We thought that 2012 was pretty damn great year for music, and when it came time for us to do our usual list of our favourite 20 albums, it grew into a top 30 albums list. Then a top 40 list. Then a top 50.......
Our rules for the list were the same as for previous years
1) No bumping up friends albums into a higher position just because they are our friends bands and rehearsed at the studios (although this year, 11 bands we have worked with made the list, but we stuck to the rule strictly.)
2) We can obviously only include the albums that we actually listened to, and even then, we had to listen to it 5 times at least.
3) The list was compiled on 20th Dec. Frustratingly, we heard a few other albums after the list was compiled that we thought should have been included, but by then we had already started the countdown on Twitter and could not fit them in. The best was Martin Rossiter's "The Defenestration Of St Martin", which we would have put in the top 10 at least, perhaps even top 5.
Here is a Spotify Playlist of the complete Top 50 Albums, in full.
1) Mystery Jets – Radlands
A truly coming of age album for Mystery Jets, recorded in a home recording studio set up in a country house by the Colorado river in the Westlake area in Austin, Texas. Southern USA influences run through it, most evident on the Gospel tinged “Sister Everett” and the country-esque “Take Me Where the Roses Grow”, while still retaining their signature sound in “Greatest Hits” and even straying into Bee Gees terratory in “The Hale Bop”. A great hangover album, (much of the first half of the album, despite being very strong, barely gets out of 1st or 2nd gear), this album was pushed into first place by the run of songs from “Take Me Where the Roses Grow” to "Lost In Austin", which is amongst the finest run of songs in years. A classic case of a laid back, and less-is-more approach paying off spectacularly.
2) Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again
The best debut album of 2012 and a close contender for album of the year. Bill Withers and Terry
Callier are the most obvious reference points, but there is also a strong Nick Drake vibe running through the album, particuarly in songs such as “I'll get Along” and “Tell Me A Tale”. A soulful, laid-back-to-the-point-of-vertical album, full of incredible melody lines, emotion and the maturity of a long established artist, this is the album that should have won this years Mercury Prize. This generation's “Five Leaves Left”.
3) Tame Impala - Lonerism
You know when people say that Oasis sound like the Beatles? Unless there was a Beatles song that had 15 guitars on it that I have missed, it's pretty clear they don't, and it's a lazy association. However, if the Beatles were transported from their 1968 Magical Mystery Tour period to the present day, and their time machine landed them in the home studio of Dan Snaith from Caribou, this is the album they would have made. Marks of Todd Rundgren and the Flaming Lips are all over the album too. The most immediate album of 2012, an album you can that feels familiar on first listen, as well as being one you can immerse and lose yourself in, and still discover hidden qualities on the 20th listen. It is testament to the strength of music this year that it is only number 3. In most years, it would easily be number 1, and deservedly so. “Be Above it” is a fantastic opening track, “Mind Mischief” sounds like a song that should have been on The Beatles Antology 2, and the whole album has a feel of a fantastically produced album, that adds great style to songs that would sound great on an acoustic guitar. A rare case of an album absolutely hitting the mark on both style and substance.
4) Jake Bugg - Jake Bugg
Only 18 Years Old, born at the height of the Britpop scene, and already with a number 1 album to his name, this is an album that Eddie Cochran or Buddy Holly would have made if they were 18 in 2012. There is a feeling of the songs not being written to fit an album, (in the same way that Devendra Banhart's first 2 major label album do), with the style veering from rockabilly, to country, folk and everywhere in between. Lo-fi and sparse production values dominate, with most of the songs sounding like they could have been recorded on a 4 track recorder. If he ever decided to 'do a Syd Barrett' and retire from music, he'd make a good living from songwriting. There is a refreshing honesty to this album, with strained vocals and his Nottingham accent evident throughout. It's an album that a teenage lad probably wrote in his bedroom, and is in the same vein as the Arctic Monkeys debut in that he writes in a fantastical manner about the mundane events that a British teenager would come across. Brilliant lyrically, musically and delivered spectacularly.
5) Of Monsters and Men – My Head is An Animal
The album that took me by surprise the most this year. It's lyrical content isn't immediately obvious, but seems to be rooted with strong mythological content throughout, and the tight production means that the album has a strong uniformity. It's basically an angsty pop album, veering in mood from levels of positive giddiness, to wallowing weariness. From Iceland, and barely into their 20's, they have made the most coherent album of the year. The most obvious band comparisons are Bon Iver, Arcade Fire and Mumford and Sons, this album combines a multi-layered sophistication, and the production is great throughout. Co-self-produced along with Jacquire King, (Tom Waits, Modest Mouse) this is an album that reveals itself slowly, (Little Talks is the only obvious single) and is strong throughout. The lazy would compare them with Bjork, on account of being from Iceland. The truth is that they wouldn't be too far away from the truth; If she was asked to write an album to fit into the drive time Radio slot, it could possibly sound like this.
6) Gaz Coombes - Here Come The Bombs
The debut solo album from the Supergrass frontman, on which he plays all the instruments. If this album had come out in 1998 it would have fitted alongside “In It For The Money” effortlessly in style and quality. If every album released this year was whittled down to it's best 5 singles, this album would have been the best. Hot Fruit could have slipped into IIFTM, “Generator” sounds like a song left off of “I Should Coco” (it would be one of the strongest songs on that album) and “Whore” could have been recorded on the same day as Richard III, despite the 15 year gap between the two songs. It sounds like the album that it is; a first album by an artist who has established himself in a sound, but has a sense of liberation from going solo and decides to take a few risks and push the boat out. Certain sections of this album may not have worked within a band setting, as they are so sparse that there simply isn't enough content to go around the various members, but there is a also a depth to this album quite unlike anything he has ever done in the past, and iy has a lot more texture and production values than you would expect. “Break the Silence” beats MGMT at their own game, and all in all, it is the most underrated album of the year by far.
7) The Shins – Port of Morrow
One of the most maligned albums of the year, (most press reviews were incredibly harsh on it) but unfairly so. I genuinely feel this is the best album of their career, and people who are pining for the sub pop days are cheating themselves out of a great album. “Simple Song” was one of the best singles of 2012, and while the album may not hit the heart as much as many other albums this year, it is still a fantastically entertaining album to listen to, and there's nothing wrong with that. They seem to be aiming for the stadium-full-of-lighters-waving-in-the-air vibe on many songs, notably “It's Only Life” (If Rachel and Ross went to a gig in an episode of Friends, and ended up copping-off with each other, this is the song the producers would choose the magic moment to happen to). If you're the sort of person who gets angered by bands who try to spread their appeal and set out to make an album to be consumed by the masses in industrial quantities, this album will probably do nothing for you. In the meantime, it's no skin off my nose - you're the one that is missing out on one of the better albums of 2012......
8) Allo Darlin – Europe
We thought that Allo Darlin's self titled debut album was pretty damn spectacular, and this second album continues where their last one stopped, both in sound and quality. Out of all if the bands on this list, Allo Darlin are the best example of a band that I genuinely couldn't imagine anyone not liking. In fact, if you were to say that you were not a fan of theirs, you'd probably be someone who would trot out the old “I don't like the Beatles...” line. So I'm sure that there are people out there who might not like them, but this album is so good that it is otherwise assumed you would be a fan, unless you state otherwise. The production on it is has a crystal clear, American-west-coast feel about it, and their songs simultaneously have a lightweight, breezy universal appeal to them, but at the same time, the album feels like a cult album, not dissimular to Weezer's “Pinkerton” or early Death Cab for Cutie while still in places sounding like The Beach Boys, Kirsty McCall, Real Estate or even The Thrills. Lyrically, the album is one of the strongest of the year, and it was pretty much one of the only albums this year that everyone at the studios loved, and whether it be tracks such as “Neil Amstrong,” with it's saccharine sweet and insainly upbeat optimism, despite it's quite meloncholic lyrical content ("They could name a star after you and you'd still be complaining,") or the beautiful heartwarming-despondency (if that is possible.....) of “Talulah”, this album is a triumph, and would have been in the top 3 on any other year from 2005-2011.
9) Jack White - Blunderbuss
This was the album that surprised us the least this year. In fact, you could have seen an album of this quality coming from a country mile off. Having built up a songwriting craft that is on a par with Bob Dylan's output from 1965-1968 with the White Stripes 6 albums, and having spread his wings with various musical projects such as The Dead Weather and The Raconteurs which, while being great acts, didn't reach the heights of the White Stripes output, mainly due to the lack of total control he could have over each of his albums, this feels like a natural progression. The fantastic album he produced with Loretta Lynn's Van Lear Rose is another obvious marker point. And this album is the accumulation of all of them. The snappy songwriting of the White Stripes? Check! The fantastic production values of Van Lear Rose? Check! The greatly improves musicianship of The Dead Weather/The Raconteurs? Check! One of the best albums of the year? Double-check!!
10) Jason Lytle – Dept of Dissapearance
Seeing as 2012 is the year the Grandaddy reconvened for their re-union gigs, you don't need many guesses to know what the starting reference point for this album is. If you liked Grandaddy, you'll like this album, if you didn't, you won't. It doesn't look to reinvent the wheel, just add a few more spokes in it. It is incredibly strong throughout, especially seeing as it is just his second album in 6 years, and whilst some parts of it feel like a parody of a Grandaddy album, it is a remarkably rewarding album. The lyrical content is kooky, as you would expect, and many of the songs have a familiarity about them that immediately makes you think he has re-worked an old song. If you're looking for obvious singles though, there are not too many of them, but that is probably because this album is more likely to be played as an album, rather than having choice tracks aired on radio. Much stronger than his first album, it is the album that confirms Jason Lytle as one of the greatest songwriters of our generation.
Here's the rest of the list, from 11 - 50
11) Alabama Shakes – Boys and Girls
12) Darren Hayman and the Long Parliament – The Violence
13) Bahamas – Barchords
14) Justin Townes Earle - Nothing's Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now
15) Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas
16) Ben Kweller – Go Fly A Kite
17) Keegan McInroe – A Thousand Dreams
18) Regina Spektor – What We Saw From The Cheap Seats
19) Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light
20) Bob Dylan – Tempest
21) Antlered Man – Gifties 1 & 2
22) M Ward - A Wasteland Companion
23) Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball
24) John Cale - Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood
25) Howler – Give Up
26) Sharon Van Etten - Tramp
27) Richard Hawley – Standing on the Sky's Edge
28) Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
29) Beach House - Bloom
30) Bobby Womack - The Bravest Man in The Universe
31) Paul Banks - Banks
32) Girls Girls Girls – Here Come the Bastards
33) Darren Hayman – Lido
34) David Lynch and St Vincent – Love This Giant
35) Paul Weller – Sonic Kicks
36) Tribes - Baby
37) Best Coast – The Only Place
38) Kyla La Grange - Ashes
39) The Macabeees – Given To The Wild
40) Melody's Echo Chamber - Melody's Echo Chamber
41) Band of Horses – Mirage Rock
42) The Beach Boys - That's Why God Made the Radio
43) Toy - Toy
44) Saint Etienne - Words and Music by Saint Etienne
45) Alt J – An Awesome Wave
46) Band Of Skulls - Sweet Sour
47) The Sick Leaves – Breaking Away
48) Graham Coxon – A+ E
49) Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...
50) Zulu Winter - Language