Well, this list may seem somewhat late, but I wanted to expand on last year’s ‘Best Of’ to incorporate more than just ‘Best Albums’ and make sure it was right. So without further ado, here are my best moments from 2012…
10.Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas
Leonard Cohen has always been old before his time and Old Ideas sees him wearing his age comfortably, like his well-cut suits. Though his output is resigned to a per-decade basis these days, these autumnal meditations on mortality show that Cohen’s bright star remains undiminished.
9. RM Hubbert – Thirteen Lost and Found
Reasons Why I Like Independent Record Stores #8: Hearing an album in-store that you fall in love with and buy immediately. Such was the case with RM Hubbert’s stunning collection of collaborations with friends and contemporaries.
8.Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
What is there that can really be said about Godspeed, which hasn’t already been said? Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! is Godspeed doing what they do best and is yet another jewel in their post-rock crown.
7. Lee Fields and The Expressions- Faithful Man
Criminally underrated for over four decades and still howling like a man half his age, Lee Fields is finally getting the recognition he deserves. With the departure of Solomon Burke (R.I.P.) in 2010, Fields may be the last of the great soul singers and Faithful Man proves just that.
6. Jack White – Blunderbuss
Jack White has always had a sense of the American Gothic around his music and just one look at Blunderbuss’s cover, which seems like a modern version of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, will give you a pretty good approximation of the album’s sound. Like a rag and bone man, White picks up scraps of whatever musical detritus is lying around and tinkers it into something which is new and recognisably his. Here, elements of traditional country and bluegrass are forged with White’s blues-punk sensibilities to create an album of astounding quality and musical ingenuity. Blunderbuss oscillates between riffy vitriol and melodic nursery rhyme, and my God does it sound good.
5. Chromatics – Kill For Love
There always has to be one album I stumble across while compiling these lists which shoots straight into it. This year it’s Chromatics’ Kill For Love, whose bewitching blend of 80’s electro-pop and Italo-disco snatched it a place in the top five. As with all Chromatics related projects (Desire, Glass Candy, Symmetry), there is a heavy focus on the cinematic and visual quality their music possesses. Here on Kill For Love, Chromatics deliver a collection of beguiling nocturnes presented in glorious Technicolor.
4. Bill Fay – Life Is People
Full of sublimely soulful music, this album signals the return of a major songwriting talent. From the majestic opener ‘There Is A Valley’ to the contemplative closer ‘The Coast No Man Can Tell’, it is clear that Bill Fay has endured a lot in his absence from the music scene. But Fay delivers his experiences and tribulations without bitterness, just hard-won compassion. Gospel singers and triumphant instrumentation buoy up the record, while Fay delivers his perceptive lyrics in a bruised, yet magnanimous, voice. Tragic and sweet, this is an album about overcoming hardship and looking back on it from the other side with your love for humanity still intact.
3. Frank Ocean – Channel ORANGE
What I suppose you could loosely term a concept album, Channel ORANGE is a sprawling collection of musical vignettes which moves between genres effortlessly, from hip-hop and jazz to funk and psychedelia Themes of sex, love and other drugs are masterfully interweaved throughout the album, where quieter and more self-aware moments such as ‘Pilot Jones’ and ‘Forrest Gump’ sit comfortably amongst more audacious tracks such as ‘Bad Religion’ and club opus ‘Pyramids’. For me though, it’s the throwaway interludes such as ‘Start’, ‘White’ and ‘Not Just Money’ which really tie the album together and evoke an atmosphere of late-night misgivings. ‘Thinkin Bout You’ might also be one of the most simple and beautiful love songs I’ve ever heard. Channel ORANGE is quite simply an album that feels utterly original
2. Poliça – Give You The Ghost
What a monster of an album. Poliça tread a fine line between warm intimacy and cool claustrophobia. Glacial synths and Channy Leaneagh’s echoing vocals provide a clinical frostiness, while resonant bass and cascading percussion give their sound an organic virility. These blend together into undulating waves that break against you in a way that is both sedating and stimulating at the same time. It’s a heady, intoxicating mix, which draws you in and envelops you on the first listen.
1. We Are Augustines – Rise Ye Sunken Ships
This is a band that a friend from home turned me onto and for that I owe her a huge debt. Finally seeing release in the UK earlier this year, Rise Ye Sunken Ships was born out of the disintegration of Pela and the untimely deaths of frontman Billy McCarthy’s brother and mother. With McCarthy’s wounded heart stitched firmly to the record’s sleeve, We Are Augustines channel this emotional intensity into twelve beautifully crafted songs. Surging and uplifting, not since Eels’s Electro-Shock Blues has heartbreak and personal loss sounded so jubilant or indomitable.
Frightened Rabbit – State Hospital
State Hospital is a claustrophobic and chilly collection that seemed perfectly appropriate when it landed late last year, just as the Scottish winter started to kick in. There are very few moments of optimistic solace available on these brutally abrasive tracks (even ‘State Hospital’s anthemic refrain ‘All is not lost’ seems borne out of desperation), but there’s no denying the emotional truth delivered in their maudlin messages. State Hospital points to a style that is rougher than previous album The Winter of Mixed Drinks, but is no less complex for the un-sanded edges. And Aidan Moffat’s bitter drawl is always welcome as far as I’m concerned
N.B. I may not have appreciated State Hospital so much if I hadn’t also had Josh Ritter’s Bringing In the Darlings to thaw me out after. Equally wintry themed, but whereas State Hospital is the biting winds that make your eyes water, Bringing in the Darlings is the fire that warms you on those cold nights. Ultimately State Hospital is more varied, but Josh Ritter’s effort is definitely worth checking out as well.
My Bloody Valentine – EP’s 1988-1991
This was very nearly Massive Attack’s reissue of the twenty year old Blue Lines, which still sounds as fresh and intriguing as ever. However, for sheer repackaging and bang-for-your-buck I’ve chosen My Bloody Valentine’s EP’s 1988-1991, which collects the now-rare You Made Me Realise, Glider and Tremolo EP’s with a few extras thrown in for good measure. Twenty years on, My Bloody Valentine still sound as kaleidoscopic and baffling as ever. And while their recent surprise follow up to Loveless (also reissued alongside this compilation), m b v, is worth the hype, this collection proves that the band had already made their mark and perfected their game before Loveless.
Twenty years into his career, Snoop Dogg changes his name to Snoop Lion. You seriously couldn’t make this stuff up. Can’t fault him for not having a sense of humour though:
Let me know what your favourite moments from 2012 were =)
– Most of ‘Best Albums’ taken from my Hercules Moments article, with the exception of Frank Ocean (i.e. I changed my mind writing this up, sue me).