2012 Album of the Year, Part Three: 5 to 1

Today I wrap up the final post on my Albums of the Year, confirming the five best long-players of the year.

As with yesterday's post, the headings link to album reviews where they exist, and there is a Spotify player and an affiliate link to the MP3 on where possible.

Once again, don't forget there is a Spotify playlist including songs from almost every album on the top ten and the long-list, together with songs from some of the best single and EP releases this year. You can check out the playlist here.

5. Kill For Love - Chromatics

2012 felt like it would belong to Chromatics entirely at one point, up until Frank Ocean came along, but it goes without saying that it was the band's biggest year to date.

Kill For Love's gothic tones, all black lace and poison, may be the first thing listeners noticed upon the opening bars of Neil Young cover 'Into The Black'. It is the dalliance with futurism that made this album so essential however - a haunted reflection of a future we can only hope to avoid, and the perfect soundtrack to late night driving.

Get it on Amazon.

4. Channel ORANGE - Frank Ocean

I was never as taken with Frank Ocean's Nostalgia, Ultra as everyone else and as a result it was some time before I gave Channel ORANGE the room it takes to worm its way into your head. Unusually for a popular R&B star the appeal of Ocean's music isn't instantly all that obvious - the joints are well seasoned but the production work isn't as quick to deliver as that of either the Neptunes or Timbaland in their heyday.

The real reason Channel ORANGE is a classic album is because of the depth of Frank's mind it portrays. Whether it is the spellbound, unrequited and insistent 'Thinkin Bout You' or the paranoid and jealous slow-epic 'Pyramids', it was the words Ocean used that really made this album appeal. So rare is it to hear such attention to detail and sophistication on a record so commercially successful.

Get it on Amazon.

3. Lonerism - Tame Impala

On which Kevin Parker takes every element of his début Tame Impala release Innerspeaker and builds on them in every way. Lonerism was a psychedelic trip through its creator's mind with a soundtrack obviously influenced by the past but created in a way that is only possible right now.

No other album had as much incredibly dense and startlingly beautiful production work this year. At it's best, as on 'Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could', Lonerism sounds like we're all just dreams inside Parker's head.

Get it on Amazon.

2. Fin - John Talabot

This year the top two positions on my list were more heavily contested than during any other year. John Talabot created an electronic album that seemed to re-imagined what the format could do. Much more for the hardcore than anything from the likes of Cut Copy or Hot Chip and yet it retained a similar sense of immediacy. 

Crucially Talabot made an album that appears to be universally loved, doing something for almost everyone. Fin feels like a sign-post for the future - the raw, bluesy vocal refrain from 'When The Past Was Present' represents 2012's conflicted nature perfectly - encouragingly futuristic and yet overwhelmed with uncertainty.

Get it on Amazon.

1.  The Haunted Man - Bat For Lashes

Before The Haunted Man Natasha Khan already made fascinating pop music. By focusing on a specific theme - moving on from ghosts of the past - Bat For Lashes achieved so much more with much less.

The Haunted Man may not exactly be a straight-forward pop album, but everything from the restrained artwork to the immaculately handled production screamed that this was an album Khan had poured everything in to, determined to create a living, breathing record (in the original sense) of herself.

And it works, consistently and excellently, across the entire 52-minute duration. Every track creates a surprising moment, and yet the whole is both accessible and consistently themed - an album soundtracking the end of Khan's emotional winter, complete with snowy soundscapes.

The shadow of Kate Bush is impossible to ignore but Khan uses that inspiration to create an album of incredibly well-defined songs that are all unmistakably her own, and much more interesting than those of her contemporaries.

As with any great album there are too many brilliant tracks to call-out, but it would be difficult to avoid mentioning the naked-yet-elegantly-wasted 'Laura', a poignant tribute to the trappings of fame. The Haunted Man's greatest moment however is the title track, complete with its all-male choir, aerial synth line and rumbling bass. This may be a pop album, but it's unlike any other you will have heard all year.

Get it on Amazon.

And that's it. Thanks for staying with the site this year and please feel free to comment, call out what I've missed or what your favourites are. Normal service will be resumed next week!

Album Review: Kill For Love - Chromatics

Image source: The Mahogany BlogUnlike seemingly everyone else I have not have seen the Ryan Gosling movie Drive yet. Time and a lack-of-opportunity have seemingly kept it at bay. I have spent quite a bit of time the thinking about the eighties influenced soundtrack though, even contributing a few tracks to a mammoth Drive-inspired Spotify playlist made by a friend.

Trying to replicate the soundtrack for a movie you haven't seen seems like a bizarre concept, but I was seduced by the soft, melancholic electronic new wave and post-punk the movie (apparently) contains.

Two tracks featuring the production work Chromatic's Johnny Jewel featured on Drive - one with fellow Chromatic Nat Walker as their side project Desire and one Chromatics track, 'Tick of the Clock'. There were rumours that another side-project from Jewel and Walker, the appropriately named Symmetry - Themes for an Imaginary Film, was originally to be the main soundtrack for the movie. Whilst the rumours have been denied one thing is clear - the dark, eighties post-punk influenced Italo sound of Jewel is what people take away from that movie and the idea of driving at night crops up frequently in their music, titles and artwork as much as it features there.

The Chromatics have cultivated something of a micro-scene since their rebirth from punk band to soft electronic dream-makers and Kill For Love is the ultimate product of their effort. It is long at 92-minutes across 17 songs and much like Symmetry and fellow eighties influenced electronic producer M83's latest double-album, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, this feels like a soundtrack for a movie that doesn't quite exist.

But the length is justified - this is an album that shifts through ballads, mood pieces and the dark frisson of guitar heavy melancholy. The result is such that the music swings from beautiful to dark to heartbreaking and back, but the combinations and phases of this album feel as much like a cohesive story as many movies manage.

Starting with the inky black piano ballad of 'Into the Black', a cover of Neil Young's 'Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)' is a master stroke. Singer Ruth Radelet's vocals form a tribute to musical heroes set against a repeated bass line that sounds like pure Joy Division, the result sounding like Fleetwood Mac covering Neil Young with Hooky on bass.

The heavily auto-tuned vocals of 'These Streets Will Never Look the Same' almost distract from the tense strut of the guitar work but they totally justify their place later on 'Running from the Sun', another piano lead track slowly collapses under it's own emotional gravity, effortlessly showing up The Weeknd in the process.

Things get better they goes on. 'Birds of Paradise', positioned two-thirds of the way through the album (the yet-to-be-mentioned long closer aside for the moment), is a strikingly fragile piece that jumps from smokey vocals and vinyl clicks and pops to a cold, haunting melody. The vocal ends with "You are the black sky, always running for the sun... You're always running from the sun" before a long instrumental close and it is seemingly directed at the protagonist on 'Running from the Sun' (positioned with just one instrumental between it and 'Birds of Paradise').

It is exactly this kind of structure and pacing that means Kill For Love never outstays its welcome, benefiting from the director's cut treatment. Closing with a fourteen-minute instrumental in 'No Escape' feels totally natural... The entire album feels like a movie soundtrack with more to say than most actual movies. It is a conclusion that feels like the fade-to-black end credits to a weird, strung-out road trip.

Kill For Love is released on 21 May, pre-order on CD from [affiliate link].

Listen to the aforementioned Drive inspired playlist: