5. Crocodiles – Endless Flowers
Crocodiles are a fascinating group from San Diego, and are just like another personal californian favourite, The Icarus Line. If its a genuine rock and roll band for the noughties you’re after, these guys are the real deal! Notoriously hap-hazard live, Crocodiles may loose and gain members with the changing directions of the wind but at their beating core they have an essence of vitality and passion that completely outstrips other acts. “Endless Flowers” is in a way the band making good on their initial promises. For anyone who’s seen them live over the past few years or had their interest piqued by their previous album “Sleep Forever”, the songs on this record sound like a triumph. Crocodiles have evolved their rough and ready sound into something more powerful, pristinely clear and thoroughly enjoyable. There are some outstanding tracks on “Endless Flowers”; “My Surfing Lucifer” is an incredible pop rock singalong with a switchblade lyric about tragic surfer Bunker Spreckles, “Sunday” is a sure fire hit single from a deeply uncommercial band, and “Bubblegum Trash” is a polemic to the perpetual Californian lifestyle. There’s a huge amount to party to and hopefully an indicator of great things to come (well, if they can just get their shit together for the next tour!).
4. Mars Volta – Noctourniquet
It was a longer than usual wait for this latest effort from the incomparable Mars Volta. Whilst still not quite reaching the dizzying career-high of “The Bedlam in Goliath”, “Noctourniquet” is a mighty fine record on its own terms, featuring the awe-inspiring array of instrumentation, superb lyrics and the outstanding singing we’ve come to expect from them. There are plenty of highlights; opener “The Whip Hand” with it’s shattering chorus, trip hop inspired “Lapochka” and the climatic “Zed and Two Naughts”. Sadly, the length of time waiting for this record was apparently down to a major argument between bandmates Cedric and Omar (perhaps complicated by Cedric’s recent alignment with a controversial religious group), with little promotion and only a truncated tour following its release. Both members are now working on side-projects (Omar Rodriguez-Lopez has perhaps predictably released three albums this year, “Octopus Kool Aid” is well worth a listen!), bringing the future of The Mars Volta into doubt. If “Noctourniquet” does end up being their last record, at the very least it will stand as a testament to a band who chose to use intelligence and ambition, instead of cheap genre tricks and gimmicks. Unmissable.
3. Melody’s Echo Chamber – Melody’s Echo Chamber
Melody Prochet’s debut is indescribably beautiful and gave me one of those instant connections with a record which every music lover knows and dreams of. Stunning sweeping shoegaze guitars, and 60s Parisian pop sounds, carry the all-consuming atmosphere of lost elegiac summer evenings and bittersweet autumnal afternoons. Prochet’s glorious voice cuts through the haze and hovers in a place somewhere out of reach, seducing you to another dimension. Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker is the man behind the music, his incredible production stands up to scrutiny and marks him out as a great new talent. Disappointingly, “Melody’s Echo Chamber” has been seemingly overshadowed in the music press by Parker’s “Lonerism” record. The similarities between these two albums are glaringly obvious but personally, I think Prochet’s voice massively elevates Parker’s sound from a poor-man’s My Bloody Valentine rip-off to something fresh and emotionally entrancing. Tame Impala have a very generic singer in Parker and all the plaudits, whilst deserved for “Lonerism’s” technical achievements, smack of hype and a strange tinge of sexism when compared to the muted response this album has received.
2. Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror
When Sleigh Bells first exploded onto the music scene in 2009, I (along with many others) was enraptured by their freshness, their “worn on their sleeves” pop sensibilities and their effortless style. After a series of impressive singles, debut “Treats” felt like a truly generational record; Sleigh Bells had managed to create a totally new sound, successfully fusing hip hop production, NY hardcore guitar riffs, and Riot Girrrl vocals to devastating effect. “Treats” was so fun in fact, that it led to the criticisms of “all style, no substance.” Not so, “Reign of Terror”, almost made as if in response to their perceived flaws, Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller have created a piece of work that fires on all cylinders. Miller’s production has developed further and the band’s signature sound has been expanded and made richer. Krauss is now much more confident in her vocal range, with the chemistry between the pair impressively enlivening their live shows. But above all else the lyrics that hide just inches below the excitable sheen are impeccable. Rarely has a band who’s been so hyped, and sold as being so hip and in vogue, revealed themselves to be as strikingly intelligent. “Reign of Terror”, unlike its predecessor, has something to say, and not all of its messages will go down smoothly with the affluent commercial audience that it occasional courts (“Comeback Kid”). In a lot of ways it’s a concept album about the desperation and tragedy of growing up in a dead-end town (see “End of The Line”). Krauss acts as the clairvoyant for Miller’s heartfelt tales of friendship (“Crush”) and gnawing sadness (“Leader of the Pack”), that evidently go hand in hand with his guilt of having escaped his home whilst his friends and family languish behind (“You Lost Me”). On first hand, Sleigh Bells may appear to be your typical Dazed and Confused/Vice Magazine fashion band but “Reign of Terror” betrays the real truth, this is a deeply genuine and personal record by an incredible pair of musicians and one that cries out for recognition.
1. Shiro Sagisu – Evangelion 3.0 Soundtrack
Experiencing the television and film series “Neon Genesis Evangelion” belongs to a group of very select and deeply personal cultural events that have shaped my creative life. It stands up there with the likes of listening to “The Holy Bible” by the Manic Street Preachers for the first time, reading “Nineteen Eighty Four” by George Orwell, watching “The X Files” and “The Prisoner”, and viewing “Blow Up” and “Made In USA” by Michelangelo Antonioni and Jean Luc Godard. This record, three years in the making, is the latest development in Shiro Sagisu’s 17 years of soundtrack work for the franchise (it’s for the third, out of four, planned feature film retellings of the original series). Evangelion 3.0 features the input of over 200 musicians, London’s Studio Orchestra, a full choir and four recording studios dotted around the world (including Abbey Road). Continually evolving; Sagisu’s unique mixture of traditional orchestra, jazz, spanish and electric guitars, choir, synth and electro/dubstep beats, is simultaneously challenging, familiar and endearing. Without such musical genius for its backdrop, I suspect that Evangelion would have had far less of its now infamous emotional impact that has enabled it to so successfully transcend its medium. “Evangelion 3.0” is a prime example of this, an incredible concept record, that balances the series’ motifs (“Bataille d’Espace”) and classical references (“From Beethoven 9”), but manages to strike out in its own brand new direction (“Out of the Dark”, “The Anthem”). Dark, tragic, thrilling and tempered with glimmers of hope, it feels as though Sagisu has finally achieved his goal, in composing a genuinely convincing contender for a “modern classic” Opera for the 21st Century. More so than any other record this year, “Evangelion 3.0” manages to be fearless in its ambition, unfettered by any commercial goals, or striving to play to any audience other than its own creators, this is a rare work of pure artistic expression (and one that can be listened to completely apart from the subject material).
Most disappointing album of the year:
Muse – The Second Law
Biggest missed opportunity of 2012:
Garbage – Not Your Kind of People
Most pointless band reunion of 2012:
The Stone Roses
Best gig of 2012:
The Kills and Jack White at Alexandre Palace
Most Underrated album of the year:
Blood Red Shoes – In Time To Voices
Most exciting records to look forward to in 2013:
*New* My Bloody Valentine, Rilo Kiley, Boom Boom Satellites, Portishead, Killing Joke, Queens of the Stone Age, Nine Inch Nails and How to Destroy Angels