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Ken Tucker's Top 10 Albums Of 2012

Fiona Apple's The Idler Wheel... is a sustained mood piece, a series of intricate word puzzles swaddled in ferocious emotion.
Dan Monick

The hardest song of the year to escape was probably Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe." It was everywhere — on the radio, all over the Internet and on TV in a vast array of re-recordings done by fans ranging from ordinary citizens to Jimmy Fallon. "Call Me Maybe," with a lyric that captures a certain kind of 2012 casual speech, stands in a long tradition of novelty songs that hold up to repeated listens — as opposed to the novelty song this year that quickly became just irritating, Psy's "Gangnam Style."

My favorite album of the year, however, barely dented mass consciousness, and it's full of songs whose sentiments were rather more vehement than "Call Me Maybe." With its clattering percussion and Fiona Apple's twisty wordplay, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do is a sustained mood piece, a series of intricate word puzzles swaddled in ferocious emotion.

I want to provide a sense of the diversity of good music this year, so I'll name my favorite country album of the year: Dwight Yoakam's 3 Pears, which is not just a return to form for the honky-tonk singer, but also one of the most consistently pleasurable albums by anyone this year.

There was a lot of excellent hip-hop music in 2012, including albums from Killer Mike and Kendrick Lamar. For me, the pop crossover success of Frank Ocean, with his album Channel Orange, provided some of the year's most beautifully moody music.

If there's one consistent theme that ran beneath the music this year, it was the survival of the fittest: the endurance or reemergence of various artists in late or middle age. Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Bobby Womack, Bonnie Raitt, Loudon Wainwright III and many others released strong, vital work in 2012, but perhaps no return was more welcome than Iris DeMent's. Her first album of original material in 16 years, Sing the Delta, offered many strikingly gorgeous moments.

Copyright 2022 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

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Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.
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