Top pop albums of 2012

Courtesy PhotoNot since vintage Michael Stipe-Peter Buck R.E.M. collaborations has a vocalist (Justin Young) conversed so colorfully with a guitarist (Freddie Cowan). It’s every bit as exhilarating as last year’s debut.

Musically, 2012 wasn’t easy to pigeonhole. There were no sweeping musical trends, save the gradual ascension of electronic trailblazers such as Skrillex and Deadmau5. Or the ubiquity of the latest carefully incubated Simon Cowell boy band, One Direction. No post-Adele flurry of dazzling divas — just singles. Lots of memorable smash hits like “Gangnam Style.”

Who can forget the song that launched 1,000 spoofs, Carly Rae Jepsen’s addictive “Call Me Maybe”? Or Australian artist Gotye’s quirky “Somebody That I Used to Know,” featuring vocalist Kimbra? Then there was the truly irresistible “We Are Young,” from that unstoppable pop trio fun., backed by Janelle Monae, and its Queen-operatic
follow-up “Some Nights.”

But for an album’s worth of consistency, you really had to dig. The true gems were hidden. Here, then, are this writer’s unearthed treasures, in reverse order.

10. Shoes“Ignition”

Absence makes the heart grow fonder. After 18 long years, this brainy little power-pop combo from the Midwest returned with a fizzy, homemade knockout. (Black Vinyl)

9. Graham Parker and The Rumour “Three Chords Good”

No sooner had this legendary pub rocker put his old backing band back together than he was cast in Judd Apatow’s new comedy “This is 40.” But that’s not the news here — this razor-sharp comeback is. (Primary Wave)


8. J.D. McPherson “Signs & Signifiers”

This Broken Arrow, Okla., native got the retro-R&B/rockabilly sound right. More than right — call it perfect. (Rounder)

7. Alex Winston “King Con”

For some reason, this artsy New Yorker didn’t catch on with her symphonic-rock bow. So it may take another album, but she will be a star. (Island)


6. Howler “America Give Up”

Speaking of stars, here’s another one just waiting to happen — Replacements-savvy songwriter Jordan Gatesmith and his propulsive outfit Howler.  (Rough Trade)

5.  Keane “Strangeland”

An unexpectedly majestic pop gem from this sorely underrated British combo. Tom Chaplin is easily one of the best voices in modern music. (Geffen)

4. Bruce Springsteen “Wrecking Ball”

As he did on the 9/11-themed “The Rising,” Springsteen astutely tapped into the Occupy Wall Street zeitgeist for this passionate, rabble-rousing set.  (Columbia)

3. Lana Del Rey“Born to Die,” “Paradise”

Sure, there was that awkward “Saturday Night Live” debacle. But on her debut and the new “Paradise” EP, there’s something dark, almost “Blue Velvet”-creepy happening. Reconsider her. Now. (Interscope)

2. Sleigh Bells “Reign of Terror”

A cathartic blast from this noise-pop group was inspired by personal tragedy — sad, yes, but pain never felt so viscerally good.  (Columbia)


1. The Vaccines “Come of Age”

Not since vintage Michael Stipe-Peter Buck R.E.M. collaborations has a vocalist (Justin Young) conversed so colorfully with a guitarist (Freddie Cowan). It’s every bit as exhilarating as last year’s debut. (Columbia)

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