Midyear Report: The Best Albums of 2012 So Far

  • Publish Date: July 5, 2012
  • Comments: ↓ 23 user comments

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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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4. Celebration Rock 85 (Polyvinyl)
by Japandroids

"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.

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5. Old Ideas 85 (Columbia)
by Leonard Cohen

"Leonard Cohen sounds like a performer at the peak of his game."

Q More reviews...

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.

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6. Harmonicraft 85 (Volcom)
by Torche

"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.

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7. Cancer 4 Cure 85 (Fat Possum)
by El-P

"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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

... and a few more:
Album Listen Metascore
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

Albums are ranked by Metascore prior to rounding. Only new studio albums released between January 1, 2012 and June 30, 2012 are eligible; EPs, live albums, box sets, reissues, and the like are not included. The above list includes only those albums with at least 15 reviews from professional critics; lists below include albums with at least seven reviews. The Metascore is a weighted average of scores from top professional critics, on a scale from 0 (bad) to 100 (good). Albums are ranked by Metascore prior to rounding. Scores are from July 3, 2012.

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.)

  Album Label Metascore Listen
1 On the Impossible Past
by The Menzingers
Epitaph 93 Spotify
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
SamadhiSound 88  
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.
3 Accelerando
by Vijay Iyer Trio
Act 88  
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
Wilderland 86 Spotify
The New England singer-songwriter returns with another critically acclaimed set of modern folk tunes.
5 De Vermis Mysteriis
by High on Fire
eOne 85 Spotify
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.
6 Ode
by Brad Mehldau Trio
Nonesuch 85 Spotify
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
by Dexys
BMG 85  
The English band formerly known as Dexys Midnight Runners (yes, of "Come On Eileen" fame) impresses in its first release since 1985.
8 Control System
by Ab-Soul
TopDawg Ent. 84 Spotify
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.
9 (tie) Ghosts
by Monolake
Forced Exposure 84 Spotify
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
by UFOmammut
Neurot 84  
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.

2012 Releases Most Liked by Metacritic Users (Min. 15 User Reviews)
Album/Artist User Score Metascore Listen
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

User scores represent an average of scores assigned by Metacritic.com site visitors, from 0 (bad) to 10 (good).

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:

Best-Reviewed Reissues, Box Sets, and Compilations of 2012 (Min. 7 Reviews)
Album Type Metascore
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:

The Lowest-Scoring Albums of 2012 So Far (Min. 7 Reviews)
Album Label Metascore Users
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.

Comments (23)

  • MooziikMaster  

    So far, my favourites are:
    1. of Montreal - Paralytic Stalks
    2. Hot Chip - In Our Heads
    3. Metric - Synthetica
    4. Knife Party - Rage Valley EP
    5. The Flaming Lips - The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends
    6. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...
    7. Serj Tankian - Harakiri
    8. The Shins - Port of Morrow
    9. Beach House - Bloom
    10. Rococode - Guns, Sex, & Glory
    11. First Aid Kit - The Lion's Roar
    12. Alt-J - An Awesome Wave
    13. Chairlift - Something
    14. Lemonade - Diver
    15. Andrew Bird - Break It Yourself

    My least favourites are:
    1. Garbage - Not Your Kind Of People
    2. Perfume Genius - Put Your Back N 2 It
    3. Ministry - Relapse
    4. Damon Albarn - Dr. Dee
    5. Death Grips - The Money Store
    6. Actress - R.I.P.
    7. John Talabot - fin
    8. Rocket Juice and The Moon - Rocket Juice and The Moon
    9. Battles - Drop Gloss
    10. Air - La Voyage Dans La Lune

  • LamontRaymond  

    Torche is damned good.

  • LittleLondon  

    My Favorites are...
    1- Beach House Bloom
    2- Grimes Visions
    3- Fiona Apple The Idler Wheel...
    4- Chromatics Kill For Love
    5- The Shins Port Of Morrow
    6- Sleigh Bells Reign Of Terror
    7- Marina and The Diamonds Electra Heart
    8- Santigold Master Of My Make-Believe
    9- Regina Spektor What We Saw For The Cheaps Seats
    10- Cloud Nothings Attack On Memory

    11- The Walkmen Heaven
    12- Dawn Richard Armor On
    13- El-P Cancer 4 Cure
    14- Niki and The Dove Instinct
    15- Hot Chip In Our Heads

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