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)

artsBruce SpringsteenentertainmentPop Music & JazzVaccines

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at

Just Posted

School board members Gabriela Lopez (left) and Alison Collins (right) say they have been the subject of frequent hateful, racist and sexist attacks during their time on the school board. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F Examiner)
Angered by Lowell decision, SFUSD grad targets school board members with violent imagery

Facebook page depicts two women of color on board with swastikas and x-marks on their faces

Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, a former school board member, said it was ‘ridiculous’ that the school district did not yet have a plan to reopen. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Supervisors demand SFUSD set a timeline for reopening

Pressure grows on district to resume in-person learning as The City’s COVID-19 case count goes down

“Tenet,” the new Christopher Nolan film starring John David Washington, is showing at the drive-in in Concord. (Courtesy Warner Bros.)
Drive-ins are popping up all over the Bay Area

There are pandemic-era options for movie lovers who want to watch outdoors

The San Francisco International Arts Festival will present performances this weekend outdoors at Fort Mason, including on the Parade Ground, Eucalyptus Grove and Black Point Battery. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SF International Arts Festival wins health department approval for weekend performances

Rules allow no more than 50 people at outdoor Fort Mason performances

In this handout image provided by the California Department of Corrections, convicted murderer Scott Peterson poses for a mug shot March 17, 2005 in San Quentin, California. Judge Alfred A. Delucchi sentenced Peterson to death March 16 for murdering his wife, Laci Peterson, and their unborn child. (California Department of Corrections via Getty Images/TNS)
Prosecutors to retry penalty phase of Scott Peterson trial

2003 discovery of Laci Peterson’s body led to sensational high-profile murder trial of husband

Most Read