Back in the days when I cared about this website, and a small number of people actually read it, I used to write about (or, when I couldn’t be bothered to write about, list) my favourite albums of the year. The last one of these was in 2006.
These posts never served any valuable purpose apart from enabling me to look back and discover that in that particular year, for example, I believed that the Flaming Lips’ At War With The Mystics was a better album than Joanna Newsom’s Ys. With hindsight, this is a clear example of cloth-eared lunacy.
Then I started work at The Word, where I wrote a little more about music, and contributed to their own end-of-year round-ups. Occasionally, the other members of staff took my suggestions seriously. Oh, what days they were!
But now they’re over. So I’m doing a top ten of my own (disclaimer: contains 16 albums). And here they are, in no particular order other than the order in which they came to me.
Of Monsters And Men – My Head Is An Animal
Yes, they’re the Icelandic Mumford & Sons. Yes, this album is stadium-indie at its most skilfully contrived. But it works. The choruses soar, the heart leaps, and before you know it you’re shouting “Hey!” at the numerous points throughout the recording that require you to do so.
Kimbra – Vows
I bought this album in New Zealand in 2011 and discounted it almost immediately. I was wrong. When it gained a UK release this year, most of the press ignored it entirely. Now it’s they that are wrong, while I am right. Hooray! Live, she’s a miracle in brightly-coloured skirts.
Quakers – Quakers
Portishead have released three albums in nearly twenty years. Meanwhile, Portishead’s Geoff Barrow has released three collaborations this year alone, including the imaginary soundtrack Drokk: Music inspired by Mega-City One and the unpronounceable >> from his Krautrock trio Beak. Best of all are Quakers who, for the uninitiated, are a 35-member hip-hop collective formed largely of MySpace unknowns.
Swans – The Seer
Listening to this is akin to being at the sharp end of two hours of relentless bullying, but don’t let that put you off, honest. It’s brutal, but all the more effective for it. The album “peaked” at #114 on the Billboard 200.
Jóhann Jóhannsson – Copenhagen Dreams: Music from the film by Max Kestner
Pitchfork said of this album, “There’s a general unity that essentially is Jóhannsson as he has established himself, simultaneously classically-tried and placed in a 21st-century context with the technological possibilities provided”, but I have NO IDEA what that means. I just think it’s pretty.
Various Artists – Listen, Whitey! The Sounds of Black Power 1967-1974
Expertly compiled and lavishly sleeve-noted, this is the soundtrack to the book of the same name. Come to think of it, more books should have soundtracks. Apart from 50 Shades Of Grey, obviously. And Stalingrad, perhaps. Possibly the only album where Huey P. Newton appears alongside Roy Harper.
Various Artists – Afritanga
An album examining the African influence on Colombian music might be expected to be a little academic in nature, but, when you get down to it, Afritanga is the sound of swarthy men having more fun than you’ll find in a freshly-laundered set of clown pants.
Kendrick Lamar – good kid m.A.A.d city
He’s been compared to James Joyce (not by me, I hasten to add), but it is fair to say that Kendrick Lamar is an abnormally talented wordsmith. In the old days, when Compton was first a popular hip hop destination, he’d almost certainly have been referred to as a “lyrical gangsta” for his “mad skillz”, or something.
Lee Fields – Faithful Man
Lee Fields is getting on a bit, but his libido retains the friskiness of a buck rabbit. He writes songs about ladies, for ladies, and is backed by the brilliant Expressions, who also make up a small section of the ever-complicated Antibalas / Menahan Street Band / Dap-Kings / Budos Band venn diagram.
Flying Lotus – Until the Quiet Comes
FlyLo, as his friends call him, is the great-nephew of Alice and John Coltrane. This fact alone would get him into my best-of list most years, but in 2012 he also released an album. It’s very good, the kind of thing you might like if you’d like to like modern Radiohead, but don’t like Thom Yorke. Although you should probably avoid Electric Candyman, because Thom Yorke is on it.
Benh Zeitlin & Dan Romer – Beasts Of The Southern Wild (Soundtrack)
I loved this film, and the soundtrack is all the kinds of things soundtracks ought to be, conjuring up images of places you’ve never visited but somehow feel nostalgia for. That it continues to achieve this once you take away the footage is testament to its towering cinematic majesty, and other laboured hyperbole.
Flying Colors – Flying Colors
If there were a more gleaming metal/AOR/prog crossover album released in 2012, then I failed to hear it. And I was listening HARD.
First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar
First Aid Kit have lovely hair. Their hair is so lovely, in fact, that I have written a poem about it.
Oh lovely Johanna
And beautiful Klara
You manes are like horses
Running wild in the Sahara
But I think it needs more work.
Jungle By Night – Hidden
It’s quite possible that Jungle By Night are the future of instrumental Afrobeat, despite being entirely comprised of young white Dutch folk. The album comes in a lovely screen-printed sleeve.
Motorpsycho and Stale Storlokken – The Death Defying Unicorn
This is ROCK being punched in the face by JAZZ, while CLASSICAL administers a Chinese burn. I must take issue with the album title, however, because as everyone knows, the unicorn failed to defy death.
So that’s it for 2012. Come back in a year’s time, and you may find I’ve done this again. And that would be super.