Best of 2012

The 40 Best Albums of 2012: Fuse Staff Picks

We yelled, we pleaded, we cried tears of heart-break and anguish... And, finally, we compromised. It's a popularity contest, baby, and this is what we loved in 2012
 / December 14, 2012

In Heavy Rotation...

1 / 41

UPDATE: Check out our Fuse staff picks for the 41 Best Albums of 2013

Let's be honest—it's a hellish time to pick "the best" of anything. In a year crammed with hipster hits and commercial masterpieces, summertime bangers and sulky personal jams, trying to put together our annual year-end best-of list was like an exercise combining operatic screaming and political machinations. For a brief, scary moment, it was like the Real Housewives of Fuse Music up in here.

So, we tried another approach: we listed all the 2012 albums on heavy iPod rotation. From Fiona Apple to Solange, Gaslight Anthem to Miguel, we listened to it all and we agreed on very little. But once we shut up and listened to each other, why someone liked an album (for instance, totally randomly, Marilyn Manson) became pretty interesting in its own right.

Sure, we agreed on some albums. But we couldn't stand to cut the rest. So without further ado, here are the 40 albums we liked the best in 2012, arranged according to increasing popularity. Guess who gets crowned prom king or queen at the end? Click through to find out, and join us in the bleachers (aka comment section) when you're done!

The Weeknd, 'Trilogy'

2 / 41

I’m not the most active music connoisseur—mixtapes are like aliens to me. Unless they land on my house or zap me into the sky, I hardly know they exist. So The Weeknd releasing all his former mixtapes in one nicely packaged place, along with a few new additions, was like my own personal dream come true. 

Once I listened (and listened, and listened and listened) I realized two things: No. 1, I was a total assh-le for waiting so long and No. 2, The Weeknd knows exactly what he’s doing. His vulnerable croons seriously feel like they were written just for me and as much as I hate to admit it, I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels this way. 

—Aubree Lennon, Photo Editor / Lover of Dudes & Dogs

Santigold, 'Master of My Make Believe'

3 / 41

Have you heard "Disparate Youth"? Damn! It's a head-swiveling, stop-and-dance jam with bass bounce and guitar jitter, full of Santigold's solid-gold swagger and bravado: "The odds all stand beneath me," she sings. It's a blueprint of Santi's formula for chart-climbing pop sounds that don't sacrifice any of her Lower East Side hipster art cred, and it's all over this gem of an album featuring producers Switch, Diplo, Dave Sitek and John Hill. 

Also worth mentioning: she now dresses up like an elephant onstage.  

—William Goodman, News Editor / Chocolate Junkie

Grizzly Bear, 'Shields'

4 / 41

Three years after their breakthrough album Veckatimest¸ New York indie rock quartet Grizzly Bear decamped to an abandoned military base in Texas and return with the schizophrenic, psychedelic Shields. No, there’s nothing as catchy as Veckatimest’s “Two Weeks,” a track so spry and bouncy, rappers sampled it for mixtapes. 

But Shields expands the already-wide range the band have shown over three albums, blending psychedelic rock, pop and Crosby, Stills and Nash-levels of folk for an album seemingly engineered to soundtrack a lazy Sunday afternoon. 

—Jason Newman, Senior Writer / Compact Disc Collector

Dirty Projectors, 'Swing Lo Magellan'

5 / 41

Dirty Projectors guru Dave Longstreth knows how to make art rock funky. Each intricately-arranged track is breathtaking: Not just because they're immaculately executed, but because they're damn fun to sing along to. 

—Joe Lynch, Staff Writer / Ms. Congeniality 

Melanie Fiona, 'The MF Life'

6 / 41

Melanie Fiona’s 2009 debut definitely got her name buzzing, but her 2012 sophomore set The MF Life solidified her as a voice to watch in R&B today. Melanie soars on tracks like power ballad “Wrong Side of a Love Song”... Confession: when she performed it 10 feet from me during her Fuse Live set last March, I teared up a bit. 

The MF Life is that rare blend of fearless and vulnerable, with memorable guest appearances from Nas (“Running”) and B.o.B (“Change The Record”) rounding out the project’s diverse sound. 

-- Mark Sundstrom, Web Content Manager / R&B Connoisseur

Mumford & Sons, 'Babel'

7 / 41

Mumford & Sons didn't reinvent themselves with Babel, but frankly I'm okay with that (and apparently over half a million other fans are too). This album feels bigger and shinier and seeks to satisfy those of us obsessed with their foot-stomping sing-alongs. 

And it makes sense: the songs on this album were tested out on the road before they ever saw the inside of a studio, so that live Mumford energy that hooked so many unsuspecting pop fans just oozes from all corners of Babel

—Shannon Stewart, Web Content Manager / Cat Whisperer

Lana Del Rey, 'Born To Die'

8 / 41

I will always love Lana Del Rey's debut album because I listened to it while I read all three books in The Hunger Games series. I know it sounds weird, but it was the best decision of my life! If you haven’t read it or listened to this album or done it together, then put this sh-t on repeat and have at it! 

I swear to god it’s a better pairing than "The Wizard of Oz" with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon

—Aubree Lennon, Photo Editor / Lover of Dudes & Dogs

Marilyn Manson, 'Born Villain'

9 / 41

Born Villain certainly feels like the most organic and unique of Marilyn Manson's later works. There are parts for the die-hard Manson fans to love, but it’s the experimentation that makes Born Villain one of the year’s best albums.

Plus the whole Manson/Johnny Depp cover of "You're So Vain"? Pretty awesome. 

-- Kevin Tully, Web Video Coordinator / 2nd Lieutenant in the Kiss Army

Divine Fits, 'A Thing Called Divine Fits'

10 / 41

For Spoon's Britt Daniel and Wolf Parade/Handsome Furs' Dan Boeckner mutual appreciate of each other's work turned into a full-on collaboration last year when they hit the studio in L.A. as Divine Fits (also featuring New Bomb Turks' drummer Sam Brown). 

Unlike a vanity "super group" with medicore-to-throw-away tracks, A Thing Called Divine Fits is packed with gems that are neither a regurgitation of the leaders' respective bands, but rather a balanced mix of the two—you get the lock-step groove, shrapnel guitar and vocal grit of Spoon ("Would That Not Be Nice," "Flaggin a Ride") with the blasting synths and jittery punk of Handsome Furs ("My Love Is Real," "What Gets You Alone"). And there's more, like the sugar pop of "Like Ice Cream" and acoustic and piano heart-toucher "Civilian Stripes." This side-project could (should?) become a full-time job for this crack songwriting duo.

—William Goodman, News Editor / Chocolate Junkie

Taylor Swift, 'Red'

11 / 41

From the moment we heard "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," we were counting down the days until Red's release. On her fourth studio album, it became blindingly clear that 23-year-old Taylor Swift wasn't singing from the perspective of the girl who "wears t-shirts" anymore—this chick rocks red hot pants and is about to steal your boyfriend. 

-- Nicole James, Staff Writer / Future Mrs. Harry Styles

Schoolboy Q, 'Habits and Contradictions'

12 / 41

Schoolboy Q's Black Hippy colleague Kendrick Lamar may be getting most of the critical love for his masterful good kid, m.A.A.d city, but Q's Habits and Contradictions is the hip hop album I've listened to the most this year. 

While it may lack  m.A.A.d city's thematic coherence, it's still a great, unique album, with top notch beats that highlight Q's aggressive, excellent rapping. "Hands on the Wheel," which features a perfectly reworked Kid Cudi sample and a guest spot from A$AP Rocky, and "Raymond 1969," are standouts. 

—Taylor Berman, Junior Writer / Scandalmonger

Diamond Rings, 'Free Dimensional'

13 / 41

I am basically a girl with split personalities when it comes to music. 

In one of those personalities I envision myself as an '80s babe: Big hair, denim/lace everything cruising in a white convertible with the hottest new synth-pop jams blaring. The minute I heard Diamond RingsFree Dimensional I was instantly transported to my Le Baron—wind whipping through my perfectly aquanet'd hair. The dance vibes pump so hard your bones can hardly sit still. 

If you aren’t bopping when you listen to these tracks, check your pulse. You are probably dead. 

—Aubree Lennon, Photo Editor / Lover of Dudes & Dogs

Tame Impala, 'Lonerism'

14 / 41

The second release from Aussie acid-trippers Tame Impala has been named one of the Best Albums of the Year by NME, SPIN, Rolling Stone and more, and rightfully so: it's a gorgeous, psychedelic voyage down the rabbit hole with Kevin Parker's lyrics of insecurity and loneliness candy-coated in melody and layers of space guitar and keys, and one throbbing rhythm section. 

Check out one of the year's best track, "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards," for proof. 

—William Goodman, News Editor / Chocolate Junkie

Neon Trees, 'Picture Show'

15 / 41

Neon Trees’ sophomore album Picture Show sucks you in with its nostalgic sounds and themes. In addition to every song being extremely catchy, frontman Tyler Glenn's energy and charisma is present throughout the entire record, making it one this years best treats to listen to. 

-- Kevin Tully, Web Video Coordinator / 2nd Lieutenant in the Kiss Army

Big Bang, 'Alive'

16 / 41

There's a reason for Big Bang's worldwide popularity—they push the envelope. Released in February as the group's fifth extended play, Alive blurs the lines between traditional K-pop, dance pop, R&B and just about every other genre. 

Clean, clutter-free tracks like "Bad Boy" and "Blue" balance out the heavily electronica-inspired "Fantastic Baby," making Alive one of Big Bang's most well-rounded releases to date. (Note: "Love Dust" is the album's best kept secret.) 

—Tina Xu, Web Content Coordinator / Ultimate Drake and K-pop Fangirl

Spiritualized, 'Sweet Heart, Sweet Light'

17 / 41

Somehow Jason Pierce, the drug-addled British songwriter behind Spiritualized that's known for his psychedelic, cathedral-grand blues and Britpop songs, managed to produce his most upbeat and cohesive album while undergoing chemo for degenerative liver disease. 

Originally called Huh?, a reflection on his then mental state, the album covers familiar territory: Pierce's tiny, pleading voice over horns and strings, singing about love, god, drugs and women. 

But here he does it with the sincerity of a man who may actually be dying. It's a laser to the heart.

—William Goodman, News Editor / Chocolate Junkie

Brandy, 'Two Eleven'

18 / 41

R&B fans have been rooting for Brandy since day one. The industry vet’s commercially slept-on 2004 album Afrodisiac is considered a classic in R&B circles, but after 2008’s underwhelming follow up, fans were wondering if she still had it. Well, the four year wait was worth it. 

This year’s Two Eleven gave us everything we love about Brandy, and more! Just try listening to the album’s second single, ‘90s reminiscent “Wildest Dreams,” without nodding your head. Brandy’s always had the vocal chops (those trademark runs!), but thanks to some excellent material, Miss Norwood once again proves she’s not going anywhere, anytime soon. 

-- Mark Sundstrom, Web Content Manager / R&B Connoisseur

Polica, 'Give You the Ghost'

19 / 41

Minneapolis indie rock band Poliça combine multi-percussive, moody rock (anchored by dual drummers) with lead singer Channy Leaneagh's Auto-Tuned voice (far removed from the program's icy, distant application in hip hop). The band has been pegged as everything from indie R&B to “dark pop,” but we’re happy to shun labels and just demand you listen to one of rock’s underappreciated groups. 

—Jason Newman, Senior Writer / Compact Disc Collaborator

Cat Power, 'Sun'

20 / 41

It's a new era for Cat Power, aka Chan Marsall, who is doing a 180 on all that fans have come to expect from her. Once notorious for soulfully downcast ballads and erratic, emotional meltdowns, she's now spoofing her onstage flip-outs in a new Funny or Die video, and upending expectations with Sun, an relatively upbeat collection of songs, some even fit for the dance floor. 

The centerpiece is an Iggy Pop-featuring, carpe-diem epic "Nothin But Time"; Marshall coos about personal respect and improvement and its place in life, and it's truly touching and inspiring. 

-- William Goodman, News Editor / Chocolate Junkie

Carly Rae Jepsen, 'Kiss'

21 / 41

Newcomer Carly Rae Jepsen couldn't have made a more solid debut. Consisting of everything from innocent dance tracks to the more serious ballads, this seemingly candy-coated album is anything but one-dimensional. 

"Call Me Maybe" might've sat atop the Billboard charts for a bajillion weeks, but the real stars off Kiss are the coquettish "Tiny Little Bows" and the unexpected, understated "Your Heart Is a Muscle." 

—Tina Xu, Web Content Coordinator / Ultimate Drake and K-Pop Fangirl

Grimes, 'Visions'

22 / 41

The term "witchhouse" will probably disappear from collective consciousness within the next year, but Grimes is an artist who is here to stay. Her ethereal, innocent voice is a lovely-yet-creepy counterpart to her bedroom electro-pop. 

-- Joe Lynch, Staff Writer / Ms. Congeniality 

The Killers, 'Battle Born'

23 / 41

I imagine if a musician from our not-to-distant future traveled back in time to see a 1970s Bruce Springsteen show, then tried to replicate that sound, it would be extremely similar to The KillersBattle Born. Combining Brandon Flowers’ picturesque American Heartland lyrics and an ambitious futuristic rock soundscape, Battle Born works as a perfect hybrid of the old and the new Killers. 

-- Kevin Tully, Web Video Coordinator / 2nd Lieutenant in the Kiss Army

Lupe Fiasco, 'Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1'

24 / 41

Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1, definitely delivers as a sequel to Food & Liquor.  The album gives its audience thought provoking anthems, surrounded by classic beats and smooth sounds that hook you right in. 

-- Kevin Tully, Web Video Coordinator/ 2nd Lieutenant in the Kiss Army

Ne-Yo, 'R.E.D.'

25 / 41

Following the very disappointing Libra Scale, Ne-Yo fully redeems himself with R.E.D., a back-to-basics masterpiece that reminds fans why we fell in love with the singer-songwriter in the first place. 

Packed with solid R&B numbers like "Miss Right" and "Jealous" (personal favorite), R.E.D. also includes standout synthpop-influenced tracks "Shut Me Down" and, of course, "Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself)." 

—Tina Xu, Web Content Coordinator / Ultimate Drake and K-pop Fangirl

Christina Aguilera, 'Lotus'

26 / 41

There’s no need to rehash Xtina’s widely-discussed setbacks. On Lotus, Aguilera’s not about the past, but learning from it to be “wiser” and “stronger,” as she proclaims on album-opener “Army of Me.” 

If it all sounds familiar, you’re catching on. A lot of the fodder on Lotus reflects themes from Aguilera’s 2002 opus Stripped, and that’s no mistake. While Lotus doesn’t always live up to Stripped’s pop pedigree, none of that matters because Christina’s doing what Christina Aguilera does best; SINGING HER FACE OFF! 

For you "vocal nazis" out there, check out the introspective and over-the-top “Sing For Me.” Afterall, “over-the-top” is Xtina’s middle name. And that's why we love her.

-- Mark Sundstrom, Web Content Manager / R&B Connoisseur

Gaslight Anthem, 'Handwritten'

27 / 41

Brian Fallon and crew have really outdone themselves (yet, again) with this album, balancing their raw, punk-inspired passion with subtle soulfulness. It’s arguably the Gaslight Anthem's best, which is really saying a lot considering their brilliant discography. 

For a band with accolades through the roof, the pressure to continually produce gold was a mind-numbing burden. But by letting go of intangible benchmarks, the band was freed up on this album. 

Fallon summed it up in Rolling Stone: “For the first time, I'm not scared that people aren't going to like this record. I don't care what Bruce or Eddie Vedder or any of my friends think of it. I don't care. If you want to hang with us, you've got to grow with us. That's the deal.” 

—Shannon Stewart, Web Content Manager / Cat Whisperer

Meek Mill, 'Dreamchasers 2'

28 / 41

Philly native Meek Mill has been pumping out mixtapes since 2005, but 2012's Dreamchasers 2 is by far his most exciting. After being signed to T.I.'s Grand Hustle Records, Meek's made himself some VIP friends, and they all showed up to lay down a track. 

Standouts include the Drake and Jeremih-assisted "Amen" and "House Party," featuring Fabolous, Wale and Mac Miller

—Nicole James, Staff Writer / Future Mrs. Harry Styles

The Lumineers, 'The Lumineers'

29 / 41

“Ho Hey” is undoubtedly one of the best songs of the year, but here’s the thing—the Lumineers' entire album is fantastic. Americana has kind of blown up as a fad, but these kids are not simply Mumford wannabes. Yes, there are some blissed out tracks that inspire foot tapping, but the real standout songs (like “Slow It Down”) explore an intricate sadness most run-of-the-mill acts could only hope to imitate. 

—Shannon Stewart, Web Content Manager / Cat Whisperer

Justin Bieber, 'Believe'

30 / 41

My "Bieber fever" didn't fully kick in until the release of Believe, an album that boasts quite the impressive behind-the-scenes collaborators/producers. Thanks to folks like Mike Posner, Rodney Jerkins, Drake and Babyface, Justin Bieber went from teenybopper pop star to actually having—I hate using this word—swag. 

Believe is hopefully the singer's stepping stone to becoming a fearless, multi-genre powerhouse not unlike that other Justin whom he's always compared to: Timberlake. 

—Tina Xu, Web Content Coordinator / Ultimate Drake and K-pop Fangirl

Chromatics, 'Kill for Love'

31 / 41

 A sparse cover of Neil Young's "Into the Black" sets the tone for Kill for Love—a haunting, melancholic and lonely album, the sort of record best suited for late night drives or subway treks. 

The album's other stand out tracks—"Back From the Grave" and "These Streets Will Never Look the Same"—follow in the same vein, although with a fuller sound. Without a doubt, it's the album of the year for those quieter, more contemplative moments. 

—Taylor Berman, Junior Writer / Scandalmonger 

The Menzingers, 'On the Impossible Past'

32 / 41

Forewarning: Just a few sentences can’t do this album justice. With the perfect mix of punk rock sensibilities—raspy vocals laced with catchy melodies and just the right hint of the Gaslight Anthem—and thoughtful story telling, this album takes you in deeper with every play. 

For proper listening, you’ve got to blast it in your car while driving around aimlessly, getting sucked into the nuances. Sure, you can play it as background music, but dedicate your total focus to the music and you will definitely be rewarded. 

—Shannon Stewart, Web Content Manager / Cat Whisperer

Killer Mike, 'R.A.P. Music'

33 / 41

2012 marked the triumphant return of landmark indie hip hop producer El-P. While his album, Cancer4Cure, is great, it pales in comparison to Killer Mike's R.A.P. Music. Mike's bombastic flow is the perfect match for El-P's futuristic, dystopian beats. 

In addition to the fantastic, adrenaline-inducing lead single "Big Beast," Killer Mike also tackles political themes (on the scathing "Reagan") and music history (the inspiring "R.A.P. Music").

—Taylor Berman, Junior Writer / Scandalmonger

Solange, 'True' EP

34 / 41

At just seven-tracks long, Solange’s True is easily one of this year’s most cohesive releases. That’s not shocking, considering Solange co-wrote and co-produced the entire collection with Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes. Dev’s left-of-center beats and mellow synths have enough bounce for a mainstream pop fan, and a throwback feel makes these songs sufficiently novel for even the biggest music snob. 

Of course, in an age of Tumblr-favorited today, cached-tomorrow trends, Solange’s digital social presence and unique fashion sense play a part in the allure of this project, including the gorgeous South African-set video for lead single “Losing You.” 

—Mark Sundstrom, Web Content Manager / R&B Connoisseur

This album truly opened my eyes to what Solange Knowles is capable of. The '80s-inspired instrumentals of title track "Losing You" and "Some Things Never Seem to F--king Work" were so unexpected, so refreshing, that I vowed to never overlook this girl again. Ever. 

—Tina Xu, Web Content Coordinator / Ultimate Drake and K-pop Fangirl

Japandroids, 'Celebration Rock'

35 / 41

Japandroids’ second album marked a coming out moment for the little Canadian duo that could. Though it only peaked at No. 37 on the Billboard 200, Celebration Rock is 35 non-stop minutes of insanely catchy, group-sing-along-worthy rock music that we didn't even know Canada knew about. 

—Nicole James, Staff Writer / Future Mrs. Harry Styles

I sort of loathed high school while I was living in it, but nowadays I find myself reminiscing, wishing for an encore of some of those angst-ridden moments. It’s probably a thought everyone entertains as the first glimpses of crow’s feet and achy joints appear. The really wonderful thing is that, with the right music, I’m practically transported back in time. That’s what Celebration Rock brought me this year. 

Its raw, unpolished, sweaty energy somehow captures all the chaotic emotions of being young—all the hope, fear, potential—in 8 powerful tracks. 

—Shannon Stewart, Web Content Manager / Cat Whisperer

Fiona Apple, 'The Idler Wheel....'

36 / 41

Fiona Apple used her fourth studio album, The Idler Wheel..., to remind us once again that she is a peerless lyrical genius who's still getting weird, 16 years after her debut. While she's much less angrier than she used to be, Idler Wheel finds Fiona still trying to figure it all out. 

—Nicole James, Staff Writer / Future Mrs. Harry Styles

Anyone who thinks singer-songwriter albums need to be boring (i.e., most singer-songwriters themselves) need to give Fiona Apple's latest a spin. It's darkly hilarious, cutting, painful and libidinous. If she keeps making albums this incredible, we can wait another seven for the next one.

—Joe Lynch, Staff Writer / Ms. Congeniality

Metric, 'Synthetica'

37 / 41

Sci-fi nerds looking for a new crush can latch on to Metric frontwoman Emily Haines, who, on the band’s fifth album, explores heady ideas about reality versus the artificial. But it also just rocks, with slicing guitars crashing up against Haines' voice that's equal parts growling and purring. 

—Jason Newman, Senior Writer / Compact Disc Collector 

As a new-wave junkie and a film score nerd, Metric’s Synthetica is pretty much everything thing I want in album. Synthetica just sounds so beautiful it would even grab you without Emily Haines’ enchanting vocals, and vice versa. 

—Kevin Tully, Web Video Coordinator/ 2nd Lieutenant in the Kiss Army

Father John Misty, 'Fear Fun'

38 / 41

Fleet Foxes drummer J Tillman leaves band, embarks on a psychedelic, magic mushroom-enhanced road trip down the coast from Seattle to L.A., settled into hippy-dippy Laurel Canyon, cuts his long locks and reinvents himself as Father John Misty, part Jim Morrison, part Gram Parsons, part Sinatra psych-lounge crooner with a smile and a wink. 

But damn can he sing and write sweeping noir-country-folk songs that are hilarious and touching, often simultaneously. And his live shows are a must-see. 

—William Goodman, News Editor / Chocolate Junkie

I just wanna get stoned and listen to this album for the rest of my life. Can someone please make sure my student loans are paid and my dog is fed?! Okay, thanks. 

—Aubree Lennon, Photo Editor / Lover of Dudes & Dogs 

Miguel, 'Kaleidoscope Dream'

39 / 41

Miguel's second studio album, Kaleidoscope Dream, has come to save us all. With the smoothness of Usher ("Adorn"), the makeout factor of Frank Ocean ("Do You..."), and the line-crossing raunchiness of Prince ("Pussy Is Mine"), Miguel is everything R&B should be in 2012. 

—Nicole James, Staff Writer / Future Mrs. Harry Styles

Miguel’s brief, experimental mixtapes from early 2012 were well-received by music fans hungry for a credible male R&B artist willing to take risks. Anticipation was high, and simply put, this album was a dream come true. 

Miguel gets away with futuristic synths and effects without sounding clichéd and nostalgically-routine soul harmonies sound fresh. The best part? Miguel’s got writing and production credits on almost every song here. 

—Mark Sundstrom, Web Content Manager / R&B Connoisseur

In addition to being Miguel's big breakout, Kaleidoscope Dream is the year's best R&B's album. "Don't Look Back" and "Adorn" are straight forward killer songs, traditional but great nonetheless. "Pussy Is Mine" is a stripped down and vulnerable slow jam. Relistening to the album now, it's amazing to me that the record hasn't spawned any mega-hits. 

In a just world, "Use Me" would've hit number one. 

—Taylor Berman, Junior Writer 

Kendrick Lamar, 'Good Kid, m.A.A.d city'

40 / 41

Kendrick Lamar's debut album is so f-cking good! Seriously. And it fits in every situation. Cleaning you kitchen? Good Kid, m.A.A.d city! Driving yo whip? Good Kid, m.A.A.d city! Trying to get a dude into bed? Good Kid, m.A.A.d city! Sweating it up at the gym? Good Kid, m.A.A.d city! Drowning out an assh-le on the subway? Good Kid, m.A.A.d city

—Aubree Lennon, Photo Editor / Lover of Dudes & Dogs

We know. Does anyone not like the Compton rapper’s debut LP, a sonic-novel-cum-album about Los Angeles street life with beats by Just Blaze, Pharrell and Hit-Boy and skits that actually advance the narrative instead of being unfunny and immediately skippable? An (almost) collabo with Lady Gaga. The addition of “Ya Bish” to the hip hop lexicon. A 12-minute hip hop track that’s compulsively listenable. The best hip hop debut in years. 

—Jason Newman, Senior Writer / Compact Disc Collector

The year's best-selling hip hop album was also the best artistically: Kendrick Lamar's proper studio debut straddles the line between "party" and "meaning." Set to banger music, it's an incisive tale of a young man trying to navigate his way through an already f-cked up world. 

—Joe Lynch, Staff Writer / Ms. Congeniality 

Frank Ocean, 'Channel Orange'

41 / 41

At first I resisted, not immediately hooked on slower jams like "Bad Religion." But then I heard "Lost," then "Rich Kids," and then it was over: Frank Ocean's Channel Orange had become the soundtrack to my L.A. daydreams. 

House parties in the Hills? Cruisin' down the Pacific Coast Highway, head tilted back as palm trees line your peripheral? House parties in Silver Lake? It's a California record, but more than that it's ground zero for the indie-fication of R&B, the new Alternative R&B, an album with emotion-filled vocals (some about Ocean's past relationship with a man) threading tales of wild nights and the love it sparks. 

It breaks all the cookie-cutter rules of pop, tossing aside soaring choruses for talk-sing style melodies and storyline, and, yes, my money says it'll win the Grammy for Album of the Year. 

—William Goodman, News Editor / Chocolate Junkie

Had Frank Ocean not rebuked and upended traditional modern R&B and hip hop ideas of masculinity by admitting to a past relationship with a man, Channel Orange would still be one of the best albums of 2012. But it’s hard, if not impossible, to ignore the album’s backstory; one in which Ocean, with only a mixtape to his name, displays as much courage and musical talent and raw vocal ability. 

Still, Orange stands on its own merits: the languid dreaminess of “Thinkin Bout You,” the acerbic wit of “Super Rich Kids,” the epicness of “Pyramids.” A new classic. 

—Jason Newman, Senior Writer / Compact Disc Collector

An R&B album that harkens back to Stevie Wonder's '70s output while simultaneously pushing the genre forward, the studio debut from Frank Ocean is one of the most startlingly original—yet comfortingly familiar—albums in the last few years. From lovelorn laments to slice-of-life satires of the bourgeois, each track is a classic. 

—Joe Lynch, Staff Writer / Ms. Congeniality

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