Thursday, 20 December 2012

Music: The best albums of 2012

With 2012 coming to a close, it is now time to consider the albums that made this year such a great one for music:

Tame Impala – Lonerism

The Australian psychedelic revivalists returned this year with a follow up to their awesome 2010 offering Inner Speaker. Lonerism won’t win awards for innovation, but it is an album bursting with excellent atmospheric song-writing. With tracks like the sleazy glam-rock stomper ‘Elephant’, and the swirling intensity of ‘Endors Toi’, you’d be hard-pressed not to fall in love with Lonerism.

Japandroids – Celebration Rock
As the follow-up to their boisterous 2009 debut Post-Nothing, Celebration sees Japandroids develop their Superchunk-inspired brand of frenetic fuzz-drenched pop towards something more mature and accomplished. The tumultuous intensity of Post-Nothing is still present, but the listener is given more room to breathe. It’s a short album, but nothing goes to waste and each track is an anthem in its own right.

Disasterpeace – FEZ (Original Soundtrack)
Videogame soundtracks don’t tend to register with most critics when considering their albums of the year, but Disasterpeace’s stirring soundtrack to the dimension-warping, cryptographic puzzler FEZ rates as one of the most accomplished videogame soundtracks of all time. With its layered chiptune melodies and stirring soundscapes, it’s both innovative and stunning.

Grizzly Bear – Shields

The fourth album from New York indie heroes Grizzly Bear marks something of a departure from their previous work. The album is much darker than previous offerings, and sees the band broaden their musical sound, with blues and jazz influences filtering through. Highlights include the wonderfully melodic ‘Yet Again’ and the soporific rhythm of ‘Gun-Shy’.

Actress – RIP
This is what happens when dance music is taken to the fringes of the genre; it is as if producer Darren Cunningham is standing over the mutilated corpse of house music and twisting its body parts into macabre constructions. You won’t hear Actress being played in a nightclub: the atmospheric compositions are fractured, ambient, and avant-garde in spirit.

Mars Volta – Noctourniquet
Mars Volta’s sixth album sees the band continue down the path of prog experimentation, but the excesses of their earlier albums have been reined in somewhat. There are still the moments of blistering intensity that have become synonymous with their sound, and the band have spent more time crafting great songs rather than indulging in free-form noise.

Bobby Womack – The Bravest Man in the Universe
Bobby Womack has always been an extraordinary vocal talent, but when it emerged that Womack was set to collaborate with produce Richard Russell, it was clear that something special was going to be made. His first album in over a decade sees Womack’s vocals set against minimalist electronica and sparce instrumentation.

Django Django – Django Django

There’s something quite irresistible about art-school indie songsmiths Django Django. It’s avant-garde music made palatable to a mainstream audience: there’s enough innovation in there to appease the musos among us, whilst retaining a charming pop sensibility. Django Django are continuing along the same musical path as The Beta Band and Super Furry Animals, but more in spirit than in sound.

Royal Thunder – CVI
If you like your metal to be brutal, your guitar riffs to shred, and your vocals to scream, wail or roar, this probably isn’t the album for you. Bewitching female vocals combine with a range of musical influences from the sludgy doom-laden tones of bands like Baroness and Cult of Luna, to the blues-tinged stoner-rock of Earth and Abdullah. This is a subtle and understated album.

Alt-J – An Awesome Wave
This year’s Mercury winners will no doubt make it on to every music critic’s top albums list this year, but for good reason: the album is excellent. Tracks like the sumptuous ‘Tessellate’, the Philip Glass inspired ‘Something Good’ and the heartbreaking ‘Matilda’ show exactly why Alt-J are so deserving of the accolades they have received. Bizarre vocal harmonies, innovative fractured beats, and a keen sense for song-writing make this one the best albums of the year.

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