The Best Albums Flavorpill Staffers Heard in 2012

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A couple of weeks back, we took a look at the best books that various Flavorpill staffers had read over the course of the year, and today we’re repeating the exercise with albums — we’ve surveyed our highly trained staff and asked them what the best record they heard in 2012 was. The results, we hope you’ll agree, are rather interesting, encompassing everything from Ke$ha and Swans to a hitherto undiscovered fondness for obscure country reissues. Do feel free, of course, to add your voice to the discussion in the comments section!

Ke$ha — Deconstructed EP

Remove all of the pointless controversy that could have been avoided regarding the new Ke$ha full-length’s first single: what really matters is this E.P. Deconstructed finds Ke$ha covering a country classic in a way that shows it’s quite likely she’s listened to The Cowboy Junkies’ Trinity Sessions, and then ripping her own material apart in a way that’s equal parts torch song and witch house. It’s a bold, brash and thoroughly weird statement-and, yo, there’s no autotune, so get off your high horse about “artistic talent” and “does she actually sing” and prepare to be blow-oh-uh-oh-uh-oh-uh-own away. — Russ Marshalek, Social Media Director

U.S. Girls — GEM

It wasn’t my #1 album of the year, but (since it received so little press) it is the album I’ve been most enthusiastically evangelizing in the past few months. The project of Meghan Remy, U.S. Girls make music that sounds the way those Marilyn Minter paintings of mud-encrusted feet in high-end heels look — glamorous with an edge of grime. GEM is a 21st-century glam-rock record energized by ’60s girl-group choruses and heard through the long, echoing tunnel of lo-fi production. Luckily for those who haven’t heard it yet, winter may well be the best time to absorb its icy pleasures. — Judy Berman, Deputy Editor

Toy — Toy

The culmination of studying the deeper reaches of late Zeppelin and odder ends of Kraut, Toy’s album excels in being carelessly precise in its homage to the late ’70s, while paving new ground in guitar music. I also liked Tame Impala’s Lonerism — an album that managed to combine Lennon vocals, keyboard prog and bass lines that wander everywhere in a beautifully crafted study on melancholy — and Daphni’s Jiaolong, which is probably the most adventurous dance record I’ve heard in a long time. Dan Snaith manages to hop between deep techno, R&B melodics and obscure African micro-releases with ease, and it’s a joy to see him do this as an alter-alias in the spare time being the beast that is Caribou provides him. — Oliver Spall, London Social Media Manager

David Byrne & St Vincent — Love This Giant

Love This Giant emerged from the many music collaboration equations as a perfect pairing of St. Vincent’s throaty notes and David Byrne’s distinct serenading. “Who” became catchy in all the right ways, urging others to press replay and ride the waves of St. Vincent’s ascending octaves. Byrne’s song remains the same in his lyrical message, bringing the ballet of ballads back home. — Christina Walsh, Flavorpill Intern

Busdriver — Beaus$Eros

I mentioned Busdriver’s Beaus$Eros (Fake Four) for the staff picks post back in March, but I have to say, it’s still my favorite album of the year (and quite possibly the decade, so far). It’s like a 21st-century operetta in which the score is comprised of melodic European-influenced electronica and the libretto is a fusion of classic American backbeat-style hip-hop and lovelorn lyric poetry. Plus, the album not only reflects Busdriver’s own talents, but its producer’s, too; Belgium-based Loden orchestrated each song based on an MP3 Busdriver would sent him, before the two ever met in real life. I can’t say enough about the quality of their collaboration, or of the album itself. I wrote a longer piece about Beaus$Eros for HuffPost and published a Q&A with Busdriver on my own website, PopCurious. — Tanja M. Laden, Managing Editor, Flavorpill LA

Donnie and Joe Emerson — Dreamin’ Wild (reissue)

My favorite album of 2012 is a re-issue from Light in the Attic: Donnie and Joe Emerson’s Dreamin’ Wild. I’m gonna let their words do all the talking, because I can’t say it better: “Pacific Northwest isolation mixed with wide-eyed ambition, a strong sense of family and the gift of music proved to be quite the combination for teenage brothers Donnie and Joe Emerson. Originally released in 1979, Dreamin’ Wild is the sonic vision of the talented Emerson boys, recorded in a family built home studio in rural Washington State. Situated in the unlikely blink-and-you-missed-it town of Fruitland and far removed from the late 1970s punk movement and the larger disco boom, Donnie and Joe tilled their own musical soil, channeling bedroom pop jams, raw funk, and yacht rock.” — Claire Cottrell, Design Editor

Grimes — Visions

It would have been hard to completely miss the cultural phenomenon that Grimes stirred up this year. As Flavorwire editor Judy Berman said recently on her Tumblr, Grimes and her album, Visions, encapsulated “everything [we] loved and hated about 2012.” As sick as some of us may be of discussing the Canadian electro-pop lightning rod, her album and presence is probably the most quintessential document of this year; a year when genre boundaries seemed to degrade even further, as did the separation between the mainstream and underground. And as much as we’d like to think we’ve entered an era devoid of sexism, it’s still sadly uncommon for a woman in the electronic scene to both produce and perform her own music — particularly if that music reaches such a wide audience (the “Oblivion” video is up to 4 million views). Even I’ve felt I played this album to death, but somehow, I keep going back. The music feels more of the moment than almost anything else I heard this year, but more importantly, beneath the shimmering synth lines and tripped-out vocals, this album is about the human suffering and joy of a woman near my age, living in the increasingly strange world we now inhabit. And to me, this year, Visions functioned as a carefully fractured mirror: shining our reality back to us in all its beautiful and terrible glory. — Sophie Weiner, Social Media Manager

Swans — The Seer

It’s a curious thing that in a year defined by hyperfuturism, the most remarkable record of the year was made by a recently(ish) reunited group of ’80s survivors. There aren’t many bands about whom you can say that they made their defining artistic statement 30 years after their formation, but The Seer really does feel like the pinnacle of Swans’ aesthetic. It’s a record that trades some of Michael Gira’s howling ’80s-era misanthropy for a more focused intensity, and the result is thoroughly compelling listen from start to finish. It’s also one of the most unusual records of the year, a collection of very different songs (there are three songs whose running time pushes 20+ minutes, along with three under four minutes) that somehow fit together to make a coherent whole. — Tom Hawking, Music Editor

Various Artists — Country Funk 1969-75

I was sitting alone at a bar in east Austin the first time I listened to Country Funk 1969-1975. I had uploaded the album a few days earlier, but kept forgetting to listen to it. I guess in retrospect the timing and setting couldn’t have been more perfect to first experience an album full of Link Wray and Bobbie Gentry tracks that owe just as much to the South Side of Chicago as they do Nashville, but the album held up when I left Texas. I also loved Nick Waterhouse’s Time’s All Gone. I have a great deal of respect for his old school approach to his music and the way he creates it. He’s like a west coast version of Daptone founder Gabriel Roth. — Jason Diamond, Deputy Editor, Flavorpill NYC/Brooklyn

Bat for Lashes – The Haunted Man

It’s pretty rare that I take the time to listen to an entire album from start to finish (I know, don’t judge), but you can’t help but get sucked in by the powerful, raw emotion on display here; it would feel like a grave betrayal to listen to just one or two of these intimate songs and then move on to something else. I’ve been a fan of Natasha Khan’s deliciously dark brand of pop music for years now, but she never gave me goosebumps before I heard “Laura” — a slow, spare ballad that takes your breath away and breaks your heart all at once. — Caroline Stanley, Flavorwire Managing Editor