Best Music Of 2012

Lists

Ken Tucker's Top 10 Albums Of 2012

Fiona Apple's The Idler Wheel... is a sustained mood piece, a series of intricate word puzzles swaddled in ferocious emotion. i i
Dan Monick
Fiona Apple's The Idler Wheel... is a sustained mood piece, a series of intricate word puzzles swaddled in ferocious emotion.
Dan Monick

The hardest song of the year to escape was probably Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe." It was everywhere — on the radio, all over the Internet and on TV in a vast array of re-recordings done by fans ranging from ordinary citizens to Jimmy Fallon. "Call Me Maybe," with a lyric that captures a certain kind of 2012 casual speech, stands in a long tradition of novelty songs that hold up to repeated listens — as opposed to the novelty song this year that quickly became just irritating, Psy's "Gangnam Style."

My favorite album of the year, however, barely dented mass consciousness, and it's full of songs whose sentiments were rather more vehement than "Call Me Maybe." With its clattering percussion and Fiona Apple's twisty wordplay, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do is a sustained mood piece, a series of intricate word puzzles swaddled in ferocious emotion.

I want to provide a sense of the diversity of good music this year, so I'll name my favorite country album of the year: Dwight Yoakam's 3 Pears, which is not just a return to form for the honky-tonk singer, but also one of the most consistently pleasurable albums by anyone this year.

There was a lot of excellent hip-hop music in 2012, including albums from Killer Mike and Kendrick Lamar. For me, the pop crossover success of Frank Ocean, with his album Channel Orange, provided some of the year's most beautifully moody music.

If there's one consistent theme that ran beneath the music this year, it was the survival of the fittest: the endurance or reemergence of various artists in late or middle age. Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Bobby Womack, Bonnie Raitt, Loudon Wainwright III and many others released strong, vital work in 2012, but perhaps no return was more welcome than Iris DeMent's. Her first album of original material in 16 years, Sing the Delta, offered many strikingly gorgeous moments.

Ken Tucker's Top 10 Albums Of 2012

Cover for The Idler Wheel...

1. Fiona Apple, 'The Idler Wheel...'

  • Song: Every Single Night
close

Purchase Featured Music

  • "Every Single Night"
  • Album: The Idler Wheel...
  • Artist: Fiona Apple
  • Label: Epic
  • Released: 2012
YouTube
 
3 Pears

2. Dwight Yoakam, '3 Pears'

  • Song: A Heart Like Mine
close

Purchase Featured Music

  • "A Heart Like Mine"
  • Album: 3 Pears
  • Artist: Dwight Yoakam
  • Label: Warner Bros./Via Records
  • Released: 2012
YouTube
 
Cover for Channel Orange

3. Frank Ocean, 'Channel Orange'

  • Song: Thinkin Bout You
close

Purchase Featured Music

  • "Thinkin Bout You"
  • Album: Channel Orange
  • Artist: Frank Ocean
  • Label: Def Jam
  • Released: 2012
YouTube
 
Sing the Delta

4. Iris DeMent, 'Sing The Delta'

  • Song: Go On Ahead and Go Home
close

Purchase Featured Music

  • "Go On Ahead and Go Home"
  • Album: Sing the Delta
  • Artist: Iris DeMent
  • Label: FlariElla Records
  • Released: 2012
YouTube
 
R.A.P. Music

5. Killer Mike, 'R.A.P. Music'

  • Song: Reagan
close

Purchase Featured Music

  • "Reagan"
  • Album: R.A.P. Music
  • Artist: Killer Mike
  • Label: Williams Street
  • Released: 2012
YouTube
 
Older Than My Old Man Now

6. Loudon Wainwright III, 'Older Than My Old Man Now'

  • Song: Here & the Now
close

Purchase Featured Music

  • "Here & the Now"
  • Album: Older Than My Old Man Now
  • Artist: Loudon Wainwright III
  • Label: 2nd Story Sound
  • Released: 2012
 
Tempest

7. Bob Dylan, 'Tempest'

  • Song: Duquesne Whistle
close

Purchase Featured Music

  • "Duquesne Whistle"
  • Album: Tempest
  • Artist: Bob Dylan
  • Label: Sony Music Entertainment
  • Released: 2012
YouTube
 
artwork

8. John Fullbright, 'From The Ground Up'

  • Song: Satan and St. Paul
close

Purchase Featured Music

  • "Satan and St. Paul"
  • Album: From the Ground Up
  • Artist: John Fullbright
  • Label: Blue Dirt Records
  • Released: 2012
YouTube
 
Good Kid

9. Kendrick Lamar, 'Good Kid, M.A.A.D City'

  • Song: Swimming Pools (Drank) [Extended Version] [Version]
close

Purchase Featured Music

  • "Swimming Pools (Drank) [Extended Version] [Version]"
  • Album: Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City
  • Artist: Kendrick Lamar
  • Label: Aftermath Records
  • Released: 2012
YouTube
 
Kin

10. Mary Karr And Rodney Crowell, 'Kin'

  • Song: I'm a Mess
close

Purchase Featured Music

  • "I'm a Mess"
  • Album: Kin: Songs by Mary Karr & Rodney Crowell
  • Artist: Rodney Crowell / Mary Karr
  • Label: Welk
  • Released: 2012
YouTube
 

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Best Music Of 2012