I don’t think Tug Baker has an enemy in this world. I can’t say the same about many people I know. In addition to his Top 15 albums listed here, Tug has compiled his 100 favorite tracks of 2012, which you can find over at his music blog, About Today, which you should check out anyway, as it’s a veritable horn ‘o plenty of streaming new jams.
15. Diiv, Oshin (Captured Tracks)
I love you, shoegaze. Forever.
14. Bat For Lashes, The Haunted Man (Capitol)
A less ambitious record than her previous two outings but still achingly beautiful.
13. Japandroids, Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl Records)
I did not care for the first few Japandroids albums, but this one is pure driving with the windows down singing at the top of your lungs goodness.
12. Laurel Halo, Quarantine (Hyperdub)
In a year full of great indie pop records, this one is probably the most challenging with its minor keys and atonal nature and sci-fi bent, but damn if it isn’t interesting as all get out. And definitely the best album cover of the year.
11. Frank Ocean, channel ORANGE (Def Jam Records)
Odd Future-graduate gone Grammy-nominated. Forget the hype around his sexuality or whatever, this is still a pretty terrific album.
10. Cloud Nothings, Attack On Memory (Carpark Records)
Say what you will about Steve Albini’s production values, but it’s safe to say that he served this stripped-down indie-pop band well when they wanted to infuse some loud, angsty noise on this new record.
9. Grimes, Visions (4AD)
I may or may not have danced around my house alone with this album on. I won’t tell.
8. Killer Mike, R.A.P. Music (Williams Street Records)
Killer Mike once again proves that he’s the realest rapper alive. Politics and proverbs come together to make this both a historically-inspired yet forward-looking hip-hop record.
7. Chromatics, Kill For Love (Italians Do It Better)
Did you flip out over the Drive soundtrack? Well, this is the sound that inspired it. If you’re looking for atmospheric pop vocals over some chilled out beats and driving guitar plucks and reverb out the wazoo, this is your jam.
6. Dirty Projectors, Swing Lo Magellan (Domino Recording Co.)
While desperately missing the vocal stylings of Angel Deradoorian, this more David Longstreth-led follow-up to the critically acclaimed Bitta Orca is a contemplative work bursting with ideas and sublime melodies.
5. METZ, Metz (Sub Pop Records)
In a world awash with indie rock, every year I look for the best record that is loud, fast, and hard as a rock, and this year, METZ debuted with some post-punk and hardcore goodness that is all those things.
4. Death Grips, The Money Store (Epic)/No Love Deep Web (self-released)
The noise-rock drums and jazz-esque arrangements of Hella’s Zach Hill and Andy Morin meet the mad (in terms of both temperament and sanity) hip-hop yawps of Stefan Burnett (aka MC Ride) in difficult but fascinating ways. Forget what Refused said, this is the shape of punk to come.
3. Frankie Rose, Interstellar (Slumberland Records)
After spending time in three great indie rock groups (Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls, and Chrystal Stilts), Frankie Rose and the Outs did a little noise pop record that was pretty good. But kicking out The Outs and going full new-wave indie pop with Interstellar was the best decision she could make. There are so many great earworms here that never once feel like they achieved such catchiness with cheap tricks.
2. Tame Impala, Lonerism (Modular Fontana)
I’ve loved this Australian psych-rock three-piece since their 2010 debut Innerspeaker, but it’s a testament to how well-crafted this sophomore release is that I’ve had several friends who poo-pooed Innerspeaker who have been converted byLonerism’s overblown sonic grooves.
1. Sharon Van Etten, Tramp (Jagjaguwar)
Sometimes albums by a young singer-songwriter can be equally fascinating and cringe-worthy. After all, these are people trying to figure out relationships, who they really are, and life in general. They can be vulnerable, messy things. But Van Etten’s inner turmoils are focused through some terrific production by The National’s Aaron Dessner (with some haunting background vocals by Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner), keeping that raw intimacy while never once having anything to embarrassed about.