Friday, 30 November 2012

Jordan's Top 50 Albums of 2012

It's no surprise I'm the M.O.R. of end-of-year-lists - the middle-of-road on-the-border neutral sitting neatly between the popular and the obscure; the acclaimed and the lesser-known; the 'people like it therefore it must be crap' and 'nobody knows it therefore it must be crap'. I've found myself time after time, year after year summarising my top albums and most-loved as a mixed bag whether that be in the context of sales, sounds, publicity, scrobbles or whatever. Taking a quick skim you'll see my list is a jumble of alternative, indie, pop, electronic, downtempo, ambient...even a bit of metal. I always made it a new year's resolution to follow more music and, at the end of it, have an EotY list that wasn't comprised of 50 out of a possible 51 albums I'd only heard that year. Certainly this year has been better, and my willingness - and indeed attention-span - to delve deeper into the industry has paid off (for the most part). And with that, enjoy flicking through the 3rd and final of MRD's writers' lists, and keep an eye out for the site's own official Top 50 coming soon.

1. Django Django - Django Django
2. The Best Pessimist - Love Is...
3. Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d. city
4. How To Dress Well - Total Loss
5. Hot Chip - In Our Heads
6. The xx - Coexist 
7. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
8. Saltillo - Monocyte
9. Future Of The Left - The Plot Against Common Sense
10. Alt-J (∆) - An Awesome Wave
11. North Atlantic Oscillation - Fog Electric
12. Grimes - Visions
13. Tame Impala - Lonerism
14. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs - Trouble
15. Jessie Ware - Devotion
16. Black Elk - Sparks
17. Swans - The Seer
18. Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE
19. Beach House - Bloom
20. Wild Nothing - Nocturne
21. Japandroids - Celebration Rock
22. Spiritualized - Sweet Heart, Sweet Light 
23. Matthew Dear - Beams
24. Apparatjik - Square Peg In A Round Hole
25. Mouse on Mars - Parastrophics 
26. Motion Sickness of Time Travel - Motion Sickness of Time Travel 
27. Gojira - L'Enfant Sauvage
28. Lindstrøm - Smalhans
29. The Mars Volta - Noctourniquet
30. Passion Pit - Gossamer
31. Dan Deacon - America
32. Olan Mill - Paths
33. Dntel - Aimlessness
34. Actress - R.I.P.
35. Andy Stott - Luxury Problems
36. Fax - Circles
37. Holy Other - Held
38. John Talabot - ƒIN
39. Chappo - Moonwater
40. Death Grips - The Money Store
41. Scuba - Personality
42. Orbital - Wonky
43. TOY - Toy
44. Beat Connection - The Palace Garden
45. The Invisible - Rispah
46. Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan
47. BT - If the Stars Are Eternal So Are You and I
48. Lindstrøm - Six Cups Of Rebel
49. Summer Heart - About A Feeling
50. ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - Lost Songs 

Chris' Top 50 Albums of 2012

As you can see there are loads of Ambient and Downtempo releases on this list. This has been a fantastic year for the legendary Ultimae Records thanks to new releases by Sync24 and Solar Fields. A surprising amount of awesome singer/songwriters came with new stuff too. And last but not least: Katatonia and Tenacious D. The former is a fantastic Doom metal band from Sweden and the latter needs no further introduction. 2012 was a very good year for music!

1. Trifonic - Ninth Wave
2. The Flashbulb - Opus at the End of Everything
3. Mumford & Sons - Babel
4. Sync24 - Comfortable Void
5. Connect.Ohm - [ 9980 ]
6. Katatonia - Dead End Kings
7. Plan B - Ill Manors
8. Kwajbasket - Science Fiction Soundtrack
9. Kwajbasket - The Gentleman
10. Marconi Union - Different Colours
11. Alcest - Les Voyages De L'Âme
12. The Pines - Dark So Gold
13. Poets of the Fall - Temple of Thought
14. Glen Hansard - Rhythm and Repose
15. Slow Dancing Society - Laterna Magica
16. Solar Fields - [Random Friday]
17. Sync24 - Ambient Archive (1996-2002)
18. Urenga - After Rain
19. Various Artists - [Greenosophy]
20. Xavier Rudd - Spirit Bird
21. Akira Kiteshi - Industrial Avenue
22. Muse - The 2nd Law
23. Reso - Tangram
24. Netsky - 2
25. The Flashbulb - Hardscrabble
26. Brian Eno - Lux
27. Carice van Houten - See You on the Ice
28. Celldweller - Live Upon A Blackstar
29. Deadmau5 - >Album Title Goes Here<
30. Eluveitie - Helvetios
31. Faderhead - The World of Faderhead
32. Fink - Wheels Turn Beneath My Feet
33. Hammock - Departure Songs
34. Hudson - Crimson
35. Hybrid Leisureland - Variable
36. Infected Mushroom - Army of Mushrooms
37. Karine Polwart - Traces
38. Knife Party - Rage Valley EP
39. Linkin Park - Living Things
40. Loscil - Sketches From New Brighton
41. Marconi Union - Weightless (Ambient Transmission Volume 2)
42. Morning Parade - Morning Parade
43. Celldweller - Wish Upon A Blackstar
44. Shulman - ALive
45. Spain - The Soul of Spain
46. Stone Sour - House of Gold & Bones Part 1
47. Submotion Orchestra - Fragments
48. Varous Artists - Special Places
49. Vinnie Paz - God of the Serengeti
50. Tenacious D - Rize of the Phoenix

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Eddie's Top 50 Albums of 2012

Ho! ho! ho! It's the time of year where critics and music lovers alike devise their end of year lists. Our combined end of year list will be revealed nearer to Christmas, but for now the MRD writers will personalise our top 50. I don't particular have genre preferences, I guess you could say I sway towards independent 'alternative' releases. I've spent plenty of time shaping my list to what I believe to be the best albums of 2012. This does mean there will be some omissions. They may be quite noticeable omissions that haven’t made my list mostly due to this year’s output quality. There's nothing more I can say... Here are my top 50 albums of 2012.

1. Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d. city
Scott Walker – Bish Bosch
Beach House - Bloom 
4. Japandroids - Celebration Rock
5. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...
6. Death Grips - The Money Store
7. Wild Nothing - Nocturne
8. Frank Ocean - Channel Orange
9. Julia Holter - Ekstasis
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
11. Actress - R.I.P.
12. Tame Impala - Lonerism
Spiritualized - Sweet Heart, Sweet Light 
14. Grimes - Visions
15. Django Django - Django Django
16. Frankie Rose - Interstellar
17. Jessie Ware - Devotion
18. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Mature Themes
19. Swans - The Seer
20. How to Dress Well - Total Loss
21. Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra - Theatre Is Evil
22. Lotus Plaza - Spooky Action at a Distance
Laurel Halo - Quarantine
24. Trailer Trash Tracys - Ester
25. Twin Shadow - Confess
Animal Collective - Centipede Hz 
27. Nas - Life is Good
28. Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music
Matthew Dear - Beams
30. Flying Lotus - Until the Quiet Comes
31. Grizzly Bear - Shields
32. Clinic - Free Reign
33. Alt-J - An Awesome Wave
The Best Pessimist - Love Is... 
35. Cat Power - Sun
36. Moon Duo - Circles
Andy Stott - Luxury Problems
38. Holy Other - Held
39. Anaïs Mitchell - Young Man in America
40. Passion Pit - Gossamer
41. Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory
42. Hot Chip - In Our Heads
43. Of Montreal - Paralytic Stalks
44. Titus Andronicus - Local Business
45. The Twilight Sad - No One Can Ever Know
46. Tindersticks - The Something Rain
47. The xx - Coexist
48. The Cribs - In The Belly of The Brazen Bull
49. Future of the Left - The Plot Against Common Sense
50. Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball

I'm posting this on the verge of December 2012, so obviously there may be one or two changes depending on the final few releases of the year. Kevin Shields announced the third My Bloody Valentine album will be out this year, which will knock the boss out of the top 50 I’m sure. Whatever happens in the closing twelfth of 2012, I hope you (the reader, all five of you) have a spectacular Christmas and a crazy New Year.

Scott Walker - Bish Bosch

Scott Walker can be forgiven for retracting his pop days for an obscure career. Born Noel Scott Engel in Hamilton, Ohio, Walker played around with genres and a group before settling with baroque pop in the late 60s. He left his unique self-written baroque pop behind in the 70s as he divulged into pop and country. Bish Bosch can trace its origins back to 1984 with Walker's 11th studio album Climate of Hunger. This release and his next (11 years on) are both minimalistic and bleak, however not as eventful and shocking as his 2006 comeback on 4AD The Drift. With The Drift (his most critically acclaimed album since Scott 3) under his belt, Walker looked set for a dynasty with 4AD. It's taken a further six years for Walker to release his 14th studio album. Song-writing doesn't come easy, it takes time. One thing's for sure, Bish Bosch was certainly worth the wait.

Like The Drift and his 84 avant-garde springboard Climate of Hunger, Peter Walsh returns as producer. To understand the pure genius of Walker, one must put their mind at ease. Imagine being in the studio with one of music’s great innovators of sound. Walker has become a master of avant-garde recording, utilising obscure instrumentation and 'different' sounds to create songs. At the heart of every Walker composition is a lyrically enticing song. Such as the album opener 'See You Don't Bump His Head', where on his return to music, Walker sings: "While plucking feathers from a swan song, spring might gently press its thumbs against your eyes." In typical Walker fashion, his nightmarish lyrics set the listener up for what will be their most sacred listen of 2012. The regurgitated drums hit hard in a sort of Jane's Addiction way. There's no time to address certain features because the instrumentation takes you on a voyage to Walker's mind. Moments of high pitched synthesizers are matched with heavily distorted drums to the out of context and highly valuable guitar riff which catches you off-guard.

The listener doesn’t need to fight themselves to understand this album. Anyone that say's Bisch Bosch is 'too experimental' or 'too left field' is missing Walkers perspective. Corps De Blah is like an alien attempting to communicate with a dog. The off-beat percussion works perfectly as synthesizers and guitars enter and leave with no warning. Three minutes in and you can see why Brian Eno hails Walker as one of our great composers. The sheer audacity of this recording is so intense that it opens up a whole new line of thought. For instance at 3:50 where the listener is exposed to trumpet flatulence? What's that all about? Of course, all the chisel sounds are lovely and they honestly do sit well with the tracks atmosphere, but the real talent and quality comes with the harsh synthesizers and industrial sounds of screeching, distorted guitar and moments of utter silence. Then there's an acoustic guitar, and it seems the listener has travelled in a circle. Corps De Blah is an indication of the direction Bish Bosch has taken, no direction. The final three minutes highlight production quality with loud and layered strings, abrasive guitar and distorted instrumentation. Use your imagination.

"Pain is not alone," sings Walker on the third track Phrasing. This repetitious lyric is sang in such a way that it never becomes just that, repetitious. There's buzzing, a stark drum pattern and a loud distorted guitar on the right side as Walker returns to his opening lyric. He repeats this even during the peculiar samba-esque segment. Things turn a little frosty as the instrumentation fades out and Walker is left asking the listener a question: "Did ya spot the die-cut crosses? Did ya?" The drumming picks up and the soundscapes return with energy to hold all the guitars and synthesizers together. Walker ends with an depressing jeer: "Here's to a lousy life."

Walker does a truly spectacular job of using silence as an instrument. SDSS14+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter) is one of the best tracks of the year due to A) Walkers extraordinary lyrics and B) Walkers 21 minute composition. “If shit were music you would be a brass band," sings Walker in the opening 90 seconds of atmospheric a cappela. If The Drift was a nightmare, then Bish Bosch is certainly the awakening - in hell. SDSS14+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter) is an insulting, forward and dense track that takes the listener on an adventure. It's an adventure through visions and dreams that quickly turn to nightmares as Walker screams: "What kind of unnatural son would do that to his own Mother." This track is dynamic and it highlights the textures and detailed instrumentation. The strings continuously put the listener on edge and Walker's vocal goes from one extreme to another.

Throughout this album Walker puts the listener through a facade of industrial sounds. The type of sounds that make you turn down the sound to see whether they're actually part of the recording, or just your surrounding ambience. All the dreary synthesizers reveal a darker, black and bleak side to Walker's music which he's been diving deeper into since 84s Climate of Hunger. Dimple could be the soundtrack to death. The haunting strings and high pitched synthesizers mix beautifully with Walker's deep vocal. Similarly, Pilgrim has all the nightmarish instrumentation, vocals and atmosphere as Dimple... Bit with a light turned on. You know those scenes in horror films where there's an intense build-up in a darkly lit room, then suddenly silence and the light turns on and the viewer see's what they don't want to see... yeah, if Dimple is the build-up then Pilgrim is most certainly the shock horror.

Each and every track on Bish Bosch tells a story. Walker is not only a composer, but a poet. He has made sure that the album is an experience and that every song is an experience in itself. By far the most extraordinary track on Bish Bosch is the percussion heavy Epizootics! There are guitar sounds thrown around the speakers and funky segments which could be considered dance, if not only for five seconds. The horns are fantastic and add a further level of freedom to the sound of Bish Bosch. I love how Epizootics! has been split up into various moods which feature various instrumentation, such as the edgy heavy drumming at 3:30 and the comedic sax at 4:00. The most surprising aspect to this track is the ending. The cataclysmic drumming comes to a close and you hear Walker's clear spoken voice for the first time on Bish Bosch: Sorry, I’m so clumsy. Take that accidentally in the bollocks for a start." 

Tar opens with the sound of two machete’s sliding across each other - quite different to his baroque pop days wouldn’t you say? The best moments of avant-garde music is when sounds are left to the imagination of the listener. You can identify several instruments on Tar, but you never quite know for sure what else has been used to craft that particular sound. The deep and dark synth that closes the track is one of my favourite moments on Bish Bosch. That along with the opening few minutes of closing track The Day the"Conducator" Died (An Xmas Song). Between 1:25 and 2:35 to be precise. The sleigh bells ring in the background alongside a dream pop-esque guitar and Walker repeating the lyric: "Nobody waited for fire." This segment is also repeated later in the track before the heavy guitar segment. Theirs an innocence and optional happiness in these few segments of dream pop. Most prominently in the final 90 seconds where the sleigh bells become the focus and snow-like atmosphere takes over. The track ends with sleigh bells and a xylophone to the tune of Jingle Bells.

Bish Bosch is Walkers 14th studio album in 45 years. He's not the most prolific of artists, but he's certainly one of the most efficient artists. This album isn't like any of his others. Sure, it can be compared to The Drift, but it's completely different. The exquisite instrumentation could possibly be even obscure than that of The Drift. Walker is an extraordinary artist that has not only penned these tracks, he's composed and arranged them too. Still going strong at 69 (soon to be 70), the music industry’s biggest recluse releases the peerless and unconventional album of 2012.