Top Five: Albums of 2012

Time for the supreme top list category: Our best albums of the year. We decided not to compromise and to make a common list, but instead the three of us will each present their most beloved albums of the year, collected in this one post. That way, we won’t have the mediocrity of some of the list we have seen floating around, plus you get to read about more than just five picks. As with the genre list we published earlier, the albums are not ranked, but in random order. More lists are to follow!

Summary

Henje

John Talabot – ƒIN
Elite Gymnastics – Ruin 4 EP
Ryan Hemsworth – Last Words
Chromatics – Kill for Love
The Gaslamp Killer – Breakthrough

Dave

Poolside – Pacific Standard Time
Chromatics – Kill for Love
Blackbird Blackbird – Boracay Planet EP
Tomas Barfod – Salton Sea
Hundred Waters – Hundred Waters

Jeffrey

How to Dress Well – Total Loss
St. Lucia – St. Lucia EP
Blackbird Blackbird – Boracay Planet EP
Grimes – Visions
John Talabot – ƒIN

Henje’s Top 5

For me, this year was all about branching out – there wasn’t one specific subgenre or style I liked the most or one direction in which my musical interests were developing, but instead there were many different ones I delved in. My choice of the best albums of 2012 reflects this, spanning from house via hip hop electronics to retro-rave and dream pop. Thanks to the work on this blog, I listened to more music than ever before, and an album had to be really great for me to have the leisure and patience to come back to it over and over again – but those here did it.

John Talabot – ƒIN

There was a wave of indignation by many users when GvB didn’t put John Talabot’s fabulous debut album on their Top 50 list a few das ago. And rightly so, because while he didn’t invent a new subgenre or new fat production techniques, he made the most sophisticated house album of the year. Skillfully layering multiple instances upon each other and ever so smoothly progressing, he created dense, rich, elegant rhythm structures and made his distinct percussion style one of the constant companions during the course of this year.

Elite Gymnastics – Ruin 4 EP

These EPs that were on my heavy rotation the most this year. They are a four part series, with the first two parts (containing the originals) released in 2011 and the last two (mostly full of remixes) out this year. They are best consumed as a double feature, as the remixes by some of the greatest artist I discovered for myself this year – like LOL Boys, Recycle Culture and CFCF – are the most fun when you seamlessly experience the way the themes and patterns of Elite Gymnastics source material are picked up and altered in so many different and interesting ways. It is a haunting trip that built a more personal connection to me than any other music in 2012.

Ryan Hemsworth – Last Words

Hemsworth was one of the most prolific and distinctive producers and remixers this year. His “clipping style” – cranking the bass up to eleven and using the distortion as an audio effect in its own right – made me love his debut album from the first moment I heard it. I called him this years Clams Casino, and I stand by it. His style will still have to prove its longevity and versatility, but it shaped my musical landscape for sure.

Chromatics – Kill for Love

Chromatics is the only act that will appear in my Top 5 albums, single tracks and remix lists this year. I guess that makes them my band of the year, but they didn’t overwhelm, and instead slowly snuck up on me. Johnny Jewel’s italo disco was like the slowdance version of the last years “Drive” soundtrack – retro-chic, shimmering and ever so cool. But it managed to erase this connection over time and to stand on its own, as the most interesting pop album of 2012.

The Gaslamp Killer – Breakthrough

The best album off the Brainfeeder imprint this year, The Gaslamp Killer took me by surprise. He seemed so out of the loop of what was going on in the music world right now – reminding more of 1998 than of 1991, and those seven years made a lot of difference – that I underestimated his album off the start. Who still listens to DJ Shadow these days anyhow? But Breakthrough’s flow, rhythmic stance and challenging mixture of sounds made it stick around and become one of my favorite go-to-listens over time.

Dave’s Top 5

Wow, such a fantastic year for music! First, I want to say that none of this would have been possible had it not been for my introduction to turntable.fm. The time I spent online helped expose me not only to new music but some really great people as well. I pushed myself hard to scour the internet for new and delightful music for my queue, especially for those Tuesday sessions that our IBB room was open. Like Henje, my 2012 top 5 album picks are the ones that had repeat value but they also reflect those personal experiences on tt.fm when I felt like I had struck gold. Enjoy!

Poolside – Pacific Standard Time

This may be a bit of a cheat since some of these tracks were released last year but the timing of this album for me was spectacular. The IBB room and blog had just started, the summer was at a full tilt and L.A. duo Filip Nikolic and Jeffery Paradise seemed to have relief from the blistering heat. The funky new disco textures definitely had me daydreaming that I was right there at the pool, chilling out and bobbing my head to the smooth beat.

Chromatics – Kill for Love

It’s not so much the sound that makes this album a part of my list. Don’t get me wrong, with Ruth Radelet’s gorgeous vocals and Johnny Jewel’s helming it’s going to be awesome. However, my favorite part about Kill for Love is its progression with each track. To start with a haunting cover of Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” and then immediately segue into the synth-pop heavy title track is nothing short of amazing. It really is an album that I can play from start to finish and enjoy the juxtaposition of synth-pop gems with the epic abstract tracks.

Blackbird Blackbird – Boracay Planet EP

I’ll admit it. I wasn’t impressed with the first few releases that Blackbird Blackbird produced in the past but I love this new direction that Mikey Maramag has taken with Boracay Planet. It swiftly grabs your attention from the start with a striking guitar sound in “It’s a War” but it maintains that level of interest throughout the rest of the EP and ends nicely with a great acoustic guitar loop on “Happy With You.”

Tomas Barfod – Salton Sea

Another fun record that all you need to do is push play. The beats on Salton Sea provide a great foundation and allow Barfod to play around with a lot of different styles. I’m particularly fond of the track “Broken Glass” that features mixed vocals from fellow WhoMadeWho band mate Jeppe Kjellberg and sounds reminiscent of GLaDOS, the main antagonist from the video game franchise Portal.

Hundred Waters – Hundred Waters

It wasn’t until I started creating my list and going through album after album that I remembered the digital folky Hundred Waters. Originally from Gainesville Florida, the band recently made a jump from a small label to Skrillex’s OWSLA after they completed the Full Flex Express tour that featured Grimes, Diplo, and Skrillex himself. Hundred Waters showcases beautiful vocals and piano by frontwoman Nicole Miglis but is mixed with some dazzling bloops and bleeps. The whole album might be a stretch for some IBB readers but if you’re feeling adventurous take a look at the band’s website and you can stream the whole album. For me it’s the seamless transition from tracks “…___…” to “Boreal” that made got me hooked.

Jeffrey’s Top 5

It was exceedingly difficult this year to choose five top releases in large part because it’s been such an excellent year for new artists. Any of more than a dozen 2012 releases merit praise for pushing the envelope, introducing new production styles to familiar genres in innovative ways, or simply producing pleasing earworms. For this reason, my list skews more toward pop this year, an expansive genre that saw some interesting innovations in the world of bloops and bleeps beyond those included in the four-to-the-floor electropop of top 40 or over-the-top production of dubstep.

How to Dress Well – Total Loss

One of the most exciting innovations of the past two years is the fusion of R&B hooks with ethereal electronica and garage beats. Last year The Weeknd brought this fusion to the mainstream (formally released this year on his Trilogy), and this year saw a variety of stellar releases pursue the same dynamic: Jessie Ware, Frank Ocean, and perhaps most beautifully, How to Dress Well, the pseudonym of Tom Krell, a graduate student in philosophy with a haunting voice and incredibly sharp sense of emotion. Total Loss may be the saddest R&B record I’ve ever heard, but it is so intensely beautiful that every listen is wonderful emotional therapy.

St. Lucia – St. Lucia EP

Of all the stellar debuts by indie dance bands this year (Poolside, Tanlines, etc.), St. Lucia’s six-song EP stands out as the most vibrant, versatile, and ultimately, the most enjoyable pop release of the year. Within 30 seconds of pressing play, the toe is tapping unconsciously, and the irresistable hooks don’t stop until the end of track 6. Layering beautiful background synths with quick stabs of sparkles and team vocals, the band possesses an undeniably retro vibe and the percussion flourishes hint at world influences – a fact confirmed by frontman Jean-Philip Grobler’s international bio (Brooklyn by way of England by way of South Africa). The interplay between quiet and loud moments emphasizes the height of the hooks and makes the whole EP pretty irresistible.

Blackbird Blackbird – Boracay Planet EP

San Francisco’s Mikey Maramag (aka Blackbird Blackbird) keeps up an impressive pace of new releases, offering several new singles and this stunning EP in 2012. Previous albums under the Blackbird Blackbird moniker featured short, catchy electronic instrumentals, almost as if Maramag had so many ideas for melody stems that he had to just push them all out there unfinished. And Maramag also maintains an active Bandcamp page, releasing one-off singles every month or so. All of which is to say that Boracay comes as a surprise – not because it is good (and it is more than good) – but because there are complete (and long!) songs here, filled out with guitar and vocals to augment the catchy synth hooks. “It’s a War”, “All”, and “Happy With You” are brilliant tracks, all worthy of consideration for end of year lists.

Grimes – Visions

When I reviewed the Grimes album back in March, I wrote that Visions maintains pop sensibilities and airiness while incorporating the sound textures common in the UK Garage genre. In interviews, Claire Boucher (aka Grimes) is open about culling influences from all over, a fact evident in the miming of various genre song structures and sounds (garage, synth-pop, euro-dance, IDM, R&B, etc.). As if to put emphasis on the album’s eclecticism, Boucher even includes a subtle sample of a classical piece by Mozart on “Nightmusic”, washing it in distortion and static. The traditional pop structure is in place, but the elements of sound in each track are completely turned inside out, leaving only Boucher’s sweet sing-song voice and cheerleader-esque callbacks intact. The melody and percussion of Visions sounds as if it has been zeroed-out in post-production and brought back to life through the application of some ethereal reanimation technique. Visions exists somewhere in the netherworld between the disjointed sound-smithing of Aphex Twin and the bubblegum of Katy Perry. Who would have thought it would work so well?

John Talabot – ƒIN

Released on Valentine’s Day in February, when much of the northern hemisphere was beginning to emerge from winter slumber into the spring thaw, ƒIN begins in the jungle and takes a listener on an intimate journey equally at home wandering empty city streets as packing a crowded nightclub. When I reviewed ƒIN back in February, I wrote that Talabot’s productions may be rooted in the balaeric house of his native Spain, but his work on ƒIN occupies a logical space between the dance scene and the more intellectual compositions of shimmery indie pop electronicists like Gold Panda, Apparat, and Caribou. Where Talabot finds particular success is his incorporation of mid-tempo house and nu-disco structure to unique ambient textures and sampling – from tribal drum patterns to the use of jungle frog and bird noises to introduce the sinister opener “Depak Ine.” The result is raw and organic, and many of the tracks on ƒIN rise up from ambient noise and completely envelope the listener. A lasting work that is worthy of being 2012’s best.

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2 comments on “Top Five: Albums of 2012

  1. Squanto says:

    No Purity Ring? wow…

  2. lantz45 says:

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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