Top 20 Albums of 2012

Posted on 07 December 2012 by Joe

The  culture of illegal downloading and Spotify playlists have conspired to give the album a torrid time this year.  According to latest figures from industry body the BPI, album sales fell by 13.8 per cent during the first half of the year and in the second week of August Rhianna’s album Talk That Talk became the lowest selling UK number one album when it  shifted just 9,758 copies.

Albums are arguably becoming a more niche  purchase among consumers, which is why there will be a whole bunch of albums in this best of list that you will have never heard of and by bands whose names will be new to you. But that doesn’t mean the quality of these albums is diminished. We have at least one enormous seller, a couple of concept albums as well as some stunning debuts by brand new bands. Above all all those on our list are interesting, have tales to tell and are showcasing artists doing interesting things with music. Album sales may be down, but the quality of music produced this year shows that critically at least 2012 was a great year for the album. Sit back, get your Christmas lists ready and enjoy Neonfiller’s Top 20 Albums of 2012.

20.North Sea Scrolls

North Sea Scrolls is an album that brings together two celebrated musical grumps, Luke Haines and Cathal Coughlan, along with journalist Andrew Mueller, to create an alternative history of the British Isles. That’s right its a concept album, but one that has a worthy place on our list due to its notion of a Britian where the broadcaster Chris Evans is ritualistically sacrificed, 60s producer Joe Meek is culture minister, Enoch Powell is poet laureate and Ian Ball, the kidnapper of Princess Anne, has a crisis of identity in Broadmoor about Ian Ball the singer from Gomez. (DR) More

19. Jack White  – Blunderbuss

We are proud to admit that foppish indie bands who struggle to shift a few thousand CDs are our usual review fodder. It is unheard of for us to review an album that is top of the UK and US albums charts at the time of writing. But for Blunderbuss, the stunning solo debut of former White Stripes man Jack White, we will make an exception. (JL) More

18. Lambchop  – Mr M

As Lambchop albums go Mr M lurks somewhere between the soulful sound of Nixon and the intimacy of Is A Woman.  Its tender subject matter and strings give the impression that Lambchop leader Kurt Wagner is drifting up to heaven with Vic Chesnutt, the late singer- songwriter and friend to Wagner who the album is dedicated to. One of the most beautiful albums of the year. (JL) More

17. Shearwater – Animal Joy

Shearwater have come along way since they were formed by Okkervil River man Jonathan Meiburg as a folky side project. Now signed to Sub Pop  and with Meiburg long departed from Okkervil River, they are a fully fledged indie rock band in their own right. This is arguably their most accessibly release yet, with Meiburg’s fiercely environmental lyrics blending well with a raft of powerful and thought provoking indie rock tracks, with Breaking the Yearlings and centrepiece Insolence among many highpoints. (JL) More

16. The Shins – Port of Morrow

The Shins - Port of Morrow

James Mercer’s Shins are back and getting regular play on alternative and mainstream radio stations alike.  There aren’t many acts that can appeal to such a large demographic, but then not all acts are able to expertly serve up one of the best summer pop music albums of the year. Mainstream music with an alternative edge doesn’t  get better than this. (DR) More

15. Efterklang – Piramida

Efterklang - Piramida

This is the least orchestrated album the Danish band has produced. It takes time to reveal itself, but it is worth the initial persistence to let it unravel its charms. It is not an album that will appeal if you are looking for catchy melodies or a sing-a-long chorus, the songs brood and build and work their way into your brain over time. (DR) More

14. The Mountain Goats – Transcendental Youth

As you would expect from frontman John Darnielle’s writing there is still a hell of a lot of lyrical self-help, with the track Until I Am Whole a fine addition to the Darnielle survival songbook. But with the birth of his son Roman this year he has presumably less time to wallow, as his life fills with even more hope and optimism. The use of brass, arranged by Matthew E White, across the album probably best typifies the uplifting feel, particularly the trumpets on the relentlessly upbeat Cry for Judas and the sumptuous horn arrangement on White Cedar. Another great release from the man many believe is one of America’s greatest living lyricists. (JL) More

13. Darren Hayman and the Long Parliament – The Violence

In the final instalment of the former Hefner man’s trilogy about his native Essex he turns his attention to the horror of the county’s 17th century witch trials. This double album is packed full of history, subtle melodies, powerful images and above all a sense of humanity typifies so much of his songwriting. The Violence has been a huge hit among critics this year who admire Hayman’s attempt to find Albion, a quest  that has been in decline in the music industry since the 1960s and early 1970s heyday of The Incredible String Band and Fairport Convention. A modern folk classic. (JL) More

12. Hospitality – Hospitality

Central to the success of this Brooklyn indie-pop trio’s self titled debut album is the singing and songwriting of lead singer Amber Papini. Her turn of phrase, effortless vocals and keenest of ears for a catchy single are only hinted at on opener Eighth Avenue, a kind of Belle and Sebastian rip. But as the album progresses track after track of hook laden, memorable, potential singles follow. If you don’t believe us, then maybe Rolling Stone will convince you. The magazine has named it among their Top 50 albums of the year. (JL) More

11. Beach House – Bloom

Beach House’s fourth album is called Bloom for good reason, as it emerges spring like from the icy cold wintery pop of 2010’s breakthrough album Teen Dream. As with Teen Dream, Bloom is still full of wonderful dreamy synth and guitar pop but the duo, of singer and keyboardist  Victoria Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally, are no longer walking with snow crunching under foot. They are now in a sunlit meadow somewhere gazing at the dandelions and marvelling at the world. (JL) More

10. Django Django – Django Django

Good old-fashioned pop with some modern art rock sensibility is key to Django Django’s appeal. Storm and the insane Duane Eddy-meets-astronaut-meets-Cairo market trader single Wor are included and are immediate standouts. But there’s plenty more pop up the sleeves of this London based band that topped our Bands to Watch Out for in 2011 list and met while studying art in Edinburgh. (JL) More

9. The Walkmen – Heaven

To use an REM comparison, The Walkmen’s latest album Heaven is their Lifes Rich Pageant moment. Just like that fourth album by REM, Heaven is an album by a band on top of their game in life and career and enjoying every moment. Some fine work behind the production desk by Fleet Foxes, Modest Mouse and Built To Spill producer Phil Ek has helped create this joyous sound. He’s not only added some pastoral Fleet Foxes moments, but has also roped in the Foxes’ Robin Pecknold for backing vocal duties. Think Fleet Foxes with balls. (JL) More

8. First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar

The road to Nebraska is littered with the ghosts of Americana and getting there demands a humble homage to the stoic wraiths of bearded plaid shirts to navigate its precise route. It’s rare for outsiders to succeed and unknown for the path to start from suburban Sweden, yet First Aid Kit have majestically transposed their whimsical folk deep into the mid-west, repairing the genres often passive conservatism, to redefine the contours of alt-country. (DN) More

7. Bob Mould  – Silver Age

The former Hüsker Dü and Sugar man has gone back to basics for his first album in three years. Amid an eclectic career, which has included devising TV wrestling shows and DJing, Mould has returned to what he does best for this album; fronting a three piece indie rock band with his gigantic voice and crunching guitar. (JL) More

6. Frankie Rose – Intersteller

Well this was  a surprise. There we were bracing ourselves for another standard indie-pop release from former Crystal Stilts, Dum Dum Girls and Vivian Girls member  Frankie Rose when this pops into our in box . Turns out she has created not just one of the best indie-pop release of the year, but one of 2012′s best pop albums. More

5. Field Music  – Plumb

Field Music Plumb

If you haven’t been sold on Field Music by any of their previous releases you are unlikely to be converted here, but you are clearly a lost cause. If you love their previous work you may find Plumb takes some time to reveal its brilliance, but once it does you’ll be hooked by their XTC and King Crimson-style riffs and quick fire pop. (DR) More

4. Guided by Voices – The Bears For Lunch

Release the Bears is an excellent record by a seminal 1990s act enjoying their productive renaissance. This is album number three for the band in 2012 alone and is the best of the bunch. Sure, there are a couple of underdeveloped tracks and throwaway numbers, but us die-hard GBV fans wouldn’t have it any other way. (DR) More

3. Tame Impala  – Lonerism

It was no surprise to see MGMT, Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridman credited with applying the finishing touches to Tame Impala’s second album of psychedelic pop. Largely recorded by Tame Impala frontman Kevin Parker at home, in hotels, studios and even a plane, Fridman has added that final pop savvy touch, just as he did to the band’s stunning debut Innerspeaker (2010). The end result is something that perfectly blends the care free attitude of a bedroom recording act  with the swagger of a seasoned old pro behind the mixing desk. (JL) More

2. David Byrne and St Vincent – Love This Giant

Love This Giant

Collaborations are something to approach with caution, for every example where the combining artists bring out the best in each other (Iron & Wine and Calexico) there is another where the worst of both is brutally exposed (the appalling Lulu by Lou Reed and Metallica). The good news is that Love This Giant, the work of David Byrne and Annie Clark AKA St.Vincent, falls firmly into the former category. Love This Giant, from the opening seconds of the brilliant ‘Who’ shows itself to be a fun, high quality, set of pop music. It is clever and sophisticated, but never in a way that stops the music being accessible. (DR) More

1. Tigercats Isle of Dogs

 

Our only 10/10 score for a new album this year and our only ever top mark from our co-editor Joe Lepper for a new album. As an indie-pop album goes this is as good as it gets. It’s teaming with radio friendly, infectious hooks, especially on Full Moon Reggae Party, Easter Island and Banned at the Troxy. It also has a sense of completeness as the band take us on an indiepop road tour across the east end of London. This is an album that may take time  to find a wider audience but over the next decade will gather more and more fans. (JL) More

Reviews by Joe Lepper, Dorian Rogers and David Newbury

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