2012 has been a terrific year for music, and you can always tell a good vintage by looking at those all important end of year lists. Below are just a few of our favourites (with this year’s undoubted One Note Forever album of choice coming electro-pop visionary Grimes), but let’s not forget this was also a year which has seen Dirty Projectors land a popular hit, Swans came back stronger than ever, Sharon Von Etten pouring her heart out, another great effort from Beach House and even Lambchop’s apparent swansong will stand up their with his very best work. Either way, the albums underneath are just a few reasons why 2012 was so flipping great!
Tom Jowett: Grizzly Bear – Shields (Warp)
In a year that has seen so many peaks from so many great artists, it is hard to ignore the phenomenal achievements of one band in particular; 2012 was the year that Grizzly Bear made it three out of three with their finest LP to date. On Shields, the band have created a rich album filled with flawless song-writing, beautiful arrangements and replaced their usual reserve with blusterous performance. Letting loose on upbeat tracks such as ‘Sleeping Ute’ and ‘Yet Again’ make the introversion of songs like ‘What’s Wrong’ appear even more tender and troubled. Shields’ payoff lies in the cinematic grandeur of the final two tracks, ‘Half Gate’ and ‘Sun In Your Eyes’; the finest climax of any album released this year. Addictive, captivating stuff from probably the best indie band in the world right now.
Charlotte Krol: Grimes – Visions (4AD)
Certainly one to file in ‘other’, Grimes third and best album to date is a tricky old thing to define. Critics have lazily described Claire Boucher’s music as having a ‘post-internet’ sound, but really she just has an incredible knack for marrying genres of the past with the present. The result is a kind of ancient machine: established and contemporary. Claire Boucher’s weightless, Cocteau Twins-like singing invariably meets with versatile synth patterns, an ambient sound that, unlike other modern electronic acts, doesn’t become repetitive. Whether it’s the menacing pop of ‘Oblivion’, the video game glitches of ‘Genesis’, the classical-meets-digital brainwash of ‘Symphonia IX’ or the cataclysms of ‘Circumambient’, Visions is the kind of record that you will return to time and time again.
Mark Wilkins: Ty Segall Band – Slaughterhouse (In The Red)
I think it’s fair to say that Ty Segall Band’s Slaughterhouse is neither the most original nor the most varied album I’ve heard in 2012. Truth be told I’m not sure it’s even the most original or varied Ty Segall album of 2012 (this one is the second of three). Be that as it may, once the fuzz fried tunes on this LP got their numerous barbed hooks lodged into my ever-shrinking grey matter I was gripped by a fever that no other artist has even coughed in my general direction this year – I’m talking about a multiple listens per day type of illness. Some say rock is dead and, well, maybe it is dying, but jolts of electricity like this might just save it from death-by-laptop for a few more years at least.
Tim Mobbs: Alt-J – An Awesome Wave (Infectious Music)
Perhaps what says more about An Awesome Wave is just how many people will almost subconsciously skip over this little justification for what is 2012’s best LP: The expectation provokes a sort of indifference from the average internet-wise music fan, although Alt-J deserve all the praise that has been heaped upon them. The album’s more recognisable moments artfully flitted from the crushing textures of ‘Fitzpleasure’ to the alluring warmth of ‘Tessellate’; two tracks that were virtually unavoidable for long periods of this year, perhaps turning a few people off as the hype hit maximum levels – myself included. Alt-J however have proven themselves to be the most capable this year by saddling the expectation and going one better with this beautiful and arresting album that soars above the pack with its sense of innovation and excitement whilst also treating us sweet with flourishes of the familiar. Magical stuff, indeed.
Dexter Bush: Grimes – Visions (4AD)
Every now and again an album of pure, unadulterated pop music so undeniably succinct in its vision and sure of itself, bursts out of nowhere into being, and grabs your attention. Grimes’ debut album Visions is one such album. In a year of fantastic independent records of every style and genre (Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear and Swans spring to mind) Visions creates an entire world to immerse yourself in. It’s warm, lush electronic arrangements and constantly surprising production make it an amazing headphones record, and after a few too many drinks, singles like ‘Oblivion’ and ‘Genesis’ are perfect hipster dancefloor fodder. In a world crammed full of electronic pop acts that fit so neatly into the ‘girl singer, guy producer’ mould, Grimes is both a singer and a producer to watch for 2013.
Joel Atkin: METZ – METZ (Sup Pop)
I’ve really struggled this time to decide on my album of the year, so I’ve managed to narrow it down two very close seconds and a winner by a pinch… Runner-up one is Hot Water Music’s Exister, which proved to be a brilliant return from hiatus. Runner up two is Stars’ The North, a beautiful album (as usual) and a much-needed antidote to 2010’s disappointing The Five Ghosts. My overall winner is METZ’s self-titled debut. The album from the Canadian trio is everything I’d want to make in a record; it is loud, filthy, discordant and hideous. If Steve Albini doesn’t produce their next album, I’ll be surprised as METZ are the natural heirs to Albini’s 1980s brand of noisy, gritty post-punk. If you haven’t heard of METZ and you like getting your ears assaulted in the best possible way, then check them out.
Taisie Tsikas: Tame Impala – Lonerism (Modular Recordings)
2012 was a year full of great albums so this was a tough choice! Well, it would have been if it wasn’t for Tame Impala’s Lonerism. What. A. Record. From the moment Kevin Parker starts intoning “Gotta be above it” as waves of reverb, echoes and crashing drums swell around you, you know it’s going to be beautiful. It worms around your brain snapping all your carefully laid out synapses (‘Apocalypse Dreams’) then tears up and stomps all over you (‘Elephant’), takes you away in its sweet melodies – then right at the end it lets you go spiralling into a dreamy abyss of sleepy, yet slightly twisted, content (‘Sun’s Coming Up’). The layered and obsessive sound is smothering, but what really gets you hooked are the tunes that will be swimming round your head after one listen, making you yearn for the full experience again. And again. And again…
Naomi Rose: Cold Specks – I Predict A Graceful Expulsion (Arts & Crafts)
It might seem a somewhat random choice; the Canadian-born, London-based doom soul/ gothic gospel songstress with a mysterious moniker hasn’t shown up on too many top-whatever lists this year. Al Spyx’s beyond-her-23-years vocals, full of range and rasp and gravel and grasp, are what grabbed me initially. But it’s the un-self-conscious back-of-the-throat emotion that lingers, the sense of struggle with faith and loss that’s left bare by minimal instrumentation, that made this album so non-derivative and distractingly good for me. But the main reason that I selected this collection of melancholy melodies as my pick for the year after wrestling with so many outstanding choices is that it logically had to be intimately tied with my chief musical regret for the year—not seeing Cold Specks at The Jericho when I had the chance. So yes, it may not be many people’s frontrunner, but when it comes to Cold Specks, I’ll quote my favourite song of hers: “I am I am I am I am a goddamned believer.”
Alexey Provolotsky: The North Sea Scrolls – The North Sea Scrolls (Fantastic Plastic)
A project as conceptually bizarre as it is musically and lyrically irresistible, The North Sea Scrolls is something of a musical lecture delivered by two great rock outsiders, Luke Haines and Cathal Coughlan (songs) and critic Andrew Mueller (narrations). This is an alternative history of England (main concern being music, obviously), which, needless to say, is steeped in irony, allusions and some of the year’s best tunes. Each scroll is followed by a song, either from Coughlan (soulfully crooned ballads with an edge) or from Haines (articulate acoustic strummers with Luke’s usual dry wit and amazing pop sensibilities). Slightly maddening and maddeningly brilliant, you owe it to yourself to hear The North Sea Scrolls and (preferably) catch them live. Fantastic stuff.
Selma Rezgui: TOY – TOY (Heavenly Recordings)
After the awkward hiccup that was Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong, Toy have risen, triumphant, from the ashes. With their self-titled debut, they proved beyond doubt that they are worth more than over hyped, sub-par indie rock. They are very much capable of swirling, psychedelic, krautrocky glory! With the infectious hooks and the occasional epic chorus craftily thrown in amongst the hypnotic soundscapes, the record is brilliantly enthralling. It nods satisfyingly to the krautrock legends and also more recent influences like The Horrors. The highlight of the album is the aptly titled ‘Motoring’. Its precise drums and swooping guitars and synths, coupled with Tom Dougall’s addictively deadpan vocals make it a song to obsess over. In short, TOY is brain-meltingly good.
Bea McDonald: Grimes – Visions (4AD)
Written after nine days in isolation, Grimes’ third album Visions is ethereal and unearthly with a dark undertone but none the less surprisingly accessible. It embraces a slightly more electro poppy sound than in previous albums but is still intricately composed with an abstract ambience. It has a strong sense of organised chaos and is filled with varied synths, bass and sporadic beats. Layering her fragile and slightly odd vocals by building and looping her whispered harmonies or stronger but still high pitched verses, she creates a distinctive and textured listen. Her lyrics although sometimes unintelligible, express a yearning emotion. It’s not flawless but its quirks only enhance it, making it a beautiful transcendent and memorable listen.
Franky Sissons: Dry The River – Shallow Bed (RCA Records)
Dry the River’s Shallow Bed is simply glorious – every nuance, every harmony is just right. It’s an amalgamation of deeply fervent reflections on issues ranging from love lost to alcoholism and it’s simply wonderful. ‘New Ceremony’ boasts some of the best lyrics on the album, delivered perfectly by Peter Liddle. My personal favourite, ‘Bible Belt’, probes into alcoholism in parents and its effect on children. ‘No Rest’ is a song about hopeless love. It all makes for excellent, though sometimes rather oppressive listening. Shallow Bed is a terrific debut for a terrific band.
Elle Corcoran: Alt-J – An Awesome Wave (Infectious Music)
From the emerald city of music (Leeds of course), Alt-J really took me by surprise. Grungy bass clashes with tinkly piano, epic guitar riffs and pagan vocals. There are elements of Baths, Ben Howard and OK Go meandering around in various tracks. They experiment with vocal sounds, unusual samples and percussive rhythms without sounding too abstract but plenty quirky. This album is hugely diverse with a track to suit every mood and season.