2012 was a great year for forward-thinking R&B performers approaching the genre in new ways, and for impressive debut albums by a wide variety of acts.
1. FRANK OCEAN - Channel Orange
Ambitious and big, yet also deeply personal and intimate, Channel Orange proved that pop music can still surprise. Even if Frank Ocean hadn't dropped that infamous open letter about his first love being another man, his debut album would've been a game-changer in R&B.
2. KENDRICK LAMAR - good kid, m.A.A.d city
It's been a long time since the rap world was in near-consensus about an album. Compton's Kendrick Lamar made that happen with this widescreen, visceral, autobiographical treatise. Smart, vulnerable, accessible and concession-free, it's stacked with pulse-quickening, vehicle-rattling beats and brilliant cameos by MC Eiht and Drake. It's the kind of record future stars will cite as part of their awakening.
3. MIGUEL - Kaleidoscope Dream
In a stellar year for R&B, Los Angeles crooner Miguel's daydreamy sophomore LP stood out for its transcendent and impeccably produced ventures into vintage psych, funk and soul that make the genre's spiral into cynical techno-pop feel like a distant memory. Lead single Adorn is one of the year's best songs - period.
4. DAPHNI - Jiaolong
Like so much great music, Daphni was a project created just for fun. An outlet for Dan Snaith (aka Caribou) to release the trippy club thumpers he was recording to play at his DJ gigs, Daphni wasn't supposed to be about home listening. And yet Jiaolong is one of our favourite full-length dance albums ever: raw, dirty and instantly addictive.
5. 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
It's usually not a good sign when a musician disappears for seven years between albums, but Fiona Apple's long-awaited comeback was definitely worth waiting for. The Idler Wheel is emotionally wrenching but thrilling in its inventiveness. Richly satisfying on so many levels.
6. ALT-J - An Awesome Wave
The UK quartet emerged out of nowhere to win the Mercury Music Prize thanks to a disquieting debut album full of sputtering rhythms, idiosyncratic vocals (sometimes reaching Thom Yorke-esque heights), a cappella surprises and atmospheric folk approached from an art rock - and electronic - perspective.
7. TAME IMPALA - Lonerism
With their second album, Australia's Tame Impala have reinvigorated psychedelic rock. Big, exciting soundscapes arise from a thousand pedals making familiar but unnatural sounds while mastermind Kevin Parker provides fragile vocals and infectious melodies. New wave bleeps mingle with buzzing 70s guitars, and there's nothing precious or navel-gazing about it, despite what the title may suggest.
8. METZ - Metz
Metz have long been one of the best bands in Toronto thanks to their highly defined, lean and distilled blend of noise, punk and dirty rock. For their debut full-length, they didn't try to redefine themselves, offer a gentle introduction or in any way pretty things up. Instead, they pared things down further, resulting in songs that escape from your speakers fully formed and rattle you till they're over.
9. JESSIE WARE - Devotion
UK futuristic soul singer Jessie Ware proved that American R&B stars weren't the only ones discovering new possibilities in the genre. Sleek and sophisticated without sacrificing vulnerability, Devotion combines the best of current club sounds into a bedroom-friendly collection of heartbreak ballads. A stunning debut that deserves more attention than it got.
10. YAMANTAKA//SONIC TITAN - YT//ST
We waffled about whether this genre-bending art rock masterpiece - a fusion of metal, industrial, noh-wave and more - should count as a 2012 release. It originally came out at the end of 2011 before being reissued by Paper Bag this fall. But because it was too late for consideration last year, we're including this knockout debut album from the Montreal/Toronto act this time around.