It is a little over halfway through 2012 and a large breadth of music has been released in this time. This of course means that it is time to list what, in our opinion, are the best albums so far this year. We do this not to proselytize our readers into congratulating us on our superb music tastes, but instead to evaluate the current musical landscape. Today’s list will also provide some loose guidelines for when we do make our end of the year list – although it is merely a predictor and not definitive on how we will feel at the end of the year.
So how do we feel about the slate of releases thus far in 2012? I think Todd, Wes, and I all agree 2012 started out on a dreadfully slow note, with few albums of true note being released in January and February. Thankfully, there has been a rash of good albums to come out in the past 2-3 months to help pick up the slack a little bit. The thing was, though, when we unveiled our individual lists to each other, we were hard-pressed to decide on any unequivocally great albums, except maybe our #1. Plenty of albums that we all enjoyed, or thought were “good”. But not a lot of instant classics, or at least that all three of us could agree are classics.
Hopefully this somewhat muddled picture of 2012 will begin to become clearer the more we familiarize ourselves with everything that has been released. More importantly, we look forward to some of the upcoming albums that we haven’t even had the opportunity to love yet. Enjoy, and as always feel free to critique us on what we missed or erred in including.
10. Frankie Rose – Interstellar
Todd described Interstellar, Frankie Rose’s second solo album, as somewhat of a less complex Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (M83). This is a fair comparison, but in some regards I do think Frankie pushed herself very hard to make something a little less poppy than her Dum Dum Girls roots, and in effect, a more resonating experience as a whole.
9. The Chromatics – Kill For Love
The Chromatics took a chance and it paid off while covering Neil Young’s “Into the Black” to open Kill for Love. Leaving a personal stamp on a classic song and then parlaying that into some of the most satisfying electro-pop of the year. Come to check out the cover, and then stay for every last drop of goodness The Chromatics have to offer.
8. Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light
Spiritualized frontman, Jason Pierce, underwent treatment for degenerative liver disease between albums. Sweet Heart Sweet Light is the culmination of his experiences consisting of trade-offs between unbearable darkness and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Such personal experiences brought us one of the most heart-felt and moving records to be released thus far this year.
7. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
I saw the new movie Ted last night, and there was a scene where the stuffed bear is naming the different strains of pot from which he made his purchase. Three of them were “gorilla panic”, “we’re coming for you”, and “this is permanent”. For some reason I feel all of these terms can accurately describe Celebration Rock, which includes tracks titled “Adrenaline Nightshift” and “Continuous Thunder”. It doesn’t hurt that their sound is equally loud and glorious live.
6. Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
R.A.P. Music , along with #2 on this list, are the two albums that really led the charge in bringing hip-hop back to respectability for 2012. Actually, respectability is too mild a term, because Killer Mike’s best album to date hits so hard and consistently that it could easily have competed for best hip-hop album in most of the past 10 years or so. We are all looking forward to where Killer Mike’s career takes off from here.
5. Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself
While not my particular cup of tea, even I have to admit Break It Yourself represents a culmination of an intensely talented artist who has consistently improved, and now rests at the top of his game. If you are looking for something new on this list to listen to that can only be described as beautiful, Break It Yourself, with its combination of violin and beautifully accented vocals, is the album to explore.
4. Daughn Gibson – All Hell
Talk about coming out of nowhere. Only Daughn Gibson’s parents and a few close friends even knew his name before All Hell changed the game and put a legitimate stamp on what an interesting and progressive country album can look like. EMA was my breakout darling last year, and I hope that this time next year, Gibson will hold a similar place in my heart.
3. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…
Fiona Apple returned from her extended hiatus with a bang this year, releasing what we believe to be her best album yet. At first I thought it may be a little too simple and safe, but after extended listenings, it is apparent that The Idler Wheel is the richest and most self-assured work Apple has released to date. Hopefully we can get another Apple album in <5 years.
2. El-P – Cancer 4 Cure
It is unreal how much my original tepid response to El-P’s latest has changed since my first listen. After a period of thinking Cancer 4 Cure was just okay, I joined my blog-mates and after a few extra listens changed my whole perspective on sh*t. With ultra-dense production and interesting, albeit sometimes nonsensical, lyrics, El-P has put himself firmly in the lead for best hip-hop album of 2012.
1. Jack White – Blunderbuss
While none of us had Blunderbuss at the very front of our personal lists, it was near enough the top on all of them to be the runaway consensus number one overall. No doubt White’s best full album since his White Stripes days, Blunderbuss brings the variety and mind-searing, blues-based orchestrations that was just what the doctor ordered. The album that just right Americana mix of hearty country, raw emotion blues, Stonesy freewheeling rock ‘n’ roll, and even a dash of show tunes. For the second half of 2012, someone is going to have to bring their A-game to dethrone the king.
Wes: Hot Chip – In Our Heads
In Our Heads is one of those albums where the proximity of its release to this list and some unfamiliarity with it may be some cause for being left off. I will say I am a pinch surprised that after all of Wes’ big talk about The Alabama Shakes, he was able to leave that pile just-above-average pony-loaf off of his just missed entry.
Todd: Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror
Reign of Terror may not be the jolt of lightning that Sleigh Bell’s debut, Treats, was, but it still stands on its own merit as a solid release. Let’s put it this way; at least Sleigh Bells now have enough material to draw out their awesome live show to over an hour now, instead of the amazing, but less than ideal, under 45-minute shows they were able to pull off with just Treats under their belt.
Austin: Beach House – Bloom
On the strength of “Myth” and “Lazuli” alone, I think Bloom deserves a place within the top ten. In fact, I want to wake up to Bloom’s opener, “Myth”, every day for the rest of my life, and most days would probably choose for Bloom to keep playing afterwards. This is all saying a lot seeing that I was not as huge of a proponent of Teen Dream as most.
Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this list, you may be interested in checking out our Top 5 Favorite Songs of 2012 … so far.
And if you’re like us and can’t read enough good things about Mr. Jack White’s wonderful album Blunderbuss, feast your eyes on our monstrous Jack White Review Royale.