The 12 Best Albums Of 2012… So Far

There’s already been lots of great new albums released so far in 2012, and there is always the danger that the early runners miss out when it comes to end of year lists, so why not celebrate them now? Here’s my 12 favourite releases at the moment, in no particular order…
Beth Jeans Houghton & The Hooves Of Destiny – Yours Truly Cellophane Nose
It’s hard to know which name’s more odd, ‘The Hooves Of Destiny’ or ‘Yours Truly Cellophane Nose’, but none of that matters as Houghton has delivered on all of the promise and hype that has surrounded her for a few years. Yours Truly… showcases her for both conventional and unconventional folk music, with some songs beautiful and fragile (Dodecahedron) and others causing quite a racket, not least the closing few minutes of raw rock noise at the end of Carousel.
Gregory Porter – Be Good
There’s always a tendency to be wary of musicians who get the ringing endorsement of Jools Holland, especially jazz singers. It’s not quite the same as the wave of Michael Parkinson-favoured Radio 2 singer-songwriters from a few years back, but still. However, Gregory Porter is the real deal, and his second album is a genuine classic, with smooth-but-powerful vocals in the mould of Nat King Cole and some amazing instrumental work that brings tracks like Work Song to life. This ain’t Michael Buble.
Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas
Cohen’s career has waxed and waned over the last few decades, with bursts of activity and long spells of silence, so it is fantastic that he’s followed his sensational recent return to the live arena with a new album. And it’s even better that it’s a really good album. His voice now sounds even more apocalyptic than before and the synthesisers that dominated his music since the mid-80s have been replaced with more subtle acoustic sounds that echo those wonderful live shows. These may not be new ideas, but they’re damn good ones.
Van Halen – A Different Kind Of Truth
Van Halen Mk.1 have kept their fans waiting much longer than Leonard Cohen for a new album, with this one coming close to 30 years since David Lee Roth was last on-board for 1984. A lot has happened in that time, but the band hadn’t released a new album at all since the late 90s, all of which makes it surprising that A Different Kind Of Truth is so very good. DLR is on top vocal form throughout, but the real revelation is that Eddie Van Halen’s guitar work sounds as fresh and energetic as it did way back in the day.
Lambchop – Mr. M
Lambchop have been much more consistent in their delivery of the goods than Van Halen, but that doesn’t make it any less remarkable that Kurt Wagner and Co have released another great album. It’s a long time since their peak of popularity with Nixon, and they’re generally more low-key than that these days, but there’s still some gorgeously lush moments on Mr. M, especially on the instrumentals.
Lana Del Rey – Born To Die
Few have gone from darling to pariah on the internet quicker than Lana Del Rey, so it’s no wonder she was almost in tears when she won a Brit Award recently. But when the dust settles, hopefully more people will start to give her album the credit it deserves. Her ‘gangsta Nancy Sinatra’ schtick is hardly groundbreaking, but songs like Video Games and Born To Die are still great songs and the album as a whole does what it does very well.
Therapy? – A Brief Crack Of Light
Their 11th album finds Therapy? in a very comfortable place, having long ago found their niche somewhere between the noise of their earliest recordings and the slightly-more-radio-friendly hits of their mid-90s peak. A Brief Crack Of Light sees them doing what they do best, like only they can do it, on tracks like Before You, With You, After You and Get Your Dead Hand Off My Shoulder, while successfully experimenting with a very different style on closer Ecclesiastes.
Nada Surf – The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy
When you’ve found a niche, it’s always tricky to know whether to stick with it or try something new. Nada Surf found theirs ten years ago and have released a string of great power pop albums since then. This latest release doesn’t stray from the formula at all, but is all the better for it, with some of their finest work so far on songs like The Future, Teenage Dreams and Jules And Jim. There’s no shame in keeping on doing what you’ve done before when you keep getting better at it.
Mark Lanegan – Blues Funeral
It’s been far too long since we had a new Mark Lanegan album (a new Screaming Trees album would also be nice, but that’s probably hoping for too much), as he’s been busy working with the likes of Greg Dulli, Queens Of The Stone Age and Isobel Campbell. That’s all been good stuff, particularly those wonderful transatlantic duet albums, but it’s still great to have a first solo album (technically credited to Mark Lanegan Band) in eight years. Not that he sounds particularly enthused of course, the music is even more full of doom and gloom than the album title, but that’s what we want and expect from him.
Imperial Teen – Feel The Sound
Roddy Bottum’s musical career has been pretty impressive, having spent the first 15 years or so playing keyboards in Faith No More and subsequently branching out on his own in the poptastic Imperial Teen. They’ll have confounded any FNM fans whose tastes in camp pop don’t stretch any further than Be Aggressive, but their blend of boy/girl harmonies and lovely melodic guitar music is irresistible and their first album in five years (Bottum has been touring with a reunited FNM) is another thing of rare beauty. If there was justice in the world, they’d be as big as his ‘other’ band.
Sleigh Bells – Reign Of Terror
When you burst onto the scene to great acclaim for your unique sound, it’s always going to be tricky to follow it up. So it’s no surprise that Reign Of Terror has been met by a rather less enthusiastic response than the first Sleigh Bells album, but if you look past the hype, it’s another really good collection of songs. Obviously they’ve reined in some of the ‘trademark’ extravagant sounds and there’s a slightly more subtle approach on some tracks, but they still work well and it shows that their style of music is more than just a gimmick.
Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball
The Boss has never been one for gimmicks, but when a good theme comes along, he’s not averse to running with it. The theme for Wrecking Ball is obvious from the opening song, and he’s not a happy man, railing against politicians, bankers and all of the people who’ve ruined America. However, the anger comes through in the lyrics more than the music, with Springsteen taking influences from all kinds of sources to come up with a diverse but cohesive musical palate and some absolutely storming songs.
School Of Seven Bells – Ghostory
The phrase goes ‘never work with children or animals’, but you could probably add ‘family members’ to that list too. Since their last incredible album, School Of Seven Bells have lost one third of their line-up and half of their twin Deheza sisters, which could have been a crippling blow to what was looking like a really promising career. Instead, they’ve returned as a two-piece with another brilliant album of dreamy shoegazing pop music. They may not get the press or the hits, but they’re really one of the best bands around at the moment.
Tennis – Young & Old
When Patrick Riley and his wife Alaina Moore went on a sailing expedition and decided to make an album about it, they came up with one of last year’s most underrated records, the wistfully nostalgic Cape Dory. Resisting to follow it up with a holiday memoir of a trip to Margate, they’ve come back with a second album lacking a nautical theme but still packed with gorgeous indie pop songs. Like Sleigh Bells, they’ve shown that there’s more to them than a mere gimmick.

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