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Theo Gorst’s Top Ten Albums of 2012
Published on December 15th, 2012 | Theo Gorst
To break up the hullabaloo of our top 100 countdown, Rocksucker scribe Theo Gorst has selected his own personal top ten albums of the year and will now talk you through them, one by one, for your delectation. Take it away, Theo…
10. Django Django – Django Django
Having waited three years to finally release their debut LP it’s clear Django Django weren’t to be rushed, and thank heavens for that. The record starts in a similarly unhurried fashion with “Introduction” before thrillingly segueing into “Hail Bop”, and from there on in the listener is welcomed into a beguilingly eccentric world. While being ‘idiosyncratic’ won Alt-J the Mercury Prize, Django Django would have been more apt winners in that field having used samples, Wild West guitars and sheer originality to create an LP that not only stands out from the Mercury shortlist, but also from most other records to have been released this year.
9. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
On paper, Godspeed’s formula could easily be dismissed as pretentious, but thankfully their formula was pressed on vinyl too. The length of the songs, those distinctive titles and, most importantly, the soaring instrumentation all add up to a record that is unmistakably the product of Canada’s finest post-rock troupe. In short, it’s a brilliant record that reaches the heady heights of their pre-hiatus LPs, and their transcendental live shows. We’re told patience is a virtue and one listen to album opener “Mladic” should confirm it to be a virtue worth having.
8. Julia Holter – Ekstasis
Julia Holter is a school teacher by day, and she sure taught us a lesson in ethereal dream pop with her terrific sophomore LP Ekstasis. From the swirling drama of “Marienbad” to the beautiful atmospherics of “In The Same Room”, Holter produced an almost flawless album that managed to defy all accusations of dream-pop being soporific. Working in perfect harmony with her choice of instrumentation, Holter’s vocals swayed Liz Fraser-like from depth to lightness to ensure a totally engaging 56 minutes of music. On “Boy in the Moon” she sings of a “plane taking off”, and with a record of this quality it should only be a matter of time before school’s out and her career follows a similarly ascendant flight path.
7. John Maus – A Collection of Rarities and Previously Unreleased Material
Unfortunately for Ariel Pink, whose own 2012 effort fell some way short of the mark, 2012 was the year his former protégée stepped out from his shadow into a limelight of his own. Don’t be deceived; a collection of tracks that were omitted from his long-players this may well be, but this is a strong record in its own right. Listen to “No Title (Molly)” and the brilliance of Maus will reveal itself: eddying keys that turn the listener every which way lie on top of a driving Motorik beat, Maus’ vocals triumphantly completing the track, his exhortations of “come on” well worth heeding for those who’ve yet to hear this.
6. Allo Darlin’ – Europe
While the real Europe was blighted by economic woes and political tensions, Allo Darlin’ made great strides on that of their second record, one that embraced wistfulness, loss and ultimately hope. In “Capricornia” the band produced perhaps the song of the year, a jangly Smiths-ian guitar line preluding a perfect pop song encompassing flawlessly articulated yearning and desire. To see such an LP defy all preconceptions of ‘twee’ and gaining widespread critical acclaim (gracing Rough Trade’s top ten albums of the year and scoring an 8.0 on Pitchfork) was a delight, but better yet is the band’s assertion on these very pages that their best is still to come.
5. Frankie Rose – Interstellar
To describe Frankie Rose’s Interstellar as ‘panoramic’ would be to do it a great disservice. Rose’s vision was shown to have an almost impossible grandiosity to it, and thankfully the tracks magnificently expressed such scope. While elements of The Cure and Laurie Anderson can be seen in the album’s ten tracks, each is unmistakably a creation of Rose’s. Playing on the disconnect of alternating between jagged post-punk guitars (“Night Swim”) and luscious, expansive soundscapes (“Pair of Wings”), Rose presented ten enthralling pop songs, each able to work on their own – say in the context of a mixtape – but equally all gaining a greater power through their inclusion on this cohesive and marvellous record.
4. DIIV – Oshin
Whereas Frankie Rose took her cues from poppier elements of The Cure, DIIV explored the more immersive side of the dream-pop titans. In Oshin, the Brooklyn four-piece created an LP that stands as a 21st century update on Disintegration, with front man Zachary Cole Smith’s vision engulfing the listener through waves of post-punk, Krautrock and a depth recalling melodic grunge. As the record progresses the dreamlike state thickens, although there is a delightful curve ball in the form of the spiky agitation of “Doused”. Smith wrote the album while homeless and as such the final track “Home” has a power afforded to it by personal experience, wrapping things up in majestic fashion.
3. Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t
In any case, the Swede certainly knows what a great pop record is. Lekman’s brilliance lies in his ability to compare personal difficulties with global problems, and he handles this with a melodrama that’s humorous and utterly engaging. On “The End of The World is Bigger Than Love”, an observation coated in irony considering the record’s title and prevalent theme, he asserts that love is “bigger than the stock market, than the loose change in your pocket”. Taking the global and making it personal is a skill few songwriters have, yet on I Know What Love Isn’t we’re shown examples of it being delivered with great ease. Whereas previous LP Night Falls Over Kortedalia was a sprawling masterpiece, here Lekman reined in his vision to present a more focused record; yet while his vision may have been refined his songwriting prowess – from the luxurious melancholy of “Erica America”, to the irresistible jangle of the title track and the heartbreaking resignation of “Every Little Chord Knows Your Name” – remains flawless.
2. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
An overexposed photograph of Van Etten adorns the sleeve to Tramp. Her face fills the cover perfectly; it’s a brave move, showing her in plain light unlike the sleeves to her previous LPs where she was covered by effects. Indeed Van Etten’s choice of cover is apt for a record that’s not only her best but also her most honest to date. The unflinching honesty with which her abusive relationship is detailed is at times uncomfortable, asking questions of the listener, yet no questions can be asked of the songwriting. It’s a record chronicling recovery from a total loss of confidence, yet the assurance with which Van Etten presents tracks like “Serpents”, “Leonard” and “Joke or a Lie” shows the redemptive power of her music. In the first line of “Joke or a Lie” Van Etten asks “what [to] do”, confessing she’s “lost”; undoubtedly many will confide in this LP feeling the same, and that the record’s effect will be a transformative one is certain.
1. Wild Nothing – Nocturne
Gemini, Jack Tatum’s debut LP under the Wild Nothing moniker, existed so perfectly as an album made in his bedroom. Its lo-fi production and whimsical lyrics fitted hand in glove within the mould of bedroom escapism, and thus on hearing that Nocturne would be a glossier, studio-produced affair Rocksucker grew wary. We feared Gemini’s idiosyncrasies would be lost within the gloss of a studio finish; how wrong we were. The clean production exhibited on “Shadow” exposed Tatum’s ear for a brilliant melody, ambitious yet successful stringed instrumentation and affecting lyrics. Elsewhere breathless choruses, patient climaxes and lyrics encompassing the loverlorn and wistful are all executed with a rare panache and brilliance. While the band’s name is purposefully ambiguous, in Nocturne Tatum showed his aim to be clear: to write relatable and memorable pop songs. That he managed to do more successfully than anyone else this year.