Friday, 21 December 2012

Sound Influx Albums of 2012: 10-1

10. Tame Impala - Lonerism 

Lonerism is a record that resonated on a lot of levels but personal feelings aside, Tame Impala’s second album is a massive progression in the Australian five piece’s sound, both sonically and lyrically. The word “psychedelic” is bound to crop up in almost all pieces of writing about Tame Impala and whilst that has connotations with drugs, frontman Parker has frequently stated in interviews that Lonerism was not a drug-fuelled record, although it perhaps helped at times. This psychedelic edge is imbedded with relatable lyrics and bubbling, analogue synth lines as well as the familiar recorded-in-a-garage sounding drums. Whilst there are a lot of downbeat moments on the album, single ‘Elephant’ raises spirits with the most brilliant bassline of the year. It may have only been released in the back end of 2012 but Lonerism has made quite the impact. Aurora Mitchell

9. Grizzly Bear - Shields 

Grizzly Bear aren't necessarily a band who push the boat out, but the signature sound they stick to they do oh so well. Shields is very much building upon previous records, the fragile Yellow House and the dreamy Veckatimest. However Shields still manages to be a fantastically enchanting record, with it's mix of melancholy philosophical musings that hit as hard as they are soft, and the more adventurous musically accomplished tracks that the band have always been celebrated for. Songs like 'Yet Again', 'A Simple Answer' and 'Sun In Your Eyes' manage to be simultaneously uplifting and impressive - with life affirming chord lifts and heavenly vocals primarily from frontman Ed Droste. The more thoughtful tracks like 'Gun Shy' and 'The Hunt', revel in their own beauty in a really special under-stated way that marks Shields out as an astonishingly well thought out album, and arguably the band's best output to date. Toby McCarron

8. Animal Collective - Centipede HZ 

It's never easy to follow up a landmark album; 2009's Merriweather Post Pavilion sprung Baltimore's finest experimental electronic group to new heights critically and commercially and remains as one of the most iconic albums in a long time. But it seems unfair to completely compare Centipede HZ to Merriweather, as the more considered and emotive soundscapes have been replaced by something altogether more challenging and messy. Centipede HZ is Animal Collective super-charged with ideas, with many of them being sprayed onto the record often simultaneously creating a cacophony of noise where one really has to look deep for the hidden gems. There are the more outright accessible songs like Today's Supernatural and Rosie Oh, but both still carry something otherworldly about them whether it be Avey Tare's impassioned yelps or Panda Bear's meandering coos. Tracks like Monkey Riches and New Town Burnout also showed off a more ambitious side to the group to dizzying effects, with barrages of colour and vibrancy oscillating through the listener's mind. It might not be their most affecting album to date, but it's certainly an experience to listen through, and an often rewarding one at that. Toby McCarron

7. Purity Ring - Shrines

If like me, you’ve spent a large amount of the year trying to defend what’s left of the guitar scene now that anyone that listens to Mumford and fucking Sons or their American cousins The Lumineers is branded an indie kid; you’ll probably be reluctant to listen to Shrines. Luckily for my ears, as the first twinkling sounds of 'Crawlersout' found their way into my ears, I was converted. Having heard 'Lofticries' for the first time a long time ago, I was thinking there’d be a similarity, or that the album would hang off it, but the likes of 'Fineshrine'; which almost has a powerful chorus (in electronic music?!) and 'Odebear' - which is almost begging to be an RnB track more than assist in lifting this album from alright to standout. It’s by no means perfect, but for a first effort it’s not bad. Another 4AD triumph. Braden Fletcher

6. Grimes - Visions

Canada has unsurprisingly had an amazing year for music in 2012, including the likes of Japandroids, Purity Ring and Crystal Castles amongst others releasing brilliant LPs. However, no Canadian artist has had such a climatic year as Vancouver based electronic artist Grimes. In Visions, Boucher has crafted a record that seeps a ghostly, fragile atmosphere but mixed with clunky, video-game music esque production. Her oddball, at points shrieky, vocals are an acquired taste and whilst there are some more left-field vocal takes on songs such as ‘Eight’, there lies some gentle and more pop-driven vocals as epitomised in standout singles ‘Genesis’ and ‘Oblivion’. Claire Boucher may have constantly divided opinions throughout this year and although she’s inspired by the mainstream side of pop such as Nicki Minaj and Justin Bieber; her take on pop in Visions is darker and mystical. A unique record that unravels something new to love with every repeat. Aurora Mitchell

5. Liars - WIXIW

It’s not uncommon to hear of artists locking themselves away in isolated places to get a record finished and to inspire them. Well Brooklyn trio Liars chose a warehouse in downtown LA, a place without windows. As you can imagine, this location influenced their 6th album WIXIW – a very eerie, murky and claustrophobic listen. It feels very weird to play this record in daylight what with all the unsettling nuances, Angus Andrew’s low-register, almost incomprehensible vocals and weird melodies. Touted as their ‘electronic’ album, it’s not necessarily an album you can dance to (maybe with the exception of ‘Brats’) and instead is a more introverted electronic sound that’s hard to make sense of at first. Liars also leaned away from modern electronic production techniques, acquiring organic sounds from everyday objects and processing them electronically. WIXIW is by no means an instant album and it really does require all the attention you can afford to give it to appreciate the minute details that Liars have slaved over. Aurora Mitchell

4. El-P - Cancer For Cure

Cancer for Cure is exactly what you want a rap record to sound like in 2012, with a predication for narrative-driven songs and an emphasis on exhibiting every facet of the beats. In that respect it’s miles ahead of its peers. Whilst rap as a whole is moving into a new era of self-obsession it’s positively shocking to hear one adopting a first-person perspective that isn’t their own (or an extension of their own). Its conscious rap without preachiness, you could dance or you could ponder its lyrical themes. You could do both (in fact, it wants you to do both, ‘Oh Hail No’ features a Danny Brown guest spot that’s funny and word-smart, spat over a thrumming beat that shifts and clangs endlessly).

A fully-formed jolt of uninhibited rage, delivered as a sermon, a story and a lecture. Denser than an album three times its size and more opinionated than a hundred Lupe Fiasco’s, it’s easily the most enthralling record that’s come about in a very long time. Ned Powley

3. Death Grips - The Money Store

Way back in the first quarter of the year when Death Grips began trickling out songs and videos from an album that was (presumably) on the cusp of being released, it felt as if they were trying to say something. Not some grand artistic statement or message of intent but something much neater and more focused. That statement turned out to be a series of increasingly polarising decisions that included cancelling a tour, signing to a major label (Epic), leaking their next album and leaking confidential emails with their label, which led to a clusterfuck of legal arguments which ended their relationship with Epic completely. It was impossible to see inside their world or predict their next step.

What they weren’t trying to say with those gradually teased-out releases was “buy our album”, which is good because barely anyone did. The majority of its songs compromise of dense, blown out instrumentation layered over sharp electronic noises but the formula is fucked with so much on every occasion that by its close it’s impossible to remember what it started out sounding like. You could just about dance to it and you could easily throw your body into someone else’s to it, to such an extent that listening to it through alone becomes alienating and unpleasant. Though the aims of the band and the driving themes of The Money Store remain unclear, its immediate purpose was obvious: this was music that treated the listener as a receiver and nothing else. Ned Powley

2. Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan

Rarely does a band fill every moment of their music with such detail and thought. A sum of all previous parts of Dirty Projectors’ discography, Swing Lo Magellan balances the excessively intelligent with the accessible and honest. Each twist and turn reveals something dynamic: ‘Just From Chevron’ is heart-warming and fragile; ‘The Socialites’ is beautifully suave; ‘About to Die’ is triumphantly infectious and ‘Unto Caesar’ is incredibly well controlled chaos. Some moments recall previous records like 2004’s Slaves, Graves and Ballads or 2007’s Rise Above, while other moments feel reminiscent of Talking Heads or mid-era Beatles, yet the album still feels distinctly unique. An astounding display of songwriting and musicianship, Swing Lo Magellan cements David Longstreth’s Dirty Projectors as one of the greatest bands in the world.   William Hall

1. Django Django - Django Django

So what is it that makes this album from a slightly nerdy looking Scottish four-piece with a silly name our album of the year? Well for a start, the tunes this album packs is almost unparalleled by anything else to have come out this year. The spine-tingling transition between Intro and Hail Bop before it explodes into impeccable harmonies and a chorus catchy as anything, the unabashed stomp of the anthemic Default and the pulse-quickening Wor, the bass throbs and building percussion on Waveforms, and the more subtle classiness of more restrained songs Firewater and Storm which still pack mighty hooks. 

Likeability is the key to this album, it seems near impossible to have much of an objection to anything displayed here. The vocal harmonies are tight, the musicianship is innovative albeit in a way that is accessible to the common person and doesn't alienate, and importantly the record sounds wonderfully quirky and definably British. Django Django can appeal to anyone, the chin-stroking Quietus reader, the edgy 20-somethings who although seeking purely intelligent music still find solace in a great melody, the average Joe on his way home from work who taps his foot to Default on the radio, and the teenage girl who appreciates boys in bands making catchy pop tunes but not entirely adhering to the conventions exploited by The Vaccines or The Maccabees. 

Functioning both as a fun pop album, and a clever musically precise indie record, Django Django are a shining beacon of the mantra of not taking yourself too seriously but still maintaining integrity (A Mercury Prize nomination and critical praise across the board would suggest). An essential listen but ultimately the most enjoyable of the year. Toby McCarron

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