Our 12 Best Albums of 2012
On rotation in the salon right now…here is our pick of releases over the last 12 (or so) months
Alabama Shakes: Boys & Girls
I once heard Alabama Shakes’ lead singer, guitarist and primary songwriter Brittany Howard described as the ‘bastard child of Jack White and Janis Joplin’ and as unlikely as the description is, there is a ring of truth to it! Along with friends Steve Johnson, Zac Cockrell, and Heath Fogg Boys & Girls is Brittany & Alabama Shakes’ debut album
This arresting and cleverly crafted album of soul-rock fully delivers, with their raw, grainy take on Southern soul. Just a series of great, swampy grooves, fronted by the most arresting new voice you’ll hear this year, and the kind of natural songwriting that seems to contain the entire history of Southern music within its staves. At times is is hard to believe that it is just one vocal, Brittany’s natural gutsy style is equally gravel and honey!
Listen to Alabama Shakes here
Django Django: Django Django
Django Django are a 4-piece formed at Edinburgh College of Art drawn to gloriously out-there music that breaks the rules. Their debut album take a fresh approach that’s hard to define with influences from psychedelic rock, blues and electronica. Part of Django Django’s appeal is their ability to seamlessly blend genres and forms, it provides them with a point of difference within a saturated straight-up electro market. The group has a penchant for crafting tracks that have mass commercial appeal. Accessible yet rewarding after multiple spins, the hypnotic voice samples and ‘push pull’ beats make it the ideal choice for dancefloors far and wide. It’s a fine line when a band treads so closely to their influences. Django Django may have sourced inspiration from these influences, but they have far from copied or imitated. Instead the group has created an album that is fresh, inventive
Listen to Django Django here
Michael Kiwanuka: Home Again
Artists like Michael Kiwanuka seem to exist in another place and time. His proper debut, Home Again, could pass for something dug out of a crate of vinyl at your local record store. It’s dusty and indebted to the finest artists of the ’60s and ’70s. The British soul-man was clearly raised on all the staples of yesteryear, from Bill Withers to Van Morrison. He’s a talented songwriter with one hell of a voice.
Listen to Michael Kiwanuka here
Tame Impala: Lonerism
You can’t talk about Tame Impala without mentioning the word “psychedelic,” so let’s first get that out of the way. Yes, Tame Impala makes psychedelic music From Perth Australian their sound is reminiscent of early Pink Floyd with a trippy canvas of warm melodies and focused songwriting that shatters the stereotypical notion of 60’s meandering self-indulgence. With mind-bending, densely layered textures, the often-soaring melodic 60s-inspired shapes are still current and modern
Listen to Tame Impala here
Jessie Ware: Devotion
With a harmonious mix of breathy vocals, poetic lyrics, and ’90s-esque R&B grooves, this south London 28-year-old has grabbed praise for her appearances on club tracks from SBTRKT and Sampha, but her Mercury Prize-nominated debut has established her as the most exciting new female voice to emerge this year. Unlike the music of many other would-be pop stars, the songs don’t make you feel like you’re listening to one cliched, overproduced, potentially mainstream hit after another.
Channelling her heroes, such as Sade, Whitney Houston and Grace Jones, Ware blended classic R&B vocals with beautiful electro beats in shimmering layers
Listen to Jessie Ware here
The xx: coexist
Following up their debut album must have been an intimidating task for The xx. They are one of the most critically appreciated indie acts out there and in their debut they so effortlessly established a trademark sound of deadpan, minimalist, metallic style…best described as “dance music for shy people” Whether they stuck to the script or switched it up, it is hard for a second album to live up to expectations…but in this case – it did!
Coexist doesn’t stray far from their original vibe, but it’s smarter, more mature, and Jamie xx’s growth as a producer means that although it’s not as immediate as their first, it gets better with each listen.
Listen to The xx here
Not really a “new album” but in fact the reissue of the year This is the soundtrack to one of the most compelling music documentaries ever made, about a comeback so improbable it seems like fiction. Searching for Sugar Man follows two South African fans as they solve the mystery of the Hispanic, Detroit-born singer-songwriter Rodriguez: a charismatic artist who vanished into working-life obscurity after his quietly urgent, elegant-R&B classics, 1970’s Cold Fact and 1971’s Coming From Reality, crashed on release in the U.S. The soundtrack combines the best tracks from those LPs and although you can get the original records in full, the Sugar Man album is a precise introduction to a gentle genius who is still here (now 70), still singing, and finally reaching the audience he always deserved.
Listen to Rodriguez here
Polica: Give you the Ghost
The entrancing purity of the group’s frontwoman Channy Leaneagh vocals is very much front-and-center on this debut album from Minneapolis five piece Polica. The sound is coolly hypnotic, constantly double-tracked and looped in on itself, with an unorthodox band behind her (keyboards, bass, and, awesomely, two drummers)
Written and recorded in the wake of Leaneagh’s divorce, it’s an 11-track collection which ranges in inspiration (R&B, nu-soul and electro-lounge permeate). It is connected by a highly processed, other-wordly sound palette, a ruminative, introspective and melancholic outlook, they’ve got a hazy late-night appeal that feels exotic and continental in an 80s way.
Listen to Polica here
Also from Minneapolis this is the first ‘official’ record by the entire Doomtree crew. With contributions from P. O. S, Sims, Dessa, Cecil Otter, Mictlan, Lazerbeak, and Paper Tiger, No Kings is a crowded, dense album that embodies their teeming, basement-party vibe. Its a genre that I find hard to describe…possibly because the the depth of talent in their crew. Its a modern mix of hip-hop, r’n’b and electronica
Listen to Doomtree here
Alt-J: An Awesome Wave
Radiohead is an easy comparison for Alt-J…art school students done-good…a Mercury Music prize-winning debut. It’s a quirky, eclectic sound and it seems the various critics are divided on the merits of the band. The album The Awesome Wave is the result of five years’ worth of songwriting and creativity. The melodies are pleasant, and the spacey, Simon And Garfunkel-influenced vocal harmonies are soothing. “An Awesome Wave” is as diverse as it is addictive. A mixture of pop, folk, and R&B. Slinking Indian beats one song ~ then bold island beats on the next. Dark bass-lines smear across much of the album while interesting atmosphere peppers it. You may even find yourself humming the tunes absentmindedly—though generally without specific lyrics, because the vocals are almost unintelligible. Alt-J (∆) has successfully created a new “non-genre” genre. Tagged as “Melancholy-Rhythm”; each song plays tug of war between passion and depression….hence the Radiohead comparison.
Listen to Alt-J here
Sola Rosa: Low and Behold, High and Beyond
Rich with well-crafted melodic beats that intersect somewhere between hip-hop, jazz, nu-soul and funk, topped with eclectic vocal takes performed by five different contributors, this 11-track album is the fifth studio release from Andrew Spraggon and his band.
It’s crisp, warm, and vital, courtesy of production that takes live recordings of the horns, woodwinds, guitars, strings, percussion, drums, and bass, and effortlessly fuses them with synths and programming. Spraggon has also never relied on grabbing “name” vocalists to guest on tracks, preferring to dig for his contributors in the underground of local and international music scenes, and he frequently manages to match the beats and voices with great skill. Low And Behold is fresh and funky – the perfect soundtrack for a summer roadtrip, or to prep for an always worthwhile Sola Rosa live show
Listen to Sola Rosa here
Of Monsters and Men: My Head is an Animal
Of Monsters and Men is an Icelandic collective with the hushed indie-folk female vocalist Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir. sharing her delicate vocals with Ragnar þórhallsson. Think Ellie Goulding teamed with a less gruff Marcus Mumford. At the album’s launch event, Nanna fondly admitted, “Iceland can be a very isolated country and that translates to the music.” At nearly 54 minutes, this seems too long for a basic debut that you can listen to day in, day out. If you’re going spend an evening or two, even three in the open air, taking in the fresh breeze along with a load of campfire debris, then ‘My Head Is An Animal’ might be just be perfect.
Listen to Of Monsters & Men here