10 Favourite Albums of 2012
With perhaps the exception of The Shins 2012 seemed to lack any real major album releases. Nonetheless it was a year that produced an excellent crop of albums from artists both established and new. I bought 76 albums and these are the ten that slowly drifted their way to top of my listening pile.
1. Sun by Cat Power
Cat Power hit the news for less than cheerful reasons when it turned out she had to cancel a tour because of bankruptcy. It kick-started an interesting discussion about indie artists and money-making in the digital era, a discussion that will only become more important in 2013 as high street shops waver on the brink. Meanwhile, Sun is a quite remarkable album combining infectious electronica with Chan Marshall’s worldly-wise lyricism. A number of the songs have a quite infectious groove but these are countered by some poignant, slow-burning eulogies to the human spirit. Marshall’s soulful voice and almost world-weary tone at times serves as a great counterpoint to the more upbeat instrumentation.
2. Tree Bursts In Snow by Admiral Fallow
Admiral Fallow’s second album is far more accessible and poppy than their 2009 debut album. It’s a mature work demonstrating the wide range of influences and styles that take Admiral Fallow from arena-scale anthems to more measured and subtle songs. Harnessing their boy-girl vocalists and confident musicianship their is a lot to enjoy on this album. The biggest disappointment for me was that I missed them playing in Aberdeen.
3. No Flags Will Fly by Olympic Swimmers
Combining two of my favourite things - Scottish female vocals and post-rock - could really only result in something decent and Olympic Swimmers’ debut certainly proves the theory. Seeing them supporting the Unwinding Hours really sealed this album for me. There is no sign of holding back on this, their debut album, and they have put together an excellent set of songs with few little filler.
4. Hello Cruel World by Gretchen Peters
Lyrical flair and sublime production make this alt-country album a thing of joy. Though there are plenty of wonderful moments on the album, the standout track is the free form poetry of Idlewild which is achingly beautiful and bears repeat listenings to fully appreciate all the nuances.
5. Port of Morrow by The Shins
Though there have been side-projects, it feels like a long wait since the last Shins album. Thankfully, and despite a reasonable amount of hype, the wait was worth it and Port of Morrow is a triumphant return to form for James Mercer and the new-look Shins. Beautifully produced the album is a collection of songs which on the surface appear quite simple pop songs, but of course contain the depth and lyrical playfulness we have come to associate with Mercer. Simple Song is one of the most beautiful tunes to come out in 2012 and the rest of the album follows suit with sing-out-loud choruses and upbeat pop melodies.
6. Animal Joy by Shearwater
Though I find it hard to believe that Shearwater will ever surpass Rooks I nevertheless really enjoyed this, their latest offering. More consistent than Archipelago it offers a diverse range of songs from the frenetic energy of the opener all the way to more considered reflective moments. As ever with Shearwater the production is faultless.
7. Break It Yourself by Andrew Bird
A delight of an album, full of wonderful melodies and instruments, that really only opens up after a few listens. I have found this album to be perfect music for the Highlands, whether driving across for a day hillwalking or lying back in my tent watching the clouds brood over a lonely loch. Andrew’s lyrics are sublime (”here we go mistaking clouds for mountains”) and the off-kilter musicianship makes for a joyous and uplifting experience.
8. Affric by Duncan Chisholm
Instrumental albums don’t usually interest me that much but this one was introduced to me by Mike Harding on the BBC Radio 2 Acoustic and Folk radio show (now taken over by Mark Radcliffe). This album completes a trilogy of albums inspired by Scottish glens. I usually find it less easy to connect to songs without any lyrics, but the interplay between fiddle and the backing musicians works to create some fabulously atmospheric tracks full of meaning and place. The music constantly shifts from melancholic to playful and back, echoing the light on a distant mountain and the waters playing in a tumbling burn. It is truly a delight and has become a firm favourite for relaxed listening late into the evening.
9. The Romantics by Inlet Sound
In a year that Mumford and Sons became bigger than ever, and Of Monsters and Men brought their peculiar Icelandic twist to festivalcore, there were others taking a similar but subtler approach to pop-folk music. Toronto-based Inlet Sound have produced a confident and mature debut album that, though clearly fitting into the same groove as those previously mentioned folk-rock giants, provides something fresh and less encumbered by high-profile spotlights and the soundtrack to a summer of sport. I love this album for its ability to go between bounding enthusiasm and winsome lyricism. The musicianship and production is superb and I think this is a band with a huge future potential.
10. The Haunted Man by Bat for Lashes
This album really gets under my skin. It kind of serves as an echo to PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake from 2011, with plenty of pastoral imagery layered on top of contemporary commentary. I love the vocal sound and the music is a step forward from her previous album.