12.09.12

12 records that, if we ruled the world, would be up for 2012’s Mercury Music Prize

Here’s a list of albums which we believe to have been the best British albums of the last 12 or so months. The criteria for inclusion is simple – like the Mercury Prize shortlist, announced simultaneously, the 12 are by people who hold British passports, released between August 2011 and September 2012. Our intention is not to catch the judging panel out but simply salute 12 incredible albums, so there is some crossover. In fact, it’s welcomed.

When selecting albums by country of origin, a certain patriotism can seep in, especially when you are citizen of such an extraordinarily musically creative country as the UK. But these 12 records are beyond national, whether composed by ex-pats in Berlin, like ‘Severant’ or ‘Black is Beautiful’, or Paris, like ‘Kindness’, or symbolic of the substance of multicultural life, like ‘Rispah’ or ‘Classical Curves’. Such is the story of modern Britain, written, forever, on our records.

  1. ‘Black Is Beautiful’ – Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland [Hyperdub]
    Hype Williams still sound as lo-fi and psychedelic as ever in their latest output as Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland. It achieves a gentle, dreamlike, mesmerising effect with their casually arranged chords that are sprinkled over loops of samples. Despite the abundance of sonic layers, a softness and a sense of sadness prevail. Their homegrown sound is raw, occasionally unsettling and confusing, but often, they are delicate and sublime. It is a kind of overwhelming emotional intimacy that enables it to strike and move deeply. [KKYC]
  2. ‘Classical Curves’ – Jam City [Night Slugs]
    ‘Classical Curve’ is an album that flawlessly exhibits the sharpness, intelligence, and playfulness of Jam City’s production. Driving through different rhythms, immersing in the dense spheres of syrupy chords and delayed percussion, and touching the territories of grime, techno, funk and more, it is an absorbing and enjoyable ride so compulsively replayable on each listen it unearths something new. [KKYC]
  3. ‘Devotion’ – Jessie Ware [PMR/Island]
    Coco Chanel said that elegance was refusal, but that was a long time ago and in France and Jessie Ware has found a language of pop based on open-hearted songs, sung with with timeless elegance and everyday drama. Blessed by production from Dave Okumu and Julio Bashmore, Jessie, our Jessie, is this generation’s brightest British star, and ‘Devotion’ is a wonderful statement of pop’s ability to write the emotions of the heart. [CRJ]
  4. ‘Galaxy Garden’ – Lone [R&S]
    Lone’s work on ‘Galaxy Garden’ is nomination-worthy for it’s sheer inventive scope alone; pulling such richness of feeling from a purposefully limited sound palette, it nostalgically evokes 90s rave, jungle and the highly stylised work of Hudson Mohawke et al whilst sounding playful and thoroughly modern, rather than laboured by the past. Wonderful stuff. [LM]
  5. ‘Glass Swords’ – Rustie [Warp]
    Rustie’s debut full-length was one of the most fully-formed, original, colourful and gorgeous full-lengths to appear in years. Everything, from the unity of its sound to its artwork and track titles, created a unique world for itself far beyond conventional genre descriptors that was a joy to be a part of. [SB]
  6. ‘Never’ – Micachu + The Shapes [Rough Trade]
    The second album from Mica Levi and her Shapes is even more grimy, gritty and perfectionist than her first, and though it’s shorter on singalongs, it’s more personal, grindingly anxious and altogether more accomplished album. Standing at right-angles to anything or anyone else working in music at the moment, yet creatively joined to everyone from the London Philharmonic to Kwes, ‘Never’ marks Mica out as one of British pop’s most vital outsiders. [CRJ]
  7. ‘RIP’ – Actress [Honest John’s]
    Out of the darkness, a sizzling electronic wind blows out over a vortex of melodic composition, followed by a sophisticated beat pattern, looping over that compelling wind. A minute and a half in, you enter deep into Darren Cunningham’s dark and distinctive scape of sound, a place where both unease and affection cross path, forming a sense of tension that mounts through the whole album’s ever-drifting structure, melting into the sounds, seeping through your head, and finally ending before you even notice. It is a formula so effective it sets it apart from any genre, offering an unconscious yet propelling atmosphere that creeps through your mind, making it more of a state of mind instead of simply an ordinary listening experience. It genuinely is an exciting and powerful piece of art. [KKYC]
  8. ‘Rispah’ – The Invisible [Ninja Tune]
    The Invisible’s album begins and ends with funeral chants, and was bookended by tragedy. The sad African voices singing were mourners for Dave Okumu’s mother, whose name the album bears, who passed away during the recording; and just before its release, Okumu suffered a near-fatal, life-changing accident in Nigeria. The album at the centre of this trauma is a sonic triumph, and a highly personal testament to music’s ability to sketch sadness with the simplest of sounds. [CRJ]
  9. ‘Severant’ – Kuedo [Planet Mu]
    On ‘Severant’, former Vex’d man Jamie Teasdale took the cinematic new age synths that Vangelis and Tangerine Dream specialised in and applied them to trap rap and Chicago footwork drum patterns. There is a very interesting debate about cultural appropriation about this record, one that is perhaps a bit too dizzying to explore in this space. What is unarguable is that ‘Severant’ did something with these tropes that nobody else had to create something truly special. [SB]
  10. ‘Verse Of Birds’ – Richard Skelton [Corbel Stone Press]
    It wouldn’t be a Mercury Prize list – even a speculative one – without a modern classical mention, but this year, few composers would be as deserving of wider acclaim as Richard Skelton, the Yorkshire composer and poet. After completing his cycle of albums about the West Pennies, ‘Landings’, Richard continued his explorations of memory, place and history with ‘Verse Of Birds’, a stunning set of compositions for cello and voice. [CRJ]
  11. ‘With U’ – Holy Other [Tri Angle]
    Tri Angle Records continue their journey to explore the most intriguing and imaginative underground sound with their output from late 2011, ‘With U’, offered by Manchester’s Holy Other. There is an important emotional hook on the record, looking into the relationship between the weird sense of foreboding coldness and the overloaded heart-crushing hopelessness, all perfectly manipulated by restrained electronic cries and suggestive, forlorn vocal snippets. It is a puzzling assortment of music that investigates and enables the rupture of emotions in the most beautifully subtle way. [KKYC]
  12. ‘World, You Need A Change Of Mind’ – Kindness [Female Energy]
    Whether its the slack funk of Gee Up, the retro-futurist go-go of ‘It’s Alright’, a hazy cover of The Replacements’ Swinging Party or the lush vocals on Cyan, Kindness’ debut is full of songs that sound timeless and classic. Some moments don’t work – and not just the oft-mentioned cover of the Eastenders theme tune – but it’s an undeniably strong labour of love. [SB]