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TBTS Top Albums of 2012, So Far

April 21, 2012

The first quarter of 2012 has brought us some fantastic new music. Thus far this year, I’ve also heard a few great 2011 albums for the first time, ones which really made me want to revise my 2011 Favorites list.

Here’s a quick rundown, in no particular order, of 12 great new (or semi-new) albums that are dominating my earholes so far in 2012. Since today is Record Store Day, I highly recommend that you go buy all 12 of these albums at your nearest locally owned record store. Also, thanks to the magic of Spotify, here’s a little sampler playlist for your listening pleasure.

Chromatics — Kill for Love

Pure haunting bliss. Beautiful retro-futuristic stupor in the vein of the Drive soundtrack, which in fact featured the Chromatics and some of the 73 other projects involving Johnny Jewel, the mastermind of this whole sound and scene. Pop music doesn’t get better than the first 6-7 tracks on this album. Note: not available for streaming on Spotify, but you can stream the whole album on Soundcloud.

School of Seven Bells — Ghostory

Pretty radically different from their earlier stuff, which I also love. There’s less guitar presence and more atmospheric melancholy on Ghostory as compared to 2010’s Disconnect from Desire. It works so well that parts of this album remind me of the mighty ocean-current desperation of the Cure’s Disintegration. For example, 3:01 of “Love Play,” when the dynamics shift and the drum beat hits harder than ever, just might be the most beautiful song-moment of the year so far.

Dirty Three — Toward the Low Sun

I reviewed this one back in March. Still loving the album.

Dr. John — Locked Down

There’s no sense struggling with descriptors here. Just listen to the fumous funk of “Eleggua” (and the whole damn album, really) and just be grateful that this bad motherfucker is not only still with us, but also, at age 71, still has a swagger that puts the young’uns to shame.

Tindersticks — The Something Rain

I was on a huge jazz kick when this album came out, so I was hooked on The Something Rain from the moment I heard those stately saxophones all over the album. They’re the perfect touch to class up Tindersticks’ characteristic squalor. Both Stuart A. Staples’ voice and his depravity might put some listeners off, but this stuff hits some serious pleasure centers for me.

John Talabot — fIN

My friend Adam clued me in to Talabot. I love this album more than just about anything else that’s been tagged with the imprecise “Balearic” catchall. It’s certainly a salve for the wound I felt when Air France announced their demise.

Bruce Springsteen — Wrecking Ball

There are moments on Wrecking Ball when I feel like I’m hearing every major strain of “quintessentially American music” all at once. “Shackled and Drawn” is a good example—sounding like a synthesis of protest folk, Delta blues, and old-time mountain music, all strained through a modern arena-rock production aesthetic. “Rocky Ground” even adds hip-hop to that mix while maintaining most of the other elements. And to this listener, there’s precisely one man in the country who’s both qualified to write and record such comprehensive American music and good enough to pull it off. They don’t call him the Boss for nothing.

Alex Winston — King Con

If it weren’t too late for her to be anything but a cynical peddler of psuedo-quirky postures in smart-phone commercials, I’d encourage Zooey Deschanel to listen to King Con and take some notes. Alex Winston proves you can be profoundly “quirky” and “cute” AND still have something interesting and authentic to say. The album is catchy as hell too—I was humming good chunks of several King Con songs after just one or two listens.

Crooked Fingers — Breaks in the Armor (2011)

Eric Bachmann is a god, and he’s responsible for quite a lot of my favorite music of all time (through both the Archers of Loaf and Crooked Fingers). I’m almost ashamed to admit that I didn’t rush to listen to this album when it came out, but when I finally did, I was very pleased. For this lifelong fan, this one’s a big step up from the last couple of Crooked Fingers records.

Hooray for Earth — True Loves (2011)

What a great combination of trendy psych/synth/electro rock, noisy guitars, and accomplished songwriting. After stumbling on this band in early 2012 through their remix of the PVT track “Crimson Swan,” I’m still hooked.

Moby — Destroyed (2011)

Holy crap, this one was a surprise. Confession time—I snagged this as a 99-cent cutout bin CD on my last trip to Louisville’s late, lamented Ear X-tacy (RIP), after reading somewhere that Moby’s dalliance as a pop star during the Play era had gradually given way to consistently solid electro-rock output. And that’s exactly what I hear on Destroyed, after shelving it for a while after I first picked up my copy. Nothing else to say—it just makes me feel good.

Lanterns on the Lake — Gracious Tide, Take Me Home (2011)

I stumbled on this band through another user’s Spotify playlist. Much of Gracious Tide is so evocative and cathartic, it should probably be illegal. Most of the rest of the neo-folkies should take note—folk can be loud, lush, electric, and cinematic, and it’s OK to start slow but build up to something momentous. Along with James Vincent McMorrow, Lanterns on the Lake shows everyone else how this genre should be done.

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