As I casually toasted 2012 in last year’s digest, I could not have forseen the quite brilliant variety of sounds, styles, comebacks and arrivals this year has provided. Here are 20 albums which defined my year through good times and bad, though in the interest of time, there have been so many more, which I will happily write in a lengthy footnote on request. Also, in the interest of suspense and amazement, I’ve chosen to break it down into two, mainly because the top ten will be featured on Radio Juan across two shows in late 2012/early 2013. Sorry for a lack of action since August.
20: The Mystery Jets – “Radlands”. Maybe I’m just a sentimental old fool, but Blaine and the boys have squeezed into the final list because of consistently producing music, which I cherish without much thought. Ever since “Making Dens”, The Mystery Jets have been a consistent player in my music collection, and while the trip to America on their fourth outing is by no means their best album, it demonstrates a progression, which I feel I have been a part of. People will remember the clever lyrics of “Greatest Hits”, and the slightly marmitey lead single “Someone Purer” but spare a moment for the sheer brilliance of “The Nothing”, the vocal harmonies of “Take me Where the Roses Grow” and the Pixies inspired “Lost in Austin”. The American influences are there for all to hear, but stamped with that striking London poetry I have always admired.
“I never said I was a fallen angel/with a halo and a broken wing/but I’m not like all the other people/ with their skinny coffees and their Nurofen”
19: Of Monsters and Men – “My Head is an Animal”. HEY! WOAH! We all like a bit of boy/girl singing, a bit of brass and a good old chorus, which rouses you from your beds in the morning. Step forward the Icelandic six-piece Of Monsters and Men. Having made it pretty big in Scandinavia and most of Europe, it seems the Brits have arrived late in the day, but my how we have embraced the feel good euphoric mountain sounds. Even the most hardened pessimistic pretentious music junky will be tempted to turn this album up when feeling blue, with tracks such as the bouncy “Mountain Sound”, “Little Talks” or “Six Weeks” complimenting the slightly softer numbers such as “Lakehouse” or “Yellow Lights”. Even the more atmospheric ballads, while mega cheesy like “Slow and Steady” have its appeal. Cuddly, whimsical and filling up the feel-good feeling in summer and beyond, Of Monsters and Men have already got to you, you just need to acknowledge it so.
“There’s an old voice in my head that’s holding me back, Well tell her that I miss our little talks/ Soon it will be over and buried with our past/We used to play outside when we were young/ And full of life and full of love”
18: Yeasayer – “Fragrant World”. Be patient, and you will slowly succumb to the sound of Brookyln’s Yeasayer, with their third album “Fragrant World”. Though creeping forward with slightly new sounds, which sadly feel incomplete and insecure at times, they retain their famous electronica experimentations. Unlike the euphoric “Odd Blood”, this offering is dark and twisted, with chaotic bursts of synth and drum beats overlapping fraught and tense vocals from Chris Teating. Surprisingly the references to historical figures such as Henrietta Lacks or Ronald Reagan on “Henrietta” and “Reagan’s Skeleton” respectively, are actually the best tracks on the album, but the signs are there for new directions with “Blue Paper” and “No Bones”. Yeasayer need to make the brave leap for their next LP, and not be afraid of the consequences.
“You’re making them rich, they throw you away/The magic is gone, but you’re here to stay”
17: Stumbeline – “Spiderwebbed”. Some late night radio tuning, gave the greatest pleasure of stumbling upon this Bristol based producer, responsible for some of the most dreamy electronic sounds this year. Syncopating beats, which glide alongside distorted guitar lines, delicate synth and soulful vocals, this album has proven itself as an appeasement and accompaniment to train travel in particular: with chaos on the Northern Line and a sweet lullaby to long train journeys gazing at the West Country respectively. Particular highlights include “Capulet”, the Mazy Star cover “Fade Into You” and the insanely wonderful “Catherine Wheel”.
“Fade into you/I think it’s strange you never knew”
16: Two Wounded Birds – “Two Wounded Birds”. Wax that surf-board, and head down to…Margate beach? Yep. The quartet from Kent made waves (eugh) this year with an fast-paced cheery, yet also slightly broody surf pop sound, which is smeared with nostalgic memories of growing up, being in love and being alone. While The Lively Ones (of “Pulp Fiction” fame) were probably catching waves in shorts off sunny California, drinking ice cold bottled beer, the kids from Margate were probably body boarding with wetsuits on a shingled beach, huddling around a six-pack of Tesco lager and a disposable barbecue. It’s that contrast between fresh US West coast sounds against a backdrop of gloomy British East coast, which appeals. They channel that 50s do-wop, Spector inspired R&B vibe very well, but should also be congratulated for breathing some fresh life into a well-worn sound, which in itself makes it timeless. Look out for the upbeat “Together Forever” and the peculiarly titled “Daddy’s Junk” but don’t be put off by those tinged with darkness, from “My Lonesome” to “If Only We Remain”.
“Alone, Aloooooooone/All alone, with nobody at home/Because I’m on my lonesome, tonight”
15: Echo Lake – “Wild Peace”. Prepare to get numb, as this amazing LP washes over you. Marred in tragedy, following the untimely death of their drummer, Pete Hayes, the album is a wonderful long exhale of shoe-gazing dream pop, which echoes everything from Beach House to My Bloody Valentine. Thom Hill and Linda Jarvis give us the beautiful, the calm and the euphoric and eases your head against a soft wave of sound. Apart from a fitting tribute to the memory of Hayes, songs such as “Another Day”, “Last Song of The Year” and “Just Kids” puts one in a comatose like state of tranquillity as the tumultuous year draws to a close. Echo Lake have tremendous potential to be a truly mesmerising force, and one can only hope that tragedy does not tear this band apart.
14: Field Music – “Plumb”. This is one of those “heard the name, but didn’t really know, until they made the Mercury shortlist” kind of entries. Having since partaken in an enormous backcataslog, their fourth album, “Plumb”, makes clear both a band who fully deserved to be shortlisted for the coveted prize, but one who has worked hard on progressing their sound, with each LP. On first listen, you may struggle to piece together 15 songs in 35 minutes. It is a very complex, but no less impressive art-rock prog-pop album full of tempo shifts, glitches, orchestras, synth, tireless bass lines that flourishes everything from 80s electronica, funk to psychedelica – plenty to whet one’s musical pallet. With each listen, I both dismay and rejoice at choosing a new highlight each time and right now, it’s “Sorry Again, Mate” but don’t for a second think about not checking out “(I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing”, “Who’ll Pay the Bills” or the marvellous “A New Town”.
“I was counting the days/ and I was counting the reasons/ I was satisfied everything was fine/But you should’ve never come”.
13: Peter and Kerry – “La Trimouille”. A delightful pair of London-based storytellers, who stole my heart this summer, with delightful little ditties which evoke 80’s bands such as The Human League and The Pet Shop Boys, full of synth, beats and guitar and a enchanting understanding and connection between the duo. The debut from London’s Peter and Kerry offers much from upbeat electro pop (the delightful “I Don’t Know”) to emotive and heartfelt such as the glitch, static infused and all so defiant “Cirque”, and the mesmerising tale with a beautiful guitar line of “Connecticut” – all demonstrating an effortless ability to transcend time, space and genres with their sound. Read a little more here.
“Its been about five weeks, I’ve just about given up/ I walk the same route, but I can barely stand up/The things see around me, that I seem to recognise/Are what keep me connected, and let me know that I won’t forget”
12: Jack White – “Blunderbus”. The review I wrote for Jack back in May summed up my feelings. As I wrote them, I have absolutely no qualms in using them again. What I will add, is that I think he is a wonderful, talented and entirely eccentric man, who deserves a musical knighthood equivalent. Filled with hard riffs, loopy lyrics, corrupted organs, no Meg, and interestingly a release of tremendous energy and “real emotions”. His recent divorce has slightly crept into his music and many have labelled this as Jack’s “Blood on the Tracks”. All the famous eccentricities come out in songs like “Freedom at 21”, the “Trash Tongue Talker” while “Sixteen Saltines” and the Little Willie John cover “I’m Shakin’” are wonderfully gritty: “I’m noivouss” says Jack, just like that. The plunk of the pianee (there’s a difference from piano) makes a welcome intrusion with the brilliantly titled “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” and “Weep Themselves to Sleep”, which drowns out Jack’s usually prominent guitar. More than anything Blunderbuss demonstrates a more grounded album, closer to reality than all of my favourite White Stripes albums put together (which is all of them). This new-found source of material certainly cements Jack the innovator, confirms Jack the genius, and offers us Jack the human being. Maybe he should get divorced more often?
“Well I get into the game, but it’s always the same/I’m the man with the name, Hip Eponymous Poor Boy (poor boy)”
11: Grimes – “Visions”. Intense. Relentless. Fascinating. Claire Boucher’s third album in two years as Grimes is a glorious exploration of sound with her haunting falsetto, being accompanied by a warehouse of influences from techno, dubstep to mainstream pop and euphoric dance. Any of the tracks on “Visions”, needs to be listened to initially in a dark room, with some seriously good headphones. Only then, can one hear the many layers which makes up Boucher’s compositions, none more so than the breath-taking “Circumambient” But hold your breath during the likes of “Genesis”, “Nightmusic” and the unnerving “Colour of Moonlight” – all amazing. These and the entire album demonstrate serious hard work and imagination, and despite a slightly unhinged sound, remains one of the most fresh and innovative works this year.
“Oh baby I can’t say/that everything is okay/cause I have a problem/and I don’t know where to start from”