The best music of 2012: Rock and pop


There were many cynics who assumed that Frank Ocean's headline-making announcement that he was bisexual – a big deal in the world of hip hop – was merely a marketing ploy timed to draw attention to his new album.

The truth, in fact, is almost the opposite: the reason Ocean's revelation caught the imagination of so many was that Channel Orange was such an enrapturing piece of work with a hint of “Paisley Park”.

The impossibility of love, conversely, was the narrative thread running through Dexys' retro-soul concept album One Day I'm Going to Soar, which ended a 27-year hiatus in stunning style. Also making comebacks, after slightly shorter gaps, were The Darkness, who didn't drop the ball at all on their third album Hot Cakes, and Scott Walker, whose Bish Bosch was thought-provoking and, at times, genuinely frightening.

At the other end of the spectrum, Lana Del Rey's debut Born to Die suffered only due to the overshadowing presence of “Video Games”, making it an example of that strange and rare phenomenon: an album which, weirdly, would have worked better without its best song.

Doing better second time around were Tame Impala, whose hugely acclaimed Lonerism kicked the Perth psych-poppers up into the big league. The xx also improved with their second effort, Coexist, although everyone was still too in love with their debut to really notice.

It was third time lucky for Grimes, aka Claire Boucher, whose Visions was a much-admired suite of intricately pretty synthpop. On Bat for Lashes' third album The Haunted Man, Natasha Khan delivered the record she's always threatened to. Crystal Castles' third album, the cunningly-titled III, was a punishing but exhilarating electro odyssey. Another third album, Future of the Left's noisy, angry and hilariously funny The Plot Against Common Sense was the deserving winner of the Welsh Music Prize.

Other acts seemed to find or re-find their mojos, with surprise late-career crackers from The Hives with Lex Hives, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion with Meat and Bone, Saint Etienne with Words and Music, Marilyn Manson with Born Villain, Tindersticks with The Something Rain and, perhaps most notably, soul legend Bobby Womack with The Bravest Man In the Universe.

Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra's Theatre Is Evil made more headlines for its financing (an online crowdfunding campaign) than for its contents, a lush and deeply moving collection of songs.

Honourable mentions are also due to dreampoppers Beach House for Bloom, Sheffield hero Richard Hawley for Standing at the Sky's Edge, mega-rockers Muse for The 2nd Law, drama-pop ensemble The Irrepressibles for Nude, indie-folksters The Cornshed Sisters for Tell Tales, a capella converts The Futureheads for Rant, dark cabaret quartet Birdeatsbaby for Feast of Hammers and twin-bassed, guitar-free noiseniks Exit International for Black Junk.

Further off the radar, Sweet Sweet Lies threw folk, flamenco, country, indie rock and viciously witty songwriting into The Hare, the Hound & the Tortoise, a debut which, along with Martin Rossiter's The Defenestration of St Martin, was the finest album this year you've never heard, nor heard of. You know what you need to do.