MoJo Music Critics’ Top Albums of 2012

More than two dozen gems, from Bill Withers to Screaming Females.

The Screaming Females’ “Ugly” made all three Top 10 Lists.
Photo by saucy salad/Flickr

A lot of great music came out over the past 12 months, and we’ve been busy culling through it for you to pull out the gems. Below, in no particular order, are the year’s Top 10 lists of our three most prolific music writers. These are the new albums they listen to again and again even when they’re off the clock. You’ll see some notable overlap, including Micachu and the Shapes and Sharon Van Etten—and by all means rush out right this second and buy the Screaming Females’ album. Also check out Asawin Suebsaeng’s opinionated roundup of “The Most Fantastic and Glorious Movies of 2012—and the Worst of the Worst” and 2012 music, books, and media picks (coming soon) from the rest of the MoJo staff. And now, without further ado…

Alyssa Battistoni’s Top 10

1. Sharon Van Etten, Tramp (Jagjaguwar): Confessional singing-songwriting the way it was meant to be done. (Review and interview with Van Etten.)

2. Julia Holter, Ekstasis (RVNG): Ethereal, ebullient avant-garde pop from the classically trained Holter. (Review.)

3. Purity Ring, Shrines (4AD): This shimmering, sparkling, stuttering electro-pop from Corey Roddick and Megan James is packed with inspired lyrics and infectious beats that’ll stick in your head forever. 

4. David Byrne and St. Vincent, Love This Giant (4AD): The two eclectic artists pair up for an album that’s richly packed with sounds strange and spectacular. (Review and live photos.)

David Byrne and St. Vincent live. Jacob Blickenstaff

5. Screaming Females, Ugly (Don Giovanni): Nobody can shred a guitar or a vocal chord quite like Marissa Paternoster, and nobody does punk quite like Screaming Females. (Review and short profile.)

6. Crystal Castles, (III) (Casablanca/Republic Records/Fiction): The electro-goth ravings of singer Alice Glass and producer Ethan Kath are occasionally terrifying and always electrifying. (Review.)

7. Japandroids, Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl): The Vancouver duo distill jubilant defiance into eight tracks of unironically awesome rock. (Review.)

8. Black Marble, A Different Arrangement (Hardly Art): This darkly gorgeous, atmospheric synth-pop from Brooklyn duo Chris Stewart and Ty Kube resonates and lingers. (Review.)

9. Grizzly Bear, Shields (Warp): The Brooklyn band’s fourth album deploys their usual hallmarks in service of a richly textured, gorgeously complex, precisely structured album of contemplative indie pop-rock. (Review.)

10. Grimes, Visions (4AD): Claire Boucher chirps and loops her way through weird-pop that’s cluttered but clean, fluid but sharp, ambient but danceable—and above all, catchy as hell.

Sydney Brownstone’s Top 10

1. Micachu and the Shapes, Never (Rough Trade): Equal parts abrasive stomp and Britpop bliss, Micachu’s Never is one sweet suckerpunch of weird. (Review.)

2.  Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (Epic): Apple’s lyrics find a new place to burn inside this masterful, tempestuous cabaret.

3.  Titus Andronicus, Local Business (XL): A cynical but winking celebration of all things hearty, homegrown, and punk rock. New Jersey, too. (Review and interview.)

Sharon Van Etten’s “Tramp” Jagjaguwar

4.  The Coup, Sorry to Bother You (ANTI-): Irrepressibly funky flow and incisive wit from Oakland’s most radical hip hop collective. (Review, 2007 interview, and 2011 interview.)

5.  Screaming Females, Ugly (Don Giovanni): If you thought it couldn’t get better than the last album, Castle Talk, Marissa Paternoster’s punk vibrato and slaying hooks will prove you very, very wrong. (Review and short profile.)

6.  Animal Collective, Centipede Hz (Domino): The Brooklyn-based foursome’s most joyous, noisy tangle of an album yet. (Read about Avey Tare’s music picks.)

7.  Ty Segall, Twins (Drag City): Having trained under the auspices of Bay Area garage greats like Thee Oh Sees for years, young’n Ty Segall released his best set of heart-on-sleeve hits in 2012.

8.  Cat Power, Sun (Matador): Cat Power’s “pop” album takes the songwriter in a vibrantly experimental but wholly satisfying direction.

9.  Sharon Van Etten, Tramp (Jagjaguwar): The sharp, formerly acoustic songwriter gets acquainted with the throes of electric guitar. (Review and interview with Van Etten.)

10. Dirty Projectors, Swing Lo Magellan (Domino): Unclassifiable, ornate, and soaring. Dave Longstreth has taken flack for the cerebral quality of the Projectors’ music, but this is the kind of cerebral you can play on repeat.

Jon Young’s Top 10

1. M. Ward, A Wasteland Companion (Merge): Smoldering, sly singer-songwriter folk-rock with sneaky staying power. (Review.)

2. Bill Withers, The Complete Sussex and Columbia Albums (Sony Legacy): Withers, a singular voice of ’70s R&B, as fresh as ever.

3. Screaming Females, Ugly (Don Giovanni): Mind-shredding punk-rock, courtesy of the awesome Marissa Paternoster. (Review and short profile.)

Micachu and the Shapes Courtesy Rough Trade

4. Alabama Shakes, Boys & Girls (ATO): Rousing gospel-soul from future superstar Brittany Howard.

5. Dent May, Do Things (Paw Tracks): A southern boy’s sweetly charming take on smooth ’80s pop. (Review.)

6. Micachu and the Shapes, Never (Rough Trade): Zany, overstuffed, big-hearted collages of sound from England. (Review.)

7. Best Coast, The Only Place (Mexican Summer): Bethany Cosentino’s deceptively dark reinvention of sunny California pop. (Review.)

8. Melody’s Echo Chamber, self-titled (Fat Possum): Poignant psychedelia made by France’s Melody Prochet and Australia’s Kevin Parker.

9. Mission of Burma, Unsound (Fire): Punk forefathers drunk at the fountain of youth.

10. Lianne La Havas, Is Your Love Big Enough? (Nonesuch): Subtlety, wit and elegant acoustic guitar with an English twist.

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