Kevin J. Elliott

Top 10 Albums

The Seer
Young God

Admittedly, I was a Swans virgin when I first encountered The Seer. I’m now learning that hearing what Michael Gira did before this highly dramatic “rock” epic need not be prerequisite. I’ve never really dug into opera either, but I imagine The Seer could be adapted as such and be quite affecting onstage. Then again, most ensemble, orchestrated works don’t deal in gut-wrenching tonal oblivions like Gira does. The Seer is an uncompromising monolith of sonic emotions for both avant-intellectual composers and heads just looking for heady music.

Tame Impala

What records inspired Lonerism are completely irrelevant. Tame Impala know full and well they can be holed as a nostalgia act. They’ve got the vintage gear, the analog-drenched production, the duds, the hair, and the bohemian wanderlust that was the essence of the ’60s and ’70s. Lonerism may not suffice as a proper replacement for iconic records like Sgt. Pepper’s or The Dark Side of the Moon—Tame Impala are only getting started on that quest—but it does process a bulk of similar ideals, both sonically and existentially through the lens of a certain “now.” It’s psychedelia for the children of the future and those who still yearn for the past.

Kaleidoscope Dream

Along with Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, Miguel’s enigmatic Kaleidoscope Dream changed perceptions of what an R&B record should sound like in the new century. Miguel’s take is slightly more classic, his voice more coated in the sensual honey of Marvin Gaye, and his beats more noir, leaving space and darkness for his melodies to flourish. With an artist like R. Kelley, listeners revel in the sexual ooze and the slick, sweeping, recycling of soul’s past. Miguel instead opts for a earnest minimalism. He’s a crooner, for sure, but your imagination is getting a better workout than your body.

Guided By Voices
The Bears for Lunch
GBV Inc.

That Robert Pollard chose to reunite Guided By Voices’ “classic” line-up was a godsend for fans who had never witnessed them in the flesh. That he decided it was time to record in that configuration was even more welcomed. Don’t get me wrong, the myraid solo albums and side projects Pollard has helmed since the dissolution of GBV usually stack up against any other record in a given year, but the prospect of another Bee Thousand is enough to make one giddy in anticipation. Pollard and company fullfilled the promise of recording at the same clip as in those halcyon days, releasing three albums in 2012. While Class Clown Spots a UFO and Let’s Go Eat the Factory felt like excercises used to get comfortable again, it was The Bears For Lunch that delivered the kind of idiosyncratic cut-and-paste pop anthems of the past. Throw in a handful of the best songs Tobin Sprout has even contributed to a GBV collection, and it might just be the proper follow-up to Under the Bushes, Under the Stars.

Blank Realm
Go Easy

With extreme highs and extreme lows, Blank Realm’s coming-out party for the Siltbreeze label was a perfect monument in yet another tumultuous year of releases originating in Australia. There were a lot of records from the continent that could be included in this countdown, but anyone with a proclivity for the romantic nihilism and dope-sick sludge punk emanating from those lands should be satiated and then some with Go Easy. Where a bulk of their Aussie peers wear apathy, complacency, and a generally blackened perception of life like a gold star, Blank Realm use those emotions as their bait and switch. Go Easy ends where it begins, only with an increased sense of purpose.


There are few bands in this world as conceptually temperamental as Liars have been over the course of their first decade. What started as a visceral post-punk experiment with the primitive pounding of brash chords tethered to the drum, has developed into a mythologized state of being incapable of explaining where they might be headed next. Liars are a band who thrive on that unknowing of the next step, so much so that singer Angus Andrew has been quoted as saying, “If we aren’t confusing people, it’s not us.” WIXIW is a record that embraces that want with esoteric interpretations (the title, the slightly pagan undertones of the album’s accompanying videos, the long stretches of nether electronic hums), but in reality is the trio’s most accessible offering. If not the most accessible, it’s certainly their gentlest moment (see “Annual Moon Words”), taking cues from Radiohead by melding their black hearts with circuit boards and deep space. That it’s December and I’m still discovering the wonders of WIXIW is indicative of the lengths Liars go to continue that confusion.

Frank Ocean
Channel Orange
Def Jam

That Frank Ocean’s masterwork sits this low on my list is indicative of what a great and wholly diverse year it was for music. Channel Orange is virtually flawless, dissolving the lines between hip-hop, R&B, cosmic funk, and psychedelia with a grace that should have Kanye West scaling it back in fear of coming off as a egomaniacal sham. Still, Channel Orange is only deceptively subdued. Even with his highly quotable lyrics about naked Nubians and time-travel, Ocean is defining a modern braggadocio that relies more on sonic one-upmanship than boasts and guest stars.


Don’t let Grimes recent cause celebre of pussy rings, magazine covers, and botched live shows skew your vision (pardon the pun). This is a record that arrived way back in the beginning of 2012 as a beacon of what comes next. Sure, Claire Boucher may have been born with synth presets and recycled beats guiding her along, but with Visions she seems to have those baubles under control, crafting a pop wonderland of dance music and exquisite experiments that make comparisons to the artistically fallen Björk all the more appropriate.

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
Mature Themes

To say this is Ariel Pink’s wackiest record is truly saying something if you’ve been paying attention up to this point. With Before Today, he created a portal in which to crossover—big productions, full-band, crystalline melodies—but here he seems to be stuck in his escape hatch, rewiring the coordinates to thrust him towards his own pop universe. Each and every song here might sound like something else, but a deeper listen reveals it’s all Pink. In each instance Byrdsian jangle (“Only in My Dreams”), glammed-up goth (“Symphony of the Nymph”) and the AM radio gold (“Mature Themes”), Pink shape-shifts, drops in-jokes, and transcends nostalgia with a amorphous love of grotesque sound. It’s dense; it’s fun; it’s perhaps the first chapter in a new American psychedelia. If only the kids could crack his code.

Children of Desire
Katorga Works

For years, the mysterious boys of Merchandise were flying under the radar in an almost unheard of internet-proof popularity where house shows, hardcore ethos, and noise-over-substance were the norm. Children of Desire is a stroke in exchanging those impenetrabilities for pop ascension. Though the trio remain unorthodox—some songs expand into crystalline 10-minute clouds of static and chords—they push all the softest buttons and come up with a version of sweeping romanticism brought on by boredom and complacency, not want for acceptance by a bigger audience. Under mechanical vamps on Moz, huge shoegazing guitars, whoosh and jangle—not to mention hooks that reel towards infinity—they still mope and hide from daylight. This is a perfect example of how to make a pop record with smoke and mirrors, while knowing deep at heart that they’re a band as genuinely aching as they come.

The Next 10

20. Wymond Miles, Under the Pale Moon (Sacred Bones)

19. Jessie Ware, Devotion (Island)

18. Killer Mike, RAP Music (Williams Street)

17. Crystal Castles, (III) (Casablanca/Republic/Fiction)

16. Holograms, Holograms (Captured Tracks)

15. Peaking Light, Lucifer (Mexican Summer)

14. The Pheromoans, Does This Guy Stack Up? (Upset the Rhythm)

13. Solange, True EP (Terrible)

12. Woods, Bend Beyond (Woodsist)

11. Ty Segall, Twins (Drag City)

Favorite Singles

Solange, “Losing You” (Terrible)

Saturday, Monday (featuring Julia Spada), “Headshake” (Despotz)

Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe” (Schoolboy)

Crystal Castles, “Plague&rdquo (Fiction)

Sky Ferreira, “Everything Is Embarassing” (Capitol)

Animal Collective, “Honeycomb” (Domino)

AlunaGeorge, “Just a Touch” (TriAngle)

Miguel, “Adorn” (RCA)

Frank Ocean, “Pyramids” (Def Jam)

Melanie Fiona, “4 AM” (SRC/Universal)

Kendrick Lamar (featuring Dr. Dre), “The Recipe” (Aftermath/Interscope)

Favorite Reissues

Donnie & Joe Emerson, Dreamin’ Wild (Light in the Attic)

Shoes, Black Vinyl Shoes and Bazooka (Numero Group)

Tim Maia, The Essential Soul of Tim Maia (Luaka Bop)

The Cleaners from Venus, Vol. 1 (Captured Tracks)

Various Artists, Buttons: From Champaign to Chicago (Numero Group)

Various Artists, Personal Space: Electric Soul 1974–1984 (Numero Group)

Sensation’s Fix, Music Is Painting in the Air (RVNG)

Tony, Caro and John, Blue Clouds (Drag City)

Kenneth Highney, Attic Demonstration (One Kind Favor)