Thursday, 20 December 2012

2012: Albums Of The Year - Top 30

Title: Information Retrieved
Artist: Pinback
Label: Temporary Residence
Favourite Tracks: Proceed to Memory, Denslow, You Idiot!, Sediment

Words: Pinkback has always posed as a band I’ve been hesitant about. In the past I’ve found them to be quite insipid. However, Information Retrieved appears to break the mould, with the San Diego duo creating – in my opinion - their most focused and immediate release yet. It’s a solid front to back affair that could certainly prove to be one of those go-to records we all have in our collection. On a personal note, it may just open up a window to revisit their past work and find something that couldn’t be found the first time.
Title: Worship
Artist: A Place To Bury Strangers
Label: Dead Oceans
Favourite Tracks: Mind Control, Fear, Slide

Words: If anyone was worthy of being a tribute band for The Jesus and Mary Chain then A Place To Bury Strangers would win hands down. Worship is probably a little less cathartic than their previous release, Exploding Head, however in saying that, there’s still enough to perforate your ear drums. If anything the focus is directed towards the song writing, as Oliver Ackermann's themes seem more heartfelt than what we have come to associate with this band. It makes for interesting listening this time around. A good progression.

Title: Spooky Action at a Distance
Artist: Lotus Plaza
Label: Kranky
Favourite Tracks: Dusty Rhodes, Monoliths, Remember Our Days

Words: Lockett Pundt continues to spread his wings with his Deerhunter off-shoot project, Lotus Plaza. Album number two is far more focused than its predecessor, with Pundt displaying some top quality song writing ('Dusty Rhodes' easily being in the top 10 tracks I’ve heard this year). SAAAD is on par – and if not better – than Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest. Pundt is not only an integral part Deerhunter, but as a solo artist, he mixes it with the finest going around at the moment.

Title: Bend Beyond
Artist: Woods
Label: Woodist
Favourite Tracks: It Ain't Easy, Wind was the Wine, Impossible Sky

Words:  This is folk pop at its sunniest. I have no doubt that this batch of tunes stemmed from certain darkness, but like, for example, Belle and Sebastian, Woods seem to prosper from this contrast. They return with less prog and more pop and I must say, the result is very nice. It’s catchy, it’s solid and when you combine the two, Bend Beyond poses as one of those "light at the end of the tunnel" type records.

Title: Passage
Artist: Exitmusic
Label: Secretly Canadian
Favourite Tracks: White Noise, Stars, The Modern Age

Words:  If Cold Speck’s Al Spx’s brought the most haunting quality to the table this year, Exitmusic’s Aleksa Palladino ran a very close second. Passage is a menacing debut album that hits you in a very similar way to the venerable Joshua T. Pearson’s Last of the Country Gentlemen. Two very different albums, but in context, the wrenching emotion is still very much the focal point. Palladino’s voice is fragile, chilling and essentially everything one associates with darkness.

Title: Open Your Heart
Artist: The Men
Label: Sacred Bones
Favourite Tracks: Oscillation, Please Don't Go Away, Presence

Words:  Bearing quite the literal namesake, New York’s The Men deliver a nice array of alternative rock with their second album; an interesting departure from their last, Leaving Home. It appears they have indeed left home, as Open Up your Heart consists of fast build-ups, wah-wah guitar and frenzied drumming that operates in the realm of foot stomping garage rock that almost boarders on anthemic (okay, well, not quite). It's quite the democratic record when you get down to the bare bones of it.

Title: Negotiations
Artist: The Helio Sequence
Label: Sub Pop
Favourite Tracks: October, Hall of Mirrors, Negotiations

Words:  The Portland duo has followed up their breakthrough album, Keep Your Eyes Ahead, with yet more goodness. Fans of the last Boxer Rebellion album; this will certainly be your saucer of rat poison. The Helio Sequence unleashes more reverb and catchy hooks as opposed to their trans-Atlantic cousins, which makes this even more of a triumph! Negotiations doesn’t stray too far from the sounds of KYEA. However, as far as quality goes, this shades it.
Title: Natural History
Artist: Dope Body
Label: Drag City
Favourite Tracks: Beat, Out of My Mind, Weird Mirror

Words: So, this is pretty much what The Bronx would sound like if they traded beer for pot. In fairness, Baltimore natives, Dope Body, probably fall somewhere in the realm of the above mentioned and the mighty Pissed Jeans. The results speak for themselves. Natural History is a record that’s foot stomping in parts, bludgeoning in others. I can’t wait for their next one. That’s where things could really transcend for these guys. That’s not taking anything away from this album, though. There’s a slew of important moments right here. 

Title: Dept. of Disappearance
Artist: Jason Lytle
Label: Matador Records
Favourite Tracks: Dept. of Disappearance, Somewhere There's a Someone, Gimme Click Gimme Grid

Words: I’ve always been a casual follower of Grandaddy; perhaps I’d be a little bit more if I allot them a little more listening time. Jason Lytle’s latest solo album will certainly put more weight towards me doing so. This is the album Wayne Coyne should be looking to write, instead of slipping deeper into the realm of non pertinence. From front to back, there probably isn’t a better Sunday afternoon album released this year than DoD.

Title: The Money Store
Artist: Death Grips
Label: Epic Records
Favourite Tracks: Get Got, Hustle Bones, Punk Weight

Words: Possessing an ‘80s hip hop pastiche, Death Grips (Stefan Burnett and Zack Hill) add a hostile discordance backed by some straight-up social awareness. What transpires is this a rave-rap hybrid that makes your head spin out of control. This is what music is about; grabbing you by the throat and saying "fucking listen to me now!". Pure and simple, it’s a head fuck and it's one of a kind. Their second album this year, No Love Web, is in the same zone, but The Money Store certainly achieves the finest results. I'm not qualified to present any more superlatives, so do yourself a favour and get listening if you haven't done so already.
Title: Go Easy
Artist: Blank Realm
Label: Stiltbreeze
Favourite Tracks: Cleaning Up My Mess, Working on Love, Pendulum Swing

Words: As far as up and coming bands in Australia goes, Brisbane’s Blank Realm are the most important. Their third album is their most ‘user friendly’ yet, morphing elements of psychedelic riff-a-rolla into a pop sensibility that doesn’t stray too far away from BR’s intense live cannon. Surmising, the album takes no prisoners. The formidable Lawrence English assumed the role of recording Go Easy. It’s worked out to be a good pairing indeed. 2013 will be a big year for the four piece.

Title: Aufheben
Artist: The Brian Jonestown Massacre
Label: 'a' Recordings
Favourite Tracks: I Want to Hold Your Other Hand, Stairway to the best Party in the Universe, Walking up to Hand Grenades 

Words: Anton Newcombe and the BJM have delivered their finest and most focused effort since Bravery Repetition and Noise. With guitarist, Matt Hollywood, well and truly back in the fold, Aufheben is somewhat of a renaissance for one of the world’s most turbulent acts. I’m sure many people were unsure as to whether the BJM had an album like this left in them. There's no more uncertainty about the issue. This most certainly is a return to form.

Title: Mid Air
Artist: Paul Buchanan
Label: Newsroom Records
Favourite Tracks: Mid Air, Cars in the Garden, Wedding Party

Words: This is probably the most emotionally driven album I’ve listened to this year. After all, it’s been nearly eight years since we’ve heard from The Blue Nile frontman, Paul Buchanan, so the level of desolation is hardly surprising. The sadness almost oozes from the speakers, not too dissimilar to the likes of Sharon Van Etten’s Tramp. Buchanan wins out on the level of misery, hence why I’m sat here talking about him and not Sharon.

Title: The Politics of Envy
Artist: Mark Stewart
Label: Future Noise Music
Favourite Tracks: Vanity Kills, Gang War, Stereotype

Words: Punk, dubstep, funk, and (stay with me, folks), a dabble of stadium rock (head nod to U2?). It shouldn’t work, but backed by a political landscape, this is a beast of an album. It may have drifted by the wayside to the masses this year, but The Politics of Envy is the hidden gem that shouldn’t be frowned upon. Mark Stewart could do no wrong with The Pop Group. It appears this is the case in a singular sense, too.

Title: Shields
Artist: Grizzly Bear
Label: Warp
Favourite Tracks: Sleeping Ute, Speak in Rounds, Half Gate, Sun in Your Eyes

Words: Grizzly Bear are a slow burner for me. However there’s always been something in their music that incessantly draws me back to them. Although I still think Veckatimest is an impenetrable affair, Shields is certainly more of an immediate proposition. It’s certainly their most accessible yet and may even be their most aggressive (if you could associate aggression with this bunch?). The musicianship and interplay between Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen is quite exceptional. 

Title: Unsound
Artist: Mission of Burma
Label: Fire Records
Favourite Tracks: Semi-Pseudo-Sort-Of Plan, This is Hi-Fi, Add In Unison

Words: Very much overlooked these days, however the way I see it is the older statesmen showing the young bucks how it’s done. That’s Unsound in a nutshell, really. This is the attitude of “let’s get back in the garage for old times’ sake and rock the fuck out!” Bob Weston’s fingerprints are found all over this album, with his raw and abrasive low tone recording techniques complimenting the already full-throttle ethos this band has expressed since day dot. 

Title: Heaven
Artist: The Walkmen
Label: Fat Possum
Favourite Tracks: Line By Line, The Love You Love, Heaven


Words: Every other year, you just know The Walkmen will produce another album. That’s how it’s been during their illustrious career and the world is a better place for it. Up until Heaven, they’ve always had the grand knack of producing gems, which lay amongst brothers and sisters that could be cast upon as black sheep, or in more blunt terms, filler. Heaven, however, is their most consistent release to date with the flat spots at a minimum. Does anyone else think The Walkmen would be a perfect backdrop to an episode of Mad Men? Okay, it’s just me…
Title: The Plot Against Common Sense
Artist: Future Of The Left
Label: Xtra Mile Recordings
Favourite Tracks: Sheena is aT-Shirt Salesman, Goals in Slow Motion, Sorry Day I Was Late for the Riots, Rubber Animals

Words:  As far as social commentary in 2012 goes, TPACS pisses it in. Look no further than the title (actually, please do). No one’s safe, as Andrew Falkous spits venom in every direction (from Robo Cop to Burger King). While Steven Patrick Morrissey would be best served occupying the steps of the Houses of Parliament or the gates of Kensington Palace, Mr. Falkous is probably more content shooting his rancour sat in the corner of a Cardiff boozer or even on the football terraces. Sharpe tongued and backed with a sound that packs a mighty punch. This is Future Of Left’s finest album to date and lyrically as good as anything Falkous has penned, even as front man of Mclusky.

Title: I Predict A Graceful Expulsion
Artist: Cold Specks
Label: Mute/Arts & Crafts
Favourite Tracks: Heavy Hands, Winter Solstice, Blank Maps

Words: London resident, Al Spx, has delivered one of the darkest albums to see the light of day this year. IPAGE could easily be described as a female version of Tom Waites circa the Foreign Affairs era or even in a similar vein to PJ Harvey’s Dry. The raw emotion is rampant and delivered by Spx in a husky, soulful vocal that is as inimitable as the day is long. The British masses should really put the likes of Adele in the bin where she belongs, and embrace the likes of Cold Specks. We’d be all a lot better off that way.

Title: Honour Found In Decay
Artist: Neurosis
Label: Neurot Recordings
Favourite Tracks: At the Well, My Heart for Deliverance, Raise the Dawn

Words: You could say it’s more of the same from the pioneers of “post-metal”, and to be honest, that’s good enough for me. Another in the long line of boundary breaking albums they’ve made with associate and “recorder”, Steve Albini. To me, HFID is a refined beauty of the art Neurosis has graced its audience with for the best part of 25 years. Seven tracks, each has its own story backed by gentle build-ups and crushing finishes. Scott Kelly’s songwriting qualities may go unnoticed by some, which is a shame, as he is easily one of the most important to come out of the metal genre in the last 20 years.

Title: Portico Quartet
Artist: Portico Quartet
Label: Real World Records
Favourite Tracks: Ruins, Rubidiam, City of Glass

Words: While the rest of London has primarily gone mad for grime and dubstep over the past ten years, these four lads from East London have lived together and belted out a hybrid of jazz, experimental rock, almost total oblivious to what's going on around them. Or so it seems. Portico Quartet have been active for the last five years and they continue to grow into something brooding, urgent and, well, just plain fucking good! Jam packed with celestial vibes, this is almost the perfect night time album.

Title: The Horror
Artist: Pop. 1280
Label: Sacred Bones
Favourite Tracks: New Electronics, Nature Boy, Crime Time

Words: Sludge, noise, garage, and just pure rock ‘n’ roll. Various bands have dabbled in a similar vein this year, however New York’s Pop.1280 have come out on top as far as I’m concerned. I’m mean, who really talks about priests “rubbing one out”? In all, it’s a solid back to front, no nonsense debut that outshines its contemporaries. Tread carefully when you’re playing this one. You may not feel the same after it.

Title: Yellow & Green
Artist: Baroness
Label: Relapse Records
Favourite Tracks: March to the Sea, Back Where I Belong, Sea Lugs, Green Theme

Words: Although shunned by various quarters of the metal community, Baroness come into their own with this release, not only tinkering with their sound template, but spanning it over two discs. Metal is as its finest when aggression is articulated and John Paizley and Co. have certainly championed this theory on LP number three. It took a little time, but when there, the results are compelling.

Title: Maraqopa
Artist: Damien Jurado
Label: Secretly Canadian
Favourite Tracks: Life Away From the Garden, Working Titles, Museum of Flight

Words: First and foremost, Damien Jurado is a song-smith. Maraqopa meanders in a rich vein, as the themes Jurado heaps upon his listeners pricks the ears and demands instant attention. His way with words appears simple on the surface, but underneath it’s the subtleties he conjures that makes him one of kind. This is certainly in the top echelon of albums he’s made and as a singer-songwriter, coupled with brilliant guitar prowess. He certainly remains a bastion of the folk genre.  

Title: Wild Peace
Artist: Echo Lake
Label: Slumberland
Favourite Tracks: Another Day, Even the Blind, Just Kids

Words: So many artists over the last decade have adopted the pastiche of shoegaze, so much so that I just about gave up on listening to anything remotely associated with the genre. That’s no discredit to London’s Echo Lake. They’re swimming in similar waters but without sounding like a contradicting fool, they’ve got their own nuances. And, quite frankly, their debut album, Wild Peace, is fantastic! A lot of female fronted pop bands accompanied with keyboards and pop overtures are merely disposal cast offs that will be forgotten about in six months, but Echo Lake have delivered something so prominent that they won’t fall victim to any such notion. 

Title: R.I.P.
Artist: Actress
Label: Honest Jon's Records
Favourite Tracks: Ascending, Shadow from Tatarus, Caves of Paradise, Iwaad

Words: Darren J. Cunningham has created an album that demonstrates a collage of composition, abstract, ambience and distortion. As strange as it sounds, it could almost be defined as an electronic album for people who don’t like electronic music. There’s no detachment that one feels when listening to the earlier works of someone like Four Tet (sorry to the foundation supporters of Fourt Tet). There’s tension that drips throughout these 15 songs. You can almost feel the streets of London through this album; a feeling I personally associate when listening to Burial. It can't be questioned. R.I.P. is a conquest.  

Title: Toward The Low Sun
Artist: Dirty Three
Label: Drag City, Bella Union

Favourite Tracks: Te Pier, Ashen Snow, You Greet Her Ghost


 Australia’s finest instrumental collective return with their finest effort since the seminal Ocean Songs, in my opinion. Jim White’s drumming is basically worthy of one’s complete attention for the album’s 42 minute duration. Warren Ellis’ heartfelt chords on violin and Mick Turner’s plucky guitars add further weight to this emotional tour de force. Songs to play at your wedding, and indeed at your funeral. And as far as live bands go; The Dirty Three are like no other.    

Title: Between the Times and the Tides
Artist: Lee Ranaldo
Label: Matador Records
Favourite Tracks: Xtina As I Knew Her, Angeles, Stranded

Words: I’ve yearned for Lee Ranaldo to make a solo album for years. The results are exactly how you’d expect them to be. An annex of his song-writing ability with Sonic Youth, coupled with various head nods in the direction of Neil Young. From start to finish, the song writing is water tight. Predictable, you say? I guess we can’t all get a hard-on listening to Wolf Eyes bootlegs.
Title: Lost Songs
Artist: ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
Label: Richter Scale
Favourite Tracks: A Place to Rest, Catatonic, Heart of Wires, Awestruck

Words: People say AYWKUBTTOD’s urgency and fire in the belly has returned, but to be honest, I don’t think it ever departed. This time the channel in which they’ve directed their fury ends with maximum results. Conrad Keely and Jason Reece pose as the perfect double act. The latter enjoys his watershed throughout Lost Songs; easily in their top three albums to boot. In fact, The Deads have delivered my favourite post-hardcore album in years.

Title: WIXIW
Artist: Liars
Label: Mute
Favourite Tracks: The Exact Colour of Doubt, No. 1 Against the Rush, His and Mine Sensations, Who is the Hunter, Brats

Words: Liars’ creative hub holds no bounds. They’re one of the few genre hopping collectives today who continuously astound their listeners with what they produce. WIXIW (pronounced “Wish You”) sees Angus Andrew, Aaron Hemphill and Julian Gross depart from their rockier soundscapes in order to adopt a more sonic textural approach. No doubt comparisons will form, however it would be unjust to pigeonhole this animal. So many moments during this album stand out for me and have done since the first time I had the pleasure of holding an ear to it. There’s a trajectory with this album that takes you places that you wouldn’t expect to go with this band; quite ironic given their history. Expect the unexpected is the Liars’ mantra. More bands should assume a similar approach.

By Simon K.