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The Best Albums of 2012 So Far: Leonard Cohen, Esperanza Spalding + More

77-year-old Leonard Cohen has one of 2012's best albums so far.
77-year-old Leonard Cohen has one of 2012's best albums so far.
Marc Andrew Deley, Getty Images

We're one-quarter of the way through the year, and it's never too early to start thinking about the best albums of 2012. Which records have impressed us most so far? Here are five that stand out, presented in random order.

Esperanza Spalding, "Radio Music Society"
People are paying a lot more attention to this young star after her shocking Best New Artist win at the 2011 Grammys.

Most singers start winning awards after they go pop, but Spalding actually won the Grammy for her jazz style and is now moving in more of a pop direction. "Radio Music Society" is still far from "mainstream" pop, but the new album is warm, exotic and appealing.

Leonard Cohen, "Old Ideas"
At age 77, Leonard Cohen scored the highest-charting album of his career when "Old Ideas" entered the charts at #3. Many of Cohen's arrangments, like "Going Home" and "Darkness," still sound stuck in the '80s, but Cohen's voice alone makes them haunting and powerful. The man who brought us "Hallelujah" is as good as ever.

Sleigh Bells, "Reign of Terror"
Sleigh Bells' debut "Treats" was a blast of manic energy and our favorite album of 2010. The dissonance of the searing guitar solos paired with delicate female vocals made that record impossible to resist, and their new effort, "Reign of Terror," is more of the same.

Sure, the band may want to say it's more experimental, more melodic in places, but it's basically still just loud noise with hooks. And there's no reason to dramatically change such a winning formula.

The Shins, "Port of Morrow"
Frontman James Mercer fired his band are started over before recording "Port Morrow," his first release in five years. The impressive "Simple Song" and "Bait and Switch" were both released before the album and helped build anticipation, and the group's Saturday Night Live performance helped add to the buzz as well.

The Ting Tings, "Sounds From Nowheresville"
The Ting Tings wanted to make an album that was like an iPod playlist, where each song sounds completely different than the one before. "Hit Me Down Sonny" is almost a rap song. "Day by Day" has a '90s R&B edge. There are catchy pop songs and ballads across this diverse album. But they all retain the spirit and energy the Ting Tings are known for.

Check out more of my Chicago live music articles.


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