The Best Albums of 2012, Now and Then

With Pitchfork's year-end list arriving Friday, the taste-makers have all revealed their favorites. But when you nit-pick over these choices, you start to notice that they don't square with the original reviews.

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Taste-making outlets have now revealed their lists of the best albums to come out in 2012. Fogey standby Rolling Stone went out on no limbs, putting Bruce Springsteen at No. 1. The smarter but still accessible Spin put Frank Ocean at the top, like almost everyone else. The whippersnappers over at Pitchfork finally uploaded their rankings Friday, (not so) controversially bumping Ocean in favor of another universally lauded hip-hop upstart, Kendrick Lamar. When you nit-pick over these year-end lists, you start to notice that they don't always square with what these sites and magazines said about the records when they first came out. Let's take a look at the albums that gave critics a change of heart in 2012.


Groan, roll your eyes, call them "hipsters." No matter how hard you whine, Pitchfork will continue to wield a huge amount of influence in discussions about what music matters from year to year. The Chicago-based influencers also have this very silly 100-point scale of reviewing rubric (10.0, down to the decimal point), and for certain helplessly obsessive music nerds, it's fun to go back and check whether their initial verdict matches their year-end list. This year, their two highest-reviewed new albums placed at one and two respectively. Kendrick Lamar's good kidm.A.A.d city (No. 1) and Frank Ocean's Channel Orange (No. 2) both earned 9.5 on the first go-round. So far, consistent. But what made the Pitchforkers drop their third highest reviewed album, Godspeed You! Black Emperor's Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!, to the No. 12 spot? Even though the Canadian post-rock legends earned themselves a huge 9.3, they were bested by a younger fellow countrywomen, synthpop enigma Grimes (she placed at No. 6 with a measly 8.6 rating). Two albums Pitchfork declared "Best New Music" earlier in the year didn't even place. Converge's All We Love We Leave Behindthe eighth album from this Salem, Massachusettes metalcore band—got a glowing 8.6 from Pitchfork. So did chillwave loverboy Twin Shadow, for his album Confess. But neither appeared on this year-end list, which reserved spots for many artists who only got sub-8.0 scores.


Pitchfork's top two albums from 2012 were identical to Spin's—they just flipped them around. While Spin obviously liked Kendrick Lamar's novel-esque take on growing up in Compton, they didn't originally like it as much as a whole bunch of other albums. They put good kidm.A.A.d city at No. 2 even though it only got an 8/10 back when Andrew Nosnitsky first reviewed it in October. That means it outstripped a ton of albums that got nines. Could all that inescapable hype have hoisted it up the ladder past Spin's more highly-appraised albums? The most glaring inclusion—in terms of sheer numbers—would have to be Death Grips' NO LOVE DEEP WEB, which they originally gave a piddling 6.4 in a roundtable review after the band abruptly leaked it online. But they did call Death Grips their artist of the year, so... Spin apparently gave up on The Men's Open Your Heartan album they gave a 9 out of 10 and called a "Spin Essential" back in March, but excluded from their year-end list.

Rolling Stone

Because they seem contractually obligated to put a white guy over 60 at the top of their year-end lists, Bruce Springsteen came out on top in Rolling Stone's year in review. Other not-so-young white dudes like Bob Dylan, Jack White, the Green Day guys, and Neil Young also cinched positions in the top ten. But to prove that their with it on this hip new R&B trend, the magazine moved a certain charismatic, iconoclastic young singer up to No. 2. That's right, Frank Ocean had a big showing—even though his album Channel Orange didn't exactly get a standing ovation when Rolling Stone's Jody Rosen first gave it a listen. Rosen awarded it a respectable 4 out of 5 stars. But that's not an uncommon review, and Channel Orange looks a little uneasy sitting above a few 4 1/2 and even 5 star albums.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.