My Favourite Albums of 2012

So it’s about 3 months later than the rest of the internet, but AT LEAST I’m squeezing it in under the wire of January.  Last year, I posted a chart of my most listened to albums of 2011.  Nothing to do with albums released that year, but based on the cold hard data of my LastFM scrobbles (click to see the charts) – a scrobble is another word for a single track played and that play then noted by LastFM.

I’ve included links to albums and songs from the chart on Spotify, so just click and play if you fancy it.

#tldr version:  Lambchop make me sad and happy at the same time, Field Music have very short songs, The Mountain Goats are angry and I want Paul Buchanan to sing me sleep.

So, here’s the list:

10: The Blue Nile  (252 scrobbles)

I found The Blue Nile’s “Heatwave” from the “Walk Acrosss the Rooftops” album via the Radiohead Office Charts playlist on Spotify (deconstruct THAT, music marketers everywhere 🙂  There’s such a nostalgia to the entire sound of that record, it’s 80s – but not bashing you over the head with it.  I’d been listening to a lot of Talking Heads (later on this list), so I suppose it actually felt like the flip side of the coin – like The Blue Nile were the softer, more playful – even wistful – younger brother of Talking Heads’ angular, dinstinctive pop.  Right in the middle of both bands of course, is that VOICE.  I’d say Paul Buchanan’s voice is just as distinctive as David Byrne’s, and that was really attractive to me – there’s something important (soothing? something I needed a lot this year) not just in what he’s saying, but in the very particular tone of voice he uses to say it.  Same thing as with hip-hop, I suppose.

9:   Here We Go Magic (A Different Ship, mostly) (259 scrobbles)

A funny album this.  The songs are minimal, sparse in arrangement and without any real “surprise” sections i.e. bits of a song that hook in the ear.  I imagine each track as someone who walks into a room, says something fairly unremarkable in a remarkable way, and exits.  No fuss.  I know that sounds like a diss, but it really isn’t.  There’s something very refreshing about the way the songs on this album don’t overthink themselves but are still massively affecting.  A lot of the credit for that has to go to producer Nigel Godrich, I think.  But nevertheless, I found myself coming back to the simplicity of songs like “How Do I Know (if I Love You” with it’s jubiliant “a-whoo-woo”s at the songs apex.

8:   Master & Dog (268 scrobbles)

Well, this is new.  Master & Dog represent the first “local” band that I’ve had in my year’s Top 10 – full disclosure, the lads are friends of mine.  Belfast based Master & Dog released their first album this year and after one or two listens, it just worked for me – very quickly – and I kept coming back to it.  Number #1 reason for this?  It just SOUNDS beautiful.  “The Way That You Stand” is the standout track for me, but you could really pick 5 or 6 songs that are just exemplary in terms of pure soundcraft.  The music and arrangements are so nuanced and beautiful that it unfolds for you on every listen – you can actually hear the love and effort put into crafting this record and it really is a beautiful listen.  They’d released the single “Canada” in 2011, and I’ll be honest, I wasn’t taken with it at all – it’s a bit over-long without any significant changes in direction.  But in the context of this beautifully crafted, inexorably sad, dark and emotionally crushing record, it’s a wonderful and forgiving lift.

7:   Deerhoof (271 scrobbles)

Can’t really say much more about Deerhoof and what they’ve meant to me over the years and this year as well.  I ran back to their seminal record “The Runners Four” a few times (the ideal place to start if you’re new to them).  Last year’s Deerhoof Vs. Evil is still a favourite and their new album in 2012 “Breakup Song” got LOTS of time from me.  It’s the same thing as always, and why I love them:  they write songs that seem to be constantly careening toward chaos, songs that are barely distinguishable as songs: – all blasting drums and screaming guitars, that are hemmed in by some of the loveliest wee riffs.  They’re a complete music maelstrom, and I LOVE being in the middle of that sometimes.  But they’re also COMPLETELY unpredictable – they write a mind-bender of an album like Breakup Song, then they come back with THIS piece of gorgeous, straight ahead pop last year too called “Sexy/Sparkly” – go download it for free on Bandcamp, you’ll thank me.  LOVE YOU DEERHOOF.

6:   The Mountain Goats (287 scrobbles)

I think it was my friend Lisa who’d mentioned The Mountain Goat’s main-man John Darnielle on Facebook that got me thinking I wanted to seek him out again.  2006’s The Sunset Tree got a lot of positive reviews and I enjoyed it back then, but it was a little dark for my mindset at the time, and John’s nasal delivery and razor clear yet  dark, self-punishing lyrics turned me off at the time.  I needed some harsh reality in my music in 2013 (as my obsession with Lambchop (below) will further show) and BOY do Mountain Goats deliver.  We Shall Be Healed, Tallahassee and Transcendental Youth have basically been on repeat for 6 weeks at this stage.  Each record is remarkably different (Transcendental Youth having a distinct bitter-Sufjan-Stevens flavour, all horns and rock riffs) with the other two having much more the confessional song-writer vibe to them.  But he never cloys, you can tell he’s lived the vitriol he’s spitting out and that shit is NOT OK.  And that’s OK.  Have a listen to “Against Pollution“, “Slow West Vultures” or “No Children” for a flavour.  John Darnielle will not bullshit you, will not sugar coat anything, and he’ll do so by describing perfectly the most mundane situations, with just the right amount of anger.

5:   Dirty Projectors (297 scrobbles)

This entry’s probably a bit more of a cop-out.  Although they released their new album this year, I can’t honestly remember the name of it and I’ve probably only listened to it 2-3 times.  It just hasn’t stuck with me but I know it will eventually – I just don’t have the energy to give to the record yet.  So these plays are mostly from 2011’s Bitte Orca coz it’s one of my fave records ever and sometimes you just need to be comforted by familiarity.  I don’t want things to be new ALL the time.

4:   Grizzly Bear (315 scrobbles)

GB have been a favourite for years but unlike Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear’s 2012 album “Shields” stuck immediately.  It’s hard to describe what I love most about Grizzly Bear, but I suppose I’ll let the drummer in me speak first.  Probably because Chris Bear is a multi-instrumentalist first, and drummer second, he’s able to do things on the drums that I think are completely unique in modern indie/rock.  He reminds me a bit of Glenn Kotche from Wilco in his understanding of music rather than just drums.  For example, I admire Everything Everything’s drummer for his chops, but he’s not even in the same league as Bear in terms of musicality, of lifting the songs with rhythm.  I suppose himself and Kotche are two of the drummers currently around to whom I’d most aspire, and that’s fun to listen to.  But unlike Kotche who, it seems, has to release a solo record to really show his musicality – his skills seem very hemmed in by the songwriting of Wilco – you can really hear Bear’s musical influence across everything Grizzly Bear have released.

3:   Talking Heads (316 scrobbles)

This is a weird one, too – I’ve been a fan for years, but early this year I really couldn’t NOT listen to Talking Heads – Remain in Light, ’77 and Speaking in Tongues in particular.  I think it started when my friend Amy posted David Byrne’s TED talk about the relationship between architecture and music.  It reminded me how much I wanted to just walk about in Byrne’s head for a while.  Then, of course, there’s his VOICE; which is both nervous and confident, neurotic and full-steam ahead.  That paradox really spoke to me I think in the bleakness of February.  There’s something under the skin of these albums, something hidden in plain sight – an uncompromising stance, an all-in, who-gives-a-fuck? attitude that during REALLY weird times for me, the music served as a reminder that often there’s simply no way out but through.

2:   Lambchop (Is A Woman, OH (Ohio) and Damaged, mostly) (637 scrobbles)

There seems to be a lot about my relationship with Lambchop that is duplicated with The Mountain Goats.  I think I was seeking a lack of bullshit, a lack of hype, or skinny jeans posturing and just COURAGE.  Yeah, that’s it.  I wanted to listen to music that was COURAGEOUS, that didn’t flinch, that didn’t balk at pain or lonliness or despair and order another round to forget the messes it’d made or hide reality behind a blanket of hand-wringing, obscure lyrical spouting or musical noodling.  JUST GIVE IT TO ME STRAIGHT, PEOPLE.  I’ve well and truly had enough of this “och, it’ll all be OK, let’s have another drink and get on with it” bullshit.  It completely fucking negates peoples ACTUAL experience, and thus completely negates people.  So thank god for Lambchop – the vocals are droll, the lyrics so often drunken, mundane, unrevealing – other than for the pure power of the metaphors he uses.  But it’s not miserable music, either – there is such beauty – actual, honest to goodness LOVE in here –  in songs like “Prepared”, “Hold of You” and “Beers before the Barbican”.   Like Master & Dog’s album, you can hear the care with which these songs are recorded and arranged – but there’s a ramshackle element, a bed-head and un-tidied apartment sound to everything, like it’s all just been thrown together before they rushed out the door to work.  This might be a bit deep, but I love the paradox this music brings to me: – It says “everything’s a fucking mess, it’s crushingly painful but when you speak about it, keep that pain in i – keep that hate, that despair in it – don’t be afraid to.  Because THAT’S where the beauty is. ” 

1:   Field Music (1,117 scrobbles) 

Ah, Field Music.  I make no apologies for the utter nerdiness of this band.  Last year’s show in the Black Box was peopled primarily by 25-35 y/o males in thick rimmed glasses.  Field Music are our Justin Bieber – we’d scream uncontrollably if we weren’t so concerned about keeping our shit together so we can appear disinterested.  The fandom at the merch table after the show allowed a wee bit of hero worship though.  I’ve said everything I possible could hope to about Field Music’s Mercury-nominated 2012 album “Plumb” in this article – go read it.  Suffice to say, for the purposes of this chart, none of the tracks on “Plumb” clock in longer than 3:59, which would explain why they’ve got so many scrobbles on the chart. Still means I listened to the album 75 times this year, which is A LOT.   

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My Favourite Albums of 2012