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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

31

Taylor Swift, ‘Red’

Pop star, country diva, puppy lover, scorned woman, flirt, gossip, sweetheart, brat, poet – Swift contains multitudes, and they're all on display on her big, bustling fourth album. The Max Martin/Shellback-helmed pop moves are headline-grabbers. But Red is not a departure, it's a deepening and accentuating of Swift's natural gifts for storytelling and irrefutable hooks. And the sound expands her musical reach from slick Nashville pop rock ("All Too Well") to wintry British mope pop ("The Last Time," with Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody) and beyond.

30

Azealia Banks, ‘1991’

Twenty-one-year-old Banks’ debut EP was 2012’s great appetite-whetter: a four-track-long amuse-bouche that left fans of the vaunted next-big-thing Harlem rapper panting for more. (A full-length LP is due early next year.) Banks packs an album’s worth of fun into 15 minutes: dissing, boasting and talking very dirty in English and, uh, French (“Ce soir with your bitch, café au lait”); reclaiming the word “cunt”; touting her “Bambi style” and “Rapunzel style,” all over beats that are as feisty, and as irrepressible, as the woman herself.

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.