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Best albums of 2012

Most of last year’s notable albums either employed distance and vagueness, or clung too much to stylistic precedence. Not so in 2012. So many artists elevated their craft this year that paring down a simple 10 proved difficult. In particular, indie rock showed new growth and vitality, which not only bore fruit on the album front, but made attending nearby festivals like Coachella and FYF Fest mandatory.

1. Frank Ocean, Channel Orange

I’ll happily join the cheering section for this revelation. Before the release of this heralded, Grammy-nominated work, Frank Ocean was known as the least offensive member of the Odd Future clique. This year, he thankfully stepped out of that ramshackle hip-hop crew’s shadows and established himself as a singular talent. His immersive songcraft, his evocative delivery, his confessional narratives — Channel Orange came as close to perfection as a pop album can manage these days. For the artist himself, it stood as his big coming-out, in more than one way. And hopefully, it will also serve as a reboot for the moribund contemporary R&B genre. (Def Jam)

2. Japandroids, Celebration Rock

Need to test your pulse or speed it up? Celebration Rock will handily accomplish either. The Canadian duo merged the exhilaration of early punk with the songwriting smarts of The Replacements, and the results were among the most exhilarating in rock music this year. Know how yoga teachers implore you to be in the moment? This record will get you there quicker than Mountain Pose. (Polyvinyl)

3. Tame Impala, Lonerism

Several bands (Animal Collective, Thee Oh Sees, et al) updated the psych-rock sound of the late 1960s, but none did as well as Tame Impala on this pedal-friendly freak-out of a record. (Modular)

4. Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel

Once occupying a zone somewhere between Tori Amos and Billie Holiday, Apple has now paved her own road with her unique, percolating compositions, ones now more observational than searing — but nonetheless land a direct hit with their listeners. (Epic)

5. Cloud Nothings, Attack on Memory

If you’re going to harken to the fuzzed-up Gen X rock of the 1990s — which I don’t recommend — make it as visceral, ambitious, genre-blurring and, above all, resonant as this. (Carpark)

6. Dan Deacon, America

Deacon backs up the chutzpah inherent in the title with a sprawling musical dissection of our nation, ranging from Brian Eno soundscapes to MGMT-meets-Beta-Band dance jams. (Domino)

7. The XX, Coexist

A more romantic and R&B-kissed work than the band’s adored 2009 debut, though equally gorgeous and ethereal. I played it more than any other album. (Young Turks)

8. The Walkmen, Heaven

Twelve years after forming and frequently just on the cusp of greatness, this New York/Philadephia band crafts its best album. It draws upon several styles of 20th-century music, but more impressively, it’s the sound of a bunch of rockers having grown up without the usual despair. (Fat Possum)

9. The Men, Open Your Heart

See Cloud Nothings above. (Sacred Bones)

10. Cat Power, Sun

She only had so many throwback records in her. Sun brings her up to speed, a proper and assured use of keyboards and loops that doesn’t betray her prowess as a singer-songwriter. (Matador)

Honorable mention: Bob Dylan, Tempest; Dr. Dog, Be the Void; Cody Chesnutt, Landing on a Hundred; Spiritualized, Sweet Heart Sweet Light, Bear in Heaven, I Love You, It’s Cool; Tennis, Young and Old; Ellie Goulding, Halcyon; Dum Dum Girls, End of Daze EP