Top 24 Albums of 2012: On Your Headphones Album Poll

The University of Minnesota, Morris campus’s The University Register‘s music column On Your Headphones has conducted its first annual album poll.  Four voters (Editor Nah-Tieh Bropleh, Founder Joey Daniewicz, Writer Will Hanson, and Writer KT Lindemann) submitted ballots naming and ranking exactly 25 albums from 2012 and distributing exactly 250 points among them, giving each album no more than 30 but no fewer than 5 points.  This features all albums mentioned by two or more voters, with albums ranked by total number of points and ties broken by number of mentions (both points and mentions being equal results in a tie).

This poll was curated by On Your Headphones Founder Joey Daniewicz, who also edited the writings below.

Click on the album titles to listen on Spotify (with only a few links leading elsewhere).

24. Bloom – Beach House


Points: 12
Mentions: 2
Points per mention: 6
Voters: Nah-Tieh (7, #19), KT (5, #25)

While the most exciting Beach House moment of 2012 was the sample on “Money Trees,” Bloom was a close second.  All half-jokes aside, Bloom is another great album by a band that honestly hasn’t changed much about their formula, but why should they?  While individual tracks may not stand out as far as on past albums, as a whole, Bloom was one of the most beautiful albums of 2012. –Nah-Tieh Bropleh

23. 4evaNaDay – Big K.R.I.T.


Points: 13
Mentions: 2
Points per mention: 6.5
Voters: Joey (7, #18), Will (6, #20)

While Big K.R.I.T. came out with a great big label swag debut album this year, it’s really on his mixtapes, where K.R.I.T. got his start, that he seems the most comfortable, and his comfort is our pleasure.  4evaNaDay is aware of its own status in the canon of southern rap, but K.R.I.T. expands past the “dirty” aspect of dirty south and creates something heartfelt and real with a full confident flow, perfectly accompanied by his usual top-notch production. –Will Hanson

22. Old Ideas – Leonard Cohen

old ideas

Points: 15
Mentions: 2
Points per mention: 7.5
Voters: Nah-Tieh (5, #22), Joey (10, #9)

It’s an odd thing when whispers prophesize an artist’s album may be their last, and Leonard Cohen, making albums since ’67 and at 78, ought to have more mortal concern than the forever-young Bob Dylan (71) or the ever-boyish Loudon Wainwright III (66).  But Cohen’s latest, maybe last, exudes patience and peacefulness more than anxiety, with intricate, slow moving, slow-blooming melodies weaving in and around his low, lean-in-closer croak, often helped upright by the gentle exhalation of background voices.  Those praying he has any fight left can remain hopeful: Cohen’s final old idea is to maintain his sexual ways religiously. –Joey Daniewicz

19 (tie). Tempest – Bob Dylan


Points: 17
Mentions: 2
Points per mention: 8.5
Voters: Nah-Tieh (12, #10), Will (5, #25)

I think we find something attractive about having the integrity to be unattractive.  For two decades, Bob Dylan has been honing that skill by being an old man musically, but it’s only with Tempest that he synthesizes old man Dylan and storyteller Dylan. As listeners, we’re rewarded for adventuring the arcane like we are when listening to our grandparents talk about years past. There are moments that could be cut (cough “Long and Wasted Years” cough), but when it’s good, as with the title track, it offers cinematic portraits that could only be told by the master storyteller. –W.H.

19 (tie). Shields – Grizzly Bear


Points: 17
Mentions: 2
Points per mention: 8.5
Voters: Nah-Tieh (12, #6), Will (5, #22)

Of the albums on this list, Shields was probably the most hotly debated among us when review time came around.  Why exactly this was is still beyond me. Compositionally, Grizzly Bear has never been as complex.  The first half of the album is fantastic, but G-Bear doesn’t make the mistake of front-loading Shields.  After the wonder that was Veckatimest, it’s relieving the band didn’t try to sell a sequel but instead further played with their sound.  I see Shields as an example of a band doing the right thing. –NB

19 (tie). 1991 – Azealia Banks


Points: 17
Mentions: 2
Points per mention: 8.5
Voters: Joey (9, #14), KT (8, #18)

Azealia Banks is a fascinating figure in the canon of recent YouTube fame. She’s more resonant than most flash-in-the-pan musicians, more relatable than Lana Del Rey, and more daring than Karmin and Justin Bieber. After exploding onto the scene with the bombastic “212,” she released her 1991 EP, which has all the big city, tough kid swagger of her first hit but with added elegance and sensuality.  Plus, Banks has incredible flow, both as a rapper and as a singer, which permeates all four songs.  1991 is a short-form success, and proves that Banks is an artist worth watching. –KT Lindemann

17 (tie). Until the Quiet Comes – Flying Lotus


Points: 18
Mentions: 2
Points per mention: 9
Voters: Nah-Tieh (13, #4), Will (5, #21)

Steven Ellison AKA Flying Lotus enjoys working closely to the realm of dreams. Though suggested by the title “DMT Song,” this is apparent on Until the Quiet Comes long before that track plays. Equal parts serene and playful, UTQC has all the traits of a good dream. Combining elements of hip-hop, jazz, and electronica is a difficult feat, but with UTQC, Ellison picks the best aspects of each genre, creating a unique experience that demands head bobbing throughout. –NB

17 (tie). Blunderbuss – Jack White


Points: 18
Mentions: 2
Points per mention: 9
Voters: Nah-Tieh (12, #9), KT (6, #21)

While The White Stripes album covers featured Jack and Meg White in their own realities and The Raconteurs donned retro outfits, Jack White is alone on the cover of Blunderbuss, save for the vulture resting on his shoulder. Such is the tone of Blunderbuss, where Jack is finally left with himself, weighted by maturation and solemnity as the album progresses. The result is Jack White’s most emotionally gripping work to date, as well as his most complete. –NB

16. Attack on Memory – Cloud Nothings

attack on memory

Points: 19
Mentions: 3
Points per mention: 6.3
Voters: Nah-Tieh (5, #24), Joey (7, #16), KT (7, #20)

There’s a fine line between being angsty and complaining, but Cloud Nothings frontman Dylan Baldi thankfully finds the right side of the line with Attack on Memory. It’s easy to look foolish singing “I miss you ‘cause I like damage/I need something I can hurt” as an adult, but Baldi closes the album thusly without seeming childish.  While he doesn’t completely lose the power pop label he was trying to shed with Attack on Memory, Baldi still manages to craft more aggressive work than before, which is still a job well done. –NB

15. The Haunted Man – Bat for Lashes


Points: 20
Mentions: 2
Points per mention: 10
Voters: Will (10, #11), KT (10, #13)

There’s something about Natasha Khan’s voice that’s always allowed for her highbrow concept albums to maintain some sense of personal space, but with The Haunted Man, she’s transferred the intimacy of her voice into the context of actual intimacy.  She still sings about doppelgängers and the stars as she did with much less control in the past, whereas here she imbues songs like “Laura” with imagery and scenes that are transcribed with such loving detail and realism that it’s impossible not to feel as if you’ve actually been somewhere and not just heard about it. –W.H.

14. The Money Store – Death Grips

money store

Points: 21
Mentions: 2
Points per mention: 10.5
Voters: Joey (8, #12), Will (13, #5)

Listening to Death Grips is physical and confrontational.  It’s not always pleasant, but that’s not the point.  MC Ride can be downright scary with his angry yelling and violent, paranoiac lyrics, and Zach Hill’s disjointed production is soaked in noise. However, they come together in a way that makes for a nightmarish and schizophrenic journey to the heart of darkness in America’s cities.  The Money Store perfects the formula they sought out on Ex-Military by creating fully realized industrial-punk-rap production and lyrics that push everything to the absolute extreme, dragging you down into derangement and dystopia. –W.H.

13. Born to Die – Lana Del Rey


Points: 22
Mentions: 3
Points per mention: 7.3
Voters: Nah-Tieh (11, #11), Joey (6, #23), KT (5, #24)

Upon its release, I wasn’t a fan of Born to Die, but despite my initial dismissal, here I am writing about how much I enjoy the album. It’s hardly my fault. Lana’s I’m-glamorous-but-still-sad image didn’t grip me quickly, but it’s a persona Lana performs better than I previously gave her credit for. The character of Lana Del Rey is an enchanting one, and Born to Die‘s noirish feel is the perfect background to her tales of loving bad boys. I was slow to warm to her, but Lana Del Rey was truly one of the greater figures of 2012. –NB

12. I Know What Love Isn’t – Jens Lekman

i know what love isn't

Points: 23
Mentions: 2
Points per mention: 11.5
Voters: Nah-Tieh (12, #8), Joey (11, #7)

Like saga of introspection “An Argument with Myself” stretched to album length with simpler, more traditional craft, Lekman’s latest finds him adopting and discarding mindsets and methods to combat feeling like a sinking rock tied to the leg of a person.  When cowboy boots visit his dreamland and misadventures in Melbourne bring a revelation, Lekman grasps a handle on his healing, admitting he doesn’t know what love is, thinking of Erica, and gleefully finishing that he knows what love isn’t.  Still, the finale reveals he’s simply carrying his broken heart gracefully.  Inside, it’s still “fuck you,” “no, you fuck you!” —J.D.

11. Europe – Allo Darlin’


Points: 24
Mentions: 2
Points per mention: 12
Voters: Joey (10, #11), KT (14, #5)

The road to “Too Precious” is always paved with good intentions.  Inoffensive and sunshiny indie pop Londoners Allo Darlin’ could’ve easily produced a twee disaster, but instead they gave us Europe: a joyous, transcontinental road trip of an album.  Upbeat guitars and beautiful vocal harmonies hop along as a baby-voiced Elizabeth Morris sings her elegantly penned lyrics.  The album peaks with “Tallulah,” a stripped-down, ukulele-and-vocals message to a faraway friend.  It’s a small but mighty tune on a sweet but powerful album, which should touch the wanderluster in all of us. ­–K.L.

10. Gossamer – Passion Pit


Points: 24
Mentions: 3
Points per mention: 8
Voters: Joey (6, #22), Will (7, #18), KT (11, #12)

Who knew catharsis could be such a pleasure to listen to?  Gossamer, the belated follow-up to Passion Pit’s 2009 debut Manners, comes from a place of intense emotion–depression, anxiety, and anger–but with near-manic melodies and metre.  Gossamer is strained and brutally honest, but energetic and euphorically optimistic.  It’s a kind of bipolar relationship, but it works, especially considering frontman Michael Angelakos hit one hell of a rough patch of bipolar disorder making this album.  To that end, Passion Pit has pulled off an impossible creative compromise, under even more impossible circumstances. –K.L.

9. Call Me Sylvia – Low Cut Connie


Points: 26
Mentions: 3
Points per mention: 8.7
Voters: Nah-Tieh (5, #25), Joey (8, #15), KT (13, #7)

With the stellar collection of rambunctious loser anthems on Call Me Sylvia, Low Cut Connie presented us with an old-school yet surprisingly fresh dose of rock and roll in 2012.  Their bouncy breed of punk works wonderfully, thanks to generous, scrappy hooks and cheeky, often sexy lyrics.  The album is lovably crude, loaded with rickety piano riffs and handclaps, and frontmen Adam Weiner and Dan Finnemore can even make a pity party sound like a great time. –K.L.

8. Wrecking Ball – Bruce Springsteen

death to my hometown

Points: 27
Mentions: 3
Points per mention: 9
Voters: Nah-Tieh (12, #7), Joey (6, #21), KT (9, #15)

Imagine hearing “We Take Care of Our Own” if the Supreme Court had stricken down Obamacare, making the song bubble over with venomous irony a la “Born in the U.S.A.”  Instead, I listen to this collection content in the world’s direction as we keep working on that dream.  The band playing louder than ever in lieu of their sorely missed saxophonist and the music rooted in a melting pot of traditional folksiness to evoke this land, Wrecking Ball establishes Springsteen not as a protester picketing outside The Establishment but as a demolition man, his crane slowly but ominously approaching. –J.D.

7. Visions – Grimes


Points: 29
Mentions: 3
Points per mention: 9.7
Voters: Nah-Tieh (11, #13), Will (9, #13), KT (9, #14)

Eccentric, theatrical, and bedazzled, Claire Boucher AKA Grimes could very easily be dismissed as a gimmicky figure.  On the contrary, she’s a thoughtful, innovative musician who shows incredible control and style on Visions.  “Genesis” and “Oblivion,” two of the most infectious songs of the year, display Grimes’ knack for melody and layering sound without excess. Whether creating Visions, directing her own music video, or performing live, for this one-woman freakshow, stunning craft comes first. –K.L.

6. Transcendental Youth – The Mountain Goats

transcendental youth

Points: 32
Mentions: 3
Points per mention: 10.7
Voters: Nah-Tieh (5, #23), Joey (15, #5), KT (12, #11)

His storytelling perfected by Tallahassee, melodies by The Life of the World to Come, and singing and arrangements by All Eternals Deck, John Darnielle’s gone a while without setting his sights skyward.  Transcendental Youth finds Darnielle pulling back the hammer and holding the gun straight each time, sharpening his teeth between lines as a child star dies early of heroin overdose, he snarls (annoyed that he even needs a reason) that he just likes his corner, and the only advice he can give a doomed, spent gladiator beyond “just stay alive” is “…maybe spit some blood at the camera?” —J.D.

5. Swing Lo Magellan – Dirty Projectors

swing lo magellan

Points: 36
Mentions: 4
Points per mention: 9
Voters:  Nah-Tieh (7, #20), Joey (10, #10), Will (11, #10), KT (8, #17)

Dirty Projectors make the weirdest hooks, but they always manage to become yearlong earworms.  In the past, the band has sprawled these hooks over a lot of space while fitting them into songs where the transition between chorus and verse might not seem logical or normal, and though all their previous work is great, this is their best album yet precisely because they compress their songs.  This is really what’s so stunning about Swing Lo Magellan; they’re able to create perfect pop songs while maintaining every bit of their knack for synthesizing pop music into art music. –W.H.

4. Celebration Rock – Japandroids

celebration rock

Points: 54
Mentions: 4
Points per mention: 13.5
Voters: Nah-Tieh (13, #5), Joey (13, #6), Will (13, #6), KT (15, #4)

Adrenaline.  Testosterone.  Sweat.  Electricity.  Smoke.  Alcohol-stained concrete.  These are what I see as I close my eyes, Celebration Rock on my headphones, and unconsciously switch between playing my air guitar and kit, silently but powerfully mouthing every “WHOA!” and imagining my bandmate in back of me and audience in front of me shouted with me.  I wonder why Brian King smeared all those interjections across the lyric sheet then figure they’re just his appropriate releases of built-up excitement.  Excited about what?  Life, death, Heaven, Hell, youth, love.  Their extreme themes and passionate performances make for a helluva bang. –J.D.

3. The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do – Fiona Apple

idler wheel

Points: 67
Mentions: 4
Points per mention: 16.8
Voters: Nah-Tieh (14, #3), Joey (15, #3), Will (20, #2), KT (18, #1)

Fiona Apple has a prolific capacity for expressing emotion with words, and she proved it in 2012 with The Idler Wheel…: an anxious, evocative masterpiece. It’s not just a breakup album, but instead something much bigger: a reflection on diverse romantic struggles, sung with impeccable flow from the core of an exhausted person.  She asks to be called an airplane, as “the gashes I got from my heartbreak make the slots and the flaps upon my wings, and I use them to give me lift.”  They’ve certainly lifted her miles above other like-minded musical forays of the year. –K.L.

2. good kid, m.A.A.d. city – Kendrick Lamar

good kid

Points: 70
Mentions: 4
Points per mention: 17.5
Voters: Nah-Tieh (17, #1), Joey (19, #2), Will (20, #1), KT (14, #6)

Art is about empathy, and gangster rap always has the difficulty of making the average person relate to living in an environment of crime and violence. However, Kendrick Lamar recalls his experiences with such vivid and tragic beauty that not relating is to deny your own humanity. Lamar doesn’t drastically alter the formula for gangster rap, but through that empathy, he perfects it.  He presents a young man, emotionally naked and prematurely at the crossroads of life choosing whether to continue to embody the system he lives in or rise above it without dismissing anyone who chooses the former. –W.H.

1. channel ORANGE – Frank Ocean

channel orange

Points: 71
Mentions: 4
Points per mention: 17.8
Voters: Nah-Tieh (16, #2), Joey (21, #1), Will (18, #3), KT (16, #3)

Some feel vague dissatisfaction with Frank’s first album but second straight dinger, as channel ORANGE is often slow, soupy, and nebulous–issues unfound in nostalgia,ULTRA.  But this triumph differs immensely from his first: slower because he’s more deliberate, soupier because moods he’s evoking are of a complex brew, and less definite so his analogies can breathe freer.  He invites a wandering legend and a young talent he believes in.  If you’re not on the list, you’re not getting in.  Frank’s less interested in showcasing friends, crafting more personal affairs, but as with Kanye before him, lightning’s struck twice, and immediately. —J.D.

Published in: on January 21, 2013 at 9:17 PM  Leave a Comment  

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