I know what you’re thinking, ‘Come on, guys, it’s January, why are you so stuck in the past?’ We understand the sentiment entirely, but it doesn’t stop these ten albums from 2012 being any less incredible. In fact, we’re providing a service; making sure you don’t drop these records and move to the next big thing. Forget about the brevity of cultural products and rejoice in this nigh-on nine hours of sonorous bliss.
Unlike our top 10 films of 2012, these albums are not in any sort of numerical order. Five choices from Luke, five from Rob. Click on the album title to open a Spotify link for your listening pleasure.
Matthew Dear – Beams (Record label: Ghostly)
Electronic music usually isn’t really my thing, but I can never resist a visit to the record store whenever Matthew Dear has a new record out. This prolific Texan musician makes groove heavy dance music, that almost sounds subaqueous. The resulting sound is moody and disturbing, perhaps the stuff which wouldn’t be out of place in a futuristic David Lynch movie, aka Dune.
Mac DeMarco – 2 (Record label: Captured Tracks)
This young Canadian garage popper’s second album is infectious. With songs about cigarette addiction and girls’ next door, his noodle riffage is matched perfectly with Jonathan Richman style lyricism. A real find from the great Captured Tracks label. If he is ever in your neighbourhood, go see him live. Buy him a pack of Viceroy fags and he may just marry you.
GOAT – World Music (Record Label: Rocket)
Little is known about this mask wearing Swedish ensemble, but they really whipped up a storm at music sites last year. And with good reason, too. World Music, their debut album, sounds like Syd Barrett being gobbled up by Fela Kuti, and then passed through a Black Sabbath sieve on the other end. It’s great shit, basically.
Bat for Lashes – The Haunted Man (Record label: XL)
Natasha Khan is the best female pop artist working today. Her music is soulful, poetic and capricious. I never know what timbre her music will take, but this third album is her best so far. Fan boy doesn’t cover it. I just love her, is all.
Swans – The Seer (Record label: Young God Records)
In a press release, released back in May, Swans’ spokesman Michael Gira stated that “The Seer took 30 years to make. It’s the culmination of every previous Swans album as well as any other music I’ve ever made, been involved in or imagined. But it’s unfinished, like the songs themselves. It’s one frame in a reel. The frames blur, blend and will eventually fade.” If this two hour long experimental rock opus is only half-baked, just imagine what else these noiseniks have left to scream about.
Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself (Record label: Mom+Pop)
In the past prone to indulging his songs with lyrical verbosity and admirable yet often overwrought instrumental passages, Break It Yourself sees the impossibly dexterous Bird take a new direction in songwriting and composition. The album evidences a direct, even terse writing style conveying great warmth and wit, adorning a set of tight, rhthym-lead compositions that allow his customary violin flourishes space. While ‘Lazy Projector’ may not have made the grade for The Muppets movie, it’s an incredibly affecting piece of songwriting; the same goes for ‘Lusitania’, a perfectly-judged duet with St. Vincent’s Annie Clark.
Deerhoof – Breakup Song (Record label: Polyvinyl)
Breakup Song is a typically idiosyncratic work by the unfailingly creative Deerhoof. Whilst 2010’s Vs. Evil was a successful experiment in sonic texture, Breakup Song‘s compositions are no less masterfully layered, whilst delivering stunning transitions and melodic peaks the former lacked. See ‘We Do Parties’, in which Ed Roderiquez’s guitar writhes maniacally before nestling into Satomi Matsuzaki’s vocal line, like a dislocated joint popping back into its socket; or ‘Fête d’Adieu’, in which a tight, rhythmic jam lead by John Dietrich’s chiming guitar line lays the ground for Matsuzaki’s sweet refrain of ‘a muscle in the heart’.
Note: The ‘hoof also put on on my favourite gig of the year, at Highbury’s Garage in December. These four are extremely committed, generous performers (Matsuzaki even handed out cups of wine to the crowd prior to their performance. I can safely conclude a nice Malbec complemented their set splendidly).
Dirty Three – Toward The Low Sun (Record label: Bella Union/Drag City)
Although Toward The Low Sun may be Dirty Three’s first album in seven years, opener ‘Furnace Skies’ puts any fears of complacency or rust well beyond doubt. Lead by a furiously distorted, unrelenting bass loop punctuated by a rabid frenzy of percussion, it’s one of the loudest, most sustained compositions the Australian post-rock outfit have offered up. Yet for all the albums jarring discord, moments of sheer sonic beauty are abundant; the piano lead ‘Ashen Snow’ is slight and ethereal, and ‘Moon on the Land’ a sensitively composed triumph. This is their best album since career highlight Whatever You Love, You Are, and the recording closest to the experience of seeing this rag-tag bunch live (minus Warren Ellis’ notoriously esoteric song introductions. Those would threaten to double the album’s running length, mind).
Lotus Plaza – Spooky Action at a Distance (Record label: Kranky)
Lockett Pundt, guitarist of Deerhunter and known pedal-fiend, delivers a highly addictive slice of psych-pop with his second LP. Pundt’s songwriting contributions to Deerhunter’s last album, 2010’s Halycon Digest, numbered amongst the set’s most impressive, and Spooky Action… seems to benefit from a steadily growing confidence. Swathes of guitar are married to insistent percussion, and Pundt’s vocals are given far more prominence than on 2009 debut The Floodlight Collective, and to great effect, too. Centrepiece ‘Monoliths’ may just be his finest track yet.
Sharon van Etten – Tramp (Record label: Jagjaguwar)
Working with members of The National, van Etten has crafted a set of introspective songs inspired by an emotionally manipulative former partner, that are full of strength and conviction, and free of indulgence or despair. There’s a wealth of striking moments, such ‘Leonard’s breathtaking chorus, the tense build of ‘Magic Chords’, and the distorted layers of squall wrapped around ‘I’m Wrong’. But this is a sustained, consistent piece of work, revealing further textural details across repeated listens.