Top 25 Albums of 2012

It’s always difficult to rank albums in December. The earlier releases sometimes lose their shine, while the releases of late November still illuminate the screens of the media player. I’m happy to see that the whole of 2012 has been equally represented with our teams selection of the year’s best albums – and with a handful of albums being selected by two of more of the team we can get a clear picture of what full length releases defined 2012.

It has not been a classic year for albums but we have had classic releases that are sure to be getting played next year and hopefully for years to come.

This list has generously included EPs to cater for the electronic music end of the spectrum – and with Burial releasing a 30 minute 3 track EP and Iceage’s 12 track debut from last year clocking in at 24 minutes, it seems like the two formats are slowly converging. Our list has a spread of EP’s and albums all of a very high quality. Much like the singles list, it is very difficult to categorically rank the selections so this list is more of a selection of what we love rather than a ranking. Enjoy.

25. Ben Howard- Every Kingdom
Chosen by Albums Editor Niamh she described it as, ‘The most relaxing and genuinely beautiful album of 2012, beautiful lyrics, beautiful sounds sung by a beautiful man. I like a lot’ (Niamh Connolly)

24. Fear Fun – Father John Misty
Will chose Fear Fun as one of his 2012 highlights – ‘J. Tillman’s new alias after retiring from drumming duties for Fleet Foxes. Wish it had happened earlier as their loss is our gain.’ A solid slice of Americana, the album is relaxed yet forceful with its lyrical delivery especially seen in the track ‘Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings.’ Father John Misty still has a certain Fleet Foxes vibe around but has moved far enough away from their trademark sound to make Fear Fun very much his own release. (Joni Roome)

23. Azealia Banks – 1991 EP
Banks did not release her much anticipated debut album this year amid label fall outs and hissy fits but she did release the 1991 EP. Four tracks in length, title track 1991 is a meticulously constructed beat with Azealia spitting expertly written rhymes over the top – the track bounces along brilliantly and sets the tone for a very impressive EP. Explicit lyrics from such a young, fresh faced girl is a gimmick that fades quite quickly but 212 has been one of the biggest hits of recent times (reportedly David Cameron’s wife Samantha is a fan of the song according to Azealia Banks’ Twitter feed). Played literally everywhere despite the hook containing the most offensive word in the English language – maybe it is a gimmick but it is a catchy song off an impressive EP. (Joni Roome)

TNGHT are the unlikey pairing of Hudson Mohawke and Lunice, combining together to make noisy and obnoxious club bangers. Their track Higher Ground featured in our Top 50 Tracks of the Year list and Lucy has chosen their EP as one of her favourite longer releases from the year. It’s music to dance to; what’s not to love? (Joni Roome)

21. Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland – Black is Beautiful
The duo formally known as Hype Williams have been irreverently beguiling fans for a while now, but this represents their most complete work to date. Blunt plays the part of arch, ironic conductor whilst Copeland is his mesmeric chanteuse. It’s an album that rewards you for careful attention, with stretches of ambient noise, feedback and tape loops punctuated by tiny pockets of ethereal beauty and wonder. Unsettling and darkly sexual, nothing else this year sounded quite like it. (Alex Beazley-Long)

20. Actress – R.I.P.
An album that is unashamedly modern whilst also effortlessly timeless. Pulsating beats emerge out of the smoky, mystical atmosphere, creating something that is as funky as it is beautiful. The end result is music that would sound equally at home soundtracking Greek mythology as it would a sweaty, disconcerting night in Berlin. (Alex Beazley-Long)

19. Disclosure: The Face EP
It’s been a big year for the teenage producers and Comment Editor Jess has chosen their The Face EP as one of her favourite releases this year. The three song EP was a huge hit with What’s In Your Head on heavy rotation throughout the summer festivals. With their remix of Jessie Ware’s Running pushing them further into the limelight, their latest track Latch featuring Sam Smith seems to be an all out attempt to crack the mainstream market. 2013 will be a big year for Disclosure and I’m sure they will only get bigger and better. (Joni Roome)

18. Jeremih – Late Nights With Jeremih
Previously known as the bloke who did “Birthday Sex”, Jeremih completely re-invented himself this year as a post-Weeknd R&B libertine. At times sultry, subtle and seductive whilst also grandiose and often just plain silly, the album was a perfect demonstration of just how much the genre can do with some imagination and ambition. (Alex Beazley-Long)

17. Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
Produced and released at the same time as El-P’s The Full Retard, the two albums almost combine into one. For the two veterans of rap music to release albums so close may have been unintentional but the result was an all out assault on every topic they managed to spit rhymes about. Reagan, drugs, politics, the military, racial profiling – it’s all covered in R.A.P. Music. Killer Mike raps with intelligence and intensity, not a combination found in a genre that celebrates ignorance. This album was a refreshing change from a man who has clearly grown up and moved away from the gangland lifestyle. Big Beast featuring T.I., Bun B and Trouble is a huge Atlanta anthem about pretty much everything – one of the best album openers this year. (Joni Roome)

16. Daphni – Jiaolong
Dan Snaith has a PhD in Maths and makes beautiful offbeat electronic music as Caribou and Manitoba. Everyone knows this. What we didn’t know was that his unique skill-set would transfer so well to the club. These tracks were inescapable all year, each a veritable banger in their own right, pure fire in the hands of DJs worldwide. An album bursting with energy and enthusiasm, it constantly demands that you dance and have a good time. And who are we to say no? He is a doctor after all. (Alex Beazley-Long)

15. Burial – Kindred EP
Burial released this 30 minute, 3 track EP in February. For many, it signalled the direction Burial was taking his unique style of music. After lengthy reworks of two Massive Attack tunes (I implore you to listen to his sensational remix of Paradise Circus) he seems to be making his tracks push the 10 minute mark. Kindred clocks in at 11:26, Loner 7:28 and Ashtray Wasp 11:45 – these timings may seem indulgent and off-putting to many, but Burial is one man who can afford to take his time. The longer productions give him more time to develop motifs and themes, to add more vocal samples or in the case of this EP – to completely drop the tune and let it descend into atmospheric ruminations for a stretch of ground. I suppose it’s commonplace to be blown away by what Burial produces but with a new EP out before 2012, I can’t help but tremble with excitement. No one can touch Burial. (Joni Roome)

14. Jessie Ware – Devotion
Jessie was our main feature in the summer issue and she has had a great year. Wildest Moments soundtracked every sporting moment in the summer and 110% was never far away from a post-exam party. Jessie Ware broke the mould of typical female singer by being uncompromising in her sound. Working with Dave Okumu from The Invisible and Julio Bashmore she was in good hands as they churned out an album that appeased the mainstream and alternative crowds. For a singer to have such a critically acclaimed album is unusual but Devotion proves that with the right team – pop can be done well, and this is certainly done well. (Joni Roome)

13. Alt-J – An Awesome Wave
Mercury Music Prize winners and Circulation features Alt-J were a critical and commercial success in 2012. Alice Brooksbank explains why An Awesome Wave was one of her top picks. ‘A relentless but careful layering of various textures – plinking pianos, sparse guitars – and that distinctive voice. It all forms a rich quilt of complex sounds that I want to wrap myself up in. I listened to ‘Something Good’ virtually on repeat for most of September.’ (Alice Brooksbank)

12. Flume – Flume
All the way from Sydney Australia, Harley Streten (aka ‘Flume’) caught fire after supporting The xx on their mini Aussi tour and reaching number one in his homeland with this self-titled debut. Though he strictly falls into a vast and every-growing category of electronic artists, he warrants respect for his decision to focus on an ambient, day-time-suited vibe rather than delving into the easy-fame, hipster-centric House that catches on with musically ignorant and chemically enhanced tools. With the sound of a reworked AlunaGeorge, ‘Sleepless ft. Jezzabell Doran’ and ‘Insane ft. Moon Holiday’ waver back and forth between spasmodic snippets of vocals and moments of conventional harmony. Opened with what sounds like a clumsy game of computer pinball, ‘Sintra’ builds up through the introduction of a flute, vocals and electronic drumbeat until it takes on the same waning quality as is heard in the delightfully discordant ‘Star Eyes’. All in all a varied and unique listen, Flume has proved a good accompaniment to those weary morning walks onto campus. (Jonjo Lowe)

11. Lana Del Rey – Born to Die
Putting this album forward as one of my favourite of the year should fill me with self-loathing. Shamefully(/lessly), it doesn’t. Packaged together under the pseudonym ‘Lana Del Rey’, Lizzie Grant and her team of talented producers started a snowball process from which Born to Die has now become the most sampled and reworked album of the year. Initially comprised of the powerfully haunting ‘Video Games’, the country twang of ‘Blue Jeans’ and the girlishly seductive ‘National Anthem’, the Del Rey legacy has morphed to consist of remixes by the likes of MJ Cole, Julio Bashmore and RAC as well as covers from Bastille and Bombay Bicycle Club. Much as the album heavily exploits influences from the pop-past of Madonna and Nancy Sinatra, it has become a goldmine for other artists’ borrowing. Though nothing more than a refreshing pop effort, Born to Die has penetrated the entrails of 2012’s music scene and risen to our tongues to become a unique taste with which we are all at least familiar. (Jonjo Lowe)

10. How to Dress Well – Total Loss
Tom Krell is an incredibly beautiful man. He has also suffered a lot though, something that was very evident in the production of his stunning debut ‘Love Remains’. Whilst on that album he chose to hide behind reverb, refracted vocals and raw emotions, on ‘Total Loss’ he pushed his voice to the fore, to great effect. (Alex Beazley-Long)

9. Nicoals Jaar – Don’t Break My Love/ The Prism
(Yes it’s a compilation album, but one of the good ones.) I am convinced that Jaar resides in an alternate universe where sounds grow on trees, bulbously waiting to be plucked when ripe, and one can ensnare voices with a butterfly net or whittle rhythms out of forest branches. It would seem Jaar has invited friends to come play in his other realm too, with Nikita Quasim and Valentin Stip being amongst others to bring back musical offerings on this album. My convictions were only proved further when this album was mysteriously released as a palm-size aluminium cube; somewhere between a scientific sample, Pandora’s box and the best present of the year. (Alice Lawrence)

8. Grizzly Bear – Shields
Chosen by both Arts Editor Bex and Comment Editor Jess – Grizzly Bear have long been held close to the hearts of the Circulation team. A former favourite of past editor Hana – she would tell me at length how brilliant this album is, and how they have stepped up their game each time they release an album. The band have continued in fine fashion from Veckatimest, their previous album, and honed in on the things they do so well as a band. The old school guitar tones and reverb vocals are worked to perfection and this album is clearly the work of a quartet knowing exactly where their strengths lie. (Joni Roome)

7. Chromatics – Kill For Love
Chosen by both Alice Brooksbank and Alice Lawrence, the latter shares her thoughts. ‘This is one of the very very few records that has ever made me yearn for the eighties, yet neither I nor the album were even conceived then. It’s also the renaissance of the Italo-Disco era that I similarly missed out on five years ago, due to not being cool enough. So please, put this album on, give me a perm, chuck me back to that 80s electro-party and call me bambolina.’ (Alice Lawrence)

6. Flying Lotus – Until the Quiet Comes
Composed by the Los Angeles-based producer with the intention of creating a “collage of mystical states, dreams, sleep and lullabies”, Until the Quiet Comes is overridden by the sketchy, disjointed feel you’d imagine to run reign in the disturbed mind of Donnie Darko. Exemplified by ‘Phantasm ft. Laura Darlington’, many of the tracks open with an uncomfortably unsettling sound from which you are pleasantly surprised to be transported into more aurally soothing realms. Though essentially wind down music, the ample and hefty blasts of bass allow FlyLo easy entry into user friendly settings such as that of Manchester’s Warehouse Project. Unorthodox in many respects, this is the product of a genuine creative genius. (Jonjo Lowe)

5. Beach House – Bloom
This album was picked by Events Co-ordinator Alice B, Albums Editor Niamh and Live Editor Will. Alice describes why it got so much love from her this year. ‘A collection of expansive songs that create a mystical space you just want to swim around in forever. I am a little bit in love with Victoria Legrand’s laid-back voice which oozes out the lyrics.’ (Alice Brooksbank)

4. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
Bex and myself both feel this album warrants a place on the list. This album is sitting pretty at the top of many end of year lists for good reason. After his mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra, Frank Ocean has stepped up to the level of superstar. His album was preceded by a coming-out note on his Tumblr explaining that he is bisexual/homosexual as well as explaining a time he fell in love with another man. This contextual factor gives Channel Orange a whole different way of being viewed. With radio friendly tracks like ‘Thinkin Bout You’, ‘Bad Religion’ and the epic ‘Pyramids’ – Channel Orange appealed to mainstream radio as well as alternative blogs who had been aware of Ocean since his Odd Future days. The sheer level of quality of show is intimidating; vocals are top notch, the song writing and lyrics are modern day fairytales and the guest spots are almost all perfectly placed. John Mayer’s cavernous guitar solo on Pyramids, Earl Sweatshirt on Super Rich Kids and the inimitable Andre 3000 absolutely tearing up Pink Matter with lines only he could come up with – ‘if models are made for modelling/ then thick girls a made for cuddling’. But the album belongs to Frank Ocean and his shot in the arm for R&B. (Joni Roome)

3. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. City
This is a modern classic. I’ve said it. This has been my favourite album of the year and has captured my imagination like few have in recent years. Every song is fantastic and could easily be a single: Backseat Freestyle will be played at hip-hop nights until the end of time, Swimming Pools (Drank) has the most catchy chorus since Don’t Stop Believing, The Art of Peer Pressure is a phenomenally open examination of the things we do when surrounded by bad influences and Compton (featuring none other than Dre) is a balls out anthem declaring the might of Kendrick and Dre’s hometown. This album is about insecurities, failure, losing people, lack of faith – subjects that rappers are usually a million miles away from. Kendrick Lamar not only confronts these issues but does so by creating brilliant tunes. The album is funny yet sombre, cocky yet poignant – to achieve this balance is an incredible feat for an artist on his second album. Kendrick speaks of the pressure of being ‘Pac reincarnated’, the pressure is sure to last as the world can’t get enough of good kid, m.A.A.d. City. (Joni Roome)

2. Bobby Womack – The Bravest Man in the Universe
I challenge you to call this album ‘overhyped’. Exposing a withering, grittier version of the ageing Womack’s distinctive voice, The Bravest Man in the Universe relays the regrets of his life with an endearing honesty. While ‘Stupid’ sells itself in the first ten seconds with the filmic, introductory words of Gil Scott Heron, ‘Dayglo Reflection’ features the eerie and sultry intonation of Del Rey, perfectly phrased around the track’s laid-back groove. Abrasively imperfect as the production is at times (most notably on the too-happy-clappy ‘Love is Gunna Lift You Up’), Damon Albarn and Richard Russell’s bold choices have kept it feeling a fresh conglomerate of soul, gospel and hip-hop. Yet at the heart it is still very much the product of Bobby Womack; a deeply personal, autobiographical account of his inter-blurred addictions to both drugs and Jesus. As he unpretentiously rasps the words ‘please forgive my heart’, I can’t help but think that he deserves for any ill-doing to be well and truly forgiven. (Jonjo Lowe)

1. Hot Chip – In Our Heads
2012 has seen Hot Chip’s fingers enter many, many pies and exit in a fist ready to punch the air in success. Separately, Joe Goddard, The 2 Bears, Alexis Taylor and New Build have been splendid (half of them have been child-rearing this year too), but it is when the chaps are all together that true magic like In Our Heads is born. This is a culmination of crate-digging at its best; ‘Don’t Deny Your Heart’ uses steel pans because they were so impressed by 50 Cent’s PIMP, but there is greater subtlety throughout. The album is riddled with nods to so many artists and emotions and lyrical images that I sometimes get a little overwhelmed and have to lie down for a while after listening to it. And then listen to it again. And again. Olivia, Lucy and I all chose this album for our end of year list proving that I’m not the only one who has this on repeat. (Alice Lawrence)

Joni Roome