Sunday, 16 December 2012

Going out with a Bang: Albums of the year 2012, 20-11

So, he we are then. The tail end of 2012. In 5 days time, the world will be encompassed in mass hysteria  of poor, naive souls fretting over the supposed coming doom of our time, the annihilation of the world, just as the Mayans predicted. It's likely that panic will be prevalent in more households than seems conceivable; for the last two weeks rumours have hardly been surreptitious. Even so, there's something that has been morally torturing and panicking far more than any impending apocalypse, and that is the mind- frying trials and tribulations of making my End of Year 2012 Albums list. Seriously, most of you would be happy for the world to end if you had to work on what I have been for past month or so.

It's safe to say that 2012 has been a rather impeccable year for music. It's been a year of pleasant surprises more than anything else, and for me, perhaps the most exploratory and expansive year in terms of taste for a long time. Not only have my listening patterns and tastes branched out more than ever before, but there's been a wealth of brilliant records to help me do so. There's been so much great music to consider whilst making this list that narrowing down to 20 (the most user- friendly and easily operative number, in my opinion) has arguably been harder than any A level exam I sat in the summer. And trust me... they were testing.

I guess I should explain how this list will work. One thing that has made making the list a whole bunch easier is that (at the risk of sounding like a keyboard Dictator), there's been no democracy. Running a blog like this solely has proved to have problems and complications (time being the main obstacle) over the course of this year, but it does mean that I can write about the music that I'm most passionate about without any consideration of what others might think or want. There's no collectivism here.

Also, there's no science going on here. Any score that I gave the individual albums when I reviewed them was purely how I felt about them at the time, and of course that is subject to change. Thus, you'll see that when I reviewed Burial's "Kindred" earlier in the year, I gave it a 9, however, it does not feature in the list. Similarly, you'll notice the omission of records by Napalm Death, I Like Trains and The Men, all of which I gave high- flying reviews, all of which have fallen out of favour with me since then. At the other end of the spectrum, two inclusions which have in fact grown on me as the year has progressed and lead to their high rankings are John Talabot's "Fin" and Action Bronson's "Blue Chips."

That's not to say that my opinion of all of these albums has changed. The albums in this list are the records that have continuously thrilled me throughout the year, from the very first second I heard them until now, and they're probably the records that will continue to thrill me for a good time to come.

So here is the first installment of the list, numbers 20- 11. I'll leave you with the thought that, if the world really does end on Friday, at least the year has provided us with one of the most memorable soundtracks in recent times. Truly, we'll be going out with a bang.

Until tomorrow, Jack

20. Pulled Apart By Horses- Tough Love

"As the sentiments on "Give Me A Reason" suggest, Pulled Apart By Horses are not a band to be tested on the strengths of "Tough Love." From start to finish it's an absolute powerhouse, one that may be more refined and melodic than it's debut, but one that finds the almost- perfect medium between heaviness and writing brilliant songs."

19. Black Breath- Sentenced To Life

"All that aside, the point here is to focus on what "Sentenced To Life" really is; a rather brilliant ride into sonic obliteration, unrelenting in its intensity, brutality and full- throttle abrasiveness. Unlikely to ever be considered a genre- fusing classic, but wonderfully thrilling all the same."

18. Liars- WIXIW

"Visionary LA noise- punks Liars seem to have jumped on the "screen and button" mad bandwagon on their sixth full length "WIXIW" ( pronounced "Wish You"), and it's an interesting contradiction. Before, Liars' bleak and outlandish vocal tales of post- apocalyptic Earth and murderous scarecrows was accompanied startlingly fittingly by their appetite for sheer noise terror. On "WIXIW" it seems strange that the band's most emotionally direct (when considering the human condition) should garner a backing track that is the band's most electronic effort yet."

17. Killer Mike- R.A.P. Music

"Mike's decision to join forces with experimental rap godfather EL- P for "R.A.P. Music" was most definitely the right one- the chemistry between them has the flavour of a unison that has been in place for years. El's relentlessly ear- drum pounding trumpet- blast assault on "Go!" or the grimey, crawling and grindingly slinky synths on "Butane (Champion's Anthem)" are the perfect backing for Mike's ever rapturous, fast- paced and unfaltering flow. It's Mike's political and social rhetoric that is most prolific here though, and most memorably so on the explosively venomous "Reagan.""

16. Cloud Nothings- Attack On Memory

"As sonic shifts go they can be pretty surprising, but very few would have expected this from Dylan Baldi & Co. "Attack On Memory" is Cloud Nothing's third full- length, and it's their most abrasive, confrontational and emotionally accessible album to date."

15. Portico Quartet- Portico Quartet

"Almost every single song, nay, every single sound, move, key change or note on this record is emotive and seems to conjure up some sort of atmosphere deep within the soul. "Spinner" is particularly beautiful. It's lead by a piercing and sorrowful saxophone over the background of a rhythmic and paranoid sounding bassline and electronic bleeps that filter in and out minimalistically."

14. John Talabot- Fin

"Opener "Depak Ine" builds and becomes more and more epically groovy and intricate as it progresses. Elsewhere "Fin" traverses from the dark, sparse but nearly always sexy ("So Will be Now") to early '90s- era tropical euphoria ("When The Past Was Present"). Sensual and diverse, in "Fin" dance music in 2012 has found itself an early gem."

13. Dirty Three- Toward The Low Sun

"You could say that Warren Ellis is the world's most understated purveyor of apocolyptica in music...It should come as no surprise then, given the man's past, that "Furnace Skies", the opener to Dirty Three's 8th release "Toward The Low Sun" has an apocolyptic heave about it. An intense and bubbling undercurrent is accompanied by clanging, dislocated guitar chords and chaotic drums and crashing cymbals, all of which chime with the fuzzy, doom- laden keyboard that enters the forray half way through."

 12. Action Bronson- Blue Chips

"...the thing you're most likely to remember straight off is Bronson's consistently explicit ways to rap about sex and pussies. But with repeated listens, "Blue Chips" unveils itself as an emotive story- tellers' gold mine. There's cold, atmospheric loneliness on "9-24-11", a terrifically raw glimpse of the dark side of American suburbia on "Hookers At The Point" and remarkable sonic shapeshifts, like on "Double Breasted." "

11. The Walkmen- Heaven

"The title "Heaven" then, on the surface,  is not a bang on representation. It's certainly more grandiose than much of the band's work in recent years, and it certainly endorses the idea of the great, rousing American rock album at many a moment. Despite having an aesthetic tied to it however, it doesn't see a loss of any of the realism or humanism, nor does it see them making any grand gestures or presumptions. It's The Walkmen doing what they want to do, as always. And here, the results are, on a musical level at least, heavenly."

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