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Midway Roundup: Our 2012 Favorites So Far

written by: on July 11, 2012

Having reached the halfway point in the year, our writers have compiled a short list of their favorite albums of 2012 so far. We highly recommend you visit or revisit these 15 releases. 

Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself

A logical next step from 2009’s Noble Beast, Bird’s latest offering has the same rustic charm, but instead of utilizing the studio to layer and enhance the sound, he this time opts to record with a live band in his barn. The result is undeniably organic, with Bird letting loose on the violin like we haven’t heard before. Indeed, the band jams out a little bit on Break It Yourself, but never to the point of excess. Even the 8-minute “Hole in the Ocean Floor” floats on by with its length unnoticed – sheer beauty can do that. The man may not be one of today’s visionaries, but he certainly occupies his own space in the music world, a space that everyone should visit at least once this year. -Chris Favata


Beach House – Bloom

 Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally don’t sound like they’re from Baltimore. In fact, their twinkly compositions (as dream pop duo Beach House) are majestically alien, perking the ears of listeners who have grown accustomed to the usual bombast of American indie rock. Bloom is their fourth studio album, and also their best— an ethereal, melancholic dreamscape that is not of this world. The lovely European lilt of French-born Legrand’s vocals, combined with the psychedelic harmony of Scally’s keyboard and guitar, infuse this record with a kind of dark and layered beauty that feels enchantingly unreal. -Leah Pickett


Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory

It’s about time somebody led the attack. Dylan Baldi’s Cloud Nothings project is a real band now, and after two albums of bubbly noise pop, Attack on Memory shows optimism turning to bitterness in real time. “I thought…I would…be more…than thiiis,” Baldi shouts over the rolling thunder of “Wasted Days”, at a time when his generation is gearing up to pay for its parents’ mistakes, wading in the reality of failed dreams and still being called entitled. It’s a chilling climax made all the more effective by its numbing repetition, like a hell you can’t wake up from. -Alex Bahler


Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel

Once every decade, we’re enlightened by some of the most unique combinations of words and most brilliant images painted by a woman’s voice. Fiona Apple is almost unbearably weird, but still, every time, it makes sense. But still, every time, it’s never enough. The Idler Wheel… represented creativity to the maximum degree, combining Apple’s rawest writings with the sweetest melodies for an incredibly real experience. Let’s hope it stays this way–so concrete, so consistent–because what she brings out is never short of brilliant every single time. -Jason Radford


Glen Hansard – Rhythm and Repose

 For the first time in his seasoned career, Glen Hansard is finally hitting the studio solo with the release of Rhythm and Repose. While maintaining his masterful melancholy prose, Hansard uses 11 stripped-down tracks to carve himself a unique artistic identity, one that won’t be soon forgotten. “You Will Become” has been a longtime live staple and finds its rightful home as an emotionally charged opener for the tender and reflective album. Proclamations of hopelessness, like “Philander,” are nestled between uncharacteristically optimistic (“Song of Good Hope”) and complex (“Talking With Wolves”) compositions. With his debut album, Hansard hits emotional nerves and chords as mercilessly as his distressed Takamine. And how can that be a bad thing when it’s so hauntingly beautiful? -Shannon Shreibak


Grimes – Visions

Visions is Grimes’ (Claire Boucher) most impressive work to date and shows a limitless potential for the one-woman operation.  In an interview with Interview Magazine Boucher dubs her work “post-Internet” as opposed to limiting her sound to one genre; Boucher was exposed to myriad pop stimuli in the “age of the Internet” and so there is an inherent ubiquity to her sound.  Boucher cites a handful of influences: Disney soundtracks, Christina Aguilera and Mariah Carey among others.  At a first listen, Visions is poppy, silly and sensually chilling.  The second and third listens plant hooks in your ears.  2012 has ushered in a new pop terminator princess. -Evan Brown


James Blackshaw – Love Is the Plan, The Plan is Death

In a music environment of almost unbearable, deafening din, instrumental music often serves as thoughtful reprieve. For nearly ten years James Blackshaw, primarily armed with a twelve-string guitar, has stretched the boundaries of atmospheric, primarily instrumental folk music. His latest effort is a dirtier, more elemental affair, but plumes of beauty (the opening track) prove that while others may rely on the crutch of lyrical drama, James Blackshaw is aware of the weapon of a singular instrument. -Tyler Remmert



Japandroids – Celebration Rock

Hearing Japandroids for the first time is liking walking down an alley on a particularly pleasant valley sonic Sunday and hearing the most exuberant, giddy “Bawls to the wall rawk” emanating from a nearby garage.  Rats and cats are being driven into a frenzy by this blistering guitar action and machine gunning drums that weave a tapestry of punk and classic rock tropes into something new and engaging.  What’s even more astonishing is, when you stop in to pay your compliments, it turns out it’s just these two dudes from Vancouver shouting along and making all that racket.  With Post-Nothing this duo had thrown down a gauntlet, issuing a call to abandon all pretense of art and just rock with passion and have fun in the process.  If anything Celebration Rock is actually an improvement in both departments, and it’s a fun listen from beginning to end. It’s the sound of what the concluding cut calls “Continuous Thunder,” when the random crackle of guitar amp plugs has morphed into fireworks. -Craig Bechtel


The Men – Open Your Heart

The third album from Brooklyn’s The Men is a mess. It’s a beautiful one, though, where the band’s balls-meet-wall power pop rubs shoulders with burnt Americana (“Country Song”) and ’Mats-indebted strummers (“Candy”) that never overthink things, even for a second. There’s more variety here than ever, and if they’ve dialed down the stomach acid and vitriol, they’ve also managed to find a sound beyond the garage. True to its title, Open Your Heart is the best kind of populist indie rock – it’s clear these dudes know showmanship and songwriting don’t have to come at the expense of raw power. Don’t bother with trendy subgenre signifiers; it’s only rock ‘n’ roll, but you’ll like it. -Alex Bahler


Mouse on Mars – Parastrophics

Parastrophics proves that The Düsseldorf based avant-garde, post-techno duo are still sharp and relevenat after six years of collective inactivity.  Since 1994′s Vulvaland, Mouse on Mars has been an electronic chameleon of sorts.  MoM collaborated with The Fall’s Mark E. Smith in 2007 as Von Südenfed which calls to mind John Peel’s famous description of The Fall: “They are always different, they are always the same.”  The same could be said for Mouse on Mars as Parastrophics shows that St. Werner and Toma are constantly evolving as musicians but maintaining a distinctive sonic core.  Parastrophics seems to span three plus decades of krautrock, techno, electronica, IDM and house. -Evan Brown


Sharon Van Etten – Tramp

On Sharon Van Etten’s previous album—2010’s heartbreaking Epic—her wounds from an abusive ex-lover were still fresh and raw to the point of incapacity. But this year’s Tramp—an apt title for a woman bravely re-claiming her independence from a man—is a triumphant catharsis of healing scars. With this record, Van Etten proves that she can be just as introspective on an edgy, angst-ridden rock song (like the stand-out “Serpents”) as she can on a softer and more plaintive ballad. “You’re the reason why I’ll move to the city/You’re why I’ll need to leave” Van Etten laments on “Give Out”—but at least she’s the one doing the leaving now. -Leah Pickett


The Sidekicks – Awkward Breeds

Those of us rooted in punk can’t help the feeling of elation we get listening to the third album from The Sidekicks. It’s got that sense of urgency and it’s got raw emotion, but it’s also got tight musicianship and really strong hooks. The name Weezer gets thrown around a lot when trying to describe Awkward Breeds and that’s fair. If Rivers Cuomo layed the vocal track on “The Whale and Jonah,” nearly anyone would be fooled into thinking it was one of his lost classics. So while The Sidekicks inform their sound with Cuomo’s melodic sense, they pair it with the punk and folk elements that founded it, making for an exhilerating listen that may sadly be lost by listeners outside of the punk scene. -Chris Favata


Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light

A new Spiritualized record is always an occasion to celebrate, but lead singer, guitarist and songwriter Jason Pierce and company have outdone themselves and defied expectations at the same time.  Although given Pierce’s recent “drug/rehab/illness/near-death experience/rumors of my demise were greatly exaggerated” experience, it’s not the ethereal space age love song one might expect from the man who brought us Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space.  On the contrary, Sweet Heart Sweet Light is a far more linear and almost pop experience.  Though the namesake track, and perhaps the keystone, goes on for over eight minutes, it maintains a very rudimentary Velvet Underground throbbing rhythm and never ventures to far into the stratosphere.  It’s almost as if Pierce has decided to write pop songs and accent them with his majestic orchestral and choral flourishes, as opposed to making the flourishes the focus.  The bottom line:  these are great songs, whether played by one guy with an acoustic guitar at an open mic or The London Symphony Orchestra, and Spiritualized perfectly walk the tightrope between the two extremes. -Craig Bechtel


Stepdad – Wildlife Pop

Stepdad hit the mark with this pitch-perfect, summery electro-pop album. There’s absolutely no way to listen to this without wanting to dance your face off. “My Leather, My Fur, My Nails” and “Must Land Running” are two standout tracks, featuring triumphant synth and massively sing-along-able choruses. -Anna Holmquist




The Walkmen – Heaven

In 2002, The Walkmen’s first album, Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone, is a younger, scattered version of its present self. But over the past decade, The Walkmen has maintained their rock persona in the indie world, but have started to focus more seriously on themes and lyrics. Heaven does just a good of job as reflecting who The Walkmen are with a fluffy folk-tinge. Opening track “We Can’t Be Beat” opens with a gentle guitar lick and Paul Maroon’s vocals, and slowly speeds up and circles around a “ohh” chant. Heaven, the band’s arguably best album in quiet some time, shows the mature side of the New Yorkers as they sing about responsibility and love. -Kim Manning