Frontier Psychiatrist

The Top 30 Albums of 2012 (So Far): 30-11

Posted on: June 26, 2012

I listen to hundreds of new records each year, and so I feel that I am as qualified as anyone to say that 2011 kind of sucked.  Of course, like every year, there were a handful of outstanding releases, but there was a genuine lack of depth in the field.  When the time came to fill in our year-end lists, coming up with 25-50 records that really felt like they belonged proved challenging to say the least.

No such problem in 2012.  Already there have been more excellent releases than I care to count, so much so that our lists have undergone almost daily post-deadline revision.  Hip-hop and straight-up guitar-based rock in particular have seem rejuvenated this year, as is reflected in the list below.  While some of the year’s most lauded releases just didn’t strike a chord with our staff (Beach House, Grimes), and others have not been in the world long enough for us to digest (Fiona Apple), there is more than enough good music below to keep you satisfied through the hot summer months.  And so, without further ado, the first part of our Top 30 Albums of 2012 so far:

30. Spaceghostpurrp – Mysterious Phonk: The Chronicles of Spaceghostpurrp

In a rap underground populated by outsized personalities (many of whom appear below), Spaceghostpurrp is something of an anomaly.  As we learned earlier this year from his performance at South by Southwest, the man is something of a solitary figure, an introvert insofar as anyone who stands in front of an audience with a microphone can be. He also happens to be the funkiest motherfucker in hip-hop, as evidenced by his excellent (if awkwardly titled) full-length debut. Spaceghost’s flow can be a tad awkward at times, and his lyrical content can be a tad unsettling (my wife just now: “this is not appropriate morning music!”), but for anyone who likes to nod his head, Mysterious Phonk is as absorbing at it gets.  -LVL

Spaceghostpurrp – “No Evidence (Edit)”

29. Lana del Rey – Born to Die

Born To Die was so controversial in the FP offices that it took Leo Lopez and I several thousand words and four epistolary articles to decide if we loved or hated the record.  With her fake name, fake backstory, and overnight viral success, Del Rey is easy to hate. Her sense of pitch is shaky, her lyrics are trite and pretentious, and her sex symbol persona seems affected, reactionary, and anti-feminist. One FP staff writer dubbed her “Britney Spears for hipsters.” But hype and backlash aside, Born to Die is a gem: or at least half of a gem. While the second half of the record is mostly maudlin and mediocre, the first six songs are impeccable pop. Think Lady Gaga without the grandiosity or the meat dress. Like Diet Mountain Dew –the name of one of her catchiest songs—Del Rey’s music is sweet, saccharine, and scrumptious, even if it’s ultimately bad for your health. – KLM

Lana del Rey – “Born To Die”

28. The Tallest Man On Earth – There’s No Leaving Now

Kristian Matsson is, with the possible exception of Justin Vernon, the greatest folk troubadour of this young decade.  While his first two records were exercises in folk sparsity, his latest finds him experimenting with overdubs and instrumental variety.  While this might turn off some of his oldest fans (change always does), his exceptional songwriting only benefits from the expanded palette.  Be prepared to shed a tear.  -LVL

The Tallest Man on Earth – “1904”

27. Robert Glasper – Black Radio

Glasper’s fifth record is a jazz album that refuses to be pigeonholed as such, occupying the middle ground between Wynton Marsalis-approved family fare and the experimental edge of young artists like Mary Halvorson, whose volume swells and plucking behind the bridge I saw on display at Littlefield and The Stone. Glasper shows reverence for tradition; as FP’s Wayan Zoey reported his set in March at the Highline Ballroom opened with tunes by John Coltrane, Roy Ayers, and Herbie Hancock. But he also embraces hip-hop and R&B, as highlighted by Black Radio’s guest vocalists Mos Def and Erikah Badu. It’s not exactly a new move: Precursors include everyone from Hancock and Gil Scot Heron in the ’70s to Digable Planets and Guru’s Jazzmatazz series. But Glasper seems determined to make it new. As he said in an April 2012 Downbeat interview: “I’ve gotten bored with jazz to the point where I wouldn’t mind something bad happening. Slapping hurts, but at some point it’ll wake you up. I feel like jazz needs a big-ass slap.” – KLM

26. Screaming Females – Ugly

I’ve never really been interested in the voices of rock singers.  If you happen to be, then I will conceded that Screaming Females might not be for you.  Marissa Paternoster’s barks and bellows might be off-putting to some, but what Ugly lacks in soothing serenades, it more than makes up for in punk energy and face-melting shred-ation.  Seriously: this record will kick your ass.  So stop whining about the singing.  -LVL

25. Poliça – Give You The Ghost

The spacey R&B of Poliça (pronounced POH-LISA) was among the best shows we saw this year at South by Southwest. Led by the hypnotic voice and stage presence of Channy Moon Cassell, formerly of Roma di Luna and the lead female singer in Gayngs, The band also includes two drummers, a move favored by the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead in their respective heydays. But Poliça is no jam band with 20-minute drum or guitar solos. Their songs are pure pop: smoky, seductive, and as as haunting as the album’s title suggests. -KLM

24. Heems – Nehru Jackets

I have been an unrepentant apologist for Das Racist on these pages over the past two years; as far as I’m concerned, they’re the most unique thing to happen to hip-hop since the Beastie Boys of Paul’s Boutique.  Turns out not everyone feels this way.  The groups’ hyper-referential style and arcane sense of humor can at times give the impression that one must pass an entrance exam to enjoy their albums.  Thankfully, Heems’ Nehru Jackets mixtape, released in January, manages to incorporate a new accessibility into Das Racist’s style, and as a result it stands as their best record yet.  Furthermore, with appearances by Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire, Danny Brown, Action Bronson, Big Baby Gandhi, Fat Tony and more, the tape is nothing short of a primer for the new hip-hop underground.  It’s only a matter of time before every hipster in Brooklyn is donning a Nehru Jacket…or has that happened already-LVL

Heems feat. Danny Brown and Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire – “You Have to Ride the Wave”

23. Dustin Wong – Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads

One man. One guitar. Eight effects petals. Thousands of loops. Two happy ears. -PTL

Dustin Wong – “Pink Diamond”

22. Ramona Falls – Prophet

Ramona Falls is the solo project of Brent Knopf, guitarist and frontman of Menomena, whom Leo Lopez once dubbed “the most interesting band in the world.” Unlike Menomena’s last album, on which the band wrote songs on a computer program called DEELER, Ramona Falls takes a back to the basics approach. Their sound is moody 80’s-inflected synth pop with melodic guitar lines. On June 14 at New York’s Mercury Lounge, Knopf –baby-faced, and impossibly skinny, even by hipster musician standards–performed most of Prophet in a trance, mostly on keyboard, occasionally on guitar, leaving the antics and banter to his hyperactive drummer, whose curly cone of hair seems inspired by The Simpsons’ Sideshow Bob. The band hails from Portland, which Knopf described at the show as a few stops west of Brooklyn on the L Train. –KLM

Ramona Falls – “Brevony”

21. Every Time I Die – Ex-Lives

If you aren’t open-minded enough to enjoy some seriously heavy tracks, Ex-Lives won’t necessarily change your stance. But those willing to venture into riff-territory sans judgment will learn that it’s one of the best party records of the year. You just got to find the right party. Take Every Time I Die seriously, and you’ll miss the point. -PTL

20. Chairlift – Something

I saw a profile of these two on CNN the other day.  I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.  I am sure the album is good though.  -LVL

19. High On Fire – De Vermis Mysteriis

Kicking ass, getting stoned, Chinese alchemy and time travel have never been fused this well before. -PTL

18. Joyce Manor – Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired

Why not just skip all the emo-revivalism and go straight for the good stuff? This California punk foursome creates an alternate universe, in which Cap’n Jazz, Jawbreaker and Lifetime never broke up. You’d be hard pressed to find a more lean album this year: in just 13 minutes, these nine tracks cut to the core of post-grad angst in the days of smartphones and 3D movies. -PTL

17. Lotus Plaza – Spooky Action At A Distance

As a rule, side projects are not to be trusted.  Lotus Plaza, the solo project of Deerhunter guitarist Lockett Pundt, is the exception that proves the rule.  Featuring Deerhunter’s signature mix of hook-laden anthems and high-concept digressions, often within a single track, Spooky Action at a Distance proves Pundt to be a talented songwriter in his own right, one whose contributions to his more well-known band will have to be more closely followed from this point forward.  -LVL

16. Anais Mitchell – Young Man In America

This winter I belatedly fell in love with Hadestown, Anais Mitchell’s rollicking retro folk opera version of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth featuring guest vocals from Justin Vernon, Greg Brown, and blast from the past Ani DiFranco. Her fifth album, Young Man in America, has a stripped down feel that focuses on Mitchell’s baby-doll warble. Her set At South by Southwest –performed at midnight in an Episcopal church—was among the festival highlights, with masterful musicianship and moody melancholy. As announced on Monday, she will be opening this fall for Bon Iver. -KLM

15. Japandroids – Celebration Rock

Every now and then, a band comes along with that “rock n’ roll savior” sound.  Most of these bands collapse under the weight of their own mediocrity (The Killers) or their own pretense (The Hold Steady), but on rare occasion such a band has just the right mix of earnestness, energy, and songwriting chops to release a record that can be forgiven for its excesses.  Japandroids are such a band, and Celebration Rock is such a record. -PTL

14. Rodrigo y Gabriela – Area 52

With all due respect to Ry Cooder and his Cuban compatriots, maybe the nation’s Latin restaurants will give Buena Vista Social Club a break after 13 years and replace it with Area 52, anchored by a sizzling 12-piece Cuban big band. And maybe Activision will release Guitar Hero: Rodrigo y Gabriela and give gamers’ thumbs and fingers a more challenging workout.  One can always dream. -KLM

13. BBU – bell hooks

An excellent answer to anyone trying to argue that Watch the Throne is the “new black power,” BBU’s bell hooks mixtape is as militant as it is fun. Let’s hope this trend catches on. -PTL

BBU – “26th & Cali”

12. The Royalty – Lovers

Why do good girls fall for bad boys? This is the central question of the debut album by power pop band The Royalty. Contrary to its innocuous title, Lovers is filled with liars, cheaters, drunks, emotional abusers, and commitment phobes, all memorialized in song by Nicole Boudreau, one of the year’s most dynamic and mesmerizing singers. On Lovers, the volume, force, intensity, and urgency of her voice projects confidence, strength, sass, and resilience. At various turns, she wails like Janis Joplin, croons like Amy Winehouse, rocks like Hayley Williams of Paramore, and occasionally slips into Broadway musical mode. There’s nothing restrained about Boudreau’s performance; she pours her heart and soul into every note. At the end of a studio session or show, her microphone might need a few Advil. Much of the music is in the emo pop spirit for which the band’s label Victory Records is best known. But The Royalty also salts their sound with neo-soul grooves, surf rock guitar lines, and doo-wop backing vocals and handclaps. Like many poets and songwriters before her, Boudreau compares love to intoxication, addiction, magic, and witchcraft. –all chemical and psychological states that subdue reason and logic. –KLM

11. Ty Segall Band – Slaughterhouse/Ty Segall & White Fence – Hair

Ty Segall’s first release with his touring band, and his second of three for the year, is a perfect answer to anyone trying to claim that breaking bands don’t have as much interest rock and roll. With humongous guitars played at blistering speeds, Slaughterhouse is both the most aptly named album of the year, as well as having the most fitting album art. This just came out this week, so it’s entirely likely that it will climb the ranks in time for our end of the year list. -PTL

Ty Segall Band – “Wave Goodbye”

Check back tomorrow for our top 10 albums of 2012 so far. 

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2 Responses to "The Top 30 Albums of 2012 (So Far): 30-11"

[…] Home The Top 30 Albums of 2012 (So Far): 30-11 […]

[…] -Japandroids -Dirty Projectors – Burning off the release of Swing Lo Magellan, Dirty Projectors provided the most satisfying and stimulating performance of the day. Their show succeeded most in its humanity and reality, two traits missing in too many of this weekend’s performances. David Longstreth’s attention to detail is as apparent live as it is on the record, but his left field approach to pop songwriting is more digestible and enjoyable when experienced in person. […]

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Listening To:

Sons of Dionysus


A Transmedia Novel of Myth, Mirth, and the Magical Excess of Youth.