Rob Wilson selects the best 20 albums of the year. Do you agree or violently disagree?

20. La Voyage Dans la Lune – Air

French band Air caught my attention way back in January with this album. Originally shorter and composed to match the 1902 film of the same name for the Cannes Film Festival, Air extended the soundtrack to create this album. Although La Voyage may not have the same effect just as an album, rather than an accompaniment to a moving image, Air still manages to keep the sonic and adventurous feel to create what turned out to be an enjoyable ride.

19. III – Crystal Castles

Although I was initially disappointed with III, a few repeated listens certainly helped me warm to it. Although I felt it lacked energy in certain places where their previous two efforts had it in abundance, the haunting nature of the icy synths were just the first step towards really enjoying this album and what it has to offer. It also shows that Crystal Castles aren’t content with sitting comfortably within the 8-bit chirps they are famous for, and continue to develop their sound whilst still keeping some of the more accessible features of their sound.

18. Love this Giant – David Byrne & St. Vincent

Writing and recording Love this Giant via the Internet and emailing services didn’t help the creative energy that could have benefited this album if Byrne and Annie Clark (St. Vincent) had created this album in person, but the talent and perfectly blended contrasts of the two collaborators still shines through over some complex, yet accessible, horn sections and careful attention to beats. Clark also uses parts of this album to further show everyone just how wonderful she can be when let loose on the guitar.

17. Shrines – Purity Ring

Purity Ring suffer from appearing a little one-dimensional on Shrines but the ‘dimension’ they invent, full of clean beats, cool synths and sweet vocals provide a wonderful way for Purity Ring to further blur the lines between what is adorable and what is evil. It’s rare for an album so dark to sound so sweet and still feel intentional and purposeful. While the instrumentals go for skippy beats and sweltering synths, Megan James’ vocals cut through to the top of the mix, whilst adding a sense of vulnerability through her personal lyrical content and vocal delivery.

16. Coexist – The xx

Although I do feel Jamie xx should have been let loose and allowed to turn The xx into a slightly more sophisticated version of Crystal Castles for Coexist, it doesn’t mean that Coexist wasn’t another solid, tight album from the 2010 Mercury Prize winners. It was always going to be hard to follow up a Mercury Prize winner, and for the most part they do fail to do so, but tracks such as “Chained” and “Sunset” show that there’s more to come from Jamie xx – the man who could drive The xx in a direction they seem to be purposely avoiding for fear of experimental disaster.

15. channel ORANGE – Frank Ocean.

Or, if you’d rather, “How to market an album perfectly and then sort of relate to why you did at the end” by Frank Ocean. For a man that’s written for Justin Bieber I expected bigger choruses in places, but what is memorable is superb. Ocean glides between club anthems (“Pyramids”) and soulful R’n’B (“Thinkin’ ‘Bout You”) in between some wonderful production and expert collaborations, most notably from Outkast’s Andre 3000, adding in a few Stevie Wonder throwbacks in between to create a story and, as it turns out, come out of the closet.

14. Shields – Grizzly Bear

After providing the wonderful Veckatimest, Grizzly Bear were faced with a mammoth task of following it up. Opening with the delicate, yet confident, ‘Sleeping Ute’, Shields carefully provides us with a louder, more adventurous sound from Grizzly Bear – on some tracks, especially “Gun Shy”, you could be forgiven for mistaking them for Metronomy. There’s no “I Live with You” to be found to regenerate any excitement towards the end of the album, exactly, but the closing track “Sun In Your Eyes” does close off as a perfect cliffhanger and something to leave us drooling until Grizzly Bear pop up again.

13. A+E – Graham Coxon

Former Blur guitarist Coxon combines his wonderful weirdness, his ear for a hook and his expert use of guitar effects to create one of early 2012’s better albums and show that he doesn’t necessarily need a man like Damon Albarn to perform consistently. Eight albums strong into his solo adventure, Coxon still provides us with distortion that feels fresh and a grasp of electronics and musical experiments that don’t feel dated and finds himself high-up on the list for 2012.

12. An Awesome Wave – Alt-J

Alt-J produced one of the year’s most exciting debut releases. Bringing together some harsh electronics with brief acoustic cuttings (displayed with a “❦” symbol) and a wonderful grasp on the “pop hook” actually works better on record than it may sound on paper and because of this, it seems, they managed to get their hands on the 2012 Mercury Prize. Deserved? I guess there’s no point arguing it. But for now I think we’ll let them have their moment in the sun and see if their awesome wave is consistent.

11. NO LOVE DEEP WEB – Death Grips

One of two releases from the American hip-hop trio in 2012, NO LOVE DEEP WEB provided listeners a taste of rebellion and shock as Death Grips went against their label’s wishes and released the album early. Although the huge transitions between verses and the memorable refrain seemed to decrease slightly from The Money Store, the intensity still remains in huge amounts, making NO LOVE DEEP WEB one of the better releases of 2012.

10. Django Django – Django Django

Providing one of the more quirky and fun records of 2012 was UK band Django Django. A Mercury Prize nomination was the deserved reward for a band that didn’t take itself too seriously when writing their first album but still managed to concoct the perfect recipre for a silly, yet at the same time intelligent, combination of wiry guitars, unusual electronics and 60s rock & roll definitely help Django Django produce one of the more original and diverse albums of 2012.

9. Astraea – Rolo Tomassi

There is not much I can say about Rolo Tomassi that makes them sound enjoyable. They combine irregular, untappable drumming patterns, screeching guitars, violent and crisp electronics and incomprehensible vocal delivery to create their sound. On Astraea, despite some line-up changes, Rolo Tomassi have still managed to further refine their sound and in turn have produced the 9th best album of 2012, apparently without sounding too far away from their usual selves.


When you’re trying to make it in the world of jazz with a new sound, it’s not a good idea to slag of the most sacred of cows within the jazz world – Miles Davis – but that’s what BADBADNOTGOOD did at the very end of their first mixtape. And in 2012 they came back with more original pieces on this mixtape than on their debut. BADBADNOTGOOD are trying to head towards the more traditional jazz styles with more emphasis on improvisation but the fact that most of their songs are structured (in terms of the “jazz” style) actually allows BADBADNOTGOOD’s covers to really feel like they’ve been reworked and transformed from their original format in to these “jazz” songs. BADBADNOTGOOD take the hook, the general rhythm and work their magic around it. But their hip-hop influences aren’t hidden from – in fact, they’re explicitly displayed.

Artwork from the Idler Wheel.

7. The Idler Wheel is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do – Fiona Apple.

After reading that album title I guess you don’t know what to expect. But Fiona Apple is a seemingly approachable personality that could snap at you before you reach her. The emotion shown on this album through Apple’s clever lyricism and superb vocal performances touch every nerve as the human’s best and most embarrassing traits are laid bare for everyone to see. Fiona Apple’s breast really has bust open and she has shown us all what she is capable of doing and incapable of stopping herself from doing. Ranging from a quiet mouse to a roaring werewolf, Apple’s almost schizophrenic approach to storytelling almost feels normal – it feels human.

6. Lonerism – Tame Impala

Imagine a world where there is nothing but guitars and turquoise fog. This is the world Tame Impala appear to have been living in recently to end up with an album as mysterious and hazy as this one. Falling somewhere between psychedelic rock and the Beatles in 1966, Lonerism seems to have given Tame Impala a deserved ticket to semi-stardom.

5. Until the Quiet Comes – Flying Lotus

Following up 2010’s Cosmogramma may have been a task even FlyLo couldn’t quite do, but Until the Quiet Comes is still a fine, solid release from arguably the hottest electronic producer around at the moment. There’s significantly less orchestral swells, and there’s definitely less erratic drum patterns but there’s a much heavier focus on ambiance and a focus on vocalists to provide a warmer, more welcoming feel than was present on Cosmogramma and still keeps FlyLo ahead of the game.


Although it wasn’t technically an album, I just couldn’t leave it out. TNGHT may have produced one of the most exciting and promising collection of songs in 2012. In fact, had it not been for Death Grips’ controversy and consistency, this may have been TNGHT’s year. Huge hand claps, slamming bass drops and some expert hip-hop/trap percussion provide one of the club anthems of 2012. But this is not a collection of conventional anthems – these beats are more complex, the hooks are more irresistible and there’s not a repetitive bore to be found.

3. good kid, M.A.A.D. city – Kendrick Lamar

Debut release of the year? Perhaps. Kendrick goes through just about everything he’s experienced in his life to create a story and one of the most meaningful, self-aware albums of 2012. Being such a young man can often lead to an artist having ideas above his station, but Kendrick pays attention to his family, his faith and making some fine hip-hop music. Changing pace, dipping from cadential pauses to overflowing lyrical bombardments, Kendrick works his talent for a perfect flow over some of the most carefully produced and specifically chosen instrumentals I’ve ever come across.

2. R.A.P. Music – Killer Mike

After being around for a while and collaborating with OutKast a few times I think 2012 was probably a little too late for me to stumble across Killer Mike and call myself a massive fan, but as he says himself on “Southern Fried” – ‘that fat, black motherf***er got a way with the words’. El-P’s penchant for a huge beat, Killer Mike’s knowledge and respect of black music, recent black history, and his experiences that have formed his ideal vision of music, politics and well, everything he cares about drew comparisons with NWA and combined to create 2012’s second-best album.

1. The Money Store – Death Grips

So, the best album of 2012 (according to me). What Death Grips managed to do on The Money Store was move forward and become more accessible without sounding like they’d been instructed to do so. They took the fundamental aspects of their sound which made Exmilitary sound so raw and visceral and turned them into ingredients for writing hard-hitting rap songs with more of a ‘pop’ edge, with most of the tracks focusing on hooks and loud choruses in the way Exmilitary never did. The Money Store is a perfect balance of brutality and accessiblity and is not only the best album of 2012 but may yet prove to be one of the best of the 2010s.