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Album of the Year 2012 – Number 1


01 – Ólafur Arnalds:  Living Room Songs (Erased Tapes) [9.9]

I don’t seem to be in agreement with most of the critics out there this year, as I have placed an album at the top of the pile, which they have generally had within the OK to less than OK bracket. That in keeping with the fact that the critics’ choice this year was Frank Ocean and Channel Orange, which is easily the worst album I’ve heard all year means I don’t seem to be on the same page as them this year.

I truly don’t understand how I can read grades of 4.5 for this album, when it is a truly wonderful album, its only weakness being that it comes in at under 30 minutes, depriving me of at least another 15 minutes of Arnalds’ geniality.

The second album in the top three composed by an Icelandic artist, the second purely instrumental album in the top three and the second in the three recommended by Barry Napier, so many thanks for your involvement in the chart this year (I’ll be writing a post, summing up his, mine and Ian Stackhouse’s combined in a few days).

So the instrumentals win out this year, as they did in 2009 with Sufjan Stevens at number one and, as mentioned earlier, this seems to definitely be a year of music to chill/work to.

However, you may well be asking why it is I have an album rated quite low by other critics (with the exception of Barry Napier) as my number one of the year and for me it’s quite simple. A concept I was intrigued by was that this was a seven track album composed over seven days – a track for each day of the week – and then posted on YouTube. An area where I think it might have found criticism is the belief that great music needs time to create, develop and produce.

I’m obviously not a subscriber to this, not only due to my number one of the year but because I have also had another similar artist, Chad VanGaalen, up there in a previous year’s best of. I think if you make great music you make it in whatever time it needs to be made.

And Arnalds knows his stuff, he has an ear for the fantastic and it’s no surprise that he has been commissioned to do film soundtracks and that his, arguably, best track on this album is entitled Film Credits. But it’s not just film that seems to inspire him but also contemporary classical music. In the same way I think that Sigurðsson reminds me of Górecki, I also think that Arnalds has a touch of Patrick Doyle at his best.

The album is both wondrous and melancholic, the melancholic being one of my favourite types of tune and I love what Arnalds has done with Living Room Songs, (aptly named title) and being as the album is so short, I just feel the need to keep to clicking the repeat button upon the album’s end.

If I’m going to name the album’s highlights, I’m going to name all seven tracks, as all are: sublime, beautiful, magical, atmospheric and genial.

I give you the album of the year for 2012. Get more information and your copy here: http://livingroomsongs.olafurarnalds.com/

Album of the Year 2012 – Number 2


02 – Wax Tailor:  Dusty Rainbow from the Dark (Le Plan) [9.7]

Wow, just wow! This album is one of those rare albums that comes along and completely blows you away from its wonderful opening, to its fantastic conclusion, keeping you enthralled for the full 75 minutes duration and not letting go even after its end.

I love my concept albums, me, and this is no exception. It’s a wonderful idea, that of a story of the meaning of life through the eyes of an eight year old boy. An eight year old boy whose search for the meaning of life takes him through his record collection, helped by his mother who chooses in an instant not to explain the scientific explanation of a rainbow but instead gives it a much more creative imagery.

The album is about life, about lessons we need to consider and it’s about the meaning of life through music.

With a narration that is commanding and powerful and an array of guest vocalists that add something special to the story, the album succeeds on so many levels. I found this album all on my own, as part of my decision to widen my musical boundaries and am, of course, extremely pleased with my decision.

It’s amazing and powerful and a must have!

Album of the Year 2012 – Number 3

03 – Valgeir Sigurðsson:  Architecture of Loss (Bedroom Community) [9.5]

You weren’t expecting that were you? (Well those involved in the voting group are and obviously Barry Napier, who recommended it to me might well have been.) This, good reader, this is an absolute monster of an album and you need to get hold of your copy now. I’ll even forgive you for not reading the rest of this post, if your reason is to spend some time immersing yourself with this genius of the contemporary classical music scene.

Yes, it’s yet another instrumental album in my top ten and that’s not all. I’m pretty sure that in any other year (except for the infamous chart of 2005) this would have topped the chart.

It’s not only the fact that Sigurðsson is innovative and interesting, that he challenges you musically and emotionally or that he doesn’t shy away from difficult music but that every now and again I hear traces of Gorecki, and I can’t really give him much more in the way of compliment.

Architecture of Loss, is an incredible feast of music and now that you’ve had a listen (see earlier) I thoroughly hope you enjoyed yours!

Album of the Year 2012 – Number 4

04 – Alt-J: An Awesome Wave (Infectious Music) [9.3]

It’s not so often I get musical artists as they begin their musical career, as I’m often tipped onto an artist(s) with their sophomore or even third albums and then I begin the process of backtracking through their back catalogues. This is one pretty darn impressive debut too, making me very interested in their future releases.

The album label is appropriate for the band, as this is what happens early on with the album, dragging you in and making you want to listen over and over again. However, what I’ve noticed with this album is there is a curve in both directions, as it took me a little while to get into, in fact it downright irritated me, but once I got into it, I was entranced, and entranced for quite some time. Then…I felt like I’d listened to it long enough that I was starting to see the flaws within. Obviously this is a risk with any album but after listening to the top five albums extensively for quite some time over the last couple of weeks, this suffered more than the three above it.

The album is extremely well made and put together and definitely one of my recommendations for 2012. Give it four or five listens and then you’ll be hooked. Several of my contacts who are also interested in music have also rated this extremely highly, Ian Stackhouse, (who tipped me on to it) picking it as his number one.

It’s on Spotify, it’s on iTunes, it’s out there – grab a listen!

Album of the Year 2012 – Number 5

05 – Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (Clean Slate/Epic) [9.2]

Fiona Apple in the top five? Never! Yep, here’s Fiona again with yet another monster of an album, and that’s not just in terms of her album titles either (I think she needs an editor). I think that Fiona is falling into a rhythm of her own now and that’s both good and bad, as whilst this gives us something to expect and something to look forward to, it also means there’s not much of the unexpected within the tracklist. In fact, several people have heard me playing the album and asked if it was Ms Apple, the most recent being my sister whilst I was writing this entry.

But I firmly believe that Fiona Apple is an artist you NEED in your music collection and why not go the whole hog and just get the whole discography, there’s only four after all (including this one).

She’s an honest artist, sometimes embarrassingly so (meltdown anyone?) and her lyrics are both biting and painful, melancholic and gripping. The album encompasses all that whilst staying true to her modern jazz/rock/alternative roots.

The opening track, Every Single Night, sets the scene beautifully, before moving elegantly on to my personal favourite, Daredevil, and so forth, tracks blending into one another, gracing us with an initial easy introductory listen before craving more of us in terms of lyrics and mood. The album progresses nicely and climaxes with the exquisite, Hot Knife, one of her cheekier tracks, yet nowhere near out of place on the album.

Fiona craves and we obey, it’s as simple as that.

Keep on producing the music Fiona, I love it!

Album of the Year 2012, The Top Ten: 10-6

Almost at the run in now, with the bottom half of the top ten of the year and it goes without saying that there are some blooming crackers in this selection. Try to feast your ears on a few of these when you get a chance.

Number 10 – Archive: With us until you’re dead

This one gives me a feel of Leftfield, which is no bad thing. Took a little time to get into and I’m not sure why, as it does have an interesting sound from the first second. I like the fact that, like Leftfield, there is a distinct mix between voices, melodies and feel to the whole album. Maybe this is what made it a difficult first few listens but as the listens increase, so does the quality.

The lyrics maybe let the album down a little bit but if you’re after some cracking tunes then you can’t go so far wrong with this one. Violently and Hatchet are two of my highlights on the album, Violently also has a cracking video to match!

Number 09 – Solar Fields: Random Friday

Another thank you here to Barry Napier, with his great tips! I can’t remember if it was this album that Barry tipped or their other release, Until we Meet the Sky, [Number 26] but whichever, it’s due to him that I now know of them. The band remind me of Emeralds, who released one of my top five albums a couple of years ago, in that it has a feel of Tangerine Dream for a new generation.

The music is reminiscent of the German trio, without maintaining that very 80s electronic sound, that makes me cringe every now and again (not enough to dampen the nostalgia factor though). It’s ambient and powerful and manages to weave the two together seamlessly. I find myself listening to a lot of instrumental music these days, whilst working, and this is one of the best of the year.

Number 08 – Matt Elliot: The Broken Man

An album which on first listen doesn’t necessarily suggest one of my top ten, interesting as the Spanish guitar intro may be. Again, however, it’s another of the cases of an album that requires more than a casual listen and why compiling a chart like this takes its time.

Matt Elliot is a master of the classical/contemporary field of music and it’s here that seems to be somewhat of a theme of mine in 2012, or rather a theme of those albums which inspired me (this becomes much clearer later on).

Lyrics, as many of you know, are an important aspect of a great song for me and Elliot has them in abundance. It’s like poetry married to the music and works well with the type of music being played. The Broken Man, is an album to be listened to and savoured.

Number 07 – Kaki King: Glow

I’m pretty sure Kaki would have found herself a little higher this year had this album not been 100% instrumental. Instrumental albums are becoming a big deal in my life, as I often listen to them now when I’m working and again, this is shown higher up the chart too. However, what impressed me upon first hearing Kaki King, was the combination of her interesting style of music coupled with excellent lyrics and her sublime voice. This means that however good the album is it is still missing two of the three main ingredients of what makes King great.

Consider then, just how high I rate King, with the fact that I’ve placed her current album, Glow, at number six, even without a lyric or voice in sight – some artists truly glow! (You see what I did there?)

Number 06 – The Twilight Sad: No One Can Ever Know

Twice in a row these guys have finished at number two in my album of the year chart and I seem to remember mentioning something about always the bridesmaid and never the bride. I also may well have mentioned that it may be third time lucky next time they release one (instead of all this speculation, why don’t I just link to the post from the previous year?).

Well they are obviously not but yet again well within the top ten and yet again with a cracking album. There’s something so raw about the band and their style and this is a band that have dragged me in from day one with their gritty, melancholic lyrics.

If you’ve not heard them before then I would recommend their first album: Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters as that one beats the others hands-down. However, this one is still a cracker (obviously)!

(Coming soon: The Top Five!)

Album of the Year 2012 – 20-11

In come the bigger guns now, not the almighty top ten but those between 20 and 11. All of these are albums I have listened to extensively over the year and feel very comfortable with, in terms of their positions.

I’ve decided, for this section of the list, to write a brief sentence on why I’ve placed the album here. I’m hoping for more detail in the top ten, especially the top five.

20-11

20. Museum:  Traces of [83]

A little gem of an album this one, interesting lyrics and cracking music, a little reminiscent of The Editors.

19. Elbow: Dead in the Boot [83]

I was expecting to be placing this higher earlier in the year and it contains a contender for song of the year, Waving from Windows. It’s a fine album as a whole but they’ve done better.

18. Lambchop: Mr. M [83]

Certain songs on here remind me of one of the finest albums of all time, Lambchop’s own, Is a Woman. It’s only certain songs, including a very real contender for song of the year, however, and that’s why it is sitting here. The best they’ve done since their behemoth of 2001 though!

17. Shigeto: Lineage [84]

One of the various albums that Barry Napier put me on to and I’m rather glad he did. It takes a bit of listening to but it’s well worth it when you give it its time. He’s been compared to Moby and he’s listed under various genres, several of which I’m not sure I would list it as. Best bet is to give it a listen and judge for yourself.

16. Andrew Bird: Break it Yourself [84]

One of my perennials here, as Mr. Bird often features on these charts, usually much higher. This is still an absolute cracker, however, and the man is an absolute master at marrying the violin to contemporary music. If you haven’t listened to Andrew Bird yet then this isn’t the album I’m going to recommend but it’s still worth a listen!

15. Bat for Lashes: The Haunted Man [84]

Man, she’s good this one! Nowhere near as high as she was a couple of years ago when she made it into the top five but she’s one hell of an artist: great voice, some fantastic lyrics and with one of the tracks a heavy contender for song of the year. Listen to her now goddam it…now…have you gone yet?

14. Sharon von Etten: Tramp [84]

Following on from a great female artist, we have another great female artist, really strong album, well put together and lyrically interesting, as well as powerful music to compliment them. Very different from Bat for Lashes, but equally impressive.

13. Björk: Bastards [85]

In the same vein as Andrew Bird, we have the mercurial Björk at number thirteen. I once heard that Björk is one of those that you either love or hate and I beg to differ. I have found some of her work genial and some of her work downright irritating. However, I have always found that Björk challenges boundaries at all times, both in terms of her own music and also the listeners’ assessment of it. She’s been around for over twenty years now and is still testing those boundaries. She’s a might of a star our Björk.

12. El-P: Cancer for Cure [85]

A rap album in the top twelve, what the bloody hell is the world coming to? It grabbed me on first listen and never really let go, with the opener, Request Denied, as one of the songs of the year. Whatever your views are on the world of rap and trip-hop, you really need to give this album a listen.

11. Sigur Ros: Valtari [86]

Another up and down band with some beauties and some…not so. This is one of their best for a while, right back to the heady days of their earlier stuff with a smattering of how they’ve developed. I’d actually be brave enough to recommend this one if you haven’t listened to the band before and need to start somewhere.