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50 Best Albums of 2012

Frank Ocean reimagined R&B; Dylan drenched us in blood; pop-punk vets, disco orchestras and Scottish oddballs made an election year bearable.

50 best albums 2012

Frank Ocean reimagined R&B; Bob Dylan drenched us in blood; pop-punk vets, disco orchestras and Scottish oddballs made an election year bearable.

 

Contributors: Jon Dolan, David Fricke, Andy Greene, Will Hermes, Christian Hoard, Jody Rosen, Rob Sheffield, Rob Tannenbaum, Simon Vozick-Levinson

29

Dave Matthews Band, ‘Away From the World’

DMB‘s sixth straight record to debut at Number One reunited the group with its Nineties producer Steve Lillywhite; the album’s political entreaties made for some of 2012’s best GOTV rock. But there’s also a stormy introspection to these tricky, rolling jams. “Rooftop” is a drunken, vengeful breakup fantasy; on “The Riff,” quiet romantic desperation gets run through Boyd Tinsley’s jabbing violin lines; and when Matthews sings, “That’s not a star, that’s a satellite,” on “Drunken Soldier,” it’s clear he’s standing under an angry sky.

28

Beach House, ‘Bloom’

How did Jay-Z and Beyoncé‘s favorite indie-pop duo top their 2010 breakthrough, Teen Dream? By coming up with an even prettier vision of synth-y, Eighties-steeped romanticism. Languid lead singer Victoria Legrand has some dark stuff on her mind – mortality and ruin keep bubbling to the surface of the Baltimore act’s fourth LP (“Can’t keep hanging on . . . to what is dead and gone,” she sings on “Myth”). But you’d hardly know it from the blissful way she lets her voice blend with the softly bobbing organ chords and arpeggiated guitars.

27

Gary Clark Jr., ‘Blak and Blu’

The major-label debut by the 28-year-old Austin bluesman lives up to his head-turning 2011 EP and then some. Clark plays to the Chicago-Texas blues tradition and even covers Jimi Hendrix‘s “Third Stone From the Sun.” But he’s no simple throwback. “The Life” and the title track have modern R&B flow; “Travis County” is punkish roots rock, “Glitter Ain’t Gold” matches Duane Allman slide with a glam-metal undertow. Best of all, Clark’s brain-frying guitar solos are more about noise nuance and phrasing than speed-trial note-spitting.

26

Django Django, ‘Django Django’

The Edinburgh art-school debutantes of Django Django use electronics to make strange new rock & roll shapes. See “Firewater,” which sinks an acoustic folk-blues jam into a dub-reverb fish tank, or the single “Default,” which digitally stutters the chorus of a British Invasion tribute. Drummer-producer David Maclean (younger brother of John Maclean, of the late, like-minded Beta Band) is the MVP, building trippy tracks around indelible grooves. Sometimes they involve coconut shells (“Love’s Dart”). But they always involve sly pop smarts.

25

Donald Fagen, ‘Sunken Condos’

With Steely Dan, and on his solo albums, Fagen makes beautiful music about loathsome men. “Slinky Thing,” “The New Breed” and “Miss Marlene” add to his succession of songs, going back to “Hey Nineteen,” that explore the plight of baby boomers dating barely legal girls. The music is deceitfully lush, a snazzy cascade of rock, R&B and swing, with production as costly as a Santa Monica beach house. Fagen embodies these doomed schlubs with his slouchy, sideways singing, the essence of New York wisenheimer attitude.