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Best of 2012 Pop Music: Albums

December 27, 2012|By Gerrick D. Kennedy
  • Miguel's "Kaleidoscope Dream" scored high on Times pop music staff writer Gerrick D. Kennedy's list of 2012's best albums.
Miguel's "Kaleidoscope Dream" scored high on Times pop… (Jeff Bottari / Associated…)

The top 10 albums of 2012 as chosen by Times pop music staffer Gerrick D. Kennedy:

1. Frank Ocean, “Channel Orange” (Def Jam). Ocean's album has already garnered plenty of praise for its complexity and updates of classic soul tapestries. But simply put, no other album has affected me more this year, connecting profoundly with its most vulnerable -- albeit headline grabbing -- moments.

2. Miguel, “Kaleidoscope Dream” (RCA).  Miguel earned his breakout moment with a stellar, fully realized album that helped reinvigorate R&B. “Kaleidoscope Dream” drips with buzzing synthesizers, lush melodies and enough psychedelic grooves to make Prince beam with pride. I dare you to listen to “Adorn” (one of the year’s best singles) without moving your feet.

3. Melanie Fiona, “The MF Life” (Universal Republic). One of the year's more solid contemporary R&B offerings, Fiona’s sophomore effort deserved more attention. Here she weaved sultry, retro-dipped soul and updated grooves without abandoning her knack for emotional balladry -- or comprimising her powerhouse vocals. 

4. Kendrick Lamar, “good kid, m.A.A.d city” (Aftermath/Interscope).  Largely heralded as the savior of West Coast rap, Lamar’s major-label debut far surpassed the early hype heaped upon its arrival. Brilliantly vivid storytelling propelled this ambitious concept album about navigating manhood amid the violent, gang-scarred Compton.

5. Brandy, “Two Eleven” (RCA). Comebacks, especially in an oversaturated R&B landscape, are hard to achieve. Thankfully, Brandy managed by relying on her voice and not gimmicks. The focus on well-crafted R&B allowed Brandy to showcase her raspy, flexible tone, including her hallmark layered harmonies and those sweet, impeccable riffs.

6. Dawn Richard, “Armor On” (Self release). Having been associated with two groups (including hip-hop fusion collective Diddy Dirty Money), Dawn Richard continues a solo emergence with risk-taking, progressive R&B. The 10-track EP weaves sumptuous harmonies and emotional complexity with sinewy productions that’re more singular than the generic dance-pop of her peers.

7. Nas, “Life Is Good” (Def Jam). The rapper known for his sharp wit and biting, tough social commentary and street wisdom tapped into some of his most honest and compelling subject matter yet: himself. Carefully crafted, provocative and pointed, this was Nas’ true, and much needed, return to form.

8. Emeli Sandé, “Our Version of Events” (Virgin).  Sure, Adele is still the current definition of British soul for plenty but Sandé was among the fresh faces, including Lianne La Havas and Jessie Ware (see No. 9), who took my breath away this year. That voice -- so precise and bold -- grabs hold and doesn’t let go.

9. Jessie Ware, “Devotion” (PMR). Ware’s stunning debut is a combination of breathy vocals and beautifully poetic lyrics that truly unfold on repeated listens. While her reserved grace will earn comparisons to Sade and Lisa Stansfield, Ware’s electronic driven soul -- with harmonies plucked from '90s R&B girl groups -- manages to maintain a remarkably fresh fluidity.

10. Pink, “The Truth About Love” (RCA). Thrashing pop-rock anthems with brash lyrics, irreverent numbers full of punchy quips and dark, gorgeous balladry -- must be a Pink record. Pop’s most riotous anti-diva taps into her bawdy roots and proves she can break your heart, start your party and soak up your tears in the same breath.

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