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Monday, December 31, 2012 

Best music of 2012 part 2 / 15 best albums.

Honourable mentions in no order:
ASC - Out of Sync
ASC and Sam KDC - Decayed Society
Seven - Evolution
Bloc Party - Four
Tame Impala - Lonerism
Hot Chip - In Our Heads
Corin Tucker Band - Kill My Blues
Swans - The Seer
Oneman - Fabriclive 64
Ben Klock - Fabric 66
Menomena - Moms
Divorce - Divorce
Burial - Kindred - Truant / Rough Sleeper
J:Kenzo - J:Kenzo
Decemberists - We All Raise Our Voices to the Air
Daphni - Jiaolong
Lone - Galaxy Garden
DIIV - Oshin
Dum Dum Girls - End of Daze EP
(and probably some others I've forgotten)

15. Rinse:20 - Mixed by Uncle Dugs

At the very end of last year, Ministry of Sound put out a "Jungle Classics" double CD. Alongside all the tunes you'd expect, it also included, err, Masochist by Pendulum and DJ Fresh's recent remix of Katy B. For those looking for a true introduction into jungle before it fully morphed into drum and bass, you can't go far wrong with Uncle Dugs' mix for the Rinse series. Yes, there's the ever presents on the tracklist, such as Valley of the Shadows and Pulp Fiction, but you also get the Criminal Minds' Baptised by Dub, X-Project's Walking in the Air and two Conquering Lion tunes. As you'd also expect from Rinse, the mixing is impeccable, something that can never be said of MoS's computer.

14. Bat for Lashes - The Haunted Man

Three years on from Two Suns, and Natasha Khan is back with another album of ethereal beauty of the kind Florence Welch wishes she could emulate. The cover art itself is something to behold, and I'm still undecided as to whether it's brilliant or terrible. It is nonetheless like nothing else this year, and Khan shows the pretenders how it's done. The piano ballad Laura would in the hands of almost anyone else be insincere and overwrought, yet Khan injects a subtlety lost on those whose first resort is stridency. Lillies and All Your Gold are also superb, and as with her past albums, this is another record that only gets better the more you listen.

 13. Shackleton - Music for the Quiet Hour

After last year's collaboration with Pinch, Shackleton returned this year to his experimental output with Music for the Quiet Hour, an album that takes time to decipher. The bass, as always, is there, but so too are electronic pulses and noise more associated with the likes of Throbbing Gristle and Coil. It's avant-garde without being unlistenable, and still indebted to where he began at the outer reaches of the dubstep scene. Along with the Drawbar Organ EPs, Shackleton has established himself as one of the foremost pioneers in a scene where many are content with repetition.

12. Holy Other - Held

The BBC's review of Held wonderfully sums it up as containing "bass ballads for clubs where everyone sits around wearing headphones luxuriating in their own private misery". Seeing as that sounds like a great improvement on the vast majority of clubs to me, it's no wonder that I found Held to be a joy. The instant reference point is Burial, it's true, such are the emotions that Holy Other latches onto and tries to trigger, yet Held never approaches derivative or manipulative. It's mournful without being even slightly depressing, and a terrifically rewarding listen.

11. Dusk and Blackdown - Dasaflex

As summations of a scene go, Dasaflex will be difficult to beat. Having becoming disillusioned with the path dubstep seemed to be taking, Martin 'Blackdown' Clark has focused on finding and producing music that's almost funky, could be grime and is close to dubstep, but isn't truly of any of those genres. Whatever you decide to call it, the 130bpm bass music on this album is of the same quality as that showcased on their monthly Rinse show, with the same amount of variety and virtuosity as you would expect there.

10. LHF - Keepers of the Light

One of those albums that seems to have slipped between the cracks, Keepers of the Light has been criminally overlooked by almost everyone. Yes, it is a double album, something that many seem to regard as extravagant in an age where the album itself is in decline, but in this instance it's more than justified. LHF are a collective in the same vein as Digital Mystikz, producing separately while releasing under the same name. The bind that holds them together is dubstep, but it's a dubstep that realises it's just a small part of the hardcore continuum, with a pirate radio aesthetic as the overarching theme. With the length allowing them to fully explore all their influences, it's one of the treats of the year.

9. The XX - Coexist

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Many have claimed that Coexist is essentially a rehash of the XX's debut, but it's more than that. Anyone should to be able to hear the new sounds Jamie XX has brought to the fray, especially as one track has a melody broadly similar to his release on the Numbers label. While perhaps lacking the same intimacy that made their first album so essential, Coexist was still easily one of the best releases of the year.

8. Cooly G - Playin' Me

There's no getting away from Playin' Me's centrepiece: yes, that really is a cover of Coldplay's Trouble scattered amongst the post-dubstep and UK bass overtures. More staggering still is that Cooly G manages to make one of Coldplay's more dismal dirges flicker with life. It's not quite up there with James Blake's reimagining of Limit to Your Love, but then almost nothing is. It's a shame that Playin' Me hasn't achieved the level of cross-over success as Blake did, as there is much else here to commend and which deserved more attention, especially from the Mercury judges.

7. Lee Gamble - Diversions 1994 - 1996

Constructed entirely from tape recordings of jungle sets on pirate radio in the mid 90s, Diversions must rank up there as one of the most spectacular achievements of the year, if only because just once does a breakbeat enter the fray. There aren't just reference points here for those who were there at the time, although they'll doubtless draw much from identifying some of the elements that make up the 27 minutes worth of immersive ambient-not ambient sounds, as Boomkat puts it, it's that something this remarkable could have been put together using the parts the layman often takes for granted, the intros and breakdowns.

6. Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan

With Dirty Projectors it's possible to get lost in all the high concepts: that they previously performed a Black Flag album entirely from memory, have composed operas and much else. All that's really important is that they continue to turn out superb albums, and Swing Lo Magellan is most definitely that. The influences are manifold, whether they be classic R&B groups, classical composers or err, the Beatles. If anything, at times it reminds of the Beach Boys around the time of Pet Sounds, the harmonising of Dave Longstreth, Amber Coffman and Haley Dekle coming together so expertly that the comparison isn't as far-fetched as it sounds.

5. Jam City - Classical Curves

With so much of the craft of the DJ and producer being about producing singular, killer tracks and choosing the right moment to play them, putting together an album is an alien concept to many and all too often it shows. Classical Curves is a wonderful example of the opposite being the case: it works as a cohesive whole just as much as the individual tracks do on the dancefloor. The synth line of How We Relate to the Body is magical, and when the low end comes in it just gets better. The grime / house hybrid The Courts is just as good, while Strawberries's horn gets under the skin immediately.

4. Andy Stott - Luxury Problems

If there's one thing to take from the seemingly unstoppable rise of EDM and the instant availability of music, it's that albums like this are gaining attention they never would have previously. Luxury Problems is that most unlikely thing: ostensibly a dub techno album married to the vocals of a classically trained singer, it's somehow crossed over to head into many overall top 10s. That it deserves all the accolades and more is undeniable: Alison Skidmore's vocals meld wondrously with her former piano pupil Stott's production, while Up the Box has one of the best and most unexpected pay-offs of the year.

3. Actress - R.I.P.

With 2010's Splazh, Darren Cunningham somewhat kept his powder dry. It was undoubtedly a great album, yet there still seemed as though he was holding back. With R.I.P. he completely lets rip, although it stills takes until 5 tracks in and Uriel's Black Harp for the record to really start motoring. The distortion underneath the melody hints at what's coming, and it's a promise fulfilled by Shadow from Tartarus and The Lord's Grafitti. Cunningham said in an interview that he wanted to make "cool, classical stuff for a modern generation", and that's exactly what he's achieved.

2. Mala - Mala in Cuba

Thanks to the image most people now have of dubstep, the pairing of traditional Cuban sounds with the syncopation of 140bpm beats couldn't on the surface seem more incongruous. That dubstep even now can encompass Burial and the Skrillex followers at opposite ends of the spectrum with the jazz influenced Silkie and Quest in the middle says something about how a genre that didn't exist a decade ago has exploded, and also explains why it now seems to be in its death throes. Invited by Gilles Peterson to visit Havana with the intention of perhaps producing something from the music recorded during the trip, Mala almost didn't finish his first true album, suffering from writer's block half-way through. Thanks to help from Simbad, Mala completed the job and thank goodness he did. While some were disappointed with the end result, this is an album that reveals itself properly over time: as immediate as Calle F and Curfew are, it's the likes of Como Como and Revolution that make it what it is. As a melding of two seemingly entirely separate cultures, it's as near perfect as possible.

1. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!

By their standards, GY!BE's last album, 2002's Yanqui U.X.O. was a disappointment. Something just wasn't quite right with it: whether it was Steve Albini's production, tensions within the group coming to the fore or otherwise, it simply didn't correspond properly with the intensity of the band's live performances of the same material. An "indefinite hiatus" that lasted seven years later, a full decade on GY!BE went back into the studio to record the follow-up. It doesn't matter that the two movements they put to tape have long been a part of those same live shows, when they sound this expansive, this incredible, this emotive, this euphoric they put almost every other band in existence to shame. We just have to hope we don't have another ten year wait to contend with.

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Good list (as usual), especially the No. 1 choice. Big fan of Swing Lo Magellan too.

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