2012-12-19T09:00:43-05:00 2012-12-21T22:01:46-05:00

EARMILK's Top 50 Albums of 2012 [#50-26]

With December nearing its end (and supposedly the world, if you’re going by the Mayan calendar), another year prepares to come to a close. In less than a fortnight 2012 will be little more than a memory for most. As the persistent optimists of the world compile their half-baked lists of New Year’s resolutions for another year on the third rock from the sun, many treasure this transitional period of time as one for reflecting on the most seminal moments that shaped the last 12 months as a whole. 

For EARMILK every year is defined by the music it brings. Subsisting on a healthy diet of music, music and more music, we find no better way to reflect on the past year than by celebrating, dissecting, critiquing and scrutinizing some of the standout releases gifted to us throughout 2012.

We cap off this year with our Top 50 Albums of 2012 having tirelessly scoured three main genres – hip-hop, electronic and indie – for what we felt best represents our eclectic tastes with regards to production, lyricism (where applicable) and plain likeability. These are not necessarily the most popular albums, nor the most successful albums, but the albums that we found to be great representatives of their genre and iconic in their own right.

We hope this year’s list will spark lively discussions and debates about the music that supplied the soundtrack to yet another eventful year. Check back on Friday for the remaining 25 albums on our list. 

Update: Click here for EARMILK's Top 50 Albums of 2012 [#25-1]



Lana Del Rey

#50. Born To Die

Say whatever you want about Lana Del Rey but after listening to Born To Die on a 14 hour flight to and from, I felt it. New York singer/songwriter, Elizabeth Woolridge Grant went through a lot of changes this year. Disregarding all of the media that surrounded her, Del Rey produced an album that droolingly intermingles those intense, girly feelings with death, both of which she embraces in weird provocative moans. It's easy to dislike her record but why waste the negative energy on someone trying to sell sex with feminine raps and cries over an extremely well-produced pop and R&B soundtrack? Give the girl some credit for the irresistibly catchy line, "I will love you 'til the end of time" because, really, we all want to believe in that. -- Briana

Play: Lana Del Rey - National Anthem


Verb T

#49. Morning Process

In the realm of hip-hop, the UK still doesn't get the love it deserves on an international stage. UK rappers will claim that they don't care about this, but that doesn't mean that there shouldn't be light shed the scene. There were quite a few great British hip-hop releases this year but one of the ones that stood out the most came from Verb T when he dropped Morning Process. The album is a classic homage to 90s rap and Verb T makes every effort to shout out those that started this art that he now has mastered. And, with the stage set, Verb T uses this album to cover a huge array of topics including drugs, life, friends and relationships. It's a complete album that should not be overlooked and ranks up there with other releases in the same lane. -- Montrey

Play: Verb T - The Morning Process




Daphni is an alternate project that Daniel Snaith just started in 2011. You may know Snaith under his other stage name of Caribou, but with Daphni he brings a unique style to the realm of dance music. With the release of JIAOLONG, Daphni has essentially created his own unique style that effortlessly blends together varying musical styles but never sounds the same. This album is an exploration in all forms of sounds with the sole intention of blending found treasures into a cohesive audible experience. And by starting this entirely new persona, Daphni is not able to be pigeon-holed in any specific genre or in any specific way. This allows for ultimate experimentation and lead to one of the best albums of the year with JIAOLONG-- Montrey

Play: Daphni - Cos-Ber-Zam - Ne Noya (Daphni Mix)


Big K.R.I.T.

#47. LIve From The Underground

From front to back, Big K.R.I.T.’s Live From The Underground functions both as a personal account of K.R.I.T.’s foray into the mainstream as well as a treatise on the vibrancy of hip-hop in the Dirty South. With trunk rattling low-ends and occasionally screwed samples that summon “Diamonds & Wood,” Live From The Underground finds strengths in Southern hip-hop roots, but isn’t moored to trope. Sure he’s got a bit of a drawl, but K.R.I.T. is Southern on his own terms – just like Outkast, DJ Screw, and UGK before him. I’d like to think Pimp C would be proud. -- Matt

Play: Big K.R.I.T. - Live From The Underground


Nils Frahm

#46. Screws

The story behind German composer and pianist Nils Frahm's Screws, out September 20 on Erased Tapes and available to download for free begins with bad news of a broken thumb -- some of the worst news, perhaps, that someone working with their hands on a daily basis can receive. While you may not see tons of EARMILK postings on modern classical music, Frahm's music has a tendency to cross over genre boundaries, receiving attention from electronic artists like Max Cooper -- and, in turn, directing fans of that music to his own music. Although doctors advised Frahm to take some time away from the piano after his thumb accident -- he did cancel his upcoming concert dates -- he became too bored with not playing and instead wrote this album: nine songs played with nine fingers. And with Frahm at the helm, this intimate, minimalist work doesn't suffer one bit. -- Alyce


[soundcloud url="http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/60527713" params="" width=" 100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]


How to Dress Well

#45. Total Loss

By unleashing smooth R&B jams onto a frozen tundra, Tom Krell cultivates a kernel of warmth that's as hard to identify as it is easy to feel. The Colorado producer's sophomore album pares back the blurry kaleidoscopes of Love Remains to its most affective components, teasing saccharine notes of mourning that would be cloying if they weren't so raw. This time, How To Dress Well cuts through its own signature blear with clearer forms and sharper turns. That same silver haze settles over the record, but this time it's sectioned by the tight pop songcraft of "Cold Nites" and the sparse, clipped modes of "& It Was U." Wrapping a chilly sheen more snugly around elegant orchestrations, Total Loss bridges that shaky gap between grief and the comfort it commands. -- Sasha

Play: How To Dress Well - Cold Nites



#44. Life is Good

The current landscape of hip-hop is one in which rappers are akin to power NFL running backs: despite their impressive skills and promise, most are fated to short careers due to the rigors of their profession, a lack of physical ruggedness and sheer endurance. With ten albums already under his belt, the last of which was the warmly-received Untitled, Nas opted not to rest on his laurels with Life Is Good, instead one ups his previous effort with vintage boom bap rap married to contemporary production. Triple check for rigor, ruggedness and endurance. From waxing poetic on autobiographical subjects (his ill-fated marriage to Kelis on “Bye Baby”) to profiling the balancing act of juggling his rap star identity with parenting (“Daughters”), the sharply reinvigorated lyricism found in Life Is Good is proof that Queensbridge’s finest hasn't lost a step. -- Adrian



Play: Nas - Stay



#43. Master of My Make-Believe

Four years removed from making Lily Allen feel childish and irrelevant, Santigold thrust herself back into the radio waves with a more personal, yet nonetheless abrasive, sophomore album. Master of My Make-Believe is a better produced, slightly less surprising, yet equally ambitious version of it's predecessor. It boasts with a rejected discontent that riddles throughout the album, fueling her self-championed lyrics, electrifying beats and conquering agenda. Yes, it's a bit arrogant, but when you skim her accomplishments --her sudden rise to fame and the nature of her early works -- the ego shouldn't be any more dissuading than surprising. The album boasts an impressive array of producers, including Dave Sitek, Boys Noize, Nick Zinner, Q-Tip, John Hill and Diplo — a production roster that is apparent when examining the quality of the production. In a pop world where the female figureheads are stale, repetitive and bought out, Master of My Make-Believe provides a much needed spurt of creative integrity. -- Ronnie

Play: Santigold - Disparate Youth


Main Attrakionz

#42. Bossalinis & Fooliyones

"Cloud rap, that’s that shit that you can trust," Main Attrakionz drowsily explain on "Cloud Body", the final cut on October’s Bossalinis and Fooliyones. Normally I would argue "show don’t tell," but the fact that Squadda B and MondreM.A.N. conserve that refrain until the last track comes off as a confident I-told-you-so. Almost like, "we told you we could smoke a shitload of weed and still make a killer album of heady, zonked jams." Inhale: sour diesel. Exhale: one of the best hip-hop releases of year. Circular breathing at its finest. -- Matt

Play: Main Attrakionz - Cloud Body


Hot Chip

#41. In Our Heads

While somewhat formulaic, Hot Chip's latest release In Our Heads nestles itself comfortably in that lively, danceable nook the distinguished English indie-dancers have recently become staples of. Continuing with the transformation marked by their 2009 hit One Life Stand, the exploration of signature dance pop dives deeper on In Our Heads, falling further from the unorthodox, outlandish dance experimentations of their early works. The oddity of past gems like Made in the Dark still remain, however the band has clearly defected from the laboratory electro pop that once defined them. In Our Heads finds itself accomplishing what One Life Stand seemingly strived for, transgressing the confines of typical dance music and breaking into an enigmatic, beat driven territory that only this band could arrive at, let alone curate. The Hot Chip of days old seemed emphatic on being different, energetic and unpredictable. This new, seasoned group still avoids predictability, but not unintentionally. In Our Heads funks out, it slows down, and perhaps most of all, it sends a message to dance — and dance we will. -- Ronnie

Play: Hot Chip - How Do You Do?


Death Grips

#40. No Love Deep Web

When Death Grips blew up, everyone and their mothers agreed they were doing something different. This was clearly delivered through their past two albums and continued in No Love Deep Web. Even though the aggressive Sacramento hip-hop trio caused much stress to Epic Records by self-releasing No Love Deep Web, fans were not disappointed. From the disturbing cover art of a penis tatted with the album title to the different clashes of experimental rage, Death Grips produced yet another remarkable record, carving themselves deeper into the noise fest presented on the web to the real world. -- Briana

Play: Death Grips - No Love



#39. Wild Water Kingdom

Himanshu Suri’s hair may be as wavy as the wave pool at Wild Water Kingdom, but it’s the less fashionable remarks from this mixtape that make it appealing. For example, the Queens emcee accuses his friends of trying to kill him, he says he needs three showers a day so as not to die, presumably from drugs, and he more or less insinuates he makes chump change. All this gets packaged in what sounds like a water balloon of Far East fragrances. Lest Suri forgets to cheapen his lyrics on Twitter, surely all of us can take care of that. Or the government! -- Peter

[soundcloud url="http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/56335707" params="" width=" 100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]


Purity Ring

#38. Shrines

Childbirth, witchcraft, dissection, and torture all fester in the candy-coated landscapes of Purity Ring's roiling debut. Megan James's girlish delivery serves as the perfect trojan horse for her discomfiting lyrics; without the deeply haunting language inside it, Shrines might never have registered as more than a blip on our synthpop register. But by wrapping quivering, insectile narratives inside glistening electronica, Purity Ring have crafted a stunning work of garbled pop that's all the harder to put aside for the sheer revulsion it inspires. Shrines is a record that throttles you from the guts up, every time. It's glitter-spangled viscera; it's blood and quicksilver splashing together in the same filthy sacrificial pit. -- Briana

Play: Purity Ring- Crawlersout


Jessie Ware

#37. Devotion

Jessie Ware has done amazing work over the years as featured vocal guest on many tracks that draw their roots from the electronica realm. The album, Devotion, marks Ware's debut studio album which has allowed her to showcase her ability to stand on her on and really deliver. Her previous collborations with SBTRKT and Joker gave us only a small glimpse at the type of range and style that Ware was capable of. But, with her solo album, she proves how far she's able to expand past her standard comfort zone with luscious results. The album never comes off as abrasive and really is a smooth ride for the full length of the LP and does so in a way that keeps everything interesting. Sprinkled throughout the album are bits and pieces of downtempo, R&B, soul, pop and electronic, all wrapped up in a silky smooth delivery. No track is derivative of the previous yet everything blends smoothly as the album progresses. It's a beautiful thing. -- Montrey

Play: Jessie Ware - Running



#36. Pluto

2012 could have easily been the year that T-Pain started trap rapping, if Future hadn’t beaten him to it. Pop made a robust resurgence in several genres throughout the year, and the ATL-based rapper is currently at the helm of a beguilingly innovative fusion of sing-alongs and hard hip-hop. The purple drank he gargles while singing in his croaky rap-croon has gotten sweeter with each successive release since 1000, and Pluto finds the Dungeon Family’s new protégé on the cusp of what hip-hop is going to sound like on the radio in 2013: a little sweet, a little distressed, and 100-percent refreshing. Future’s name couldn’t more aptly describe the present. -- Matt

Play: Future - Tony Montana (Feat. Drake)


Karriem Riggins

#35. Alone Together

If I had to make a guess at why Karriem Riggins’ album made our Top 50, it would probably be that Alone Together, his debut Stones Throw release, garnered enough attention to bring this important, but hazy area of the beat scene's big picture, into full focus. Not to mention it was phenomenal. The man who has drummed or produced for masters of their craft, from Diana Krall to Slum Village, is still largely unrecognizable apart from his highly identifiable musicianship. The Detroit native has long established himself as a jazz musician first, sometimes channeling his brethren J Dilla and longtime friend and collaborator Madlib, but indubitably draws the line at this point on the precipice between hip-hop and jazz. Riggins’ musical knowledge literally gives you a sonic smorgasbord with influences ranging from tropicalia and MPB, to post-bop , jazz fusion, boogie funk and 80’s R&B. Alone Together doesn’t win as a seemingly offhanded foray into the realm of his peers -- he’s been doing it too long for that. Rather, a perspective on the entire scene, thus unfolding something entirely his own. -- Liz

Download: Karriem Riggins - Stadium Rock


#34. Flume

Released November 9 on Future Classic, Sydney-bred producer Flume's self-titled debut LP is the kind of album you can play ten times in one day while rolling around on your bedroom floor (not that I've ever done this myself). Bringing in a wide variety of vocal contributions (from vulnerable-voiced ladies to rappers), you'd think this would be a jumbled mess. Instead, his slower-tempo, hazy style transcends genre and pretension bounds to create an album that just about anyone can connect with; it's hard not to when electronic music feels so human. While Flume is a pretty fresh face on the scene -- he first gained attention with a remix of Shlohmo earlier this year -- his debut album is, as the imprint it was released on implies, a "future classic." -- Alyce


[soundcloud url="http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/66816167" params="" width=" 100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]



#33. KU:PALM

Rupert Parkes, a.k.a. Photek, got his start in the early drum and bass scene, with his first release dropping in 1992, and he's had his ups and downs ever since. He's worked on everything from dance music production to soundtracks, and perhaps it's that soundtrack work that's lent to his recent music having such a cinematic, full, layered sound. KU:PALM (released on Photek Productions), his 2012 LP and fifth full-length, follows a productive year or so, littered with tours and excellent collaborations (such as his single, "Acid Reign / M25FM", alongside Pinch) and a BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix. KU:PALM is a solid album, although it takes some risks in grandiosity that sometimes prove a bit grating. Nonetheless, most of these tracks would have their place somewhere, and they can fill a club floor with sound just as well as they can in your headphones at home. Highlights on "Pyramid" and "Aviator". Fans consistently seeking out "the old Photek" will probably never be satisfied, but since Photek has already made that music, we are excited that he's trying anything he can sink his teeth into (in this case, tying in bass, techno and house music influences specifically). -- Alyce


[soundcloud url="http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/58991480" params="" width=" 100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]


Lupe Fiasco

#32. Food & Liquor 2: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1

Being Lupe Fiasco is tough. It seems like every artistic or personal decision he makes invariably ends in some sort of beef. Use a Pete Rock sample as homage? Beef. Express concern over the culture Chief Keef represents? Beef. React adversely to SPIN’s assesment of “Bitch Bad”? Beef. Is Lupe preachy? Sometimes. Is he wrong. No. Is he talented? Undoubtedly. On Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1, Fiasco engages all the topics that enrage him: racism, greed, misogyny. I like to think the problems that Kendrick captured in concise, artful vignettes, Lupe addresses in expository, agitated protests. As long as Fiasco remains dissatisfied, he will remain a divisive artist. And as long as he remains a divisive artist, he will continue to instigate vital dialogue. -- Matt

Play: Lupe Fiasco- Bitch Bad


Silent Servant

#31. Negative Fascination

In the age of massive music abundance, sounds begin to blend together and a sense of uniformity is sometimes reached. But then you have artists like Silent Servant who use their platform to make bold statements through unique experimentation. Silent Servant's latest album offering, Negative Fascination, is not your standard techno album. Hell, it's not your "standard" anything. What you are presented with is a varied array of industrial-sound tapestries that are ripped apart with ear piercing synth frequencies. And this so called "ripping" takes place much like a dream sequence would be altered, or interrupted, by yet another equally awe-inspiring dream sequence. Not much unlike scenery you'd expect in a dystopian futuristic movie sene. It's no wonder these type of emotions and visuals are invoked due to Silent Servant's influences ranging from post-rock to punk. All of these genre elements are utilized in this electronic experiment. An experiment executed with chaotic perfection.  -- Lukas

Download: Silent Servant - Temptation & Desire


#30. Diver

Some argued when it came out that Lemonade's Diver was too far a departure from their past efforts; too poppy or cheesy. To me, these were the merits of this album, the sound of my summer. In a more calculated album than their previous efforts, Lemonade bring their emotive-boy charms to an album that, while not explicitly stated as such, I'd almost argue to be a concept album. Diver feels so immensely summery that I'd recommend it as a means to address seasonal affective disorder. Some might say that its summery demeanor makes it shallow, but with songs that get stuck in your head the way Diver does and move along a wide emotional spectrum, from exuberance to yearning, it doesn't matter if it's cheesy or over-the-top in some ways: Diver feels pure. It's not the poppy shift of a band that's selling out; it's the poppy shift of a band that's expressing relatable emotion. Seeing a band with Lemonade's experimental, dance-influenced history produce an album of "pop" is refreshing. We need more "pop" albums that also feel like art, and there's plenty of complexity underneath the simple surface here. -- Alyce


[soundcloud url="http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/39122557" params="" width=" 100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]


The xx

#29. Coexist

UK dream pop band The xx has created a cult following since their first album in 2009. When XL Recordings released their second album Coexist a few months ago, everyone was in high anticipation and great relief at the amazing outcome. The level of intimacy and personal affection expressed in Coexist is almost indescribable. Gentle, honest utterances with atmospherically soft back beats hug your body while at the same time, bring a chill to your spines, invoked by how purely relatable the album is. Yes, we've cried to this record once and maybe a few more times in the dark.  -- Blake

Play: The xx - Angels



#28. Cancer 4 Cure

No hip-hop album held a mirror up to the scummy soul of Western society the way El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure did this year. Directly following the death of friend and often-collaborator Camu Tao, Cancer 4 Cure deals obsessively with death as well as rebirth and, ultimately, liberation as a result of pain and grief. The beats are futuristic and the lyrics are forward-thinking while maintaining an ineffable emotional relevance. Moreover, the album proudly bears the sonic architecture of the city that created it with snarky shout outs to New York City cops, bodegas, and the indescribable hustle and grind that gives the city (and album) its effortless attitude. A simultaneously heartbreaking and powerful album. -- Alysa

Play: El-P - The Full Retard



#27. Tetra

C2C is a French turntablist crew consisting of Greem, Atom, Pfel and 20Syl. Collectively, they rose to fame after winning their fourth group DMC world championship in 2006. Their style mixes all types of genres including hip-hop, disco, soul, R&B, electro, and electronic. And with their latest release, Tetra, they have managed to raise the bar in regards to modern turntablism, a dying art. The album displays their unique ability to mix so many styles without sounding like a "mash-up" of sorts but really creating a brand new listening experience as a whole. Any true beatrumental fan will find something to love about this album. -- Montrey

[soundcloud url="http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/54963046" params="" width=" 100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]



#26. Visions

Claire Boucher has become an international pop goddess and Visions has made it on every year end's list. Boucher's solo career and succession projects our current generation of youth and the all the perky advances in music technology. Visions, her record under 4AD/ Arbutus, is the perfect example. Through an erratic exploration of synths and the various scales of Boucher's angelic, childlike (never infantile) voice, Visions will forever be loved whether you are alone in bed or at a party where everyone bobs their heads when the electronic orbs of "Oblivion" begin. -- Briana

Download: Grimes - Oblivion

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Ethan Ratliff-Crain
8 years ago

Lupe's album > Jessie ware AND Purity Ring is a bold statement. Can't quite say I follow the logic there, but personal preference I guess...

William Kelemen
William Kelemen
8 years ago

I have no idea why the purity ring album is less than 25. But again, i eat stuff like purity ring up.

8 years ago

I'm guessing Kendrick Lamar's Good Kid, M.A.A.D City takes the number one spot and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' The Heist take number 2.

8 years ago

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis definitely deserve a spot in the top 10 in my opinion.

Paul Mac
8 years ago

Where's the rest of the list? Friday is almost over here in the uk!

8 years ago
Reply to  Paul Mac
Paul Mac
8 years ago
Reply to  ItsGutz

Thanks mate. Great list and reviews - I've discovered a few gems that would otherwise have slipped under the radar. Cheers!

LA Esteves
LA Esteves
8 years ago

Muito obrigado earmilk, excelente lista!

William Kelemen
William Kelemen
8 years ago

Ear milk focuses too much i think on lyricism when it is but a tiny part of the music. I fail to see the justification for much of their rankings. These reviews look like book reviews, not reviews for music.