December has cometh and thus, so does the annual round up. We’re beginning with albums, and opting for a top fifteen only. Whittling down this list has been tough, but we’re finally happy with our choices, so, let us commence.
15. Solange – True
Solange’s ‘True’ is latecomer to the album of the year stakes, having only been released a couple of weeks back, and in actuality, is an EP rather than a full album. However, it’s very much worthy of a nod owing to its generous portion of seven tracks, each with their own charm. Production duties for this were shared between Solange and Dev Hynes (AKA Blood Orange / Lightspeed Champion) and the resultant vibe is one with a certain amount of nostalgia – 70’s disco, 80’s funk and 90’s R&B all being checked sonically. These are reference points really though, and in fact, the sound is very current, reflected by Jessie Ware’s recent success in similar territory. Lead single ‘Losing You’ is the sunniest thing here, with ‘Some Things Never Seem To Fucking Work’ equally cheery, even if its message is less so. ‘Locked In Closets’ follows with an upbeat, electronic feel, then the second half of the EP gives way to three songs that we think owe Aaliyah a bigger debt than anyone else – ‘Lovers In The Parking Lot’, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ and ‘Bad Girls (Verdine Version)’. Showcasing Solange for the artist she obviously wants to be, let’s hope that ‘True’ finally puts her on the map.
Bad Girls (Verdine Version)
14. Echo Lake – Wild Peace
If we were awarding a prize for ‘dreamiest album of the year’, Echo Lake’s ‘Wild Peace’ would win, no contest. What really seems to have impacted upon us is the amazing consistency in the aesthetic of the record – whilst varying in tempo and instrumentation, the loose, hazy, heavenly vibe remains the overwhelming characteristic throughout. There’s also an acute focus on songwriting, even if you can’t quite make out Linda Jarvis’ largely unitelligble, multilayered, reverb-heavy vocals. As with many great albums it’s also one which takes you on a journey, from the cascading organ line of opener ‘Further Down’ all the way through to knowingly overblown guitar solo that finishes closer ‘Just Kids’. En route you’ll also find numbers that are scuzzier (‘Even The Blind’, ‘Breathe Deep’, ‘Young Silence), psych and kraut influenced (‘In Dreams’, ‘Last Song Of The Year’) and even a homage to Beach House on the title track. As far as guitar-led albums went this year, this was undoubtedly our favourite.
Even The Blind
13. The Staves – Dead & Born & Grown
We’ve been writing about The Staves for some time now and are delighted to see them getting the recognition they deserve as the year comes to a close. ‘Dead & Born & Grown’ is a record that draws it’s influences from a few places – most notably the folk and pop of the 1970s, with Joni Mitchell the shining influence here. What makes this record truly exceptional however is two key things; firstly, the stunning harmonies sung by the three Stavely-Taylor sisters – ‘Wisely And Slow’, ‘Pay Us No Mind’ and ‘Mexico’ are three of the best examples of the bliss that can be created when three voices blend. The second string to this record’s bow is the largely restrained techniques that have been applied during production, allowing every small element to make itself matter and be heard. This light touch also means that on ‘Winter Trees’, our album highlight, the crescendo it reaches has all the more impact – indeed, the girls described it as their “club banger” at Bestival this year. ‘Dead & Born & Grown’ has been the soundtrack to much of our winter so far, and if you’re looking for something cosy, reflective and soothing to see you through the coming months, you’ll struggle to find better than this.
12. Santigold – Master Of My Make Believe
‘Master Of My Make Believe’ was a long time coming, with the danger being that fans would have lost their enthusiasm for Santigold in the four years that preceeded its arrival. To combat waning interests, Santi proved herself once again to be the ultimate chameleon taking the album in about 10 different directions, ensuring a thoroughly engaging listen at all times. Those trajectories include the punk battle march of ‘Go’ featuring Karen O, tropical ska ballad ‘Disparate Youth’, the Buraka Som Sistema-produced tribal madness of ‘Big Mouth’ and dancehall banger ‘Freak Like Me’. Also staying true to her earlier guitar leanings, ‘The Keepers’ and ‘The Riot’s Gone’ provided some delicious bittersweet indie pop. For us though, the album’s pinnacle comes in the form of ‘This Isn’t Our Parade’, which combines all the best elements of a Yeah Yeahs Yeahs ballad (thanks to Nick Zinner), TV On The Radio funkfest (thanks to Dave Sitek) and a leftfield anthem (thanks to Santigold herself). ‘Master Of My Make Believe’ had a lot to live up to, but absolutely delivered. Bring on album number three.
This Isn’t Our Parade
11. Grimes – Visions
Arriving at number eleven is yet another lady – Grimes – proving what a strong year 2012 has been for female artists. We reckon it’s probably a mark of excellence that ‘Visions’, Claire Boucher’s third album proper, didn’t initially seem all that. Riding arguably the biggest wave of hype experienced by any artist this year, our preliminary reaction to the record was “three incredibly strong singles, quite a lot of filler”. But, as with many great releases, over the course of the last 10 months, tracks that initially left us cold have slowly revealed their intricacies and inner workings. Musically, ‘Visions’ is definitely a pop record more than anything else, but imagined through the eyes and ears of someone pulling ideas from anywhere and everywhere. ‘Genesis’ and ‘Symphonia IX (My Wait Is You)’ are two of the prettiest songs this year, whilst ‘Oblivion’ has been possibly the most ubiquitous song heard on the indie disco dancefloor in the same time period. Weirder moments include the demon robo-pop of ‘Eight’, the acid collage of ‘Circumabient’, and spazzy trance experimentation on ‘Vowels = Space And Time’ and ‘Be a Body’. Ultimately though, the key component holding the whole album together is Grimes’ vocals – beautiful, unique and unrivalled by any other artist this year.
Symphonia IX (My Wait Is You)