The best albums of 2012
Compiled by Jack Foley
THE time has come for the annual round-up of the year’s best albums – but while there are plenty to choose from (such as new releases from Jake Bugg, fun and ZZ Top), we’ve decided to mix in some of the hidden gems that you may have missed out on buying.
Hence, while the likes of undoubtedly (and deservedly) get a mention, what of lesser known gems such as The Heavy, Luke Ritchie and Blockhead.
Keep an eye out, too, for outstanding albums from the likes of Joshua Radin, Shawn Lee, Andy Burrows and Nada Surf. We’ve picked just 30 long-players to lead your life by… they’re not listed in any particular order of preference, though – just all good listens in their own right! And worth noting, too, we’ve not heard every album released this year (or even been sent them), so there may be notable omissions.
Aimee Mann – Charmer
What we said: It’s hard not to love Aimee Man… from her disarming voice, through to her effectively simple song-writing style, right down to her thought-provoking lyricism, she’s consistently appealing. Charmer is her first album since 2008, her eighth in total, and is packed with great songs, some of which have a deceptively dark side.
Best tracks: Charmer, Disappeared, Crazytown, Soon Enough, Living A Lie, Gamma Ray
AM & Shawn Lee – Celestial Electric
What we said: AM and Shawn Lee’s Celestial Electric is, like its name suggests, a concept album made in heaven… the LP is an electro-soul classic that also encompasses pop, soul, funk, jazz, Brazilian tropicalia, Turkish psychedelia and vintage soundtracks – picking out any one true highlight is difficult, such is the album’s warmth and overall quality.
Best tracks: City Boy, Lonely Life, Dark Into Light, Somebody Like You, Callahan, Jackie Blue
Andy Burrows – Company
What we said: Andy Burrows has long been on our favourites playlist, ever since his Sun Comes Up Again album (under his I Am Arrows guise) blew us away. Now, he releases his solo album, Company, and once again delights. Co-produced by Burrows with Tim Baxter, it’s an album steeped in rock classicism and raw, melancholic melodies, most of which instantly impress.
Best tracks: Company, Keep On Moving On, Hometown, Shaking The Colour, Pet Air
Angus Stone – Broken Brights
What we said: After six years of touring and recording as one half of Australia’s award-winning duo Angus & Julia Stone, Angus is embarking on a new journey and the results are nothing short of stunning… All told, this is a remarkable journey that easily rates among the albums of the year so far. For Stone, it’s a personal masterpiece that looks set to enjoy classic status.
Best tracks: River Love, It Was Blue, Wooden Chair, The Blue Door, Bird On The Buffalo, Monsters, Be What You Be, Clouds Above
Bear Driver – Bear Driver
What we said: Bear Driver are described as exponents of sunny slacker pop and listening to their eponymous debut album it’s easy to see why. This is a feel-good record par excellence… Although originating from Leeds, the band possess more of a West Coast sound at times while also drawing favourable comparisons to the likes of Dinosaur Jr, some of their American counterparts or – closer to home – The Cure.
Best tracks: Enemy, Never Never, Colours Run, No Time To Speak, Impossible, A Thousand Samurais
Blockhead – Interludes After Midnight
What we said: Ever one to inject the cinematic into his music, Blockhead – aka Tony Simon – returns with another dusky great in the form of the appropriately entitled Interludes After Midnight on the ever impressive Ninja Tune label… Blockhead has long offered a musical remedy to the bland mainstream that thrives on his ability to mix the surprisingly cinematic with the vaguely hip-hop while pleasing himself in the process. There won’t be too many cooler records this year.
Best tracks: Panic in Funkytown, Meet You At Tower Records, Smoke Signals, Tools of the Industry, Midnight Blue, Snapping Point, Beyond Reach, The Robyn Byrd Era
Blonds – The Bad Ones
What we said: Blonds consist of Cari Rae and Jordy Asher, a Brooklyn-by-way of Florida boy-girl group who have captured attention across the pond in a big way. Admittedly, there are a couple of songs that don’t register as strongly and which prevent the album from making the leap to a full 5-star review. But boy does it come close… The Bad Ones is the type of debut that leaves you thirsting for more… as all bad things should (only without the guilt).
Best tracks: Heartstrings, Falling, Time, Amen, The Bad Ones, Locomotion, Run, Magic
Boy – Mutual Friends
What we said: Hamburg duo Boy are – paradoxically – two girls who have perfected the art of the catchy pop track. Hence, their debut album Mutual Friends is one to treasure… Melodically, the songs they deliver are beautifully composed and often breezy in the extreme. Yet beneath that sweet surface lies inventive twists, adding subtle experimental touches to a conventional pop palette of piano, guitar, drums and bass.
Best tracks: Little Numbers, Waltz For Pony, Boris, Oh Boy, Waitress, Skin, Railway, July
Crooked Fingers – Breaks In The Armor
What we said: If you believe the hype, then Eric Bachmann – aka Crooked Fingers – tried hard not write this new album, his sixth under that moniker. If you believe us, then it’s a good job that he failed given that Breaks In The Armor offers a cracking set of songs from the former Archers of Loaf man. Early on, especially, things are outstanding. Opening track Typhoon hits you with a whirlwind of great guitar riffs and a moody vocal that builds to a terrific chorus. It’s just so darn good and it’s followed by the equally excellent Bad Blood.
Best tracks: Typhoon, Bad Blood, The Counterfeiter, Black Candles, Your Apocalypse, War Horse
Deer Tick – Divine Providence
What we said: Deer Tick are an American act who got sick of being categorised as folk or country, who decided to create a record that was closer to their live persona: namely, raw, loud, heartfelt and defying easy categorisation. The result is a flat out enjoyable collection of 12 songs that bounce between rowdy and beer-soaked anthems in waiting to subdued classic American rock and even Brit-pop leaning psychedelia at times..
Best tracks: The Bump, Let’s All Go To The Bar, Walkin’ Out The Door, Electric, Make Believe, Main Street
First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar
What we said: The sophomore album from Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Soderberg, aka First Aid Kit, is a triumph. Drenched in a winning mix of melancholy, soul-searching lyrics and upbeat melodies, the album is a richer, more mature listen than their debut and one that resonates on an emotional level. Yet, while certainly drenched in sorrow in places, it’s also somehow inspiring instrumentally.
Best tracks: The Lion’s Roar, In The Heart of Men, Blue, Wolf, New Year’s Eve
Fun – Some Nights
What we said: Having missed out on the success their debut album Aim & Ignite deserved New York outfit fun. look set to reap massive rewards from sophomore effort Some Nights. Buoyed by the overwhelming success of its lead single, We Are Young (which became the first rock song to top the Billboard 100 in almost four years, before then spending six weeks there), the album proceeds to underline what makes fun. so darn appealing.
Best tracks: We Are Young, Some Nights, It Gets Better, All Alone, One Foot
Jake Bugg – Jake Bugg
What we said: Jake Bugg’s style combines rock ‘n’ roll swagger with emotional honesty, all informed by his experience of growing up in his home town. There’s classic pop, folk and blues tinged rock and a dash of country. The first half of his eponymous album positively belts its way out of the speakers, hitting you with the singles Lightning Bolt, Two Fingers and Taste It… This is as emphatic a debut album as you’re likely to hear and one of the best of the year. Bugg has the world at his feet right now.
Best tracks: Lightning Bolt, Two Fingers, Taste It, Seen It All, Simple As This, Broken, Trouble Town, Someday
James Levy & The Blood Red Rose feat Allison Pierce – Pray To Be Free
What we said: James Levy’s particular brand of song-writing has drawn comparisons to the classic likes of Serge Gainsbourg with Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin or Lee Hazlewood with Nancy Sinatra and Ann Marget. It’s a sharp, playful mix of jaunty pop and bruised ballads that make good use of the singer’s striking baritone as well as Allison Pierce’s sultry tones (yes, she of The Pierces).
Best tracks: Sneak Into My Room, Give Me Happiness, Crying To The River, Pray To Be Free, Holy Water, Positively East Broadway, Crying Myself To Sleep
Joshua Radin – Underwater
What we said: Having dabbled with a bigger, more plugged in sound on his last album, The Rock And The Tide, American singer-songwriter Joshua Radin now returns to the formula that catapulted him to fame with follow-up record, Underwater… and the results are amazing… It elevates Radin from an already great song-writer to one of the very best in the world right now… someone whose timeless style is comparable to the grand masters such as Simon & Garfunkel.
Best tracks: Tomorrow Is Gonna Be Better, Underwater, Let It Go, Any Day Now, Anywhere Your Love Goes, Five And Dime, The Greenest Grass
Kosheen – Independence
What we said: Kosheen’s first new album since 2007 is called Independence and is worth the wait. Comprised of 14 tracks, it’s a cut above a lot of modern dance in that it has the ability to appeal to the Ibiza crowd as much as the indie one too. There’s darkness mixed with light, there’s propulsive full steam ahead floor-fillers mixed with lonesome spotlight moments, and there’s even a sense of the cinematic at times.
Best tracks: Bella Donna, Addict, Manic, Out There, Enter, Waste
Kristina Train – Dark Black
What we said: Kristina Train’s biggest hit to date, Dream of Me, is something of a deceptive offering given its retro pop melodies and dreamy, swoon-some chorus. For the album that ensues is mostly a haunting affair that showcases an altogether darker, more heartbroken side to the singer. In spite of this, it still marks Train out as a formidable force. A sophomore album, it’s a fantastic, often beguiling showcase of this southern American singer, who deftly combines elements of Norah Jones, Duffy, Dusty Springfield and Joni Mitchell while creating something fiercely distinct.
Best tracks: Dream of Me, Lonely Sinner, No One’s Gonna Love You, I Wanna Live in LA, Stick Together, Love You Tonight
Kyla La Grange – Ashes
What we said: The debut album from Kyla La Grange showcases one of the most interesting female artists of the moment. It’s an epic, thoughtful affair that has garnered comparisons with everyone from Florence + The Machine to Kate Bush, while also seeming like the new ‘go-to’ musical source for Twilight fans. But it’s far more than just a comparison piece. It’s an emphatic arriving statement from a singer-songwriter who is dripping with talent… Ashes is one big highlight that marks one of the debuts of the year.
Best tracks: Walk Through Walls, Courage, Woke Up Dead, Been Better, Vampire Smile, You Let It Go, Lambs
Luke Ritchie – The Water’s Edge
What we said: The Water’s Edge comes recommended as the type of album that marks the arrival of a significant new singer-songwriter talent, who deserves to find massive success, especially when considering the hard graft put into realising the songs contained within, which are diverse enough to show he has exceptional range too… The album [also] comes alive at several points to throw off any ‘yet another folk singer’ shackles.
Best tracks: Cover It Up, Words, Butterfly, Northern Lights, Song to Sundays
Nada Surf – Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy
What we said: Nada Surf’s sixth studio album Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy is a rip-roaring return that plays to the band’s strengths while self-consciously keeping one eye on recreating their live energy. That is to say, snappy guitar riffs of a sun-drenched, occasionally retro-leaning variety providing the backdrop for melodic songs about life, love and the usual. Lyrically, it sounds more like a coming-of-age record, with several musings on how life changes as people get older..
Best tracks: Waiting For Something, When I Was Young, Jules And Jim, Teenage Dreams, No Snow On The Mountain, Let The Fight Do The Fighting
Paul Weller – Sonik Kicks
What we said: You can’t keep a good Weller down, it seems. The evergreen Modfather continues to defy the critics with Sonik Kicks, a new album that is notable for continuing to challenge the expectations surrounding him. Where previous album Wake Up The Nation offered 16 tracks at breakneck pace and with an experimental attitude, this one displays a melting pot of influences from pop-art punch with soulful communication, jazzy explorations that veer towards the psychedelic, hip indie pop moments and forest-folk.
Best tracks: The Attic, That Dangerous Age, By The Waters, Study in Blue, Dragonfly, Be Happy Children, Paperchase, When Your Gardens Overgrown
Pop Levi – Medicine
What we said: Three albums in and Pop Levi has yet to get the global recognition his music so richly deserves. But Medicine could well be the album to change that and serves as a nice antidote to a lot of the manufactured pop-pap out there. Bonkers insane yet classically sourced, this is – by Levi’s own admission – a collection of songs that rub his obsession with Prince up against his love for Bolan, throws in a little Paul McCartney, some early Stooges, a chunk of Lindsey Buckingham and even a dash of Peter Gabriel for a record that channels bubblegum pop through Satanic ritual and classic rock for some of the oddest, funniest and most cool cuts you’re likely to hear this side of The Heavy.
Best tracks: Coming Down, Bye-Byes, Records, Motorcycle 666, Rock Solid
Rodrigo Y Gabriela – Area 52
What we said: There’s no word better to describe Rodrigo y Gabriela’s latest album Area 52 than masterful. The Mexican guitar duo’s first recorded collaboration with another group of musicians comes with the expertise of a 13-piece Cuban orchestra composed of some of Havana’s finest young players, collectively known as the C.U.B.A… This really is as much a celebration of the music of Cuba and Rodrigo y Gabriela’s inspirations as it is a thrilling showcase of their continued genius.
Best tracks: Hanuman, Ixtapo, 11:11, Diablo Rojo, Logos
Shawn Lee – Synthesizers in Space
What we said: Shawn Lee is two things… prolific and talented. Fresh from his recent collaboration with AM, entitled Celestial Electric, Lee now puts out a solo effort, Synthesizers In Space. The result is one of the funkiest cuts this side of a David Holmes record you’re likely to hear this year. It’s downright essential for anyone who likes their music to be cool, funky and consistently inventive and enjoyable (rather than pandering to the masses).
Best tracks: Jupiter’s Jam, Galactica, Head Up, Boogie Children (Saturn Day Night), Lost In The Shuffle, Bossa Nova Seela
Skinny Lister – Forge & Flagon
What we said: Skinny Lister’s debut album Forge & Flagon is one of the feel-good albums of the summer! Recorded in deepest, darkest Snowdonia with producer David Wrench (Bat for Lashes, James Yorkston), the 13 tracks comprised within evoke a tremendous party spirit when keeping things lively and upbeat, or charm the heart when slowing down the pace for moments of quieter reflection..
Best tracks: If The Gaff Don’t Let Us Down, John Kanaka, Rollin’ Over, Peregrine Fly, Seventeen Summers, Kite Song, Plough & Orion, Colours
The Heavy – The Glorious Dead
What we said: With the addition of a gospel choir and an even broader palette to operate from, The Heavy can rightly lay claim to have delivered their biggest and most ambitious sound yet. The Glorious Dead revels in its combination of dark themes and funky output, coming across as the best party album of the summer for those that don’t stick to the mainstream, as well as a cinematic joyride to boot. It’s a glorious record and, like the two albums that came before it, another shoe-in for our annual album of the year round-up.
Best tracks: Curse Me Good, What Makes A Good Man?, Same Ol’, The Lonesome Road, Be Mine, Blood Dirt Love Stop
The Staves – Dead & Born & Grown
What we said: Emily Staveley-Taylor has described one of the nicest things in the world as being sung to. She hopes that after hearing The Staves’ debut album, Dead & Born & Grown that people will feel the same way too. It’s safe to say they probably will. Combining bright English folk with sublime West Coast pop, this is an album steeped in classic song-writing values that has a timeless quality about it.
Best tracks: Wisely & Slow, Pay Us No Mind, Facing West, Dead & Born & Grown, Winter Trees, Mexico, Eagle Song
Two Door Cinema Club – Beacon
What we said: The eagerly anticipated sophomore album from Irish trio Two Door Cinema Club more than lives up to expectations – it’s a sparkling collection of songs that looks set to catapult them to even greater heights. Bigger and more inclusive than their debut, and featuring production assistance from Jacknife Lee, it’s an LP that’s high on melody and instantly accessible crowd-pleasers, mixing indie pop with electronic pop to often seamless effect.
Best tracks: Beacon, Settle, The World Is Watching, Sun, Next Year
Yppah – Eighty One
What we said: Quite simply, this is a mesmerising listen – beautiful, thrilling, inspiring and consistently brilliant… Inspired in part by his move from Texas to Long Beach, California, where he developed a love for the ocean, this retains Yppah’s cinematic scope, his DJ Shadow-style ability to make beautiful music from beat-laden backdrops, and – new to the mix – songs that “feel like a warm wash”. He’s also employed the services of a vocalist for some tracks, namely Anomie Belle (another of IndieLondon’s favourite new artists), whose distinct, often ethereal vocals, merely provide the icing on the cake.
Best tracks: Blue Schwinn, R Mullen, Film Burn, Soon Enough, Golden Braid, Three Portraits, Some Have Said
ZZ Top – La Futura
What we said: It’s been a little too easy to write ZZ Top off as somewhat gimmicky given their distinct look and better known crowd-pleasing standards such as Legs and Sharp Dressed Man. But they remain one of America’s most enduring, yet under-celebrated rock acts. New album La Futura, their first in nine years, is one of the year’s best rock efforts. Sharp and genuinely rousing in places, it’s also bluesy and heartbroken at others. It’s both steeped in classic rock values yet polished enough to appeal to the here and now.
Best tracks: Gotsta Get Paid, Over You, Heartache in Blue, Flyin’ High, It’s Too Easy Manana