Thursday, July 5, 2012

Totally Unauthorized 2012 Mid Year Recap: Top 10 First Half Albums

It is no understatement to say that 2012 has been a crazy good year for music. This year has seen my tastes shift much more towards bands that are big on the indie circuit, although there's a great deal a variety within the stuff I've been spinning. Metal and hip-hop have been a bit disappointing, but here's to hoping they'll bounce back big in the second half of 2012. With that said, here's the best of the best, so far:

Honorable mentions:

Badbadnotgood - BBNG2
Porcelan Raft - Strange Weekend
Burial - Kindred EP

10. Orbital - Wonky

Looking to make a comeback? It's tough to do it much better than Orbital, who returned the rave/techno scene after an eight year hiatus sounding like they'd never left. The brothers Hartnoll display their ability to set a beat, incorporate dub elements, and even successfully remix/remake an old classic. Even if it takes another eight years for a followup, something tells me it'd be worth the wait.

9. Lambchop - Mr. M

It requires more effort from the listener, but a little subtlety from an artist can go a long way. Lambchop's Kurt Wagner is a master at this. He mixes his folky alt country approach with a little bit of lounge jazz, but he's comfortable enough to poke fun at many of the sounds he emulates. Tracks like "Buttons" and "The Good Life" also deliver a very welcome dose of personality.

8. Eluveitie - Helvetios 

You mean to tell me folk metal masters Eluveitie have put out a concept album about a Gaulish war, told from the viewpoint of an Irish tribe? People have grown mutton chops for less. Unlike many metal bands, Eluveitie aren't confined to just guitar and drums. Bagpipes, accordions, flutes, and much more are called in to create a compelling sound. You may not be able to pronounce their name, but you can tell it spells awesomeness.

7. Jack White - Blunderbuss

Fresh off the dissolution of The White Stripes, Jack White knew he had to hit back in a big way. Blunderbuss touches musical styles rooted deep within our psyche, from blues to country and rock and roll. But in the midst of it all, White shows he still has a knack for turning out his trademark garage rock sound with "Sixteen Saltines," one of the year's most captivating singles.

6. Lotus Plaza - Spooky Action at a Distance

Lockett Pundt is a thoughtful songwriter. As one of the key players in Deerhunter, he's also got a sound of his own. On his second solo album, he guides us through personal narratives that range from heavy, feedback drenched rockers to melodic Deerhunter like pieces, while also touching base on exploratory Stereolab influenced numbers and even smoky westerns. Even apart from his primary band, Pundt is still redefining the boundaries of music as we know it.

5. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...

Shame on me for sleeping on Ms. Apple. With The Idler Wheel... she has released a gut churning collection of avant-garde pop. As always, her lyrics cut through to the heart of her condition. She sounds pretty emotionally and psychologically exhausted here. If not, she's putting on one hell of an act.

4. Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory

When you're ready to kick things to the next level, you'd best go all out. That seemed to be Dylan Baldi's mantra as he worked on Cloud Nothings' breakthrough album Attack on Memory. The Cleveland indie/punker teamed up with famed producer Steve Albini to produce a collection of songs that range from bitter and acerbic to bouncy and free spirited. Few can claim to approach the craft with near as much fervor or sincerity as Baldi.

3. The Tallest Man on Earth - There's No Leaving Now

There's nothing flashy about what Kristian Matsson does, and he doesn't go out of his way to break new ground. What he does do is make music for the soul. His sound is always rich, vibrant and outward looking. With just a simple acoustic guitar and a scratchy voice, Matsson says the things we've always wanted to say but never knew how. 

2. Beach House - Bloom

When dream pop is done right, it is one of the most enchanting forms of music known to man. On their fourth album, the Baltimore duo improve upon the formula that made their breakout album, Teen Dream, such a success. Bloom presents a deeper, denser sound, atmospheric instrumentals, and the always engaging voice of Victoria Legrand.

1. Iamamiwhoami - Kin

It's a shame this album won't be better known. Jonna Lee's voice is always icy, yet at the same time hypnotic and entrancing. She covers the spectrum of emotions, from full of love and passionate to dissonant and industrial sounding. There are fat dance beats, and there are subdued numbers. But the main reason she stands at the top is because she has done more than any artist this year to challenge my notion of what music can be. This may not be the only album of its kind, but I wouldn't want to be tasked with finding it.

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