Rounding up a torrent of music talent at the end of the year

As 2012 draws to a close, we pick 16 of the most interesting albums of the year.
The hip-hop star Nas is 'the best rapper alive'. C Flanigan / FilmMagic
The hip-hop star Nas is 'the best rapper alive'. C Flanigan / FilmMagic
Nas, Life is Good: "I am a graphic classic song composer," Nas raps on the intro to his latest album. And he's right. You may disagree, but Nas is the best rapper alive, and with Life is Good, he's got the year's top album, regardless of genre. He's a top-notch lyricist with a knack for storytelling, and it all makes for impeccable music. He knows life is good, and so is this album.

Of Monsters and Men, My Head Is an Animal: The Icelandic quintet have melodies that are eerie, jamming, groovy and overall epic. The voices of the male and female lead singers blend so beautifully that it sounds like magic.

Elle Varner, Perfectly Imperfect: Her raspy and powerful voice, over crisp production, easily gives Elle Varner R&B's best offering of 2012. The 12-track set has an amazing flow that will have you hitting the replay button again, again and again.

Lianne La Havas, Is Your Love Big Enough?: Lianne La Havas's honesty pierces on the tracks on her debut album, and it makes the collection of songs both heavy and beautiful. She's got a unique acoustic folk-rock-soul sound, and what's best is that heavy voice of hers: this London singer sounds like she's singing straight to your soul. Well, actually, she is.

Miguel, Kaleidoscope Dream: It's a bit shocking - though more exciting - to see the Grammys acknowledge Miguel's many talents with five nominations. They got it right - he's helping change R&B without dismissing the genre's more traditional sound from acts like Faith Evans and Tamia. From Do You. to Candles in the Sun, he hits all the right notes on his sophomore disc.

Shiny Toy Guns, III: The year's best dance and electronic-based album isn't on Top 40 radio. Shiny Toy Guns returned in 2012 with a third album and the return of its lead singer, Carah Faye Charnow. The foursome sound better than ever over beats that are addictive and vibes that are dreamy. Now dance.

Emeli Sandé, Our Version of Events: Sandé's forceful, soulful voice is enough of a lure, but coupled with the most poetic, beautiful lyrics and melodies of the year, Sandé's debut album was a brilliant work from this Scottish talent, and so easily gels R&B and pop sounds. Her voice helps her songs easily come to life - just check out Suitcase if you're not convinced.

Frank Ocean, Channel Orange: One of music's most important figures thanks to his impressive talent, Thinkin' Bout You gave just a taste of Ocean's allure. With the help of others, he crafted a collection of musically and lyrically daring songs that stand out starkly from the status quo of pop and R&B.

Esperanza Spalding, Radio Music Society: The 2011 Best New Artist winner delivered her most accessible album to date, melding her jazz roots with R&B for an enchanting album.

Various Artists, The Hunger Games Soundtrack: Songs from District 12 and Beyond: From Taylor Swift and the Civil Wars to Miranda Lambert's Pistol Annies, this collection of songs made for the blockbuster film captured the bleakness of the novel better than the movie. In an album of highlight after highlight, the Secret Sisters' simple and beautiful Tomorrow will be Kinder was at the apex.

Killer Mike, R.A.P. Music: Killer Mike has been under the radar in the rap world for years - and it's too bad this great album didn't elevate his profile in the mainstream, because it's better than 82.4 per cent of what's out there today (and yes, that's my scientific survey). He mixes rap braggadocio with biting, thought-provoking social commentary.

The Robert Glasper Experiment, Black Radio: They say you can't really criticise something if you don't have a solution to fix it. Well, with Black Radio, the jazz pianist offered his take on how the often stagnant medium could be improved - and it was dreamy.

Alabama Shakes, Boys & Girls: This debut album from the Alabama rock quartet heralds the arrival of a major talent in the singer Brittany Howard, but she's not the only star here. Her bandmates craft simple, soulful music that combines with Howard's voice to make some of the most uplifting rock we've heard in years.

King Tuff, King Tuff: Twenty-five years after its start, Sub Pop is still unearthing bands you need to hear. This time it's Vermont's King Tuff, purveyors of weirdly irresistible sugar-coated psychedelic pop songs that refuse to leave your brain.

Japandroids, Celebration Rock: Beginning and ending with the sound of fireworks, this Vancouver, British Columbia, two-piece's album is exactly what its title describes - grand, anthemic songs about the great moments in life.

Trampled By Turtles, Stars and Satellites: This awesomely named Minnesota string band has been on the rise for years and their gentle, introspective sixth album adds a layer of artistry and emotion only hinted at in previous work.

Published: December 31, 2012 04:00 AM

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