N.B. Thanks guys for all the “likes” and views this past week, please let me know what you think about these artists in the comments section!
10. Tokyo Jihen (Shiina Ringo) – Shin’ya Waku
Another year and another chance to sing the praises of one of the most underrated alternative artists in recent years. Shiina Ringo is an incredibly talented singer, songwriter, producer and composer; her work has transformed the possibilities of underground music in her native Japan since her emergence in 1998 and she is regarded as a modern musical legend there, despite having no exposure in the West. This record, whilst not strictly an album (it’s a collection of career-spanning B-sides and rarities) by her band project Tokyo Jihen (Tokyo Incidents), is such a great demonstration of her talent that it simply wipes the floor with most other “new” releases this year. With a full band of handpicked musicians, Ringo was able to reach an even greater range of styles and genre experimentation, whilst also curiously producing some of her most commercial pop/rock moments in her career. There are some great examples of this on Shin’ya Waku; just check out the pop new-wave of “Too Handsome”, the scuzzy punk of “B.B. Queen” or the cabaret crooning of “Dynamite.” Tokyo Jihen sadly disbanded earlier this year (at the height of their critical and commercial success in Japan), so this is great chance to catch-up on what makes them (and Shiina) just so special. It is also worth noting that more songs than usual are sung in English on the record, so it’s doubly accessible for newcomers!
9. Metric – Synthetica
Metric continue to develop both musically and lyrically with this impressively consistent record from the Canadian four-piece. “Synthetica” has few radio-friendly moments (unlike their last album “Fantasies”) but rather instead focuses on being a rewarding collection of songs that deftly blend the personal and socio-political. “Artificial Nocturne” is effective build up, starting off proceedings with a typically provocative opening gambit from singer Emily Haines, “I’m as just fucked up as they say” she declares and proud of it! Perhaps the most interesting thing about the songs here is that they match this sentiment without becoming overwrought or preachy. There’s a mature subtlety that undercuts the murky slogans of “Youth without Youth”, and the title track. In its more introspective moments (such as in “Dreams So Real” and “The Wanderlust”), Haines manages to retain your attention whilst mercifully avoiding what I would term the “Courtney Love trap”, that ever so dangerous prospect of coming across as an intelligent and wealthy woman that revels in being mired in a teenage sulk. Luckily, Synthetica’s fate is to be remembered as a relevant, understated, polemic to a generation preoccupied by a lack of authenticity and prospects.
8. EL-P – Cancer for Cure
EL-P has continued to invigorate and attract attention from an eclectic group of admirers and collaborators both within and without the world of hip-hop. “Cancer for Cure” is a sucker punch of a record from him, full of energetic and witty hooks that mix up the song structure and beats that come down as rapidly as his flow mocks you. EL-P’s trademark propensity for science fiction references works to great effect here, lending the dark subject matter of many of the rhymes a dystopic edge. There are some great moments of angry fury at injustice here on “True Story” and “For My Upstairs Neighbour”, comedic hipster baiting (“Drones over Bklyn”), and personal poignancy (“$ Vic/FTL (Me and You)”). “Cancer for Cure” is the sort of record you wished all hip-hop artists were capable of; intelligent, inventive, unpretentious and deeply human, it brings shame to the big names in the business and so-called innovators (Kayne West are you listening?). Few records this year have as much (or rather ANYTHING) to say.
7. Capsule – STEREO WORXXX
Capsule are the long-term brainchild of super-producer Yasutaka Nakata, an electro-dance duo who give the so-called champions of the genre (Justice, Daft Punk, Soulwax, The Chemical Brothers) more than a run for their money! “STEREO WORXXX” is the latest in a series of more club-themed records that aim to replicate the experience of seeing Capsule live. For older fans (who still remember their initial 60s-style sugary pop singles) this may be an alienating sound, but for everyone else there’s lots to enjoy and party to! Slightly longer and more house-inspired than previous efforts, tracks like “Motor Force” and “All the Way” may require repeated listens to get the most out from them, but the fast hits of “Dee J” and “Feelin’ Alright” more than make up for this. If you haven’t heard of Capsule before, “STEREO WORXXX” is a great place to start.
6. Killing Joke – MMXII
It’s incredible to think that “MMXII” is a record made by a band that’s 34 years old, nothing (and I do mean nothing!) is stuffy or antiquated about the songs on offer here. Frontman and lyricist Jaz Coleman has never sounded more articulate, focussed and downright angry as he does on spectacular warning shots like “Corporate Elect” and “Colony Collapse.” Matching him pound for pound is the original line-up of the band; Paul Ferguson’s unmistakable fiery and intricate drumming keeps things unpredictable and tribal, Youth’s production and bass effects are strikingly modern and Geordie Walker’s superb riffs somehow make everything practically drip with vibrancy. In fact, listening to “MMXII” really gives you the impression that Killing Joke have incredibly upped their game once again (perhaps in response to 2010’s unfocussed “Absolute Dissent”), and it sounds as though every note could be their last. You simply don’t get this fearlessness in any other artist that has been around for a long as they have, and it’s this timeless punk rock aesthetic that I suspect will mean that whatever happens in the future, a “Killing Joke” of some nature will continue on into the next generation. It’s a crying shame that despite huge critical appreciation, few people have been talking up “MMXII”, it really is up there with the band’s very best (“On All Hallow’s Eve” is arguably one of the most moving songs they’ve ever written) and continues to cement Killing Joke as true national treasures. On an interesting side-note, one of the year’s most surreal music stories was related to the band earlier in the summer, when Jaz “disappeared” for several weeks, only to resurface in the Western Sahara desert! With a new record and career-spanning singles collection planned for 2013, don’t be the last to get back into this amazing band.