Here at Idolator, the editors have been continuously sifting through 2012′s releases and poring over tracks to suss out the best of the best. Of course, let’s face it: it was a dire year as far as consistent, solid albums are concerned. Forget the lack of a breakout smash like Adele‘s 21 (which, to be fair, is an anomaly in this day and age) — despite steady sales for Mumford & Sons‘ Babel and One Direction‘s Up All Night, there wasn’t that clear-cut collision of critical praise and commercial crossover with any album, save for maybe Taylor Swift‘s Red.
And, well, lo and behold — Red made our list. As did nine other standout LPs released over the past year that span several genres. After all, cha-ching is not what defines a good album; it’s simply a blend of both songs that impact our daily lives made by artists who tap into a collective commonality and some damn fine hooks.
Head below to see what Idolator’s resident music fanatics Robbie Daw, Carl Williott, Sam Lansky and Erika Brooks Adickman chose as their favorite albums of 2012.
1. Miguel, Kaleidoscope Dream
Carl says: If the headband-wearing Frank Ocean is now R&B’s mystical leader, Miguel is the lead recruiter, inviting you into the party with a smile. Kaleidoscope Dream showed that the genre’s increasing murkiness and thoughtfulness doesn’t have to come at the cost of playfulness. So while Miguel doesn’t have the gravitas of Ocean or The Weeknd, he’s more approachable, and with this album made fun music sound essential instead of disposable. From the opening bars of “Adorn” through to closer “Candles In The Sun,” the tracks are effervescent, the production is immaculate and Miguel’s vocals are on-point. It’s one of the most consistent and listenable albums of 2012.
2. Taylor Swift, Red
Sam says: It’s easy to be cynical about the reasons why Taylor Swift’s Red was the top-selling album of the year: She had a massive Max Martin-produced single that she performed everywhere; her fan base is rabidly all-consuming; her face was on pizza boxes. But the real reason is that her songcraft remains unparalleled, and Red showcased her abilities marvelously, in finely hewn details, the most varied production styles of her career and storytelling that remains as emotionally ass-whooping as any artist with her reach. Desperately wounded on “All Too Well,” exuberant on “22,” and embittered on, well, pretty much all the songs — in a year where so many releases felt like calculated cash-grabs, Red rang true.
3. Jessie Ware, Devotion
Robbie says: If you blinked, you probably missed the digital release of Jessie Ware’s debut LP in August. It’s since been stripped off of iTunes, as Devotion is now set for a proper 2013 launch stateside. That’s something to look forward to, because in the era of Adele, we can use a singer who not only brings a slight bit of retro-soul class, but also a touch of Sade-like sensitivity and Air-esque mystery. Of course, none of these comparisons are to detract from this Brit’s own unique artistry. Bombastic ballad “Wildest Moments,” the song Ware is currently most associated with, carries the ring of a modern day classic. But delving further into Devotion reveals treasures like “Night Light,” a smooth rocker that does its best to defy genre, and the synth-drenched plea “Taking In Water.” This is one record you can’t afford to let pass you by.
4. Frank Ocean, Channel Orange
Carl says: Despite his young age, Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE sounds like the product of an elder statesman of R&B. His album is complex but not impenetrable, contemplative but not navel-gazing, veering between sensitive (“Thinkin’ Bout You”), snarky (“Rick Kids”), psychedelic (“Pilot Jones”) and sprawling (“Pyramids,” which probably gets my vote for Song Of The Year). It’s a fully-realized vision that finds Ocean melding classic and new sounds, simple and serious themes, all while breaking into a Marvin Gaye-like falsetto that’s as natural as blinking. It’s nothing short of impressive.
5. Loreen, Heal
Sam says: Loreen nabbed a meager slice of stateside recognition when she won Eurovision earlier this year with her phenomenal dance-pop masterpiece “Euphoria” (and its live performances, all haunting showcases of witchy mysticism), but nobody in the US talked about her debut LP, Heal. It’s a shame: Heal delivered shades of Robyn, with crying-on-the-dancefloor torch anthems, plus vocals as crushingly enormous as Adele’s, all wrapped up in glitchy down-tempo pop production. Loreen’s a global superstar who just hasn’t found her fullest audience yet.
6. Bright Light Bright Light, Make Me Believe In Love
Robbie says: Welsh-born Londoner Rod Thomas curbed his previous folk leanings when it came time to craft his debut album as Bright Light Bright Light, and instead opted for a sonic landscape somewhere between ’80s-synthpop-meets-’90s-house-realness and The Now. Yes, dance-pop delights such as “Waiting For The Feeling,” “Love, Pt. II” and “Feel It” sound vaguely like they could have been lifted from a chunk of years in another era. But Thomas and his producers deftly (and wisely) sprinkle enough modern flourishes throughout to keep Make Me Believe In Love firmly entrenched in 2012.
7. Beach House, Bloom
Robbie says: This was a year when anything seemed to go, album-wise, yet very few releases stuck to the wall of memory. Such was not the case with Bloom, the fourth LP from exquisite duo Beach House. Some critics found the 10 tracks here to be bereft of hooks, but they should take a second listen to the sweetly mesmerizing “Other People,” mournful ballad “The Hours” or the blipping-and-bleeping, dreamy “Lazuli.” Commercially, the pair not only cracked the Top 40 on the main album chart for the first time, they also managed to land Bloom in the Top 10. Makes perfect sense. This is music to down a nice Malbec and let your mind slip away to.
8. Kendrick Lamar, Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City
Carl says: In the Death Of Albums era, Kendrick Lamar put together such a cinematic and emotive narrative that it feels like some epic concept album compared to the rest of this year’s offerings. It’s even more impressive considering good kid, m.A.A.d city plays small-ball, operating in the deeply personal, hyper-specific world of K-Dot’s Compton youth. But thanks to his power as a lyricist, the album resonates on a grand scale, ensnaring the listener so that by the time Lamar cries, “I’m tired of this shit…I’m tired of running,” it hits you in the gut. When’s the last time a (non-Pitbull) rap album made you sad?
9. Carly Rae Jepsen, Kiss
Sam says: History may ultimately remember Carly as a one-hit-wonder (that Owl City collab doesn’t really count), but there’s a difference between a “hit” and a “damn good song” — and Jepsen’s LP Kiss had more than its share of those. Consider the J-pop dazzle of the under-performing second single “This Kiss,” the thrilling stampede of “Tonight I’m Getting Over You,” the wistful charms of “More Than a Memory” and the heartbreaking “Your Heart Is a Muscle,” and it’s clear that there’s more pluck and breezy sincerity on Kiss than nearly any mainstream pop release this year. Audiences didn’t “get it,” of course, but no matter. Pop geeks will be playing these songs long after “Call Me Maybe” has been reduced to little more than a memory.
10. Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel…
Erika says: Fiona Apple returned from an unplanned seven-year hiatus with The Idler Wheel…, a title nearly as long as former-World-Record-holding When The Pawn, lyrics as powerful as anything she’s ever written to date — but sadly no single that would lend itself to radio play as easy as “Criminal” did. Which might be for the best. Just as Fiona took her time writing them, these songs need time to grow on you. It seems the singer/songwriter has shifted her purpose of writing from “trying to explain her personality to people” to explain herself to herself. In “Daredevil,” Fiona reveals that she is fully aware of her greatest strength: “give me anything and I’ll turn it into a gift.” But, alas, she’s still somewhat tormented and aware that she’s “too hard to know.” Still ”Anything We Want” is delightfully romantic, and “Hot Knife” is sexy as hell . While “Werewolf” is not only instantly lovable, it’s one of the best post-breakup songs from written in the last decade. Continue making beautiful music for difficult people, Fi. If anyone gives you any lip, just remind them that they don’t understand your genius .
Have your own say on the year’s best album’s by voting in our reader’s poll! And be sure to let us know what you think about our picks in the comments below, or by hitting us up on Facebook and Twitter!