The colder weather indicates the end of the year is near, which means a plethora of “best albums of 2012” lists, which I love. As much as I live to pour over these lists, 2012 was a big year for music, and a lot of great albums were put out, but many of them might get lost in the shuffle because they weren’t released as recently as the slew of very good fall albums.
To attempt to give these records their time, here is a list of my top 10 albums released in the first half of 2012, in no particular order.
Tennis – “Young and Old”
I think I’ve mentioned this album either in this space or referenced it in album reviews multiple times, but if there is a God, this record will be part of 2012’s musical identity, despite the fact it draws a lot from late ’50s and early ’60s pop. It’s a trip down memory lane, as paradoxical as “Back to the Future.”
Death Grips – “The Money Store”
The alternative hip-hop group has been making headlines recently for the cover of their newest album, “No Love Deep Web,” which is quite phallic, but their first album of 2012 is probably the stronger of the two. Powered by the rapid-fire delivery of “Get Got” and the thumping synth chorus of “The Fever (Aye Aye),” “The Money Store” challenges the definition of hip-hop and positioned Death Grips as the Animal Collective of rap.
The Tallest Man on Earth – “There’s No Leaving Now”
The Swedish folkster, noted for his vocal similarities to Bob Dylan, continues to shine in a primarily acoustic fashion on his latest effort. As lead single “1904” demonstrates, his bare-bones sound benefits from added strings and other subtle elements that aren’t as drastic as when Dylan went electric.
The Men – “Open Your Heart”
Whoever said punk is dead is full of it. The Men have kept it alive while altering it and making it something better. Although the punctual, energetic numbers are fantastic, the highlight is the 14-minute duo of “Country Song” and “Oscillation,” which starts as an exploration of a single, midtempo riff and ends with an epic punk buildup.
M. Ward – “A Wasteland Companion”
Often cited as one half of She and Him along with Zooey Deschanel, M. Ward has an established career in his own right. Although a soft, acoustic strummer at his core, his latest album explores indie music, angsty rock and ’50s pop, with Ward managing to sound competent with each endeavor.
Electric Guest – “Mondo”
Featuring Asa Taccone, brother of Lonely Island member Jorma Taccone, “Mondo” is a beautiful indie pop album that is the home of “This Head I Hold,” which will likely end up being crowned the catchiest song of the year. The rest of the record is similarly engaging and one of the year’s best albums to have flown largely under the radar.
Lotus Plaza – “Spooky Action at a Distance”
Fans of Deerhunter’s exceptional 2010 album “Halcyon Digest” will see the latest solo album from the group’s guitarist as a breath of fresh air. Most of “Spooky Action” is similar in tone to the Deerhunter song “Desire Lines,” which is a slice of midtempo, chill-out-yet-driving indie glory.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – “Here”
Spearheaded by the ’50s rock’n’roll/folk single “Man On Fire,” the latest album from the hippy collective has much of the whimsy and alternative energy as their disheveled and carefree stage presence would have you believe. The authenticity of their personas are up for debate, but the ease and joy of this record are not.
Beach House – “Bloom”
If you’re not clear on what “dream pop” means — or what it should mean — “Bloom” is a fine example of everything that’s right with the genre. Each track both as driving purpose and is cool with just hanging out and exploring the sonic space it’s been given.
Dr. John – “Locked Down”
You’d think a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, active since the ’50s, wouldn’t have anything left to accomplish, but the 71-year-old bayou bluesman recruited Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach to produce his new album, a consistent and exemplary blues-rock record that doesn’t sound like it was made by a B.B. King disciple. If you give this a listen and you find it intriguing, Dr. John is actually performing on campus at the CCA Nov. 7.