By Julian De Ocampo ’13
List-making is part of the fundamental order of human nature, isn’t it?
We rank to understand, we rank to put things in context and we rank because it’s fun.
Music taste is never entirely independent; we rely on critics, peers, charts, rankings and more to help form what we do and don’t like.
I have been writing The Roundup’s best albums of the year column for three years now, and I have to say I’m going to miss it.
This isn’t the perfect list, but I hope someone out there can find something that really connects with them through my suggestions.
I did not listen to every good album in 2012 by a long shot, but I heard so many works that have enriched my life and helped function as a soundtrack to my final year of high school. I hope this list provides at least a few suggestions next time you’re looking for a song or album to listen to.
So without further ado, the best music of 2012:
5. The Mountain Goats – “Cry for Judas”
4. Cloud Nothings – “Stay Useless”
3. Sky Ferreira – “Everything is Embarrassing”
2. Frank Ocean – “Pyramids”
1. Icona Pop (feat. Charli XCX) – “I Love It”
A pure distillation of euphoric energy, this is what pop music should sound like.
10. Grimes – “Visions”
9. Kendrick Lamar – “good kid, m.A.A.d city”
8. Chairlift – “Something”
7. Titus Andronicus – “Local Business”
6. Dirty Projectors – “Swing Lo Magellan”
5. Purity Ring – “Shrines”
4. Lana Del Ray – “Born to Die”
3. Japandroids – “Celebration Rock”
Celebratory music is supposed to be big, isn’t it?
Celebration music should have cues for horn sections and be danceable and have as many musicians on the stage as possible.
But Japandroids have never been about the odds. They’ve always been just two guys on guitar and drums respectively thrashing their instruments so that you can feel some sort of catharsis.
“Celebration Rock” is a celebration of celebrations, the idea that we can rescue ourselves from any pain simply by appreciating the craft of rock-and-roll.
The guitar is full and destructive, as is the propulsive and often manically militaristic drum beat that matches. Every song is peppered with shout-along sections put on this earth for the sole purpose of fist-pumping.
Japandroids have always made radical statements: that you don’t have to be big to seem big, that you don’t even need to really demonstrate a rudimentary knowledge of music theory to make a classic rock anthem, or most importantly, that you don’t have to make dance music to make party music.
2. Frank Ocean – “Channel Orange”
Frank Ocean is an anomaly.
He’s an Odd Future member who shies away for their purely hedonistic tendencies, opting instead to sing heartfelt ballads and meticulous narratives.
He’s a gay male with high art ambitions who makes hip-hop/R&B music, genres previously noted for homophobia.
He topped sales charts with an album so good that it might also be topping critical charts this year.
His most popular song, “Thinking Bout You,” is a subtly crafted masterpiece that has won over a wide audience despite being decidedly unmanly and playing with gender roles.
His debut album, “Channel Orange,” features anomaly after anomaly, with continually inventive and remarkable songs on every issue from privilege (“Sweet Life,” “Super Rich Kids”) to his own sexuality (“Bad Religion”) while peppering in a few remarkably inventive narrative exercises (“Lost”).
I could keep going on about the ground broken by “Channel Orange,” but I think the message is clear: We need more anomalies like Frank.
1. The Mountain Goats – “Transcendental Youth”
For more than two decades now, The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle has worked on what is oftentimes the most underappreciated skill in music: storytelling.
His prolific career has left us with a numerous concepts albums that have culminated in “Transcendental Youth,” a loose concept album about fictional characters living in Washington state.
Loosely based in folk, but far more upbeat and full, the album moves like poetry with Darnielle’s trademark nasal yelp and manic acoustic strumming acting as the common denominator.
Darnielle, who has come far from his early days recording solo tracks onto a boombox, is joined by a full band that never steals the show, but rather works to make a great thing even better.
The expanded arrangements that Darnielle has created with help from a gorgeous horn section help elevate his insightful lyrics to another level.
Whether he’s writing about a drug junkie in “Lakeside View Apartment Suite” or spouting inspirational one-liners in just about every other song on the album, Darnielle’s lyrics are pointed, clever and intensely true.
By the end of the album, we are left with the image of a master lyricist at the top of his game.