spotlight-studios
3rd December 2012

Albums of the year: Top 10

A countdown of the best of 2012.
Albums of the year: Top 10

10) The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten

The Gaslight Anthem’s fourth full length album Handwritten, sees the bands harp back to a more familiar punk vibe, reminiscent of the acclaimed ’59 sound, but with an extra shot of Springsteen for good measure. The album is a letter to the listener, dealing with love, loss and general teenage angst that affects us all. However, its Brian Fallon’s honesty and sincerity that turns a somewhat clichéd story into a compelling one. The Gaslight Anthem are yet to really make it on the big stage, but it can only be a matter of time before everyone realises that these guys should be headlining festivals all over the world! Tom Ingham

9) Flying Lotus – Until the Quiet Comes

Stephen Ellison, aka Fly Lo, is a beat-maker whose adventurous productions definitely veer off the beaten track. Following on from 2010’s Cosmogramma, his penchant for extravagantly textured soundscapes has not lessened in the slightest.  Vocal help is on hand from the likes of Thom Yorke, Erykah Badu and Niki Randa, whose excessively delayed voices add to the ethereal feel that exists throughout Until the Quiet Comes.  He somehow manages to meld together flecks of jazz, hip hop, glitch, and dance music in order to craft a record that now sits at the very forefront of nightmarish downtempo music. Dan Jones

8) The Shins – Port of Morrow

You might have been forgiven for thinking this record wouldn’t come to pass, but the end result of James Mercer’s extensive five-year reconstruction of The Shins provides compelling evidence that his hiring-and-firing was justified. The signature Mercer marriage of irresistible melodies and achingly gorgeous lyricism appears as strong as ever. ‘The Rifle’s Spiral’ and ‘Simple Song’ are marvellously crafted pop stompers, with the funk jam that is ‘No Way Down’ providing a welcome change of pace. ‘September’ and ‘For a Fool’, both beautifully wistful, vie for the title of this record’s ‘New Slang’. If abrupt lineup changes and broad collaboration are what Mercer feels he needs to flourish, then so be it; Port of Morrow is another masterwork from one of the great modern American songwriters. Joe Goggins

7) Frank Ocean – Channel Orange

Mere weeks prior to the release of Channel Orange Frank Ocean openly revealed his bisexuality, an exceptionally brave act even in 2012 within the masculine genre. Cynics condemned this as a publicity stunt, but Channel Orangedemonstrates Ocean’s music is all he needs for recognition. The range displayed on the album is stunning. ‘Thinkin Bout You’ is a beautiful, soulful expression of unrequited love, whilst ‘Super Rich Kids’ satirises the shallowness of LA’s young elite. ‘Pyramids’ alone is a 9 minute genre-skipping, subject-jumping epic in which Ocean seamlessly flows between tales of Egyptian princesses and Vegas strippers. Channel Orange is a pioneering, potentially seminal work of art. Patrick Hinton

6) Actress – R.I.P. 

Never one to stand still, the third album from Darren Cunningham – better known as Actress – is comfortably his most daring and compelling yet. The follow-up to 2010’s critically acclaimed ‘Splazsh’, ‘R.I.P.’ flawlessly fuses house, IDM and techno to create an album which becomes more rewarding upon each listen. It’s a bold step away from his previous work with traditional 4/4 beats foregone in favour of a more minimalist ambient approach. You may not hear this one much in the clubs but that doesn’t stop it being the best electronic release of the year. Matt Gibney

5) The Cribs – In the Belly of the Brazen Bull

Shorn of former Smiths man Johnny Marr and diverted away from the formulaic avenue he appeared to be steering them into, The Cribs returned to their three-piece, basement roots to produce Brazen Bull, a record as gaudy and delightfully overblown as its title. Like a paean to all their biggest 90s influences, the record combines Pinkerton era-Weezer (‘Come On, Be a No One’, ‘Jaded Youth’) with spiky, Pavement-esque guitars on ‘Pure O’ and the stormy, feedback-drenched ‘Back to the Bolthole’. Its crowning achievement, though, is the four-part rock opera to close – a sharp reminder of the ambition of a band too often written off as just another indie rock outfit. Joe Goggins

4) Lana Del Rey – Born to Die

To say it’s been quite a year for Lana Del Rey would be an understatement. Her debut single ‘Video Games’ rocketed up the charts 12 months ago, and one year on, her debut album Born to Die has done the same – putting her firmly on the map as one of the biggest names in modern day music. Her sudden rise to fame is largely thanks to this very album, with singles such as ‘Born to Die’ and ‘National Anthem’ receiving widespread acclaim, whilst the beautifully written tracks ‘Without You’ and ‘Summertime Sadness’, amongst others, lend some credence to the enormous levels of hype that seem to have surrounded her since day one. Adam Selby

3) First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar

There’s something unique about the way that siblings sing together.  It might be that growing up together makes them more sensitive to each other’s voices but family bands like the Staves just seem capable of creating harmonies in a way that others can’t.  Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg only serve to prove this.  A record that belies their young age, The Lion’s Roar is full of pain, longing and beauty.  From the heartbreaking ‘To A Poet’ to the raucous ‘King of the World’ the record beautifully exhibits their talent and they’ve harnessed that unique family bond to create one of the most stunning records of 2012. Rachel Bolland

2) Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city 

Discussions surrounding hip-hop are almost always as compulsively obsessed with judging “where the genre is going” as they are with the quality of work itself. Such commentary can have an alarming self-fulfilling effect and might be seen to have culminated in a branching off into internet gimmicks and drudging anti rap. Not so with good kid, m.A.A.d city. Lamar fuses together the narrative and autobiographical with the figurative, illustrating a life concerned with and by image, fame and family. Lamar’s greatest achievement is honesty, a trait in short supply amongst the posturing that infuses the genre. A must listen album. Jack Armstrong

1) Alt-J – An Awesome Wave

Cambridgeshire-based quartet Alt-J have had far from a quiet year after being swept along by the phenomenal reception of their debut album An Awesome Wave, and now they’ve scooped their biggest prize yet – top spot in The Mancunion’s end-of-year poll.

To try and define the trademarked Alt-J sound would be futile. In fact, it would be trickier to pick out a style of music that doesn’t make an appearance on An Awesome Wave. Trip-hop beats fused with indie-rock idiosyncrasy and heavy synth riffs combined with folk harmonies make it near enough impossible to put Alt-J under a specific umbrella.

In theory, a combination of so many musical atmospheres played all at once should probably produce the aural equivalent of seasickness. However, this is not the case. Sewn together by frontman Joe Newman’s reverb-fuelled lead vocal, each style seamlessly floats into the next to create a sound so refreshing it almost washes over you.

From the soothing acoustic melodies of ‘Matilda’ and ‘Something Good’ or the inconceivably slick sounds featured on ‘Tessellate’ and ‘Fitzpleasure’, there’s almost something there for everybody. Perhaps it was this universally-relatable style that gave An Awesome Wave the edge over competitors to be take the prestigious 2012 British Barclaycard Mercury Prize, following in the footsteps of previous winners The XX, Arctic Monkeys and Primal Scream, perhaps not. In any case, the innovation displayed in An Awesome Wave gives us a lot to be excited about in 2013. Joe Doherty


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