Our critics rank the best of 2012 in film, stage and music, and name our 10th Actor of the Year
RICH LOPEZ | Contributing Writer
This has been a more-than-satisfying year for music fans — so much so, to narrow this year’s top albums was almost a trip to hell. I’m beginning to see how other critics actually put out their top 100 albums — because if there was ever a year for that, 2012 was it. From the mainstream pop of Madonna and Maroon 5 to adventurous releases from Beach House and Bloc Party, this year will be hard to beat.
And then you’ll see it was a big year for music when it comes to LGBT fans. Whether in the news or on tour or the mass number of releases by out artists, the queer music lover had much to process over the last 12 months. We’re not defined so much anymore by what other people think we listen to (Britney, Barbra — OK, even though we still do), but gays are defining music. Frank Ocean and Adam Lambert delivered huge albums that were critically sound and veterans Bob Mould and Pet Shop Boys maintain their position on the continuum.
It will be a little sad to say goodbye to 2012’s triumphant sounds, but we’re optimistic that from here on, it can only get better.
1. Norah Jones, Little Broken Hearts — Upon a first listen last spring, my instinct was to declare this “album of the year,” and that never changed. The dusty (title track), sometimes maudlin (“Miriam”) tunes were dramatic, dreamy and epic. Little Broken Hearts held up strongly thanks to well-woven lyrics and producer-partner Danger Mouse’s magic touch. This is as much his album, but we’re giving the love to our own Jones, a Booker T. Washington and UNT grad, who grew up more than we ever expected to with this unexpected and very welcome departure. For not being a Jones fan, this was a big surprise.
2. Frank Ocean, Channel Orange — Oh Frank Ocean, where have you been all our lives? This debut disc isn’t the first we’ve heard from Ocean, who was hot on Jay-Z’s and Kanye’s Watch the Throne and effective on Beyonce’s 4, but the Odd Future member released a near-masterpiece in his first solo outing. Thoughtful, sexy and reflective of his generation (he’s, like, 25!), openly gay Ocean becomes an open book from the beginning with “Thinkin’ Bout You,” a methodical tune that eases into the rest. Ocean transcends R&B and hip-hop in one fell swoop but never defies them. He’s critical in “Super Rich Kids,” but then delicate on “Bad Religion” about falling for another guy. It’s heartbreaking, but also liberating.
3. Perfume Genius, Put Your Back N 2 It — Under this moniker, Mike Hadreas’ second album should go down as one of the most important gay albums ever. With sophistication and ethereal ambience, Hadreas’ music has a distinct gay voice that is never campy or ridiculous, though gloomy. With little fanfare, he speaks volumes in this elegant album touching on themes of relationships, suicides and even “hookerism” and all of it is glorious.
4. The Shins, Port of Morrow — The Shins brought it hard to 2012 with their fourth album — their first in five years. Frontman James Mercer led a new band lineup into new territory with emphasis on electronic elements, but never lost their signature indie pop sound that created multiple listens that never grew old. And for the record, “It’s Only Life” will very well be my song of the year. Goosebumps.
5. Azealia Banks, 1991 — In four songs on this EP, the openly bisexual Banks said much. It was a strong intro to her mixtape Fantasea released in July, but 1991 is the kind of debut any artist would kill for. Banks shouldn’t be looked at as a female hip-hop artist, but a hip-hop artist who happens to be female. She creates environments that speak to her Harlem street roots that drop like a bomb and her flow on “212” would make most rap veterans green with envy.
6. Sinead O’ Connor, How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? — Never count O’Connor out despite her sometimes-loony displays of behavior, because this year, she reminded us (albeit quietly) that there is still a strong talent there for music. With some poppish aplomb (“4th and Vine”) and provocative lyrics (“V.I.P.”), O’Connor is still the rebel, but she balanced mainstream sensibilities and complex writing with clever wisdom here. Oh, and add “Queen of Denmark” to that songs of the year list.
7. Of Monsters and Men, My Head is an Animal — Rising to the top of the charts in their home country, this Icelandic group debuted in America this year to acclaim, not to mention the wonderful single “Little Talks.” You hear OMAM and say to yourself, “I’ve heard this before,” but really, it’s that they strike a chord that’s familiar, friendly and refreshing. Despite being signed to Universal, there’s no big machine sound behind Animal. It’s energetic without being affected and it’s brilliant without being ruined by hipster and indie fanatic snobbery.
8. Tanlines, Mixed Emotions — Coming out of nowhere, this Brooklyn duo dropped one of the best musical flashbacks of the year. In their debut CD, the band recalls ’80s pop but without goofy flourish. Singer Eric Emm has that significant baritone akin to the Human League or Depeche Mode. Don’t expect an ’80s homage, because Tanlines deliver originals with pop splendor and spirit.
9. Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball — Maybe the election year had something to do with it, but Wrecking Ball spoke to the American people like no other album this year. The Boss laid it out as only he can on the rousing “We Take Care of Our Own” and the solemn in “This Depression.” Whether affairs of the nation or the heart, Springsteen sang to all of it.
10. The Magnetic Fields, Love at the Bottom of the Sea — Stephen Merritt gives comedic personality without the ridiculousness of, say, The B-52’s, in the band’s 10th full release. The out singer ventures back into synth-pop overtones and triumphs with charmers like “Andrew in Drag” and “The Only Boy in Town.” The album is unapologetically gay but easily accessible and completely enjoyable.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 28, 2012.