Halfway through 2012, we've already heard tons of great new music. Here's an unranked list of 40 of the year's best albums so far, as selected by Rolling Stone editors – from Bruce to Best Coast, Grimes to Garbage and much more.
On his 17th studio album, Springsteen offers bracing honesty to a broken nation.
Read the RS review: "Wrecking Ball is the most despairing, confrontational and musically turbulent album Bruce Springsteen has ever made . . . This is darkness gone way past the edge of town, to the heart of the republic."
Huge riffs, wild ideas, tunes for miles: White's solo debut is a classic.
Read the RS review: "Blunderbuss gets stranger and more fascinating the closer you listen. It doesn't give up any of the man's secrets. And make no mistake: That's exactly how Jack White wants it."
Neil finally calls Crazy Horse back into action, and torches the "kindergarten" folk canon.
Read the RS review: "There's an undeniable WTF factor in hearing these Cub Scout singalong ditties drowned in guitar feedback and off-key yelling. But that's the goofball charm."
Apple's first LP since 2005 is full of cold truths and her most raw music yet.
Read the RS review: "She pours out her distress on driving songs with lyrics that mix romantic poetry and therapy-speak – Byron by way of Oprah."
Soul-searching meets classic folk rock as Mayer takes on his recent past.
Read the RS review: "Mayer is confessional and a little chastened on Born and Raised . . . The stylistic change-up and unburdening tone make for some of the most convincing music of Mayer's career."
Over-the-top noise meets heavy-breathing romance on the duo's thrilling second album.
The long view on sex, love and God, from a 77-year-old master.
Read the RS review: "Dylan dreamed he saw St. Augustine. Cohen has walked the earth trying to be St. Augustine . . . The lyrics on Old Ideas reach for the stark power of prayers, hymns and religious riddles."
Read the RS review: "The album plays like another episode in the longtime struggle between Mike Love's fun-in-the-sun agenda and Brian Wilson's grander, darker themes. It's part class reunion, part Requiem for a Beach Boy."
• RS Live: Beach Boys Play Their Classics
• Brian Wilson: 'I Don't Think I Look or Act 70'
• Mike Love Books Beach Boys Shows Without Brian Wilson
• RS Playlist: The Beach Boys, 'Pacific Coast Highway'
The Cleveland garage crew hits ragged glory with a Nineties-style guitar assault.
Read the RS review: "Producer Steve Albini makes sure you feel every snare slap and guitar abrasion, and if Attack on Memory's eight songs only last about as long as an episode of Seinfeld, that's OK – it's as fun as one too."
Regular-gal-turned-star Bethany Cosentino amps up the drama and the sunny hooks.
Read the RS review: "[Producer Jon Brion] sweeps away the debut's low-fi fuzz, while Cosentino dramatically steps up her vocal presence on tunes like the tear-in-your-beer ballad 'No One Like You.'"
The Vancouver duo make distortion-soaked indie rock that's built to dominate stadiums.
Southern rap's top political theorist finds his voice.
Read the RS review: "This Dirty South fixture has evolved into the Noam Chomsky of the strip club, and his sixth LP is his best blast of down-home invective yet."
Smith follows her award-winning 2010 memoir, Just Kids, with more fierce word-slinging.
Read the RS review: "[Banga] has some sweet moments of song. But the real magic happens when words start flying off the grooves."
The hot-shit New York rapper sets off a housequake.
Read the RS review: "Four tracks – including her breakthrough single, '212,' and more shit talk than you'd get at a Friday night nail salon – that spin hip-hop backward and forward . . . More, please."
An indie-pop master comes back with a grander sound and sharper hooks.
Read the RS review: "On the first Shins record in five years, [James Mercer] nails a balance of economy and sweep, matching the studio lushness he craves with the secondhand melodicism that made [2004's] 'New Slang' resonate beyond the vegan cookouts of his base in Portlandia."
Elegant guitar jams meet avant-roots tunes as a blues-rock master returns.
Read the RS review: "['You Can't Fail Me Now'] is mood music with a razor edge, pain fronting as bliss, delivered by a vet who understands that the blues are often about just that."
The New Orleans master brings voodoo funk into the 21st century, with help from a Black Key.
Read the RS review: "Full of muscled, vintage R&B grooves, fevered soloing, psychedelic arrangements and oracular mumbo jumbo, it's the wildest record Rebennack has made in many years. And it announces [Dan] Auerbach's arrival alongside Danger Mouse as an A-list retro-modern studio scientist."
Catchy cuteness meets ace young-urbanite vignettes on the New York band's debut.
Read the RS review: "Amber Papini's lyrics keep the merry-sounding tunes grounded in reality . . . The melodies are stickier than hot tar, but it's those vivid little scenes that lodge in your head the longest."
New York disco orchestra gives the mirror ball a spin on its debut LP.
Read the RS review: "Got lamé? If not, this 17-member New York collective are offering the aural equivalent: a wickedly catchy, note-perfect return to the heyday of disco, with every high-hat sizzle and string shiver glittering like spangled hot pants."
Shirley Manson returns, still spitting fire amid hallucinatory rock thrills.
Read the RS review: "There are enough effects and musical fight sequences to make Michael Bay jealous, but trickery means nothing without a sympathetic star . . . So even at her most cynical, on 'I Hate Love,' [Manson] remains hopeful and hungry for more."
A queen of chill brings in Danger Mouse for a groovier, more adventurous sound.
Read the RS review: "Norah Jones sometimes gets derided for being too downtempo – which, really, is like hating on peaches for being juicy. But her fifth album . . . both picks up her pace and pumps up her palette."
Das Racist MC's mixtape is a comic, caustic brain dump.
Read the RS review: "Himanshu snipes at the NYPD ('New York's spineless'), Whole Foods ('I be at bodegas') and his own success ('I went from 'Why bother?' to 'Fuck it, yo, I'll holla for the mighty dolla'') with a grown-up stoner's finesse."
Read the RS review: "'Just let me be your ticket home,' [singer Brittany Howard] pleads on 'You Ain't Alone.' Home might be a one-room shack in the backwoods somewhere, so bring your own bottled water. This party might last a while."
The West Coast MC takes off with steely-eyed swagger and smoky beats.
Read the RS review: "The ex-Crip's pusherman realism is emotionally hard and murky, and his tracks are dense and dark-tinted, more Wu-steeped trip-hop than Cali-funk."
Scotsmen craft art pop full of hooks, wit and weirdness.
Read the RS review: "[Django Django] take a light, spry approach to their groove-centered music, which is experimental but never dour . . . Wherever they travel, Django Django sound relaxed and joyful."
Billy Corgan is as epic as ever, and a little more Zen.
The Malian duo make Afropop that stretches from Bamako to Bushwick.
Read the RS review: "Africa's great husband-wife duo bring their trance vocals and shredding guitar grooves to Brooklyn, where they rock out with Santigold, members of TV on the Radio and others . . . The result is cultural exchange with ears pricked high."
The singer-songwriter turns complicated love into slo-mo stunners.
Read the RS review: "Tramp plays like a female version of Beck's Sea Change, setting spacey guitar hum, tidal rhythms and pass-the-Xanax melodies against lyrics about silent love and bad timing . . . Your soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend will have this on blast."
The Baltimore bliss-makers tap into their dark side.
Read the RS review: "On the Baltimore duo's fourth album, there's a bitch of a storm blowing in . . . Yet the melodies, guitarscapes and thrift-shop organ swells make for exquisite comfort."
The L.A. collective stretches out, with folk fantasias, psychedelic jams, "Kumbaya" country.
Read the RS review: "Much of the LP has a post-Altamont, let's-be-mellow-around-the-campfire vibe (see gospel-soul tunes like 'That's What's Up') minus that era's sense of spiritual depletion. It's the kind of magical revisionism you can attempt 45 years down the line. And they damn near pull it off."
A dusty-booted craftsman nods to Southern soul.
Read the RS review: "Thematically, [Earle] continues his chronicle of a life balanced (barely) on the edge. Love is elusive; the legacy of his father, Steve Earle, is a blessing and a curse, and the road exhausts and exhilarates."
She and Him's him mixes up folky beauty, rough-cut gems.
Read the RS review: "If Matt Ward tends to be overlooked among indie rock's greatest talents, it's because dude hangs back – behind Zooey Deschanel in She and Him, behind Conor Oberst and Jim James in Monsters of Folk, behind the scenes as collaborator . . . But his own LPs show why everyone wants to be his friend."
The U.K. band makes old jangle-pop moves sound fresh, with sharp wit and tunes that don't quit.
Read the RS review: "What sets them apart are [singer Elizabeth Morris'] understated wit – 'They could name a star after you and you'd still be complaining,' she sings on 'Neil Armstrong' – and the clear enthusiasm of her bandmates, who hurtle through every jangly chord change like they're falling into a new romance."
The soul great and Gorillaz mastermind Damon Albarn roll into the future.
Read the RS review: "He's at home testifying over coolly throbbing beats, and on the anti-war title track Womack pleads for brotherly forgiveness over an ominous, jazz-tinged creeping – a classic sentiment updated for the era of drone attacks and wiretaps."
The pop star plays with funk, rave-ups and "Uptown Girl."
Read the RS review: "The only thing that rings false on Usher's seventh LP is the title: If there's anyone in music who doesn't have an identity crisis, it's Usher Raymond."
The pop star delivers all the disco sleaze and cheddar bombs you can eat.
Read the RS review: "So here's the great pop album everybody was hoping Adam Lambert would make, ever since he ran wild on American Idol three years ago . . . All over Trespassing, Glambert sings everything like Zeus in a thong."
The songwriting heir makes a big, friendly L.A.-pop album.
Read the RS review: "[Wainwright's] formal mastery is so complete it's hilarious, like Albert Pujols playing stickball . . . 'Barbara' (featuring Wilco guitarist Nels Cline) is an ace take on Michael McDonald yacht-rock fluff, while the title track disses mainstream 'suckers' in lush harmony over a Steely Dan-ish strut."
The Montreal indie-pop auteur creates a blog-buzz magnet.
Read the RS review: "[Claire] Boucher, who cooked up this music in her bedroom using GarageBand, is full of interesting rhythmic and melodic ideas. At its finest, Visions is like Etsy Timbaland: catchy, eerily minimalist electro soul, poked and prodded by unsettling beats."