The best 20 albums of 2012 so far pt.2

Our countdown of this spring's slew of superb new releases.

Three months is but a moment in a lifetime, but as this list attests to, is able to produce a lifetime of music. This spring has been a particularly fertile time for pop, rap and avant-garde electronic music alike so, without further ado, here are the 20 artists, and 20 albums, that both won our hearts and scored these thrilling new days.

  1. Laurel Halo – ‘Quarantine’ [Hyperdub]
    New York producer Laurel Halo’s debut album proper is as abrasive as it is beautiful, as shocking as it is soothing. Having followed up the incisive techno of her ‘Hour Logic’ EP with a built-for-the-dancefloor 12” on Mute offshoot Liberation Technologies, ‘Quarantine’ was a bolt from the blue, in every sense. Here is an album that eschews hypnotic beats for tonal experiments; that skips the reverb to present raw, searching vocals; that with all its brutal honesty dares the listener to turn away but, like all the best art, rewards patient ears with quiet revelations about the endlessly messy state of being alive. ‘Quarantine’ is not only Halo’s finest work to date but also the most remarkable release of the year so far. [RS]
  2. Actress – R.I.P [Honest Jons Records]
    Actress’s third LP is a realisation of life-long obsessions; more progressive than ‘Hazyville’ but more contoured than ‘Splazsh’, this fascinating record doesn’t give itself over to easy explanations but the depth of thought behind it is palpable in every lick, bleep, buzz and stomp. The album broadly follows the story of the Biblical pre-history but a fundamental idea here is certainly blurred dualisms as industrial stompers segue into delicate harp works and retracted melodies play against harsh rhythms to create extraordinary possibilities. The synths simply bleed and textured bases are stretched and sculpted into new and beguiling forms. The simple fact that ‘R.I.P’ can be so huge but sound as distinct as it does is testament to Actress’ superb achievement. [AW]
  3. Jam City – ‘Classical Curves’ [Night Slugs]
    Jack Latham’s album arrived in snatches. Released as 20-second Youtube clips of discordant and pretty, tense yet streamlined sound-design over images of digital opulence; Blackberries on marble and corporate fountains. The full album, when it arrived, sounded harsh, focused and gleaming – club music broken up by swathes of digital wash. Jack spoke of ‘Classical Curves’ as though it were documentary, or sculpture, rather than music, and in a way it is – a perfectly conceived image of our global world in all its digital sublime, something reflecting Dubai’s desert pinnacles and the vast machinations of capitalism in tight, 21st century funk recorded on a simple laptop. Every record on this list could only have been made this year, and deserves applause for this fact, but ‘Classical Curves’ brazenly records this most with the radical edge of the highest modernist. It’s a magnificent achievement, it really is. [CRJ]
  4. The Invisible – ‘Rispah’ [Ninja Tune]
    In the middle of recording this album, Dave Okumu – leader of the Mercury-prize nominated band and powerful sphere in a burgeoning scene – was struck by grief beyond compare. His mother, whose name this extraordinary, powerful album bears, passed away. The spirituals her Kenyan family sang over her body during mourning ripple through the album and Dave went on to call this a “love letter to grief”. The result is a subtle and dignified work, balanced on the edge of reticence and poised and tender enough to rest on moments – a brushed drum here, a guitar note there, are supreme acts of love. [CRJ]
  5. SpaceGhostPurrp – ‘Mysterious Phonk’ [4AD]
    This album is made up of mastered versions from his last few lo-fi free mixtapes and begins a clearing of clouds, a rattling of drums and an impossibly pretty synth line as SpaceGhostPurrp steadily intones “Just a young-ass nigga not giving a fuck / My heart real black, I don’t trust a bitch / I hate this fucking world y’all can suck my dick”. It’s a deep record that suggests rather than documents his bleak view, discussing minimum wage life and Egyptian gods, friendship and conspiracy theories over some of the most extraordinary funk music made in years. Ambitious and nihilistic, kind and bleak, tense and starry-eyed, looking forward while surrounded by culture’s dustbin, SpaceGhostPurrp records his world with staggering lucidity. Rap’s punk moment is the story of the last 18 months, and in the midst of the explosion, SpaceGhostPurrp stands alone, proudly embodying the disparate dichotomies of his culture and generation. [CRJ]
  6. Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland – ‘Black Is Beautiful [Hyperdub]
    Just like oysters need grit to make pearls, the London/Estonian duo previously known as Hype Williams dredge moments of sheer joy from the debris and noise of life. In that, while their sonic output stands apart, they share a kinship with labelmate Laurel Halo. Blunt and Copeland’s music, so often coquettishly irreverent, seeks and provides a kind of salvation through ambiguity. ‘Black Is Beautiful’, the follow up to their 2011 album ‘One Nation’, is an album that stumbles upon startlingly melodic snatches of song amongst the grimy, dub undergrowth the way a drunk chances upon a lucid thought and clings onto it until dawn – and sobriety. It’s a bold, proud album, and endlessly seductive. [RS]
  7. d’Eon – ‘LP’ [Hippos In Tanks]
    A questioning spirit courses through the veins of Montreal producer and keyboard player d’Eon’s new album ‘LP’. At times it’s gentle, at others hurt and angry, but not once does it drop its gaze. Its quarry is the overwhelmingness of our internet lives yet, unlike others who have tackled the same subject with aurally claustrophobic results, d’Eon’s jungle hymns provide a warmth that verges on the spiritual. [RS]
  8. Various – ‘Purple Legacy: A History of Purple [WoW]
    As Gwyn Thomas de Chroustchoff wrote in our Dummy Guide to Purple published earlier this week, purple is the “bombastic, melodic and funk-laden sub-genre that developed out of two of the UK’s youngest and most exciting scenes – grime and dubstep.” This essential compilation pulls together tracks from Bristol originators Joker, Guido, Gemmy, Ginz and more, and is a startlingly exquisite spin through a musical moment that the mainstream and underground alike went on to soak up hungrily. You’d be a fool to overlook this. [RS]
  9. Lone – ‘Galaxy Garden’ [R&S]
    Few other full length releases this year have ignited such enthusiasm in me as ‘Galaxy Garden’. Its playful and allusive re-working of familiar 90s rave motifs weaves a refined sense of pop melody through a bubbling, synaesthetic concoction of acid house and electro that seems to just sparkle round the edges. You know that feeling you get when you’re sitting in the park on a summers day, and the sunshine swells between the clouds and gently melts across your back? That’s how ‘Galaxy Garden’ feels. It just oozes a tactile warmth and sweetness that I can’t help but inwardly smile at. It’s a marvellous piece of work. [LM]
  10. Sun Araw, M Geddes Gengras and The Congos – ‘Icon Give Thank’ [RVNG]
    Sun Araw and M Geddes Gengras are two LA dub devotees whose separate, largely experimental work resonates with the heat of their musical forebears. As part of the label’s FRKWYS collaboration series, New York’s RVNG Intl. flew the two tour buddies to Jamaica to live and work with legendary reggae vocal group The Congos in their lively HQ decorated with colourful murals. The result is an extraordinary album that bridges generations and worlds, and elicits wonderful new harmonies – lush, dense and full of love – from the collaborators’ differing approaches to space and time. [RS]
  11. Mix Mup & Kassem Mosse – ‘MM/KM’ [The Trilogy Tapes]
    Kassem Mosse and Mix Mup are two German producers who make music geographically and spiritually removed from techno’s mecca. Coming from Leipzig, their music exists as to landfill techno’s inverse – fun, affectionate and deep. They are witty rather than self-serious, they put instinct over precision, and reflect back over decades of wonderful music, and contributes in its own small way. [CRJ]
  12. Gucci Mane – ‘I’m Up’ [1017 Bricksquad]
    The second mixtape of the year from Gucci Mane signalled a real return to form for the rapper. Gucci’s subject matter is limited but his ability to spin near-infinite variations on a theme is astounding. No-one can talk about the trap quite like Gucci and his skewed narratives and left-field boasts on the tape are delivered with a ruthless ease that can be at turns funny, menacing or crushingly stark but is always engulfed in a cloudy defiance. His ability is so pure it seems that success wholly depends on whether he’s in the mood or not and ‘I’m Up’ sees Gucci Mane, with help from a set of great producers and some star guests, close to hitting his very best. [AW]
  13. Light Asylum – ‘Light Asylum’ [Mexican Summer]
    New York duo Light Asylum take no prisoners with their long-overdue debut album. Full of passion and grit, it’s nigh-on-impossible not to get swept up in the storm they conjure up. Their music speaks to the limbs, shakes every cell, reminds even the finest whisper of DNA of our innate desire to dance. Light Asylum’s Shannon Funchess and Bruno Coviello clutch their influences – from New Order to Nine Inch Nails – to their heart on this record, and all the better for it. This is synth-pop with teeth that brings hope to these end times. Let’s go down dancing. [RS]
  14. Shackleton – ‘Music for the Quiet Hour / The Drawbar Organ’ EPs [Woe To The Septic Heart!]
    Sam Shackleton’s latest release features a whole lot of organ, spoken word artist Vengeance Tenfold reading a dystopian letter written to a granddaughter in which the author knows he will die before ever meeting, and the music of a madman genius who has finally stepped beyond the dancefloor and is carving his niche amongst the modern avant-garde. Whereas the bass textures remain firmly rooted in dub and its distinctive usage in modern British music, the two releases also call to mind Monolake’s meticulous sonic details, the experimental meanderings of Thomas Brinkmann around the turn of the millennium, and plenty of tonal and phase statements that recall Stockhausen and Reich. Perhaps Shackleton’s constant lyrical themes around borders and futures are partially to blame, but I also recall one of my all-time favourite TV series, MTV’s ‘Aeon Flux’ from the early nineties, and Drew Neumann’s jarring tribal score set against visual and erotic elements I embraced at an alarmingly young age. Whatever the case and comparisons that can be drawn, I love the ornate box set it is housed in that showcases Zeke Clough’s brilliantly unsettling artwork and was (finally after never quite enjoying him live before) blown away by his audio-visual show at MUTEK a few weeks ago. I wouldn’t hesitate to include ‘The Drawbar Organ’, and especially ‘Music For The Quiet Hour’, as among the best releases of 2012 thus far. [ZW]
  15. S U R V I V E – ‘S U R V I V E’ [Mannequin]
    Did you imagine that the next synth supergroup would rise from the heat and dust of Austin, Texas? Did you even think that they’d be a new synth supergroup? Well, accept these two facts very quickly because this is a majestic album and exactly the one you’d hope four guys with four giant stacks of synths would conjure up. ‘S U R V I V E’ sounds like solar systems colliding and resonates with humanity’s onward charge, ever onward, toward eternity. [RS]
  16. Kilo Kish – ‘Homeschool’
    Kilo Kish is a New York design graduate who speak-sing-raps funny stories about romance and life over fresh, impressionistic funk music. Her voice is quite incredible – sometimes drawling, sometimes sharply rhythmic, sometimes all at the front, sometimes barely there, and this free mixtape, mainly produced with delicate brains by Odd Future’s The Internet, is actually one of the prettiest, most interesting things I’ve heard this year. She’s witty, and her music gets that levity is love, and life is light, and the future is odd, and bright. [CRJ]
  17. Future – ‘Pluto’ [Epic]
    Future’s ‘Pluto’ is a remarkable rap mutant. Straddling rap, R&B, pop and dancehall cadences and favouring sparse but rich instrumentals from Atlanta stalwarts like Nard & B, Future has made an album that totally captures a moment. The present is a cross-section Future fills with nods to his Southern rap heritage and interstellar references but it’s all held in his incredible auto-tuned voice – a distinctive croak that is marked with more manic joy, pain and desire than the glossy deliveries often associated with the processing software. Space is the place for Future but it’s grounded in very terrestrial struggles. This is evidenced in stand-out tracks like Permanent Scar and the trio of fantastic ballads produced by fellow rising star Mike Will-Made-It. [AW]
  18. Peaking Lights – ‘Lucifer’ [Weird World]
    Celebrating the couple’s new child in Beautiful Son, who can also be heard blissfully giggling in LO HI, ‘Lucifer’ is an album both affectionate and kind, with notes that dance joyfully along innocent synth scales. Peaking Lights’ third full-length album and follow-up to last year’s breakthrough ‘936’, the breadth of sound within ‘Lucifer’ is vast, from minimal disco to weighty dub. Music and family are represented symbiotically with this record, making it not only a lovely story, but frankly a great listen. [RM]
  19. Lemonade – ‘Diver’ [True Panther]
    The best pop songs are not happy but fuelled by regret and longing. For these are the emotions that bind us, that flicker between strangers on crowded streets. San Francisco trio Lemonade’s new album is one that recalls break-ups, make-ups, missed connections and lost friends. It’s subtle but strong; a record of gently tropical pop that will warmly work its way into your affections if you let it. [RS]
  20. Lorn – ‘Ask The Dust’ [Ninja Tune]
    Milwaukee-born Marcos Ortega aka Ninja Tune’s new recruit Lorn follows 2010’s ‘Nothing Else’ with ‘Ask The Dusk’, affirming his standing as one of 2012’s most prevalent producers. ‘Ask The Dust’ is fore-fronted by rumbling basslines and growling vocals, while jittery restless beats and dark menacing tones shroud emotive chords and melodies in dark, grey vastness. Lorn’s skill lies in his rare ability to create music that is vulnerable yet firm. This album is truly masterfully assembled and proves intense beauty is found in darkness. [RM]

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