SOUNDSCAPES staff BEST OF 2012
These are the 25 favourite new releases and reissues of 2012 as chosen by the staff of Soundscapes. 12 staff members chose their own 15 most loved albums in each category. Each album was then weighted by points (i.e. 15 points for a #1 pick, 14 for #2, and so on) and the totals were added for this list.
Top 25 New Releases of 2012
1. FRANK OCEAN – channel ORANGE
"Above all, it's the ways that moments of genius mingle with the not-quite-there-yet on channel ORANGE that make it special. Like the rather tired channel-surfing trope that loosely connects the transitions between songs, there's bound to be some filler in there. But Ocean's mental receiver is locked into some inspired transmissions nonetheless. He's restless, gifted, and brave." (originally published on July 20, 2012)
2. CATE LE BON – Cyrk
"Bringing to mind such great singers as Bridget St. John and the late Trish Keenan of Broadcast, Cate Le Bon's second disc has the vocals, the tunes, and the production smarts to have endeared itself to plenty of our staff. Very recommended!" (originally published on March 29, 2012)
3. DIRTY PROJECTORS – Swing Lo Magellan
"Dave Longstreth and co. retain Bitte Orca's sudden synth bends, R&B proclivities, inhumanly heavenly harmonizing and guitar wizardry while slightly paring back/stripping down (with handclaps and programmed rhythmic hiccups often replacing a drum kit, and more space generally left in the mix) and getting bucolic and folky with the early-'70s production and earnest lyrics of the title track, 'Impregnable Question' and 'Impossible Tune'." (originally published on July 10, 2012)
4. CHROMATICS – Kill For Love
Wearing his post-punk influences on his sleeve (maybe moreso than ever), Johnny Jewel and his Chromatics offer their most mature, cinematic experience to date. Even with songs sounding like they could have easily been on Disintegration or Script of the Bridge, there is something undeniably modern-sounding about this record. With a balanced mix of tension and overall catchiness, Kill For Love shows this group's ascension to a new level of creativity.
5. LIGHTSHIPS – Electric Cables
Gerard Love of Teenage Fanclub has fashioned a beautifully laidback album with airy vocals, introspective lyrics, and sweet melodies galore.
6. FIELD MUSIC – Plumb
"The funny thing about Field Music is that for all of their restlessness and the rapidity with which they apply and then dispense with their ideas, they're a very beautifully nuanced and classic British pop band. From XTC and The Jam to The Stranglers and Orange Juice (and more than a little bit of Yes), the UK's tuneful musical DNA is always with these guys. Underneath all of Plumb's constant shapeshifting, there is a songcraft that rewards one's trust." (originally published on March 1, 2012)
7. MICHAEL KIWANUKA – Home Again
"Like its title suggests, this is an album that is humble and grounded. But while this comforting, genial exterior is a fair representation of the album's manner, it is deeply misleading in terms of its rarer qualities. This is an album that reaches for the same heights of spiritually resonant folk R&B that greats like Bill Withers and Van Morrison (and few others) have scaled—and it very nearly pulls it off. I only really say 'nearly' to avoid having this sound like too much empty critic hyperbole. I suppose I could see how someone could put on Home Again and say, 'Meh...just another laidback, retro-y R&B platter...' But for me, this is definitely the first great record I've heard this year." (originally published on April 4, 2012)
8. HOSPITALITY – S/T
"From the Anglo edges of singer/songwriter Amber Papini's pronunciation (an aspect of their sound which could draw comparisions to Merge labelmates Camera Obscura and The Clientele, as well as such other Brit bands past and present as Belle and Sebastian, The Sundays, and Life Without Buildings) to creative production touches (additional saxes/synths/etc. as required) somewhat reminiscent of a range of contemporaries as varied as Deerhoof, St. Vincent and Spoon, there's a gentle subversiveness throughout this record that drew this writer in, ever more helpless to resist with each repeat listen." (originally published on February 7, 2012)
8. KING TUFF – S/T
"The multi-talented Kyle Thomas has played everything from stoner metal to freak-folk. He's equally adept at garage rock, as his second album under the King Tuff name shows. With a hint of glam-slam thrown into the mix, the results are royally infectious!" (originally published on September 5, 2012)
10. HOW TO DRESS WELL - Total Loss
Modern R&B has undergone quite an evolution in the past couple of years—it seems as though solo indie singer/producers like How To Dress Well and James Blake have had an influence (consciously or not) on such artists as The Weeknd, The-Dream and Frank Ocean. This album has melodies and hooks that could rival any chart-topper, but from a somewhat outside perspective on what contemporary soul music is. From the club to the bedroom studio to the club.
11. MAC DEMARCO – Rock And Roll Night Club
"With slack, smart-aleck moves that wouldn't be out of place on a playlist with Ariel Pink, Ween, Atlas Sound and White Fence, former Makeout Videotape member DeMarco's pitch-bent and breezy approach to home-fi solo swagger soothes as much as it unsettles." (originally published on June 7, 2012)
12. SONNY AND THE SUNSETS – Longtime Companion
"For his third full-length leading the Sunsets, Sonny Smith (mostly) tries his hand at writing heartbreaking country songs, and succeeds wildly, resulting in maybe his best album yet, with occasional touches of flute and pedal steel that add an ornate yet unshowy elegance to these recordings." (originally published on July 9, 2012)
12. WILD NOTHING – Nocturne
At first I was a little unsure about the new Wild Nothing album, thinking that the extra money spent on production may have reduced the charm of the band's simple blend of pop hooks and jangle, but have only found their sound to have been enriched by the addition of strings and the overall cleaner sound. It has been on repeat in my house the last few months, where it has been known to inspire kitchen dance parties.
14. RUFUS WAINWRIGHT – Out Of The Game
"If this album is meant to in some way pass the torch to a new parade of younger, prettier, and generally ill-fated dreamers, Wainwright intends to teach them a thing or do while doing so. Hitching up with producer Mark Ronson (a man who only knows hits) has led to what is easily Rufus' most amicable, consistent, and fun record since 2001's Poses." (originally published on May 3, 2012)
15. TY SEGALL – Twins
The third in a trio of 2012 releases, Twins confirms Ty Segall’s unique place in contemporary rock'n'roll as a saviour of the form who keeps it fresh and exciting by bashing out music at an alarming rate and with a high level of quality control. This is the poppiest of the bunch, but it's still feral and totally sexy. Man of the year.
16. ARIEL PINK'S HAUNTED GRAFFITI – Mature Themes
As infuriating as even those among us who love his music may find the man himself to be, who else but Ariel Rosenberg can combine such disparate styles and eras as Byrds-y jangle-pop, skinny-tie new wave, mopey goth-rock, robotik electro-synth and Zappa-esque sarcastic prog (to name just a few of the corpses this magpie feeds on)?
16. MIKE O'NEILL – Wild Lines
Former Inbreds frontman returns after eight years of radio silence with his best batch of songs since Kombinator. Older and somewhat wiser, Wild Lines retains all the memorable melodies and witty lyrics of past work while still offering enough new twists and turns to keep old fans excited. Better than Rumours, Damn The Torpedoes and Harvest; almost as good as Comes A Time.
18. SYMMETRY – Themes For An Imaginary Film
The specifics of why this music was passed aside for Cliff Martinez's score for Drive aren't really important, but boy does this release beat it out of the water! Johnny Jewel and Nat Walker walk a line between sounding like their Italo-disco influences and a John Carpenter soundtrack with this involved and fully fitting two-hour score. It's cold, it's bleak—Italians do do it better.
18. THE MEN – Open Your Heart
The Men seem to be a band that could care less what you or anyone else thinks—they're making music for themselves, and if you’re interested, then come along for the ride. This album flows like a mix tape you would make by raiding your older brother's record collection, from Motor City riffing into Sticky Fingers drinking. A working-man Fogerty cottage vibe is audible, with the '90s also making an appearance as well, as instrumental post-rock rubs up against Dinosaur Jr-style outtakes, blending into NYC noise. (When I saw them live earlier this year, they only played one song from this record; the rest of the set was new tunes!)
20. ERIC CHENAUX – Guitar & Voice
"Eric's first truly solo record for Constellation alternates between woozily interwoven nylon-string/fuzz/wah songbook balladeering and equally-affecting hardanger-style bowed instrumentals, making for maybe his best set yet." (originally published on March 28, 2012)
20. TAME IMPALA - Lonerism
"Lonerism sounds like a preedited mental representation of a collection of songs. This is not to be confused with a comment on how the record sounds (although as a sublime execution of psychedelic pop/rock music, it certainly does sound dreamy, trippy, and so forth). Rather, it's about how it's been written. Time and again, the group avoids standard structures by rotating a series of tricks: perhaps omitting choruses, hanging on verses, forgetting to sing all together, obsessing over a particular riff or drum pattern for several bars in a row to see where it goes... All of it sounds much like how 'proper' songs themselves are repositioned by our head. We all know that this is the best part of the song, so I'm just gonna keep playing it." (originally published on October 12, 2012)
22. DIVINE FITS - A Thing Called Divine Fits
"Divine Fits combines Spoon mainman Britt Daniel and Handsome Furs/Wolf Parade belter Dan Boeckner. Both gentlemen specialize in a brand of pop/rock that is heavy on wiry grit, sexual tension, and rock'n'roll tropes that have existed since the days of Berry and Lewis. Neither of these gentlemen have ever been especially afraid of saying less when they could say more. Even so, Divine Fits finds the pair refining their voices even further, as though the newly established presence of another in the room (something Daniel is far less used to than Boeckner) has led them to choose their words and moments with the greatest of care and confidence." (originally published on September 20, 2012)
23. MERIDIAN BROTHERS – Desesperanza
Sole Brother number one Eblis Alvarez is one of the leading lights of the Colombian avant-garde, eschewing current trends that want to modernize his country's musical forms with predicable electronics. In contrast, Alvarez plays his rhythms straight-faced and swinging, which makes the vari-sped voices, tremoloed effects, and Pram-like surrealism all the more bizarre.
24. WOODS – Bend Beyond
So here are three things about Woods: they are prolific, they love to jam and they're known for being a pretty lo-fi outfit. Okay, now take away the outright jams and clean up the production and whatdya get? Phew! A concise jangly pop album that highlights principal songwriter Jeremy Earl's distinctive vocals and melodies, without betraying their earthier roots.
25. HERE WE GO MAGIC – A Different Ship
"Both previous full-band Here We Go Magic albums (Pigeons, The January EP) proved themselves to be real growers, and this new Nigel Godrich-produced effort is no, well, different. A Different Ship refines their manic/mellow mix of modes with atmospheric textures that, as usual for this group, are always in service of the song, deservedly putting the most focus on Luke Temple's versatile and understated vocals." (originally published on May 21, 2012)
25. MAX RICHTER – Recomposed By Max Richter: Vivaldi - The Four Seasons
"With autumn in full swing, now's the perfect time to listen to the musical evocation of the season in this latest entry in Deutsche Grammophon's Recomposed series. Subtly incorporating ambient elements similar to his own work, Max Richter tastefully reinvents this classic for the modern age with the assistance of violinist Daniel Hope." (originally published on November 19, 2012)
25. REDD KROSS – Researching The Blues
"For their first album in fifteen years, L.A.'s Redd Kross pick up where they left off: stomping out tough glitter-punk leavened by instantly memorable bubblegum melodies." (originally published on September 6, 2012)
Top 25 Reissues of 2012
1. VA – Personal Space: Electronic Soul 1974-1984
"Mandatory listening for anyone with a soft spot for the rhythm-box workouts of Sly Stone, Timmy Thomas and Shuggie Otis, Personal Space is a private-press soul/funk excavation of the highest order, and a solid front-to-back listen that has graced our store's P.A. on many a sunny afternoon so far." (originally published on May 24, 2012)
2. PAUL & LINDA McCARTNEY – RAM
"Not to be outdone by such other recent 'Archive Collection' Macca reissues as McCartney, McCartney II and Band On The Run, RAM is now available as a single-disc remaster; a limited-pressing mono LP; a 2CD (or 2LP) set with bonus material; or a 4CD/DVD/book Deluxe Edition boxset, filled with reproductions of notes, lyrics, photo prints and other McCartney family ephemera (which is by far this reissue series' most lavish box to date." (originally published on May 30, 2012)
3. TIA BLAKE AND HER FOLK GROUP – Folksongs & Ballads
"After a spell of dormancy, Water is back with this gem of a reissue, one that's right up there with other such past finds from this label as Ruthann Friedman's Constant Companion, Anne Briggs' self-titled set, and the songs of Judee Sill." (originally published on April 25, 2012)
4. MAGGIE & TERRE ROCHE – Seductive Reasoning
"Though it does not feature younger sis Suzzy Roche, this earlier album (recorded four years before The Roches) still shines brightly. In fact, it's actually become my preferred album of the two that I've heard. There are so many moments on this album that make me stop dead in my tracks." (originally published on April 19, 2012)
5. MY BLOODY VALENTINE - EPs 1988-1991/Isn't Anything/Loveless
"Yes, they're finally out after years of delays, sounding great and looking sharp in spartan, stylishly oversized digipacks. Collecting so many long-unavailable tracks, the EPs collection has understandably been the strongest seller here so far, and Loveless of course remains an untouchable, era-defining piece of avant-pop, but fresh listens to Isn't Anything reveal it to have been equally influential in its own earlier way." (originally published on June 14, 2012)
6. LAURIE SPIEGEL - The Expanding Universe
With liner notes consisting of a whimsically straight-faced self-interview from the time of the original album's release followed by a contemporary look back by Spiegel at the mid-to-late-'70s era in which she made The Expanding Universe (including the technological innovations devised by both her and Max Mathews at NYC's Bell Labs), this set's remarkable electronic pieces, from alien ambient driftscapes to more grid-locked arpeggiated passages, are perfectly contextualized for optimal enjoyment.
6. VA – WTNG 89.9FM: Solid Bronze
As a kid I listened to CKEY 590AM religiously. I was always fascinated by the tunes from the '70s; I couldn’t tell if it was the writing, the playing, or the sound of those tunes, but they have stuck with me 'til this day. This comp puts together songs of the breezy yacht-rock/AOR radio variety that you've never heard. All these tracks are from private press records, yet all of them are hits in their own right. I have been waiting for years for a soft-rock rarities comp—there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure.
8. CAN – The Lost Tapes
"A successor/sequel in many ways to 1976's Unlimited Edition, The Lost Tapes exhumes thirty more tracks from the archives, from live excerpts to 'ethnological forgeries' and such revelatory works-in-progress as 'Dead Pigeon Suite' and 'A Swan Is Born,' respective early takes of Ege Bamyasi's 'Vitamin C' and 'Sing Swan Song.'" (originally published on July 2, 2012)
9. DONNIE & JOE EMERSON – Dreamin' Wild
"Originally self-released in 1979, Dreamin' Wild is about as obscure as records get. After a chance discovery in a rural antique store more than 25 years after its release, a network of excited music bloggers finally helped bring this lost masterpiece to a wider audience. Now Light in the Attic has treated us to a deluxe CD and vinyl reissue, bringing everything full circle. Even without the back-story this is one hot album!" (originally published on July 23, 2012)
10. GEORGE JACKSON – Let The Best Man Win: The Fame Recordings Vol. 2
From the first track on Ace's previous George Jackson compilation In Memphis 1972-77, I knew that I was discovering an artist who would join the ranks of my all-time favourite soul singers. These two Fame singles comps are packed with song after song that should have become southern soul classics.
11. WILLIAM SHELLER – Lux Aeterna
"Imagine a David Axelrod/Serge Gainsbourg/Jean-Claude Vannier dream-team collaboration (one which presciently narrowly predates the latter two Frenchmen's collaborations, even!), replete with lysergic Catholic mass choir. Including 11 bonus tracks focusing on Sheller's poppier (but still fairly freaky) 45s, this is the very first time this rarity has ever been widely available." (originally published on November 4, 2012)
12. LEE HAZLEWOOD – The LHI Years: Singles, Nudes & Backsides (1968-71)
"Light In The Attic (responsible for releasing our number-one reissue of 2011, Jim Sullivan's U.F.O.) scores again with this collection of late-'60s/early-'70s gems by the brilliant Lee Hazlewood. This is the first in a series of releases delving deeply into the Hazlewood vaults that LITA plans to put out—we can't wait for more!" (originally published on April 29, 2012)
13. SMALL FACES – S/T (Immediate)
There were a wealth of Small Faces remasters to choose from this year, and their self-titled 1967 LP stands out, partly due to its transitional nature. It's the bridge between their R&B beginnings and the psychedelic classic Ogden's Nut Gone Flake, and it sounds like precisely that—Steve Marriott's soulful vocals overtop concise pop songs with a little dose of harpsichord and some sentimental music hall whimsy. Perfect!
14. FRANCIS BEBEY – African Electronic Music 1975-1982
"Long revered by African music aficionados, the late Francis Bebey was Cameroon's renaissance man, a journalist, novelist and musicologist whose zest for life and studied playfulness with language and instrumentation is apparent from the moment opener 'New Track' bubbles into being." (originally published on May 20, 2012)
15. DAN PENN – The Fame Recordings
"Finally! An entire compilation devoted to the masterful songs of Dan Penn as performed by the man himself. These aren't the definitive versions of these songs, but they're still great and any fan of soul music needs this set in their collection." (originally published on November 22, 2012)
16. TIM MAIA – Nobody Can Live Forever: The Existential Soul Of Tim Maia
A compilation ten years in the making, Luaka Bop finally provides this hefty slice of cosmic '70s soul. While not the first to incorporate American influences into Brazilian music, Tim Maia set himself apart from his pop and tropicalia contemporaries by flipping the script and giving us American soul with Brazilian flair. Aside from the lyrics about being in the cult of rational energy, this collection documents one man's discovery of love, spirituality, and 'The Good Path.'
16. TRONICS – Love Backed By Force
"Full of simply-strummed songs and aggressively apathetic vocals that prefigure mid-'80s acts like Beat Happening and The Vaselines, Ziro Baby and Gaby de Vivienne's 1981 LP's hand in the secret history of indie-rock is made clear with this reissue, stumbling and swaggering along with enough behind-the-beat bongo tapping to either drive you nuts or charm you senseless." (originally published on May 23, 2012)
16. VA – Holy Spirit: Spiritual Soul & Gospel Funk
Gospel music has rarely sound as soulful and funky as it does on this double CD's forty-one tracks. Truly inspirational and hip-shakin'!
19. THE CRITTERS – Younger Girl: The Complete Kapp & Musicor Recordings
"Hot on the heels of the reissue of their second and third albums comes the eagerly anticipated appearance of the Critters' debut LP from 1966, with a slew of bonus cuts on the side. If you're a fan of The Beach Boys or The Lovin' Spoonful, you'll love this talented New Jersey quintet of harmony poppers!" (originally published on June 10, 2012)
20. The Best of Perception & Today Records
Picking from two underground imprints, this comp offers a look at 1970s NYC through the grey areas of jazz, funk and R&B. Patrick Adams' production on many tracks brings these genres together, giving the labels a unified sound. Unknowns rub elbows with known names like Dizzy Gillespie, the Fatback Band and Astrud Gilberto, who all cut records for them. Standouts include the epic "You and I" by Black Ivory, and "Looking For A Brand New Game" by the Jackson-inspired family band The Eight Minutes.
21. VA – Street Corner Symphonies: The Complete Story Of Doo-Wop, Vols. 1-10
There are a ridiculous number of doo-wop comps that have been available over the years, but none have tackled the genre with as much care and attention as Bear Family does with this proposed 15-CD set (the final five are to be released in 2013). Starting with vocal group classics that precede the birth of rock'n'roll (my favourite in the series) and going right up to the birth of soul music, there's a wealth of essential listening here.
21. VA – Zendooni: Funk, Psychedelia And Pop From The Iranian Pre-Revolution Generation
This compilation from the newly-launched Pharaway Sounds label chronicles the incredibly eclectic sounds of the culturally Westernized pre-revolution Iran of the 1970s. You'll hear funk, soul, bossa nova and more blending with traditional Persian scales to create an Iranian pop sound that was swiftly halted by the cultural constraints of the Iranian Revolution of 1979.
23. VA – Buttons: From Champaign To Chicago
"Vintage power-pop from the Midwest is the name of the game for this brand spankin' new Numero Group anthology. Expect more hooks than a tackle box on each and every track herein!" (originally published on September 9, 2012)
23. WENDY RENE – After Laughter Comes Tears: Complete Stax & Volt Singles + Rarities 1964-1965
"Light In The Attic has been on a tear (ha) this past year, with recent reissues and archival finds from the likes of Charles "Packy" Axton, Jim Ford, the Louvin Brothers, Shin Joong Hyun, the Mowest imprint, and Michael Chapman, but we were especially excited and surprised to see this anthology on the label's release schedule!" (originally published on February 8, 2012)
25. EPIC SOUNDTRACKS – Wild Smile: An Anthology
"Epic Soundtracks' albums went out of print years ago and I've been wishin' and hopin' some enterprising label would see right to get his overlooked material back into the world again. Thankfully, Easy Action sub-label Troubadour has stepped up with a top notch presentation of highlights from his career along with a bonus disc of live tracks and rarities for the faithful. His is a sad story but he will live forever in the minds of his fans who connect with his tales of heartbreak, struggle and sometimes hope. He sings from the depths of his soul." (originally published on June 29, 2012)
25. ILAIYARAAJA – Fire Star: Synth-Pop & Electro-Funk from Tamil Films 1985-1989
Who said the internet killed the blind buy? I picked this up based on the album cover alone, and it did not disappoint. Who would have guessed such a withdrawn and religious musician could compose such quality material for the most commercial films of his day? Complete with liner notes not only about the time period, but also on each movie from which this Bombay Connection compilation takes its selections, this is a fine collection of funky and poppy electro music by 'The Maestro.'
25. ROCKIN' HORSE – Yes It Is (LP-only reissue)
Liverpool's Rockin' Horse were former Merseybeat-ers Billy Kinsley and Jimmy Campbell (one of the 20th century's greatest unsung songwriters, in this writer's opinion), and Yes It Is, their one release from 1971, is a fascinating amalgam of genres. Allegedly the group were aiming for a return to their Merseybeat roots, but they ended up somewhere between late-era Beatles, late-'60s rural rock and proto-power-pop. Campbell's fragile vocals and painful lyrical honesty bring the same gripping emotional melancholy that colours his solo work and elevates the songs here.
25. VA – Qat, Coffee & Qambus: Raw 45s From Yemen
This release from Dust-To-Digital's phonographic arm presents songs of life and love from '60s and '70s Yemen, courtesy of some rare 45s. Beautiful oud stylings are accompanied by sparse but driving rhythmic accompaniment—a copper plate never sounded so good!