Tag Archives: album of 2012

The Top 10 Albums of 2012

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

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

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)

Lucy Rose - Like I Used To

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

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

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

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)

Give You The Ghost

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 - 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.

2 – Tom Williams & The Boat – Teenage Blood (full review here & interview here)

Tom Williams & The Boat - teenage bloodAnd 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)

Alt-J - An Awesome Wave

…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.

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Poliça – Give You The Ghost – Review

Futuristic genre-defying music from the American outfit

Give You The Ghost, the debut record from Minneapolis band Poliça, has grown on me in a way unlike any other album I’ve heard. It is a complete revelation, a record so unbelievably unique that it stands, much like album of the year contenders Alt-J, genre-less.

Poliça emerged from GAYNGS, a musical collective that featured Bon Iver members Justin Vernon and Mike Noyce. Singer Channy Leaneagh and producer Ryan Olsen, both GAYNGS members, teamed up to exploit Leaneagh’s voice and experiment. This evolved into a fourpiece of vocals, bass and, one of the coolest things ever, TWO DRUMMERS. Sick.

The first thing that strikes about the music of Poliça, is how ethereal it sounds. Synths and bass murmur around, never settling, making the music constantly on edge. Leaneagh’s vocals soar above, only emerging through very heavy treating, with auto-tune and layers of delay and reverb. If the mention of auto-tune turns you off, then you wouldn’t be alone. If someone had told me that before I heard them, I’d have done the same. But Poliça need to get credit for making it the only use of auto-tune I have ever liked, it is very, very clear that it is an artistic move and not a compensation.

The sound that all these elements combine to produce the most futuristic album I have ever heard. It moves beyond any synth/electronic music but it’s far more than its acoustic elements. The two drummers merge beautifully at times rising to a cacophony in songs like opener ‘Amongster’ and at others, providing a studied, understated drive such as ‘Happy Be Fine’. The bass goes from punkish aggression, in ‘Violent Games’, to a cracking funk in ‘Dark Star’ and ‘Form’. Vocally, the album is spot on and the varied synths always complement the song and never override the pure soul of the songs.

While all of this is going on, they’ve managed to produce some of the best lyrics I’ve heard this year. You wouldn’t know on first listen, however, as all the effects combined with Leaneagh’s style make it near impossible to understand what she’s singing. luckily, buying the CD gets you a handy lyric book and the mastery can be revealed.

At its heart, Give You The Ghost is that classic tradition of music, the break-up album. But this break-up was a divorce, shadowed by the break-up of Leaneagh’s main band, Roma di Luna, and leaving a young child in the middle. The lyrics reflect on this from all angles, and in such a unique, and uniquely feminine, way. It ranges from calm and reflective ‘I need some time, to think about my life, without you’, passionate defence ‘Everyone’s asking where’s your child in this plan? / Why you gonna ask me if I’d cut off my own hand’, defiance ‘Ain’t a man in this world who can pull me down from my dark star / I will remain there it’s done me good so far’, repentence ‘It’s a brand new day and I’m sorry / I will never take her away… I wish you would kick me in my face / I’m the victim I did it’, and by closing track ‘Leading to Death’ Leaneagh merges righteous anger with the brutal honesty of the album: ‘In the days, In the nights, In the hours leading up to your death, I won’t weep… I dream of you oh my strangler, I dream of you.’

Give You The Ghost

With these lyrics, only ever half-heard among the phenomenal music its soars over, the album draws you in, its grip tightening on every next listen. When I bought this album, it was complete fluke, I went in to HMV looking for FOE’s ‘Bad Dream Hotline’, but settled for this album when I couldn’t find the FOE. After a few weeks I was stunned to see how much I’d listened to it, far more than I thought I had. On every listen the album holds something, it retains a mystery that prompts you to go back and listen again, see if the song affects you again. Whether it achieves this with its camouflaged lyrical genius, or with its futuristic musical experimenting or with both, I cannot say. All I can say is that this is an album that challenges and enthrals in equal measure, it’s the very definition of a grower, and the first true challenge to Alt-J’s position at the top of the album of 2012 charts.

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Alt-J – An Awesome Wave – Review

Triangles are my favourite shape.

Album of 2012?There is something innately hipsterish about the fact that My New Favourite Band are technically called ‘Δ’ aka the delta symbol for mathematical change. For words they use the keyboard shortcut for it on a mac – Alt + J. Combined with a somewhat anti-image style, it would be easy to slip into a pre-judging outlook. This all stops about 1:20 into the first song, ‘Intro’, on this, their debut album, ‘An Awesome Wave’ as what can only be described as a musical explosion erupts into your ears. The album never lets up and the end result is a record far beyond the output of almost any other band today. Album of 2012? If it isn’t, then something’s wrong with the world.

One of the first things noticable about Alt-J is that they sound like no-one. They have such a unique sound, that I hate trying to describe them to people to try and get them to listen. The only conceivable similarities I can hear are The XX, in the way that they have just turned up with a complete and utterly individual style, and Radiohead. I do not compare a band to Radiohead lightly, but Alt-J definitely deserve it for the way their music is revolutionary, incredibly complex, but also beautifully heartfelt and real.

Alt-J are also without any specific genre to describe them. They bring together elements from all over the place and it’s these combinations that make the sound so great, from the almost folky guitar of ‘Matilda’, the plainchant that introduces ‘Tessellate’ to the dubstep-esque roar of Fitzpleasure, it all fuses together to create something astounding. Each song is a perfect construction, meticulously crafted and well able to stand on its own. This doesn’t affect the album as a whole at all (unlike The XX’s album, which I still can’t listen the whole way through), as it rises and falls perfectly, with crafty little interludes being effective ‘palate cleansers’ for the next round of brilliant songs.

A definite shout out has to go to the drumming. It might just be that I’m a drummer, but Thom Green’s stickwork is a major highlight. What first struck me as pretty cool drum machine work was then blown away by the revelation that the sound I was hearing was upturned pots and pans. the layers of rhythm are perfect, seen in the ingenius part in ‘Tessellate’ with half a bar of runs of 3 and then half in standard 4 as the main drumming pattern. It is fresh and unique while providing the perfect kind of accompaniment to the unique melodies and harmonies of the other 3. Thom’s style is so brilliant it’s impossible to imagine how the music could work with crashes, rides or hi-hats.

Furthermore singer Joe Newman is clearly a singular talent. At first listen his voice is incredibly weird, seemingly high pitched yelps with inaudible lyrics. This view doesn’t really change, it just becomes natural, the voice is totally unique and (with the aid of the lyric sheet) the words are also amazing. I strongly recommend reading the comments left by the band on the soundcloud stream (above) as they give you a great insight into the meaning of each song. The style is brilliant, from the creepiness of ‘Breezeblocks’ – ‘She may contain the urge to run away so hold her down with soggy clothes and breezeblocks’ to the cinematic ‘Bloodflood’ – ‘Slaps the sea-O-double M-O-N. Tide out, tide in, a flood of blood to the heart and the fear slipstreams.’ 

That last song is actually about getting happy slapped on Southampton Common by the Mandela Boys, which is sort of awesome, because it means that this astounding band have roots in my home city, but then its not exactly a good sign that this happens here. Regardless, I’m counting it because Alt-J are a much better local representative than the last one, Craig David.

You may have noticed I’ve been refraining from embedding youtube videos, and this is for two reasons, 1)I think the album is best heard in its entirety to show the scope of their sound, and 2) I can’t just post my favourites, as they keep expanding. I will however post two now, (and one later) because I think there are two songs that you can’t not hear in your life. The first, ‘Tessellate’ is a perfect epitome of the Alt-J style, and also their current single. The second song, ‘Fitzpleasure’ is the song that convinced me of their genius. It never settles into one thing, and is just an explosion of raw creative energy that makes every other band look boring and bland. If you aren’t playing it fucking loud, it should be a crime.

This is the point in the review where I find negatives, point out the weaknesses of the record. Don’t get me wrong, I can normally nitpick at anything to find flaws. But here I actually can’t. This is a perfect album in every single sense. Every part, every instrument, every melody, every single beat, is utterly flawless. I can’t even make the stupid joke point ‘the only downside is that it ends’ (If you write reviews and write this then Fuck Off), because the length of the album is perfect too, it ends just when it should, enough that you feel completely fulfilled, but also want to play again from the start.

So to end this, I’m going to leave you with the last song on the album (because ‘Handmade’ is a SECRET SONG and you iTunes users would know this if you bought the bloody CD, (which incidentally has the coolest pop out thing and lyrics sheet)), ‘Taro’, because I think it is the best written song of the 21st century. If that is the highest of overhype, so be it, but every single thing about this song is leagues ahead of any other band. The lyrics are ridiculously moving, covering the death of legendary war photographer Robert Capa (check out his photos, they are incredible) of a landmine, and its connection to his photographer partner Gerda Taro who also died in war. Musically it’s one of a kind, the verses oozing care, and then a roar of pain through the only successful fusion of Indian bhangra style (in place of a sitar or other asian instrument, its riff is actually a roll of electrical tape fingertapping the neck of a guitar) into western music that doesn’t cheapen the song, instead reaching a pinnacle only the greatest songs can ever reach. Perfect in every way.

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