The Best Albums of 2012 (So Far), Selected by Tyler Kane – Assistant Editor
1. The Men – Open Your Heart
The beautiful part about Brooklyn’s The Men topping this list is that they probably couldn’t care less about roundups like this. It’s not that they don’t appreciate the attention, because the guys admittedly are enjoying time away from their dayjobs that were “the fucking worst.” But for them, the music always comes first. “We make music, and I think that’s enough of a message,” Perro told me earlier this year. “I don’t think I need to be like, ‘Hey, what’s up? I’m in Chicago and I had a pizza.’ That’s irrelevant, and that waters down music.” The band has also evolved from their last effort Leave Home by reeling back the brutal intensity. Instead, the guys are experimenting with country twang and acoustic-rooted songs that only get better in a live setting.
2. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
Sharon Van Etten showcased her quick-tongued, stinging take on songwriting with Epic in 2010, but she’s never sounded as full, as heartbroken or as dramatic as when she teamed up with guitarist Aaron Dessner of The National in the producer’s chair. Filled with building, tense moments on tracks like “Serpents” and “Warsaw,” Van Etten doesn’t only craft songs—she weaves moments worth experiencing again and again.
3. Rufus Wainwright – Out of the Game
Rufus Wainwright’s latest, Out of the Game, has been notoriously labeled as his “return to pop,” but that’s only what you’ll get out of the album’s first listen. Incredible, building tracks like “Jericho” and “Bitter Tears” show the singer not only polishing his dancing shoes, but reaching for something much deeper and satisfying.
4. The Walkmen – Heaven
Sometimes, less is much, much more as The Walkmen prove with the bare-bones, minimalist instrumentation on Heaven. It’s most obvious on tracks like opener “We Can’t Be Beat” and the punk-in-spirit “Heartbreaker,” which yank forward Hamilton Leithauser’s labored, heartfelt croon with wiry guitars and awesome arrangements.
5. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…
After debuting some meaty, poignant tracks at South By Southwest this year, we hardly could have imagined that Fiona Apple would release a collection of songs that were just as strong. But that’s just what she’s done with the astoundingly well-produced, and long-titled album The Idler Wheel…. Tracks like “Every Single Night” see Apple playing with simple, intelligently organized arrangements, letting her unmistakable voice do the heavy emotional lifting.
6. Beach House – Bloom
After Teen Dream hit the shelves in 2010, not many believed that Beach House was capable of making a convincing follow-up. Bloom makes a strong case for those who believed, with tracks like “Lazuli” and “Myth” that should be seeing some heavy play well beyond the year’s end.
7. Hospitality – Hospitality
Last year, Merge dropped a bombshell on my ears with the incredible 12 Desperate Straight Lines by Telekinesis, and they’re at it again with another strong signing in newcomers Hospitality. Tracks like “Betty Wang” and “Friends of Friends” are immediately listenable, but it’s also what makes the album a gold-medal winner for “most repeat spins in a day on Tyler’s turntable.”
8. Damien Jurado – Maraqopa
It only takes a minute or so into Maraqopa before recognizing the shift in Damien Jurado’s songwriting. Again working with producer Richard Swift (who’s been all over the place this year, most notably appearing with the touring lineup of The Shins), Jurado opts for a jammy, guitar-heavy approach on opener “Nothing is the News.” But aside from including some expertly written tracks like “Maraqopa” and “Everyone A Star,” the album’s production makes for exciting repeat listens that warrant an uninterrupted visit with your headphones.
9. Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
Aside from creating one of the best, most immediate rap albums this year, Killer Mike’s rise to become one of the most lauded rappers of 2012 appeared to humble him nights ago at his tour kickoff with El-P in Atlanta. Appearing at the Masquerade, Mike’s between-song banter repeatedly thanked long-term supporters and fans of “good, real music.” But he backed it up, too, with aggressive, momentum-building tracks like opener “Big Beast” and “Go!”
10. Nada Surf – The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy
With a few touching, painfully relatable albums in The Weight is a Gift and Lucky under their belts, it would seem that new material from Nada Surf would have nowhere to go but down. But that’s not the case with the 10-track burst The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy. Frontman Matthew Caws shows he’s still got all of his songwriting chops on tracks like the should-be-blowing-up-the-radio-moreso-than-“Popular”-ever-did “Waiting for Something” and album standout “Teenage Dreams.”