Baltimore City Paper

Frank Ocean, Swans, Dan Deacon, The Coup, Kendrick Lamar, and more

1. Frank Ocean, channel ORANGE (Def Jam) Big respect to Frank Ocean for quietly coming out this summer, but isolating him as the gay R&B man overlooks channel ORANGE's creative achievement. Ocean combines the social observation of Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway with the decadent confessionals of 1970s Topanga Canyon singer/songwriters to yield a moody, hooky, instant soul classic. It's an album as comfortable talking social class as it is complicated love, while remaining total ear candy the whole ride through. (Bret McCabe)

2. Swans, The Seer (Young God) Thirty years after the band's founding, Michael Gira and Swans delivered one of the most monolithic immersions into ugly beauty this year. The nearly two-hour, double-CD The Seer moves along with the metaphysical weight of a Béla Tarr epic and hums with sounds from deep woods bucolic to black hoods and sacrifice in the stone-walled room underneath the rectory. Outstandingly difficult-going. (BM)

3. Dan Deacon, America (see Local Top Ten)

4. The Coup, Sorry to Bother You (ANTI-) Oakland's the Coup foments dissent with a sense of humor on top. And on Sorry to Bother You, frontman Boots Riley chews up recent American politics like a quick-witted semiotics professor, unafraid to poke fun at dogmas of any creed-all atop a galloping funk rock that'll keep people coming to the party after the police clear the first wave of protestors from the streets. (BM)

5. Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d city (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope) Kendrick Lamar's coming-of-age breakthrough more than delivers on the promise of his hit-or-miss debut, Section.80. On good kid, m.A.A.d city, Lamar presents his ambitious narrative through a range of production styles while never dropping in quality. With infectious hooks spread liberally throughout, you get an album with serious staying power. (Michael Shank)

6. Alabama Shakes, Boys and Girls (ATO) A lot of people who loved this album began to shun it when Starbucks started carrying it. But fuck that. The Southern soul groove of superbly written songs like "Hold On" and "Goin' to the Party" have a timeless feel that can't be manufactured. And Brittany Howard is the best new voice of the year, hands down. (Baynard Woods)

7. Miguel, Kaleidoscope Dream (RCA) For the second year in a row, Miguel Pimentel ruled urban radio with R&B's biggest, most idiosyncratic, and unforgettable hit: the minimal, self-produced "Adorn," cutting a lithe, funky figure through the airwaves. The accompanying album, by contrast, is a rich, luscious ride full of guitars and bombastic grooves, his incredibly elastic voice bobbing and weaving through it all. (Al Shipley)

8. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! (Constellation) For some reason, post-Occupy movement, this Montreal collective's slow-moving, ruminative orchestrations sound less like the sound of civilization's end and more like a beam of sublime, heavenly light in a J. M. W. Turner painting. Perhaps it's because Allelujah! finds Godspeed in rapturous mode, where even the anxiety of "We Drift Like Worried Fire" eventually erupts ecstatically. (BM)

9. Frankie Rose, Interstellar (Slumberland) Interstellar evokes lush dream pop like Cocteau Twins used to make, with plenty of modulating synths and cavernous reverb. The production is fantastic, and the infectious and confidant songwriting is up to task. It feels like we've been riding the wave of '80s revivalism for well past a decade, but if we get albums like Interstellar out of the deal, then we won't complain. (MS)

10. Dead Sara, Dead Sara (Pocket Kid Records) Not since Ann and Nancy Wilson have two women fronted a band that understands the viking grandeur of hard rock as well as Emily Armstrong and Siouxsie Medley. The powder-keg dynamics of the minor radio hit "Weatherman" and Armstrong's breathtaking wail are Dead Sara's calling card, but their self-titled debut's tuneful, sentimental singer/songwriter core is its secret strength. (AS)

Read More 2012 Top Ten

Top Ten Most Intriguing Local Stories | Top Ten Films | Jed Dietz and Eric Allen Hatch's Top Ten Films | Top Ten Home Video | Top Ten Albums | Top Ten Local Albums | Top Ten Releases by Genre | Top Ten Shows | Top Ten Fiction | Atomic Books' Top Ten Bestsellers | Top Ten Non-Fiction | Top Ten Art Shows | Gary Kachadourian's Top Ten Art Shows | Top Ten Stage | Top Ten Restaurants | Top Ten Twelve Wines