FOR RILL RILL? Valentine’s Day 2012 will be marked by the return of Sleigh Bells (top). Unless Nicki Minaj is your thing-thing. 

There's nothing particularly apocalyptic about the releases thus far slated for 2012: perhaps this is the way that the music world melts down, with a whimper rather than a bang, right? Except that 2012 is shaping up to be relatively banging, as the ongoing pop overthrow of music culture continues to steamroll everything else, leaving a slick layer of synth and upbeat vibes. As music glides into the alleged Armageddon with hands to the sky, here are nine records that belie the buildings-crashing-down-around-us predictions of the ancients.

The end of January sees the release of two records by artists who have veered radically from their respective art-weird roots: wily Canuck Claire Boucher emerged from a miasma of eclectic electro-artiness as GRIMES (at Great Scott March 26), but her forthcoming Visions (Arbutus) sees her focusing her beguiling falsetto in the service of pop hooks and otherworldly charm. Jennifer Herrema was one half of the druggiest band of the '90s, Royal Trux, and having worked her way through the three-album journey of hard rock detox that was RTX, she now unveils her next project, the surreal-yet-poppy BLACK BANANAS, whose Rad Times Xpress IV (Drag City) continues Herrema's journey through the detritus of '70s low culture.

READ MORE: Concert preview: "Four weather-proof shows to kick off 2012," by Michael Marotta and Liz Pelly

Speaking of sifting through the detritus, South African rap crew DIE ANTWOORD, who hit the Paradise February 10, made their name in 2010 by reveling in the surreal majesty found amidst the grime and trash of Cape Town gangster culture. Their debut, $O$, was basically too weird for primetime, which probably explains why they'll be dropping Ten$ion in February on their own Zef Records rather than on Interscope, going indie and maintaining their freak horror-rap appeal.

The coming year will be in many ways one of reckoning for the viral prodigies of 2011. Artists who appeared out of nowhere with a single song that rocketed them to fame/infamy and a record deal now have to deliver, and that faint, mysterious noise you hear is probably that of Interscope executives biting their nails about the impending January 30 unveiling of the debut LANA DEL REY long-player, Born To Die (Interscope). Del Rey, born Elizabeth Grant, retooled her shtick this past fall with a narcoleptic orchestral swoon and a druggy pout. "Video Games" was a defining conversation piece of '11 pop, but the jury is still out on whether she is the next Amy Winehouse or just a downer ingénue.

The bizarre state of the music biz nowadays means that those same Interscope execs are probably also sweating the prospects of this spring's MADONNA album — her 12th and her first since ending her 25-year Warner Bros. contract. She's unveiling her new single in the subtle and musically reverent environs of a Super Bowl halftime show, which should be an indicator that perhaps she isn't going the shy, introspective route for this one. The album features at least one guest verse, from professional guest-verse-r NICKI MINAJ, who drops her own sophomore outing on Valentine's Day. Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (Young Money/Cash Money) continues Minaj's penchant for alter egos and bizarre bizarreness, as evident from lead single "Roman in Moscow." Also on Valentine's Day comes the return of SLEIGH BELLS, who build on the promise of their distorted debut with Reign Of Terror (Mom + Pop), an album that sees the band's penchant for metal cranked front and center, contrasting with their trademark vocal cooing sweetness.

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