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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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AiA’s Man/Woman/Band/Singer/Guitarist/Bassist/Drummer/MC of 2012


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

Steven Ellison aka Flying LotusSuper-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

Claire Boucher aka GrimesBoucher 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

Death GripsThis 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)

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

Jack White2012 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)

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)

Alt-J's Thom GreenThis 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

Angel HazeHaze 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.

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