So following the first part of our albums of the year countdown (albums 100-51) we’ve reached the beating heart of our list of albums for 2012, of course the top ten(which comes next week) may catch the eye more and take the plaudits. But in truth these are albums that our writers have individually championed, albums that haven’t left our turntables or spotify playlist charts over the past twelve months. Some are well known, others are curve balls but they are all cherished and have made an impact upon our little hearts this year. Tell us what you think…..
50 Big Joan – The Long, Slow Death of Big Joan
“Its ominous title notwithstanding, the Bristol fourpiece’s first release in six years sounded a very long way from a dying band. What it sounded more like was the end of the world. Metals clang and sirens wail through the record, none of which sounds like standing half a chance of knocking vocalist Annette from her sure-footed (if slightly crazed) stride. Around her, the clamouring instruments are like a machine of sound; dynamic, dramatic, dark, and more assuredly vital than almost anything else you’ll have heard this year. It really is like being run over by a tank. In a good way.” (Wes White)
49 Jesca Hoop – The House that Jack Built
“Jesca Hoop has been a stalwart of the alternative scene in America for a few years, working with the likes of Tom Waits and Guy Gurvey to secure top position in the ranks of best female inventor. But few could predict the absolute, empowering, majestic glory of her sixth studio album The House That Jack Built, a release that grinds its way through doom guitar territory via synth, low tempo electronica, pop and beautiful ballads about the recent death of her parents.” (Tiffany Daniels)
“At the very outset of Dave Okumu suggests this is serious. And it is serious, this is Mercury Prize nominated The Invisible’s second album Rispah. Soon all music will sound like this. It will all be a funky space incarnation, a fusion of guitar, bass and drums with a purely synthetic soul and it will be piped into all our public places from the public address systems of the future. It will seduce us with its hypnotic beat and stimulate us with its deeply discordant echoing voices. The strange sub-text of its off-kilter rhythm will subliminally encourage us to go about our daily business. And we will learn to love it in ways that we probably do not fully understand” (Simon Godley)
47 Flutes -Flutes
“Their fourth offering again starts very small in an almost disturbingly pretty way, like an old long-forgotten music box, and in what is becoming recognisable, gradually picking up the pace and that now unmistakable layered quality crafted piece by piece until it turns into something entirely other – dramatic, beautiful and alluring all at once. By now it’s clear that Flutes is an album full of surprises; you can never tell where it’ll head next, even after you become familiar with it. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of pattern or order either.
In another twist, ‘This Is A Lift’ couldn’t be more stripped back, clean, crisp vocals over an uncomplicated melody and instrumentation at a bare minimum; a stark contrast to the vast and at times overwhelming sounds of the rest of the album. They’ve almost come full- circle with final song ‘Sand’, in their winning formula of slight beginnings, and again with the many layers, gradually coming together in gorgeous, breathtaking swells that soon turns into something truly beautiful and something far bigger than you ever thought possible, overwhelming every sense and emotion, stirring your very soul and delighting the heart bringing what really is a truly stunning record to a close, leaving you desperate for so much more. Flutes really is a stunning debut, one to treasure and keep – easily one of the best of 2012, and Flutes are surely a band worth watching closely. I, for one, am eager for whatever could possibly come next.” (Toni-Spencer)
46 The Cribs – In the Belly of the Bull
“Many wondered how the Jarman brothers would fare with the loss of guitar legend Johnny Marr (who left the band to focus on his own work) and ITBOTBB silences those doubters and more, with comparisons to the likes of Nirvana and early Weezer ITBOTBB can be hailed as a punk rock triumph.” (Aaron Lewins)
45 Tom McRae – From the Lowlands
“Tom McRae the king of miser-acoustica returned with his 6th album “from the lowlands”. Even more downbeat than normal, Tom’s beautifully tendered melodies and soaring vocals make this album one of the must listen records of the year.”
“It was inevitable this was going to be on my top 100 list – even before hearing a single note. There simply is no other act on this god-forsaken planet that can match the majestic standards of Deftones. And for a band that are nearly 25 years into their career, that’s some feat. “Koi No Yokan” came as something of a surprise when its release was announced, purely because of the length of time its predecessor “Diamond Eyes” took to record. This was, of course, due to the tragic car accident, which affected their bassist Chi Cheng and from which he has yet to fully recover.
Hence the arrival of Sergio Vega from Quicksand, and the scrapping of a whole body of work originally coined as “Eros”, which the band have stated will eventually see the light of day. “Diamond Eyes” was hailed as a triumph after what felt like a bit of a dip in their career through parts of the 2000s, which meant there was a huge amount of pressure on “Koi No Yokan” to deliver the goods. What a relief then to find that Deftones
still put the majority of metal bands in existence to fucking shame. This is not an attempt to emulate “Diamond Eyes”, but a glorious evolution of that sound. Chino Moreno once again is the key force in the band. His vocals are as anguished as they are rapturous, and the instrumentation on offer is second to none – from the bouncy nu metal-esque “Swerve City” to the visceral sounds of “Poltergeist” and “Goon Squad” with some empyreal moments to be found in “Rosemary” and “Entombed”. This record is a reminder to any band who want to be seen as challenging and turbulent of how the masters play the game. There is no other act around that has released seven sublime records and with each one found new ways of pushing the boundaries. Right now, the only danger is that Deftones’ creative juices will run out of fuel, which of course, would be one of the saddest days we could contemplate. (Tom Willmot)
43 Tall Ships – Everything Touching
“Fifteen minutes of listening to a Tall Ships EP and I was hooked, the concern here was always whether they could drag that out over a forty minute album and the answer is yes. There isn’t one point during Everything Touching that I’m thinking “when will this end?” nor are there any fillers that deserve to be skipped. Don’t let this mislead you though, this album isn’t perfect, this isn’t going to be that debut that is so impossible to surpass that it breaks a band. There are sections of this album where you can truly say that the band have hit something brilliant but these are often dispersed with these typical indie NME moments that the band have picked up as they’ve obviously tried to become more immediate. However with songs as crowd friendly as Gallop entwined with the songs us old fans know and love, you know that Tall Ships are only going to get that little bit more popular and hopefully with that they will only get better. For now Everything Touching is a fantastic listen, and a great place to start on what will hopefully be a glittering career.” (Craig- Taylor Broad)
42 Dan Deacon – America
“You can hardly blame people for writing Dan Deacon off as slight, what with the xylophones and the cartoon samples. But the reason that his fans aren’t all kids and pill-popping rave fetishists – and his live shows are so unmissable – is because what you get from his music is a profound, euphoric emotional reaction, the kind that means he can sing about a castle with a fountain and ghosts and cats and pigs and bats because it really feels like he’s taking you there.
America takes the ball and doesn’t drop it; “Lots” and especially “True Thrush” (his strongest and sweetest single to date) bolster the formula with meticulous songcraft and attention to detail, making this his most measured release to date without sacrificing the wild-eyed wonder. And then there’s “America, Parts I – IV,” a twenty minute suite that takes up the entirety of side two. It’s a tribute, not a eulogy; in love with the open road and the pioneer spirit; a string-and-horn-drenched paean to life and the living of it and the country that’s allowed him to do just that. Taken in one sitting, it’s incredibly moving.” (Duncan Vicat-Brown)
41 Chromatics – Kill for Love
“Somehow, the album that ended up most definitively shaping the sound of 2012 ended up being the soundtrack to Drive. Grimes, Chairlift and Bear in Heaven were among the vast swathe of artists adopting 80’s electronic rock textures. Oregon-based producer Johnny Jewel went even further, releasing an album that purported to be his alternative soundtrack to the movie under the moniker Symmetry, and then with his main band Chromatics (whose collaboration with Lovefoxx, “Night Call,” was the soundtrack’s highlight) released arguably the best album of the whole movement: Kill for Love.
It’s a moody beast made for night drives, best when it’s reaching for starry-eyed pop, like the title track, or when riding out a groove and taking it as far as it can go. The musicianship and production sheen are as good as it gets, and the whole experience carries the weight of effortlessly quality. When it dropped back in April, Kill for Love felt like the first great album of 2012.” (Duncan Vicat-Brown)
“Cloud Nothings’s Attack On Memory is one of my most played releases of 2012 so far. Though offering nothing new in their sound as such, the album is a triumph in its ability to breathe life into the lifeless. Distorted guitars coupled with tight hooks may be chic once again, but whilst it’s difficult to get excited about some of their peers’s pure pastiche, Cloud Nothings have succeeded in creating something worthy of its forebears.” (Steven Morgan)
39 Bill Fay – Life Is People
“Beautifully scored and arranged, these songs stand out on their own and make up one hugely impressive whole. Whilst unbearably sad in parts, the sheer quality and beauty on this album is strangely life-affirming. I’ve become absolutely smitten by this album over the past week, and have listened repeatedly. So a cult hero for many years -on the strength of this album, his time has finally come. Make the time to listen-and make sure you buy it.” (Ed Jupp)
38 FOE – Bad Dream Hotline
“FOE’s debut Bad Dream Hotline came out in the earliest days of 2012 while we were still stiff from sleeping off New Year’s Eve’s attrocities. I loved it immediately, for its sour faced take on pop music, the dream allegories, the little lost kids pissing on their own boots. It’s been a year during which my own musical tastes have moved along the spectrum (two of the last live bands I saw have majored on kora and harps respectively). Despite all that, the distance of time, a full 12 months of new music, I can honestly say that FOE remains one of my two or three sure fire go-to albums when I just simply need something, anything, to get me out there. I know that if I crank it on the car stereo, I’m going to be hollering along by the time it gets to ‘Jailhouse’, and breaking my heart along with whoever’s story ‘Dance And Weep’ happens to be. We’re proud that we were early on the case (although not as early as Shirley Manson) and sought out FOE’s gigs and an interview with the band way back in mid-2011; other ‘more august’ publications jumped much later on our band wagon. The record rocks hard at times, krunk guitars, gutsy but clever programming, and Hannah’s voice, always on the edge of apparent sarcasm. “ (Mike Hughes)
“Plan B followed his previous million selling release with what is effectively a soundtrack album to accompany his directorial debut film ‘ill manors’. Harrowingly direct and full of anger Plan B examines and documents today’s society with a vitriol and a maturity beyond his years. ‘ill manors’ may not be as easy to listen to as its predecessor or reach the wider audience that release enjoyed but ‘ill manors’ deserves to be applauded for its grand scope and more importantly it’s songs.” (Joe Coyle)
36 Django Django -Django Django
“Django Django are a band that slipped under my radar, despite the hoo-ha they causedamongst the popular media and now a Mercury Prize nomination. I have dutifully downloaded their self-titled debut album from earlier this year. If you are in mourning of The Beta Band, then check these merry Scots out, for they play upbeat intoxicating stuff that is well written and well executed.” (TC)
35 Breton – Other People’s Problems
“Breton really did just form a band. They were already covering almost every other artistic base in their BretonLABS collective, so forming a band was a logical next step, just another tentacle on the octopus. But if there’s something almost slightly mundane about their progress, there is nothing mundane about the outcome. We’ll probably end up labelling Breton indie. We’re wrong. Oh sure, indie has been pulled out of its old shape a lot in recent years, but this goes a lot further. It’s pretty damn pop, occasionally thunderously dubsteppy, often dipping in the same waters as r’n’b, and is shot right through with an electro spirit.
Take bold opener ‘Pacemaker’. Firstly it takes some bespoke string samples courtesy of German composer Hauschka, slices and dices, and comes up with a song that sounds like brilliant 1990s number one hit ‘Your Woman’ by White Town, albeit with a maximalist collection of sounds, handclaps, chopped vocals, parping synth bass. It’s a manifesto and a hark back to a bona fide pop hit. It’s certainly one of the best openers to any album so far in 2012.
A lot of the jigsaw pieces from ‘Pacemaker’ recur throughout the album. The chopped strings pop up as pizzicato punches at the end of ‘Oxides’, an initially aimless ditty which erupts into a heavy dubstep breakdown; in ‘Edward The Confessor’ where the strings act as an elegiac counterpoint to the hectic modernity of the other instruments and the frantic vocals; in ‘2 Years’, just four tracks in, everything is slowed down to a stately march, its hiphop drums giving the violins space to breath and spread out between what sounds like a sad robot lamenting the loss of something precious. Elsewhere reviewers have wondered why Breton bothered asking Hauschka for strings if they were only going to slice them up, but it feels appropriate in the context of the rest of the album. Even when Breton are attempting a more straightforward indie song like ‘Wood And Plastic’ there are still fragments of brass and swooshes of strings, as if the great late 90s indie strings overdose never happened.At times the vocals amount to just another instrument, it’s hard to find much meaning. Whether they are disguised as robots or sounding eerily like Tom Vek, their voices are just more pieces in the jigsaw, no more or less important than any other instrument.
And yet, despite the jigsaw approach it’s actually the two least jagged songs which are best. ‘Ghost Note’ floats along in an electric soup, sounds stolen from electro and dubstep allowed to ebb and flow, even down to a half-speed beat breakdown. Concluding the album is ‘The Commission’, a soundscape into which broken glass samples and almost-vocals are cast, a melancholy wasteland which accompanies the end of a night out which promised so much but ended in a mournful mess. Perhaps that’s a good way to describe this album. It is messy and it is mournful but it has every right to be both. It’s not going to provide any great lyrical insights, but it does bring a startling and effective collection of pieces together seamlessly. There is nothing inevitable about it and yet for Breton perhaps there was. They formed a band indeed.” (Holly Cruise)
34 Islet – Illuminated People
“Their music has always been an orchestration of various pulling forces, of sharp and antagonistic sounds that are brutish, explicit and stark. ‘Illuminated People’ delivers this in a much more rounded but still very cathartic and theatrical manner. The female vocalist (Whose name is characteristically elusive from any amount of tireless search engine trawling) delicately sings of ‘a life of scrimmage and strife, a tiresome fight, a challenge of might’ in ‘A Warrior Who Longs to Grow Herbs’. This sense of solemn despair is something that takes a more overarching presence in the album and adds a new dimension and level of depth to the band’s sound.
The opening track ‘Libra Man’ demonstrates early on that Islet have retained the integration of very self-consciously artificial and synthesised electronic sounds with delicate and organic vocal harmonies, a fusion that has formed the basis of their unique appeal. ‘We Bow’ is one of the more noticeably melancholic tracks on the record, and with this possesses a more minimalist and conventional approach to instrumentation, certainly compared to what you might usually expect from their work. However, the pace and intonation of the prosaic address, with its listing effect, isn’t something quite so new, even if its mellow and reflective aesthetic is.
Perhaps the most contentious area of discussion is whether fans of the band will feel that in appropriating their sound for a longer length record, Islet have overlooked the sharpness and brutality of their appeal, and made this album far too comfortable to bear the same impression on its audience as previous work. All in all though, the songs are still constructed with a fragmented feel; it is still haphazard, alienating, and intriguing all in the same measure. With this, Islet have, in my humble opinion, done a rather good job at expanding and broadening their musical landscape to something that is more considered, more precise, and in many ways, more thought provoking.“(James Smith)
33 The XX – Coexist
“Three years on from the release of Mercury Prize winning ‘xx’, The XX release follow-up album ‘Coexist’ under great pressure to continue their success. With packed-out festival tents and Brit nominations under their belts, the fresh-faced, ambient outfit had a lot to prove.
With ‘Angels’ comes a newfound sense of melody within Romy Madley-Croft’s voice, while still remaining as breathy and longing as heard on 2009 single ‘Crystalised’. It takes a few tracks before the influence of Jamie Smith is visible, but within the jumpy electro-drums of ‘Fiction’ there is a faint remembrance of his remix project with Gil Scott-Heron, which somehow moulds well with the subtle, quiet tones The xx are widely known for.” (Chloe Gynn)
“Metric have kept the sheen of Fantasies, every single inch of it, but at the same time made it more personal, pulling through much of the ethos of those earlier days, melding the sharp disaffection of those earlier records with the soaring striding anthems of latter years. In a word, they’ve succeeded in satisfying both camps here, and the result is impressive.
In a strong album, there are standout tracks – first single ‘Youth Without Youth’ is an exciting power ride, uplifting even as they sing of razor blades and hand grenades. Worthy of note is ‘The Wanderlust’ which features guest vocals by none other than Lou Reed. The obvious question has to be has Lou redeemed himself after his execrable recent venture with Metallica? And the answer is a fairly unremarkable, yes, it’s fine, and Lou’s rounded enunciation works well in this context to counterpoint Emily’s breathiness.
The absolute killer track here though, and the one reaching the furthest back in spirit, is ‘Dreams So Real’. It’s a drone of krunk keyboards, fit to make the speaker cabs shake to the point of melt down, while Emily intones, chants, a stream of consciousness about belief in the power of songs and in the power of girls, until she admits the final irony and boredom is that “the point we’re making is gone…to play stripped down to my thong” at which point you know that she’s given up fighting, and she’ll “shut up and carry on…The scream becomes a yawn….”This is a massively impressive record, powerful, engaging and easily the strongest work of their career.”(Mike Hughes)
31 Beach House – Bloom
“This 10-track suffused pining ouevere of pliable series of postcards from a landscape-potted break-up, completed with passing environmental sound passages and foley. Legrand’s yearning coos and lived-in angelic tones still cause grown-men to weep, but they sail closer then ever towards the soothing wispy burr of Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino, and the wooing permutations of Stevie Nicks – Legrand and Scally take on the form of a shoegazer’s Fleetwood Mac, circa Rumours. She can still glide towards those seraph highs, and evoke a quivering-lip response from the listener; the rolling sea-momentum circus waltz, On The Sea, really stirs the soul, and the sighing rung-out held notes on Wild, would melt even the biblical Pharaohs cruel cold heart.
Chris Coady (Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, !!!, Blonde Redhead and TV On The Radio) once again is on hand to lift the production into the rapturous beatitude stratosphere, taking Scally’s trembling, reverberating synthesis guitar riffs and streams to ever-more dramatic peaks. The expansive Myth opener is Bloom’s version of Zebra or 10 Mile Stereo; a ‘blosseming’ ,aching, moving anthem – perhaps one of the duo’s best – with all the resonant trimmings. Other notable benchmarks include the sumptuous, lilting, dry-ice Lazuli (which takes its theme and title from the semi-precious prized Lapis Lazuli stone, revered for its intense blue radiance); the tender lush pop, Maria Mckee-esque, Wishes (my favourite); and the searing, rippled, “It’s a strange paradise”, repeating, drifting closer, Irene And Wherever You Go.
However Bloom occasionally lapses into effete and touchy-feely metaphor humdrum pop – Other People is a far too cheery number for my liking, sounding as it does like the theme tune from some forgotten 80s US soap. Yet these minor foilbles seem trivial when you breath-in Beach House’s full, “singular, unified vision of the world”; encapsulated in a complex kaleidoscope-layered album that reveals its secrets slowly and effectively.” (Dominic Valvona)
30 Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
“His seventh album since 2001, and a fairly dramatic departure in style from what has come before. A heavier edged, more distorted sound which Hawley himself has described as an “angry album”. If you’ve never managed to get on board with his previous work this is your point of entry…” (Paul Marshall)
“Although the year may have ended on a disappointing note for fans of Pulled Apart By Horses with the cancellation of their tour, the beginning saw the Leeds alt rock band whipping in what I would consider the first great release of 2012. Following on from their well-received eponymous debut, “Tough Love” delivers much of the same in terms of angular noise rock and roll (or artcore, if you want to be a little more pedantic). The difference is the step up in quality. As great as the first record sounded, the production seemed just a tiny bit rushed and included several recordings that had already been kicking around for a couple of years. With Gil Norton at the helm of this production, the vibe is definitely a lot more raw and personal. “This album is a lot more direct, we’re better musicians and songwriters now”, claims bassist Rob Lee. Well, the guitars are definitely crunchier and Lee Vincent’s drumming actually sounds like he’s using a real kit, and not a pair of recycling bins.
Tracks such as “Wolf Hand”, “Bromance Ain’t Dead” and “Epic Myth” come across as classics in the making, with “V.E.N.O.M” not far behind. It’s great to see a band of their ilk gain momentum and garner a respectable fanbase. The knock-on effect is that the likes of Arcane Roots, James Cleaver Quintet and Hawk Eyes have received a little more attention than they might have gained had they emerged in earlier times. As good a reminder as any to always support your scene, or it will end up in the graveyard. “(Tom Willmot)
27 Metz – Metz
The standout feature of their opener “Headache”, is the incredible pulsating drums, pretty much living up to the title of the track. Then the guitars kick in and it’s almost like a message to all the naysayers who claim that guitar music is on the way out. This is enough to silence any such ludicrous protestations. Following this, “Get Off” is the perfect example of how lo fi garage rock should be performed – a simple Ramones-esque riff coupled with Cobain -style vocals shows this is a winning formula. There are even nods to early 90s post-hardcore. For those who may not be familiar with the likes of Hot Snakes, “Rats” is the perfect introduction, mastering the dynamics required to deliver more sublime noises.
Although there is nothing innovative or boundary- pushing to be found here, this is an excellent reminder of how exciting guitar music can be, particularly since bedroom producers have really taken off over the past few years. There is just something about Metz that I can’t exactly put my finger on, but they have nailed their sound to the point where very little is needed to perfect it. This is not just the best debut you will hear all year, but the best of the decade thus far.”(Tom Willmot)
26 Toy -Toy
“One of the emerging acts of 2012, TOY feature the talents of Dominic O’Dair (Guitar) and Maxim Barron (Bass). If you haven’t heard, they produce a sort of pop soothed with a gentle amount of psychedelia and often placed under the strange idea of ‘motorik’, devised to address the steady tread of the hypnotic beats that replicate the cognitive process of bumbling along in your auto-mobile” (James Smith)
25 Cat Power – Sun
“It’s a shock to realise that it’s 6 years since Cat Power aka Chan Marshall last put out an album of original material but the records in the bookcase tell me so. There was ‘Jukebox’ in the meantime, not for first time Chan singing other people’s songs. She does covers better than most anyone, but good though they are, they pale compared to Chan’s own emotions laid confessional bare. Although no longer the heavy drinking train wreck of yore, Chan’s personal life is still the stuff of legend. Don’t believe me? Check out her recent interviews in the Guardian and Stool Pigeon. And in fairness, it’s so closely connected to her music that it simply has to taken account of. The newly acquired cropped hair is almost certainly some mark of yet again being shorn of her old life, moving on after her breakup with Giovanni Ribisi, with whom she had been playing happy families since 2006, playing step-mom to his teenage daughter. Happily, she seems to developing ways of coping as she gets older, able to iron out the rough patches. Given the telescope of history, that was certainly the way the last time she toured in the UK four years ago, singing about a situation rather than ‘being it’ in front of of our eyes and bleeding it all over the stage.
Nearly everything is 100% sung, played, recorded and produced by Chan, some of it in the studio she has built in Malibu. There’s one guest vocal, some young chap called Iggy Pop on ‘Nothin’ But Time’. Apart from that, the single exception is ‘Ruin’, which has the full turn out of her old touring band including Greg Foreman on keys. She’s played a trick here, an inadvertent one that has taken me some getting over. ‘Ruin’, with its samba beats and haunting travelogue story telling, is the strongest track on the album by a country mile. In fact it’s one of the best songs I’ve heard in months. The glitch is that it got released as a teaser many weeks before the rest of the tracks, and it’s left me in a quandary. Does it sound so great because it’s the one that has the input of other musicians, or due to by-now easy familiarity? After many, many listens to the album in toto, the other tracks have fallen in line, and it’s clear that Chan on her own can indeed rival the full outfit. Sobering and impressive.” (Mike Hughes)
24 Woodpecker Wooliams – Bird School of Being Human
“Woodpecker Wooliams’ album ‘The Bird School Of Being Human’ is utterly gorgeous and on its fifth or tenth time round the headphones, I’ve lost count. I’ve lost my senses and bearings to its thrall too. I’m lying in bed but willingly jarred wide awake as I try to decipher it. No, not the words (they’ll come) but the emotion. It’s voices from a sepia photograph; clicks, buzzings and whirring. Dreams that erupt into languages never before heard; like being lost in several films at once.
Is it more like the crunchy peanut butter cousin of CocoRosie, or Joanna Newsome with tunes? No, neither. There’s whimsy and quirk and this isn’t it. ‘Quirky’ sounds like some northern comic, this is woozy and freak-some, and at the same time charming. Charm that’s entirely likely to turn round without any provocation whatsoever and snarlingly demand “what are you looking at; give me my goddam cup of tea”
It’s easily on my (very) short list for album of the year so far. Woodpecker Wooliams has been around musically since 2009 or so, gigging across Europe, putting out tracks, one of these tellingly on a Willkommen compilation. However this appears to be her debut ‘album’ as such, and for once the word is used correctly.” (Mike Hughes)
23 Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
“When an act as genuinely talented and musically distinctive as Dirty Projectors release a new LP, it’s most definitely cause for a little hope.For the uninitiated, Dirty Projectors have been going the better part of a decade. The band, a rotating ensemble led by David Longstreth, have built a deserved reputation for musical innovation. Their 2009 album (and breakthrough recording), Bitte Orca, was a glorious study of masterfully interwoven vocals and deft production touches that was many critics choice for album of the year. It was the culmination of a body of work that is often compared to Frank Zappa due to it’s studious complexity.
On Swing Lo Magellan, their 6th studio album, Longstreth has paired back this approach. Simplifying the bands irregular time signatures, layered vocals and sweeping melodic shifts without harming their fundamental characteristics. Thematically the record weaves simple tales of everyday life and love, that through rich use of metaphor and symbolic language become a sincere ode to the dark recesses of existential thought. Within this simplification of sound and theme, you can hear Longstreth and his cohorts relax, giving even the downbeat tracks on the LP a compelling effervescence. ‘About To Die’ is chipper as it delivers an uneasy tale of balancing the moral codes of religion against your own mortality “How could I hope to seize the tablet of values and redact it?” Lead single ‘The Gun Has No Trigger’ is no less emotive, it’s sparse production, pin point beat is accompanied by Longstretch’s sombre tones which be about anything from impotency to coping with a drug addled partner. On ‘See What She’s Seeing,’ Longstreth recounts the vagrancies of a hangover. Using jittering drums in place of pangs of headache pain whilst bending notes to ache of loneliness and the rejection of the night before, “Lonely and forgotten in the frozen world / Scorned in my desire / Ignored by all the girls / I need someone to comfort me.”
Unlike Dirty Projectors previous albums, which at times needed a decoding device to fully understand, Swing Lo Magellan is easy to relate to. Its songs allow mind space for a myriad of meanings to open themselves up and on repeated listens you find the album is littered with heartfelt humanity. It’s compositions are less jarring and simpler, but put together with no less skill and make the record admirably enjoyable from it’s first listen. In essence Longstreth is doing more with less. Daring to distill his approach to achieve a greater potency and make Dirty Projectors most enjoyable record to date. One which has left me sounding like another kiss ass sycophant, what a twat I’ve become.”(Kevin Lawson)
22 Meursault – Something for the Weakened
“Meursault’s schtick in the past was that although it always sounded full blown, an awful lot was done via programming and samples. The move this time is to live full strings and piano, and sitting surprisingly comfortably alongside that, moments of full-on electric guitar and bass. It might have been a joking comment, but I heard rumour that Neil said he’d broken his laptop, so had to go ‘live’. Whatever, the result is mightily impressive, even as it remains way left of centre. As if to put off the casual, the weakest track is also the opener ‘Thumb’. It’s no more than an extended emotional moment, plucked strings over a repeated line “we will not be weakened anymore” which goes on three minutes too long in these attention deficient days. Thankfully, next up ‘Flittin’ more than makes up for it, voice cracking on the edge of a wail, about the romanticism of moving away then having to give in and come home because the weather wasn’t too nice. Stick with it one more track though for ‘Lament For A Teenage Millionaire’. I’ve had the debate in the past of music as poetry, and I’ll nail my colours to the mast, anything that comes up with “his hands were like mirrors and his eyes they were ornaments” surely qualifies. Later on in ‘Hole’ the point is more than reinforced as Neil intones “the gap between your teeth / and the words you try to speak / it will grow bigger….” without ever once sounding forced or clever.
Some may find the Scottish lament thing a little full on. For me, it remains sufficiently muted to not go over the top , and while I’ll admit to being a sucker for minor piano chords over a seaweed string of banjo, the crack in the voice seals the deal.“(Mike Hughes)
21 Killer Mike – R.A.P Music
“In 2012, great rap music came from above and below, but some of the very best came from the side. We saw it coming from underground figurehead and lifer El-P, but his work with politically-charged welterweight Killer Mike? Eh. He’d made a modest name for himself with a string of commendable releases, never really wowing. But now he has R.A.P. Music, an incendiary bomb of a record with more fight in it than a generation’s worth of commercial hip-hop.
“Big Beast” bursts snarling out of the gate like a pit bull on a chain, El-P’s aggressively out-of-fashion production recalling prime Bomb Squad filtered through big beat, Mike attacking his verses with dizzying technique and ferocity. “Untitled” is a marriage of flow and beat so sublime it’s hard to believe that it’s not all coming out of the same mouth. And then in the middle comes “Reagan,” a state-of-the-nation address so brutal and uncompromising – even Obama gets it in the neck – that it’s impossible to do anything other than watch with your jaw open.” (Duncan Vicat-Brown)
“Sweden’s Söderberg sisters aka First Aid Kit are back with their first American-recorded album, The Lion’s Roar came out at the start of the year and is probably their most complete most rounded set to date, effortlessly surfing the timeless line between country sway and folk directness and boasting an impressive cast list of helpers.Replete with dark country waltzes and a version of the Louvin Brothers old murder ballad ‘Knoxville Girl’ as the perfect example of the sweet and sour they adore. In contrast to their debut ‘The Lion’s Raw is a full band recorded in Omaha by Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, millions more) and it’s clear the southern air and country swing drifted into the bones of the Söderberg sisters sound.
The girls’ father Benkt takes the bass, Mattias Bergqvist drums, while Mogis and Nate Walcott of Bright Eyes and a cast of Omaha-based musicians round out the sound. The paddling shuffle of ‘Emmylou’ is like a roll call of country great name checking Gram Parsons, Johnny Cash, June Carter and of course Miss Harris, it’s poignant chorus mediating upon sadness in the lives and art of their heroes. ‘Dance to Another Tuney blends Swedish sorrow and American feel while ‘Wolf’ is appropriately forest-bound, the most European-sounding moment on the record. Closing with upbeat mariachi hoedown of ‘King of the World’ which not only features The Felice Brothers, just passing through town during the session, but also local hero Conor Oberst, who takes the last verse.Timeless yet modern First Aid Kit may have just cracked it with a country record that conveys genuine emotional backdrop, now for Nashville?” (Bill Cummings)
19 Jack White – Blunderbuss
“Blunderbuss is a musical tour de force. Throwing off the shackles of band life Jack proved himself more relevant than he ever has been. With a little less guitar than previously Jack hones his unique brand of American garage rock and sounds like he revelling in the freedom a solo record affords him. A record which stands proudly amongst a gold plated catalogue.” (Joe Coyle)
18 Hot Chip – In Our Heads
“Relationships are tempestuous. In the space of days, (sometimes hours) the exuberance of a love you thought would last a lifetime, can be destroyed in an instant. Whether it’s your fault or theirs, (at the time it’s always theirs) you’ll end up secretly wishing that your ex-love would go and play ‘tag’ with onrushing traffic. As the days pass and loneliness sets in, you spiral into a self-destructive melancholy, where ‘letting go’ is not an option because deep down you’re still in love. Such emotion turmoil has been the inspiration for music (and soap opera plot lines) for countless years and is a theme spit chronologically along the 11 tracks of Hot Chip’s fifth studio LP, In Our Heads.
Produced by the band themselves, and their first for new label Domino, the album represents something of a creative and financial risk for all involved. So it will come as a relief to hear that In Our Heads, is arguably the best of Hot Chip’s idiosyncratic releases. One which confidently blends the straight pop of their previous record, One Life Stand, with the earlier and more enigmatic, The Warning. The album’s foundation is still built upon the union of Alexis Taylor’s sombre vocals and intimate songwriting with Joe Goddard’s sonic mastery. Although this time round, the duo have moved on from One Life Stand’s, Pet Shop Boys leanings. Choosing to modernise and fuse the ‘80s electro funk of, Freeez, with Paul Hardcastle’s extended mixes, whilst adding just a dash of krautrock for good measure. The result is a modern sophistifunk which at times is so catchy, that any lawsuit filled against the band for causing dance-floor related RSI would be an open and shut case.” (Kevin Lawson)
17 Me and my Drummer – The Hawk, The Beak, The Prey
“2012 has been a stellar year for new music [despite what you might have heard from the naysayers] and by far, Me and My Drummer’s – The Hawk, The Beak, The Prey is my personal favourite album of the year.
Described as ‘leftfield’ and akin to Portishead, for me they defy all these terms and have created one of the most unique albums to ever hit my eardrums. Music is always subjective of course, and if it wasn’t for the emotive qualities music stirs up in us, our connection to a song…or an entire album, would never exist. Mellow and sweeping in parts, with lyrics that pull at your heart, for instance -“You’re a runner. Why you`d want to kill yourself? Don`t confuse your speed with a turn of the earth.” – A beautiful impassioned into. There are also rousing crescendos of drums that pump the blood faster through your body, and get you dancing around the room. The music is genuine, heartfelt and beautifully constructed. Producers such as bretonLABS and La Boum Fatale Euphobia have clamoured to remix their songs and 2012 was a great start for this German band. I just hope they get more coverage in 2013.” (Lisa Jenkins)
16 Swans – The Seer
“There aren’t many comebacks you can say are truly successful. Even fewer could be said to find a band actually building on and improving on their earlier work. Michael Gira’s ‘disinterred’ SWANS saw their return culminate in the release of their instant classic album ‘The Seer’ this year, proving themselves to be among that very rare breed – a vintage band improving vastly with age. Like a good wine ‘The Seer’ is a heady, potent brew that requires immersion and concentration in order to appreciate it’s seemingly infinite nuances and subtleties.
Including the hypnotising mesmerism of the 32 minute title track, the equally astounding 23 minute closer ‘The Apostate’ (with which they also closed their recent, already infamous UK shows) and the breathy baroque folk of ‘Song For A Warrior’ (featuring a strangely cast but somehow fitting Karen O on vocals), The Seer is a record that, over it’s three vinyl installments, refuses to back down, step back, relent or retreat. It’s a record that towers head and shoulders above ‘indie’ or ‘experimental’ music and begins to approach the concept of music as a religion in the most head-on fashion any artist has ever attempted.
Is it easy? No. Does it ask a lot? Yes, most certainly. Yet the rewards to be gained from giving yourself over to this unselfconsciously epic volcano of sound are still yet to be fully measured. Even after all these months of listening there is something new and eye-opening to be found on every revolution. ‘I see it all’ repeats Gira, over and over. One deep drink of this and you’ll be seeing through fucking time.” (Michael James Hall)
“Animal Collective is probably the perfect band for the modern age. In an era when image and attitude is not important when producing technologically-driven music, Dave, Noah, Brian and Josh are still able to walk down the streets of their native Baltimore unnoticed such is their anonymity. They can therefore sit in front of their computer screens, tweaking knobs, pushing buttons and just concentrate on making Animal Collective and Animal Collective related music without ever having to worry about the question of their identity. Even given the acclaim heaped upon their last studio album Merriweather Post Pavilion and the bigger wave of publicity it provoked, I am sure they still managed to ride that surf from being super geeks to nearly major dudes without ever being recognized.
So what is that you do when you are thirteen years into a collective career characterized by experiment, innovation and progression and have suddenly begun to flirt dangerously with mass appeal? Well, you go back to Baltimore and live there together for the first time in years, get Josh Dibb back into the fold after a long sabbatical from the band and in marked contrast of a return to such familiarity you smash the mould of what has just gone before. You kiss goodbye to Merriweather Post Pavilion’s defining esoteric transcendence and reassuring ambience and you unleash the beast of Centipede Hz with only radio transmissions as your compass and space exploration as your goal. That is what you do.
“Is tradition holding regularly in this town?” Animal Collective ask of themselves on “Amanita”, as if questioning the normality of their lives in Baltimore. “If it’s going hiking then I’m going hiking” is their reply, seemingly satisfied with the place and the external conformity that it affords them. What they omit to add is that on Centipede Hz they have actually hitched right round the galaxy of further sonic exploration and taken us with them on one absolutely glorious interstellar ride.” ( Simon Godley)
“Rap has always been the perfect medium for a great underdog story, and Kendrick Lamar is a great storyteller. As he recalls the environment in which he was raid and the influence of his home town of Compton, external pressures, and especially his family, his focus on detail and mood recalls Cohen as much as Kanye. The best tracks here feel like scenes from a movie; “Backseat Freestyle” is a brag-rap workout played as young Kendrick showing off his developing skills as his friends cheer him on, and the mesmerizing twelve minute “Sing About Me/Dying of Thirst” is a moment of clarity, then redemption.
Of course, this’d be fairly moot if Good Kid m.a.A.d City was a slog, but thanks to Kendrick’s humor (and his father’s. Kendrick’s father is HILARIOUS), staggering technique, competent singing voice and keen ear for production and a hook, it’s a joy; every second of it. It’s the best major label rap debut in years, and it’s among the best ever.” (Duncan Vicat-Brown)
13 Bat for Lashes – The Haunted Man
‘The Haunted Man’ is the first album from Natasha Khan, better known as Bat For Lashes, in three years, following stunner ‘Two Suns’ in 2009- and it serves; an album entirely different from her previous work, yet connected through strings of whispery vocals and a unique sound she has maintained throughout her career.
‘All Your Gold’ plays out like an offcut from PJ Harvey’s back catalogue, merging ultra-feminine vocals with a harp sound which sounds fresh from an Amazonian tribe. The electronic sounds featured on ‘Oh Yeah’ are modern, almost futuristic, creating a sound unheard, proof that Khan has used her time wisely when creating this LP. Lead single ‘Laura’ is stripped back, emotive, a truly beautiful song which highlights the power of Khan’s voice as well as her songwriting skills.
The latter half of the album retains this high quality- ‘Winter Winds’ sounds much like a female Patrick Wolf, this modernised-classical number bringing warmth from its tone, colliding with the coldness of its lyrics. ‘A Wall’ is poppy but delicate, almost lo-fi if it wasn’t for the rattling electronic drum beat which dominates the track. The lullaby opening of ‘Rest Your Head’, is, almost disappointingly, deceptive, as it moves into another electro-pop potential single, much like ‘A Wall’- it is a shame; at this point in the album, a relaxed, gentle composition would have suited the motherly lyrics. There is a grand finale by way of ‘Deep Sea Diver’ compiling the many elements of this album that make Bat For Lashes one of the more daring acts of the past ten years. Needless to say, ‘The Haunted Man’ is a delight to listen to and exactly what is needed on these chilly nights.” (Chloe Gynne)
12 Bloc Party – Four
“At the end of 2010, having got back together after Kele’s solo album, and letting themselves recover after the disappointment that was Intimacy, Bloc Party regrouped. Four is the result.
Louder, more guitar-based than ever before and sounding much better than on Intimacy, this is Bloc Party getting back and getting on fine form. Whilst it does seem pretty obvious what they were clearly listening to whilst recording this album (Smashing Pumpkins, Pavement –did I mention Nirvana?), this is a solid album that grows on repeated listens. Perhaps not as strong as their first two albums, but all credit to them for changing their sound, and moving forward.”(Ed Jupp)
11 Tindersticks – The Something Rain
“This is the ninth album from the tindersticks, the third in their newly reshuffled line up following the comebacks of ‘The Hungry Saw’ and ‘Falling Down A Mountain’. Once their sound was built upon the instantly recognisable basics; textured guitar, rhythm and vocals, sometimes augmented by strings, now it is accompanied with the keyboard, the dappling Hammond, insistent drip of glok notes, joined by guests like Terry Edwards on saxophone and Andy Nice on cello; and underpinned by a gracefully pirouetting percussion that all swirls into one; to create an almost 1970s-like cinematic backdrop. ‘The Something Rain’ crafts an evocative palette of smoky sounds of the kind that could soundtrack the gently wafting cigarette that perches from an ashtray in a blues club, the swaying leg of the man that sits at the bar, and the tales of the old man in the corner who cowers of the past when you look him in the eye. The ghost of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Andy Williams and Scott Walker drifts through these compositions that thrive with an intimacy and allow Stuart Staples’s voice the space to gently tell his ever compelling tales of losing, winning and finding oneself all over again.
For a band who may have been lost forever, it’s a great pleasure and maybe a surprise that I report that ‘The Something Rain’ is one of the finest of their career. This is a surprise given that back in 2003 when the first tindersticks line up was crumbling, the group seemed like a hopeless cause, it was a sadness that this under appreciated (by some) 90s outfit, who had produced multiple albums of rare quality never quite crossed over to a mass audience. For a band who had shifted gloriously from Nottingham into listening consciousnesses of a select few, through the medium of a tender yet other worldly sound, swaying and orchestrated music that is caressed by Staple’s vocals, and mask a bruised kind of heartbreak and disintegration on albums like their self titled record. 1997’s ‘Curtains’ and high water mark for line up mark one ‘Simple Pleasures’.
‘The Something Rain’ marries their best sounds, the sighing strings and grand sweeps of their early years, joined by the stripped back jazz like elements of their latter period. Mature, yet crawling with new ideas, luxuriously throbbing yet intricate and human. Where once their sound was almost troubled and discordant, sometimes almost unbearably melancholic, these poetically vivid tales are now infused with warmth and the wisdom of experience. Balanced by the passing of time, it is the sound of music that breaths and twinges and sounds utterly effortless yet is crafted with such care. If Radiohead’s ‘In Rainbows’ was lauded to the heaven’s for it’s stripped back dexterity, if The Wild Beasts last album ‘Two Dancers’ was praised for it’s subtlety compared to their award winning debut, then tindersticks’ delicious cocktail of heart and soul ‘The Something Rain’ deserves to be given its moment, as it’s vastly superior to both records. In this throw-away musical culture, it’s rare that a band reach their ninth album, and sometimes it is the passing of time that really does make the difference.” (Bill Cummings)
The Top ten will be revealed next week.
In the meantime check out our spotify playlist featuring most of the albums here:
And why not give us your albums of the year?Where do you agree and disagree? Please bear in mind this was a poll of writer’s…