Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Sound Influx Albums of 2012: 20-11

So here it is, after a year of stellar music across the board, here is our picks of the best albums 2012 had to offer. Compiled by the votes of our contributors, this is a pretty accurate representation of what we've all enjoyed the most in our ears this year.

20. Mount Eerie - Clear Moon 

We are drawn into the music, yet we are also given the impression that Elverum does it for himself, in his own world. Living and recording in the sparsely populated area of Anacortes, Washington, Elverum lives his music. His fascination with nature comes down to his surroundings, and the same may be said about the darkness of his music. It may come across as one, but musically, this is not a criticism. In fact, relating to the earlier point of honesty and emotion, these factors are what make his music more genuine. These are what make the music feel as though it has come directly from Elverum’s heart, or the heart of nature; Clear Moon is a startlingly real practise in what Elverum knows best. William Hall

19. Perfume Genius - Put Your Back N 2 It

For those unaware of Mike Hadreas aka Perfume Genius' work, the title of this album may have misled. Sounding a little like the title of a rap album, the music could not be more different. For those aware and unaware of his music alike, this album is a triumph of heartbreaking beauty. The power of emotion that this man can create cannot be denied by anyone, and the album built upon the themes and methods of the first, only creating a much more cohesive sound and mood. A fantastic album, all quavering voice and sad piano, yet never depressing, always slightly uplifting. Holly Read-Challen

18. Jack White - Blunderbuss

From assembling two backing groups – one male, one female – to enlisting his recently divorced wife on backing vocals the ex-White Stripes main man played with everyone’s expectations once again in 2012. Indulging his theatrical side ‘Blunderbuss’ managed to channel blues, garage, country and music hall whilst still sounding totally unique. From the gorgeous duet ‘Love Interruption’ to the nursery-rhyme like ‘Hip Eponymous Poor Boy’ and the jaunty vaudevillian ‘I’m Shakin’ throughout it’s one of Jack’s finest collections of pure songwriting and a worthy addition to his impressive back catalogue. ‘Sixteen Saltines’ rocked like ‘Black Math’ on steroids, ‘Freedom at 21’ growled and screamed and the spirit of his adopted Nashville hometown twisted fiddle, pedal steel and double bass into an idiosyncratic vision of Americana in the 21st century. In the year in which The Rolling Stones turned 50, he remains the only musician of his generation you can see sticking around for another half a century. Max Sefton

17. Alt-J - An Awesome Wave

When you’re the buzzband of the year, its very difficult to please everyone so for Cambridge via Leeds alternative group Alt-J, An Awesome Wave was bound to turn a few eyebrows as well as cause a variety of reviews. Seven months on from the release of their debut album however, Alt-J are looking just as strong as they were when we first heard the likes of Matilda for the first time. Whilst far from flawless, you’re welcomed in to An Awesome Wave from its ethos building Intro through the likes of “Triangles are my favourite shape” track Tesselate in a debut album out to prove a point. It trails off towards the end but we defy you to not enjoy the bass on Fitzpleasure or get a little carried away on Where the Wild Things Go homage Breezeblocks. Braden Fletcher  

16. Frank Ocean - Channel Orange

Frank Ocean's channel ORANGE is a confident and sultry debut that covers everything from crack addicts to religion to strippers and isn't even scared to turn the goofy yet loveable Forrest Gump into a sexy and soulful character who's “runnin” on Frank's mind. Finally! Some obvious same gender pronouns in mainstream R&B! 

Like his mixtape nostalgia ULTRA, the album relies heavily on samples, from the Playstation start up noise to Elton John, and that just emphasises the hazy and nostalgic summery feel of the album. I fell in love with channel ORANGE right from the moment Frank croons “a tornado flew around my room before you came” and it's still hard to find any faults with the album. Pyramids is easily the greatest track on the record, an epic that almost spans over 10 minutes and tells the story of Frank's stripper lover that conjures up images of Showgirls and synth heavy sci-fi films. channel ORANGE is an exciting and refreshing debut which is what mainstream hip hop and R&B really needed. Eden Young

15. Beach House - Bloom

Like Sigur Ros their songs seem to channel an epic romance even when there isn't a word being said. Opener ‘Myth’ blurred glistening vocals with some of Alex’s strongest guitar work while ‘Lazuli’ transforms what seems like a childish keyboard melody into a cooing, swirling ode to memory and lost love. As usual the duo need little more than Victoria Legrand’s husky voice and Alex Scully’s shimmering guitar to entrance but where ‘Teen Dream’ was glacial, ‘Bloom’ practically fizzes with life. The recurring motif of flowers gives a sense of perfect moment framed in music and offers hope for re-birth and renewal through Legrand’s gorgeous, floating vocals. With tasteful production from Chris Coady and a soaring sense of ambition there seems no limits for the Baltimore duo and at a fleeting ten tracks it continues their trend of making beautiful statements with not a second wasted. Max Sefton

14. Kendrick Lamar - Good Kid, M.A.A.D City

For a prodigy of Dr. Dre, nobody was going to represent West Coast rap as well as Kendrick Lamar in 2012. Good Kid, M.A.A.D City exceeded all expectations laid out by his 2011 tape Section 80, combining the grit and vitality of someone who has grown up in the 'M.A.A.D City' of Compton with a keen sense for great beats and pop hooks. Kendrick's flow throughout the record is mesmerizing and clever, his sculpting of words and metaphors putting to shame his contemporaries who are more preoccupied with the hedonism of money and women. Which other rapper can sample Beach House ('Money Trees'), brag about fucking the world with a penis the size of the Eiffel Tower ('Backseat Freestyle'), provide an emotional and philosophical work of musical art ('Sing About Me, I'm Dying Of Thirst') and have radio and club ready hits ('Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe', 'Swimming Pools')? Kendrick Lamar can. Toby McCarron

13. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Mature Themes

Whilst the clean production ensured it was definitely another step away from his lo-fi roots towards a more fully realised vision, ‘Mature Themes’ ensured there was still plenty for fans old and new to chew on, be it the bonkers ‘Schnitzel Boogie’ or the tense, melancholic ‘Baby’. When not taking us on a madcap ride through his frankly disturbing imagination, Ariel deployed a range of voices to craft his lushest listen to date. After almost a decade of scatter-gun lo-fi, his second record for freak haven 4AD was alternately disgusting, discursive and surprisingly listenable, laying perfect pop moments like ‘Only In My Dreams’ alongside something as strange and unexpected as ‘Kinski Assassin’. What makes it great though is the sense that for once Ariel isn’t just playing the sounds in his head but poking out tendrils to his audience and his bandmates and using the experience to make a record that’s challenging yet engaging at the same time. The hipster king reigns once more. Max Sefton

12. John Talabot -ƒIN

In 2012, electronic music has been inundated with talented debut LPs from producers but John Talabot’s ƒIN has perhaps garnered the most adoration and attention. As it was released quite early on in the year, it felt as if this record might slowly fade away but in fact - the opposite has happened. Whilst many in the field remain mysterious for unknown reasons, Talabot cited that he’d rather his music do the talking rather than his image and that’s exactly what it does on ƒIN. Packed with intricate euro-house loops and Hispanic percussive samples – Talabot’s heritage shines through in his music and makes it more personable. The two standouts on the album, ‘Destiny’ and the nearly 7 minute long epic ‘So Will Be Now’ feature fellow Spaniard and producer Pional who've shown that they’re a great music match, since making a song together and more recently remixing The xx together. A pulsating record full of vitality and colourful production, ƒIN is going to be hard to top. Aurora Mitchell

11. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...

Fiona Apple knows how to leave people in suspense. After Extraordinary Machine in 2005, Apple left her fans waiting for 7 years for a new album - perhaps partly due to her relationship with writer Jonathan Ames from 2007 to 2010. Whilst Apple being happy is good news for her, it meant fans were left in waiting for new material. 2 years after the relationship ended, Apple came back stronger than ever with a statement to make in new album The Idler Wheel… and she’s made sure that everyone in earshot has heard it. From the compassionate cry of “I just want to feel everything” on ‘Every Single Night’ to the desperate plea of “look at, look at, look at me/I am all the fishes in the sea” on ‘Daredevil’ to “I don’t want to talk about anything” on ‘Jonathan’– Apple’s lyrics bite harder than ever and reflect on the tumultuous year that she’s had. Arrested and mistreated in Texas for marijuana possession and cancelling a leg of her tour due to her poorly dog, it’s not been easy. Whilst this year may not be a high point emotionally for Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel… is a career high. Aurora Mitchell

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