Stellar songwriting and top notch debut releases led the best albums of 2012.
The latest from singer-songwriter Fiona Apple is not only the best pop album of 2012, it also has the longest title. The full title is The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. It is Fiona Apple's first studio release since 2005's Extraordinary Machine, and she has been missed. The tone for the release was set by the internal battles depicted in the single "Every Single Night." Her music is stripped down in a fashion that lays bear the immaculate crafting of the songs. After 16 years Fiona Apple simply continues to mature and amaze.
Pink is at the peak of her powers as a pop musician. Her music continues to strike straight from the heart as she dives into the personal politics of love relationships. The Truth About Love is a wild ride of emotion balanced by ultra-catchy pop-rock melodies. After more than a decade of recording, Pink remains one of the most consistent performers among top pop stars.
Taylor Swift deserves significant acclaim for following up an album as outstanding as Speak Now with a new collection that stretches in new pop-oriented directions while also diversifying her lyrical content. Taylor Swift has grown into adulthood proving that she remains one of the most talented songwriters to emerge in recent years.
Easily one of the most controversial releases of the year, Lana Del Rey's Born To Die is also a rewarding tour de force. Despite commentary in some of the music press that this music is somehow inauthentic and not ready to be released, the sonic landscape of this album is one of the most engaging amalgamations of pop, hip hop, and social artifice in recent years. Born To Die echoes the approach of Carly Simon's landmark early 1970s pop masterpieces. There is clearly something rotting underneath the surface glory of money, social registers, and celebration of the USA.
The debut full-length album from hip hop artist Frank Ocean was one of the most eagerly awaited debuts of 2012, and it fulfilled all of the preceding hype. Lyrically he explores both inner emotions and the outside environment influencing personal events. Channel Orange received nearly universal critical acclaim while soaring to #2 on the album chart upon release and including the gold certified top 40 hit single "Thinkin Bout You."
The second full-length album from indie pop band Passion Pit just might sneak up on you. The outward beauty and joyful sound of the music combined with the inner, sometimes tormented, explorations of the self is ultimately bracing to hear. Passion Pit have become one of the top bands in a crowded field of alternative pop. The single "Take a Walk" landed in the top 5 of the alternative songs chart as well as reaching the top 40 at adult pop radio.
Dance music and alternative music have both made major inroads to the pop mainstream in recent years. However, it is still relatively rare when an artist uses a blend of the two to powerful effect. Canadian singer-songwriter Claire Boucher, aka Grimes, has a voice that may be off-putting at first, but most pop fans will quickly warm up to her sound as they are mesmerized by the unforgettable electro-pop swirl of her slightly spooky and often dream-like songs.
Brit Award winning singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran crossed the Atlantic in 2012 after being one of the biggest new pop artists of 2011 in the UK. His stellar live shows helped whet the appetite of pop fans for this debut album. The centerpiece remains "The A Team," one of the most elegant and ultimately heartbreaking adult pop songs of the year.
The debut album from British boy band One Direction spent much of the year in the top 10 of the Billboard album chart. There is good reason for the feat. This is solid, well-produced, ultra-catchy pop music. If you are a parent of a One Direction fan, don't be surprised if you succumb to the musical charms of the group.
Iceland's Of Monsters and Men have risen quickly into the upper reaches of acclaimed indie folk-pop bands. The Lumineers may have received the lion's share of acclaim for folk-oriented bands that rose into the spotlight this year, but Of Monsters and Men may have more appeal to mainstream pop fans. The group just formed into 2010, but with their debut album and the hit single "Little Talks," they have become a worldwide musical phenomenon.