Review: A look at overlooked albums of 2012

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While everyone was buzzing about big releases from Frank Ocean, Fiona Apple, Mumford & Sons and Taylor Swift, you might have missed some must-listens. Here’s what you should know about, and why:

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Grizzly Bear, “Shields” (Warp)

Yes, iTunes named Grizzly Bear’s “Shields” the best album of 2012. Yes, the critics adored it. And yes, it debuted in the Top 10.

But did it earn any Grammy nominations? No. Is it selling well? No. Have you heard it? Probably not.

And that needs to change.

“Shields” is a semimasterpiece that feels both old and new _ and in the best ways possible. Anchored by the voices of Edward Droste and Daniel Rossen, this Brooklyn, N.Y.-based foursome has created a disc that is genre-defying and consistent throughout.

The 10 tracks that make up “Shields” are drum-filled and smoky, and half the songs are more than five minutes long. That’s a bit unusual, but it’s also a break from mainstream pop music, and a needed one.

_Mesfin Fekadu, AP Music Writer (twitter.com/musicmesfin)

Aaron Freeman, “Marvelous Clouds” (Partisan Records)

Middle age and sobriety caused Aaron Freeman to split this year from Ween, the deliriously genre-defying cult duo he co-founded 25 years ago. To find his footing as a solo artist, the former Gene Ween’s first tentative step was to release “Marvelous Clouds,” a covers album featuring 13 songs by Rod McKuen, the 1960s poet and composer.

McKuen’s a crooner often dismissed as schlocky, but Freeman finds the earnest heart _ and crushing heartbreak _ in gentle ballads like “A Man Alone,” which could be the record’s theme song. The production on “Jean” and the title track are by turns lush and spare. Every track is suffused with a melancholy that draws comparisons to some of the best of Ween’s softer material, including the aching “Birthday Boy” and “I Don’t Want It.”

Ween devotees felt betrayed when Freeman broke up the band, and they were confused that such an accomplished songwriter opted to record someone else’s tunes. But “Marvelous Clouds” rewards multiple listens, and provides plenty of hints that Freeman will continue to surprise.

_Christopher Weber, AP Writer

I/O, “Isolation” (Self-released)

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