2012 is already proving to be a strong year for music.
While there seem to be little in the way of unifying trends, particularly in underground dance music, idiosyncratic artistry is flourishing. We’ve been particularly impressed by the calibre of long-form releases that we’ve heard, whether they be LPs in the traditional sense, or free mixtapes.
So it’s with some pleasure that we highlight, over the next four pages, what for us have been the 20 most impressive albums of the first quarter – January, February and March inclusive. From accelerated death metal to hip-hop psychedelia, chamber-pop to techno, it’s all in there and clamoring for your immediate attention.
ARIEL PINK & R. STEVIE MOORE
KU KLUX GLAM
(STROLL ON RECORDS)
Fight through everything that initially seems objectionable about this record – the title, the tracklist, the Wifebucket-sourced cover art – and you’ll be rewarded with a treasure trove of lo-fi scribblings. Over its 61 tracks, the pair offer up free-associative experiments, fake jingles, warped alt.versions and some very pretty songs to boot. A fascinating document of two of music’s most skewed minds having a serious amount of fun.
4EVA N A DAY
“In the world of Big K.R.I.T, where hardship and suffering are ever-present threats to happiness, triumph is always hard won, but all the sweeter for it. And 4Eva N A Day is – modestly, but definitely – a triumph.” – full review
SENTENCED TO LIFE
Harder, better and faster than their 2010 debut, Sentenced to Life finds Seattle’s Black Breath tearing through 10 tracks in just over half an hour, and the whole thing is just sheer thunder. Southern Lord’s press release for this record closes on the line “Breath Breath sentence every listener to a life of head banging after spinning this motherfucker!”, and frankly, who are we – or you – to argue?
“Judging by their releases thus far, Blondes would seem to have many more transcendent moments in store: the ground floor, as it’s showcased here, certainly has enough greatness to justify jumping on board right now”. – full review
CARTER TUTTI VOID
While it would also be interesting to hear this material as a studio project – treated, controlled and edited with a clinical precision – Transverse is an exceptionally immersive, expertly captured documentation of a tumultuous performance that has already earned a place in recent history.
KILL FOR LOVE
(ITALIANS DO IT BETTER)
After a long lead-up, the NY combo returned with the follow-up to 2007’s Night Drive. In some respects, it’s business as usual: kohl-eyed pop set over noirish synths and crawling disco beats. But there’s a songwriting finesse and an attention to detail that will charm longtime fans all over again. There have been no shortage of Chromatics soundalikes in recent years, but Kill For Love more than rewards all those folks who’ve kept a candle burning for the real thing.
MUSIC FOR KEYBOARDS VOL.1
After a few releases of twangy electronica, Montreal’s d’Eon gifted us a free-floating (and free) album of ambient miniatures and astral etudes. The tracks, dating from 2003-2012, fall somewhere between Erik Satie and Harald Grosskopf. d’Eon recently told FACT about his double-life as as a flower arranger; these graceful, delicate constructions showcase that same eye for the meticulous.
ANGELS OF DARKNESS, DEMONS OF LIGHT II
“Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II is the sound of old rope: tough, unassuming, stained and shined with use. Not only is it every bit as impressive as its predecessor; through a more meditative, contemplative use of elements it is even better.” – full review
“Grimes is the bedroom producer who wears her DIY aesthetic proudly on-sleeve whilst keeping her eyes fixed firmly on the the most plastic regions of chart territory. When it works, it makes for gloriously contradictory pop – it’s just a shame that the formula isn’t a little more consistent.” – full review
HEROIN IN TAHITI
A suite of drug-hazed instrumentals which purport to be inspired by pulp movies – from surfsploitation romps to Mafia thrillers – and their soundtracks, but which move beyond pastiche into a realm altogether more creepy and compelling. Picture a dark and dangerous doppelgänger to Washed Out’s insipidly aqueous pop.
“Pastiche is only ever a half-step away from parody, and there are undoubtedly moments where Horrid Red confuse schtick with style. But the positive tension at the heart of the record – this strange combination of grit and glitter – makes for a thoroughly evocative listen. It’s role play, certainly, but done so affectionately as to be entirely infectious.” – full review
Zonked pop genius from Gary War mainman Greg and Taylor Richardson (one half of Infinity Window with Daniel Lopatin) that seems to take as its starting point the fact that it won’t be fully appreciated until it goes out of print and turns up on Mutant Sounds or its equivalent in 35 years time.
PURPLE NAKED LADIES
“Daring and surprisingly concerned simply with its own sound, Purple Naked Ladies is like bedroom production demo, with plenty of warmth and discrepancies, and a studio-built classic at the same time. An extremely promising debut.” – full review
fIN‘s effective command of light and shade make for an involving listen. Though there are moments where the record lags, Talabot’s modus operandi is distinctive throughout, and at its strongest, fIN’s chilly gleam is at once alluring and foreboding. It’s there in that title: the water’s inviting, but something threatening is lurking under the surface. – full review
“There are innumerable elements within each composition that offer to take control and steer the material in a different direction at a given moment. Rather than drifting, the experience is like panning around a rock cut-away, full of surprises and things to observe, yet all compressed into particular shapes and layers.” – full review
LANA DEL REY
BORN TO DIE
“When was the last time a major label debut was 15 tracks long with only one turkey? Born To Die‘s first half is a little too perfect, with songs meticulous to the point of sterility, but when it starts to find form, I can’t think of an album since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy that’s as big, or sounds as good. – full review
ONE SECOND OF LOVE
“She’s more earnestly a leftfield pop star of now, less beholden to the curious archaeologist’s logic that motivates so much of the contemporary underground…It’s very difficult not to like these songs – for their clarity and craftmanship, but also the strength of their ideas.” – full review
GOD OF BLACK
A magnificent mixtape by Miami’s most hyped new rapper (he’s just signed to 4AD, in fact), expanding on the promise of last year’s Blackland Radio 66.6 and those show-stealing guest spots on Juicy J and A$AP Rocky’s last efforts with a desolate, charred interpretation of ’90s Southern hip-hop that, despite having more than an element of the tribute act to it, really doesn’t sound like much else around.
“A key line on the record is one of its earliest: ‘I’m in a chair fit for a king, but don’t deserve the throne cos I ain’t fit for a prince’. It’s unclear whether Trim’s pitching for greatness, or spurning it, and the same is true of Bandoolou.” – full review
“As one of the most enduring names in minimal techno, Voigt has nothing left to prove, no one left to prove it to. By turning inward, he has enabled himself to produce some of his strangest and most unnerving music to date. Particularly given the ubiquity of the pitched-down/sped-up/fucked-over vocal line in contemporary dance music, it’s refreshing to hear the human voice being treated in ways that raise genuine goose-pimples. – full review