Best albums of 2012: 20–11

The tension's racking up! Have we forgotten Grizzly Bear again? Why have we left out the Tibetan nose-flute skiffle improvisation? The countdown continues …

20 Plan B – Ill Manors

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What we said about Plan B: "The substance of Ill Manors – its righteous storytelling, its propulsive undercarriage – is more gripping than the title track implies. I Am the Narrator may dash busily through a string of sonic cliches – police sirens and the like – but its blend of warped fairytale strings, dub bass and antic Dr Dre swagger persuades the ear. The percussion rolls even harder on Drug Dealer, the album's standout. Offset against beats that seem to be made out of punched walls, guest singer Takura (Chase and Status) provides a wise, sad dancehall chorus."

19 Flying Lotus – Until the Quiet Comes

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What we said about Flying Lotus: "Trading as Flying Lotus, Los Angeles producer Steven Ellison has over the last half-decade acquired a fervent following for his melding of experimental hip-hop beats and twitchy glitch-pop. He has been called a Hendrix for the electronica generation, but might more appositely be compared to DJ Shadow. Ellison calls his fourth album, Until the Quiet Comes, 'a collage of mystical states, dreams, sleeps and lullabies', and while the recording can sound slight and semi-formed, live it gains in physicality. It's a twitchy, brooding digital dystopia stripped of any lyrical agenda so all that remains is a mood of restless agitation."

18 Saint Etienne – Words and Music by Saint Etienne

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What we said about Saint Etienne: "There's something defiant about the way most of the album is set to music roughly approximate to chart pop, Auto-Tuned vocals and all. It's as if Saint Etienne are guarding against the tendency of ardent, fortysomething music fans to cleave to a kind of combative nostalgia, the steadfast, sneering belief that your past automatically beats anyone's present, that everything was better in your youth. Instead, Words and Music frequently sounds as dizzy with the joy of pop as Saint Etienne did 20 years ago, when their single Join Our Club borrowed the Lovin' Spoonful's question: Do you believe in magic? Now, as then, their answer seems to be: of course."

17 Lana Del Rey – Born to Die

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What we said about Lana Del Rey: "Video Games sounded like a unique single, but as it turns out, it was anything but a one-off: the album is packed with similarly beautiful stuff. National Anthem soars gloriously away from a string motif that sounds not unlike that sampled on the Verve's Bitter Sweet Symphony. There's something effortless about the melodies of Diet Mountain Dew and Dark Paradise: they just sweep the listener along with them."

16 Taylor Swift – Red

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What we said about Taylor Swift: "How she's had time to open her door to such a parade of lovers good and bad, God only knows. On 22 she celebrates her age like a cleaned-up Katy Perry, but Swift has never seemed 22, and it feels dirty trying to imagine her on a night out. Add to this the many vulnerable poses struck by this Brünnhilde of a rockstar, this asbestos and iron-clad Amazonian of a woman, and it's clear that Red is another chapter in one of the finest fantasies pop music has ever constructed."

15 Cooly G – Playin' Me

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What we said about Cooly G: "You hear fragments of lover's rock, dubstep, Soul II Soul, drum'n'bass, UK funky and Massive Attack's stoned melancholy: the end result sounds unearthly, alternately scattered and luscious, and ultimately like no one else. Her vocals – unreconstructed south-London accent, beautifully understated style, lyrics that trace the arc of a relationship going wrong – bring it back down to earth."

14 Grizzly Bear – Shields

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What we said about Grizzly Bear: "There are certainly moments when Shields sounds exactly like you might expect something that's been agonised over by a bunch of clever American indie musicians for three years to sound: What's Wrong drifts beautifully along without connecting, its intricate mesh of woodwind, vocal harmonies, jazzy drum patterns and string interludes all good judgment and no gut-punch. But more often, it sounds as if Grizzly Bear have spent their time away digging out the emotions that sometimes get buried beneath the technical fireworks."

13 Chromatics – Kill for Love

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What we said about Chromatics: Er, nothing, as it turns out. Shame on us! However, we did interview Johnny Jewel of Chromatics, and you can read that very piece right here.

12 Django Django – Django Django

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What we said about Django Django: "Those worried that British guitar music has lost its ability to refresh old forms should pay heed to Django Django, whose debut album posits an updated psychedelia that beguiles and delights. Their foundations are a rickety, minimal take on the music of the immediate pre-psychedelic era – Hail Bop employs heavily tremeloed surf guitar; Default takes Bo Diddley's shave-and-a-haircut-two-bits beat and bolts on a jerky R&B guitar line – over which are laid skittering electronics and bleached, vibratoless harmonies, as if Django Django's four members were supplicants worshipping the desert sunrise."

11 Miguel – Kaleidoscope Dream

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What we said about Miguel: "It's rare that an artist uses their commercial breakthrough as a springboard to radically change course – but that's exactly what Miguel Pimentel has done following his 2011 US R&B No 1, the irresistibly smooth Sure Thing. Beginning on his free Art Dealer Chic EPs earlier this year and more so again here, Miguel has carved out a headier aesthetic. Faded psychedelia (as on Do You … , with its promises of narcotic trysts) blends into startlingly intimate experiments in Purple Rain-esque rock: at times, it feels as though it's just you and him in a vast stadium."


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