Saturday, February 23, 2013

Albums of 2012 … Afterthoughts …

I’ve had a few thoughts on some of the other albums I listened to through 2012, some of which I’ve reviewed here, and some others that didn’t stick around long enough to earn a review.

The albums that didn’t make it into the final ten fell into two categories: firstly, those albums downloaded and binned after a few listens, and secondly, those albums downloaded/purchased that I actually liked, kept, but didn’t like enough to include in the ten.

It’s the first category that provides a surprise or two. Looking back, I was pretty quick off the mark to download and bin a couple of acclaimed new release albums that would ultimately prove prominent on year-end lists elsewhere. Albums I had downloaded on the strength of positive reviews, but nonetheless albums I just couldn’t gel with.

For example, the Frank Ocean album wasn’t in my ten, ubiquitous though it was on any number of other blog year-end lists. Nor the none-too-bad Hot Chip release. Neither did indie darlings Grizzly Bear feature. New albums by all of the above were downloaded, listened to (more than once), and discarded.
Ocean: an orange shade of purple
Much loved though they all were elsewhere, those albums got the recycle bin treatment because I knew I wouldn’t be listening to them on any regular basis going forward. But not before I’d extracted the few tracks on each that I’d connected with (for playlist purposes).

A friend of mine – even as a fan of the Frank Ocean album – summed it up best for me when he said (paraphrasing here): “it’s almost as though critics were shocked to discover a half decent R&B album in 2012 and (over) reacted accordingly” … but for me Channel Orange remained over-hyped, and Ocean came across as something of a poor man’s Prince.

I also (downloaded and) binned new work from past favourites like The Cult, Dandy Warhols, and Smashing Pumpkins. All were mediocre – at best – when measured against deeds of yesteryear. And Muse, past masters when it comes to these year-end lists, well, what they gave us – odd album cut excepted – was the ridiculous posing as the sublime. It too was binned.

So what made it into the second category, albums that made it all the way to the end of the year, only to miss out? Albums I liked, kept, and will listen to again. The better than decent also-rans:

Coming closest of all but just missing the final ten was Leftfield’s Tourism (reviewed here), and it probably rates as my live album of the year. I gave this a thorough workout through the early part of 2012.

Orbital’s Wonky, something of a comeback album that, for the most part, lived up to the best of that pioneering outfit’s past work, also came very close to making the cut.
The Raveonettes: great Danes
The Raveonettes featured in last year’s ten, and 2012’s Observator was a similarly strong release that suffered only from feeling a little too familiar, mainly on account of sounding a lot too much like 2011’s Raven In The Grave. All the same, it still rates as another great album from the prolific Danish duo.

And Paul Weller’s Sonik Kicks didn’t quite win me over enough either, despite it being another solid release from a man who shows no sign of slowing down.

The Haunted Man, the latest from Bat For Lashes is also a very listenable body of work, and the feeling persists that I need to give this one a few more spins. I really came quite late to this one and perhaps haven’t absorbed it fully. On any other day The Haunted Man would more than likely have made the ten …

Had the second half of Bobby Womack’s The Bravest Man In The Universe been anywhere near as strong as the first half it too would have been a certainty for the ten, but as noted in my original review (here) it just sort of limps to an unfulfilling conclusion.
Bobby Womack: soul man
The Dub Pistols’ Worshipping The Dollar (reviewed here) is another that came close and it found itself on semi-permanent pod rotation for a month or two mid-year.

Upon further reflection, I was very tough on The xx’s Coexist, which has appealed to me a lot more since I wrote my original review (here), but I’m quite sure the band will console itself with the reality that far more highly regarded critics (than myself) deemed it a worthy effort, and it doubtlessly features on the majority of those year-end album lists found elsewhere.

Ditto, Cat Power’s Sun, another album that kept revealing more and more of its subtle charms well after my initial review (here) was uploaded. I look forward to her gig in Wellington (tonight already!).

My ‘New Zealand’ album of the year has to be local-boy-done-good Myele Manzanza’s solo debut effort (reviewed here).

I also had a fair bit of time for Ladyhawke’s 2012 album, Anxiety, another highly polished synthpop gem from Masterton’s Pip Brown.
Ladyhawke: pomp and polish
But those two are merely the tip of the iceberg during what was a great year for “local product”. My only issue is that I didn’t get around to listening to enough of it.

Reissue of the year if only for the fact that I didn’t fully get into it first time around and it therefore still felt remarkably fresh: Paul Simon’s masterpiece, Graceland, which came with all the additional bells and whistles offered by repackaging.  

So that’s “the albums of 2012”. If not the best, then certainly my “most listened to”. It was a year where more streaming/download options than ever before – not to mention a procession of different listening devices, each one better than the last – resulted in instant access to a wider range of music than I could ever have previously imagined. Right now it’s hard not to feel a little bit like a lucky old cat licking a super-sized dollop of fresh cream.

Here’s a clip from one of the albums I binned in haste, and probably shouldn’t have. Hot Chip’s gem ‘These Chains’, one of my single tracks of the year … lifted from (the 2012 album) In Our Heads:


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