Monday, 24 December 2012

Top 20 Albums of 2012 - Our North Of England Correspondent's Choices

Article by james@thesoundofconfusion.co.uk


20) One Happy Island - A Purpose For The Surface


An album I got for free from Mr Sound Of Confusion himself as he wanted me to review it. I had no expectations but after repeated listens it became a surprise gem. It's too erratic to try and compare it to another band but it sounds like the best ever tea party. On acid.


One Happy Island's website

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19) The Twilight Sad - No One Can Ever Know


Their first record is still their highlight for me and nothing has come close since, but three albums in and they're still producing abrasive noise like nobody else. James Graham has one of the most unique voices in music at the minute. Glaswegian, angry and songs that make your ears bleed. Naturally I love it.



The Twilight Sad's website

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18) Cloud Nothings - Attack On Memory


When I first heard this it just sounded like bratty, teen angst, American punk that I'd heard a million times before. Throughout the year it grew on me and there was a depth to it that I didn't get at first. Not quite up to the standards of No Age, this is still a great noise-rock record that's perfect in size at just over half an hour long.



Cloud Nothings' website

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17) The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Aufheben


One of the things I always say I love about The Brian Jonestown Massacre is their ability to surprise. I use it as a positive when telling my friends to check them out. So perhaps it's a bit hypocritical of me to say this was a tad disappointing for not sounding like the last album. On 2010's 'Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?' Anton once again reinvented himself and produced a record of immense industrial, eastern, electronic sounds. It shows the quality the band have when I still think this is the 17th best record made this year, after initially finding it disappointing. Songs like 'Viholliseni Maalla' and the new version of 'Illuminomi' are up there with the greatest tracks released this year. Even when he's having an off day, Anton is still a genius.



The Brian Jonestown Massacre's website

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16) Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light


Spiritualized are one of my favourite bands but this album just doesn't do it for me like the others. Like The Brian Jonestown Massacre at number 17, it shows you how much I think of Jason Pierce when he releases his most average record yet and it's still so far ahead of most other bands at the moment. I think it all went downhill after I heard 'Hey Jane'. I don't think anything was ever going to top that. 'Little Girl' and the immense closer of 'So Long You Pretty Thing' are up there with the best songs he's ever made but it's the first Spiritualized album that doesn't feel like that. An album. It doesn't seem to flow, the tracks don't lead into one another like they should. For the quality of the individual tracks, it's made it into the list regardless of that.



Spiritualized's website

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15) Lotus Plaza - Spooky Action At A Distance


Over the last year Deerhunter have become one of my favourite bands. Of all time. That sounds silly with them being in my life for such a short period but you can't help who you fall in love with. I love anything they've made so of course I feel the need to check out anything by their side projects. The first solo album from Lotus Plaza (Lockett Pundt) was an ambient, drone record that definitely didn't hint towards the second album sounding anything like this. 'Spooky Action At A Distance' is the most glorious dreampop, made in exactly the way you..... dream of it sounding. 'Monoliths' and 'Strangers' are two of the finest songs of the year, if not ever, and the rest of the album is just a welcome distraction flowing around them.



Lotus Plaza's website

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14) Thee Oh Sees - Putrifiers II


What can you say about Thee Oh Sees? Productive. That'll do. A band that releases album after album, you sort of know what you're gonna get with them. Yet you're never bored or even close to being disappointed when the next one arrives. They make three-minute garage-rock songs and they do it better than anybody else. John Dwyer singing in his bizarre monster voice somehow makes it even more perfect. It's safe to say this album doesn't sound much different to the last but if every song sounds as good as 'Wax Face' and 'Lupine Dominus' in future then I'll happily take that.



Thee Oh Sees' website

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13) Wild Nothing - Nocturne


I put this record on my most disappointing albums of 2012 list and have now put it in my favourites. It's becoming a repeated pattern already but it once more shows how much I expect from certain artists. The debut album 'Gemini' and 'Golden Haze' EP that followed it showcased some of the most beautifully crafted songs in the last ten years. They were that good. The production is epic and the songs are bigger this time around. It depends what you prefer I suppose. What made Jack Tatum stand out was his lo-fi approach to a formula done many times in recent years. None of that is a criticism of 'Nocturne'. The opener 'Shadow' sounds like a medley of 'I Wanna Be Adored' (The Stone Roses, if you didn't know) and 'Out Of Tune' by Real Estate. 'Only Heather' was one of the best love songs released in 2012 and the album is packed full of songs that could be singles. It's a good listen and is certainly more accessible than the first record if you're a newcomer.



Wild Nothing's website

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12) The Raveonettes - Observator


One of my favourite bands of all time. They seem to have reached a stage of their career where they no longer shock but comfort. A new album by The Raveonettes is something you hear of all the time but nobody can doubt their effort. There aren't many bands that can produce album after album with the quality they do. They may not have released anything worthy of a career highlight for a few years but I'd sooner have a new album every year than risk a 6 year wait for something not up to scratch. 'The Enemy' is one of the most perfect songs of 2012 and to this day I still can't suss out what 'Downtown' reminds me of, maybe you can work it out.



The Raveonettes' website

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11) Animal Collective - Centipede Hz.


An album that you could have scripted. Or at least that's how the critics saw it. Reviews of 8/9 out of 10 which hinted that although it was great, there was something missing. Now some months down the line, people are showing their true colours and saying it was their worst album to date. Somebody in a popular music weekly even had the cheek to say the latest Grizzly Bear album was better. Sometimes people can go too far, say things that are too hurtful. For me, I agree that it's not a career highlight but Animal Collective are one of the most innovative and inspiring bands of the last decade. Eventually they were going to make an album that didn't test them as much as their last output. Saying that, it's still a massive head-fuck like no other and makes Radiohead sound like a band down an open mic night. Animal Collective are one of the most unique bands on the planet and even if the critics want to throw their toys out of the pram this time round, it makes no difference to me as this is still a great album and nobody else can come close to what they do.



Animal Collective's website

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10) Trailer Trash Tracys - Ester


We can all often become snobby about our favourite bands, especially when a track of theirs becomes known to the masses. 'Wish You Were Red' by Trailer Trash Tracys was used on a well known car advert throughout 2012 and I have to admit that I hadn't heard much from them before this. I meant to though. They were on my 'to do' list so to speak. Unlike the masses though, I went out and listened to the full album and realised that particular song was nowhere near the best on the album. Perhaps that's quite a snobby comment but if everybody else had listened to 'Ester' it would be a lot more popular. There's no way of trying to make Trailer Trash Tracys sound unique or original. If people said there were lots of other bands doing a similar thing at the moment, I wouldn't have a problem with that. Their songs are just better though. In my opinion. They are layered with strange effects I've not really heard elsewhere and that's what separates them from the rest. It's testament to the strength of the album when their best known song is one of the weaker tracks on it.



Trailer Trash Tracys' website

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9) Allo Darlin' - Europe


Twee. Remember in the mid-noughties when emo was the biggest insult you could call anybody? It appears that twee has well overtaken that. I have never understood it personally. They may be at opposite ends of the spectrum but anything and everything from Los Campesinos!, right through to Belle & Sebastian are labelled with the tag, unfairly in my opinion. Allo Darlin' are another band who have it thrown at them but they're far too happy to care about that. In the space of two years they have released two of the most perfect pop albums I have ever heard. I still maintain that I prefer their self-titled debut, but songs such as 'Neil Armstrong' and 'Wonderland' showcase a band with a potential to be huge.


Allo Darlin''s website

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8) Frankie Rose - Interstellar


Every year there is an album, sometimes two or three, very rarely more - that I listen to just on the off-chance. No history behind it, no reason I've gone for it, nothing to do with reviews or comparisons. There was just something about Frankie Rose that made me want to check her out. That could be because she has jet black hair and I am obsessed with women of that description. Whatever it was that drew me to Frankie Rose, I was very thankful for it anyway. 'Interstellar' is a fairly apt name as this is a kaleidoscope of sonic perfection. It's dark, it's full of catchy tunes and every song sounds like it was made in space.



Frankie Rose's website

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7) Alex Winston - King Con


The biggest let-down of 2012 is this. And more specifically why it isn't massive. Alex Winston makes out-and-out pop music. I'm not going to try and disguise it or pretend there's an alternative edge to it or anything. She makes pop songs. Great pop songs. Pop songs that have been used on some of the biggest adverts all year round in 2012. Yet she is practically unknown. Why is this? I couldn't give you a concrete answer. If you want me to try and sum it up then I'll do my best. I believe it's because they're good. Simple as that. Nothing articulate, nothing witty. If this had auto-tuned vocals and was churned out by Simon Cowell, it would have been platinum a long time ago and she'd possibly be in a jungle full of celebrities somewhere right now. As it stands she's still very much an underground name and I have mixed emotions on that. I'm glad that I have Alex all to myself. There's obviously something inside of me that likes that the mainstream won't get to hear her when they tune into their weekly fix of everything that's wrong with music - also known as the top 40. The good person inside of me however can't fathom why somebody with such a gorgeous voice and so much talent hasn't got the recognition she deserves. 'Fire Ant', 'Locomotive', 'Velvet Elvis', 'Medicine', 'Choice Notes'. The list is endless. Every song is good enough to be a number 1 chart single. Perhaps too good... maybe that's where the problem lies. The public don't deserve her.



Alex Winston's website

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6) Tennis - Young & Old


2012 has been a weird year for me and Tennis. I can't remember the exact date but I only heard 'Cape Dory' for the first time no earlier than December 2011. Essentially I've taken in two debut albums in my ears. Both remind me of 2012 for many reasons. If time was erased tomorrow and we only lived off memories, I wouldn't be able to distinguish either album from a particular period. 'Cape Dory' was a magnificent first album, one of the best debuts I have heard in many a year. It was also a great example of why I should stop being so stubborn and take peoples advice over new music. So with that I entered 'Young & Old'. On first listen it wasn't good enough. I was still new to the band and so I wanted another album full of songs about love at sea. Over the course of the year it's found a life of its own and although I still prefer 'Cape Dory', it's great for different reasons and is the sound of a band trying to progress. The production on the album is superb, every song sounds like it's been given the detail it deserves. There's perhaps a hint of irony in opening number 'It All Feels The Same' but after that, it becomes very much album number two and a clear, if not drastic change in direction. Alaina's voice is the biggest difference on 'Young And Old'. While it was still big, it was the sound of a woman reminiscing on 'Cape Dory'. In the space of a year she has blossomed into one of the greatest singers around and there's no better evidence of this than on 'Origins' and 'Take Me To Heaven'.



Tennis' website

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5) Melody's Echo Chamber - Melody's Echo Chamber


In a year when Tame Impala released what most critics have called the album of the year, people who know me and perceive me as being awkward won't be surprised to hear that I called that my most disappointing album of 2012. It's not rubbish by any means but then it isn't fit to lace the shoes of Innerspeaker in my opinion. Kevin Parker is a talented man and hasn't been out of the headlines this year. Although it didn't get a release until quite some way towards the end of the year, step forward Melody's Echo Chamber, yet another project he was involved with. Parker produced the self-titled album from his once admirer and now girlfriend Melody Prochet. The album could be split into two as far as I'm concerned. The first half sounds like it could have been the off-cuts from Parker's day job, the production is that similar to both Tame Impala albums. A sweet French voice over the top of it somehow makes it stand out more, and add to that the fact Melody is a fantastic musician, you have an absolutely superb combination. The second half of the album shows Melody taking charge of her own sound and has more than a nod to fellow French noise-makers, Stereolab. A wonderful album that is charming and challenging in just the right measures.



Melody's Echo Chamber's website

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4) Errors - Have Some Faith In Magic


I like Errors, quite a lot in fact. I had no idea that I was going to fall for this album in the way I did though. The perfect fusion of dance and rock music, it's no wonder some journalist came up with the sub-genre post-dance and stuck them in there. Many bands try to mix elements of these two genres, many fail. In recent years it seems that fans of guitar music have taken to dance floors in greater numbers than they ever have. The reformation of The Stone Roses, the fad that was nu-rave, the way dubstep is shoved down the throat of alternative culture, there have been many reasons and many scenes over the last five or so years to get even the most stubborn of music snobs to get their hips shaking. Errors aren't strictly the same as any of that lot, no. They're actually good for starters. They create a noise as grand as fellow Glasgow sons The Twilight Sad and although impossible to imagine, throw some shapes in between reaching for the earplugs. With licks and hooks that like the likes of Foals could only dream of, the inaudible, robotic vocal segments over the top, the post-rock style build up that label-mates Mogwai only know too well, Errors crafted something truly stunning and made their greatest album by miles.



Errors' website

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3) Memoryhouse - The Slideshow Effect


Music is a very personal thing. It is to me anyway. Sometimes you can love something purely because it reminds you of a certain period of your life. That wouldn't be completely true of 'The Slideshow Effect' but it certainly helps. This album reminds me of a time, early this year and was something I listened to a lot during it. It got pretty average reviews by most critics and maybe a lot of others would agree. After all, I've admitted that I maybe hear it in a different light to other people. 'The Slideshow Effect' is a dark, moody, yet ultimately uplifting experience that rewards repeated listens.



Memoryhouse's website

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2) Echo Like - Wild Peace


'Wild Peace' is one of those rare albums that seems to bring out just about every emotion in the human mind. There's no point using thousands of adjectives as I would literally be here all day. It's the sound of your brightest dreams and your darkest nightmares. It's haunting and it's comforting. Only you know where you stand with it. It brings out different moods on different listens. It's just quite simply a stunning piece of music that completely works in every way it's meant to. You can't get away from it sounding like another modern attempt at shoegaze but in my train of thought that's not a bad thing. Especially when it's done well, which is a rare thing.



Echo Lake's website

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1) DIIV - Oshin


I always know an album is going to be great when I hate it on first listen. Well, perhaps that isn't completely true as if something is truly appalling I will never like it. That's what happened with DIIV though and it's what happens with most of the recommended albums I don't like at first. After one listen I just didn't get this at all. I thought it was a poor attempt at trying to sound like Beach Fossils. It was funny then, when I looked them up and saw they shared members with said band. DIIV are a mysterious band. I don't know if I believe everything I see. When you see footage of them playing live, they come across like a bunch of frat boys - baggy clothes, going wild with the crowd and playing their songs at twice the speed of the album. 'Oshin' is a record that just seems to be in a parallel universe to all of that. It's a record that manages to merge so many different sounds from the music we all know at the moment, whilst taking you on the most exciting trip imaginable. The only frustrating thing is that you come out wondering what it sounds like. Because there's nothing you can compare it to. Which is difficult when you're trying to persuade people that it's the best album released this year. If you're a fan of effects pedals, layers of reverb, music that effortlessly leads into the next piece and songs that sound like they're plotting the demise of the planet Earth, you will love this without question.



DIIV's website

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