'Where a painter starts with a blank canvas and starts painting a picture, a photographer starts with the messiness of the world and selects a picture.' - Stephen Shore.
Time for the traditional end-of-year list to be read by five people, but mostly for my own personal records. Speaking of which, looking back at last year’s brilliant list, I can see that though I’ve bought quite a lot of new stuff
this year, as a whole the year’s been much more ho-hum in terms of new music. It was tough to pick a top five records this year not because of the competition but because there’s been lots of decent stuff, but not much that’s made me LIKE WOAAH.
Still, having said that, here are 20 records from 2012 that are more than worth your attention, and a mix of tunes from them for your enjoyment.
The 20 best albums of 2012 by The Spiderhill on Mixcloud
1. Sigur Ros - Valtari
A new Sigur Ros album is always an event, and I think they got everything right with this one, from the accompanying artwork through to the amazing range of videos to support the record. I found it a stunningly-rewarding listen, and surprisingly warm and summery-sounding. Fewer obvious epic ‘Hoppipola’-style epic tracks, but it works brilliantly together. What a generic and predictable number one, eh?
2. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
I’d missed out on anything by Fiona Apple for years, but happened upon a couple of tracks, and it’s deliriously-bonkers stuff that doesn’t sound like anyone else. Heartbroken, symphonic, virtuosic, experimental, unashamedly pop - all these things, frequently at once.
3. Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan
Speaking of not sounding like anyone else, Dirty Projectors continue to fire off down their own utterly individual path. I find it incredibly hard to describe their music, which is entirely to their credit. Longstreth = insane genius.
4. Martin Eden - Dedicate Function
This year’s equivalent of The Field in the 2011 list - a new record by Matthew ‘Eluvium’ Cooper, now recording under the pseudonym of Martin Eden. It’s another record combining shoegaze and electronics, and I’m a total sucker for those. Warm, enveloping synths over glitchy beats and the odd distorted vocal. Great stuff, but I’m still waiting for a follow-up to the last Eluvium record, which was frankly amazing.
5. Bersarin Quartett - II
Neatly symphonic electronica crossover record from band with irritatingly wilful spelling error in their name, for which I just about forgive them for producing a record that’s equal parts Cinematic Orchestra and Clint Mansell soundtrack.
6. Turing Machine - What Is The Meaning Of What
Turing Machine and Maserati raid the past to create the instrumental music of the future, and new albums from both of them this year! I can’t help but bracket them together for their matching waves of arpeggiated synths, galloping rhythms and barrel-loads of energy. Worth a hundred post-rock-by-numbers imitation bands, and Turing Machine are just that little bit harder and faster so they come in above Maserati in the list.
7. Lotus Plaza - Spooky Action At A Distance
I ignored this album for half the year, passing it off as pleasant background music that’s easy to ignore. But listening to it closely one day revealed that it’s a real beauty under the surface, full of beautiful sounds and texture that reveal themselves more fully with every listen. Deerhunter are a formidable proposition when their side projects include Lotus Plaza AND Atlas Sound.
8. Mark Eitzel - Don’t Be A Stranger
A new Eitzel is always a landmark for me, and recent offerings have been really patchy to be honest, but this is up there with his best solo work since 60 Watt Silver Lining. It’s rare to hear someone grow old so gracefully - these songs sound old, resigned to life but with a glint of humour and acceptance in their eye. There are a few absolute gems in here, especially among some of the verse lyrics, though oddly Eitzel’s not landed a real killer chorus line in a few years now.
9. Beak> - Beak»
ANALOGUE SYNTHS. LOTS OF THEM. THANKS GUYS.
10. Aesop Rock - Skelethon
Incredible, dense Rorschach test of an album. Lyrical flow defies belief at times.
11. Cinematic Orchestra - In Motion #1
The best moment from Cinematic Orchestra since Man With The Movie Camera, easily. Conceived as a series of soundtracks to short films, but works well on its own too - some really lush stuff in here.
12. Maserati - VII
See Turing Machine.
13. Land Observations - Roman Roads
You can tell this record’s by James Brooks from Appliance - the attention to crispness, clean lines and detail are shared here and honed down from what his first band were trying out a decade ago. Beautifully simple and spacious music.
14. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Worth it just for the twenty-minute ‘Mladic’, which sees Godspeed redefine epic once again, on their own terms.
15. Felix - Oh Holy Molar
Felix bypass the ‘difficult second album’ problem by simply dropping another album of the same - gorgeous piano-led kitchen-sink dramas that bring a tear to the eye and a wistful smile to the face at the same time.
16. Animal Collective - Centipede Hz
Somehow you knew that if there was one band that wasn’t going to follow a massive commercial success with an accessible ‘sellout’ record, it’d be Animal Collective. Follows on from the What Would I Want Sky EP by being an insane collage of sounds, like a long acid-fuelled nursery rhyme.
17. Thee Oh Sees - Putrifiers II
Propulsive, abstract and sometimes violent pop music from San Francisco. Extraordinary live band, and ‘Lupine Dominus’ is among my most-played songs of the year.
18. Baltic Fleet - Towers
Krautrock, updated for 2012 with monster synths and beats.
19. El-P - Cancer 4 Cure
Oh, the beats! The production! Beautiful.
20. Il Teatro Degli Orrore - Il Mondo Nuovo
Italian band drawing inspiration from the likes of Shellac and Fugazi, throwing in a rich baritone of a voice and some fabulously righteous political lyrics.
Here’s a mix I did on Christmas day for my amusement, featuring lots of lovely things including Neu!, Baltic Fleet, Beak>, Maserati, Walls and Lotus Plaza.
Christmas Spacerock by The Spiderhill on Mixcloud