Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Albums, 2012

Well, it's that time of year where I add yet another music list to the swirling multitude of music lists clogging up the internet. I'm proud to present the Emma Music Awards, 2012. (I really need to work on a better name than that)

My top album of 2012 which I hoped would be my top album before it even came out.

Flying Lotus - Until the Quiet Comes
Ever since Cosmogramma I'd been waiting patiently for more wonderful things from Flying Lotus. His Pattern and Grid World EP didn't quite work for me, and although I love his earlier albums Los Angeles and 1983, I'd been pretty excited to hear something new. I was also worried I'd be disappointed - when you pin such high hopes on something, there's a big danger it will let you down.
I got even more excited when this stunning teaser video by Kahlil Joseph was released…

When I finally got hold of the album, I decided to save it until the right moment. My favourite way of enjoying new albums is, bizarrely enough, on public transport, preferably trains, but buses will do. So I hopped on a late evening bus and spent a blissful 45 minutes or so soaking this up.
There's a lot of incredibly beautiful moments here, and much like it's predecessor Cosmogramma, it only grows in depth and richness with repeated listens. Guest vocalists work perfectly with the surrounding music, with neither stealing all the attention, but combining to create something that neither could do alone. There is a lot of variety here too, but the album is perfectly composed so that everything flows together into one seamless piece, making it difficult to listen to any one track alone. As a result I've listened to the whole thing a lot of times, and it's still getting better. I'm delighted to call this my album of the year.

Album that I thought might be alright but actually turned out to be brilliant

Debruit - From the Horizon
I've been consistently listening to Debruit's fairly small back catalogue for a couple of years - 'Echtah' being a particular favourite. This full length album rather snuck up on me, and I was disappointed to find Resident didn't stock it when I went and asked, so I forgot to listen to it for a while. When I finally got round to it, I was delighted to find it was so much more than I'd expected. Perhaps I'm not cool enough, but I don't know anyone else making anything that sounds even vaguely like Debruit (if you do, let me know!) and this album continues that original streak. Don't be put off by the slightly difficult first couple of tracks, a) they're growers, and b) there's a lot more wonderfulness in the rest of the album. Cuivree being a personal favourite.

Album that I keep getting really excited about listening to and then get bored of halfway through

Matthew Dear - Beams
Oh Matthew Dear. It's not your fault. At least I don't think so. But somehow after a few tracks I always get a bit tired of your voice, even though I love it initially. And the trouble with this album is that the later tracks are definitely inferior to the wonderful first few, and that combination means I've only managed to get all the way to the end a couple of times. Admittedly one of those times was today, on a train, where I always concentrate better, and on reflection it is a fairly solid album, but the glittering, shimmering opening track 'Her Fantasy' and throbbing 'Earthforms' are definitely not matched further down the line.

Best album that I'm not entirely sure whether it technically came out in 2011 or 2012

Four Tet - Pink
Well apparently he released this album as a series of split vinyls back in 2011, but it only came out as a whole album this year. So that makes it a this year album, right? Anyway, it's brilliant, and although some might argue it's not as interesting or creative as some of his back catalogue, I've found it a lot more immediately appealing. Closing track Pinnacles definitely ranks as a contender for one of my favourite songs of the year.

The only album that everyone in the office likes

Django Django - Django Django
I think I got a bit more excited about Django Django than I actually ought to have done. But what can I say, they were one of my best live music experiences of 2012, TWICE, both supporting Metronomy in the Royal Albert Hall and in a tiny Brighton venue with barely 40 people in the audience. They did an amazing job both times, and their vocal harmonies, creative percussion and general lovely stage presence just blew me away. The album, as it turns out, is not quite as amazing as those live experiences were, although still a brilliant effort, start to finish (Apart from the slightly tedious Zumm Zumm). It's also probably the only album that came out this year that EVERYONE in my office enjoys, and has, at some point or other, been requested by everyone. We have a pretty open attitude to music in the office, although it really depends on who's there what we end up listening to. If it's just me, my senior designer James and our wonderful web lady Marina, we listen to pretty much anything, even difficult jazz, angry hip hop or difficult electronica. Then as various other people join the room it gets progressively tamer until Andrew H arrives, when we basically only listen to Alabama 3, Nouvelle Vague or Johnny Cash. And now Django Django have been added to that prestigious list.

Best album by an artist I know absolutely nothing about

Cid Rim - Cid Rim (Micro Album)
So this was suggested to me by Spotify one day when I was a bit bored, so I decided to give it a shot. And my goodness, it's wonderful! It's basically a highly condensed, simple to understand version of everything that gets me musically excited. Danceable, glitchy electronica which seems to fit just right no matter what mood I'm in. I have no idea who he/she/they are, but they've created what is, in my opinion, a much underrated masterpiece.
(Incidentally, since this, I've been regularly listening to what Spotify recommends to me… and it's all been rubbish. This was clearly a fluke rather than finely tuned algorithms. Or maybe I'm throwing them off by using Spotify to listen to loads of guilty pleasures…)

(On googling for the artwork it appears that Cid Rim is one man with a terrible moustache)

Best album/worst live experience combo

Portico Quartet - Portico Quartet
Maybe that's not a very good award title. Because I've definitely had far worse live music experiences this year (Washed Out anyone?! Eeesh, worst show EVER), but anyway, this was a show I was really looking forwards to that was totally ruined by THOUGHTLESS GIG TALKERS. YES, that means YOU, down the front there, stood right in front of someone desperately trying to enjoy that gorgeous, subtle, quiet cello while you shout loudly about how long you had to queue at the bar and how the beer is 'just ok'. Oh, and that couple RIGHT THERE who spend most of the show sloppily kissing, and when they're not doing that, they're inappropriately whooping during a stunning bit of hang drum, and they're not the only ones being dicks, because it seemed like basically the ENTIRE CROWD spent the ENTIRE SHOW senselessly chattering, drowning out this utterly beautiful album.


Rant over. Great album. Listen to it. Go and see them live but try and go to a show that's not full of NOISY BUM FACES.

Rant really over.

Album that I thought was great but then listened to far too much and ruined for myself

Clark - Iradelphic

This album filled me with a very particular kind of radiant joy that meant I listened to it a LOT, until one day I discovered that I'd spoilt it for myself. I'm having another listen now for the first time in a couple of months, and the good feelings have fortunately returned, so I've hopefully not ruined it forever. Anyway. It's very good and I'd recommend it. Shimmering and glittering and textured and gorgeous. But don't overdo it.

Album that most makes me wish I was male and part of a Barbershop Quartet

The Futureheads - Rant
Well I've always loved the Futureheads, and this album is a delightful combination of old and new material, but all acapella in their beautiful northern tones. Songs like Man Ray and Meantime from their first album translate wonderfully without their usual strident guitars, and new songs like Beeswing are a beautiful change of direction. I hope they've not abandoned guitars forever, but this is certainly a welcome and bravely experimental variation on what they've previously been known for. I was gutted to only discover a night too late that they'd done an intimate acapella show at the Komedia on release of this album. I suspect I missed out on a wonderful night!

Late contender for some kind of award but I'm not sure what yet

Phillip Glass - Rework
This album only came out a short while ago, and we only got a copy a couple of weeks ago. But it's already a contender, based on the few listens I've been able to give it. Remix albums can be a bit patchy, but there really are very few weak spots on this one. A combination of great source material and incredible remixers has led to a quite stunning, and (for a remixes album) unusually cohesive body of work. Contributors that got me most excited included Pantha Du Prince, Tyondai Braxton, Nosaj Thing and Amon Tobin, although Beck, the initiator of the entire project, has created an unexpectedly incredible 20 minute rework of NYC: 73-78, and Cornelius has added an understated but beautifully recorded piano cover of the Opening from Glassworks. All in all, there's a lot to be had here, and this is definitely going to get a lot more listens so I can work out exactly how I feel about the whole thing. My current and immediate highlight upon first listen is Amon Tobin's incredible 'Warda's Whorehouse Inside Out Version'

Five other albums I've enjoyed a lot…

Nathan Fake - Steam Days
Like an idiot I booked tickets to see Nathan Fake then decided on the night I was too tired, so sold them to some people outside the venue and went home to bed. Then RIDICULOUSLY REGRETTED IT because this is a brilliant album.

Field Music - Plumb

Not my usual thing. When Alex first got it he described it as being a bit like a musical, which immediately put me off, but on further listens I discovered I actually did really rather like it. Even if it does sound a bit like an indie musical.

Minotaur Shock - Orchard

This is just plain good nice listening. There's an amazing remix of something off this album, which helpfully I have no idea what it was called, and can't direct you to. So there we go.

The whole album is a bit of a struggle, but the first few tracks are just MAGIC. And the vinyl came with a download code card made out of biodegradable paper embedded with wildflower seeds. How nice!

Floex - Zorya

Simple, elegant loveliness. And incidentally, this is also probably one of my favourite album artworks of the year.

I hope that wasn't too long and boring a read, and I'm sorry for my terrible ability to actually describe music. I hope you might find something new and wonderful thanks to reading this.