Sunday, 13 January 2013

Top 15 albums for 2012

Last year saw a versatile mix of artists ranging from an increased effort by original electronic producers to a modern twist on rock 'n' roll. Australian musicians held their ground and some of the more memorable albums are home-grown. After long deliberation and shuffling around, here are my top 15 albums of 2012.

15. Undersea - The Antlers
This is an EP of four tracks but it is musically expressive, full of open sound - dripping vocals, heaving synth and lyrical resonance. The Brooklyn band uses words only when they're needed and indulges in each element of the music. It's not one to sing along to but a great listen in its entirety.

14. In Our Heads - Hot Chip
The English pop come nerdy electronic group fuel out danceable admirable tunes. From the poppy "How Do You Do?" to a more mellow "Look At Where We Are", their 2012 release showed that Hot Chip still has the fire. They were one of the first indie dance bands on the scene.

13. The Heist - Macklemore
Never mind the super-popular single "Thrift Shop", this album is commendable in its entirety. Macklemore has brought a sensitivity and poetic quality to commercial rap that we haven't seen in a long time (cue shawty, bling, girls in the hot tub etc.) - if you can call this commercial. Partly fun, partly serious.

12. In A Million Years - Last Dinosaurs
I personally cringe when I hear the term 'indie pop' but this group out of Brisbane has brought a fresh take on catchy lovesick tunes. You can tell that there is instrumental aptitude present - never mind the cohesiveness (well, there are 3 brothers) - and the album narrative is well-crafted from start to end. My memorable tracks were 'Used to be Mine', 'Honolulu' and 'Andy'.

11. Pacifica - The Presets
Again, I would not have expected to have dance-floor fillers The Presets on this list, but Pacifica was an altogether different matter. Call it experimental, call it European house - I feel like it was a collection of tracks which capture the anxieties of 2012: rebellious youth, fear of the future, information overload...

10. She's A Riot - Jungle Giants EP
It may seem unfair to rate an EP alongside an album list but for a debut release, the Jungle Giants executed a concise and bright lot of tracks. It's teenage angst without the restless lyrics. It's love stories without painfully obvious imagery. She's A Riot isn't elaborate poetry but for rock fans there are slick riffs and dynamic vocals.

19. The Rubens - The Rubens
You can tell that this album was produced in a studio in New York (alongside producer of previous Lana Del Rey, Strokes work) because it sounds too polished for a foursome out of a NSW seaside town. The lead vocalist has a unique, gravely voice which initially drew me to their music. The album follows a story and harkens back to early blues/rock cries of heartache.

8. Flume - Flume
It might have arrived at the perfect time but Flume's debut was received with roaring success in 2012. It could be the hypnotic weaving of textural elements or the chilled out take on indie electronic. When it is hard to classify an album in terms of its music, the next thing to look at is its feel and impact. This is something new for Australia and a standout in its scene.

7. Observator - The Raveonettes
The Raveonettes don't adhere to any strict genre - although their music has the structure of pop and electronic elements, each song focuses on its content and the form which best expresses it. Their raw almost inaudible vocals are not everyone's favourite but if you listen very closely, there are some sad stories and elevating compositions.

6. Fear Fun - Father John Misty
As a member of Fleet Foxes, Josh Tillman had a lot to live up to, in terms of complex music structure and memorable melodies. Fear Fun has its own attitude - self-deprecating, vulnerable and intriguing. It also, in true 21st century style, plays around with folk, country and pop forms. Magically, it is an example of the lyrics meeting the music.

5. Blunderbuss - Jack White
A veteran of the rock music world, Jack White really is the original eccentric character. There really isn't much new to say commending his addictive licks, charged vocals and insane guitar work. Blunderbuss is so energetic and varied, it is a lesson in the modern rock album. No song needs to sound the same for it to work. Just spectacular.

4. Channel Orange - Frank Ocean
Nearly every music lover, music writer and musician took note of Frank Ocean in 2013. This is probably the most personal production since Adele's 21. Superb lyrics, that soothing voice, rolling rhythms - and a seamless album. 'Thinkin' About You' is one of my top songs of the year.

3. Port of Morrow - The Shins
One of the first to emerge in 2012, it was a five-year wait from The Shins and well worth it. Mercer returns with expressive lyrics and more mature vocals. It delves into a more commercial sound than previous folk-indie songs but is very much a complement to the Shins collection. It is a gathering of songs that ask questions about the nature of the world and its bitter disappointments.

2. Born To Die - Lana Del Rey
I can't say that I adore this album as a whole, or even appreciate every song. The reason that this album has a place so far up the list is the dark, alluring nature of the whole thing. True, her voice is not impeccable among the female greats but among all the muttering and drawling, there is something special. Standout tracks for 2012 are 'Born to Die' and 'Video Games'.

1. Lonerism - Tame Impala
Tame Impala are back with their sweeping melodies and distinct psychedelic tunes. Lonerism harnesses the spirit of 60s pop and 70s rock without emulating the same sound - in any one track you can find pulsating buss, retro harmonies and heavy electric guitar. It can feel like you're stuck in a time warp but then again Lonerism is so utterly contemporary and different to anything coming out of Australia right now. I have no doubts about this one at #1.

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