- Cullman, Alabama


December 8, 2012

Best of 2012: Pop music

It was a year without masterpieces. Instead, 2012's best pop albums felt more like weird friends. They crashed our parties, passed out on our couches and ate all of our Golden Grahams in the morning. Now we're pals.

Also, I said masterpieces. There was one. It came from Frank Ocean, a 25-year-old R&B rookie whose summer opus, "Channel Orange," exploded the emotional possibilities of contemporary pop music. At his best, Ocean was sharing deep secrets with a universe of strangers — an approach he parabolized with "Bad Religion," a ballad about unloading your spiritual confusion on an anonymous taxi driver.

And while nobody came close to matching Ocean's quiet intensity this year, that doesn't mean 2012's best albums lacked quirk, courage or character.

Best friends forever — maybe. Best friends for now — for sure.

1. Frank Ocean, "Channel Orange"

As a singer, songwriter and storyteller, Ocean is every bit as fluid as he is commanding, delivering songs crammed with moods, memories and detailed characters — all sung by a protagonist who's earned himself a place among the greats.

2. Neil Young and Crazy Horse, "Psychedelic Pill"

There's a big, ugly future coming to bury his generation, and Young is not gonna take it. The latest from the rock legend and his trusty band is jammy and cagey, demanding and rewarding, thick with improvisation and rife with the fury that gushes when you refuse to let a changing world change you.

3. Jessie Ware, "Devotion"

With so many British chanteuses willing to abuse their lungs in the name of American soul music, this 28-year-old stands out by being subtle. Her voluptuous debut — it landed in Britain this year and is expected to see stateside release in 2013 — wisely aspires to match the classiness and confidence of Sade.

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