So please take a few mins to hit play on these vids and make sure your volume’s set irresponsibly. List not in a hierarchy, but instead as a potential good playlist.
1. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and The Trembling Bells – Marble Downs
According to Last.FM I’ve listened to Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy more than anyone else this year, which might explain the Special Brew sponsored beard I just shaved off.
Seeing him live for the first time this year with the Trembling Bells, and his continually impressive recording output is a good reason to kick off the list with this collaboration album from April:
2. Woods – Bend Beyond
Woods have been surreptitiously putting out great records for 5 years now, often being hailed as heroes in different corners of the indie press. On Record Store Day this year they released a great split with folk freakout merchants Amps For Christ, but their album was something else. Here’s a live version of the title track:
3. Solos – The Beast Of Both Worlds
As previously mentioned in my fanboy post about their label, Joyful Noise Recordings, Solos have produced one of my albums of the year as if from nowhere. The band is the hybrid of spaz/math rock guitarist Spencer Seim of Hella fame, and folky singer songwriter Aaron Ross whose solo career is also worth checking out.
As with much of the best music around at the moment, The Beast Of Both Worlds works best as an album, concluding with the bizarro cover of MJ’s They Don’t Care About Us. But as a taster of the album below is Carpe Diem which will slowly climb into your brain and setup home there.
4. Swans – The Seer
One of the most gigantic records of the year was the Swans’ new album, The Seer. After a period of quiet from ’96 to 2010, it feels like they’re now fully back on the scene and making the kind of music that demands attention. By turns claustrophobically heavy then intimately revelatory, it’s an amazing album to listen to on headphones as you roam the world. This track’s called Mother Of The World:
5. Dirty Three – Toward The Low Sun
Another genuinely beautiful record from the Aussie legends, Dirty Three. Never short of ideas, and always delivering a level of emotion beyond what you could reasonably expect from an album of recorded music. If you haven’t been listening thus far, now’s the time to tune in, and liberally rifle their back catalogue as well and you won’t be in the least disappointed.
6. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
The other inspired ‘dirty’ band this year was the Dirty Projectors. Any look at the year’s music would be incomplete without including Swing Lo Magellan. They’ve taken the sensibilities of styles like math rock and twee pop and woven them into something interesting and very listenable. For me any review wouldn’t be complete with a ‘see also’ section that includes The Fiery Furnaces, Deerhoof and Minus The Bear, but that might just be me.
I have a special affinity with this track, About To Die, as it’s repeating chorus came on as I was nervously waiting to take off on a long haul flight… Probably the only time I’ve stopped the album before it ran all the way through.
7. Deerhoof – Breakup Song
And speaking of Deerhoof, 2012 saw the release of Breakup Song. As with all their albums they have once again evolved into a new style, somehow maintaining the unpredictability of their constant experimentation. The first 4 songs are essential listening to anyone with even a passing interest in what pop could and should sound like (if acid were more liberally available).
8. Menomena – Moms
In a similarly experimental vein Menomena‘s Moms fits into the odd and fun category neatly alongside Deerhoof and the Dirty Projectors. The album is verging on the infectious and definitely deserves a few listens end to end as they’re packing some interesting ideas in.
9. Liars – WIXIW
Traditionally the Liars are less traditional than most, and this year saw them release WIXIW, an album that was on the surface tamer than 2010’s caustic Sisterworld, but with a consistently brooding darkness to the music. It’s hard to imagine a Liars records that doesn’t consist of at least some brooding darkness, but they’ve nailed it here and superficially covered it with a smattering of melody.
10. Cat Power – Sun
Cat Power’s contribution to 2012 was a bold step in a new direction, embracing dalliances with more electronic sounds. It’s her first album of new material in over 6 years, so inevitably would be met by high scrutiny. I think she’s produced an album consistent with her previous output, but still pushing boundaries in exciting ways. It is very much a coherent album, but the songs do stand up well, and I’m surprised not to have heard more of them as singles so far.
This track’s Nothin But Time featuring Iggy Pop:
11. DIIV – Oshin
I know very little about DIIV, other than that they were originally called Dive in tribute to Nirvana, and that they essentially sound like a proto-punk / 80’s Cure tribute band. But the album is good and both of the above facts means that for anyone in their 30s they’ll be a comfortable and possibly nostalgic treat. I hope they develop and take this sound in new directions, but for now I’m happy enough listening to them as a guilty pleasure. This is Doused from their album Oshin:
12. Jeff Parker – Bright Light In Winter
I guess it’s not much of a news flash that the guitarist from Tortoise and Chicago Underground Trio produces beautiful solo albums as well, but this year Jeff Parker‘s Bright Light In Winter is a great accessible modern jazz record. Might make you reach for Charlie Christian or Grant Green but only once you’ve finished the album, which can only be a good thing…
13. Mac Demarco – 2
Similar to DIIV, it’s beyond me how I came across Mac Demarco, but having stumbled on his album it’s been hard not to pop it on from time to time. It’s not a record to revolutionise music, but it’s packed with the cheeky confidence of Jonathan Richman, and accompanied by a similar wit and confidence. The fact is you could probably listen to this album with your grandparents and both be smiling by the end of it, but it’s a fine record for the summer and pleasure to listen to. This one’s called Freaking Out The Neighbourhood:
14. Withered Hand – Heart Heart (EP)
Early in the year I developed an unhealthy obsession with this song, and have managed in baby steps to put that behind me so I can listen to it in what might be considered healthy regularity (rather than obsessive), but pulling together this list and listening to it again did make me exceedingly happy. It’s a great song, I enjoy the video a lot as well, and I’m really hoping for a barnstormingly good album in 2013 from Withered Hand.
15. Mount Eerie – Clear Moon / Ocean Roar
Phil Elverum’s Mount Eerie project released two albums in 2012, Clear Moon and Ocean Roar. It felt like Clear Moon was the more instantly listenable of the two, and I’ve spent more time with that album, but both albums make good companions for an evening, and characteristically of Mt Eerie both will take you on a journey to different places.
16. Grizzly Bear – Shields
Grizzly Bear have always been a band I felt I should like and this year they made that considerably easier. I just couldn’t get swept up in the excitement around Horn Of Plenty, and every album that followed I lost interest in after only a few listens. Shields however bucks the trend. Vaguely reminiscent of last year’s Meat Puppets album and return to form, Lollipop, Grizzly Bear just hit all the right notes with this album. Well worth a listen, and another consistently strong album start to finish.
To listen to the full list with a couple of bonus tracks on the end, check out this Youtube Playlist, or for something a little more immersive, you can travel through space and have 56 songs in 8 mins of my 2012 This Is My Jam ‘odyssey’ (it’s pretty special!)
And the omissions that now occur are:
Bonus 1. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah Don’t Bend Ascend
Just a brilliant album, return to form, and all the good cliches that are appropriate for this kind of thing.
Bonus 2. Goat – World Music
Like supergroup The Sounds Of Animals Fighting Goat always perform on stage masked. Their sound is very different to the nu-prog-rock of Animals Fighting though, and for those of you who like a good label, they’d be categorised under Swedish-afro-psych-kraut-voodoo. Infectious rhythms and mash-ups of various styles are their trademark and they’re excellent at it. I didn’t get to hear this album until the Xmas holidays, hence forgetting it in this list, but World Music is a great album and it’ll be interesting to see how they develop.
There is the slightly obnoxious affectations of their back story, something about decades of performing in a small Swedish village before actually recording anything, and with a constantly changing line-up of performers, hence the masks. They do specifically chime reiterate the Godspeed mantra that it’s not about the individuals in the band, but about what they achieve collectively which is always sweet, but I wonder how long their marketing people can spin out their back story before it unravels ingloriously a la Wu Lyf, The White Stripes, or perhaps even worse until everyone loses interest in the lie, as with Clutchy Hopkins. Ironically this trend for a ‘story’ to accompany the music for me does seem to detract somewhat from the actual album, and feels more akin to the X Factor’s approach to music, but hey, that’s probably just me.
Bonus 3. Scott Walker – Bish Bosch
Scott Walker is at the stage of his career where anything he does is going to be interesting because of the context. David Bowie almost has such a privileged position as well, as another great innovator / changeling, and he was of course hugely influenced by Scott Walker. Starting out in the crooning Walker Brothers, he then took a left turn and produced the 1 – 4 albums between 1967-69 that are still considered masterpieces. The 70s and 80s were virtually lost decades while record company wranglings and mental health blocked any high quality recordings being published, with the exception of one mid-eighties minimalist release indicating how he was moving in new directions.
Then in the backend of the 90s he released 3 highly experimental albums that set the tone for everything he’s done since. If you pardon the crass metaphor, he basically ‘did a Radiohead’ over the much greater duration of his career. Moving from accessible but edgy pop into the darkest realms of experimental music. There’s an excellent film of his career called 30th Century Man that shows the lengths he went to to record the perfect beat for one track by repeatedly punching a large animal carcass to get just the right fleshy and disturbing tone.
Anyway, Bish Bosch, continues this experimentation in still more exciting new ways. It will be a while before I regularly reach for it to listen to, but it has beautiful depths and thoroughly rewards repeat listens. I hope this is what music sounds like in the future.
To get a flavour of it if you haven’t already heard it, here’s the album sampler:
- CJ Boyd – West Coasting Vol. 1 – Dreams Like This Must Die (Seattle circa 91)
- David Byrne and St Vincent – Love This Giant
- Andy Stott – Luxury Problems
- First Aid Kit – The Lions Roar