Albums of the Year
10. The Bravest Man in the Universe
When news arrived late last year that Bobby Womack had been in the studio with Damon Albarn, it sounded improbable. The singer hadn't made a record of his own in more than a decade, and for two decades this scion of 1960s soul had been a crack addict. The record that emerged was only 37 minutes and 12 seconds long, but magic lay in the contrast between Womack's still extraordinary voice and the skeletal electronic arrangements.
9. In Our Heads
What a lovely group Hot Chip have become. Quietly, unassertively, they have crept up in music's outside lane, surpassing flashier and more boastful groups, accumulating a catalogue that now stands comparison with the best British pop has offered over the past 30 years or so. Their great triumph has been to put the cratedigger mentality into the service of pure pop.
The xx's first album had debuted a sound - a spectral melange of post-punk and R&B - that seemed unprecedented. So the pressure was on for the follow-up. Coexist didn't manage to reinvent their sound, but it did refine the band's blueprint into something even more minimal, sexy and insidious.
7. An Awesome Wave
Almost from the day it was nominated for the Mercury prize, Alt-J's An Awesome Wave was the favourite to win. But what was unexpected, when it took the trophy, was the extent of public support for a record so full of glitchy twists and turns. And, for an album that fully deserves the appellation "art rock", it really is accessible.
A few weeks ago, Kevin Parker gave an interview in which he described the making of Lonerism as a two-year-long nightmare that nearly drove him insane. It's an album that revels in sounding as artificial as possible - every instrument, drums included, is slathered in distortion and tweaked with effects, with vocals panning from speaker to speaker. It's not just a great rock album, it's a truly great psychedelic album.
5. Good Kid, M.A.A.D City
The hip hop album of the year came from an unexpected quarter: Kendrick Lamar. The cover shows a photograph of him as a child, setting the tone for a record that took us through his life.
4. Swing Lo Magellan
Over the years, a viewpoint seems to have taken hold that Dirty Projectors are a band to admire rather than love. But with Swing Lo Magellan, the outlandish intellectual ideas are matched with music that is so clearly warm, personal and of a striking beauty.
In 2012, specialist artists became pop stars by stitching new sounds to their underground samples. But Jessie Ware started from scratch, picking genres and sounds that complemented each other in unorthodox ways.
Read any of the interviews Claire Boucher gave in the run-up to the release of Visions and you'd be tempted to dismiss the construct of Grimes as pseudo hipster bulls***. Here is a former ballerina goth who deliberately tried to induce insanity by recording Visions locked away in the dark of her bedroom, while fasting, chain-smoking, high and jittering on amphetamines, with no human contact for three weeks. The end result should have been sequestered on the grounds of banal self-indulgence. Instead we got a masterpiece in gonzo pop.
1. Channel Orange
Channel Orange is a staggering achievement of rare scope and variety. It insists that you listen to it from start to finish, to experience the considered unravelling of its carefully plotted pace. Its tracklisting doesn't feel like a commercial exercise - it starts slowly, rather than with an attention-grabbing banger, and takes its time to build in tempo and mood. Its direct inspirations were Pink Floyd, Sly and the Family Stone, Prince and Jimi Hendrix, though it never sounds derivative or retro, but inventive and ambitious. Channel Orange's lyrical reach is frequently astonishing. Critics of rap and R&B often miss the intricate storytelling involved, but this lays it bare, and makes it look easy.
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