I contributed a couple of entries to ZIGGY magazine for one of those ‘Best of 2012’ lists. Not all my picks were printed, though (only one in the top 10!) And I still don’t get the whole deal about Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar and Death Grips. Oh, and Japandroids. What’s up with that band, seriously?
Here’s my full list:
Food - Mercurial Balm
Food brings plenty to the table on its second outing on ECM Records. Layers upon layers of nocturnal saxophone licks, industrial ambience, and electronic gurgles, courtesy of opportune sideman Christian Fennesz, fill the contemplative Mercurial Balm. It’s an album’s worth of improvised tracks, wrought to a irresistible whole by the British–Norwegian jazz duo.
Julia Holter - Ekstasis
Beautifully crafted dream pop: pastel shades, hushed vocals and twee toy box sounds fulfil all the demands of the genre with finesse. But what sets Holter apart—the real ecstasy of the album—is the murky ambient brook that runs throughout; she is as indebted to Mazzy Star’s pop as she is to Windy & Carl’s foggy atmospheres.
Emptyset - Medium
Nothing musical here compared to the rest of the list, but Medium is 21 minutes of sheer, head-pounding bass bliss. This five-tracker was recorded live in a ramshackle, neo-Gothic mansion in the English hinterland, with the Bristol twosome paying almost supernatural attention to capturing—and then rendering—the inherent acoustics and reverberations (and spirits?) of the storied building.
The Observatory - CATACOMBS
Ten years on and Singapore’s premier avant rock outfit have lost none of its taste for the dark and bleak. CATACOMBS is primed as a study into modern day madness, calling forth clanging Tibetan bells, brutish machine-gun textures and Leslie Low’s brooding, messianic tenor. Not an album to listen to right before bed, lest the wretched headworms bite.
James Iha - Look to the Sky
It’s shamelessly outdated, has appalling lyrics, and won’t get you in good books with the hipsters… but, really, this is all nostalgia talking. If you’re (still) a Pumpkins fan and can’t stand the saturnine dross that ol’ baldie is putting out these days, set your ray to the other half of the Siamese Dream instead. At least Iha won’t tell you to f*ck off.
Leonard Cohen - Old Ideas
Forget Frank Ocean—there’s only one fella when it comes to confessional songwriting: Leonard Cohen. What Ocean has in style and R&B magnetism, the real Ladies’ Man makes up for with spades of wit and charm and poise. Just read this first wry line on Old Ideas, and you’ll catch my drift: ”I’d like to speak with Leonard / He’s a sportsman and a shepherd / He’s a lazy bastard living in a suit.”
Pharaoh Overlord - Lunar Jetman
Yes, as its name would suggest, this is an album full of sticky psychedelic goo for the expert space cadet. On it, the Finnish trio throw down devilish grooves and kosmische sludge that coalesce, riff by soaring riff, into something far more trancelike and nebular than your average toke can claim to induce. Unless, of course, you’re already too stoned to care.
Josephine Foster - Blood Rushing
If Kath Bloom hadn’t abandoned her guitar in the 1970s and had instead embarked on a gallant road trip through American canyons and dusty Spanish hills, well, at least there’s Josephine Foster who did. But it’s really her voice leading Blood Rushing’s charge: an awkward, trembling soprano that manages to single-handedly stir up a sandstorm of faded folk and gypsified opera.
Actress - R.I.P.
Whatever Darren Cunningham is mourning here, it sure as hell isn’t a post-Splaszh slump. After 2010’s brilliant LP comes hurtling from the ether this morbidly titled one, on which the British electronic enigma doesn’t so much as build but imply beats, their amorphous 4/4 blanketed by a curious wall of texture and noise. It’s beyond-the-dancefloor techno that, despite its name, has plenty of life in its crackles and crags.
The Bad Plus - Made Possible
Each year, there’s a release that doesn’t startle, pique or challenge—it’s just plain, unpretentious good listening. That, to me, is The Bad Plus’ 10th album. Although not an insurmountable survey of its long and winding career, Made Possible represents the three-piece at its inventive best. Notes are flurried out with cool confidence, but like that other 2013 favourite, for each ascent comes this under-appreciated ‘Allelujah: restraint!
Andy Stott - Luxury Problems
Dubby, petrified ghosts of a techno DJ… and an opera singer.
Helm - Impossible Symmetry
Ostensibly drone, but with enough radiophonic sounds to please the hauntology fetishists.
Old Apparatus - Alfur
Anonymous London trio whose nightmares are scored in industrial, hip-hop and dub-step.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Riding out the last days of post-rock on a Wooden Shjip to Glenn Branca’s guitar closet.
Dirty Three - Toward the Low Sun
Pseudo-psych freakouts soundtracked by that tormented, lamenting, almost oppressive fiddle.