The 25 best-reviewed albums of 2012 so far (min. 15 reviews)
Now that we've reached the halfway point of the year, it's time to see which of the year's releases have impressed critics the most. We start with the year's major releases, which have received at least 15 reviews.
1. The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do 89 (Epic)
by Fiona Apple
"Another singular album from a truly idiosyncratic voice, Apple has once again invited us into her lushly conflicted inner monologue."
—Under the Radar More reviews...
The 34-year-old singer-songwriter's first album in seven years may not have her longest-ever album title (shockingly, her 1999 release beats this one by 67 words), but it may just be her best album. The music—co-produced by Apple with her touring drummer Charley Drayton—is far more stripped down than ever before, but relying only on piano, voice, and sampled beats doesn't prevent her from exploring an admirable variety of musical styles, all tied together with her intelligent and confessional lyrics. As it stands, The Idler Wheel is the best-reviewed major release since Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy 94 in 2010.
2. R.A.P. Music 87 (Williams Street)
by Killer Mike
"Not only is it essential listening for hip-hop in 2012, but also one of the few records that pushes musical and cultural boundaries in general."
—Sputnikmusic More reviews...
The year's best hip-hop album so far, R.A.P. Music (the title stands for Rebellious African People) is the sixth album for Atlanta-based rapper Michael Render, and his first for the Adult Swim-affiliated Williams Street label after previously recording for T.I.'s Grand Hustle. Production is handled throughout by El-P (whose own album is also among the year's best), while Bun B, T.I. and Trouble guest on the lead single "Big Beast."
3. Locked Down 86 (Nonesuch)
by Dr. John
"The closest he has come to making a masterpiece in a very long time."
—Boston Globe More reviews...
A collaboration between the legendary New Orleans musician and The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach (who produces, plays guitar, and sings on the album), the funky and trippy Locked Down is Dr. John's best-reviewed album in years, and could easily lead to his sixth Grammy award next year.
4. Celebration Rock 85 (Polyvinyl)
"Celebration Rock is in perpetual motion, driven by a visceral sense of urgency that most modern guitar music is so sorely lacking."
—Beats Per Minute More reviews...
A concise, eight-song set, this second studio album from the Canadian guitar-drums duo of Brian King and David Prowse (following 2009's Post-Nothing 82) is quite possibly the best pure rock record released so far this year, giving music fans plenty of reason to celebrate.
5. Old Ideas 85 (Columbia)
by Leonard Cohen
"Leonard Cohen sounds like a performer at the peak of his game."
Few singer-songwriters receive reviews this good at age 37, let alone at 77. Leonard Cohen's 12th studio album finds him working again with longtime collaborators Sharon Robinson, Anjani Thomas, and Jennifer Warnes, but it is his lyrics and still-incomparable voice that are once again the stars of the show.
6. Harmonicraft 85 (Volcom)
"Harmonicraft isn't just the best Torche release: It's a contender for one of the best loud rock releases of the year."
—CMJ More reviews...
Despite losing guitarist Juan Montoya after an acrimonious split, the Florida-based heavy rock outfit Torche managed to follow their critically acclaimed 2008 sophomore set Meanderthal with another well received collection of guitar-driven songs.
7. Cancer 4 Cure 85 (Fat Possum)
"It's far ahead enough of that competition, intellectually and inspirationally, to exist on another plane of appreciation altogether."
—BBC More reviews...
Already an alternative hip-hop legend before the year even started, Def Jux co-founder El-P is having one hell of a 2012, producing the year's best rap album (R.A.P. Music; see above) and releasing his first solo album in five years, to universal acclaim from reviewers.
8. Fear Fun 84 (Sub Pop)
by Father John Misty
"One of the most endlessly intriguing albums of the year so far."
—This Is Fake DIY More reviews...
There's nothing to be afraid of here. The debut from Father John Misty, the new solo project for J. Tillman (formerly the drummer for blogosphere favorites Fleet Foxes) offers plenty of quirky acoustic folk gems, which should please fans of Tillman's previous band.
9. Words and Music by Saint Etienne 84 (Universal)
by Saint Etienne
"A masterclass of pop theory and practice in perfect harmony."
—The Independent More reviews...
Yet another display of sterling, sophisticated pop music from England's Saint Etienne, Words and Music is also a love letter to the genre, and evidence that despite a six-year recording hiatus prior to the new album, the trio of Sarah Cracknell, Bob Stanley, and Pete Wiggs hasn't lost a step.
10. Django Django 84 (Because)
by Django Django
"It feels effortless. Even after repeated listening it somehow grows on you."
—Drowned in Sound More reviews...
Probably the least recognizable of the year's ten best albums—for one thing, it hasn't been released in the U.S.—this eponymous debut from the Scottish art-rockers earned raves from the UK music press, as well as comparisons to the equally adventurous Beta Band.
|11||Ekstasis by Julia Holter||Spotify||83|
|12||Ugly by Screaming Females||Spotify||83|
|13||Blunderbuss by Jack White||Spotify||83|
|14||Attack On Memory by Cloud Nothings||Spotify||83|
|15||Banga by Patti Smith||Spotify||83|
|16||Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II by Earth||Spotify||83|
|17||Open Your Heart by The Men||Spotify||83|
|18||Europe by Allo Darlin'||83|
|19||WIXIW by Liars||Spotify||82|
|20||Tramp by Sharon Van Etten||Spotify||81|
|21||R.I.P. by Actress||Spotify||81|
|22||The Money Store by Death Grips||Spotify||81|
|23||Maraqopa by Damien Jurado||Spotify||81|
|24||Put Your Back N 2 It by Perfume Genius||Spotify||81|
|25||Kill For Love by Chromatics||Soundcloud||81|
Good albums with fewer reviews
Here is a look at the albums that received extremely positive reviews, but not enough of them to qualify for our list above. (In other words, consider them the year's best under-the-radar releases.) Albums on this list received 7-14 critic reviews. (Titles with fewer than seven reviews are excluded from all year-end charts.)
|1||On the Impossible Past
by The Menzingers
|The Scranton, Penn. punk band move to Epitaph for their third album, and the results are as accomplished as ever.|
|2||Crown and Treaty
by Sweet Billy Pilgrim
|The English art-rockers add actress/folk rocker Jana Carpenter to their lineup for the follow-up to the 2009 Mercury Prize-shortlisted Twice Born Men.|
by Vijay Iyer Trio
|The jazz piano trio blends originals with a handful of unlikely covers, including takes on Flying Lotus' "MmmHmm" and Michael Jackson's "Human Nature."|
|4||Young Man In America
by Anais Mitchell
|The New England singer-songwriter returns with another critically acclaimed set of modern folk tunes.|
|5||De Vermis Mysteriis
by High on Fire
|The sixth release for the Bay Area metal band has a loose concept based on time travel and H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, but, more importantly, killer riffs, too.|
by Brad Mehldau Trio
|The trio led by jazz pianist Mehldau has mainly been a live concern in recent years, but the current lineup finally booked some studio time, to the delight of critics.|
|7||One Day I'm Going To Soar
|The English band formerly known as Dexys Midnight Runners (yes, of "Come On Eileen" fame) impresses in its first release since 1985.|
|Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, and Danny Brown are among the contributors on this solo rap album from Ab-Soul of L.A.'s Black Hippy crew.|
|Ghosts is the second (following 2009's Silence) in a planned trilogy of albums from the German electronic music outfit led by Robert Henke.|
|9 (tie)||Oro: Opus Primum
|The only Italian experimental metal band to make our list, UFOmammut will follow this release with Oro: Opus Alter this fall.|
More bests and worsts
So now that we know what the critics liked this year, what about what Metacritic users liked? Below are the 2012 releases receiving the highest average user scores.
|1||Kindred EP by Burial||8.8||86||Spotify|
|2||Bloom by Beach House||8.7||79||Spotify|
|In Our Heads by Hot Chip||8.7||78||Spotify|
|4||Trespassing by Adam Lambert||8.6||72||Spotify|
|Loveless [Reissue] by My Bloody Valentine||8.6||93|
|Put Your Back N 2 It by Perfume Genius||8.6||81||Spotify|
|7||A Flash Flood of Colour by Enter Shikari||8.5||75|
|The Lion's Roar by First Aid Kit||8.5||80||Spotify|
|Visions by Grimes||8.5||80||Spotify|
|Blown Away by Carrie Underwood||8.5||70||Spotify|
If you read the small print under our list of high-scoring albums above, you noticed that reissues and other album types were excluded from our best-reviewed albums charts (which are intended to include only new albums with new material). Here are the highest-scoring "disqualified" albums of 2012 so far:
|1||Graceland by Paul Simon||Reissue||100|
|2||Dopesmoker by Sleep||Reissue||94|
|3||Loveless by My Bloody Valentine||Reissue||93|
|4||L.A. Woman by The Doors||Reissue||93|
|5||Biokinetics by Porter Ricks||Reissue||93|
|6||Vee Vee by Archers of Loaf||Reissue||86|
|7||Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions by Billy Bragg & Wilco||Box set||86|
|8||The Lost Tapes by Can||Box set||85|
|9||Ram by Paul & Linda McCartney||Reissue||85|
|10||A Victim of Stars: 1982-2012 by David Sylvian||Greatest hits||85|
Finally, here are the worst-reviewed albums (at least, those releases major enough to receive at least seven reviews) released in the first half of 2012:
|1||Fortune by Chris Brown||RCA||40||4.9|
|2||Hell in a Handbasket by Meat Loaf||Sony||44||n/a|
|3||Shape Shifter by Santana||Starfaith||45||n/a|
|4||Days Go By by The Offspring||Columbia||47||7.3|
|5||Body Faucet by Reptar||Vagrant||51||n/a|
|6||POP ETC by POP ETC||Rough Trade||51||n/a|
|7||This Machine by The Dandy Warhols||The End||51||n/a|
|8||WZRD by WZRD||Republic||52||6.5|
|9||Sounds from Nowheresville by The Ting Tings||Columbia||52||5.6|
|10||Overexposed by Maroon 5||A&M||54||3.5|
What do you think?
What are your favorite and least favorite albums of the year so far? Let us know in the comments section below.