Yes, it’s another end of year list, but instead of doing my top albums I wanted to take a different tack and give credit to individuals who have particularly shone rather than the works they have made. Consider this the inaugural AiA Awards, so without further ado, allow me to present the winners.
Man of 2012 – Steven Ellison aka Flying Lotus
Super-producer Flying Lotus is the first winner of AiA’s man of the year. It was started by his incredible album ‘Until The Quiet Comes’ which merges Jazz and Electronica beautifully, and weaving in guest spots from Thom Yorke and Erykah Badu into a fluid album that visits so many musical areas while still being one coherent journey through his mind. But what separated Ellison from any other person making brillaint albums, is that this great-nephew of John and Alice Coltrane also had a secret identity, as the elusive rapper Captain Murphy. Murphy became quite a talked about figure despite (or because of) his anonymity after the mixtape ‘Duality’ was released, and it’s easy to see why, as the flow is superb and the beats are fantastic. When a live performance revealed Murphy to be Ellison it all made perfect sense, and so this year’s man of the year goes to the man who can make the best electronic album around, and then stun everyone with some seriously good rapping credentials, letting everybody know Ellison is a proper genius.
Honourable mentions: PSY, Frank Ocean, The Weeknd.
Woman of 2012 – Claire Boucher aka Grimes
Boucher earns her place here not only for making the album ‘Visions’ that won her such universal acclaim from journalists, blogs and other musicians alike, but also for the seamless way she has taken an important role in popular culture. Grimes’ music has seemed somewhat ubiquitous this year, and that’s because of the way she bridged the Electronica and Indie music worlds. In doing so she made herself somewhat of an icon. She manages to reverse the ever-so-slightly-annoying trend of modern electronic pop music makers being a shadowy male behind a laptop with a pretty girl doing vocals, which always seemed a little bit sexist, as if women were only the pleasant window-dressing to a clever man’s work. Grimes is a powerful, solo female icon at the top of her genre. She’s also responsible for breaking a number of smaller artists onto a larger stage, particularly Twigs, who seems to be her English counterpart. She only really ‘broke’ this year, but has garnered pretty much universal respect, all the while being truly weird, which is refreshing as we’ve had far too many overly pleasant musicians and it’s time we had some musicians who weren’t afraid to look and sound like nutters. So for her success, her pop culture position and her willingness to embrace weirdness, Claire Boucher is our woman of the year.
Honourable mentions: Angel Haze, Lucy Rose, Sharon Van Etten.
Band of 2012 – Death Grips
This was the easiest pick of any of the categories of these awards. Simply put, Death Grips have redifined whatever they’ve touched. Whether it is the fact that they put out two albums in 2012, the first of which redefined rap music, merging it with Punk, Industrial and Techno to make music that sounds like nothing ever made by anyone, ever, and the second that redefined their own sound, pushing their creations to a darker, more minimal edge without losing any of what made the first special. Then there’s when they proved themselves the last true punk band alive (or pulling off the year’s greatest publicity stunt) by splitting from their label, cancelling their summer tour, and giving away their awesome second album of the year for free on the internet, and posting private emails from their label on facebook. Oh yeah, and there’s the small matter of making the cover art for said second album a penis with the album title written on it. They have awed the music industry and in a time where it was becoming all to easy to moan about bland major label control of music, Death Grips were a slap in the face to 2012.
Honourable mentions: Alt-J, AlunaGeorge, Purity Ring, TNGHT.
Singer of 2012 – Brittany Howard (Alabama Shakes)
The vocalist for one of 2012’s best new arrivals, Alabama Shakes, was probably the main draw for this band. Howard managed to bring all the class and cool of soul and combine it with a passion and energy that perfectly fitted the retro rock’n’roll that the outfit produced. Comparisons to Janis Joplin made perfect sense as Howard’s power and intensity were clear to anyone who encountered the band.
Honourable mentions: Jehn Beth (Savages), Frank Ocean, Tom Williams, Mark Lanegan.
Guitarist of 2012 – Jack White
2012 was another year in which Jack White proved why he’s such an icon of modern music. His album ‘Blunderbuss’ stole from any and all styles of music available, led by himself and his iconic guitar playing. There are very few people who can pull of riffs like Jack White can, whether it’s in the crackle of songs like ‘Sixteen Saltines’ or his cover of ‘I’m Shaking’. But what truly marks White out from the crowd of brilliant guitarists, even more than his ridiculous multi-faceted role as head of a label, collaberator etc. is his restraint. White never takes his guitar where it doesn’t help the song he’s crafting, he wasn’t afraid to have piano lead many of his songs from ‘Blunderbuss’ to ‘I Guess I Should Go To Sleep’, proving that one of best modern musicians around also has one of the smallest egos in music (and also one of the best drummers I’ve ever seen in the video below).
Honourable Mentions: Douglas Castle (Peace), Kevin Parker (Tame Impala), Kim Thayil (Soundgarden).
Bassist of 2012 – Ayse Hassan (Savages)
If you’re gonna form a post-punk band then there’s one member of your band that has to be the rock you bass yourselves on (see what I did there). Ayse Hassan provided this for one of the many ‘return of guitar music’ acts to arise in 2012. Hassan’s bass work is as solid as anything you’re gonna hear this year, its pounding drive absolutely core to what makes Savages stand out from the crowd. All the tension, aggression and menace is right there in the bass line. The obvious reference point here is Joy Division, but comparisons to The Cure work equally well. Songs like ‘Flying To Berlin’ and ‘City’s Full’ (the one in the clip below) are pretty much powered by basslines, and even their best track ‘Husbands’ hinges on Hassan holding its chaos and calm together. And last of all, she has the most awesome name of anyone on this list.
Honourable mentions: Chris Bierden (Poliça), Lesley Hann(Friends), Ben Shepherd (Soundgarden).
Drummer of 2012 – Thom Green (Alt-J)
This was the second easiest choice to make after Death Grips for band of year. Simply put no one else’s drumming skills and style have caused as much of a stir as Green’s stickwork. He managed to find a place for acoustic drumming in areas where it seemed electronic and programmed kits were king, and his metronomic and cymbal-less sound has become iconic, and it won’t be long before generations of Alt-J influenced drummers start forming bands and getting airplay, all mimicking Green’s sound. Tracks like ‘Something Good’ and ‘Dissolve Me’ use complex but natural patterns to capture your ears and drag you deep into the song. With An Awesome Wave, Green put himself at the forefront of modern drumming, best in 2012, no contest.
Honourable mentions:Fay Milton (Savages), Drew Christopherson & Ben Ivascu (Poliça).
MC/Rapper of 2012 – Angel Haze
Haze wins rapper of 2012 because every blogger and music journo absolutely shat themselves over her this year. And it’s ver easy to see why. Haze is absurdly talented, her 2012 mixtape RESERVATION took her to the top of the game pretty much instantly with tracks ‘New York’ and ‘Werkin Girls’ scoring radio plays and viral successes. Female rappers have a tendency to be categorised and patronised, overlooked when it comes to best rapper lists, but Haze’s sheer force and will stunned many instantly, her absurdly audacious claim to ‘run New York’ sounded like a true threat to any established rapper. Haze is also marked out with a horrific past story (documented in her version of ‘Cleaning Out My Closet’) and combines it with a ferocious intelligence, apparently only being persuaded into moving from poetry to rap by a friend. Regardless of any of that though, Haze wins 2012 out of sheer skill, testament to the admirable nature of the Hip-Hop industry that all it takes to make it is ability, none of the bullshit that infests the alt/indie scene.
Honourable mentions: Kendrick Lamar, El-P, Killer Mike.
So there we have it, the top pretty much everything for 2012 (I excluded producer because it’s clear who would’ve won it). I’m a bit sad there was no place for Purity Ring or Poliça but that’s the point of these things I guess. Hope you enjoyed reading it and feel free to disagree violently in the comments below.