Saturday 15 December 2012

Be Careful! Your Hand! Top 10 Albums of 2012

2012 has seen some great releases from every genre of music and so it's been extremely hard to choose the ten albums that represent the very best that the year has had to offer. There have been some suprises - hello Steps reunion! - and also some lows - sorry Christina Aguilera - but what remains constant is the never ending stream of mind-blowing music that is being produced year by year, even if half of it never even gets a look in on the main charts. Just remember that these choices are my own personal preferences and if you don't agree with them all then... tough s**t.

So with that in mind, let's start off at number ten.  
10. Xx - Coexist
The Xx are a strange group. You'll either love them for their atmospheric minimalist sound or you'll think that they're the most boring band imaginable. Now their second album won't change your mind either way as its mostly more of the same but when the songs are this striking and original, does it really matter? Personally, I still prefer the first Xx album as it had some more standout tracks but Coexist is still a stunning collection of songs and I love the way in which both the male and female lead vocals blend and compliment each other. Give them a go if you haven't already.
Best Single: Angels

Best Album Track: Missing
9. BigBang - Alive (Monster Edition)
K-pop has made it big this year with the international success of 'Gangnam Style'. Before that monster smash came along though, Korean boyband BigBang were making waves with the release of their new EP, which features the bonkers but addictively catchy lead single 'Fantastic Baby'. It's hard to describe the appeal of BigBang if you've not yet heard them but there is something infectious in their youthful energy. They're cheesy but cool. They're good to dance to but can also be chilled. And sometimes they throw random bits of English in between the Korean singing and raps, which seem to make no sense on their own. What's really great about BigBang though is their refreshing take on dance-pop. You won't have heard anything quite like them before. And the EP is just brilliant. Listen to the songs below and also check out hit singles 'Monster' and 'Blue' here to hear a softer side to the boys.

Best Single: Fantastic Baby

Best Album Track: Still Alive

8. Of Monsters and Men - My Head Is An Animal 
2012 saw folk music become the new indie scene, with the success of bands like The Civil Wars and Mumford & Sons reaching a new high. Icelandic group Of Monsters And Men arrived at the perfect time, and hit it big with this smash album. The sweet female vocals provide a beautiful contrast to the more rough and ready male lead singer but in a more energetic fashion than the Xx's music. Every song on this album tells a beautiful story and is rich in an otherworldy atmosphere that transports the listener to another place and time. The production has an old world feel that is completely unique in todays marketplace so if you haven't listened to Of Monsters And Men yet, then now is your chance to discover your new favourite band of the year.
Best Single: Little Talks

Best Album Track: Love Love Love
7. Marina and the Diamonds - Electra Heart
I was not a huge fan of Marina's debut album, although the deep and unusual tone of her voice did intrigue me on certain tracks. However, with the release of follow-up effort 'Electra Heart', Marina instantly won me over. The album feels like one of those classic pop collections from the early 2000s which tries to cover a range of bases in terms of both musical style and content. From the sass of 'Bubblegum Bitch' and the elegance of 'Power and Control', to the diva-ness of lead single 'Primadonna', Marina evolved into a fully fledged popstar with this sophomore release. It's just a shame then that the album didn't sell as well as I expected. If Marina gets the chance to record a third studio album, I will be the first in line to buy it. Check out the one of THE pop albums of the year right now if you missed it upon its initial release. 

Best Single: Primadonna

Best Album Track: Bubblegum Bitch
6. Brandy - Two Eleven
RnB music has been on the decline in recent years but Brandy continued to hold the banner high with her comeback album in 2012. I've always been in love with her voice but it sounds better than ever on 'Two Eleven', which sees the singer experiment with a variety of sounds to keep her music sounding fresh. There is nothing quite as great as 'The Boy Is Mine' or 'What About Us?' on this collection but for RnB fans out there, this is still a must have purchase. Read a track by track review of 'Two Eleven' here and listen to the standout songs.

Best Single: Put It Down

Best Album Track: Can You Hear Me Now?
5. Nicki Minaj - Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded
Part of me has come to hate Nicki Minaj over the past year for selling out with her commercialised pop rap but at her best, this female rapper is still the most exciting act in the game. Upon first hearing 'Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded', I was disappointed by how the album is split into two halves stylistically but actually, I now think that this is the records biggest strength. Personally, I much prefer the first hip-hop oriented half of the collection, where Minaj spits her mental rhymes like no one else. The second half is far more poppier with plenty of dance production for those who like their rap a little bit more accessible. Both halves have dull tracks but also plenty of standout moments which helped Minaj make it onto this list. Just a shame about the majority of her single choices then. What about 'Roman Holiday' or 'Roman Reloaded? Also, if you're a fan then make sure you check out her ten best guest rap performances here

Best Single: Pound The Alarm

Best Album Track: Come On A Cone
4. Taylor Swift - Red
I've said it before and I'll say it again; I used to hate Taylor Swift. I thought that her music was insipidly dull and only held appeal for sad little teenage girls. Therefore, it was with zero expectation that I listened to lead single 'We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together'. And do you know what? I bloody loved it. Then of course, I had to listen to the rest of the album, eating my humble pie as I realised that Taylor Swift had somehow managed to create one of the best albums of 2012 with 'Red'. There are a whole host of potential singles that could be released to great success, including tracks like 'Red', '22' and upcoming smash 'I Knew You Were Trouble', but there are also beautiful quieter moments that really mark Swift as a rounded artist with exceptional songwriting skills. Some have argued that Swift has lost some of her country appeal in becoming more poppy but I think she has captured a perfect balance between the two genres. Don't believe me? Read my track by track review of 'Red' here and listen to the standout songs. 

Best Single: We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together

Best Album Track: All Too Well
3. Jay Brannan - Rob Me Blind
The criminally underrated Jay Brannan crafts songs that can be tender, melancholic and humorous all at once, with just an acoustic guitar to back his voice. How more people have not heard of him yet is beyond me but this second studio album of original songs would be a great place to start as an introduction to his unusual sound. 'Rob Me Blind' is just a stunning album that you could listen to from beginning to end without skipping a track and I highly recommend it for people who are tired of hearing the same old male singer/songwriters that all blend into one. Brannan's voice is instantly recognisable and if you get the chance to see the man live, then don't hesitate to buy a ticket. If you can't afford that though, Brannan originally became known through YouTube so look him up there for a variety of amazing live performances and covers. Here's a link to five of my favourites, right here
Best Single: Rob Me Blind

Best Album Track: Denmark
2. Aiden Grimshaw - Misty Eye

Could this be the most underrated album of the year? Aiden Grimshaw shocked critics when he returned in 2012 after a hiatus away from the public eye following his X Factor departure. The biggest surprise however is just how credible his debut album actually is. I always thought Grimshaw would be an interesting artist if allowed to record music on his own terms but this release just blew me away. Lead single 'Is This Love?' showed off Grimshaw's impressive range but on the album, it is his vulnerable lyrics and tender voice that really stood out for me. 'Misty Eye' is a brilliant collection of alternative pop that throws in elements of dubstep and indie music to surprise and excite the listener at every turn. Read my track by track review of the album and listen to the standout tracks here.
Best Single: Is This Love?

Best Album Track: Misty Eye
1. Lana Del Rey - Born To Die

So here we are at the number one spot. While I agonised over many of my choices in this list, there was never any question over Lana Del Rey's place at the top. For me, 'Born To Die' marked the arrival of a a new voice that would be remembered for generations to come. I know that Rey is about as 'marmite' as you can get but her voice and style are like nothing else out there right now and blow 'avant-garde' pop artists like Lady Gaga right out of the water. On this incredible collection of songs, Rey evokes an entire era gone by, embodying the femme fatale persona to stunning effect. There are so many songs on 'Born To Die' that could have become singles but then Rey went and released a 'Paradise' reissue of the album, with a further eight new songs included! I cannot get enough of Rey's work and to the critics out there who bemoan her live performances or 'fake' persona, I say take a look at the rest of the pop scene right now and tell me that anyone else is releasing material as credible and exciting as this right now. To read a preview of the 'Paradise' resissue that I wrote a little while back and to hear some of those new tracks, click here.   
Best Single: National Anthem

Best Album Track: Off To The Races
So what do you think of my choices? Are these really the top 10 albums of 2012? Have I left out any major releases that you think should have been considered or are you outraged to see an album that you hate in the top 10? Let me know by commenting, liking or sharing below.

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