Top 12 Albums of 2012
Following his top 12 songs, Jonny Chadwick gives his must-hear albums from last year.
12. Miguel – Kaleidoscope Dream
In the world of R&B, Miguel is somewhat unique. While his contemporaries strive to find the biggest chorus, largest range and sell as many records as possible, the 27-year old exercises refreshing restraint. He rarely stretches his undeniably impressive voice to its limits, instead teasing listeners with brief forays into falsetto. Perhaps it is this smooth simplicity that has stopped Miguel from reaching a wider mainstream audience, but for those really listening, Kaleidoscope Dream is worth the effort.
11. Wild Nothing – Nocturne
The twenty-first century has hardly been bereft of artists in thrall to the C-86 sound. However, as anyone who has listened to Nocturne, or for that matter Wild Nothing’s debut Gemini, will testify, no one does it as well as Jack Tatum. Every jangly guitar line was as effortless and satisfying as the work of any of Wild Nothing’s heroes, with album centrepiece Paradise a beautiful demonstration of Tatum’s ability to change the tone without losing any of the charm.
10. Tame Impala – Lonerism
Just like Wild Nothing, there is nothing particularly innovative about the Australians’ brand of psychedelic revivalism, they simply do it better than anyone else. While countless sub-genres spring up each year, Tame Impala act as a comforting reminder that there is still value to be mined from past sounds and movements. All that is required is someone with the songwriting capability of Kevin Parker, whose deft production was also keenly felt on Melody Echo Chamber’s self-titled debut.
9. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Japandroids are good guys. They put in the work so you can have a good time. While they are shredding the guitars, hammering their drums and shouting their throats hoarse, you are receiving sing-along choruses and quotable apocalyptic slogans about proving doubters wrong and partying yourself into a coma. (Also one of the best live bands in the world)
8. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory
After an admirable and undeniably enjoyable debut album, Dylan Baldi, the man behind Cloud Nothings, decided to stop writing songs about teenage frustrations and start making music for adults. This came in the form of Attack on Memory, the band’s Steve Albini-produced second album. For the first time Baldi employed a full band for the studio as well as live shows, and it had the desired effect. Attack on Memory was heavy, aggressive and a perfect statement that Cloud Nothings are not going to be forgotten any time soon. Let’s be thankful for that.
7. How To Dress Well – Total Loss
In a music industry that includes Bon Iver, an angelic falsetto alone is not enough to satisfy. Tom Krell, aka How To Dress Well, applies his to sparse instrumentation, often using nothing but his voice and a drum machine. It may help that he has a lot to write about- break ups, depression, death, addiction- but either way throughout Total Loss Krell manages to connect with the listener in one of the most personal and affecting records of 2012.
6. Grimes – Visions
For anyone who has seen Grimes play live, it would be difficult to believe that Claire Boucher has had no musical education. The diminuitive Canadian sings, plays and mixes both her studio work and live sets single-handedly. Considering she has managed to make music that is at once experimental, unique and crammed with pop hooks is quite a feat. Nothing else sounds quite like Visions, and it is exciting to see what Boucher can come up with next.
5. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
Regardless of the context surrounding its release, Channel Orange was the most ambitious record to come out in 2012. Ocean more than fulfilled the task of creating an album with mainstream appeal for his major label debut, not through Guetta-produced cheap thrills but an intimacy that was all-inclusive. Songs like ‘Sweet Life’, ‘Bad Religion’ and ‘Thinkin’ ‘Bout You’, like so many classic pop songs, channel a moment or feeling so close to the writer themselves, yet which strike a chord with so many others. Channel Orange is an album that will be revisited for years to come.
4. Perfume Genius – Put Your Back N 2 It
Long before Frank Ocean’s coming out, Mike Hadreas of Perfume Genius caused a stir in the U.S by having a promotional video, in which he was seen embracing a gay porn star, banned. Ironically, this garnered more attention than the video itself would have, with R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe publicly denouncing the homophobia at the heart of the censorship. Anyone drawn to the album either by Perfume Genius’ earlier work or the controversy surrounding it was treated to a record of breathtaking beauty and minimalism. Add to this a rare poetic touch and the address of heavy themes others might shy away from (gay porn, drug addiction, child abuse, pedophilia), Put Your Back N 2 It is an album that merits attention.
3. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city
There was no more gripping or immersive album released in 2012 than good kid, m.A.A.d city. The diverse and nuanced delivery on the album encourages repeated listens, with Lamar showing just why this release was waited for with such anticipation. So often hyped records fall short of the mark, but good kid, m.A.A.d city has not achieved both immediacy and depth, making it all seem so easy along the way.
2. Stumbleine – Spiderwebbed
For the past couple of years, dubstep has been the go-to sound for any artist looking to shake up their sound. It reached a terrible head this year with Muse’s latest release. So what happens when a dub artist comes in the other direction? While James Blake turned his early work into piano ballads with beats, Bristol producer Stumbleine decided to move towards shoegaze-tinged dream pop songs. The results are irresistible. A mix of Burial-esque garage vocal samples, dub beats, jangling electric guitars and hazy synths, Stumbleine’s debut is both blissful and danceable. Spiderwebbed is a record that combines numerous genres and ideas from opposing ends of the musical spectrum to create the most soothing and ambient sound of 2012.
1. Chromatics – Kill For Love
It is difficult to discuss Chromatics without mentioning the film Drive. While they only contributed one song to the soundtrack, Johnny Jewel, chief songwriter in the band and head of record label Italians Do It Better, composed an entire score for the film that was not used (Jewel also wrote the soundtrack’s most memorable song, Desire’s ‘Under Your Spell’). Their entire sound evokes the iconic scene of the film: Ryan Gosling driving alone, in slow-motion as the sun sets.
But the most striking aspect of Kill For Love is just how cohesive it is. Chromatics have created an album that defies its simplicity: each song is greater than the sum of its parts, and in turn the record adds value to each individual track by juxtaposing it perfectly with another perfectly constructed one. A truly cinematic masterpiece.