So turns out I’m probably the only person to put a list like this out after 2012. I’m gonna pretend this is a really good thing and totally not just the sinking in of Christmas/New Year laziness. That said, if I hadn’t waited until now, there is one album on here that I only got on Christmas Day, so if I hadn’t waited there’d be a very different number 7.
What is particularly interesting about this list, compared to last year’s, is that I actually had the stats for which albums I had played the most, which means for this list I can be honest to myself. When I compiled this list, I found the top 5 remarkably easy, and when having written the 5, I then checked my stats, I was very pleased to discover I had listened to each in exactly the order you find them in here, which I hope proves that the music that is the best is the music that you want to listen to most. The other interesting thing is that the latter 5, from 10-6 were incredibly hard to pick, and albums like Sharon Van Etten’s ‘Tramp’, The Shins’ ‘Port of Morrow’, and Best Coast’s ‘The Only Place’ came incredibly close to making this list.
Either way, here are Anywhere In Albion’s top 10 albums of 2012.
10 – The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten
Gaslight can claim 2012 as the year that they truly broke worldwide. While earlier albums ‘The ’59 Sound’ and ‘American Slang’ earnt the band many fans, among them some of the band’s own heroes in Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam, it was with Handwritten that they had major success, charting at number 2 in the UK and getting number 1 on the US Billboard Rock and Alternative Charts and an overall number 3. However all of this is secondary to what is a fantastic album, with Gaslight pushing their sound to it’s peak, openers “45” and ‘Handwritten’ are some of the best songs they’ve ever written, and seeing them live in 2012 showed how well the album tracks work at gigs. The Gaslight Anthem play a type of retro Springsteen rock that aims straight for the heart, it is honest, emotive and open music, and with Handwritten they perfected this style.
9 – Soundgarden – King Animal
Hopefully I don’t need to tell you who Soundgarden are. If you’re unfortunate enough not to know of them and have liked any sort of hard rock from Nirvana to Black Sabbath then close this tab and go out and buy their seminal album ‘Superunknown’. The problem faced by Soundgarden is how do you recover from going from being one of the most iconic bands of the 90s, then having your lead singer flitter around in mediocre post-RATM Audioslave, A solo career that went from Bond Soundtrack highs to the facepalming of making an album with Timbaland. Well it seems like the rest of the band were in cryogenic storage as they come out kicking. The riffs are just as epic, the time signature work just as ingenious, the characteristic Soundgarden sound just as omnipresent, and yet evolved into something modern and relevant. Tracks like ‘Bones of Birds’, ‘Taree’ and ‘Attrition’ actually trump most of their pre-breakup album ‘Down on the Upside’. Before I heard this album I was assured that they were going to fail and ruin their legacy, there was no conceivable way that they could make a decent album. But I was so wrong, this isn’t just a good album, it’s a good Soundgarden album, and as such, it deserves a spot in this top 10.
8 – Lucy Rose – Like I Used To (full review here)
This is one where I just have to face up to how much I have listened to this album. I have played this a lot. I suspect the ‘cool’ opinion of Lucy Rose is a fairly dismissive one, an attempt to lump her into the bland-folk of artists like The Mumfords, Ben Howard etc.. But I strongly feel that the songs on this album are genuinly great songs. Singles ‘Middle of the Bed’, ‘Bikes’, ‘Night Bus’ and ‘Lines’ are all brilliantly written songs, merging personal lyrics with her fantastic singing, and on the latter using time signatures in a way that would make Soundgarden proud. Show me Mumford’s song in 7/4 thank you very much. But it is on the iconic ‘Shiver’ that Rose earns her stripes, much like Daughter’s ‘Youth’, it’s one of those adolescent guitary ballads that is just immensely powerful. I have to thank Chris ‘The Hawk’ Hawkins of BBC 6music for hearing her session which opened my ears to her talent. I’ll leave you with the thought that only a few months ago I would have opened something like this talking about her role as Bombay Bicycle Club backing singer, but considering her success this just seems irrelevant now.
7 – Portico Quartet – Portico Quartet
I received this album on Christmas day, and it’s one of two albums on this list that you can say is sort-of Jazz, although this one probably gets away with claiming it. This is the third album from this quartet so it may seem as an odd one to give their own name to, but this is an assured and coherent musical statement from a group recovering from one member being replaced. The group make music that hovers between the lines of Four Tet style ambient electronica with interlocking rhythms and the modern Sax-Jazz of this year’s Mercury nominated Roller Trio. The success of this album comes from the way the group fuse these to make something that feels very new and innovative. ‘Ruins’ goes from great ambience to epic jazz as a huge reverb-y drop launches a saxophone solo, while ‘Spinner’ balances 7/8 modern jazz with the clicks of electronica. As the album goes on we get Art Blakey drum cluster-bombs rubbing shoulders with hang loops and delicate piano. By holding back the only track with vocals, ‘Steepless’ (courtesy of guest Cornelia), until track 7, the quartet mixes things up just when the album could start to feel stale and turn great tracks into a fantastic album. It’s pioneering ideas, and breaking genres, paving the way for other artists to harness this merging of the tightness and improvisational freedom of jazz quartets with the experimental parts of electronic music that could become too rigid and pre-ordained on their own.
6 – Death Grips – The Money Store
Every now and then a piece of music comes along that properly blows your mind, the same way that Kid A could. this year’s mind-exploder was Death Grips, an art-punk-rap-industrial-techno-funk-whatever group from Sacremento, consisting of MC Ride, the tattoo laden rapper and frontman, ex-Hella fantastic drummer Zach Hill, and the mysterious producer Flatliner. Death Grips’ music is genreless and alienating, dividing music fans across the board. The one thing everyone can agree on though, is that this is the most innovative group this year, putting out two albums, one of them laden with a penis on the front cover, and making music no one could ever have imagined. This album is a perfect example of this with tracks like ‘Get Got’, ‘The Fever (Aye Aye)’ and ‘I’ve Seen Footage’ fusing this techno-industrial sound with some insane (in the sense of not entirely sane) rapping and some insane (in the sens of amazing) drums. It’s incredibly refreshing to hear something that has never been done before and changes everything, especially in an age where everything can seem so bland. If you think 2012 was a boring year for music, get this album as soon as you can.
5 – Purity Ring – Shrines
Boy-Girl duos were on the rise in 2012, and aside from the UK’s own AlunaGeorge, this group was pick of the bunch for their debut LP, Shrines. Singer Megan James weaves eery worlds full of ghosts and guts while producer Corin Roddick morphs these vocal lines into odd sounds and layers them over brillaint snappy beats that pulse about. It’s a perfect formula and it spawned 3 songs that made it into my Top 50 of the year, but as an album it still manages to be a coherent experience, allowing for more experimentation with ‘Cartographist’ and an unnerving ending with ‘Shuck’. Each one of the songs this duo put out has it’s own odd hybrid name, which works well to make the record seem consistent and self-contained. While criticisms can be made that the melodies can sound suspiciously similar, or that the album tracks are simply less-good versions of the main singles, these seem unduly harsh when considering how good these songs are, and how well they work as a complete album.
4 – Poliça – Give You The Ghost (full review here)
Poliça sound like no one at all. The synths are hard and heavy, the basslines pounding and funky, the vocals distorted beyond comprehension and dancing over the top, the drums are… doubled. This was the biggest grower on the list, an album that at first seemed impenetrable, but with time and the lyrics sheet provided with the CD that I never really intended to buy, it eventually revealed its secrets. And what secrets they are. Give You The Ghost is an album bursting with brilliant moments, from the opening of ‘Amongster with lyric of the year ‘Everyone’s asking where’s your child in this plan / Why you gonna ask me if I’d cut off my own hand’, to the most dance-esque track ‘Lay Your Cards Out’ that oozes class and coolness. The album ends with yet more stunning lyrics ‘In the days, in the nights, in the hours, leading up to your death, I won’t weep, I won’t weep / I dream of you, I dream of you / Oh my strangler.’ This fourpiece find a completely new sonic space and imbue it with all the emotion and songwriting that you could hope for, to produce a worthy challenger for the top spot. Unfortunately it was held off, by three records of outstanding quality, and as it happens, the exact three albums I have listened to most this year…
3 – Flying Lotus – Until The Quiet Comes
Flying Lotus, aka Stephen Ellison, the great-nephew of John and Alice Coltrane, produced an album that just blew my mind completely in two. From opener ‘All In’, FlyLo takes us on a journey, through rhythms and melodies that are never settled, or even seem to be in time. This album can’t and shouldn’t produce singles becuase that’s the exact opposite of how it works, this is an experience, and each moment lingers only long enough for it to be embedded in your brain and then moves on. It’s the closest electronic music has ever come to capturing the mastery of a jazz musician like Ornette Coleman. And Jazz is what it is, as the blood of improvisation and spontaneity run through this album from start to finish. Even a star studded list of guest vocalists seems irrelevant, Thom Yorke and Erkah Badu brushed aside in a wave of melody and rhythm. This description has been incredibly pretentious, which I can only excuse on the lines that I inhabit the same Indie/Alt universe as Pitchfork, but I truly find that I can either talk forever about this record or fail completely to find the right words to say how incredible putting on this album and sitting through it is. All I can do is recommend it if you’re willing to hear the most fascinating music of the year. I do admit though, that if you aren’t a fan of Jazz, or the more weird side of electronic music, then this will probably leave you very cold.
And look who it is, the winners of my previous best of 2011 list for their debut LP Too Slow. Well, Tom and his boat continued into 2012, very early on the year dropping follow up Teenage Blood, which was funded by the band’s own fans via Kickstarter. Now I make no pretense at hiding my fanboyism for this group, they’ve put out two of my favourite songs ever in ‘Concentrate’ and the title track for this record (see video below), and so it is no surprise they ended up here, especially not when the record was so good, earning them high profile fans with the likes of ex-XFM and now 6Music DJ Mary Anne Hobbs. Tom’s lyrics, as usual are front and centre the main draw of the band, and with this record he hit fantastic peaks, with every song now being well embedded in my head, and I definitely felt the melodies in this album trumped Too Slow’s, aided by harmonies from guitarist Ant and guest Fiona Keeler. It’s an album that scores The Boat some of their best ‘pop’ songs with the title track again, ‘Too Young’, ‘My Bones’ and ‘Neckbrace (Big Wave)’, but also manages to turn up some incredible atmospheric songs with the pent-up explosion of ‘Trouble With The Truth’ and the cinematic ‘Summer Drive’. It was a sequel that improved in every way possible upon their already outstanding debut, throwing echoes back to Tom Petty, Teenage Fanclub and The Band. Not content with just that, they also put out a bonus collection of b-sides, album session leftovers, music videos and a half hour documentary about the making of the record. Oh and a stunning Christmas single as well. So if it was such a better record than last year’s winner, how come Tom Williams and his Boat don’t take the top spot again…
1 – Alt-J – An Awesome Wave (full review here)
…because you knew what was coming. How could I not have awarded the album of the year to the one that for the whole year I have been saying was going to win. Alt-J’s continued rise makes me want to yell “I told you so!” to everyone, bringing out my day after release day receipt. But all that’s irrelevant hipster posing. I’m not going to bother telling you why this album is the best, you can read the review for that, or what it sounds like, because by now, you should know, and if you don’t know you can just go to spotify, or press play in the stream below, and hear a record that completely deserves the award it now wins. Congratulations to a band that dominated 2012. Alt-J’s An Awesome Wave is Anywhere In Albion’s Album of 2012. That’s a fucklot of A’s.