Album of the year - dEUS - Following Sea
I've been a huge fan of these Belgian alt-rock renegades since their inception 20 years ago & this year they released their second album in as many years & their seventh album of their career to date. Following Sea is made up of songs that were left from the sessions from the making of their previous album Keep You Close from 2011 & far from being a stop-gap album of offcuts, this is, in my humble opinion, their best album since the landmark album In a Bar, Under the Sea - which for me is their masterpiece - this new album runs it very close & is fully deserving of its place at the coveted #1 position!
It starts with Quatre Mains with a pulsating & driving melody & spoken word verses & sung choruses entirely in French. Its an insidious & vaguely sinister opening track.
Sirens is classic dEUS with a tumbling, twinkling melody & great husky vocals from singer Tom Barman. Its the kind of track that they do so well - a seemingly effortless sounding song that sounds simple but has hidden layers that reveal themselves with every listen.
One of my highlights of the album Hidden Wounds comes next. An epic, slow & swaggering rhythm with spoken word verses graphically describing the aftermath of a bombing. Its simple & deceptively effective & breaks into a gently sung & affecting chorus - a disarmingly great song that burrows its way into your psyche.
dEUS have never lost sight of their crazy side & next track Girls Keep Drinking is a jagged, strutting song with stabs of edgy guitar that recalls the more off-kilter moments of their first two albums especially.
dEUS also know their way around achingly pretty songs & the next three songs are three of their best songs showcasing their softer side. First up is Nothings that is short, sweet, simple & for me recalls songs like Serpentine with a disarmingly pretty guitar melody & minimal arrangement.
Next song, The Soft Fall has yet more spoken word vocals before breaking into sweet & soulful vocals where Tom sounds like a complete innocent. Pretty strings underpin the chorus - a lovely song!
For all their weirdness, I still think dEUS are at their best when they strip away all the complexity & come along with a song that is so sweet, so unutterably lovely & just such a song is Crazy About You. It has a beautiful stop-start circular melody & just the sweetest vocals. There's no pretension here, its just a simple & sweet song about being completely & utterly in love. Its one of the prettiest songs they've ever done, up there with The Magic Hour for sheer, unabashed loveliness - its just adorable! :)
Next track The Give Up Gene starts gently with a curious melody then subtle & measured vocals kick in. It rumbles along in the same manner for the whole song & keeps threatening to burst forth but manages to stay reined in for the whole song.
Fire Up the Google Beast Algorithm is as completely bonkers as the title suggests - a two & a bit minute blast of jagged guitars & rushed spoken word vocals that sound like the most bizarre but brilliant stream of consciousness - "Hypnotise the door so it closes itself everytime I fly through it on a carpet of neon" - how can you stare at a blank screen & come up with something as off the wall & brilliant as that?
The album closes with One Thing About Waves that starts slowly & gradually builds itself layer on layer into a swirling, blasting crescendo before echoing away into gentleness. A terrific way to end the album.
I was surprised when they unleashed this album as they usually take a little while between albums & I admired their reasoning for releasing this album which was "why just sit on a bunch of songs for three years when we could release another album?" I'm so glad they made the decision to release this as its up there with their best albums, second only, for me to In a Bar, Under the Sea. Comfortably my album of the year & these wonderful, quirky Belgians have added another stunning album to their catalogue - check it out! :)
Stars make a welcome return to my albums of the year list at #2 with their lovely album, The North. Previous album Five Ghosts was good, but just lacked that certain something. This album has that certain something & more & sees the band back at their very best. Once again, the vocal duties are shared between the honeyed & lovely voices of Amy Millan & Torq Campbell & there is so much to love here! Opening track The Theory Of Relativity is a fantastic electroclash that comes across like a cousin of The Naked & Famous' mighty Young Blood, A Song Is a Weapon is one of their very best songs with a gently explosive chorus, Lights Changing Colour is all soft focus & 80's sounding & there are some beautiful patented Stars melancholia moments too - the title track & The 400 especially. I'm always a sucker for lovely boy/girl vocal bands & Stars are among the very best at this! Great to have them back!
& talking of lovely boy/girl vocal bands, my favourite new band of last year Of Monsters And Men blast in at #3 with their adorable album My Head Is An Animal. Hailing from Reykjavik, Iceland, they appeared seemingly from nowhere with their insanely catchy indie pop single Little Talks, which was one of my favourite songs of last year - its just glorious! They make an intoxicating brand of indie folk & the songs here tend to fall into two categories - the insanely catchy pop songs - Dirty Paws, Of King & Lionheart Mountain Sound & the aforementioned Little Talks & slower, more folksy songs - Sloom, Lakehouse & Yellow Light, for example. They both have such cute voices & they complement each other perfectly. This album is a little box of musical treasure & I'd advise digging it up & diving in as soon as possible - a wonderful album from a lovely new band!
Band of Horses are another band making a welcome return to my annual Top 10, at #4 with Mirage Rock. Every time they release an album, it makes it into my year end chart & this fourth album continues the trend easily. Again, the songs tend to fall into two categories - the faster rocking anthems - the delirious Knock Knock, Feud & Electric Music especially & their trademark heartbreakingly lovely slower tracks where Ben Bridwell's angelic voice truly comes into its own - Heartbreak On The 101, Slow Cruel Hands Of Time, Shut-In Tourist & Long Vows are all among the best & loveliest songs they've recorded to date & the last two especially are right up there with still their most beautiful moment of all Detlef Schrempf from the Cease To Begin album. A great album from a consistently great band!
A band making their first appearance in my annual chart are fun. & their intoxicatingly catchy album Some Nights at #5. The seeds of this albums success were sown from the moment the world heard We Are Young. Curiously skittering verses give way to the mother of all singalong choruses - this song couldn't have failed to be a huge hit & it was deservedly massive everywhere & making No.1 in the UK. The rest of the album follows in a similarly catchy vein - the title track, for a start is basically We Are Young part two. There are plenty of vocoder treated vocals on here, but the sheer joie de vivre of the band & the music allows them to get away with it. The album is sprinkled with killer choruses everywhere you look - Carry On continues the blueprint of We Are Young as does All Alright & even the slightly clunky One Foot succeeds where lesser bands might stumble. A glorious breath of fresh air of an album!
For a long time, it seemed as though we would never hear from The xx again & we would be left with their debut album as a beautiful memorial to their music. Happily they went back to the studio & gave us the beautiful Coexist, that finds itself at #6 in my year end chart. The debut album was startlingly beautiful & this second album sticks to the concept of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". Nothing has really changed musically - just a few more musical textures thrown into the mix, such as the lovely soft steel drum effects on Reunion. Angels is simply beautiful with Romy intoning about the simple beauty of being in love. That track is a a red herring, as the rest of the album returns to the formula of detachment, heartbreak & loss that they do so well. The xx make it a trio of boy/girl vocal bands in my year end chart & although they are still a young band, you do wonder how we managed before they came along. A beautiful album & a welcome return!
A lot of the attention of Bat For Lashes new album The Haunted Man - at #7 in my year end chart - came from the striking cover art of a naked & make-up-less Natasha Khan with a man draped over her shoulders. This stripped back & vulnerable looking Khan of the album cover also applies to the music - a lot of the mystical lyrics have been replaced with heart on sleeve soul-baring. Centrepiece of the album is Laura - just a piano, subtle brass & Khan's voice sounding more beautiful than it has ever sounded - its a showstopping, heartstoppingly gorgeous song - the best song here & surely the most beautiful song she's recorded to date. Elsewhere, Oh Yeah comes across more strident with its jerky quasi-dancefloor musical textures & aching sensuality, Lillies is a startling opening track - defiant, yet fragile growing into an atmospheric statement of intent & when the music falls away & she sings "Thank God I'm alive", her voice soars, the goosebumps start a journey up your spine & the song swells once more to a glorious crescendo. All Your Gold is underpinned by a curious,clunky rhythm & slowly rises & falls with Khan's voice. She has always had a beautiful voice & it has truly never sounded more beautiful & affecting than on this lovely exorcising album!
Sometimes an album comes along that is just a total "Where the hell did this come from?" moment & just such an album is Tame Impala's Lonerism that finds itself at #8. I was shockingly late in discovering this album, but I bowed to the universal critical acclaim this album garnered & dived in. its a stunning album full of woozy psychedelic textures & lovely vocals. Its also a perfect album for headphones as the sounds here swirl from one ear to the other - none more so than the breathtaking Mind Mischief. Music To Walk Home By is another glorious standout as is the stunning & pounding Elephant, but this album is best listened to as a whole rather than singling out individual songs as everything here coalesces into a mind-numblingly stunning soundscape. Nothing else sounded anything like this album this year...a mind altering & magical album!
Shiny new band Oberhofer make my Top 10 at #9 with Time Capsules II. Deep & soulful vocals & killer harmonising are the order of the day here. Standout track is undoubtedly Haus, with its lovely repeated refrain "I wanna build a house with you....so we can be alone" - its disarmingly lovely & is blessed with a deceptively simple & pretty, twinkling melody. Landline is furiously catchy & OoOo, has the simplest of all choruses - basically the harmonised title repeated over & over. These wordless vocals are a common trait throughout the album & they help bind the album into a glorious whole & give the band a sound that even after just one album, sounds like theirs & theirs alone. A great discovery & a brilliant new band to have on the block!
Rounding off my Top 10 of 2012 are yet another new band & another album that I came to very late, after bowing to the pressure of the praise heaped upon them. Alt-J's album An Awesome Wave sneaks in at #10. This was another album that sounded like nothing else released in 2012 & deservedly won them the coveted Mercury Music Prize for the best British album of the year. The voice is a curious, unusual & distinctive thing & musically it sounds completely off the wall & fresh. The songs sound disjointed but paradoxically they hang together perfectly. Tesselate, the sinister Breezeblocks & the plain off the wall Matilda are the best tracks to start with here - that last track is, to my mind, the only song ever written inspired by the movie Leon - with its repeated line "This is from Matilda" - the last words Jean Reno utters to Gary Oldman's evil cop character before they are blown sky high. This is an album that takes a little work to get into, but when the album clicks, its a great moment. Truly fresh & innovative from a band to watch for the future!
Just to give some scope to the task to narrow this to a Top 10, there were also albums this year from Amy MacDonald, Band Of Skulls, Ben Gibbard, Bloc Party, Dry The River, Feeder, The Fray, Garbage, Graham Coxon, Guillemots, Jack White, Jake Bugg, Jason Mraz, John Mayer, Keane, The Killers, Lana Del Rey, Lostprophets, The Lumineers, The Maccabees, Magnetic Fields, Maximo Park, Metric, The Mountain Goats, Mumford & Sons, Muse, Nada Surf, Passion Pit, Paul Weller, Pet Shop Boys, The Script, The Shins, Sigur Ros, Smashing Pumpkins, Soulsavers, Soundgarden, Temper Trap, Train, Two Door Cinema Club, The Vaccines, Violins & The Walkmen - a stunning roll call of albums!!!
As always, THANK YOU for reading - hope you liked & here's to 2013 & another year of musical delights - happy listening to you all!!!