Once again the year ends with the number of albums I still haven’t heard or will only get round to late into next year far outweighing those I actually did listen to. But of what I did wrap my ears around in 2012 I enjoyed albums from Allo Darlin’, Ambulances, Yusuf Azak, Andrew Bird, Blind Atlas, Boletes, Cheval Sombre, Cold Pumas, Cousins, Adrian Crowley, Devoted Friend, Eat Lights Become Lights, Fanfarlo, Goat, Ghost Carriage Phantoms, God’s Little Eskimo, Darren Hayman, Island Twins, Richard James, Jesus H Foxx, Johnny5thwheelandthecowards, Kaatskill Mountains, Lazarus and The Plane Crash, Jens Lekman, The Leg, Jack Lesser Lewis' Awkward Energy, Les Liminanas, Huw M, Moonface with Siinai, Onions, Plank!, Pulco, Race Horses, Randolph’s Leap, Sex Hands, Shearwater, Sone Institute, Standard Fare, The State Broadcasters, The Sufis, Temple Songs, The Wave Pictures and James Yorkston.
And if I allowed myself to break the self-imposed ‘Top Ten only’ straitjacket a 11-20 list would look like (alphabetically) Euros Childs, Clinic, The Douglas Firs, First Aid Kit, Golden Fable, Hooded Fang, Damien Jurado, Kiran Leonard, This Many Boyfriends and Woods.
Huge thanks for those artists and bands who shared their thoughts and reflections on 2012 namely (in order of appearance) Seamus Fogarty, Tigercats, Laura J Martin, The Douglas Firs, The Eccentronic Research Council, Mowbird, Richard James, Hooded Fang, Whistle Peak, Land Observations, Easter and Kiran Leonard.
So following that excellent wrapping up of the year, here is my Top Ten albums of the year. Yes it’s subjective. Yes it’s a rum bunch which at first glance appears wilfully random with no connection or shared stylistic approach between them. But – to my ears anyway – they are all formed by a distinctive and original voice (even when indebted to forebears) which delivers consistently – no weak links - across the full length of the album. You may disagree with this or with entries on the list. But hey that’s the fun of lists.
TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2012
10. JULIA HOLTER Ekstasis [BUY]
The second album from LA multi-instrumentalist and composer is a beguiling dream-world of layered electronically processed and natural sounds and voice; coolly arty but gorgeously accessible.
9. LAND OBSERVATIONS Roman Roads IV-XI [BUY]
Minimal motorik instrumentals about the Roman highways that criss-cross ancient Britain and Europe from ex-Appliance man James Brooks. Again (visual and musical) artiness and accessibility go hand in hand.
8. WHISTLE PEAK Half Asleep Upon Echo Falls [BUY]
A happy-sad electro-folk shuffle from Louisville, Kentucky. An excellent set of “children’s songs by grown men” to luxuriate in.
7. THE ECCENTRONIC RESEARCH COUNCIL 1612 Underture [BUY]
“Practical Electronics enthusiasts from Sheffield, make spooked out spoken word LP with Maxine Peake.” Understatement for the underture to the story of the Pendle Witches then and now and a side-swipe at contemporary society, shallow politicians and Jeremy Kyle.
6. TIGERCATS Isle Of Dogs [BUY]
A joyous, edgy and infectious declaration-of-independence that touches on Talking Heads, Hefner and Los Campesinos. Music that makes you want to be a teenager again indeed.
5. LAURA J MARTIN The Hangman Tree [BUY]
Can I use (someone else’s) phrase again? “Liverpudlian flute-wrangler” goes on magical excursions – from deserts to Morecombe Bay to Japan – switching from child-like (but never infantile) innocence to breathy sultriness. Heart wrangled.
4. COLD SPECKS I Predict A Graceful Expulsion [BUY]
Gospel-flavoured folk-noir from Al Spx and her Anglo-Canadian collective that is subtle but stirring, underplayed but over-powering. I cried when I saw them live (big softie).
3. SEAMUS FOGARTY God Damn You Mountain [BUY]
The James Yorkston-endorsed and Fence Records-signed nomad from County Mayo delivers rough, earthy ruminations with a transcendental other-worldliness. Wayward folky sounds on guitar, banjo, fiddle and cello with the added curious spaciness of analog synthesisers, laptop interventions and sea-shell percussion.
2. EASTER Innocence Man [BUY]
Crumpsall pipe-dreams, heavy US alt-rock hooks and riffs and experimental post-rock meet for an "immense, brooding and ruggedly beautiful journey, as monumental and carefully hewn as the carvings at Mount Rushmore or the implacable Victorian brickwork of Strangeways prison".
1. CATE LE BON CYRK [BUY]
"“Cyrk” is an album inspired by the Isle of Eigg, recorded in Cardiff, named after the Polish word for ‘circus’ but sounding like none of those places. It is at once grounded and otherworldly, cryptic and cool but curiously compelling and warm-hearted. Each listen pulls you deeper in, revealing more but telling you less. At the beginning of the last decade ‘New Weird America’ was coined to describe outer limits folk music looking at the world askance but rooted in heritage, myth and elemental forces. Welsh psychedelic music has been on a parallel course for many decades and hasn’t needed a short-hand description. Whatever the Welsh version is called, with this record Cate Le Bon proves she is at the forefront of the contemporary wave of that movement".
I was fairly certain when I wrote that in April that this record would be one of my top five of the year. By early November it beat Easter in my affections to secure top billing. But the SCANDALOUS omission of this record (and many others above) from record shop, magazine and website end-of-year lists shocked me.
Yes this is my list, it’s personal and wilful and random but surely by any objective standards “CYRK” should be lauded as an eerie creative triumph? How could it be overlooked?? I started this blog to record - for myself - what I liked and why; and if anyone read it and wanted to listen too that would be a bonus. All the above records from 2012 are truly important to me but also all in different ways are under-appreciated in this cruel, inattentive world. I recommend them all to you. Maybe more than just listening, together we can over-turn the under-appreciation that hangs too heavily around them? Over to you...