1. Young Thug, 1017 Thug — Like if Future played Gucci Mane in a docudrama about the making of Spring Breakers.
2. Gucci Mane, Trap Back 2 — Thoroughly Modern Gucci.
3. Kevin Gates, The Luca Brasi Story — Technically unimpeachable and Decline-And-Fall-Of-The-Roman-Empire epic
4. Waka Flocka Flame, Duflocka Rant 2 — The fact that Waka’s now a better lyricist than Wayne says plenty about the trajectories of both guys’ careers.
5. Antwon, In Dark Denim — Hardcore rap, in both spirit and aesthetic
34. Lil Durk — Life Ain’t No Joke
Have you heard “52 Bars”? Durk’s the most talented rapper of the Chicago youth movement, but also the most prone to dumb auto-tune howling about “Molly girls,” so. Remarkably potent tape.
33. Frank Ocean — Channel Orange
Unquestionably a very good record, but not half the classic that it’s been made out to be — classic albums don’t have schlocky mood-rings like “Sweet Life” and “Pilot Jones.” But “Bad Religion,” “Pyramids,” “Super Rich Kids” and “Thinkin Bout You” all show that Frank has a genre-define album to come. (I mean, let’s not forget: this is the dude’s first real LP.)
32. Solange — True
The year’s best ‘80s record. SOLANGE.
31. Lil B — God’s Father
The first five or so tracks are some of the best B’s ever done, and the next 30 or so have a surprisingly high ratio of “hey, this is an actual song!” to “B, what.”
30. The Evens — The Odds
Producing a nest of razor-wire punk-rock with my wife/girlfriend in my 40s sounds like pretty much the ideal future I could possibly imagine.
29. Mr. Dream — Fatherland
If more bands played rock and roll like Mr. Dream, the world would be a drastically better place.
28. Rick Ross — Rich Forever
“$100 a sock. Two ankles, you do the math.”
27. Schoolboy Q — Habits & Contradictions
2012 didn’t see a better opening song-trio than “Sacrilegious” / “There He Go” / “Hands on the Wheel.” Cut out five of the 18 songs (i.e. “Sex Drive”) and this would be a top-10 album.
26. Nude Beach — II
Leads the league in catchiness, glee, and sheer frenetic movement.
25. Spider Bags — Shake My Head
Patrick Stickles calls them the greatest band in the world. I say that “I’m just a dog without an owner” is my favorite rock lyric of the year.
24. Kendrick Lamar — good kid, m.A.A.d. City
Kendrick Lamar is not unbelievably far away from being the best technical rapper alive, and though good kid gets tangled up in itself at times — and also closes with the dreadful “Compton” — the songs that hit are practically perfect. (“Backseat Freestyle,” “M.A.A.D. City,” for example.)
23. Gunplay — 106 & Snort
“Bible on the Dash” is worth more than most rappers’ entire discographies.
22. Action Bronson and Party Supplies — Blue Chips
Action Bronson’s music should be taught in English departments.
21. Captain Murphy — Duality
I’m a sucker for cult stuff. Also, these beats are like remnants of an exploded former America.
20. Sleepies — Weird Wild World
Weird, wild music that will punch you in the side of the head.
19. Killer Mike — R.A.P. Music
The most cohesive, focused statement in rap music this year.
18. Father John Misty — Fear Fun
I can’t stand Fleet Foxes, which makes it all the more impressive for me how much I appreciate this record. Father John Misty is basically everything Foxes isn’t — playful, aggressive, deranged, and musically diverse.
17. Heems — Nehru Jackets
“NYC Cops” forever.
16. Waka Flocka Flame — Salute Me or Shoot Me 4
I wish Triple F Life was more like this one.
15. Royal Headache — Royal Headache
So undeservingly under the radar, considering the thrill of pairing this voice with this garage-y skeez.
14. Metz — Metz
Makes you want to drive a dump truck through the New York Stock Exchange.
13. Divine Fits — A Thing Called Divine Fits
Oh, an album by Dan Boeckner and Britt Daniel is awesome? You don’t say!
12. Gentleman Jesse — Leaving Atlanta
If you put a Gentleman Jesse song in a commercial, I would buy whatever the hell you were selling.
11. Sharon van Etten — Tramp
Leads the league in beautifulness.
10. Chief Keef — Back From the Dead
Possible only a teenager could make something so tremendously blunt and essential.
9. El-P — Cancer 4 Cure
El Producto is the human. C4C takes the best elements of weird lyrics rap and knits it together with Kubrick dread.
8. Swearin’ — Swearin’
Just unadulterated pop-rock virtuosity. Best male-female vocal team of 2012.
7. Miguel — Kaleidoscope Dream
Leads the league in sexiness.
6. Japandroids — Celebration Rock
5. Roc Marciano — Reloaded
When film noir, David Markson’s old pulp novels, and city-bred assassin-rap meet in a dark wood, this is what walks out.
4. Fiona Apple — The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
Just tremendously crafted and constructed on every level, from the lyrics to the way that Fiona’s voice and the piano circle each other like cats.
3. Titus Andronicus — Local Business
The greatest rock and roll band in the world continues to be the greatest rock and roll band in the world. It’s not The Monitor, but that’s not a bad thing.
2. Future — Pluto
Future is the Singularity.
1. The Walkmen — Heaven
Heaven represents the same strange achievement that Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga did for Spoon — many albums and years into their career (in this case, a seventh album), the band finally achieves the perfect balance of what it is that makes them so essential. Can’t imagine Heaven not going down as one of the greatest albums in American rock and roll — it will for me — and with it, the Walkmen cement themselves as arbiters of a certain kind of urban, dressed-up sensibility. I think the best way to get at how I feel about this record is to play off a lyric from Local Business, the one where Stickles sings, “I heard them say the white man created existential angst / when he ran out of other problems / because the thing about those problems was / typically more money would solve them.” Existential angst is clearly the driving whip behind the Walkmen, who fall under the categories of both white and moneyed, and the band shows that there can be enormous beauty and necessity in that struggling, because, stupid and / or mannered as it might be, it’s still real.
Spotify playlist: (did the best I could using representative tracks for mixtapes not on Spotify)