The 10 best albums of 2012 are:
1. Frank Ocean, “Channel Orange.” Many people will check out Frank Ocean’s debut album “Channel Orange” simply because of his announcement that he had engaged in a same-sex relationship, an unusual announcement for an R&B musician. But the real reason music lovers should listen to the album is the slinky, subtle, ambient and supremely confident R&B that Ocean, at the tender age of 24, has created. While some of the unrequited love songs are addressed to men, issues such as gender and sexual orientation are meaningless when love is described in such intimate, emotional terms. Ocean is obviously influenced by hip-hop, but the real revelations are how he takes traditional R&B and adds literate, hyper-verbal lyrics and unconventional, but beguiling, arrangements. Ocean’s music indicates the golden age of R & B wasn’t over in the 1970s, but is happening again right now.
2. Japandroids, “Celebration Rock.” The second album from this Canadian guitar-and-drum duo trumps similar duos Black Keys and White Stripes by unleashing such passionate anthems with a voice that believes irony and subtly are the enemies. “The House That Heaven Built” is the most gut-punching rock single of the year, with its unforgettable chorus, “When they love you and they will / Tell them all, they’ll love in my shadow / And if they try to slow you down /Tell them all, to go to hell.”
3. The Gaslight Anthem, “Handwritten.” The New Jersey punk-influenced quartet has been approved by Jersey’s favorite son Bruce Springsteen, but the band shares more in common with the spirit and energy of The Replacements and The Clash. There’s no denying that The Gaslight Anthem is hungry and demanding to be heard. And this band has something to say.
4. Muse, “2nd Law.” Matthew Bellamy, and his comrades in the British rock band Muse unleash their stunning new album “2nd Law” that is often bombasticbut refreshingly ambitious, with symphonic orchestrations sharing space with EDM inspirations (not to mention deliciously decorative guitar riffs). Thanks to them for challenging us, and rewarding us.
5. Little Big Town, “Tornado.” The best country album of the year comes from this quartet whose sublime four-part harmonies have made them the most consistently enjoyable vocalists in Nashville. “Pontoon” and “Sober” were some of the year’s best country slices, especially with the slightly dissonant “Pontoon” that showed that LBT isn’t cookie-cutter.
6. Kendrick Lamar, “good kid, m.A.A.d city.” Compton-based hip hop artist mentored by Dr. Dre surpassed all expectations with this album that revived the West Coast rap scene single-handedly. The concept of a “good kid” in a “mad city” is articulated thoughtfully and boldly.
7. Various Artists, “Chimes Of Freedom: The Songs Of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International.” “Chimes of Freedom” is a new four-CD collection of mostly newly recorded covers of Bob Dylan songs, and the consistently surprising set is nothing short of attention-arresting, with top-shelf performers ranging in age from Miley Cyrus, 19, to Pete Seeger, 92. It shows that Dylan is forever young and forever relevant.
8. Jack White, “Blunderbuss.” It’s an interesting question to see who Jack White wants to be on his debut solo album “Blunderbuss.” The answer? He wants to be everything. And what is astounding is how well he does in trying to reach that goal, with a swampy mix that never loses its melodic rock appeal.
9. Alisa Weilerstein, “Elgar And Carter - Cello Concertos". The best young cellist in the world comes off a Genius Grant from the MacArthur Foundation to record resonant and dynamic interpretations of concertos by centenarian Elliott Carter and Sir Edward William Elgar. Rarely do classical albums become “events” when released, but this one deserved it.
10. Taylor Swift, “Red.” Taylor Swift’s fourth album “Red” is her first adult album, where Swift declares her independence from country music and instead pivots toward undeniably melodic dance songs such as “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “22.” Other songs square straight into top-40, pop-rock territory, with Swift’s sense of who she is always imbuing the album with energy and personality.