The Great Escape Top Ten Albums Of 2012
10. Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid, M.A.A.D city
The 25-year-old Californian rapper released the breakout hip hop record of the year. Good Kid, M.A.A.D City came out in October and has already been certified Gold after selling more than 500,000 copies.
The coming-of-age album tells of Kendrick Lamar’s journey through life from teenage gangster to cleaning up and going straight. There’s a poetic songwriter in Lamar which is often absent on rap records. The album has some big name collaborators in tow too, Dr. Dre, Mary J Blige and Drake all feature on the big-bucks, major-label release which successfully walks the line between withholding artist identity and bagging mass appeal.
9. The xx – Coexist
After taking the world by storm back in 2009 with their debut, self-titled album, bagging themselves the Mercury Prize and cementing themselves as the pioneers of understated, minimalist music leading to words like ‘lo-fi’ and ‘cerebral’ suddenly cropping up all over music blogs and reviews across the internet, The xx returned in September with tricky album number two: ‘Coexist’.
Commercially, ‘Coexist’ received mixed reviews, with many critics targeting the obvious similarities with their debut, however their second album incorporates more electronic dance influences with producer Jamie xx’s inclusion of dubstep and garage beats over Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim’s sparse guitar and overlapping male/female vocals. A deeper look into the album sees broader diction than their previous LP, with the inclusion of metaphor and deeper lyrical complexity, the whole album focusing on different stages of romance told across 11 tracks, and to be completely honest, the parts that are similar to their debut album are the parts that make The xx, well The xx.
8. The Maccabees – Given to the Wild
After jumping superiorly into the ‘indie’ limelight back in 2007 with their debut album, the band went on to release that second testing LP in 2009. Although The Maccabees had produced another successful album, they were criticised for not necessarily moving away enough from their debut. It felt like time The Maccabees mixed things up a little, and this they did with their third release: ‘Given to the Wild’.
The album sees a darker hue to the previous two albums. Jangly, colourful guitars are long gone, instead replaced with massive guitar riffs full of reverb and lyrics that deal with mortality and loss. With today’s pressure around band’s needing to show a clear evolutionary path in their repertoire, The Maccabees have achieved just that with ‘Given to the Wild’, leaving behind the teenage, light heartedness of their earlier music and taking a mature step to find something a little more deep.
7. First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar
Cast your minds way back to January, there was a whole twelve months of musical delights yet to surface and engulf us. The year rocketed off to a flying start with First Aid Kit releasing their second studio album The Lion’s Roar.
The Swedish sisters wrote a hauntingly beautiful record filled with delicate vocal harmonies, gently weeping guitars and often heart-wrenching narratives. The stunning ‘Emmylou’ won hearts across the land while ‘Blue’ went and broke them in seconds. Title track ‘The Lion’s Roar’ saw us through to the end of the winter with mass radio play across the board. The album bagged the number 1 spot in their homeland and crowned First Aid Kit our new favourite folkies.
6. Bat For Lashes – The Haunted Man
One of the most talked about albums of the year was Bat For Lashes third record The Haunted Man. Following the success of the stunning Two Suns there was a lot to live up to, not to mention that album cover.
Natasha Khan delivered. The all-baring artwork gave insight as to what the record held, exposing a more intimate and personal side to Natasha Khan than had been seen previously. The spine-tingling and finest moment on the record comes in the form of ‘Laura’. The delicate and intimate track is arranged perfectly around piano and vocals and leaves few eyes dry. The Haunted Man is another stunning record from a firmly established, ever-growing and unforgettable artist.
5. Grimes – Visions
2012 was a big year for Canadian cool queen, Grimes. Not only did she sign a record deal with 4AD but she released her third album, Visions, which is undeniably one of the most awe-inspiring albums of the last twelve months.
With its weird mix of electronics, Claire Boucher’s sky-high vocals and ever-changing artistic directions, Grimes crafted a record that redefines pop – on her terms. The insanely danceable album captivates as it soars from the floaty elegance of ‘Genesis’ to the show-stopping ‘Oblivion’ and into the ghostly gorgeous ‘Vowels = Space and Time’. From start to finish, Visions is a masterpiece of experimental electro, dance pop and quirky creativity.
4. Friends – Manifest
One of the most anticipated albums this year was from Brooklyn-based trendsetters Friends. The uber cool five-piece have had a stonking 2012 surrounding the release of their much-hyped debut Manifest in June.
The record followed the success of 2011’s standout single ‘I’m His Girl’ which proved a hit with hipsters and arguably remains Friends’ defining moment. The sassy swagger of front woman Samantha Urbani’s vocals are steeped in retro beats and 90s sounding melodies which effortlessly captures the spirit of NYC.
The dance-punk pals weave their party-starting style into the foundations of their tracks and their current attitude-heavy single ‘Va Fan Du Gor’ is a sure hit on every dancefloor.
3. Diiv – Oshin
With the release of ‘Oshin’ back in June, only one month after they hit the shores of Brighton to play our very own festival, Diiv rapidly became one of the bands to feature in the ‘must see’ lists of 2012 and ‘ones to keep tabs on’ in 2013.
Captured Tracks are rather particular with the type of sound they like, with bands like Wild Nothing, Beach Fossils and Widowspeak all nestled under their warm, shimmering metaphorical arm. So when guitarist Zachary Cole from Beach Fossils formed Diiv back in 2011 and started producing reverb-friendly, summery sounds with three other friends and fellow musicians, it seemed Diiv were fated to release their debut album ‘Oshin’ under Captured Tracks.
‘Oshin’ brings 13 tracks that combine the primitive-crunch of early Nirvana with psychedelic, iridescent guitar akin to Wild Nothing. It’s grunge but a summertime grunge, as if you’re taking it out of rainy Seattle and plonking it on a beach. Essentially, it’s a kind of beach-pop with a darker, harrowing feel that teeters on the brink somewhere between dreamy and mild nightmare, and we like this combination very much.
2. Crystal Castles – (III)
Ethan Kath and Alice Glass’ third album took an unusual turn in the already unusual world of Crystal Castles, with the band’s relocation to Warsaw to record (III) where Kath replaced his vast array of digital equipment with some analogue synthesizers to add to the wavering, sinister feel reflected in the album. I mean if the album cover depicting a burka-clad woman nurturing a wounded teenager wasn’t enough of a warning.
Musically, (III) still holds the menacing and ominous feel that we’ve come to wilfully love from the band’s sound, yet there is a definite movement in the direction of serenity and tenderness, hidden somewhere deep within apocalyptic pulsing synthesizers and harrowing track titles, namely with Glass’ toned-down, gentler vocal style than what we’ve come to hear before. In fact, upon deeper listening, there’s lots of beauty and sentiment laced throughout the album, perfectly masked by aggressive electronics and obscene track titles like ‘Child I Will Hurt You’.
(III) plays perfectly on the notion of contrast between beauty and ugliness and peace and violence and gives us a valuable lesson into finding moments of meaningfulness in a world full of chaos.
1. Alt-J – An Awesome Wave
If anybody mentioned ‘folk-step’ a year ago, you could’ve been forgiven for believing it to be some kind of dance invented in the West Country that originated amidst copious amounts of cider, tweed and fiddles. Cue alt-J and their genre-inventing, debut album: An Awesome Wave.
After meeting at university in Leeds, the quartet went on to produce an album that’s dominated i-Pods and radio waves since its release back in May. The result of five year’s worth of songwriting and creativity, the thirteen track album is full of infectious guitar, melodic piano and double entendre in the form of Joe Newman’s intelligent lyricism.
Since their recent, rapid eruption to the forefront of the UK music scene, alt-J have played a variety of festivals over the summer, fully sold out both winter and spring tours, oh and they won that Mercury Prize thing too. I think it’s fair to say it has been a good year for the boys.