The Best Albums of 2012 (So Far)

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At the end of this year, we’ll spend a lot of time listening to albums we missed, voting and passionately arguing to compile the official list of Paste’s favorite albums. But for the halfway point, we thought we’d add more of a personalized touch. Five different Paste editors have compiled their Top 10 Albums of 2012, released January through June. And we’ve given you bonus picks from interns, staffers and writers—one favorite album from 10 different people.

We all know there are plenty of worthy albums we haven’t listened to yet. Some of our picks will fade before December, and others will grow on us as the year progresses. But this is a snapshot to help you discover some favorites of your own. And on the final page, there’s a collaborative playlist where you can add a song from your own favorite album of the year.

The Best Albums of 2012 (So Far), Selected by Josh Jackson – Editor-in-chief

1. John K. Samson – Provincial
The first solo album from the Weakerthans’ frontman in 19 years is a love letter to his native Canada, but not just the kind that glosses over flaws (the opening track begins near a “lot full of debris”). Samson is a master of details, whether he’s writing about the pressures of grad school or a workplace affair. A sense of Canadian winter springs from every other line, so many of which are packed with wit and vividness. Fortunately, the music is just as memorable.

2. Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas
Leonard Cohen  is my favorite lyricist. But the production of some of his best songs—drippy keyboards that felt dated minutes after the engineer cut the tape—seemed like the price I had to pay just to hear what he would say next. But on Old Ideas, fellow producer/poet/member of the Fugs Ed Sanders helps Cohen strip the songs bare. Dirty guitar, some subtle organ and drums, the requisite lovely backup singers, and Cohen’s deep, wise voice are all that’s needed.

3. Howler – America Give Up
Howler frontman Jordan Gatesmith might not be old enough to drink legally, but he’s already put out the year’s most deliciously catchy collection of roughshod rock songs. The Minneapolis band’s debut takes bubblegum melodies and filters them through a Jesus and Mary Chain haze. It’s garage rock if the garage is pristine and full of gorgeously restored vintage cars.

4. Rufus Wainwright – Out of the Game
Wainwright’s best album since 2003’s Want One is a return to his pop beginnings after composing an opera, setting Shakespeare sonnets to music and rerecording a Judy Garland concert album, as well as getting married and becoming a father. With Mark Ronson at the helm, Wainwright finds a nice balance between the immediacy of mid-brow pop and the flowery ambition of high-brow art.

5. Father John Misty – Fear Fun
J. Tillman was putting out solo albums long before he was in Fleet Foxes, and his latest, under the moniker Father John Misty, often recalls his old band. But it also recalls John Denver, Neil Young and, at times, The Band. It’s also the best realization of that old, forgotten genre descriptor “freak folk”—something a little stranger than his former band, but with the same big-sky atmospherics.

6. Of Monsters and Men – My Head is an Animal
This six-piece band from Iceland has mastered the Mumford & Sons art of the climactic build. If you’re tired of that pre-constructed emotional ride, these swelling folk tunes are probably not for you, but I’m a sucker for delicately crafted verses culminating in giant singable (and shoutable) choruses.

7. Jack White – Blunderbuss
Not to take anything away from the woman who gave Jack Gillis his surname, but this solo debut isn’t missing Meg or any of his other regular collaborators. The dozen-and-a-half musicians he invited to this party are all top-notch, but Jack White is at the center of whatever whirlwind he creates.

8. First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar
Americana has long been much bigger than a country or a continent, but Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg make an argument for relocating its epicenter to Scandanavia with their second album. Among the lovely folk ballads is a close-to-perfect shuffling ode to the genre’s pioneers far across the pond: “I’ll be your Emmylou, and I’ll be your June / If you’ll be my Gram and my Johnny too.”

9. Justin Townes Earle – Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now
Justin Townes Earle  grew up in Nashville and lives in the East Village, but it’s the sounds of Memphis, Muscle Shoals and even a little New Orleans that shine through on his latest album. A note to all would-be dudes with acoustic guitars: Start hanging out with horn players.

10. Sarah Jaffe – The Body Wins
On her sophomore album, Jaffe takes a stylistic leap with a lusher, more orchestral approach, and it works. It’s not an album for those walking blindly into love, but for those expecting (and experiencing) heartbreak at every turn. Still for all its lovely wallowing, it ends with the album’s most uplifting track, allowing for a sliver of hope. Even when love doesn’t last, it’s always a source of beauty.

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