Monday, 31 December 2012


I've said it before and I'll say it again: at this point in time there are no longer bad or good years for music, books, films. In the end, it all comes down to whether you've heard the right stuff or not. And god knows I tried.

50. THE MAGNETIC FIELDS - Love At The Bottom Of The Sea

Most people (fans included) seem to look down on what Stephin Merritt has to say these days, but this really was a delightful little album full of catchy melodies ("Andrew In Drag") and amusing lyrics ("God Wants Us To Wait"). Somewhat throwawayish in nature, but Merritt is too good a songwriter to fail at writing 15 under-3-minute pop songs. Read more

49. PETER HAMMILL - Consequences

Peter Hammill does nothing new on his new album, but with that remarkable presence and style he can pull it off through sheer charisma. And it certainly helps that the first 5 songs here are among his greatest ever. Chilling, bizarre, intriguing, monumental stuff. Even the 'difficult' artsiness on side 2 can't spoil the fun. Or lack thereof. Read more

48. GUIDED BY VOICES - Let's Go Eat The Factory

Well, here we go. Guided By Voiced released a whopping three albums this year, and Let's Go Eat The Factory was the first one. As ever, stellar songwriting amid the usual sloppy hodgepodge of styles, tidbits and real songs. "Doughnut For A Snowman" is such a beauty. Turned out to be the weakest of the three, but a great album all the same. Read more

47. SUN KIL MOON - Among The Leaves

Mark Kozelek being his usual morbid, melancholic self. Having said that, this album was actually quite upbeat by his 90s standards (which is not saying much, obviously). Autumnal, understated yet thoroughly melodic compositions that not so much grab you as slowly, reluctantly let you in. "Sunshine In Chicago" is in fact as catchy as Mark gets. Read more  

46. DINOSAUR JR. - I Bet On Sky

I Bet On Sky has actually grown on me quite a lot. My first reaction was 'strictly for fans', but this quietly revealed itself as a great little late-period album from the band. Really well-written stuff, and J. Mascis seems to be in absolute top form here, both as a songwriter and a guitarist (check out the ending of the single "Watch The Corners"). Read more

45. RUFUS WAINWRIGHT - Out Of The Game

I think I expected more from Out Of The Game (what was more, we were promised some kind of miraculous transformation - this being produced by Mark Ronson), but this was still classic Rufus Wainwright. Lush, luxuriant album for hopeless romantics in stylish, old-fashioned velvet jackets. Still, his sister outdid him this time. Read more

44. LAMBCHOP - Mr. M

Kurt Wagner dedicated this album to Vic Chesnutt, his long-time friend and collaborater, who passed away in 2009. As expected, sadness permeates the whole thing... But there's also great warmth in the delicate, soothing, orchestrated sounds of Mr. M. The album's not perfect, but it's defenitely immaculate in both composition and arrangement. Read more

43. TINDERSTICKS - The Something Rain

It makes sense to have Lambchop's Mr. M and Tindersticks's eagerly-awaited comeback so close on this list: both albums bring on a very similar vibe. Dense, but also fragile. Full of dismal, slow-burning, eerily beautiful grooves, The Something Rain doesn't quite reach the ecstatic heights of "Travelling Light", but it gets damn close at times. Read more

42. PARQUET COURTS - Light Up Gold

Well, what if Robert Pollard drank whiskey (he does, of course), lived on a farm and was raised on dirty-ass punk rock?.. Parquet Courts are enormous, intense, ear-splitting fun, and Light Up Gold is that place where country meets punk. A wonderful, delightful place! It's monotonous, for sure, but also monotonously great. Read more

41. BEACH HOUSE - Bloom

Another grower. I never liked Beach House all that much, but the more I kept listening to this album of enticing, unassumingly seductive dream pop, the clearer it got: Bloom is not bland and bloodless as it might seem. The soft, dreamy textures are beautifully countered with undeniable melodic substance. Which did win me over in the end. Read more

40. MY JERUSALEM - Preachers

Preachers was one of the final few albums I've heard this year, and I'm delighted it somehow came my way. A really well-crafted, expertly arranged album of intense, tuneful rock music that goes from beautiful balladery to screaming, dark, Nick Cave-esque anthems. Diverse, too. Read more 

39. JAMES YORSKTON - I Was A Cat From A Book

I have to admit that I haven't heard too many great 'traditional folk' albums in 2012, but if indie-folk qualifies, then James Yorkston's I Was A Cat From A Book is a little gem of pretty, understated melodicism. Not everything works, but when it does ("Border Song" is definitely one of the best songs of the year), it becomes almost unbearably lovely. Read more

38. BILL FAY - Love Is People

No bullshit here. Bill Fay returns after more than 40 years with a stark collection of (mostly) piano-based ballads that reveal a great songwriter who should have by all means done a lot more by now. A couple of bland moments aside, Love Is People is a mellow, mature classic. You will no doubt hear why Jeff Tweedy is a big fan. Read more

37. DONALD FAGEN - Sunken Condos

Sunken Condos... Can you think of a better name for a Donald Fagen album? Particularly one that opens with a song called "Slinky Thing"? There are people who will dismiss this as style over substance, but here's my advice: put your headphones on and try to get into the dense, nocturnal textures of these immaculate grooves. Magical. Read more

36. RICH HOPKINS & LUMINARIOS - Buried Treasures 

Apparently Rich Hopkins has been in business for quite some time now, but this was my first foray into his rough, Crazy Horse-like desert rock. But a lot more interesting than that, for it's a lot like a Tom Petty-fronted Crazy Horse. All gruffness and good melody. "Friend Of A Shooter" is as good a guitar epic as you can hope to hear. Read more

35. THE MASTERSONS - Birds Fly South

In my review I called this candy rock stuff for beautiful, romantic cynics who liked 500 Days Of Summer. I pretty much stick to that idea, still. One of the year's best indie releases, Birds Fly South has got substance as well as tunes. Lots of irresistible pop confections with equally irresistible boy/girl vocals. Read more

34. SHRAG - Canines

This one, though, was even better. Intense, gutsy, electrifying album full of catchy songs (try to get "That's Static" out of your head) and awe-inspiring chemistry of the band (check out the ending of "Show Us Your Canines"). Reminiscent of both The Pastels and Comet Gain, Canines is probably the best c-86 album of the year. No less. Read more

33. ALLO DARLIN' - Europe

There was something about these guys' debut that didn't quite work for me. I'm guessing that sugary twee-pop floatiness was so anemic it was literally melting my brain. So Europe was a surprise. It's quite punchy, it's tangible, it actually has two feet to stand on. And "Caprociornia" is such a brilliant pop song. Read more

32. MARTHA WAINWRIGHT - Come Home To Mama

This was without a doubt one of the most emotional albums of the year. Martha Wainwright's Come Home To Mama is steeped into the loss of her mother (the great Kate McGarrigle), but it could also be her best set of songs so far. This time it's not just about the performance (though "Proserpina" is soul-shattering). A powerful album. Read more

31. IAN ANDERSON - Thick As A Brick 2

I have to admit that Ian Anderson's 'sequel' to the 1972 classic caught me by surprise. Thick As A Brick 2 didn't seem to go too well with critics and Jethro Tull fans, but I loved this. Nothing heavy-handed about it: an inspired suite full of great melodies and tasteful instrumentation. Has nothing on the original, obviously, but amazing all the same. Read more

30. CITIZENS! - Here We Are

Alex Kapranos produced this piece of mind-numbingly infectious electro-pop that sounds like that third album by Franz Ferdinand gone right. It's got energy, it's got hooks, and, in the ultra-catchy "Caroline", the best Sparks song that Sparks never wrote. Clearly one of the year's strongest, most inspired debuts. Read more

29. COLD SPECKS - I Predict A Graceful Expulsion

And another amazing debut, this is a self-styled "doom soul" album from a Canadian female singer-songwriter (Al Spx, if that makes any sense). This is really soulful, incredibly mature (for a debut) stuff. She might come off as Adele with an edge, but as long as she can deliver something as gorgeously chilling as "Blank Maps", I'm all right with that. Read more


I don't pretend to be an expert in this area, but Silfra is my modern classical album of the year. It's a collaboration of the pianist Hauschka and the violinst Hilary Hahn, which resulted in this understated, but remarkable record full of artsy, Satie-like minimalism ("Krakow" is brilliant) and, on occasion, quite unnerving moods. Read more

27. GABRIEL & THE HOUNDS - Kiss Full Of Teeth

Not too many people have heard about this one, but it's your loss. Kiss Full Of Teeth is an intricate, melodic, wintry album whose appeal is not too easy to place. It's all pop music, I guess. Perfectly charming, just not too conventional. Edgy in a nice way. The groovy, violin-driven rocker "The World Unfolds" is just brilliant. One gripe: too brief. Read more

26. GUIDED BY VOICES - Class Clown Spots A UFO

This was the second album from Guided By Voices in 2012, and it was an improvement on the already excellent Let's Go Eat The Factory. The songwriting is more consistent, and there's just less filler (still indispensable on a Pollard album) here. Still, however good this was, we always knew he could do better. And he did. Read more

25. MONOCHROME SET - Platinum Coils

For me - one of the comebacks of the year, and that's without me being a fan of the band in the first place. The clever post-punk of Strange Boutique never did much for me, but Platinum Coils is such lush, catchy, good-humoured fun. The opening "Hip Kitten Spinning Chrome" is one of the greatest pop songs ever written, period. Read more

24. CALL THE DOCTOR - Hands Will Shake

This is indeed what happens when you tell Sleater-Kinney to play songs by Blondie, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that! Catchy, gutsy, electrifying songs with palpable hooks and good vibes. The bizarre, pummelling chant of the epic, multi-part closer, "Little Bones", just sends my head spinning 200 miles an hour. Irresistible. Read more

23. KEN STRINGFELLOW - Danzig In The Moonlight

Ken Stringfellow is in a competent, but fairly unremarkable power pop outfit The Posies that I've never been particularly fond of. Danzig In The Moonlight, though, is a terrific album. A sprawling, 14-track collection of different styles and moods. Not everything works, but there's some classic songwriting behind this thing. Read more

22. KING DUDE - Burning Daylight

That awful cover looks like it is going to be some fucking death metal album, but it's a lot more interesting than that. Burning Daylight may be all rough and hoarse and 'dark', but there are some lovely folk tunes beneath the make-up. "Barbara Anne" is actually an amazing, Gothic update of the Fred Fassert classic. Not. Read more

21. BARRY ADAMSON - I Will Set You Free

Barry Admason may have been in Magazine, but on his new album he is Nick Cave, Kevin Rowlands and Scott Walker all rolled into one. My love for I Will Set You Free has subsided a little, but it remains an invigorating, powerful album that will literally suck you in with its soulful, intoxicating grooves. Pretty diverse, too. Read more

20. FIONA APPLE - The Idler Wheeler...

This was a critical darling (a bit like last year's Let England Shake), and it's not hard to see why: it's artsy, it's complex, it's edgy to the point where you would want to scream. But don't give up: the more you listen to it, the more sense it makes. The Idler Wheeler... (the whole title is much longer, of course) is challenging in a good way. Read more

19. THE SOUNDTRACK OF OUR LIVES - Throw It To The Universe

This was supposed to be the final album for the Swedes, and they did it with a bang. Nothing remarkably different or original here: just solid, classic songwriting that goes from jangle-pop to power pop to Britpop. The standard fare, but they had the chops to make it all sound so brilliant and so fresh. What can I say? They will be missed. Read more

18. LEONARD COHEN - Old Ideas

Your old, classy Leonard Cohen doing his old, classy thing. A very quiet, understated album that slowly, but assuredly seduces you with its wisdom and with its charm. As ever. And the gorgeous, heartfelt sound of this thing (the production is just about perfect) only stresses the unfading charisma of the great man. Read more

17.  A.C. NEWMAN - Shut Down The Streets

"I'm Not Talking" is my bet for the song of the year, but Shut Down The Streets is more than that. Granted, it has a couple of underwhelming songs (which come dangerously close to The Shins!), but he isn't in the world's greatest pop band for nothing. It's a masterful record that, like Challengers, requires a few listens. Neko Case guests. Read more

16. LAWRENCE ARABIA - The Sparrow

James Milne just proves that there's something about New Zealand that inspires a good tune. The Sparrow is a stylish, tasteful, orchestrated pop album which boasts some of the most astonishing songs I've heard all year: the unforgettable "Travelling Shoes", the soulful "Lick Your Wounds", the mysterious and provocative "The Bisexual"... Read more

15. AIMEE MANN - Charmer

It's almost boring how good this album is. You can always rely on Aimee Mann for recording a proper, well-written set of songs. She can do no wrong, and from the synths-based pop rocker that is this album's title track to the brief and sweet "Red Flag Driver" that closes the whole thing, it's, well, a total charmer. Read more

14. JESCA HOOP - The House That Jack Built

Christ what an album. I loved The House That Jack Built for all those reasons why I love Kate Bush. It's inventive, it's unpredictible, it's strangely appealing, it's a little out of this world. On this album Jesca is sweet, ugly, odd and absolutely brilliant. There's not one boring second here. "Ode To Banksy" has to be heard to be believed. Read more

13. ADELE & GLENN - Carrington Street

No fan of the Go-Betweens could go past Carrington Street, an album recorded by Adele Pickvance and Glenn Thompson (they featured on the three reunion albums). Wistful, masterful songs that would make you cry and smile at the same time. No charisma of Forster or McLennan, granted, but the closing "Earthly Air"?.. Too good. Read more 

12. THE MENZINGERS - On The Impossible Past

Quite possibly the catchiest album of the year. The sort of addictive, fast, irresistible, headbanging punk rock we all need. Very consistent, very intelligent and very well-written (good lyrics, too). On The Impossible Past is a true energy rush. It's a riot. And it fills your head fast and heavy. Read more

11. SWANS - The Seer

Michael Gira said The Seer was the culmination of all things Swans, and one minute into "Lunacy" (perfect opener) you know exactly what he meant. The Seer is an awe-inspiring monolith of an album. It's horrifying, it's desperate, it's depressing. But, just like with that cover, you can't look away. Swans as they are meant to be. Read more

10.  JOHN MURRY - The Graceless Age

I've no idea how this album slipped under all sorts of radars, but from its bookish, monumental cover to its lush, depressing, gorgeous, suicidal songs - The Graceless Age is a middle-age classic. Mature, no-nonsense, adult stuff that is perhaps not for the faint-hearted. If you treat 'art' as 'art', however... That said, the lyrics of "If I'm To Blame" are absolutely fucking unbearable. Read more 

9. ANDREW BIRD - Break It Yourself

Andrew Bird is his usual self on Break It Yourself, a sophisticated, slightly whimsical singer-songwriter who takes you on a musical journey full of intricate, inventive instrumentation (violins, guitars, whistles, interesting sound effects) and delightful melodies that are always more than they seem. Nothing jumps at you at first, but that has never been Andrew Bird's plan in the first place. Read more 

8. OF MONTREAL - Paralytic Stalks

The gaudy cover, the deliberately quirky, nonsensical song-titles, the whooshy onslaught of melodies and special effects... In other words, this is the new of Montreal album. Never mind the gratuitous psychedelic effects - this is just very inspired songwriting that borrows from Bowie, Beatles, Prince. A bit patchy, but a true kaleidoscope of an album. Hooks pouring from everywhere. Read more

7. GUIDED BY VOICES - The Bears For Lunch

The third (and final) 2012 album from Guided By Voices was also the best one. And I don't mind repeating that: I honestly don't see why The Bears For Lunch has to be any weaker than Bee Thousand or Alien Lanes. Level of filler drops to zero, no failed experiments, no expendable, half-baked tidbits. From power pop, to garage rock, to pretty folk - it's all tight, diverse, memorable... Classic. Read more 

6. DAN STUART - The Deliverance Of Marlowe Billings

Another heartbreakingly emotional album from 2012, The Deliverance Of Marlowe Billings nevertheless offers more than the lyrics of "Can't Be Found" or "Love Will Kill You" might suggest. Dan Stuart (Green On Red) shows himself as a versatile songwriter that can come up with an unforgettable anthemic rocker, a menacing C&W ballad and a perfect two-minute pop song. Get it nowRead more

5. FOXYGEN - Take The Kids Off Broadway

Top 5 starts with what is probably the most chaotically brilliant album of 2012. These guys just rip off everyone (Zappa, Jagger, Velvets, Walker Brothers...), but do it in such an entertaining, confident way that the effect is simply ecstatic. You can get lost amid all the hooks and stylistic mutations that this album offers. A pastiche, of course, but such a brilliant one. The debut of the year. Read more

4. DEXYS MIDNIGHT RUNNERS - One Day I'm Going To Soar

I'm not sure there's another album from 2012 I was looking forward to this much. 27 years after the brilliant Don't Stand Me Down, Dexys' new one doesn't disappoint. Kevin Rowlands is in top form, the album sounds passionate, inspired, absolutely convincing. It's like they've never been away, really. One Day I'm Going To Soar is gloriously out of time, of course, but isn't it what we all wanted?.. Read more

3. GO-KART MOZART - On The Hot Dog Streets

Up until On The Hot Dog Streets, Lawrence's third band had seemed a rather amusing, but on the whole pale shadow of Felt and Denim. This new album, however, changes all. Its propulsive, sneering, unbelievably infectious synth-pop brings back the magic of Denim On Ice from 1996, and that is some feat. Artistically compelling. No chance of commercial success, though. Read more

2. SPIRITUALIZED - Sweet Heart Sweet Light

For my money, Jason Pierce wrote his greatest songs for Sweet Heart Sweet Light. I'm not talking about Pierce the Spaceman here, I mean Pierce the Songwriter. We open with the mindblowing, Lou Reed-esque epic "Hey Jane" and end with the sweeping, Wagnerian anthem "So Long You Pretty Things", and there's not one weak moment inbetween. The cover is terrific, of course. Read more

1. THE NORTH SEA SCROLLS - The North Sea Scrolls

A project as conceptually bizarre as it is musically and lyrically irresistible, The North Sea Scrolls is something of a musical lecture delivered by two great rock outsiders, Luke Haines and Cathal Coughlan (songs) and critic Andrew Mueller (narrations). This is an alternative history of England (main concern being music, obviously), which, needless to say, is steeped in irony, allusions and some of the year’s best tunes. Each scroll is followed by a song, either from Coughlan (soulfully crooned ballads with an edge) or from Haines (articulate acoustic strummers with Luke’s usual dry wit and amazing pop sensibilities). Slightly maddening and maddeningly brilliant, you owe it to yourself to hear The North Sea Scrolls and (preferably) catch them live. Fantastic stuff. Read more