THE FULCRUM ASKED a couple of our contributors to look back and tell us what they thought the top five albums of 2012 were. Here’s what they came up with.
Brennan Bova | Fulcrum Staff
1. Bobby Womack — The Bravest Man in the Universe (XL)
This album is Bobby Womack’s first release in 12 years, and unlike the work of many artists making a return to the industry, this was worth the wait. Womack’s voice has aged spectacularly in that it has barely aged at all. His vocals still deliver the same soul they delivered 40 years ago, and coupled with the more modern instrumentals of the album, it brings something fresh while still staying true to the sound you’d expect from one of the kings of soul. The backing beats are unusual and reminiscent of hip-hop, but due to great production and stellar performances by Womack, it all comes together perfectly.
2. Damon Albarn — Dr. Dee (Parlophone)
Dr. Dee is actually the soundtrack to an opera of the same name that was scored by Damon Albarn (of Gorillaz and Blur fame) and based off a graphic novel written by the highly acclaimed Allan Moore. The opera tells the story of Dr. John Dee, medical and science advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. While the source material may sound rather dry, the album itself is anything but. There are many excellent tracks featuring vocals from the opera as well as contributions from Albarn himself. For anyone that wanted more Gorillaz music, Dr. Dee—while a bit weirder than other material by Albarn—is worth a listen.
3, Die Antwoord — Ten$Ion (Zef Recordz)
Ten$Ion is the second studio album from South African rap group Die Antwoord. The trio has managed to gain something of a cult following thanks to songs like “Enter the Ninja” and “Zef Side,” but that following is mainly people watching their humorous, parody-filled videos on YouTube. While this is also true of their singles from Ten$Ion (see “Fatty Boom Boom” and “Baby’s on Fire”), what they prove more than anything is that if you can get past their crass videos and outrageous stage personas, they’re really, really good. All three members are genuinely talented, and they’ve more than proved it.
4. The Darkness — Hot Cakes (Wind-Up)
The Darkness sort of fell into obscurity a few years ago after having just one really big hit. Their singer went into rehab, and the band broke up. When they announced they were reuniting and making a new album, I was really worried. Would they still be able to glam it up? It didn’t really seem likely. But when I listened to Hot Cakes, I was incredibly surprised. Each track is flashy and well written, showing that they haven’t gone dull while they were away. Even the sort-of-weird Radiohead cover “Street Spirit” is good. If you like glam rock and Radiohead, they go together surprisingly well. I never thought I’d say this, but I genuinely look forward to more of this band in the future.
5. Evening Hymns — Spectral Dusk (Shuffling Feet)
Spectral Dusk is the third album from Jonas Bonnetta, the brain behind Evening Hymns. Written following the death of his father, the entire album appears to be a sort of eulogy for his departed dad. Each song is beautiful, and knowing the story behind all of them only adds to it. It’s obviously a very personal album, but it’s not difficult to listen and understand what he had to go through to make it—I almost cried many manly tears. Though it has a very sombre tone—seriously, don’t listen to this if you’re in a great mood—it’s a wonderful album and a wonderful tribute.
Blur — Parklive (EMI)
LP — Into the Wild: Live at Eastwest Studios (Warner Bros.)
Dana Simpson | Fulcrum Staff
1. The Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra — Follow My Lead, Lead Me to Follow (Self-released)
What happens when fiddles, accordions, and delicate guitar picking are combined with smooth, poetic vocals and a classic folk rhythm? (No, this is not a riddle.) The result is one of the best albums of 2012, plain and simple. The Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra’s second studio album Follow My Lead, Lead Me to Follow is a breath of fresh air in a year dominated by pop anthems such as “Call Me Maybe” and acts like the Biebs. With a sound that is as culturally well-rounded as Canada itself, these B.C. natives pay homage to the coastal folk genre that has echoed across our nation since the landing of the pioneers. Pairing traditional instrumentation with a clean recorded sound, TMO keeps one foot set in the style of the European buskers while the other remains deeply rooted in Canadian soil. Follow My Lead, Lead Me to Follow is a truly unique sonic experience and certainly one of 2012’s musical highlights.
2. Grizzly Bear — Shields (Warp)
Since their debut album in 2004, Brooklyn-based band Grizzly Bear has dabbled in musical styles ranging from folk to experimental, all while gaining recognition in the world of independent music. Shields, the band’s fourth studio album in eight years, is a gem among their work. Grizzly Bear stays true to their indie-folk roots as the album puts forth a full, intricate, acoustic sound that often calls to mind the twangy music scores of old spaghetti westerns. The smooth vocals and raw acoustic rhythms create an eerie, dissonant quality that is edgier than anything Grizzly Bear has ever released. Fans of Cold War Kids, Phoenix, Daniele Luppi, Jack White, and the Rome album by Danger Mouse should definitely take a listen to Shields.
3. Passion Pit — Gossamer (Columbia)
Known for their 2009 synth-pop debut album A Chunk of Change and, perhaps more specifically, for the song “Sleepyhead,” Passion Pit came out with a new album last year entitled Gossamer. Passion Pit offers a more refined palate for those who enjoy the music of Owl City and may entice the auditory senses of those who follow Phoenix, Angels and Airwaves, and Delphic. Gossamer is slightly more mature than their debut album and focuses more on the rhythm and lyrics of songs than on the capabilities of the synthesizer. After three years, Passion Pit’s music has become more soulful. Let us hope that this progression continues.
4. Ellie Goulding — Halcyon (Polydor)
Ellie Goulding has become somewhat of a pop icon in the music industry. Though some songs on her album cater to the younger, mainstream demographic—“Atlantis” and “Anything Can Happen,” for example—the majority of the tracks on Halcyon prove to be soulful and delicate. Her dulcet voice is often contrasted with heavy, basic drumming and dark lyrical undertones that make her an artist with an air of intrigue. For those who enjoy the sounds of Duffy, Florence and the Machine, and Marina and the Diamonds, Ellie Goulding is certainly an act to consider adding to the playlist.
5. Silvergun & Spleen — Semi Truck (Maple Music)
Displaying a flair for rockabilly fashion while exuding a deep sense of confidence and quirkiness to boot, it is hard to believe that Semi Truck is Silvergun & Spleen’s debut studio album. This quartet from right here in Ottawa has a lot to offer the music scene in the way of upbeat, edgy spunk and is no doubt one of the most charismatic acts of 2012. With rich, crisp vocals from front-sisters Marie-Eve and Veronique (Merv and Vern) Mallet and a unified sound on behalf of all band members, Semi Truck is an album that Canadian music aficionados should be proud of. However, no matter how great the recording is, it would be a shame to miss out on a live performance by this up-and-coming act. If you are still searching for a resolution for 2013, aim to take in a Silvergun & Spleen show.
Childish Gambino — Royalty (Glassnote)
Dusted — Total Dust (Polyvinyl)
Mumford & Sons — Babel (Island)
Shelter Point — Forever for Now (Hotflush)
Beaumont — Never Love Me (Hotflush)
Untold — A Change In Dynamic Environment (Hemlock)
Shlohmo — Vacation (FoF)
The Album Leaf — Forward/Return (Self-Released)