Highlights of 2012

It’s that time of the year again to take stock of the year, wonder how you'll make it through Christmas, and read many music magazines' reviews of the year and top ten lists. Once again The Quietus’ list (75 albums this year) contains only a handful of things anyone has actually seen or heard of - probably why it’s fascinating to read. So here’s mine.


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Godspeed You! Black Emperor : Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

If, as a band, you disappear for eight years, do your own thing, and then return, will you still be relevant? Or lost down memory lane as a faint reminder of past greatness? The odd thing about GYBE is that neither question seems to apply, especially when there are other ‘active’ bands out there without a new album in equally as many years. The odd thing about ADBA and its blend of post rock and drone sensibilities is that in eight years there doesn't seem to have been a raising of the bar so it’s not a nostalgic throwaway. There's something mesmeric in there, and in opener Mladic especially, which bears many repeated listenings.


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Devin Townsend : Epicloud

Mad, bad straight up rock from the mad Canuck genius of left turns. It's still quirky in places but that's part of the charm. And there's a whole album's worth of demos that didn't make the finished album thrown in as well.


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Portico Quartet : Portico Quartet

It was chuffing cold in February. A few minutes into this though and you're off to some crowded, smoky dive warm and somewhat high from the closeness of the atmosphere. Nice to hear PQ move slightly away from their traditional sound. Tracks like 4096 Colours and Spinner stand out.


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The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing : This May Be The Reason That The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing Cannot Be Killed By Conventional Weapons

Comedy steampunk with a title so long that even abbreviating it is a bit pointless. There are songs about zombies, elder gods, masturbation, and all those other wholesome subjects that need the piss ripped out of them. This year's best comedy record.


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Field Report : Field Report

There are a whole bunch of lo-fi, acoustic-ish records that came out this year. Field Report hails from the same original band as Bon Iver but their sound is more cogent and wistful. A musical watercolour palette of Nebraska. See also M.Ward's A Wasteland Companion for similar but with more variety in musical styles.


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The Spaceape : Xorcism

It's only 12 minutes long (and free), but the instensity \ immediacy of Xorcism makes an impact. His rap over voodoo beat cycle of seven songs covers his three year ongoing fight against cancer. Add that context and Xorcism iis even more potent. Get it here.


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Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury : Drokk Music Inspired By Mega-City One

You wait years for a new Portishead album and suddenly you get three side projects in a year. We've had the Krautrock of Beak> and the old-school hip-hop of the Quakers project, but it's the ode to Jon Carpenter's 80s synth soundtracks Drokk that stands out for me. Plus it's a darn site more relevant to the Judge Dredd comics than this year's Dredd "I wannabe a Japanese film called The Raid but with more rain and in 3D" movie.


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Steve Vai : The Story of Light

After three - i.e. two more than necessary - live albums and seven years, there's finally a new studio album from one of the greatest guitar players in the world, Steve Vai. And thank god, it's not a massively confusing descent into the worst kind of fret wankery that the previous one was. Instead, The Story of Light is one of his best and most accessible platters for years, lightly taking reference to nearly every phase of his musical life, from Zappa to Roth to most of his solo albums. It's cogent, challenging in places, inspiring elsewhere, and only slightly boring in others. Well, I didn't say it was perfect.


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Rolo Tomassi : Astraea

I still have no idea how Eva Spence can make that range of noise. She does the Burton Bell guttural to clean switch without a pause and throws in Bjork-isms via Tairrie B for seconds. Oh and did I mention that Astraea is first-rate mathcore too. Hard, aggressive stuff. God I love it.


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Jon Mueller : Death Blues

Warning: this album comes with a manifesto to absorb you and a stark, deep musical black hole that you'll find hard to back out of once you start to listen. This is one of those old-fashioned things - an experience piece where listening to individual tracks doesn't work. You must devote yourself to it for its entirety. Buy it now on BandCamp.


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Ryan Teague : Field Drawings

There are always niches in the intersections of musical genres. One such sweet spot is the meeting of minimalism and electronica and Field Drawings is certainly the best example of it I've heard. A compositional core of Reich and Glass with sympathetic patches and treatments to augment.


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God Seed : I Begin

It's sad to me that black metal is forever linked to the horror face makeup some bands still insist on wearing for tradition's sake. Far better then that I heard I Begin first and then read up about God Seed because regardless of the fact that the core of this group is the better half of legendary BM band Gorgoroth whose heritage lies in those open feuds in the Norwegian church-burning past, this is one hell of an album. I would encourage any music fan prepared to put aside their preconceptions for 45 minutes to hear this. It is urgent, vital, intense, dark, slightly twisted, and oh so wonderful.


Sometimes, the videos just make the music. Here are four of the best from this year.

Black Light Burns : The Moment You Realize You’re Going To Fall

Ah I love a good crescendo. This one last almost three and a half minutes and the video mirrors the puzzlement and tension in the music too.

How to destroy angels_ : Keep It Together

Slick, black electronica from Trent Reznor and co, matched with an equally slick impersonal video from the studio

The Heavy : How You Like Me Now?

More infectious than MRSA, this track has so much live power and groove, it scored a first in 2010 when David Letterman asked for an encore performance. Then he did it again in 2012 when they returned to the show. Yay for live music.

Little Mix : Wings

I once got asked by a German friend what cheesy pop meant, it being a very English idiom. About four years later, I figured that pop is only cheesy if you liked it at school discos and then stays with you. Trashy, formulaic pop. Which this is. A very excellent three minutes of trashy pop with a video that looks like Simon Cowell threw the entire back catalog of Smash Hits at last year's X Factor winners and saw what stuck.