10. Zammuto - Zammuto
When grown ups would ask me, "what do you want to be when you grow up?" I always answered with confidence. "An artist." I don't think I followed through into my own adulthood, but, I still admire the artist more than any other profession. Nick Zammuto's job is nurturing his childlike wonder about the universe, with dignity and skill, until it takes a shape that has not been seen until his interpretation is delivered. His album is unpredictable, fun, confusing, gorgeous, and rich in this individual's artistic maturity. The scope of Zammuto magnifies supernovas while examining electrons. It's big and small. Grown-up and childish. You won't see it on any other top 10 lists this year, but you won't hear another album like it ever again either.
listen: The Shape of Things to Come
9. Jens Lekman - I Know What Love Isn't
Jens is the my favorite songwriter in the world. That's not hyperbole, it's how I feel. Feelings are so textured in his songs, the strength of his emotions outweighing any hype, critic, or publicist write-up. Perhaps the best song he's written, "The World Moves On" performs that rare miracle of matching the music with the lyrics. Warm strings swell at the chorus as he sings "the sun rose over the city," a flute flutters in for "the wind swept through the valley," and the theme of the album proclaims "you don't get over a broken heart, you just learn to carry it gracefully." Jens' song is about specific personal experiences, but it feels like it could have happened in any city, to anyone--especially whoever happens to be listening.
listen: The World Moves On
8. Chromatics - Kill for Love
The album format is dead. We don't have to argue about that, let's just agree that iTunes and Amazon have reaffirmed the song as king. But Kill for Love is an homage to times past. The music videos end with a title page, like movie trailers from the late 70s. Neil Young is covered to open the album, his 1979 song "Into the Black." The rest of the album drifts like a forgotten dream, long and lazy. Still, I can't listen to one track on its own. I have to start at the beginning, and go the full 80 minutes. It's an album album, one deserving of stereo headphones.
listen: Back from the Grave
7. Chad Valley - Young Hunger
This is the closest I'll come to supporting the R&B revival of 2012. Hugo Manuel has a huge, soulful voice. His live show is just him and his midi controller, but his pipes are so magnificent that the one man show is more than enough to make the girls scream. And then, they dance to his beats. It still has a chillwave vibe, but everyone seems to be growing out of their bedrooms this year. Scoring guest vocals from Twin Shadow, El Perro Del Mar, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, AND Active Child for a debut album is a hell of an accomplishment. I hope the UK is excited about their boy, because he's the best thing I've heard out of Oxford in a long time.
listen: Fall 4 U
6. California Wives - Art History
Chicago album of the year! In a year dominated by garage rock, I'm going with the Vagrant band. Because, sometimes the punkest thing to do is watch John Hughes movies. This new wave throwback is so easy, so confidently executed, so youthful. Catchy melodies and gushing guitar tones, Art History doesn't have anything to prove to the city that bred it, nor to the generation that supports it. About as far from an "important" album as you'll find on a top 10 list this year, what California Wives gave us instead was 11 tracks to fucking listen to like we actually fucking enjoy music. This album is a reminder to get over our bullshit selves and drop the cynicism. God damn, it's like, Obama 2012!
5. Death Grips - No Love Deep Web
Like an exclamation point (heh) on the death of the music industry, Death Grips punctuate their art with more art. If I can call this the hip-hop album of the year, I will, but I am not sure if that's fair. This is so much more than hip hop--this is a brutal proclamation of independence, raw and violent. It's challenging stuff, exceedingly more so than Odd Future ever was. They even have a track titled "Black Dice." I mean, when rap is inspired by our heroes of underground experimental noise, you know it's a good time to be alive.
listen: full album stream
4. Grimes - Visions
3. Tame Impala - Lonerism
Psych rockers rejoice, this is what it's all been leading up to. It's Rubber Soul on more drugs. It's Dungen in English. It's everything that psych rock can and ought to be, and even better than that. The sound here is so big, it makes me wonder why everyone has been holding back for so long. I'll admit, I've never been a huge psych fan, but, it has never sounded like Lonerism before. The crunchy electric guitar, rollicking drum fills, reverberating keyboards, punctuating bass, soaring falsetto, and melodies that the Kinks couldn't dream up. It's a joy to listen to this album, from start to finish and on repeat. If only it had come out a few months earlier, this is the music we crank as loud as we can at the summer rooftop parties.
2. Japandroids - Celebration Rock
listen: The Nights of Wine and Roses
1. Tanlines - Mixed Emotions
listen: All of Me