Handicapping The A.V. Club’s best albums of 2012

Handicapping The A.V. Club’s best albums of 2012

A band can go platinum, win Grammys, and wind up on magazine covers; but everybody knows that the greatest honor in music is earning a place on The A.V. Club’s best albums of the year list. With dozens of worthwhile albums coming out in the next several months, we’re already making educated guesses about which records are going to end up ranking among 2012’s best. Will The Walkmen, Sigur Rós, or Jack White make the grade? Is there any chance that we’ll end up loving the new Chris Brown or John Mayer LPs? Honestly, we have no idea. But here are our best guesses. 

APRIL

M. Ward



Album: A Wasteland Companion by M. Ward (due April 10)
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 25 to 1
Why we might love it: Like each of M. Ward’s previous six studio albums, A Wasteland Companion blends gritty blues theatrics with fireside folk balladry. (This one also features She & Him partner-in-sepia Zooey Deschanel.) Longtime Ward fans will be pleased to find his side projects, which also include supergroup trio Monsters Of Folk, haven’t dimmed his solo enthusiasm. If anything, the album’s best moments find the troubadour sounding genuinely grateful for his lot in life.
Why we might not love it: It’s also about as exciting as buying three pairs of pleated Dockers at Nordstrom Rack.

Album: Sweet Heart Sweet Light by Spiritualized (due April 17)
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 25 to 1
Why we might love it: Since his days in the pioneering drone band Spacemen 3, Spiritualized frontman and pharmaceutical explorer Jason Pierce has specialized in mixing bliss with oblivion. Spiritualized’s last album, 2008’s Songs In A&E, was a hushed yet roaring comeback, so there’s a good chance Sweet Heart Sweet Light might coast on that surge.
Why we might not love it: With a title that sounds like it was plucked from the recycle bin, “Hey Jane” is the first single from Sweet Heart Sweet Light. The song itself feels deflated and uninspired. If it’s finally come to the point where Spiritualized sounds like a cross between The Dandy Warhols and Brian Jonestown Massacre, things aren’t looking so good.

Album: Blunderbuss by Jack White (due April 24)
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 10 to 1
Why we might love it: After following White’s many side projects in the wake of The White Stripes’ demise, this is the album we’ve all been waiting for, isn’t it? Based on what we heard at White’s recent showcase at South By Southwest in Austin, Blunderbuss promises to have all the qualities of a White Stripes record, but with more polished musicianship. 
Why we might not love it: Wasn’t their primal lack of polish one of the great things about The White Stripes? Without that raw edge, White runs the risk of making just a regular blues-rock record. 

Album: Hair by Ty Segall and White Fence (due April 24)
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 15 to 1
Why we might love it: Ty Segall established himself as the best young garage-rock tunesmith currently on the scene with 2011’s Goodbye Bread, and White Fence (a.k.a. Tim Presley) is poised to do the same this year. 
Why we might not love it: Actually, we’ve already heard Hair, so we know we love it. But Segall has another record and a “mini LP” coming out this year, and White Fence has two, Family Perfume Vol. 1 and 2. So it might just be a matter of picking which record we love most from these guys. 


MAY

Santigold



Album: Out Of The Game by Rufus Wainwright (due May 1)
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 20 to 1
Why we might love it: After six albums of classical baroque pop, Rufus Wainwright opted for a big shakeup on album number seven. Produced by Mark Ronson, and featuring contributions from Sean Lennon, Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner, Wilco’s Nels Cline, and members of the Dap-Kings, Out Of The Game promises to be the most danceable, contemporary album yet from the opera-minded singer-songwriter.
Why we might not love it: While we’re intrigued by the new direction—even Wainwright himself probably wouldn’t deny that his albums have grown a bit same-y—there’s little in the singer’s discography that suggests he’s qualified for this kind of crossover pop grab. He could be overreaching with this one.

Album: Master Of My Make-Believe by Santigold (due May 1)
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 25 to 1
Why we might love it: It’s been a long four years since the genre-spanning musician’s prickly debut, and Santi White has surveyed the current pop scene and found it wanting. “I’m sorry, but LMFAO performed at the Super Bowl? Aren’t they a joke band? That type of shit makes me cry,” she said in a sharp-tongued interview earlier this year. To that end, Master Of My Make-Believe’s participants read like a who’s-who of modern cred: Diplo, Switch, Boys Noize, Q-Tip, Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O and Nick Zinner, and TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek all contributed to the sessions.
Why we might not love it: White seems more concerned with pissing on the zeitgeist (see the Gaga-dissing “Big Mouth” video) than writing hooks.

Album: Nootropics by Lower Dens (due May 1)
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 12 to 1
Why we might love it: Lower Dens’ 2010 debut Twin Hand Movement was a fully realized statement from a band that already had a firm grasp on its identity. Taking its cues from Radiohead, Lower Dens specializes in taking guitar-based songwriting, deconstructing it, and piecing it into something alien and fascinating. With Nootropics, Lower Dens delves even further into abstraction.
Why we might not love it: While Twin Hand Movement never strayed too far into the ether, Nootropics is more about atmosphere than songs. That’s not necessarily a criticism, as Lower Dens does this sort of thing very well. But it’s not exactly a grabby record. 

Album: Strange Clouds by B.o.B. (due May 1)
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 50 to 1
Why we might love it: The most unapologetically poppy rap album of 2010, B.o.B.’s debut album, B.o.B. Presents: The Adventures Of Bobby Ray, was an all-you-can-eat cotton-candy buffet that contained several of that year’s most inescapable earworms. His follow-up, Strange Clouds, will try to recapture some of that Top 40 magic with contributions from Nelly, Ryan Tedder, André 3000, Lil Wayne, Dr. Luke, and possibly Taylor Swift.
Why we might not love it: B.o.B.’s songs have a way of working their way into our heads, but we don’t always want them there, and the rapper’s goofy flow and unceasing sugariness don’t wear well over the course of an entire album.

Album: Fear Fun by Father John Misty (due May 1)
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 25 to 1
Why we might love it: Father John Misty is the adopted moniker of ex-Fleet Foxes member Josh Tillman, who carries over the ’70s stoner-folk of his old band and roughs it up a bit on Fear Fun. 
Why we might not love it: The album’s fantastic lead single “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” is jagged and hard-hitting in ways Fleet Foxes are decidedly not. We hope that carries over to the rest of the record, but there’s no guarantee. 

Album: Fortune by Chris Brown (due May 8)
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 1 billion to 1
Why we might love it: Since fighting his way back into fame’s inner circle after “the incident,” Chris Brown has recorded some of the catchiest singles of his career, including a few that have earned the grudging respect of even his most ardent detractors. If nothing else, his fifth album, Fortune, seems certain to yield some of the summer’s biggest hits.
Why we might not love it: Well, for starters, Brown brutally assaulted a woman and then used his subsequent albums to paint himself as a victim, so there’s that. But Fortune is shaping up to look pretty dire even without the Rihanna cloud hanging over it. It’s being touted as Brown’s most club-minded album yet, and we’re really not relishing the prospect of hearing R&B’s most entitled and overexposed singer over gaudy David Guetta synths and hyper-aggressive dubstep.

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Album: A Different Ship by Here We Go Magic (due May 8)
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 20 to 1
Why we might love it: Here We Go Magic has shown flashes of greatness in the past, but this Brooklyn band—which started out as a vehicle for singer-songwriter Luke Temple—hasn’t managed to pull together a truly grade-A album yet. Enter Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, who took the reins for Ship.
Why we might not love it: Even with a famed producer on board, the band still has to deliver. But what we’ve heard so far is very promising. 

Album: Neck Of The Woods by Silversun Pickups (due May 8)
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 68 to 1
Why we might love it: For those who’d like to imagine Billy Corgan’s last decade never happened, Silversun Pickups’ radio-ready indie has been balm for considerable wounds. Single “Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)” adds of-the-moment synthesizer swirls to the band’s musical frozen yogurt, while the lingering energy of Silversun Pickups’ surprising 2009 Best New Artist Grammy nomination may wind up making their third LP their most urgent yet.
Why we might not love it: SSP still hasn’t moved beyond a Smashing Pumpkins tribute act. It will seem really exhausted if the band doesn’t change things up a little.

Album: Dr Dee by Damon Albarn (due May 8)
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 20 to 1
Why we might love it: Between Gorillaz, Rocket Juice & The Moon, and the perpetual threat of new Blur material, Damon Albarn surely doesn’t have any time to write a conceptual-folk-album-slash-opera revolving around Renaissance alchemist John Dee. Oh, wait, he already did. And from the teasers that have been leaked so far, it sounds gorgeous—in fact, not too far from acoustic Blur.
Why we might not love it: Albarn is no stranger to heady concept albums, but he usually works best when surrounded by collaborators. Here, he’s in the driver’s set—and leading around an orchestra, no less. If this flops, it’ll do so from a great height.


Album: Off! by Off! (due May 8)
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 15 to 1
Why we might love it: Well, we loved the fuck out of Off!’s debut, First Four EPs. Featuring Keith Morris of Black Flag and Circle Jerks infamy (along with members of Red Kross, Hot Snakes, and Burning Brides) the band came roaring out of the gate with more chiseled, grizzled ferocity than any Morris project in decades.
Why we might not love it: There’s always a possibility that First Four EPs was a fluke. After all, Morris is 56 and still playing hardcore—at top speed, volume, and intensity, no less. How long can he reasonably keep this up? (We’re hoping forever.)

Album: Not Your Kind Of People by Garbage (due May 15)
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 100 to 1
Why we might love it: Singer Shirley Manson and drummer-producer Butch Vig have reconvened Garbage, the transatlantic band that took the alt-rock era by storm almost 20 years ago. Compared to many of the group’s comeback-happy contemporaries, Garbage and its sulking yet anthemic rock have aged pretty damn gracefully.
Why we might not love it: A hint of processed, nightclub-scented air-conditioning can be felt in “I Hate Love,” a snippet of which is the only taste we’ve gotten of Not Your Kind Of People. On the outside chance that Garbage has forgotten how to flat-out rock, how are we supposed to get our ’90s on?

Album: Bloom by Beach House (due May 15)
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 16 to 1
Why we might love it: Beach House has its formula down pat: languid tempos, gauzy instrumentation, sexy vocals. And we’re totally on board with that. Every Beach House album has one song we end up playing 10,000 times.
Why we might not love it: We typically end up playing the rest of the record five or six times. As good as Beach House is, the group’s limited range makes its albums somewhat interchangeable. Bloom promises to refine the formula a bit, but it’s still a formula. 

Album: The Only Place by Best Coast (due May 15)
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 75 to 1
Why we might love it: Best Coast’s debut Crazy For You came out amid a crowded field of beach-friendly retro-pop indie records in 2010, but it was quickly set apart by singer Bethany Cosentino, whose brassy vocals made even the dumbest lyrics about mean boys and nice cats seem like profound expressions of melancholy. For The Only Place, Cosentino and multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno enlisted producer Jon Brion, suggesting grand ambitions to go deeper than the nice but shallow Crazy.
Why we might not love it: Cosentino apparently listened to a lot of Neko Case before making The Only Place, judging by how much she sounds like the alt-country singer on the album. The influence is so pronounced that it’s actually sort of endearing, though that’s not the same as “good.”

Album: The Rize Of The Fenix by Tenacious D (due May 15)
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: Whatever the odds are of Ronnie James Dio returning to Earth and therefore signaling the metal apocalypse.
Why we might love it: Oh, we can guarantee that we’ll love it.
Why we might not love it: We even have love for Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny so, seriously, it’s not an issue. Whether the D will make it easy to love this album by actually making it good, however, is another story. 

Album: Born And Raised by John Mayer (due May 22)
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 1,000 to 1
Why we might love it: After flaming out spectacularly with that Playboy interview in 2010 (“I’ve got a Benetton heart and a fuckin’ David Duke cock”) and dealing with throat problems that sidelined his career in 2011 and ’12 (he canceled tour dates earlier this year), Mayer has earned a measure of sympathy. If this guy’s worst crime is saying some dumb stuff to a reporter (and writing “Your Body Is A Wonderland”), isn’t it time we let him off on parole?
Why we might not love it: Judging by the album’s lead single “Shadow Days,” Born looks like a big pity party—precisely the sort of thing that will kill our short supply of John Mayer sympathy.

Album: The Sister by Marissa Nadler (due May 29)
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 40 to 1
Why we might love it: Lush yet lacerating, Marissa Nadler’s self-titled 2011 effort is the type of album that grows on you—like moss or regret. Her upcoming full-length, The Sister, is a companion to Marissa Nadler, and it promises to plunge even deeper into the songwriter’s cobwebbed psyche—specifically her fixation on famed conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, who recur with eerie regularity throughout Nadler’s whispery death-folk.
Why we might not love it: Following a great album with a sequel is a surefire way for the latter to become overshadowed. And at some point, the whole Daisy-and-Violet thing is going to start feeling like a gimmick.

Album: Among The Leaves by Sun Kil Moon (due May 29)
Odds that it will rank among 2011’s best: 25 to 1
Why we might love it: In the past, former Red House Painters mastermind Mark Kozelek has used his Sun Kil Moon project to pay tribute to everything from Modest Mouse to professional boxing. Sun Kil Moon is best, though, when it foregoes the concepts and gimmicks in favor of Kozelek’s stark, rumbling lullabies. “Sunshine In Chicago,” the darkly witty and autobiographical first taste of the upcoming Among The Leaves, points toward bleak beauty to come.
Why we might not love it: Before we assume that Kozelek is in any danger of losing his sometimes groan-worthy sense of humor, behold Among The Leaves song titles like “Not Much Rhymes With Everything’s Awesome At All Times” and “The Moderately Talented Yet Attractive Young Woman Vs. The Exceptionally Talented Yet Not So Attractive Middle Aged Man.” Come on, dude. Cut the shit.

Album: Valtari by Sigur Rós (out May 29)
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 8 to 1
Why we might love it: For more than a decade, Sigur Rós has crafted music that alternates between glacially lovely and fiercely apocalyptic. Valtari’s lead single “Ekki Múkk,” a deep breath of aching pianos and soft-focus strings, falls impressively into the first category—and there’s plenty of room among the album’s eight tracks for the group’s signature avalanche of cymbal crashes and E-bowed guitars. 
Why we might not love it: As with some of Sigur Rós’ previous work, there’s a chance Valtari is frontloaded with a couple of truly compelling tunes—and then dribbles toward the finish line in drowsy fog.


JUNE

Japandroids



Album: Class Clown Spots A UFO by Guided By Voices (June)
Odds that it will rank among 2011’s best: 15 to 1
Why we might love it: Hot on the heels of 2012’s Let’s Go Eat The Factory, the excellent comeback of Guided By Voices’ classic lineup, Class Clown Spots A UFO is already in the can and ready to go. Factory had plenty of flashes of tattered glory, so it’s clear Robert Pollard and the old gang are having a blast revisiting the bygone days of their, well, early middle-age.
Why we might not love it: “Keep It In Motion,” the first single off Class Clown, does the opposite of what its title promises. Sweet yet inert, it sounds tossed-off and half-formed (even by GBV’s gloriously sketchy standards). Kicking on the distortion during the last couple of seconds only makes it feel like more of a tease. Then again, if any band can cram tempests in teacups, it’s GBV.

Album: There’s No Leaving Now by The Tallest Man On Earth (June)
Odds that it will rank among 2011’s best: 20 to 1
Why we might love it: Swedish folkie Kristian Matsson released one of the most moving and openhearted albums of recent years with 2010’s The Wild Hunt. Matsson’s music isn’t complicated—he strums a guitar briskly, and sings (or occasionally shouts) earnestly over it—but the sum is miraculously much huger than the parts, approaching a grandeur that rivals a band many times his size. 
Why we might not love it: The Wild Hunt makes us wonder if Matsson has enough tricks in his bag to capture our imaginations again. 

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Album: Celebration Rock by Japandroids (due June 5)
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 18 to 1
Why we might love it: We loved Japandroids’ last album, 2009’s Post-Nothing, and judging by the first single from the follow-up Celebration Rock, “The House That Heaven Built,” it sounds like the Vancouver duo is set to deliver more of the same goodness. The song is all buzzing guitars, joyously shouted vocals, and caterwauling drums. Celebration rock indeed.
Why we might not love it: Is it too much of the same? We love Post-Nothing, but we don’t need another record that sounds just like it.

Album: Heaven by The Walkmen (due June 5)
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 8 to 1
Why we might love it: The Walkmen’s previous record, 2010’s heart-melting Lisbon, is one of the best records of the young decade. But really, it’s hard to think of an album in this fine NYC band’s discography that isn’t fantastic. 
Why we might not love it: Heaven was supposedly inspired by the band members becoming fathers, a potentially fruitful theme that might also signal a late-career mellowing. (Not that Lisbon wasn’t already pretty mellow.) 

Album: WIXIW by Liars (due June 5)
Odds that it will rank among 2011’s best: 12 to 1
Why we might love it: After being one of the prime architects of the post-punk revival of the ’00s, Liars morphed into something far more… Liars-like. By the time 2010’s Sisterworld rolled around, the band had settled into a deep lake of murky, lurking mystery and menace. The upcoming follow-up should ably build upon that weird foundation.
Why we might not love it: Liars haven’t really made a major misstep in their career; the worst thing they could do is put a fresh coat of paint on an old template and pass it off as new. 

Album: Americana by Neil Young And Crazy Horse (due June 5)
Odds that it will rank among 2011’s best: 18 to 1
Why we might love it: Neil Young finally getting back together to jam with his old buds Crazy Horse is great news—especially for those who love the shambolic, symphonic distortion the legendary group can crank out. In recent years, Young has hit sporadic high points, so this influx of synergy could push him back over the top.
Why we might not love it: The full Crazy Horse lineup hasn’t released an album with Young since 1996’s Broken Arrow. Do they still have that spark? Furthermore: Seeing as how Americana is a collection of public-domain folk songs rather than Young originals, are covers of “Oh Susannah” and “This Land Is Your Land” really going to cut it? Then again, if Young uses them as mere sketches to build epic solos around  (as he more or less did on Broken Arrow), that could be very good indeed.

Album: Synthetica by Metric (out June 12)
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 26 to 1
Why we might love it: In recent years, there have been few indie-rock comparisons easier to make than “Sounds like Metric”—and the band that launched a thousand chrome-plated synth-and-guitar combos still owns its sound like few others. Synthetica is full of confident, arena-ready music that finds Metric following smoothly in the populist footsteps of Arcade Fire and Death Cab For Cutie. 
Why we might not love it: In a field full of imitators, it’s hard even for the original article to stand out. 

Album: Oceania by Smashing Pumpkins (due June 19)
Odds that it will rank among 2011’s best: 75 to 1
Why we might love it: Nostalgia. That’s all we’ve got.
Why we might not love it: Billy Corgan’s newest release as the Supreme Overlord Of Smashing Pumpkins is alleged to be some kind of album-within-an-album. Because that apparently makes it deep. Granted, Corgan is at his best while working in his chosen medium—his own ego—but the chances of Oceania being worthwhile are about the same as the success rate of hair plugs.

Album: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do By Fiona Apple (June 26)
Odds that it will rank among 2011’s best: 8 to 1
Why we might love it: Like seemingly everyone else who has seen her live this year, we believe that Apple is in some sort of zone at the moment. Her new songs sounded great at SXSW, and her performances of late have shown fierce focus and raw unpredictability. If she bottled any of that up on the record, it should be a doozy.
Why we might not love it: The downside of being raw and unpredictable is that you can fail spectacularly. We don’t think that’s the case, but it’s possible. Though this possibility only makes the album more intriguing. 


THIS SUMMER  (MAYBE)
Many of these albums don’t have firm release dates yet, but we’re pretty sure they’ll be out this summer.

Missy Elliot



Album: Swing Lo Magellan by Dirty Projectors (July 10)
Odds that it will rank among 2011’s best: 10 to 1
Why we might love it: After the breakthrough acclaim of 2009’s brilliant Bitte Orca, art-rock wunderkind David Longstreth brought his Dirty Projectors along to triumphantly collaborate with Björk. And then… nothing. Surely he’s been using the intervening time to cook up a tangled, intricate web of guitar heroics and rich harmonies that will equal—or even top—Bitte Orca.
Why we might not love it: Longstreth could also have been using the intervening time to overthink, overwork, or otherwise overcook his admittedly ripe recipe of wonky noodling and precocious preciousness. 

Album: Love IV by The-Dream
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 9 to 1
Why we might love it: The-Dream recorded two of the most riveting R&B albums of the last decade: 2007’s Love/Hate and 2009’s Love Vs. Money, sonic marvels that piled hook on top of hook. If the singer-songwriter-producer’s planned fourth album can offer that kind of pleasure overload, it’ll surely be one of the year’s great treats.
Why we might not love it: The-Dream has been in a bit of a rut lately. Last year’s dour 1977 was offputtingly indulgent, and though it’s plenty pleasant, Love IV’s breezy lead single “Roc” doesn’t bring much new to the table. Where The-Dream’s best songs rush eagerly from one whim to the next, this one is content just to coast.

Album: Wolf by Tyler, The Creator
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 20 to 1
Why we might love it: Tyler, The Creator sabotaged his breakout 2011 with a difficult album, Goblin, and some truly boorish offstage antics that tested the patience of even his most forgiving followers. This year, though, he seems set to rebuild his damaged brand. Odd Future’s back-to-basics The OF Tape Vol. 2 reminded listeners what drew them to Tyler’s crew in the first place, and the rapper has promised that his Goblin follow-up Wolf will cut back on the queasy rape and mutilation jokes. Maybe the guy is capable of maturing.
Why we might not love it: Whether the rapper will make good on his promises of a kinder, gentler album remains to be seen—and what a kinder, gentler Tyler, The Creator album would even sound like is an even bigger question mark. 

Album: Looking For Myself by Usher
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 15 to 1
Why we might love it: Usher has branded his upcoming album as “revolutionary pop,” teasing a break from the rote Euro-pop of his recent hits. And sure enough, the Diplo-produced lead single from Looking For Myself, “Climax,” really does feel like uncharted territory, fusing vintage soul and contemporary electronic music in subtler, more evocative ways than almost anything else on the radio right now. The aesthetic is new, yet the song is vintage Usher: sumptuous, sensual, and wonderfully achy.
Why we might not love it: Not every album track can reinvent the wheel like “Climax.” There’s no guarantee that Usher won’t relapse, falling back on by-the-numbers Will.i.am/David Guetta dance tracks.

Album: TBA by Missy Elliott
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 8 to 1
Why we might love it: A bit of perspective on how long it’s been since Missy Elliott released an album: Her last record, 2005’s The Cookbook, featured Mike Jones, who was still a thing back then. Elliott has made only a few scattered appearances since that album, as a battle with the autoimmune disorder Graves’ disease kept her mostly out of the spotlight. To say we’re excited about her return is an understatement.
Why we might not love it: Elliott’s comeback album (tentatively titled Block Party) will reunite her with longtime collaborator Timbaland and promises to recreate the ’90s sounds of their classic recordings. No doubt they’ll be able to do that, but recapturing the off-kilter, avant-garde energy that made those albums so groundbreaking won’t be nearly as easy. 

Album: Shock Value III by Timbaland
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 40 to 1
Why we might love it: Timbaland has produced some of the best rap and R&B music of all time.
Why we might not love it: Unfortunately, all of that music was for other artists. Timbaland can still be a thrilling presence behind the boards, but his utter lack of personality and his bumbling flow make him utterly unqualified for the center stage, and no matter how many big names he stacks them with, his solo albums are slogs. He’s also too quick to collaborate with musicians just because he can. Shock Value II featured contributions from Daughtry, The Fray, Jet, and Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger, so we can only imagine who he’ll pull out of his hat for the third installment of this undistinguished series. 

Album: TBA by ZZ Top
Odds that it will rank among 2011’s best: 5,000 to 1
Why we might love it: ZZ Top absolutely, irrefutably rules. Don’t trust anyone who tries to tell you otherwise—in fact, punch that fucker in the throat and make him listen to Tres Hombres on repeat for a couple days until he sees the light. Since 1969, ZZ Top has earned your respect the hard way: one stomping, raunchy blues riff at a time.
Why we might not love it: As unimpeachable as ZZ Top’s legacy is, guitarist Billy Gibbons seems to be spending more of his time hamming it up on Bones than leading his battle-weary trio to new highs in recorded excellence. The group is also about to tour with 3 Doors Down. That can’t be good.

Album: TBA by The Darkness
Odds that it will rank among 2011’s best: 1,000,000 to 1
Why we might love it: What does irony even mean anymore? Don’t look to The Darkness for the answer. The British retro-rock act hasn’t released an album since 2005—but its post-re-formation full-length (yet to be titled) is sure to stir up brow-furrowing debates about legitimacy, authenticity, and the question of whether rock is dead. Especially if the album’s first single, the rousing, Queen-aping “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us,” is any indication. (And it definitely is.)
Why we might not love it: It’s hard to believe this band has any chance of recapturing whatever magic it had on 2003’s Permission To Land. Besides, The Darkness knows enough about rock history to understand that records like this are never any good.

Album: Most Of Our Heroes Don’t Appear On A Stamp by Public Enemy
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 30 to 1
Why we might love it: Public Enemy hasn’t released a truly great album since the ’90s, but it did release a surprisingly good one: 2007’s How You Sell Soul To A Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul?, a record that found Chuck D weighing in on contemporary controversies over beats that blared as hard as ever. The group may not be as relevant as it used to be, but age hasn’t tamed its fierce individualism.
Why we might not love it: Because “good” is all we can realistically hope for from a Public Enemy album these days. Nobody really believes the group has a classic record in it anymore. PE’s great works were the product of a specific time, and that time has long since passed. 

Album: God Forgives, I Don’t by Rick Ross
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 15 to 1
Why we might love it: Rick Ross can already claim one of 2012’s best rap releases: Rich Forever, a powerhouse mixtape that captures the huffing, larger-than-life rapper at the height of his powers. If his seizure-delayed album God Forgives, I Don’t can tap that mixtape’s energy—or the epic, unexpectedly soulful mood of Ross’s last studio albums, Deeper Than Rap and Teflon Don—it should be a winner.
Why we might not love it: The album’s early singles, “You The Boss” and “I Love My Bitches,” both suck, which is always an ominous sign. Ross’s cartoonish kingpin persona is destined to get old eventually, so God Forgives, I Don’t could be the album that finally ends his hot streak.

Album: Live From The Underground by Big K.R.I.T.
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 10 to 1
Why we might love it: Live From The Underground may be Big K.R.I.T.’s commercial debut, but the Mississippi rapper/producer already has an impressive track record. He’s released three wonderful mixtapes that play like albums, including last month’s reflective, boldly mellow 4EvaNaDay. Live From The Underground should bang much harder, if its lead single “I Got This” is any indication. The track is a bona fide trunk-rattler that shows off the rowdier side of K.R.I.T.’s slow-drawl flow.
Why we might not love it: Making great mixtapes and making great albums are increasingly two different skills, as anybody who has followed J. Cole’s career knows all too well. It remains to be seen whether K.R.I.T. can continue making music as strong as his mixtapes now that he has commercial expectations to consider. 

Album: TBA by The Avett Brothers 
Odds that it will rank among 2012’s best: 35 to 1
Why we might love it: The Avett Brothers’ last record, I And Love And You, was one of their best, with the group’s down-home folkiness intermingling perfectly with Rick Rubin’s beardy production. Rubin’s back on the boards for this one, which has been in the works for what seems like an eternity now. Plus, “The Once And Future Carpenter,” which the band has been playing live already, is pretty great. 
Why we might not love it: Even for fans of old country or roots rock, the kitschy aspect of handsome brothers making heartfelt tunes can get a little grating. If The Avett Brothers take it too far, it could get sickening quickly.