Emily Votaw: My Top Tunes of ’12

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2012 was quite a year, but I can’t say it was great for music (four words: Daniel Johnston, Space Ducks).

However, I did discover a number of incredible albums, contemporary and otherwise:

Michachu and The Shapes, Never: Mica Levi (stage name "Micachu") is a very strange, very androgynous British woman who has been making artsy, experimental pop music for a while, but it took her opening for Animal Collective on their 2012 North American tour for me to discover her. After hearing "Holiday," possibly the most accessible track on Never, I was immediately won over. Michachu perfectly balances harsh sounds with tender harmonies, resulting in a starkly minimalistic album that comes across as being something between a punk rock record and an almost inaccessible artistic statement.

Animal Collective, Centipede Hz: I wish I had discovered Animal Collective in high school, but I didn’t. Somehow, one of the most innovative rock groups of the past decade managed to sneak right under my nose until Merriweather Post Pavilion dazzled everyone with ears in 2009. Three years later, Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Deakin and Geologist are back with an album that is every bit as visceral and fearsome as Merriweather was pastoral and lush.

Chester Endersby Gwanza, Shroud: Before I heard Shroud, I only knew Chester Endersby Gwanza as a rather prolific producer for the likes of Future Islands and Dan Deacon. After listening to Shroud, Gwanza immediately was cemented in my mind as one of the most talented musicians releasing new material in the here and now. Imagine Warm Jets-era Brian Eno crossed with Smile-era Brian Wilson. I’m serious. Please go to Gwanza’s bandcamp.com page and download this album for a donation; you’d be doing yourself an enormous favor.

Os Mutantes, Everything is Possible: The Best of Os Mutantes: I’ll trust anything David Bryne endorses, so it was pretty easy to pick up his 1999 compilation of 1960s Brazilian psychedelic legends Os Mutantes. The problem came in setting it down. Masterpieces like "Panis et Circenses," "A Minha Menina" and "Baby" are beautiful songs that sound like nothing else I’ve ever heard. All I know is that they are catchy and that they stand up right alongside the best of the British Invasion rock from the very same decade.

Gilberto Gil, Realce: I don’t know Portuguese, so I don’t know what any of the songs on Gilberto Gil’s 1969 album are about. I found it the weekend before my birthday at Columbus, Ohio's Used Kids Records–the equivalent of a candy shop for people of my ilk. I bought the record on a whim and received a good hour of incredibly groovy, sleek Brazilian pop/jazz.

The Beatles, Beatles for Sale: This is the Beatles album I didn’t know existed until 2012. Uncovering a completely unheard collection of Beatles tunes is something akin to discovering a box of gold doubloons in your basement. It really is. The sparse glory of "I’ll Follow The Sun" is a feat of human accomplishment. And there’s always the classic "Eight Days a Week," its title a product of Ringo Starr's malapropism-prone mind.

Stevie Wonder, Music of My Mind: Wonder was only 21 when he recorded the playful, creative and youthful-sounding Music of My Mind. It’s like he managed to merge the glory that is Motown with a sort of artistic freedom that creates an album that is groovy and strange. "Love Having You Around" opens the record with a driving drum beat and incredible synthesizer work, with the rest of the album following suit.

Emily Votaw is a music journalist finishing up her junior year at Ohio University. When she's not listening to music, she's writing about it for WOUB, ACRN or Rascal Magazine.