Best music of 2012

Times music staff best of 2012 list

In a broadly scattered year, Los Angeles Times pop music writers widely agreed on only two albums from 2012, handily naming Frank Ocean’s breakthrough solo album “Channel Orange” the best of the year, followed at a safe distance by another Angeleno rapper, Kendrick Lamar, whose debut album “good kid, m.A.A.d city” finished in the No. 2 spot.

Ocean’s album made seven of eight writers’ Top 10 best lists, while Lamar’s CD finished in six of the Top 10 lists. Times pop music critic Randall Roberts and three other writers named “Channel Orange” album of the year.

This year’s contributors, in addition to Roberts, are pop music editor Lorraine Ali and staff writers Chris Barton, August Brown, Gerrick Kennedy, Randy Lewis, Todd Martens and Mikael Wood. Click on their names below to explore their picks.

Consensus | Roberts | Ali | Barton | Brown | Kennedy | Lewis | Martens | Wood

The album covers of the top 10 albums of 2012 as picked by the Los Angeles Times music staff.
  1. Frank Ocean, “Channel Orange” (Def Jam) (62)
  2. Kendrick Lamar, “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” (Aftermath/Interscope) (43)
  3. Fiona Apple, “The Idler Wheel….” (Epic) (17)
  4. Dr. John, “Locked Down” (Nonesuch) (17)
  5. Japandroids, “Celebration Rock” (Polyvinyl) (16)
  6. Miguel, "Kaleidoscope Dream” (RCA) (15)
  7. Cat Power, “Sun” (Matador) (14)
  8. Andy Stott, “Luxury Problems” (Modern Love) (14)
  9. Swans, “The Seer” (Young God) (13)
  10. Alabama Shakes, “Boys & Girls” (ATO) (12)
Frank Ocean, 'Channel Orange' (Def Jam)
  1. Frank Ocean “Channel Orange” (Def Jam)
  2. Fiona Apple “The Idler Wheel….” (Epic)
  3. Kendrick Lamar “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” (Aftermath/Interscope)
  4. Andy Stott “Luxury Problems” (Modern Love)
  5. Dr. John “Locked Down” (Nonesuch)
  6. Alabama Shakes “Boys & Girls” (ATO)
  • Café Tacuba “El Objeto Antes Llamado Disco” (Universal Music)
  • Django Django, “Django Django” (Ribbon Music)
  • Julia Holter “Ekstasis” (RVNG)
  • Swans “The Seer” (Young God)
Robert Glasper 'Black Radio' (Blue Note)
  1. Frank Ocean “Channel Orange” (Def Jam)
  2. Alabama Shakes “Boys & Girls” (ATO)
  3. Robert Glasper “Black Radio” (Blue Note)
  4. Nas “Life Is Good” (Def Jam)
  5. Kendrick Lamar “good kid, mA.A.d city.” (Interscope TDE)
  6. Japandroids, “Celebration Rock” (Polyvinyl)
  7. Dan Deacon “America” (Domino)
  8. Lianne La Havas, “Is Your Love Big Enough?” (Nonesuch)
  9. Jack White “Blunderbuss” (Third Man Records/XL Recordings)
  10. Bobby Womack “Bravest Man in the Universe” (XL Recordings)
Goat, 'World Music'
  1. Swans, “The Seer” (Young God)
  2. Cat Power “Sun” (Matador)
  3. Frank Ocean, “Channel Orange” (Def Jam)
  4. Dr. John, “Locked Down” (Nonesuch)
  5. Sharon Van Etten, “Tramp” (Jagjaguwar)
  6. Japandroids, “Celebration Rock” (Polyvinyl)
  7. Beth Orton, “Sugaring Season” (Anti-)
  8. Goat, “World Music” (Rocket)
  9. Kathleen Edwards, “Voyageur” (Zoe / Rounder)
  10. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, “Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!” (Constellation)
Health, 'Max Payne 3 OST'
  1. Kendrick Lamar, 'good kid, m.A.A.d. city" (Aftermath/Interscope)
  2. Frank Ocean, "Channel Orange" (Def Jam)
  3. Fiona Apple, "The Idler Wheel..." (Epic)
  4. Andy Stott, "Luxury Problems" (Modern Love)
  5. Miguel, "Kaleidoscope Dreams” (RCA)
  6. Taylor Swift, "Red" (Big Machine)
  7. Health, "Max Payne 3 OST" (Videogame)
  8. Kesha, "Warrior" (RCA)
  9. Ricardo Villalobos, "Dependent & Happy" (Perlon)
  10. Bat for Lashes, "The Haunted Man" (Capitol)
Dawn Richard, 'Armor On' (Self release)
  1. Frank Ocean, “Channel Orange” (Def Jam)
  2. Miguel, “Kaleidoscope Dream” (RCA)
  3. Melanie Fiona, “The MF Life” (Universal Republic)
  4. Kendrick Lamar, “good kid, m.A.A.d city” (Aftermath/Interscope)
  5. Brandy, “Two Eleven” (RCA)
  6. Dawn Richard, “Armor On” (Self release)
  7. Nas, “Life Is Good” (Def Jam)
  8. Emeli Sandé, “Our Version of Events” (Virgin)
  9. Jessie Ware, “Devotion” (PMR)
  10. Pink, “The Truth About Love” (RCA)
John Fullbright, 'From the Ground Up' (Blue Door)
  1. David Byrne & St. Vincent, “Love This Giant” (4AD)
  2. Bob Dylan, “Tempest” (Columbia)
  3. John Fullbright, “From the Ground Up” (Blue Door)
  4. Bahamas, “Barchords” (Brushfire)
  5. Lavender Diamond, “Incorruptible Heart” (Paracadute)
  6. Frank Ocean “Channel Orange” (Def Jam)
  7. Jamey Johnson “Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran” (Mercury Nashville)
  8. Kendrick Lamar, “good kid, m.A.A.d city” (Aftermath/Interscope)
  9. Neil Young & Crazy Horse “Psychedelic Pill” (Reprise)
  10. Taylor Swift “Red” (Big Machine)
Kelly Hogan, 'I Like to Keep Myself in Pain' (Anti-)
  1. Frank Ocean, “Channel Orange” (Def Jam)
  2. Kelly Hogan, “I Like to Keep Myself in Pain” (Anti-)
  3. El-P, “Cancer for Cure” (Fat Possum)
  4. Passion Pit, “Gossamer” (Columbia)
  5. Japandroids, “Celebration Rock” (Polyvinyl)
  6. Cat Power, “Sun” (Matador)
  7. Dr. John, ‘Locked Down” (Nonesuch)
  8. The Coup, “Sorry to Bother You” (Anti-)
  9. Sharon Van Etten, “Tramp” (Jagjaguwar)
  10. Lupe Fiasco, “Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1” (Atlantic)
Kellie Pickler, '100 Proof' (BNA)
  1. Ellie Goulding, “Halcyon” (Cherrytree/Interscope)
  2. Kendrick Lamar, “good kid, m.A.A.d city” (Aftermath/Interscope)
  3. Bruno Mars, “Unorthodox Jukebox” (Atlantic)
  4. Jamey Johnson, “Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran” (Mercury Nashville)
  5. Dirty Projectors, “Swing Lo Magellan” (Domino)
  6. Kellie Pickler, “100 Proof” (BNA)
  7. Justin Bieber, “Believe” (Schoolboy/RBMG/Island Def Jam)
  8. Rick Ross, “God Forgives, I Don’t” (Def Jam)
  9. Dwight Yoakam, “3 Pears” (Warner Bros.)
  10. Lionel Richie, “Tuskegee” (Mercury Nashville)
About the list

The Consensus Top 10 list is created by assigning 10 points to each album that a writer selected as No. 1, 9 points for a No. 2 album, 8 points for a No. 3 album and so on. Each album title above is followed by the number of points it earned. Beyond the general agreement on Ocean and Lamar, votes splintered considerably. Dr. John’s “Locked Down” produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach and Japandroids’ “Celebration Rock” made three lists, and nine albums received two votes. Otherwise, the vast majority of 56 albums that appeared on eight ballots each received a single vote.

Frank Ocean, "Channel Orange" (Def Jam)

The most magnetic record of the year, "Channel Orange" would be so even without the boundary-busting truth of "Forrest Gump," a tortured ode to Ocean's unrequited love for another man. As a whole, though, gender on "Channel Orange" matters less than Ocean's skill as a songwriter and vocalist. Sitting in that sweet spot among Marvin Gaye, Prince and R. Kelly, where softness supplants bombast and layers of sound add depth, "Channel Orange" feels like a work that as the years pass will only grow in stature. I can't wait to hear where he goes next.

Robert Glasper “Black Radio” (Blue Note)

This isn’t an album I can sink into, but it is one I can’t stop playing. Jazz? R&B? A little hip-hop? There’s no point in going down that road — it’s a hybrid of some sort. Leave it at that. But thanks to lot of disparate elements, it attracts and repels the way very few albums do. Each time I listen, I want to decode a little more. Layers and layers of discovery still in there.

Goat, “World Music” (Rocket)

Can you take a band seriously with a mythology that references voodoo and some decades-long history as a musical collective from a northern Swedish village? Frankly, when the sound is such an exuberant mix of ’60s psychedelia, propulsive Afrobeat and fuzzy krautrock, absolutely.

Health, "Max Payne 3 OST" (Rockstar Games)

As video games get more immersive and artful, there's room for original gaming music to have a language and logic all its own. Not only did this sprawling, doom-laden effort from the L.A .noise quartet add to "Max Payne 3's" emotional nihilism, its offers something even more revelatory: a new way of thinking about how music scores can work.

Dawn Richard, “Armor On” (Self release)

Having been associated with two groups including hip-hop fusion collective Diddy Dirty Money, Dawn Richard continues a solo emergence with risk taking, progressive R&B. The 10-track EP weaves sumptuous harmonies and emotional complexity with sinewy productions that’s more singular than the generic dance-pop of her peers.

John Fullbright, “From the Ground Up” (Blue Door)

Fullbright’s incisive wit, erudite lyrics and stylishly sculpted melodies put this musician from Woody Guthrie’s hometown of Okemah, Okla., squarely, and honorably, in a camp of folk-rooted singer-songwriters alongside Kris Kristofferson and John Prine. No hype.

Kelly Hogan, “I Like to Keep Myself in Pain” (Anti-)

Working with an all-star cast of songwriters, Hogan dips into country, soul and pop, and does it all with gracefulness. Yet whether the songwriter is M. Ward, Jon Langford or Robyn Hitchcock, the star is always Hogan’s voice, an understated, inviting instrument that’s equally at home amid the recession blues of “We Can’t Have Nice Things” and the bar-band fun of “Haunted.”

Kellie Pickler, “100 Proof” (BNA)

Pickler sets you up for the traditional tone of her third album right at the top with “Where’s Tammy Wynette,” in which the “American Idol” alum vows to “search that midnight radio till I find something that hurts.” What she doesn’t lead you to expect is how good – and how hurt -- “100 Proof” turns out to be. It’s an unexpected stunner from a would-be also-ran.