The year's about half-over (cut us some slack, we're writers not mathematicians), so we'd like to take this opportunity to highlight ten of our favorite albums of 2012 up to this point in time. Our purpose is not to rank or review, but to recommend for your listening pleasures. Let's dive in, shall we?
BADBADNOTGOOD - BBNG2
Ignoring the lack of a Zelda medley, I find BBNG2 to be in every way an improvement over the already excellent debut from BADBADNOTGOOD. Their fusion of jazz and hip hop is further complimented by more experimentation, guest instrumentalists, and the increasing strength of their songwriting and musicianship. Seriously, my favorite tracks on this album are the original compositions like "CHSTR" and "Rotten Decay," but their interpretations of Odd Future beats and other popular fare are still present and still excellent. Even if you know nothing of jazz, this album is an enjoyable and accessible collection of songs that might just pique your interest in the genre. -Steve
Is there any other artist who is pushing the sound of dubstep as much as Burial? I may have only liked Untrue in an appreciative sense, but I love nearly everything about Kindred, which is both steeped in the quintessentially spooky Burial sound, yet also a step in a new direction for the project. Kindred exhibits a new focus on melody and song progression, effortlessly turning the minimally atmospheric nature of his older material into 10+ minute tracks that would work on a dance floor. Granted, it would have to be a dancefloor filled with dust, cobwebs, and dead memories, but it's a fun new direction for Burial that I look forward to following. -Steve
To call the music loud is an understatement in the world of Death Grips, the Sacramento experimental hip hop trio that began turning heads last year with a mixtape that ended up being YPOIW's second favorite album of 2011. The album's aggression should not be confused with mindlessness, however, because within the maximalistic beats, disturbing lyricism, and frontman Stefan Burnett's highly extreme vocal delivery, Death Grips pack a sense of purpose. The group certainly has a statement to make, and with the harsh and uncensored nature of their music, they make it clear that they don't intend to beat around the bush. -Danny
What can Jaime Meline do to innovate hip-hop more than he already has? It looks like he's still finding boundaries and buttons to push on Cancer 4 Cure. This late into an emcee's career, it's not uncommon to find him/her constantly putting out the same mediocre music and struggling for relevancy. This is not so with Meline. That he's released only 3 studio albums in 10 years proves that, for him, quality tramples over quantity. C4C is an album that may confuse and possibly disturb listeners with it's grisly lyrical content; it paints a dark picture of the world around us, a surrounding that can corrupt even the finest of us. But as El chants that he will not hail to this world, we can only hope that he continues to rebel also against the conventions of hip-hop and effectively soar over them. -Robby
Japandroids - Celebration Rock
This is an album fueled by alcohol-soaked youth anthems, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Throughout the entirety of Celebration Rock, Brian King and David Prowse offer up an unrelenting attack of rock. With tons of simple gang vocals like "Oh yeah! Alright!" and even more uses of the word "Oh!" these songs are catchy as hell and will probably stick in your mind like they have in mine. I'm sure Celebration Rock will be the soundtrack to the summer for many people, as I know it will be for me. -Mark
Can an album inhabit two worlds simultaneously? Can it be elusive experimental music and accessible indie pop? Can it be beautiful and frightening? Can it be the elements air and earth? Julia Holter proves that it is not only possible to be two opposites, but the state can also be a mastered art form. Wonderful (and not terrible) songs like “Marienbad” and “Goddess Eyes I and II” are Holter’s method of achieving ekstasis (the title of the album) and watching herself via out of body experience. Listening to these well-developed yet ethereal songs is like looking at yourself in the mirror and not recognizing what you see. It is a wonderful feeling of discovery that creates the ecstasy Holter tries to achieve. She succeeds. -TJ
While there certainly isn't a shortage of tortured artists on this planet, so many of them lack the deranged imagination of of Montreal frontman Kevin Barnes. Having killed off his alter ego Georgie Fruit, the middle aged African American transgender he assumed the role of for his most recent efforts, Paralytic Stalks viscerally expresses the devastation of having a part of one's being die and the psychic anguish that brings. Through an awesome array of Beatlesque pop, Floydian bombast, avant-garde classical composition, and aggressively sequenced beats, Barnes has constructed a modern masterpiece that challenges as much as it invites. -Alex
PS I Love You - Death Dreams
Death Dreams isn't an easy album to love; it's a little less frenetic and fast than their debut album Meet Me at the Muster Station, but it makes up for this with a wall of noise and muddiness that bleeds together with Paul Saulnier's often completely indecipherable vocals. Stylistically, the big change on this album is that the songs frequently surpass four and five-minute barriers. On "Red Quarter," a 90-second guitar solo is tacked onto the end of the song, and Paul says more with his guitar than he ever could hope to with his voice. As an album filled with dark themes and an even darker sound, the band calling it their Pinkerton in a recent interview with Exclaim.ca really isn't that far off, and the middling reaction to this album further cements that comparison. Maybe in five years Death Dreams will be considered an under-appreciated classic as well. -Kyle
Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light
Sometimes albums can leave lasting impact past their notes and sounds. With Sweet Heart Sweet Light, the world has such an album. The power of this record resonates, as shown in the way it begins and ends. “Hey Jane” provides the listener with instant catharsis for incredible pain while “So Long You Pretty Thing” paints a bittersweet picture of the phrase “good bye.” The melodies are powerful, the intense noise-rock sounds are powerful, the guitar solos are powerful, the repetition is powerful, but J. Spaceman sings with a lethargic drawl, tired, but no less full of life after all this time he’s endured the pains of cancer and crisis. The listener leaves Sweet Heart Sweet Light feeling much the same, which says a lot of the way Spiritualized relates human experience to us. This album is beautiful as it is important to rock n roll. -TJ
Much like his previous work with The Books, Nick Zammuto is master at creating records which are unable to be classified as one single genre, let alone any genre at all. On the debut record of his new project Zammuto, he doesn't take The Books sound and evolve it; he starts fresh and creates something entirely original and different. Tracks like "F U C-3PO" and "Weird Ceiling" are catchy like pop tunes, but have rhythms more akin to math rock and layers of sound more like avant garde noise music. Just when you thought the boundaries couldn't be pushed any further, Zammuto gives you something different to chew on. -Nick
We hope you hear something you like. What are your favorites albums of the year so far? Anything we've missed? Let us know in the comments!