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The 15 Most Underrated Albums of 2012

It’s December, which means the music industry’s listomania is now in full swing. But wait, if on the off chance you haven’t written your own personal end-of-year list, then have a quick look at this one before you start anointing one of the usual suspects — Grimes, Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, Swans, Fiona Apple, etc. — as the best of 2012. We love all those records, but there are a heap of great albums released in 2012 that we think haven’t gotten anywhere near the amount of end-of-year love they deserve. We profiled some of them in June — read on to find out our selections from the second half of the year, and let us know if you reckon we’ve missed any.

Lower Dens — Nootropics

This got plenty of love when the album dropped in May, but it seems to have been largely forgotten since then — we haven’t seen it on anyone’s end-of-year list at all, although we suspect that Pitchfork might have some love left in store. Anyway, Nootropics‘ Beach-House-meets-Neu! sounds are most excellent, and well worthy of investigation if you missed this record the first time around.

Kishi Bashi — 151a

A victim of early-album-release syndrome, perhaps, because like Lower Dens, this got plenty of attention on its release, but very little end-of-year love. This is a shame, because we’re still enjoying its exuberant pop stylings and intricate layering as much as we were a year ago, when we tipped K. Ishibashi as an artist to watch in 2012.

Nü Sensae — Sundowning

Clearly, coruscating punk rock isn’t for everyone, but it’s hard to reconcile the general absence of this record with the presence of bands like Metz and Titus Andronicus on various end-of-year lists. If you’re into music that makes your head hurt in a rather thrilling way, then this is definitely one for your personal best-of-2012 compendium.

Burial — Kindred

This got plenty of attention in Burial’s native UK, but over this side of the Atlantic, where “dubstep” means Skrillex and sore ears, it largely sank without trace. If you’d like to educate yourself in the dub end of the dubstep spectrum — a place where the beats are few and far between and the atmosphere is all yellow London streetlights and night bus alienation — we humbly suggest that this a fine place to start.

U.S. Girls — Gem

A pleasantly idiosyncratic mixture of ’50s girl group sounds and glam rock stylings, this album seems to have snuck under the music industry’s collective radar since its release in late October. We realize a month isn’t a heap of time to digest a record, but still, c’mon, people — this is great!

Bee Mask — When We Were Eating Unripe Pears

Also on the “Hey, this only just came out!” front — we’ll admit that we’re also only starting to explore the depths of this new record from Chris Madak — aka Bee Mask — but we already know that it’s a helluva lot more interesting than fucking fun. or half of the other stuff that seems to be populating end-of-year lists.

Gudrun Gut — Wildlife

In which mildly terrifying Teutonic electronic doyenne Gudrun Gut gets all green-thumbed and covers Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best” for good measure. The results fall somewhere between Fad Gadget’s “Back to Nature” and Wolfgang Voigt’s Gas records. What more could you ask for?

Woods — Bend Beyond

While we’re on a natural theme, there’s definitely something of the outdoors about this breezily pretty collection of upbeat psychedelic folk. This got a Best New Music nod from Pitchfork and also Flavorwire’s coveted Album of the Month award (the latter is way more important, obviously), but it’s been largely absent from end-of-year lists — which only goes to show that Woods seem destined to be one of those perpetually underrated bands you wish more people would take notice of.

Heathered Pearls — Loyal

Your correspondent has written fairly extensively about the joys of this record before, so to avoid going over old ground here, let’s just say that if you’re partial to beautiful, immersive ambient sounds, then this is your album of the year right here.

Neneh Cherry and the Thing – The Cherry Thing

Exhuming “Buffalo Stance” for our feature earlier this week on female-fronted hip hop got us thinking about a couple of things, namely just how well the track has stood up, and also just how different the music Cherry’s making these days is. This record found her collaborating with Scandinavian free-jazz types The Thing for a series of fascinating cover versions, including a killer version of Iggy and the Stooges’ Best Song Ever contender “Dirt” (above).

Lee Ranaldo — Between the Times and the Tides

If there’s a silver lining on the apparent demise of Sonic Youth, it’s the existence of this record. We’ve always liked Lee Ranaldo’s vocal contributions to Sonic Youth records (“Hey Joni,” “Wish Fulfillment,” etc.), but even so, we were pleasantly surprised at how well his songwriting talent played out over the course of an entire album. The live versions of these songs, with Ranaldo’s crack new band (featuring, amongst others, one Steve Shelley on drums) were pretty great, too.

Le1f — Dark York

It’s a bit of an indictment on the US music press that the only publication to include this on an end-of-year list was one based out of the UK — namely FACT, who ranked Dark York at #37 on their best-of-2012 feature. We’re expecting Le1f’s singularly awesome brand of lascivious hip hop to blow up even more in 2013. In the meantime, we suggest you hitch yourselves to this bandwagon before it rumbles off into the sunset.

K-Holes — Dismania

Rarely has a band sounded more like its name than K-Holes do on Dismania. Their music somehow evokes the same claustrophobic, disconnected panic that overindulging in horse tranquilizers has a habit of inducing. Dismania is a disconcerting trip into a scabrous world, one that’s beautifully evoked by the video to lead single “Window in the Wall” (above). It’s not always pleasant listening — but then, the best music often isn’t.

John Cale — Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood

We wrote about how much we loved this album when we made it our album of the month for October. Apparently we were the only ones. Sigh.

Clinic — Free Reign

And finally, the curse of our album-of-the-month gong strikes again. Goddammit, people, things would be a lot better if you’d listen to us, y’know…

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