We've revealed out favourite album of 2012, Bobby Womack's 'The Bravest Man In The Universe', now stay tuned across the week as we run down the rest of our Top 40 Albums of 2012 today covering numbers 40 to 31 with appearances by Willis Earl Beal, The Shins, Yeasayer, Breton, Julia Holter, The Vaccines, Marconi Union, Jake Bugg, DZ Deathrays and Actress.
40. Willis Earl Beal ‘Acoustmatic Sorcery’ (XL)
Willis Earl Beal is a Chicago-born man. An ex-soldier, and a troubled individual. From the gutter to the stage, his story transcends ‘overnight sensation’. And it all started on the ninety-ninth floor of Sears Tower: “I used to work there. I patrolled it at night. I was looking out the window at the distant torches. Looking at Lake Michigan; how dark it was, how vast it was, how small the city was. I thought, “I would really like to leap off from here”, but I couldn’t get out of the window. What’s the next best thing to leaping off into oblivion? Moving somewhere you don’t know anyone. I saw a film about New Mexico, so I decided to go there. I was supposed to see Sin City, but the line was too long.”
The move didn’t benefit him. Unemployment led to alcoholism, then heartbreak and homelessness. He began performing on the streets, whilst distributing hand-drawn flyers in public areas. Not for his music, but for his own lonely sanity; “I was about to flip my shit,” he jokes. His story inspired thousands after a flyer appeared on the cover of New York’s Found Magazine, along with his phone number and the message “I want friends and stuff”. Rumours suggest Mos Def called on four separate occasions.
‘Acousmatic Sorcery’ is a collection of DIY tracks taken from hundreds recorded during a four-year period. They can drastically sway from the delicately poetic to the viciously abrasive, indicative of the experiences that fuelled them. The recording is basic. His singing is withdrawn. His musicianship is shaky. Yet, there are flashes of a phenomenal tortured genius here, that are destined to manifest further. His lyrics bleed such imagery, it makes listening feel like reading. A recent EP surfaced, containing polished re-recordings of his rough originals, with stunning new vocals. This is where to begin your journey.
BEST BIT: ‘Evening’s Kiss’ is one of the most beautiful and poetic songs your ears will ever suck on.
39. THE SHINS ‘Port Of Morrow’ (Columbia)
James Mercer and co. returned after an agonizingly long five years to deliver melody and heartbreak in a way only The Shins can. ‘Simple Song’ matched previous efforts in cult single status while the production and lyrics on ‘No Way Down’ tantalizes the ears no end. A much welcome return.
BEST BIT: The title track’s wonky and infectious instrumentation. Like a marvellously stoned Radiohead.
38. YEASAYER ‘Fragrant World’ (MUTE)
The third Yeasayer album is more immediate and accessible than their previous record, ‘Odd Blood’, but no less full of surprises. Tracks take mid-song swerves in direction, and the band’s eclectic mixture of influences - from indie and electronica to contemporary R&B - is on full display.
BEST BIT: The spiraling synth at the start of ‘Henrietta’ before it goes all ambient.
37. BRETON ‘Other People’s Problems’ (FATCAT)
Surfing a wave of indie dance pop often found draining through the UK’s clogged gutters, Breton made a real stab at innovating musically to the backdrop of a society in political and social flux. Whether their cries will carry meaningfully to the next faux-revolution is of no matter. They sound five times better than Kasabian and their synth lines stay with you for days.
BEST BIT: ‘Edward the Confessor’ will make you invade the dance floor faster than you can say “Norman Conquest”.
36. JULIA HOLTER ‘Ekstasis’ (RVNG Intl.)
Written concurrently with last year's ‘Tragedy’, ‘Ekstasis’ is grounded in motif and formal pop structure. Unlike Laurie Andersson to whom Holter is compared, ‘Ekstasis’ extends her tenderness beyond voice, as even the most pizzicato of notes are porcelain. This is a masterclass in contemporary songwriting, of luscious sounds, and of capturing the heart.
BEST BIT: The sculpture of lullaby, techno, white noise, and glowing synth.
35. THE VACCINES ‘Come Of Age’ (COLUMBIA)
Probably the biggest surprise of the year. Not that they got to Number One, but because it was an improvement on their debut and they didn’t have to add synths or go commercial to connect to people. Through simplicity and sticking to their guns, The Vaccines produced a sublime and guilt-free pop punk winner.
BEST BIT: ‘Aftershave Ocean’: a schizophrenic tune that switches from lullaby to demonic without sounding remotely mental.
34. MARCONI UNION ‘Different Colours’ (JUST MUSIC)
Different Colours is the antithesis of mainstream music in 2012. It’s inventive rather than formulaic, it’s considered rather than brash, and it improves with repeat listens rather than revealing all its charms upfront. It’s also anything but dull, and its melodies wind around jazz-influenced beats until you’re powerless to resist.
BEST BIT: The gentle, purring percussion in ‘Flying (In Crimson Skies)’ is unearthly beautiful.
33. JAKE BUGG ‘Jake Bugg’ (MERCURY)
Precocious talent can often be unappealing, but in eighteen-year-old Jake Bugg, whose songs are realistic, gritty and downright irresistable - like the bastard offspring of Alex Turner and Donovan - we have a young British singer-songwriter to be proud of. His debut, like him, is short, to the point, and bound for great things.
BEST BIT: The fact the line “skin up a fat one” in ‘Two Fingers’ doesn’t sound cheesy or conceited.
32. DZ DEATHRAYS ‘Bloodstreams’ (HASSLE)
The only band to have business cards...that say “professional face-melters” (literally). Well, it is what they do best. They managed to conquer those doubts that suggested they could only throw up Jager and immature house party thrash through tracks like ‘Dumb Down’ and ‘Dollar Chills’, and have now provided an exciting and unpredictable future for themselves.
BEST BIT: ‘Bloodstreams’ traps your balls in a vice, and you don’t have to be hedonistic to enjoy it.
31. ACTRESS ‘R.I.P.’ (HONEST JONS)
Darren Cunningham’s suffocating descent back into his personal bass inferno left little ground untorched. Yet there are breaks in his nitrous clouds of claustrophobia as found on ‘Jardin’’s plucked strings and a warm burst on the acid slithered ‘Tree Of Knowledge’. ‘R.I.P.’ is undefinable, almost ungraspable yet compulsive listening of the most compressed and paranoid nature.
BEST BIT: The toxic ozone fizz that streams off Actress’ percussion on ‘Marble Plexus’.