Best Albums of 2012 (Part 1)

by 5:4
* Please note this list has how been superseded by the one on the Best Albums of the Years page *

This is a list surrounded by other lists leading to other lists, lists … that explain everything by being gateways into worlds of sound, feeling and information…
…the love of making lists is an attempt to remind us of what it is that has happened, and what is happening, all at once, as time and humanity collapses into itself. …
The list is a collage of hopes and wishes, of knowledge and exhibitionism.
(Paul Morley, Words and Music)

So we move on to the list of lists, the forty albums that have made the greatest impact over the last twelve months. Here are the first twenty to have made the cut.

40 | Sleep Party People – We Were Drifting on a Sad Song

There’s a distinct dream pop/shoegaze quality to Sleep Party People’s music, except the songs have a tendency to leap out of that box and into others with rock, electronic and even industrial leanings. It’s a highly stimulating combination of elements, preventing the music (and the listener) from ever becoming too comfortable, clearly emanating from an urge to experiment with familiar tropes. Alongside the more effusive tracks, there are some beautifully intimate moments.
[Insound | Soundcloud]

39 | Metric – Synthetica

Metric’s fifth album is “about forcing yourself to confront what you see in the mirror when you finally stand still long enough to catch a reflection […] about being able to identify the original in a long line of reproductions […] about what is real vs what is artificial”. i don’t know about that, but their brand of indie rocktronica is highly engaging – all the more so in a year that’s seen very few strong examples of the idiom. Metric are able to strike a balance between being edgy and twee that’s unusual and makes their songs a real break from the norm.
[Metric | Soundcloud]

38 | Au – Both Lights

Luke Wyland’s latest release fluctuates between experimental amalgams of diverse elements and intimate asides at breakneck speed. There’s a sense of impatience, of wanting to leap quickly from idea to idea, and the enthusiasm’s hard to ignore. Tracks like ‘Crazy Idol’ and ‘Don’t Lie Down’ opt for small-scale sleepy softness, but it’s the reckless unstoppability of ‘Solid Gold’ and ‘Why I Must’ that makes the album so compelling. Like a knees-up on a runaway train – fantastic.
[Leaf | Insound]

37 | Hanne Hukkelberg – Featherbrain

Hanne Hukkelberg crafts songs that seem to shift just as you’re getting used to them. ‘Noah’, for instance, increasingly bids farewell to its initial hesitancy, ultimately romping along at a rate of knots. In ‘The Bigger Me’ she surrounds herself (Björk-like) in a chorus of mbiras that ultimately yields to a whistling kettle. Make no mistake, though, she’s no kook and her voice is substantial and superbly controlled, yet her music is a glorious demonstration of allowing the madness to exceed the method.
[Amazon | Boomkat]

36 | Lindstrøm – Six Cups of Rebel

Reviewed back in April, this album proves that when Hans-Peter Lindstrøm gets experimental the results are outstanding. Far superior to his bland later release Smalhans, Six Cups of Rebel opens with brooding minimalism before expanding into wildly contagious dance territories that at times encroach on the epic.
[Juno Records | Grooveshark]

35 | irr. app. (ext.) – Their Little Bones, Becoming Sharp, Find Repose But Fail To Avoid Worrying A Breach In The Ghostly Skin, The Which Separates That Above From That Below (This Being The Last And Final Seal) And Whereupon All Light Evacuated The Furnace. Several Consequences Ensue.

Probably the longest album title in living memory, but also one of the hardest to lay hands on. Matt Waldron revised his 1999 original for this remastered version, of which just twenty copies were made, packaged in a lavish box containing bones, booklets and art (scans of my own copy can be seen on Discogs). It’s one of Waldron’s most beguiling creations, a veritable miscellany of disjunct sound and allusion that, as ever in his work, mysteriously manages to coalesce into something utterly comprehensible. i sincerely hope the album will be made available digitally, as it’s just too good for such a small audience.
[Presently unavailable]

34 | Dai Fujikura – Secret Forest

Reviewed in September, this is the most impressive of the first batch of NMC Recordings’ ‘Debut Discs’ series, focusing on less well-known composers. It’s Fujikura’s engagement with lyricism that’s most interesting, side-stepping well-worn approaches from both East and West to create works of striking originality.

33 | The Flashbulb – Opus At The End Of Everything

Over the last few years, Benn Jordan has been moving further and further away from acid-fuelled electronica, in favour of overtly melodic material, inflected with jazz & improvisational flourishes. His latest album moves sideways, into an oasis of ambient with heavy, glitched beats and swirling pianos. As ever in Jordan’s work, the production values are through the roof, giving every track a sheen of absolute quality.

32 | of Montreal – Paralytic Stalks

What can one say about of Montreal that’s not been said already? i gave up long ago trying to fathom how on earth Kevin Barnes can come up with such remarkable tracts of psychedelia, effortlessly incorporating a host of styles and manners to communicate his unique lyrical adventures. Paralytic Stalks is Barnes at his kaleidoscopic best, shoehorning endless non sequiturs into each song while somehow keeping it all hanging together.

31 | Kettel & Secede – When Can

Secede i was familiar with, but Kettel is a new name to me. Their first collaboration is a triumph of mood, tapping into a vein that begins life in the relative lightness of ambient electronica but is ultimately very much more aspirational. Faux mediaeval twiddlings and harp arpeggios risk entering muzak territory, but the pair’s ability to play with their references, rather than indulge them, is what makes the music intoxicating. [Sending Orbs]

30 | Yeti Lane – The Echo Show

So much about Yeti Lane’s latest album hints at an essential underlying retrophilia, evoking ghosts from a variety of musical pasts. But there’s no nostalgia at work here, only a determination to fashion a more experimental kind of rock that encompasses analogue elements. These are welded seamlessly into taut, bracing songs, interspersed with slivers of digital offcuts. Strange but welcoming in equal measure.
[Sonic Cathedral]

29 | Kenneth Kirschner – January 10, 2012

Ken Kirschner’s second longest release to date is a hypnotic exploration of what we might call ‘mobile stasis’. The complex texture, comprising vibes, electronic tones and strings intermingle in ever-changing permutations. Certainly one of Kirschner’s most ambitious texture works and, for those open to its unique type of language, an immersive, rewarding listening experience.
[Kenneth Kirschner – free download]

28 | voidesque – moving walls and simpler things

Derek Jeppsen’s first album expands considerably on the convolutions of his debut EP (reviewed in April). The sophistication here is seriously impressive, and while echoes of IDM heroes can still be detected, Jeppsen’s own distinct voice now dominates every track, muscularly kneading and folding beats and melody together like large dollops of dough.

27 | Susanne Sundfør – The Silicone Veil

Building on the success of 2010’s The Brothel, Susanne Sundfør gently pulls out the rug from the conventions of song on this album. The electronica is more a garnish than a tone of voice, however, and the experimentation never obscures the fact that, above all, these are deeply lyrical, heartfelt songs. Sundfør’s voice sounds better than ever, strong, occasionally child-like, always exquisitely delivered.
[Susanne Sundfør | Amazon]

26 | Sunken Foal – Friday Syndrome Vol.1

Dunk Murphy’s latest release is difficult to describe. There’s something sketch-like about the eighteen tracks, but at the same time the narrow range of sound objects and timbres they explore are subjected to fairly exhaustive treatment. It’s a delirious collection of miniatures, underpinned by the most majestic of beats and shot through with wonderfully intricate electronic textures.
[Countersunk – free download | Soundcloud]

25 | The Legendary Pink Dots – The Creature that Tasted Sound

Together for over thirty years, The Legendary Pink Dots’ music only seems to become more fertile and imaginative with the passing years. The four pieces here experiment with liberal amounts of ambient, drone, field recordings and other electronic odds and ends to create a dense sonic soup. Edward Ka-Spel makes it narrative in the title track, but here and elsewhere the interest is focused in the slowly shifting textures.
[Terminal Kaleidoscope]

24 | Ramon Humet – Niwa. Chamber works

Forward-looking Spanish label Neu Records’ second release explores the music of Barcelona-born Ramon Humet, a composer (and, says his bio, engineer) with a strong interest in Japanese philosophy and thought. The album explores three substantial works of Humet’s, including his remarkable Quatre jardins zen, a large-scale meditation for bright, resonant percussion (favourable comparisons with Claude Vivier’s Cinq chansons come to mind). Alongside the miniature Jardi de haikus they vividly enunciate Humet’s evocative compositional voice.
[Neu Records]

23 | Scott Miller & Carla Rees – Devices and Desires

Reviewing this CD back in June, i remarked on how different these six pieces are from the majority of contemporary electroacoustic music. They continue to impress, in no small part due to the mixture of technical skill and creative intuition that has made this music possible. But ultimately it’s the soundworlds that the duo creates that are most outstanding, filled with unusual timbres and exotic textures.
[Carla Rees | iTunes | Soundcloud]

22 | Julia Holter – Ekstasis

Any artist who alludes to the great Last Year at Marienbad in their opening song has got to be worth further investigation. Holter’s music isn’t so dissimilar in nature, abruptly shifting the tenor and content of a song without so much as a warning. There’s nothing sinister lurking here, though, and the album’s title can be felt in the essentially dream-like state so many of the songs inhabit. They’re far from straightforward, but fascinating regardless, and in their own way, uplifting.

21 | Deerhoof – Breakup Song

Is it possible to have a Best of the Year list without featuring Deerhoof? This is their twelfth album, and it’s as absurdly diverse as one would expect. Depending on your outlook, Satomi Matsuzaki’s unmoved vocals continue to be either the one thing keeping the music grounded or the very incongruity that makes the music truly unhinged. Either way, Breakup Song is one of their best, toying with convention more openly than usual, but sounding all the more spectacularly bizarre as a result.

Notify of
1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

[…] three years since Holter’s superb second album Ekstasis (one of my Best Albums of 2012), an album that drew liberally on musical manners from an earlier time, which is also a defining […]

Click here to respond and leave a commentx