Drowned in Sound's Favourite Albums of 2012: 5-1
...and Drowned in Sound's album of the year is...?
We realise this may seem like a cop-out, but it isn't meant to be. 2012 has been an incredible year for music and we wanted to present you with five different, but (in our collective opinion) amazing albums. We also want you to take a week to listen to them all, and report back as to which you, The People, feel should be top of the 2012 pile.
SRSLY THO DIS!! WUT?!
I really can't think of another year in which there have been so many life-bending, era-defining, and genre-redefining records released, but also no clear-cut front-runner. Rather than a photo-finish, we decided to make all five of these records our album of the year, and if you really want to argue which should (or shouldn't for that matter) be the #1, then you can do so.
Maybe it's a sign of the times that it's impossible to pick just one album of the year. Music in 2012 seems to be dominated by a fractured but incredibly passionate conversation, and, as I said in the introductions to the previous parts of this list, so many end of year lists end up just feeling like putting music into some order simply for the sake of it.
The year-end-list process reduces music down to something that it was never intended to be when it was written or recorded, let alone listened to. When albums are put into a hierarchy, popular things will be popular, and a few unpopular things will be pushed to the fore by virtue of a few passionate individuals. Of course, lists are a good thing if you're a fair-weather music fan or a blog whore who reads a lot of sites but you don't come here often. If you just want to be told what's what via the short-hand medium that is the annual year-end-rundown, then our 100 Favourite Albums of the Year is a godsend (and admittedly, it's a helluva lot of fun to put together! I have discovered so much music I didn't know a month ago...). But - and this is a very big BUT - lists can also be a terrible act of compromise and appeasement, especially for those of you whom visit DiS every day (as about 30,000 of you do, every day of the year!) and feel that the site's list doesn't quite represent the views of individuals you have read throughout the year.
No, really, what is Drowned in Sound's album of the year?
There is no album of the year, only the perception that one long-player is somehow subjectively better than another. Honestly, I'm not trying to tell you to bend the spoon by warping the reality around it, but I do think music has drifted into a somewhat sad place if all some music fans are interested in is some empirical evidence that one thing is 'objectively' better than another. And, yes, for all of you lucky list lovers, the Buzzfeeds of this world can quench your list-loving thirst.
Hang on a minute, are you saying these records aren't very good?
No, not at all. Quite the opposite in fact. These five records are - as I hope you will know or soon discover - exceptional in their own special ways. Intriguingly, none of the reasons why these records are beloved by different individuals at DiS will be instantly apparent, but that perhaps says something about the very thing that over-zealous, skip-click-happy music fans are endangering; investing time in things that do not have an instantly-gratifying surface-level appeal.
2012 seems to have been a bumper year for records which not only took a long time to make (14 months and 30 years in two cases below), but also a great year for records that require your time and full attention to really dive beneath surface and lose yourself for a while. In fact, none of the five records below would you end up falling in love with by listening to a 30-second clip. Sure, you may be intrigued by them quite quickly, but, for me at least, the appeal of each of these records is how much they reward you by returning to them. In fact, there might be parallels to be drawn between the resurgence of longform journalism and the rise of lengthly but
addictive immersive television series. Perhaps that's a little too much to get into here, aside from saying that it feels as if all of these cultural shifts reflect our need as humans to pull away from the soundbites and overwhelming whirl of the web, and focus our attention on one thing, be it a record or a TV show or a book, for an extended period of time.
Oh, ok... so DiS, how do I tell you which one I think should be number one?
CLICK HERE TO VOTE on the DiS music forum. Simply click ^this (as in, I agree with this choice) on the option you love the most, and we would love it if you shared some reasons why.
...AND/OR CLICK HERE TO VOTE IN OUR FACEBOOK POLL, for those who don't have an account (due to spam and trolls we've had to disable new sign-ups) or prefer to vote over there.
Next Friday (Dec 14th) we will post up a news story saying which record appears to have had the most votes across both sites, and then that will be that. And if you don't care about a definitive, crowd-sourced answer, well you have 5 records here, and 95 more recommendations to keep you busy.
Drowned in Sound's Five Favourite Albums of 2012 Are...
In No Particular Order:
SHARON VAN ETTEN Tramp
Sean Adams: It's impossible to talk about Tramp without using the s-word: sadness. Tears seep from every groove, and when combined with Van Etten's exceptional voice, the power and the beauty of it astounds (and perhaps makes you want to jump on a plane, train or get in your automobile, and offer her a hug and a promise that it will work out ok). And yet, for any talk of sadness, you also will struggle to explain it without using the word uplifting. The soaring guitars on opener 'Warsaw' and the gargantuan 'Serpents' have an intensity and grit that you'd perhaps expect to find on a Sonic Youth record.
Elsewhere, this record has is a whispered hush. There's an alt-country shuffle and sea-shanty sway to Tramp, that's as lost at sea as it is dizzy in a meadow.... Aaron from The National co-produced it with Sharon, in his garage, over the course of 14 months. It would also be remiss of us to not to mention that the other guests involved are a who's who of previous album of the year lists: Julianna Barwick, Zach from Beirut, Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner and The Walkmen's Matt Barrick...
If I was lazy, I'd say that Tramp ticks every one of DiS' boxes, but as a body of work, it is so much more than the sum of its notable parts and the plentiful plaudits. Perhaps saying that it has an 'uplifting sadness' is as reductive as us collectively not saying it's one of the finest records of the past decade (IMHO), but we're too busy dealing with the everlasting goosebumps that 'Magic Chords', 'Give Out' and 'Ask' give us every single time we listen to them to really get too strung up about it.
Sean Adams: Every moment on this album is a slow-build to a climax or to a pulsing post-coital fade. It was made by two gentleman who understand the power and thrill of sound, and what they don't know about synths, loops and other such devices, is not worth knowing. It would pain them if I said this was the electronic album of the year, because it's hard to pigeonhole this within any particular genre. In much the same way as The Field, Luke Abbott and various other recent drone-meets-dance records, it is as much designed as a sound installation as it is a set of floor-fillers. Blondes isn't a record that needs a great deal of words thrown at it to explain it, because it works on a far more primal level than the mind can really decipher, so I'll shut up...
Listen to Blondes on: Spotify
CHROMATICS Kill for Love
Sean Adams: There's something a little unsettling about how deeply I've fallen for this record. It was a slow process of osmosis, but over the past few months I have had to ween myself off listening to it, because it was stopping me from doing the parts of my job that involve listening to other records. The worst thing is, I know it was put together to be that more-ish, because the textures and melodies suck you back in. Not that I feel like I'm being manipulated, but from talking to Johnny Jewel about this record, I got the sense that a lot of sophisticated, almost scientific techniques are in here, and christ does it feel good....
Saying that it sounds 'cinematic' is as lazy as it is preposterous, but there is a certain analogue grain to this record that feels so human. Nothing about Kill for Love feels as if it wasn't considered for a great deal of time. You can hear a refinement in almost every scratch and every beat. Melodies reflect one another and the lyrics swoop together in a subtle, but masterful manner... I could write a lengthy thesis about this record but I wanted to share something that Johnny Jewel (the man at the heart of Chromatics and the Italians Do it Better label), said to me, that I think sums up how you should approach this record...
"The only place I write for is the headphones. Listen in a bedroom with lots of curtains where the sound is really dead and you’re not getting a bounce anywhere. The next place would be the car. I don’t make records for the club. People get confused because some of the music is bouncy and a lot of the tones are associated with dance music, and I love dance music and dance culture but I’m not a dance producer…the music is really intimate and for me, I think the ideal setting is in a really intimate situation."
So that's there where, now the why...
"I wanted to make a lasting record because in the end that’s all there is because everything else is going to go away. At those times when you’re really screwed on tour or you’re sick, those frustrating moments, you have to be doing it for some deeper reason in order to survive the tough times…and I don’t mean economics, I mean the challenges mentally of being in this kind of situation. Surviving this kind of situation is brutal, it’s existential as well because…when we first started travelling, I’d never left the US before.
I didn’t grow up poor but more lower Middle Class and never travelled, my family never travelled or anything like that. I had an existential meltdown, a guilt complex from travelling and being at all the different airports and seeing all the different regional people cleaning the toilets y’know? It really upset me I felt “what the fuck am I doing here?” Not everyone has that experience but those are kinds of surreal, very existential things because we’re tribal animals so to be removed from the tribe and going round to all these weird places really rapidly, it messes with you and it’s not necessarily healthy."
In fact, maybe that doesn't make even a little bit of the sense as to what lurks beneath the shimmering shadows of Kill for Love, but clicking play will most certainly help:
Listen to Kill for Love on: Spotify
SWANS The Seer
Alexander Tudor: I'm always suspicious of album-as-arthouse-cinema analogies - borrowing perceived cultural superiority to praise a bunch of tunes some guys wrote. I'm also more of a Tarkovsky than a Kubrick fan, so there must be something in the fact that The Seer - after three months of intensive listening to all two hours - often feels like an alternative soundtrack to 2001. There's the evocation of the monolith at the centre of the title-track: ten minutes of sparse percussion that makes you visualize a dark expanse luring you in; there's the psychedelic rush as the universe melts around you ('The Seer Returns'); there's the terrifying regression as Gira's band go ape, and seem to be drumming with mammoth thigh-bones ('The Apostate'). In any case, whatever's due to come after post-rock... it starts here.
Marie Wood: Liars have never been a band to conform or be easily defined. Since the reactive title of their debut, _We Threw Them All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top, they have consistently challenged expectations of what type of band they should be at every step of their career. From exploring percussion, through the use of fictional characters on the fan-dividing Drums Not Dead to creating a whole story album about their hometown of LA on 2010’s Sisterworld, Liars have never been anyone else’s band except their own.
This has never been more apparent than with the release of their sixth album, WIXIW, an album that has Liars vigorously shaking-up the formula once again. Revealed via cryptic clips on the band’s tumblr earlier this year, the record, unlike previous releases, was written by the band as a group and also saw them experimenting with computer software for the first time. Critically lauded, WIXIW is an awe-inspiring listen that tilters on a tight-rope between tension and calm and feelings of extreme hope and absolute loss - it's an unnerving yet utterly rewarding listen.
Is it an 'electronic' record or isn't it? We'll let Angus have the last word:
"In a sense that our process was electronic - we really relied on a computer to do everything. Whether the results sound like a stereotypical electronic album is maybe beside the point, maybe if you just focus on the way that we made it then yeah I think it’s an electronic record." - Angus Andrew