hot chip

2012 Album of the Year, Part Two: 10 to 6

Following on from yesterday's 2012 Album of the Year long-list I'm happy to unveil the first half of the top ten. 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.

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.

10. The Dread Of An Unknown Evil - KRTS

The most recent release on my list of the year (long or otherwise) and one of most deserving. A short, entrancing album that aims to do so much more than many contemporary releases this year. Subtle and at times unnervingly entrancing.

Get it on Amazon.

9. In Our Heads - Hot Chip

This year Hot Chip finally came out from the shadow of The Warning with an album of grown up songs of relationships and growing up. In Our Heads is the sound of a band free of constraints, maturing with their fans. Where previous albums were torn between the requirement to be commercial and a desire to go deep this (almost) entirely abandoned the single format in favour of something much more adult. The cheeky token single, 'Night And Day', remains the only exception and is the only moment In Our Heads comes up lacking. 'Flutes', on the other hand, is one of the best things the band have ever released.

Get it on Amazon.

8. Shields - Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear managed to achieve so much more than any contemporary indie band this year by embracing a free form love of experimentation. Shields sounds like a jazz album recorded on banjos, snares and blues guitar by a band of ramshackle bearded men.

And that's pretty much exactly what it is. Free form song structures and out of step timing created an album more difficult to get to grips with than Veckatimest but at times all the more rewarding, particularly on the epic closer 'Sun In Your Eyes'.

Get it on Amazon.

7. World, You Need A Change Of Heart - Kindness

BlackPlastic is a small, personal blog and as such hopefully it is understandable that four of the top ten albums for 2013 ended up being releases that I didn't formally review. What is surprising, however, is that Kindess' debut was one of those.

World, You Need A Change Of Heart is an album that does everything I personally could ask an album to do. Full of warm, drowsy and hungover songs it sounds like a loved up festival refugee too spun-out to remember real life. 'House' is the kind of record that could make things sound better at any time, anywhere - deep, dizzy disco bass carving a party out of maudlin vocals and a tiny glimmer of hope. One day you and I will be okay.

Get it on Amazon.

6. Attack On Memory - Cloud Nothings

It's relatively rare that an album as heavy as Attack On Memory makes it onto the pages of but in this case it was just too good to ignore. Steve Albini's production mostly just gets out of the way (as always), leaving Cloud Nothings to make the album of their career.

At 34-minutes long Attack On Memory may be barely long enough to qualify as an album but it was all the better for it's economy - a tight and focused burst of aggression. The nine-minute epic 'Wasted Days' is both starry-eyed and terrifyingly taught, and in the conclusion of the "I thought I would be more than this" refrain Cloud Nothings delivered 2012's best rock song.

Get it on Amazon.

And that's the first half of my album of the year list - come back tomorrow for the final part!

Album Review: In Our Heads - Hot Chip

Image source:'ve already commented before that Hot Chip's last album, 2010‘s One Life Stand, left me a little cold... It felt like a band slipping through the cracks, trapped between two sounds, and whilst the result was not bad per se it just came off a little unsatisfying. In retrospect this makes some sense - Hot Chip have now split from major EMI and In Our Heads represents their first album for independent Domino.

More than any other single variable the move from a major feels like a considerable contributing factor to what is undoubtedly a return to form. In Our Heads feels like a band freed up from their own (or the label's?) image of what they should be. These songs are almost all less obviously pop than anything Hot Chip have released before. Whilst there are plenty of hooks and the trademark catchy choruses remain there are less radio friendly trick shots and more grown up songs than ever before.

Opener 'Motion Sickness' sets the pace, it's a soaring eighties ballad wrapped in early house production and it manages to achieve this without even appearing to try too hard. It's a disconcerted tribute to our complex times and music's key role in guiding us through it. And it is also beautiful - Alexis Taylor seemingly overwhelmed by his own capacity to feel, particularly when it comes to music - "Remember when people thought the world was round / everything spins on my head / on my compact disk" he sings.

Emotionally In Our Heads seems most preoccupied with the friction that exists between the heart's desire to take risks and the head's self-preservation instincts. Just listen to 'Don't Deny Your Heart', with its over-eager choruses, for example. The flip side of this feeling is the mind's inability to rid itself of the subject of the heart once it has crawled up inside and lain roots, as felt through the syrupy ballad 'Look At Where We Are' and the raw 'These Chains' - that unwillingness to move on.

This conflict keeps the album moving and culminates in the standout track 'Flutes' (which can be heard here). It's a sombre epic tale of retribution - that moment when you realise that failed relationships or emotional mis-fires take two. It builds over seven-minutes into a climatic emotional house record that calls to mind equal parts Detroit techno and Manchester bands New Order and Electronic.

For all the awkward angst of 'Flutes' the other standout is the even longer 'Let Me Be Him'. It's a wonderfully warm-hearted eighties inspired power ballad reminiscent of The Thompson Twins, the optimistic inevitable emotional rebirth punctuated by a belted out ”oh hey ho” refrain. Just try to resist joining in.

By going with their hearts rather than their heads Hot Chip have made In Our Heads one of their most complete and emotionally significant albums to date.

In Our Heads is released on Domino tomorrow, available for pre-order from on CD, LP and MP3 [affiliate links].

Stream In Our Heads on Spotify below (Spotify account required):

Video: Flutes - Hot Chip

The last Hot Chip album One Life Stand left me a little cold. Whilst it had a couple of standout moments it felt like more of the same after two stronger abums. This, the first track taken from Hot Chips forthcoming fifth album In Our Heads, has me excited to hear what comes next.
In Our Heads is due out on Domino (a change from Parlophone) on 11 June 2012.