Top 50 Albums of 2012

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Treble's Top 50 Albums of 2012

30. Perfume GeniusPut Your Back N 2 It (Matador)

Forget orchestras, forget synthesizers, and you can even forget acoustic guitar, because Perfume Genius has officially proven that all you need to make a moving album is a piano and a voice. (I exaggerate a little but you get the gist.) Each track on this album is beautifully and simply crafted by these two elements to tell story after story about love, loneliness and loss. While it’s easy to adopt a “been there, heard that” attitude towards singer-songwriters, there is something about this album that sets it above the rest. Maybe it’s the rawness of the music, mixed with Mike Hadreas’ fragile vocal that does it. Maybe it’s the emotional attachment a listener immediately begins to feel towards the heartfelt lyrics, as is only possible with the most tender of love songs. Whatever the magic ingredient may be, Put Your Back N 2 It is a rare jewel of an album. – Grace Barber-Plentie

Video: Perfume Genius – “Hood”

29. Cat PowerSun (Matador)

Understandably, more than a few listeners were caught off guard by the production makeover Chan Marshall gave herself on the 9th record as Cat Power. I mean, Auto-Tune? Who saw that coming? Regardless of the the singer/songwriter’s choice of aesthetic and production values, Chan put a hefty amount of time and attention (four years, it seems) into crafting a beautiful and expansive record, one rewarding to fans and newcomers alike. Similar to Sufjan Stevens’ The Age of Adz, Cat Power’s Sun re-introduces an artist who’s escaped the limelight for a while, displaying a few familiar comforts while showcasing a brand new lease on creative spirit. – A.T. Bossenger

Stream: Cat Power – “Ruin”

28. Julia HolterEkstasis (RVNG)

While not as etherized as her 2011 album, Tragedy, Julia Holter’s Ekstasis is an album of pop songs as much about the atmospheres they diffuse into a room as the structures that they form proceeding in time. Atmosphere, as the German philosopher Gernot Böhme theorized it, is a matter of characteristics read as ecstasies, ecstasies being “ways in which a thing goes out of itself and modifies the sphere of its surroundings.” The features of “Marienbad,” then, may be experienced as the transmigration of a stately pleasure garden, topiary, light and handsome linearity; “Our Sorrows” plies the waters of the South Pacific, drifting solitarily into dusk, coming to a virtual standstill when the wind dies down; “Moni Mon Amie” peddles along an icy sheet of amorous melancholy, finally resting on the mirror surface of a few lines from Frank O’Hara. – Tyler Parks

Video: Julia Holter – “In the Same Room”

27. Ariel Pink’s Haunted GraffitiMature Themes (4AD)

Ariel Pink’s music is made for another time, possibly one that hasn’t happened yet. Such was apparent on 2010’s Before Today, which made perfectly clear that Pink was definitely operating far apart from just about every other indie rock band. With Mature Themes, Pink takes his oddball art pop to a whole other level. While not as catchy and energetic as his previous release, Mature Themes is exactly as its title implies both in terms of its grown-up grooves and occasionally R-rated references to g-spots and nymphomania. Featuring a really gorgeous cover of Donnie and Joe Emerson’s lost gem “Baby,” with the backing of LA funk master Dam-Funk, and an assortment of other pop gems, Mature Themes is one of the most refreshing records to come out this year. – Giovanni Martinez

Stream: Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – “Only In My Dreams”

26. ActressR.I.P. (Honest Jon’s)

Darren Cunningham’s world, as given by the music he produces, has never been one easily deciphered, but with R.I.P. he fashions a truly unearthly space, a garden peopled by spirits and the entwined forces of good and evil. Nearly every song is animated with crepuscular light and the in-between hours, giving the record a purgatorial, but somehow pleasant feeling of dilating dawn or dusk, a prolonged magic hour in which things appear both radiant and on the verge of dissolution. While most of the tracks are positioned somewhere between music for dancing and ambient drift, Cunningham occasionally does take things to one pole or the other, sometimes even binding these two ends of his sound together, as in the final act of the record, when the frantic, disintegrating house of “The Lord’s Graffiti” buckles into the Gas-like loopscape of “N E W.” – Tyler Parks

Stream: Actress – “Ascending”

25. TorcheHarmonicraft (Volcom)

Considering both the large gap in-between albums and the recent lineup change (with guitarist Andrew Elstner joining), a lot was riding on this one. Can we all agree that Torche’s 2012 album exceeded even the highest expectations? The acrobatic guitar riffs in “Snakes are Charmed” and “Sky Trials,” the killer vocal harmonies in “Kicking,” and the metallic melodies in “Solitary Traveler” were catchier and more pummeling than any past albums or EPs in their catalog. To the uninitiated, Harmonicraft sounds like a group of talented young guys conquering rock `n’ roll with an explosive 13-song collection that’s both mature and fun-as-all-hell. In reality, all of that is true — except they’re seasoned rockers, which makes it all the more impressive. – Rick Moslen

Stream: Torche – “Kicking”

24. MiguelKaleidoscope Dream (RCA)

Whereas so much of R&B is increasingly about bombast and loud fornication, crooner Miguel Pimentel reels it back in. He’s the Teddy Roosevelt of the genre, speaking softly but carrying a big swagger. The sparse, Marvin Gaye reminiscence of “Adorn” and the silky D’Angelo vibe of “Do You…” seduce the senses. Sure, he’s a horn dog, but while the other fellas in the club are “Hey, girl”-ing the ladies, he’s a more cunning linguist. And as the title suggests, Kaleidoscope Dream provides an array of tunes that will equally appeal to fans of old-school jams and indie rockers. (The honey drip of “Use Me” wouldn’t be terribly out of place on a Tame Impala recording.) Miguel’s worldly swoon is a new, exciting caress in an increasingly cold and robotic pop realm. – Melissa Bobbitt

Video: Miguel – “Adorn”

23. Bat For LashesThe Haunted Man (Capitol)

For Natasha Khan to sing “Thank God I’m alive!” in The Haunted Man opener “Lilies” would suggest that she’s got some bad times behind her. In truth, Khan had something of a creative crisis. After 2009’s Two Suns, the British singer-songwriter was left drained and afflicted by some wicked writer’s block. She took up dancing and visual art, and threw some parties, but what might not have occurred to her immediately was that all she needed was some fresh air and some sunlight. The Haunted Man, while still bearing the mystical ambience of her previous album, is a much brighter and open-hearted album, utilizing major keys more and wringing as much as possible from massive, emotionally wrenching arrangements. There’s as much sadness as there is joy, but it’s not enough to drive one back into nocturnal sulking. Graceful, gorgeous and above all human, The Haunted Man hacks to bits the myth that an artist can survive on darkness alone. – Jeff Terich

Video: Bat For Lashes – “All Your Gold”

22. El-PCancer 4 Cure (Fat Possum)

A little over two years ago, when El-P announced that he was dissolving Definitive Jux in order to focus on his own music and production work, it seemed that his future was uncertain. This year, he’s removed that uncertainty in spectacular fashion, producing and releasing R.A.P. Music and Cancer 4 Cure — two of the year’s best rap albums — respectively. The key to this success lies in the fact that El-P isn’t just a great rapper; he’s an incredible electronic musician. Look no further for proof of this than tracks such as “Request Denied” and “Drones Over Bklyn,” which show off extended electronic compositions as well as sick beats. Maybe there is something to El-P’s five-year interval schedule; after all, it’s kept him nearly perfect so far. – Connor Brown

Video: El-P – “The Full Retard”

21. Dirty ProjectorsSwing Lo Magellan (Domino)

There isn’t a single album on this list that I have listened to as many times as the remarkably addicting Swing Lo Magellan. By stripping away any perceivable excess, Dirty Projectors were able to show off their superb songwriting skills and put their magnificent voices front and center. No longer content to simply hold listeners at arm’s length, the band delivered an inviting work that deliberately focused on more accessible, if still meticulous, song craft. Not only that, but they show off their remarkable range in the process. From the sweet “Impregnable Question” to the celebratory “Unto Caesar,” each song successfully inhabits its own space along a wide continuum of feelings and approaches. It’s no coincidence that the most human album in the Dirty Projectors’ catalog also ranks among their best. – Chris Karman

Video: Dirty Projectors – “Gun Has No Trigger”

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