Mother Jones Staff Picks: Best Music 2012

Seventeen new albums (and a few singles) we really liked this year.

Here’s how Mother Jones publisher Steve Katz spend his days off. halseike/Flickr

This sort of thing needs no introduction. We just asked staffers to write up the 2012 releases they really liked, and here they be. And don’t miss the Top 10 lists of our most prolific music critics. Coming soon: The year’s best books, and more!


Allah-Las. Innovative Leisure

Leonard Cohen, Old Ideas (Sony): Lust, betrayal, bad romance, and the fleeting connections that occasionally redeem it all—old ideas, indeed. But with his prophet’s gift for turning a phrase, his roguish humor, and his time-worn purr, Cohen keeps them fresher than ever. Tom Philpott, food and ag blogger

Allah-Las, self-titled (Innovative Leisure): An impeccable debut by modern-day devotees of mid-’60s garage and surf rock. But it’s hardly all sun and sand; the catchiest tracks, like “Tell Me (What’s On Your Mind)” and “Sandy” are moody masterpieces. Beware the undertow! Dave Gilson, senior editor

Anäis Mitchell, Young Man in America (Thirty Tigers): Mitchell’s folk songs only seem like lullabies; beneath the velvet exterior, they’re fraught with uncertainty and longing, the dreams of recession heavy youth and the lives they’ve tended or lost. A patient collection by an inconspicuous but exceptional storyteller and songstress. Maddie Oatman, research editor

Lana Del Rey, Paradise (Universal Music Group): The singer’s third album does not disappoint in delivering sultry lyrics tinged with nostalgic Americana, her remake of “Blue Velvet” being case in point. —Jacques Hebert, public affairs manager


Fiona Apple’s first album in seven years. Clean Slate/Epic

Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (Epic): It’s a beautiful album from the notoriously weird singer that I played to death this summer on the NYC subway. Worth noting is Dan P. Lee’s seminal article about her and the meaning behind some of the songs. Brett Brownell, multimedia producer

Micachu and the Shapes, Never (Rough Trade): Equal parts abrasive stomp and Britpop bliss, Micachu’s Never is one sweet suckerpunch of weird. (Review.)Sydney Brownstone, senior editorial fellow and prolific music writer. (See her Top 10 picks here.)

Screaming Females, Ugly (Don Giovanni): If you thought it couldn’t get better than the last album, Castle Talk, Marissa Paternoster’s punk vibrato and slaying hooks will prove you very, very wrong. (Review and short profile.) —SB

Sharon Van Etten, Tramp (Jagjaguwar): The sharp, formerly acoustic songwriter gets acquainted with the throes of electric guitar. (Review and interview with Van Etten.) —SB

Best Coast, The Only Place (Mexican Summer): Bethany Cosentino’s deceptively dark reinvention of sunny California pop. (Review.) —Jon Young, who does all our magazine reviews. (See his Top 10 picks here.)

Alabama Shakes, Boys & Girls (ATO): Rousing gospel-soul from future superstar Brittany Howard. —JY

Dent May, Do Things (Paw Tracks): A southern boy’s sweetly charming take on smooth ’80s pop. (Review.) —JY


Robert Glasper’s Black Radio. Blue Note

Carolina Chocolate Drops, Leaving Eden (Nonesuch): The latest addition from this group of hip, multi-instrumental ethnomusicologists continues their tradition of reviving old-timey black American music with 21st century enthusiasm. (Full review, and interview with co-bandleader Dom Flemons.) Michael Mechanic, senior editor in charge of media coverage and other things

Frank Turner, Last Minutes & Lost Evenings (Epitaph): Turner, a passionate ex-punk, writes raucous, memorable, contagious sing-a-longs on his acoustic guitar with a boost from his backing band, The Sleeping Souls. This CD/DVD greatest hits-ish collection is a fine starting point if you’re unfamiliar. (Read our profile of Turner.) —MM

Brad Mehldau Trio, Ode (Nonesuch): Mehldau is a master of piano composition and contemporary jazz. Layers of music here. Steve Katz, our publisher. (That’s not really him in the photo above.)

Robert Glasper, Black Radio (Blue Note): Glasper continues, and goes deep, in his exploration of the intersection between jazz and hip-hop.  SK 

Various Artists, Rangarang: Pre-revolutionary Iranian Pop, (Vampi Soul). Beautiful and diverse, this two CD or triple-vinyl compilation sucks you in with Middle Eastern vocals that also draw on ’60s western musical traditions. At times funky, at times jazzy and psychedelic—I haven’t stopped listening to it since it came out. —Sharzy Makaremi, receptionist

The Cramps, File Under Sacred Music-Early Singles 1978-81 (Munster): A compilation of every early single the legendary band ever officially recorded, this CD is an indispensible addition to any Cramps collection, and a great introduction for anyone who missed them the first time around. —SM

Thrift Shop,” from the pro-gay rights, Irish American, baseball-loving Seattle rapper Macklemore and the producer Ryan Lewis, has the best sax line in a rap song since “Let Me Clear My Throat.” Nick Baumann, news editor

Shut Up and Play the Hits.” Because we all deserve front-row seats to see LCD Soundsystem at Madison Square Garden. —Maggie Severns, editorial fellow

Hot Cheetos and Takis,” from the kids of the Beats and Rhymes after-school program at a Minneapolis YMCA, is a top pick because those snack-loving tots deserve so, so much fame. —MS

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