Top 20 Albums of 2012 (20-16)

20. Bloc Party – Four

The very fact that Bloc Party’s latest record has the spectacularly unoriginal name of “Four” pretty much sums up the themes on offer here. This is an absolute mess of a record, with distinctly odd stylistic choices abound, which not so much as straddle the line of cynical music making but petulantly stomp on it. Manic in its execution, there are some true moments of superb, bitter, indie rock to enjoy here, alongside some of the most turgid and shockingly wonky songwriting that Kele has ever put his name to. Everything is compounded by the budget production, which makes many of the songs sound remarkably like they were recorded by a poverty stricken Bloc Party circa pre-major label signing. Complete with demo-style studio chat outtakes and other frankly odd sonic ticks, the record company would have you believe that this all results in an authentic “return to their roots” but it’s a not wholly convincing move. On “Kettling” missing in action is the lyricist who once made well-observed and (operative word here) subtle depictions of multicultural Britain (see the majestic “Where is Home?”), in his place is apparently now an angry, Occupy loving, Sixth Form poet, or rather, in actuality, a grown man pretending to be sixteen again. This may all sound a bit negative but the fact that anyone at all has mulled over the record’s (admittedly numerous) flaws is a testament to the flashes of genius and pure potential on show on many of the tracks here; “3×3” is what Biffy Clyro used to sound like, “Team A” is chock full of hooks, and “We Are Not Good People” is arguably one of the best rock songs in Bloc Party’s cannon. Not so much a step backwards but a boozy roadtrip sideways, here’s to “Five”!

19. Purity Ring – Shrines

Purity Ring hail from Montreal and like their Canadian cousins Crystal Castles capitalise on the minimal electro/hip hop lite production sound, regularly dubbed as part of the “Witch House” scene. Whilst in lesser hands this sort of pretentious sounding, hipster-naval gazing, would fall dangerously flat, on their successful debut here, Purity Ring have managed to craft something that is both musically flowing and strangely affecting. In fact if there’s a best way of experiencing “Shrines,” it’s through attempting to sleep to it. The fused beats and singer Megan James’ gently delivered lyrics about dreamy fantasy worlds and benign spirits are almost guaranteed to guide you off to a swift slumber. Standout singles “Belispeak” and “Lofticries” signify an afterlife in the wee hours at “cool” houseparties in Dalston.

18. Jonny Greenwood – The Master Soundtrack

Jonny Greenwood, Radiohead’s unsung hero, once again proved his worth this year (not that he really needs to mind), with this utterly brilliant soundtrack to Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master.” Managing to both capture sonically the era the film inhabits through its great song choices (e.g. “Get Thee Behind Me Satan” by Ella Fitzgerald and “No Other Love” by Jo Stafford) but also to, crucially, subvert what your very expectations of what a film soundtrack can do, through its series of intricate instrumental songs that continually wrongfoot you with clever twists and turns. Beautifully recorded and mixed at Abbey Road, this is the first of two highly impressive soundtrack albums in this list that feature the very best of British talent.

17. Silversun Pickups – Neck of the Woods

Silversun Pickups are a hard band to dislike; coming across as a shameful mix of Placebo, Garbage and The Smashing Pumpkins, there’s an inherent familiarity to their sound which makes this record highly palatable. With such lofty comparisons though, it’s easy to see why many have overlooked “Neck of the Woods” this year, perhaps dismissing it as being a touch unoriginal. To be fair, it’s partly their own fault, with cliché-centric sounding song titles such as “Mean Spirits” and “Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)”, but if you are prepared to look beyond the surface you will find a highly consistent, confident and ultimately satisfying album here. One that partly fills a void that widens by the year for exciting alternative rock bands. Sure it might not quite be “Gish” but its great fun nonetheless!

16. Crystal Castles – (III)

What can anyone really say about Crystal Castles? Forever lauded as being “unwitting” musical geniuses, their records to date have been everything but consistent, and whilst they are undoubtedly an engaging presence on stage, there has always been the chilly air of cynical calculation hovering somewhere in the periphery. “(III)” is a very tricky record to disassemble, and perhaps my own inability to really explain what the attraction is to such a challenging listen, is why it features here. There are moments aplenty of unremitting hopelessness (most notably on the pseudo-trance of “Sad Eyes” and the rather excellent “Pale Flesh”), alongside advert friendly background tracks (“Affection”) and noisy experimental-music that has been apparently plucked from bargain basement hell (“Insulin”). Yet somehow the whole thing hangs together, perhaps as some sort of soundtrack to a terrible, never-ending, drug-fuelled night out, or maybe a polemic to redemption. The reality is that there is something worryingly real and voyeuristic about listening to “(III)”. Despite hoping that it might all be a jokey piss-take at the music press’ expense, I have deep suspicions that “(III)” is in actuality the rather private sound of two people trapped in their own misery. The fact that it is not too hard to imagine them there, desperately moping about in a drugged-out haze, tearing each other apart in a tiny room for months in isolation, is perhaps the most disturbing and questionable thing about this record. Let’s hope Crystal Castles take some accountability for themselves as adults and get some help (instead of bragging in the NME about how fucked up they are). I for one would love to hear a cleaned up Alice Glass sing with her disarmingly beautiful voice for an entire record.

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