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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

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.