favourites – The Dirty Three’s first album since 2005’s Cinder and Fiona Apple’s return to the studio after a seven-year absence – 2012 was really all about the newcomers. It’s worth noting that 16 of the 50 albums below are debut albums (17 if you include Jack White’s first solo outing), which certainly bodes well for the future. And if there was any doubt as to the quality of our local scene, 15 Australian albums have made the cut, proving that the Aussie Invasion 2.0 shows no signs of letting up.

Compiled from the votes of 16 FL contributors, here are our selections for the best 50 albums of 2012.

50. TOY – TOY

What we said: Highly touted by the UK press and championed by The Horrors, this London quintet continue the English tradition of exploratory psychedelic rock music. Toy aren’t beholden to a singular sound or style, and that makes their debut album feel like a ranging, searching collection of songs. From the indie-pop classicism of ‘Reasons Why’ to the swirling psych of ‘Lose My Way’ and outward to the stars with the space rock of ‘Kopter’, they show they can knock up catchy melodies as effectively as epic instrumentals.

49. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp

What we said: A sophisticated and majorly melodramatic release, an epic in its own right that could reasonably prove too much for some. Far from easy-going, Tramp’s weighty folk-rock inclinations are not for the faint of heart, the record demanding a full-fledged investment from its audience.

48. Oh Mercy – Deep Heat

What we said: Despite name-checking the likes of the Bee Gees and Brazilian musician Jorge Ben, Oh Mercy haven’t gone all cheese-disco. They have, however, built Deep Heat from the bottom up. The rhythm section of drummer Rohan Sforcina and bassist Eliza Lam drive these songs, and their glee is palpable. Above the tough-yet-slinky grooves lie no end of bells and whistles: piano stabs, keys, horns (courtesy of Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin), treated guitars and snatches of studio banter all bob up. All of the above are pushed to the margins, though, leaving plenty of room for [singer Alex] Gow’s id to run loose.

47. The Men – Open Your Heart

The Men’s Open Your Heart may be less aggressive than the band’s previous album; but by incorporating classic rock, country music, surf-rock, krautrock and even doo-wop influences into their hardcore

approach, The Men made the album that united all the best albums on your cool uncle’s record rack.

46. Deep Sea Arcade – Outlands

What we said: A record brimming with glorious ideas, attention demanding melodies and hits and the occasional miss delivered above all with self belief and an assured musical vision.

45. Lower Plenty – Hard Rubbish

Members of Melbourne’s The UV Race, Total Control and Deaf Wish get together in a lounge room and record an album of scratchy suburban folk that’s unrelentingly bleak. The desolate break-up ballad ‘Nullarbor’ – about a drive in a stolen car through the desert – could well be the song of the year.

44. Lana Del Rey – Born To Die

What we said: The record and its central character both perfectly portray an image of the other side of 1950s Hollywood glamour – it’s not difficult to imagine Del Rey enduring countless long nights in empty mansions knocking back strong drinks in a vain effort to forget about her dead-end love life.

43. Chairlift – Something

What we said: With creativity flowing from all corners – both complex quirks and deft pop-sensibilities entertained with proficiency – Something emerges a rewarding second album venture. Fans of synth-pop rejoice: records rarely get as wildly imaginative and comprehensively enjoyable as this.

42. Grimes – Visions

What we said: Visions delivers. 23-year-old Claire Boucher, the auteur in question, offers a surface-level novelty that disguises the fundamental orthodoxy of her music, a hooky, ear-candy-ish mix of beats, synths and right-up-there, sing-song vocals. A fun, intelligent and nuanced album that moves the dialogue of pop music forward a step, and that is no small thing.

41. Neil Young – Psychedelic Pill

What we said: Fans of Neil Young & Crazy Horse will rightfully relish Psychedelic Pill as yet another worthy addition to their discography. They will forgive him for his excessive romanticising and celebrate the epic sprawl of the album in a way that many younger listeners just discovering the band might not. This is an album that feels eminently real and from the heart and soul of four musicians who respect, honour and follow the song wherever it may take them.

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