We hereby begin the very belated countdown of Song, by Toad’s favourite albums of 2012. As I alluded to before, family issues prevented me publishing this in my usual slot between Christmas and New Year, so the end of January will have to do.
Actually, if I were to try and spin this I think I’d make a play for the moral high ground by pointing out how ludicrous it is to publish a Best Of list in early fucking November, and that therefore my list must be far superior because I have sensibly waited until the year was well and truly over, and I have had the chance to digest everything properly before making my decisions. That would sound very righteous wouldn’t it.
It would also be wrong. I am late as usual because I am a fucking useless muppet, and that’s really all there is to it. So, without further buggering about, here are some of the albums I have enjoyed the most over the last year or so (there are a lot of embeds, so to avoid slowing the whole page down I will start the list after the jump):
11. Randolph’s Leap – Curse of the Haunted Headphones
This is one of those moments I assume bands hate: where some dick with a keyboard tells them what kind of band they are. So apologise in advance, but for all I assume the band would strenuously disagree, I think I genuinely prefer scratchy, shitty, hissy Randolph’s Leap to their proper, fully fleshed-out incarnation.
There’s something charming, slightly belligerent and never less than one hundred percent engaging about Adam Ross’s lyrics, and I can’t help but feel that their bruised-yet-defiant charm is best accompanied by this sort of stuttering-yet-defiant recording style. It ain’t going to make them famous, but this dodgy home recording is probably the best I have heard the band sound.
12. Younghoon Beats – Mazes Tape
This album seems to drift between two spaces – from verging on coffee table chillout music or the sort which the early-2000s fad more or less killed off, to a brilliantly off-kilter sense of glitchy experimentalism. It’s like it lures you into thinking that it really is just pleasant, before veering off at an inexplicable tangent and revealing itself to be something different altogether.
Once you’ve listened to it a few times through this see-saw from challenge to respite becomes one of the albums most attractive qualities. You never know whether you’re in the middle of Sunday afternoon or staggering around at 4 o’clock on Saturday morning.
13. Rayvon Browne – Companion
Apparently Rayvon Browne played Edinburgh shortly before I first heard of them, and then split up shortly after I first realised they were brilliant. It seems to be one of those unfortunate cases of timing so bad it seems almost deliberate, and it’s a real shame, but at least they left us with this.
Companion is a subtly enigmatic record, with discordant, almost inept-sounding moments interspersed in amongst some of the loveliest music you’ll hear. A little like the Younghoon Beats album above they seem to tease you into thinking that you’re listening to something pleasant and insubstantial, and then change gear and delivery a jarring change of direction or a double-take-worthy lyric or something else weird that reminds you that these people might not quite be right in the head, but in very much the best way possible.
14. Woodpecker Wooliams – The Bird School of Being Human
This is another album which you can listen to on a superficial level and, whilst it’s hardly easy listening, the discomfort is given another layer or six when you actually sit down and listen to the lyrics. We recorded a Toad Session with Gemma when she came up to play a gig for us in Edinburgh last year, and her giggly, cheerful demeanour was utterly at odds with some of the subject matter of this album.
Musically it’s a bit contradictory too, with pretty passages of plucked harp rudely slapped around by harsh and grating electronics and distorted circuit bending. That clash is at its best on pop classic Sparrow and the horrific and wonderful Crow. But the rest of the album ain’t bad either.
15. Sea Pinks – Freak Waves
There’s really not too much to say about this, I suppose. It’s easy music – too easy, in fact. It’s entirely possible to listen to this relaxed, lush, old-fashioned album of guitar pop and let it drift past you like some insubstantial cloud of warmth and somnabulance.
Initially a Girls Names side-project, I think it’s fair to say that the Sea Pinks have now surpassed their more famous sibling, but it’s taken a while. I bought their previous album on cassette and played it constantly in the Toad Van before it slowly dawned on me how many perfectly judged pop hits were shuffling politely around on this unassuming little album.
Freak Waves is the same; listen to it once, even twice, five, maybe ten times and it might come across as just a pleasant album of sunny but undistinguished pop tunes. Eventually though it sinks in, and suddenly from this insubstantial mist of gentle charm a new favourite album emerges.
16. Old Earth – A Low Place at the Old Place
Sometimes as a blogger who perhaps pays a little less attention to the internet chatterati than most, you find yourself with a record in front of you which you love, yet when you glance around the post-apocalytpic wastelands of the modern internet you find you are standing out there on your own and feeling somewhat exposed.
Well, not entirely on your own. Because when I wrote about this awesome piece of downbeat dark folk at least one person was listening, and that person was Euan from Mini50 Records in Edinburgh, who has subsequently agreed to release the next Old Earth album. So as long as two of us get it and I am confident I am not just on my own, that’ll do. Because this really is good.
17. The Yawns – The Yawns
I have written rather recently about how much I like this album. A little like the Sea Pinks, it is deceptively easy to listen to, with a nicely rolling pace and a casually confident sense of itself.
Listen a little closer, however, and you’ll find an album full of genuinely tight pop songs and song after song with hummable riffs, seductive boy-girl vocal interplay and a really nice guitar sound. In other words, it’s not uprooting your sense of pop music exactly, it’s just well executed performances of well written songs with bags of charm.
18. Cold Pumas – Persistent Malaise
The repetitive thrum of this album is eventually its undoing, and by the end of the second side I think things could have done with a bit of shaking up somewhere along the line.
Nevertheless, up until that point there is some really good stuff here. It seems to alternate between hook-heavy riffs and rhythmic hypnosis, and the result is another fine example of what I suppose you could best call 2012 hipster guitar music. That’s not a criticism either, I like hipster guitar music.
19. Islet – Illuminated People
I had expectations of this album, it turns out, but I had no idea until Islet signally failed to meet any of them. It happens to me more than I care to mention, so I guess I am pretty shit at guessing where bands are heading, but Islet have so confidently stuck two fingers up to pigeonholing with this album that I can’t help but be delighted by it.
The flit from tongue-in-cheek prog to Animal Collective-style left-field electronic pop to gentle acoustic quirkiness and at no point does any one new song sound like a shocking swerve away from the direction of the previous one. Odd, perverse, and excellent.
20. Sauna Youth – Dreamlands
Quite how this album ends up having an opening side which is all one single thrumming, snarling, overblown opus of a song, and a second side of short, sharp two-minute piece of breezily accessible pop punk and yet avoid it sounding like two different sides of a record by two different bands I have no idea, but it does.
I’ve no idea how they’ve done it, but the transition from the ten-minute Town Called Distraction to a side of pop tunes is seamless. Almost as if you establish your relationship on side one, and then the band reassure you that the hard part is over, and that you’re going to get along just fine from now on. And you know what, they’re right.