Pere Ubu : Lady From Shanghai

Track artwork

35 years after the release of their debut album The Modern Dance, Pere Ubu are seen as one of the most important bands in the timeline of experimental rock music; the group that provided the missing link between the Velvet Underground and punk and directly inspired artists as diverse as Joy Division, Henry Rollins, the Pixies and R.E.M. with their chaotic, groove-based “avant garage”. Impressively, the group are still making music as fascinating as “30 Seconds Over Tokyo” and “Final Solution”: under the watchful eye of David Thomas (the frontman who – like the Fall’s Mark E. Smith – remains the only constant in an ever-changing line-up), they are set to release one of the first notable LPs of 2013, Lady From Shanghai (out January 7 via Fire Records), a collection of swampy dub, spindly post-punk guitar riffage, squalling electronics and nervous rhythms that they describe as “the Ubu Dance Party”. You can see where they’re coming from… sort of: whilst Thomas chanting “You can go to hell/ Go to hell” to the tune of Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell” is perhaps not the most effective enticement to get up and get down, songs like “Free White” (below) would certainly sit well next to contemporary oddballs like Liars on the playlist at the Death Disco.

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Pulp : After You

Reunited Britpop heroes Pulp presented their fans with a pretty special Christmas gift this year: those that attended their recent homecoming show in Sheffield were given a card with a link (that was activated at midnight on Christmas Eve) to download a new song, “After You”, which you can hear below. Written around the time of their last studio album (2001’s We Love Life) , the track previously existed only in demo form until the band recorded this new version this past November; as if this wasn’t exciting enough news already, the song was produced by former LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy (whose Shut Up And Play The Hits DVD took up the best part of my Boxing Day), and whilst there is no word yet on whether the reunion will yield any more new material, the way the DFA disco grooves gel perfectly with Cocker and co.’s dark, deviant pop make a full-length Murphy-assisted Pulp comeback album a mouth-watering prospect.

Albums of 2012 : The Top 12

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100-26   25-13

12. How To Dress Well Total Loss


On his second full-length, Tom Krell stripped back the layers of grey noise and reverb that shrouded his debut Love Remains and uncovered a crystalline voice as pure and soulful as Frank Ocean or Miguel, making the similarly stoned- (stunned-?) sounding Weeknd come across like a poor relation.

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11. Andy Stott Luxury Problems

Luxury Problems
Having already given electronic music a fresh coat of black paint with his two 2011 LPs (We Stay Together and Passed Me By), Mancunian producer Stott added light and shade by incorporating vocals and a wider variety of dancefloor-indebted rhythms into his industrial dub techno. Those vocals came courtesy of Alison Skidmore, who taught the teenage Stott piano; one would imagine she’s very proud.

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10. The Walkmen Heaven

Heaven
For LP number five the Walkmen shifted down a gear and cruised smoothly into a new phase of their career. Gone were the windswept guitars and whirlwind drums of punked-up early singles like “The Rat”, replaced with lyrics about family and hints of country and folk in the breezy arrangements. Those comparisons to Dylan and the Band finally made explicit, Heaven was as close to a classic rock album as we got in 2012.

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09. Grizzly Bear Shields

Shields
Although they have long been heralded as “the new Radiohead”, on their fourth album Grizzly Bear often bore a more obvious resemblance to Thom Yorke’s one time contemporary Jeff Buckley, particularly on opener “Sleeping Ute”. Add a touch of Van Morrison-style cosmic jazz-folk and Bowie-esque coke-rock to their ornate (and occasionally bombastic) chamber pop for the quartet’s strongest offering yet.

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08. John Talabot Fin

Fin
Spanish producer Talabot followed up a string of hyped singles with a debut collection tailor-made, for the most part, for that awkward moment when you’re too wasted to keep dancing but still too high to hit the chill-out lounge. Some accused Talabot of dumbing down his sound for the mainstream, but there’s nothing stupid about this record; finely detailed and packed with subtle twists, Fin was this year’s most immersive clubland transmission.

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07. Grimes Visions

Visions
Claire Boucher loves making music as much as she loves listening to it; anyone who saw her bouncing around behind her keyboard at her live shows or read her Twitter – where she often posts into the early hours about songs she’s just heard (or written) – knows it, and that genuine boundless enthusiasm is obvious all over her brilliant breakthrough album Visions. Weaving influences as diverse as Aphex Twin, K-pop (pre-“Gangnam Style”), Cocteau Twins and Mariah Carey into lo-fi electro-pop symphonies, Boucher had crossover potential in spades; that a song like “Oblivion” didn’t chart the world over is unfathomable.

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06. Japandroids Celebration Rock

Celebration Rock
Vancouver duo Brian King and David Prowse can lay claim to the title of 2012’s most improved band. Whilst their debut album, Post Nothing, was a scrappy affair that sounded like a pair of friends yet to master their instruments, its follow-up was an accomplished affair, full of fist-pumping blue-collar rock in the Springsteen/ Replacements mould and heavy on legitimate red-blooded anthems. Kudos, too, for refusing to give in to “second album syndrome” – whining about the pressures and problems caused by constant touring -preferring instead to celebrate the upsides (parties, girls etc) of being rock stars.

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05. El-P Cancer 4 Cure

Cancer 4 Cure [Explicit]

M.C. and producer Jaime Meline enjoyed one hell of a renaissance in 2012: first he took his influential ’90s crew Company Flow on a hugely successful reunion tour, then in the space of a fortnight dropped two of the best hip hop albums of the last decade, Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music (which he produced in its entirety) and his first solo long-player in half a decade, Cancer For Cure. Harking back to the bleak post-apocalyptic soundscapes he created for Co. Flow and Cannibal Ox all those years ago, and yet still sounding as futuristic as they did then, C4C brought the brutality back to rap; even in a year when Swans had a new record out, El Producto hit harder than just about anything else.

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04. Dirty Projectors Swing Lo Magellan

Swing Lo Magellan

If Dave Longstreth and his merry band’s reputation as arty intellectuals preceded them, album number five Swing Lo Magellan may have surprised a few people; for whilst it had its share of tricky time signatures and multi-layered arrangements, they were used to convey the group’s most direct and affecting set of songs to date. Centred around themes of discovery (personal and historical), love and longing and the celebration of life itself, Magellan shook off the “conceptual” shackles of previous efforts and allowed Dirty Projectors to do what they do best: fly free, and fly high.

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03. Chromatics Kill For Love

Anyone wondering what was keeping Johnny Jewel so quiet these last few years got their answer in March: hot on the heels of Symmetry’s Drive-inspired Themes For An Imaginary Film (released last Xmas), the long-awaited follow-up to 2007’s Night Drive offered an hour and a half of new music from his Chromatics project, who then went on to release enough bonus material – alternative versions, new songs – to constitute at least another full album. Ironically, Kill For Love‘s sheer size was – for me, at least – its only fault: keener self-editing (especially in regard to the ambient interludes) would likely have resulted in the 10/10 perfect pop album of the year. As it is, too much of a good thing really wasn’t all that bad.

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02. The Men Open Your Heart

Open Your Heart

For ten of the last twelve months, I was certain this album would be the one occupying the top spot on this list; the Brooklyn band’s third album in as many years was a flab-free set that encompassed pretty much every variant of post-Beatles guitar-based music from the last five decades – rock, pop, country, punk, metal and psychedelia – and made it sound as contemporary and as vital as anything we heard in 2012. With no big background story or USP to fall back on, these guys just plugged in and rocked out, and they did it a whole lot better than anyone else.
http://soundcloud.com/sacredbones/the-men-open-your-heart
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01. Kendrick Lamar Good Kid M.A.A.D. City

good kid, m.A.A.d city [Explicit]

Unlike many, I didn’t fall in love with Kendrick Lamar’s major label debut right away: on first listen I was impressed, sure, but also a little confused and seriously overwhelmed. It’s no wonder this sprawling, massively ambitious record was subtitled A Short Film By Kendrick Lamar; over beats crafted by Pharrell, Hit-Boi, Just Blaze and Drake’s producer Noah “40” Shebib, the 25 year-old recounted (true?) tales of his formative years in Compton with the excessive, visionary flair of a movie maker like Scorsese or Tarantino. Repeat exposure, however, brought all the outstanding individual elements – Lamar’s brilliant wordplay, his voice and mannerisms, his persona (a unique blend of wannabe gangsta, gentleman playa and amiable nerd), the alternately elegant and banging production – together to stunning effect. Quite possibly the most out-there commercial hit rap album (it went gold in the States within two months) ever, GKMC actually feels like an important cultural event; more importantly, it sounds like a work of genius.

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Albums of 2012 : Part 2

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100 – 26

25. Here We Go Magic A Different Ship

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24. Fiona Apple The Idler Wheel…

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23. Jessie Ware Devotion

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22. Kindness World, You Need A Change Of Mind

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21. Killer Mike R.A.P. Music

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20. Jam City Classical Curves

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19. Converge All We Love We Leave Behind

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18. Swans The Seer

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17. Pallbearer Sorrow And Extinction

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16. Titus Andronicus Local Business

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15. Tame Impala Lonerism

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14. Jens Lekman I Know What Love Isn’t

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13. Frank Ocean Channel ORANGE

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12 – 1 coming up tomorrow…

Albums of 2012 : Part 1

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About 2/3 of the way through every year message boards all over the internet get clogged up with “fans” bemoaning a supposed lack of decent new music; and every year around this time it proves all but impossible to narrow the list of worthy contenders for the title of “best album” down to anything approaching a manageable number. So, once again – despite originally intending to run a nice, neat “top 50” – I find myself left with a list of 100 long-players that I feel well and truly deserve to be highlighted (as well as a whole lot more – Larry Gus, Melody’s Echo ChamberHecker & Lopatin, Ufomammut, X-TG, Divine Fits, James Ferraro, Antibalas, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Spiritualized to name but a few – that it pained me to have to cut), and it certainly says a lot about the standard set by the best of the bunch that records by groups like Neurosis, Four Tet, Hot Chip and Animal Collective have been relegated to the bottom half. Here we go then… click through the hyperlinks to read what I’ve already said about them; any comments are – as always – most welcome.

N.B. You’ll no doubt notice that in several cases where artists have released more than one album in 2012 I have combined them into one entry, which some might call “cheating.” To that I respond: my blog, my rules. And remember, musical taste is subjective; these are my opinions and nothing more.

100. Neurosis Honor Found In Decay
99. Holly Herndon Movement
98. Raime Quarter Turns Over A Living Line
97. Die Antwoord Ten$ion
96. Four Tet Pink
95. Zammuto Zammuto
94. Tanlines Mixed Emotions
93. Hot Chip In Our Heads
92. Blank Realm Go Easy
91. Torche Harmonicraft
90. Ty Segall Twins/ Ty Segall Band Slaughterhouse
89. King Tuff King Tuff
88. Lotus Plaza Spooky Action At A Distance
87. Wild Nothing Nocturne
86. Mac DeMarco Rock & Roll NighclubMac DeMarco 2
85. Animal Collective Centipede Hz
84. Mount Eerie Clear Moon/ Ocean Roar
83. Mutilation Rites Empyrean
82. Black Breath Sentenced To Life
81. Split Cranium Split Cranium
80. Menomena Moms
79. Daughn Gibson All Hell
78. Angel Olsen Half Way Home
77. Sharon Van Etten Tramp
76. Perfume Genius Put Your Back N 2 It
75. Lambchop Mr. M
74. Neneh Cherry & The Thing The Cherry Thing
73. Ricardo Villalobos Dependent & Happy
72. Sun Araw & M. Geddes Gengras Meet The Congos Frkwys Vol.9: Icon Give Thank
71. Peaking Lights Lucifer/ Lucifer In Dub
70. Carter Tutti Void Transverse
69. Laurel Halo Quarantine
68. Daphni Jiaolong
67. Action Bronson & Party Supplies Blue Chips
66. 100s Ice Cold Perm
65. Damien Jurado Maraquopa
64. Beach House Bloom
63. Tops Tender Opposites
62. Dope Body Natural History
61. Trash Talk 119
60. Metz Metz
59. Bat For Lashes The Haunted Man
58. Ultraista Ultraista
57. Julia Holter Ekstasis
56. Actress R.I.P.
55. Traxman Da Mind Of Traxman
54. Roc Marciano Reloaded
53. Nas Life Is Good
52. Future Pluto
51. Miguel Kaleidoscope Dream
50. Flying Lotus Until The Quiet Comes
49. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti Mature Themes
48. Scott Walker Bish Bosch
47. Shackleton Music For The Quiet Hour
46. THEESatisfaction awE naturalE
45. Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland Black Is Beautiful
44. The Eccentronic Research Council 1612 Underture
43. Passion Pit Gossamer
42. Father John Misty Fear Fun
41. The Evens The Odds
40. Cloud Nothings Attack On Memory
39. Thee Oh Sees Putrifiers II
38. Death Grips The Money Store / No Love Deep Web
37. Why? Mumps, Etc
36. Liars WIXIW
35. Purity Ring Shrines
34. The XX Coexist
33. Taken By Trees Other Worlds
32. Niki & The Dove Instinct
31. New Build Yesterday Was Loved And Lost
30. Parquet Courts Light Up Gold
29. Lower Dens Nootropics
28. High On Fire De Vermis Mysteriis
27. Merchandise Children Of Desire
26. DIIV Oshin

Part 2 coming up tomorrow…

Best of 2012 : Tracks, Remixes, EPs, Compilations

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Today we start our look back at the best music of 2012 with the top tracks, remixes, EPs and compilations of the year. Join us tomorrow and for the rest of the week for the best albums.

20/’12: Twenty Tracks
(Note: these tracks are ordered as a “playlist” rather than ranked in any way. Also, you may notice some glaring omissions; this is because – in order to distribute the love as generously as possible – I haven’t included songs that appear on the EPs listed below (e.g. Solange’s “Losing You”, TNGHT’s “Higher Ground” or AlunaGeorge’s “Just A Touch”) or on LPs that will appear on the albums list – no spoilers! – later this week)

Taylor Swift “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”

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Spiritualized “Hey Jane”

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Melt Yourself Down “We Are Enough”

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Mystikal “Hit Me”

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Le1f “Wut”

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Pat Jordache “Steps (Damaged Goods)”

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Kate Boy “Northern Lights”

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Chairlift “I Belong In Your Arms”

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Rustie “After Light” (ft. AlunaGeorge)

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Major Lazer “Get Free” (ft. Amber Coffman)

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Wrongtom Meets Deemas J “Jump + Move + Rock”

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Bobby Womack “Please Forgive My Heart”

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Antwon “Living Every Dream”

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G.O.O.D. Music “Clique”

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Disclosure “Latch” (ft. Sam Smith)

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Bookworms “African Rhythms”

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Legowelt “Elements Of Houz Music”

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Rudi Zygadlo “Melpomene”

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Savages “Husbands”

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Twin Shadow “Five Seconds”

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Remixes:
Tim Burgess “White” (Gabe Gurnsey of Factory Floor Remix)

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Phillip Glass “NYC 73 – 78” (Remixed By Beck)

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Tame Impala “Elephant” (Todd Rundgren Remix)

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Usher “Climax” (Flosstradamus & Diplo Remix)

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Jessie Ware “Night Light” (Joe Goddard Remix)

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EPs:
Solange True

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TNGHT TNGHT

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Burial Kindred

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AlunaGeorge You Know You Like It

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Daniel Rossen Silent Hour/ Golden Mile

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Compilations:
Can The Lost Tapes

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Shangaan Shake
Hemlock Recordings: Chapter One
The Man With The Iron Fists OST
Levon Vincent Fabric 63
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Factory Floor And Peter Gordon : Beachcombing

Not exactly sure how I missed this when it first surfaced back in summer, but one of my favourite bands of the moment, Factory Floor, apparently took a break from recording their debut LP for DFA Records and laid down a couple of tracks with New York avant-garde legend Peter Gordon, whose work with the Love Of Life Orchestra (LOLO) from the 1980s is often cited as an influence by LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy; indeed, Murphy used Gordon’s song “Beginning Of The Heartbreak” to open his Fabric mix a few years ago, and has also reissued some LOLO material via DFA, which does make this initially random-seeming collaboration a little more logical. “Beachcombing” (below) came about as a result of a live hook-up between Gordon and FF back in September as part of the Soundworks festival at London’s ICA, and will see an official release at some point alongside more new collaborative material via Optimo Music, although a date has yet to be confirmed; with their usual jackhammer rhythms abandoned in favour of a more ambient kosmische pulse, Nik Void’s vocals and her bandmates’ squelchy synths and industrial textures collide brilliantly with Gordon’s saxophone, meaning a commercial release can’t come soon enough.

Blank Realm : Go Easy

Track artwork

Brisbane quartet Blank Realm – siblings Daniel, Luke and Sarah Spencer and bandmate Luke Walsh – have been tearing up the Australian underground scene for a few years now, building up a solid reputation through a string of low-key releases on labels like Digitalis and Not Not Fun and gigs supporting Kurt Vile, Wild Flag, Sun Araw and alternative icons Jandek and Damo Suzuki. They’re about to start picking up new fans further afield; in March, Fire Records will reissue their latest album Go Easy, initially released as a limited run vinyl-only LP earlier this year on Siltbreeze, and the record that finds the group finally matching the dark, scabrous post-punk noise and motorik rhythms of old with big, bold melodies and swaggering bombast. It’s a collection that joins the dots between the scrappy art-rock of Royal Trux at their peak and Flaming Lips’ fuzzy psych-pop; listen to the epic “Cleaning Up My Mess” below.

Mystikal : Hit Me

Listening to “Hit Me”, the mind-blowingly brilliant new single from New Orleans rapper Mystikal, I find myself genuinely puzzling over the elephant-in-the-room question that it raises: is it okay to like – no, scratch that: love – a song made by someone who has done really bad things in the past? Without going into the specifics of his misdemeanours (the internet is your friend if you care), is it any more or less acceptable to enjoy the music of someone who has spent more than half of the last decade in jail, and paid – to some degree, at least – for his sins than it is to idolise artists like Frank Sinatra or Jay-Z who had mob connections and sold drugs to kids? If it’s universally agreed that Chris Brown is an utterly worthless, pathetic piece of shit excuse for a human being, is it then right that a guy like James Brown is acknowledged without exception as an icon? It’s actually Brown that most obviously informs “Hit Me” (a KLC-produced cut possibly set to appear on Mystikal’s first post-prison LP, Original, due next year on Cash Money Records): with its live-sounding funk backing – horns, guitars, racing drums – and backing singers chanting an inverted version of one of the Godfather Of Soul’s most famous hooks (“Say it proud/ I’m black and I’m loud”), the track is as tight as it is unhinged, and a last-gasp contender for track of the year. And it’s truly thought-provoking, which in terms of contemporary pop music really does place it in a class of its own.