If you’ve been listening to my Viewing Gum Listening Posts or Tokyo Soundscape episodes (and if not, why not?!), you should probably already have a fair idea of my musical consumption the past twelve months. But luckily, it’s time for a good old recap, and a fully interactive one at that. So, besides a top 10 rundown, as well as a bunch of other recommendations that didn’t make the cut, I’ve also put together a Viewing Gum Music of 2012 playlist on Spotify, but for those after the bigger picture, clicking any of the covers featured in this article should also warp you straight to the full album itself on Spotify. And if you don’t have Spotify? Err…my words will have to suffice. First off, here’s my TOP 10:
As much as I have enjoyed Hot Chip’s singles and live performances, their albums have never quite clicked with me. That changed with their fifth release, In Our Heads, perhaps their poppiest record yet, but this isn’t a case of dumbing down. As much a summation of everything they have achieved thus far as it is a celebration of their influences, it also feels like a new lease of life for the Chippies. A total joy from start to finish.
Dirty Projectors’ previous albums have been easier to admire than to actively enjoy – there’s often a lot going on, but to what end is often garbled, resulting in an uneasy listening experience. However, with Swing Lo Magellan, Dave Longstreth finds melody to match the madness, without losing the distinct quirks and tics with which he has made his name. No finer trio of opening tracks you’ll find anywhere else as here: ‘Offspring Are Blank’, ‘About to Die’, and the haunting ‘Gun Has No Trigger’ (translated into Sumerian Akkadian Cuneiform of all things by my good friend Willis!). Rest of the album’s damn fine too.
An early frontrunner for my favourite of the year, it perhaps became a victim of ear-exhaustion on my part through heavy rotation. But that’s what Django Django does to you, providing a magical sonic backdrop to any endeavour. Still the best debut release I heard though, groovy beats with a hint of the exotic, and although the lyrics are unremarkable, they add to the overall texture. Every song sounds timeless yet completely of the time too, with rhythms so catchy it’s as if they’ve always existed.
Like other feted electronic mood-makers The xx and James Blake, there doesn’t seem to be a lot happening on first listen to Visions, but the calm surface belies a constantly churning sound that’s otherworldly without dissolving into New Age muzak, dreamy without being indistinct. There’s a real pulse throughout, reaching peaks with ‘Genesis’, ‘Oblivion’, and ‘Nightmusic’, but the whole album ebbs and flows nicely.
Brothers Peter and David Brewis operate on a highly-skilled level of technical songcraft, with unconventional instrumentation and shifting time signatures, buoyed by quintessential English eccentricity and humour. There’s a classic pop-rock sensibility on show, but Plumb takes you down unpredictable paths. An absolute pleasure.
It’s fair enough how long Jack White has taken to release a solo album having kept himself occupied with two extra bands (with two albums each) alongside The White Stripes, but now that time has been called on his breakthrough duo, Blunderbuss has landed, and it’s a hoot. Though armed with a few full-on rockbusters, White more often indulges his bluesier side, but either way, there’s not a duffer to be found.
It’s become somewhat easy to take Grizzly Bear for granted. As expected, Shields is another batch of gorgeous impeccably-crafted tracks, and while there may not be one standalone stunner as ‘Knife’ was to Yellow House or ‘Two Weeks’ to Veckatimest, it is perhaps their most consistent and complete record thus far. A grower to be sure.
Adrian Younge builds on his work as composer (as well as editor) on cult comedy favourite and affectionate Blaxploitation spoof Black Dynamite with concept album Something About April. With a rich blend of cinematic soul, it’s a warm sensuous record that’s far more than just a nostalgia exercise.
Psyche-rock mischief-makers The Flaming Lips flip through their eclectic rolodex, bringing in “fwends” old and new to contribute samples, licks, or full-blown vocals to this musical oddity. The results aren’t as mixed as one might fear, but there are some exceptional highs, notably the Cyberman-sampling ‘2012 (You Must Be Upgraded)’ and the pounding ‘This Ain’t My Trip’, as well as Neon Indian-collaboration ‘Is David Bowie Dying?’, and controversial cover ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’.
David Byrne teams up with St. Vincent on a funky song selection, filled with character and bolstered by its brass section. It’s a shame sometimes Annie Clark’s voice gets lost sometimes under Byrne’s, but when they are on equal footing or flying solo, it works like a charm. Bouncy bouncy bouncy bouncy fun fun fun fun fun.
So those were my total besties of 2012, but here is a selection of 20 other albums I enjoyed which are all absolutely worth your time too. Hover over the cover for the title and artist, then click to be whisked away to listen to it on Spotify!
And in case you just want to cut to the chase, and sample the best of the best, here again is the Viewing Gum Music of 2012 playlist embedded below.