Music to Our Ears: The Top 12 Albums of 2012

Ah, it’s been a good year for music, hasn’t it? Regardless of your preferred genre, no doubt there was a long list of releases that tickled your fancy. There were so many albums I loved and played into the ground this year, but unfortunately, only 12 could make this list. What albums are on your ‘Best of 2012’?

#12) Maroon 5 – Overexposed


Alright, look – I never meant for things to be this way. It started with ‘Moves Like Jagger’ and then it happened: Maroon 5 actually got good. Ignore ‘This Love’ – it’s all in the past, okay? I begrudgingly sat down earlier this year to listen to their latest album, Overexposed, expecting to hate it and then before I knew it, I’d listened to it on repeat three times. So sue me. The record is full of some amazing pop songs with great rhythm and while I may not sing from the treetops how much I love this album, I’m telling you now, so let’s keep it between us, okay?

Best tracks: ‘One More Night’, ‘Payphone’, ‘Love Somebody’

#11) Pink – The Truth About Love


Here’s what I love about Pink: Sometimes I’m pretty sure she’s kinda nuts. Not in a legit way, but in the way that so many of us are – ambivalent, flip-floppy, wanting everything at once. The best part about this is that she actually sings about it. She’s frustrating and imperfect and thinks you are too and guess what – it’s all okay! The Truth About Love, her first album since 2008’s Funhouse, continues Pink’s legacy of being sort of all over the place – charmingly so. Not to mention you can dance to it! What’s not to love?

Best tracks: ‘Try’, ‘Truelove’, ‘Where Did the Beat Go?’

#10) One Direction – Take Me Home


Shut up – I see that look you’re giving me. One Direction’s second release in about a year, Take Me Home, is pretty good, okay? Forget the absolute travesty that is ‘Little Things’ (the line about going to bed without a cup of tea drives me batty – it’s poor writing and the follow-up line is nonsensical) and concentrate on the positive: they make really catchy music and are relatively unoffensive. Harry Styles is even dating Taylor Swift! The boys have come a long way from their X Factor days and regardless of the fact that they’re not really my thing, I catch myself singing along to their songs whenever they’re on the radio, so that’s enough for me.

Best tracks: ‘Kiss You’, ‘Live While We’re Young’, ‘I Would’

#9) Marina & The Diamonds – Electra Heart

I’ve been a fan of Marina & The Diamonds for what feels like ages and waited with baited breath for her sophomore album, Electra Heart. While many criticised her for “selling out” and going too mainstream, Marina makes no apologies and absolutely kills some great dance music. The album is a funny and charming take on old Hollywood, American pop culture and romance and it’ll keep you moving – what more do you want from your pop stars?

Best tracks: ‘Power & Control’, ‘Primadonna’, ‘Homewrecker’

#8) Lana Del Rey – Born to Die


Say what you will about Lizzie Grant, aka Lana Del Rey, but Born to Die was a corker of an album. I resisted for so long (it came out in January) and then one day I got tired of my Tumblr dashboard being filled with reblogs of tracks from the record, so I downloaded it and listened and… it was really amazing. Somehow, though she has zero live performance skills whatsoever, Lana Del Rey translates really well on record and managed to create a moody, sultry, summery debut that’s worth playing on repeat.

Best tracks: ‘Diet Mountain Dew’, ‘Off to the Races’, ‘Ride’ (Paradise Edition only!)

#7) Ed Sheeran – +

This addition is a bit of a cheat entry considering that Ed Sheeran’s debut album actually came out in 2011 – in the UK, anyway. It didn’t hit the US until June 2012, which gets it in on a technicality. It certainly deserves its place, too – absolutely every song on + is genius, and Ed is so unassuming that you don’t really expect such, well… artistry. Damn good artistry, at that. Many have tried to do what Ed does since he released the LP, but all have failed. He still wears his old hoodies and jeans (even to award shows), he seems like he’d be really sweet to his girlfriend and he’s ginger. What more could you want?

Best tracks: ‘Lego House’, ‘Give Me Love’, ‘Drunk’

#6) Taylor Swift – Red


Who knew Taylor Swift had it in her? Sure, there was the random amazing single – ‘Mean’ comes to mind here, most recently – but to put a whole album of pop gems together with not a single clunker? That’s a feat. (Well, okay, ‘Sad, Beautiful, Tragic’ is a bit of a downer.) From the moment ‘We Are Never Ever Ever Getting Back Together’ hit airwaves, I was actively looking forward to Red, and it didn’t disappoint. The album represents a true (but perhaps not final) departure from TaySwift’s country roots and sets her free into the pop world, and let’s all be honest here: she does it well.

Best tracks: ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’, ‘Holy Ground’, ‘Stay Stay Stay’

#5) Rihanna – Unapologetic


The first time I listened to Unapologetic, I thought to myself, “She’s going to get so much s**t for this.” Rihanna’s fifth studio LP in as many years is by far her most “out there” release – it’s dark, it’s vaguely depressing at times and occasionally makes you want to punch her (I’m looking at you, ‘Ain’t Nobody’s Business’!) but it’s also one of her most sonically interesting and at times uncomfortably personal albums to date. When she sings lines like ‘Who knew that the course of this one drive injured us fatally?’, you feel a simultaneous pang of frustration and, well, pity. Of course, Unapologetic won’t be everyone’s cup of tea – and for those who love Rihanna for her club bangers, there is a somewhat disappointing dirth of those on this record – but it provides both a refreshing and a disturbing look into the psyche of one of the world’s biggest popstars while employing some pretty great bass lines throughout.

Best tracks: ‘Love Without Tragedy/Mother Mary’, ‘Stay’, ‘Loveeeee Song’

#4) Solange – True EP


Nevermind that this is an EP and not a true full-length release – it had to be on here. You might dismiss Solange only as Beyoncé’s little sister, but you’d be missing out on one of R&B’s most promising artists. We’ve all heard ‘Losing You’ and seen the amazing video behind it, but I’ll admit even I wasn’t expecting to be as blown away as I was by True. The eight song collection teeters between lo-fi and ’80s, occasionally reminding me of early Madonna but always being damn good. From start to finish, the EP runs the gamut of emotions we experience during relationships: adoration, craving, frustration, sadness… you name it, Solange has been there and is ready to tell you about it. I can’t wait for an LP.

Best tracks: ‘Losing You’, ‘Locked In Closets’, ‘Lovers in the Parking Lot’

#3) Frank Ocean – Channel Orange


Months after Nostalgia, Ultra was played out in all of our iTunes libraries, we got the good news: Frank Ocean was planning to release a proper commercial album, the end result of which was Channel Orange. Forget the media storm surrounding Ocean’s coming out around the time this hit shelves – we’re here to talk about the music, and what an amazing collection of songs this is. Moving effortlessly between hip hop beats and heartfelt ballads (um, ‘Pink Matter’, anyone?), what Ocean accomplishes with this album cements his place in R&B music in every sense. It’s gentle while still confident, sexy and sometimes downright heartbreaking. We’ll be playing this one for a long time to come.

Best tracks: ‘Pyramids’, ‘Pink Matter’, ‘Sierra Leone’

#2) Jessie Ware – Devotion


It’s only now, at the end of 2012, that Jessie Ware is starting to get the attention she deserves. Easily one of the best albums of the past five years let alone this one, Devotion is heady and thick, the kind of thing you want to listen to in bed at night with your significant other/friend with benefits while it’s raining outside, if you know what I mean. And indeed, Jessie herself touches upon that very theme, sticking with love in its many incarnations – gaining and losing it, longing for it, etc. – as the driving force behind the 11-track release (far too short!). Influences are obvious here, with Sade probably being the easiest comparison, but Jessie still manages to carve out her very own space in music that you’ll want to climb right into and never move.

 Best tracks: ‘Wildest Moments’, ‘Sweet Talk’, ‘Taking In Water’

#1) Ellie Goulding – Halcyon

There was rather a lot of chatter surrounding Halcyon, as fans and critics wondered whether Ellie Goulding would be able to live up to the amazingness (the only word that fits) of her 2010 debut, Lights. The worry was needless, however, as her sophomore release not only meets Lights, but surpasses it into a realm of pop perfection that was previously untouched (except for the likes of, say, Florence Welch, who would no doubt be on this list if she and the Machine had released anything in 2012).  From the first single ‘Anything Could Happen’ to the most recent, the tragically brilliant ‘Figure 8′, Halcyon is head to toe full of absolute monster tracks. It’s deliciously dark while still buoyant and joyful at the same time. Ellie Goulding is leading the pack when it comes to pop music and Halcyon is a great block in her growing catalogue.

Best tracks: ‘My Blood’, ‘Explosions’, ‘Only You’, ‘Joy’… hell, the entire album.

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