The Music Fix Albums of 2012

Consensus? We leave that to the likes of Boutrous Boutrous Ghali and the denizens of UN HQ, NY 10017. Instead, when presenting our Albums of the Year list, we like to give a snapshot of some of the best titles we’ve covered without pretending a Music Fix party line exists or that all our reviewers sing from the same soup-stained hymn sheet. And ranking them? Well, that way absurdity - and madness - lies. This year though, something different happened; one album stood out, not as necessarily better than any of the rest, but by weight of staff support. It also happened to be by someone who became a star, embraced not just by the hundreds of thousands who bought her album, but by indie kids, urban remixers and the style magazines. They said the crossover act was dead, but she exists. Her name is Lana Del Rey.

Album of the Year

Lana Del Rey - Born to Die

Critics smelled the glove of The Man on her shoulder. Others sniffed at the lyrics, seeing a rich girl play (video) games with the empty trappings of hip-hop and 21st century bling. And us? We just saw Born To Die for what is was and is: a smart, sometimes elegant pop album, chock full of singles and opportunities for increasingly ridiculous videos. Like Julee Cruise dropped onto Sunset Strip, blinking in the headlights she’ll party with the bad boys but will wake up under a Stars 'n Stripes with the bitter taste of disatisfaction on her lips. The vacuity of Born To Die is partly the point: it makes the media-fanned fantasy of fame and success seem as transparent as it obviously is. There’s nothing aspirational about its milieu, but as a woozy, voyeuristic rollercoaster ride it positively soars above the heads of the perceived competition.

This may not be a formula for the long game. Del Rey also needs to find a way to carry these stories on the stage, allowing audiences to engage with her as a performer while retaining the material’s surface distance. Neither are insurmountable. Indeed, the idea of an artist who can grow and has real career potential is rather exciting - as long as that career doesn’t involve a fucking jazz album. Please, God - not a jazz album. Let’s see where she goes.

For the first time, we’re able to crown something as The Music Fix Album of the Year. Born To Die is it. We can’t wait to see what Lana Del Rey does next. (Douglas Baptie)


And the rest...

Alabama Shakes - Boys and Girls

Hurtling headfirst into the 70s, Alabama Shakes was the band to name drop among the cool kids at the start of 2012, a reputation cemented by the patronage of the likes of Russell Crowe and Jack White. But this is far from a story of style over substance. Word of mouth may have created the flame, but it was the southern swagger of the quartet that fuelled it. Brittany Howard's gut-rumbling vocals, a refreshing focal point in an industry infatuated with auto-tune, made Girls and Boys one of the more rewarding releases of the year. With an old fashioned sound oddly ahead of the crowd, The Shakes serve up true southern grit. Following on from a busy festival season, 2013 should be their year. (Holly Newins)

...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - Lost Songs

Lost Songs could have been an apt epitaph for ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, a band who, just a few years ago, seemed lost in a morass of overambition and aching mediocrity. After a (semi) return to form last year, 2012 saw them rekindle the aggressive, unrestrained powerhouse punk that made them such a thrilling experience in the first place. Lost Songs has it all, from the gentle swirling rhythms exploding into speaker melting hardcore wig outs that would have lightweight pop-punk fans running for the exits. The acoustic whimsies that balance out the excess sit perfectly. Loud, proud and as exciting a rock album as we heard all year. (Greg Belton)

Blood Red Shoes - In Time To Voices

A boy. A girl. Guitar. Drums. Laura-Mary Carter and Stephen Ansell, a solid pairing for the best part of a decade now, must be considering copyright action. What? There’s only two of you? Get outta my freakin' office! Hey, buddy, fast forward to tougher, more austere times. No longer an art wank novelty, the duo rules the world. And trust Blood Red Shoes to make a mockery of the format with this, their third album and their deepest, most convincing work to date. Complex arrangements saw them transform their skeletal riffery into something altogether more fleshed out and fulfilling. Acoustic mood pieces and heady experimentation confirmed their new ambition. (Gary K)

Jake Bugg - Jake Bugg

Jake Bugg’s rise to fame may in the end do him more harm than good. The hype that followed his self-titled debut no doubt fanned its success, but critical acclaim followed and a devoted fanbase made sure it charted at number one. Yet the backlash that will inevitably follow may well overshadow what is a work of almost precocious talent, a glorious collection of haunting ballads and old-fashioned rockers with Bugg’s exquisite voice taking centre stage. A great album that will linger long after the chatter has subsided. (Olivia Schaff)

The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow

The atmosphere in camp right now must be bittersweet. In November, alleged 'internal discord' caused the cancellation of all live dates, much to the dismay of ticket holders. Rewind to the start of the year and The Civil Wars were on the cusp of a double Grammy-whammy with the release of their intoxicating debut Barton Hollow. Crammed with haunting melodies, yet still tantalisingly spare, the magneticism of their debut casts light over any demons currently affecting the pair. We can only hope that their differences, whatever they may be, provide artistic inspiration for album number two. (HN)

Crystal Castles – (III)

Crystal Castles’ third album (again, in keeping, no title) saw Alice Glass's trademark shriek subdued, baby-gated by reversed vocals and excessive reverb. Emerging from the ashes came an album of haunting bleakness, the bittersweet melodics harnessed by a sense of dark foreboding. More textured than the assault of old favourites such as ‘Doe Deer’ and ‘Alice Practice’, CC's new-found breadth was still caustic enough to have you reaching for the metaphorical antacids. (Sophie Colleta)

Delilah - From The Roots Up

Delilah took us by surprise. On the back of a collaboration with drum 'n' bass duo Chase & Status prior to her album release, we had her down as a Katy B copyist. Instead, From The Roots Up demonstrated a hotch-potch of influences, from delicate R&B through to pounding afro-folk, bringing with it one of the most varied albums of 2012. Complimenting her range of influences with an even wider vocal range, Delilah's debut is a startling introduction to her capabilities. With a follow-up due next year, don't be surprised to see the Hackney songstress back here again. (HN)

Dexys - One Day I'm Going To Soar

You look into the eyes of a Dexys fan and there’s a certain kind of intensity, an intensity borne from patience, hard knocks, but above all faith. For faith is what you need when you’ve been waiting 27 years for a new album. 27 years - longer than some of those on this list have been alive. By any measure, it’s a long time but One Day I’m Going To Soar was worth the wait, its bare, personal truths only hinted at in the title. It finds Kevin Rowland by turns valiant in his own self-doubt, hilarious in his cocksurity. (Thank God these are his dramas, not ours.) The band and arrangements flit easily between the bustling swagger of yesteryear and a smooth, laid back soul. As we said in our original review ODIGS may not find new listeners, but only because we live in slighter times. We cannot wait another quarter century. By then, the lights may well be out, dimmed at best. But Dexys should live forever. (DB)

Dry The River - Shallow Bed

"Encores are inevitable," we proclaimed in February and it seems we weren't alone. Dry The River have been on a relentless touring spree since the album's release, playing over 25 festivals worldwide and a month-long US tour. But it's their upward trajectory in the UK that's impressed, where their blisteringly raw folk rock started the year off in venues such as 450-capacity XOYO and recently climaxed in a sold-out gig at the 2,000-capacity Shepherd's Bush Empire. Shallow Bed may have peaked at #28 in the UK album chart, but there's little doubt we'll be hearing more of Peter Liddle's impassioned vocals for a while yet. (Ian Sandwell)

Fear Falls Burning – Disorder Of Roots

Since being introduced to drone the best part of a decade ago, Fear Falls Burning has always been there, becoming something of a personal obsession. So it was with sadness I read that Disorder Of Roots was to be Dirk Serries' last under the moniker. Having noted, on release, on how much justice it did in closing this chapter, six months later my opinion on the magnitude of Disorder Of Roots has not changed. It cements itself not just in my playlist but alongside the genre's landmarks. Monumental stuff. (Dominic Hemy)

Craig Finn - Clear Heart, Full Eyes

January is traditionally a ghost town, rarely throwing up album of the year contenders. In 2012, however, there was a jewel that shone unexpectedly bright: Clear Heart Full Eyes, the debut solo album from Craig Finn. Finn has always walked a fine line in quirky, offbeat lyrics but in his day job as front man of The Hold Steady they were often lost in the bombast of the arrangements. There was no such problem here as he delivered an album of tongue in cheek, quasi-religious tales of love, rejection, doom, gloom and redemption. An unexpectedly uplifting record that lives long in the memory. (GB)

Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!

For the last decade, album of the year polls have been blighted by the absence of any new releases from the word’s greatest band/anarcho-syndicalist commune, Godspeed You! Black Emperor. In October, after years in the wilderness on “indefinite hiatus”, with a minimum of fanfare, Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! appeared. The album title adheres easily to their conventions, as does the music. Whilst the years away may have taken them in different directions, this album is vintage GY!BE. 'Mladic' just gets louder and louder, filled with guitars, imbued with an atmosphere of violence and menace. 'We Drift Like Worried Fire' is reflective, mournfully melodic, at times beautiful. This album is the act of a band committing to record a collection simply and quintessentially of themselves, a work that stands outside of time and musical trends. As ever. (James Scanlan)

Nate Hall – A Great River

The most heart-wrenching, soul-crushing album of the year? Recorded in a single evening, A Great River is for the strong of spirit only. Play it and see if the tears don't come for you too. Utilising layers of distorted guitars to bolster its overwhelming melancholy, it's surely anathema to most of the country music community. But here's a record for this coldest of seasons: a sense of overwhelming loneliness and darkness creeps out of the speakers. Hall's enigma and mystique are very real but when his story is weaved into his music, a magical thing happens. (DH)

The Imagined Village - Bending The Dark

The Imagined Village are the perfect band for a year that the world saw Britain deliver an outstanding Olympic Games. It's only fitting then that one of the outstanding folk albums of the year came from a collective who excel in rhythms and beats from wherever takes their fancy - where traditional English folk nestles alongside bhangra and afro beat percussion. Note the astonishing title track, commissioned for the Olympics, that fuses a variety of world musical styles into a truly life affirming twelve minutes. Bending the Dark is the perfect antidote to the identikit nu-folk peddled by too many artists haplessly trying to cash in on the success of Mumford and Sons et al. (GB)

Katzenjammer - A Kiss Before You Go

Like the vaudevillian opening title track, A Kiss Before You Go introduced us to the world of Katzenjammer, a world whose offbeat delights ensured we were unlikely to leave. While undoubtedly divisive - 'Cocktails And Ruby Slippers' combines shrieked vocals and lush harmonies in a way that will have some listeners running for the hills - there's no denying that the album provided one of the year's most singular experiences. As anyone who's seen their energetic live shows will attest, they're far from sober affairs and that balance of the sweet delights of 'Cherry Pie' with the dark depths of 'Soviet Trumpeter' is exactly why Katzenjammer are one of the most exciting acts around. (IS)

LostAlone - I'm A UFO In This City

One of 2012's genuine surprises, the Derby trio's second album mocked any suggestion that the indie/metal crossover might have played its last, weary riff. LostAlone toy with both legacy (soaring solos and massed harmonies that recall classic Queen) and alt-rock reinvention (note recent support slots with My Chemical Romance and Paramore), blending it into something altogether oddball and future-proof. The brainchild of singer and guitarist Stephen Battelle, I'm a UFO In This City hums with zeitgeist paranoia and nervy, juddering kinetics courtesy of Battelle's 'doctorate in riffology' (his words, well chosen.) It drop-kicks ass. Their loyal fanbase grows apace. Don't rule out hugeness just yet. (GK)

Aimee Mann - Charmer

With a career spanning over two decades and a series of solidly crafted solo albums to her name, Aimee Mann doesn't have a whole lot to prove. Yet in 2012 she reminded us all what a firecracker she is with Charmer, a captivating set full of sparky, good-time guitar anthems that played to her strengths but kept things fresh. Be suitably charmed. (Luke McNaney)

Metric - Synthetica

More stadium-sized than previous albums, Synthetica saw Metric add skyscraping anthems like 'Breathing Underwater' to a tracklist otherwise comprised of fresh twists on their rockin' electro-indie template. Taking in a Lou Reed cameo along the way (no doubt something The Killers would have killed for on the disappointing Battleborn), the album is next-step material. It maintains an edgy coolness, helped in no small part by the irrepressible talents of leading lady Emily Haines. (LM)

Frank Ocean - Channel Orange

It’s a sad fact that Frank Ocean will probably be best remembered post-2012 for the penning of an open letter about his sexuality rather than his debut album. In recent years, the male r 'n' b artist has been too readily associated with wife beating and lazy writing, but Ocean took the genre back to its roots, embracing modern production touches with elegance and flair. His capabilities as an evocative storyteller earned him a critical acclaim that was met with wild cries of ‘Amen’ here at TMF. (SC)

OM – Advaitic Songs

They found their feet with new drummer Emil Amos and OM created their most complete, vibrant and meditative album yet with Advaitic Songs, a blissfully heady mix of pure rumbling drone heaven and a fantastical Arabic mysticism. Distilling the wonder of the spiritual, and stirring in a dose of herbal enlightenment, OM delivered both beauty and transcendence. (DH)

Perfume Genius - Put Your Back N 2 It

An uncompromising record that may not appeal to all, the sophomore album from Mike Hadreas is outstanding, nevertheless, and more than earns its place in this year's TMF chart. Murky lo-fi ballads that make Radiohead sound positively cheery, PYBN2I offers moments of both clarity and catharsis. It's an uphill struggle, yes, but repeated plays make sure it's one you'll want to revisit. Not convinced? Listen to 'Hood', a song that stirred me in two short minutes more than any other song this year. (LM)

Lucy Rose - Like I Used To

Sneaking through the backdoor via the Ed Sheeran-led acoustic-folk bandwagon of 2012, Lucy Rose won her place on this year’s list with a refreshingly organic approach – winning vocals, simple melodies, rare candour. Smarter than most of the over-saturated scene, and cemented by a string of sold-out shows throughout the year, Like I Used To has propelled Rose into bigger venues. One girl and her guitar. It’s hardly original but, still, we can't fault her. (HN)

Amanda Shires - Carrying Lightning

"The thought of your impossible eyes, it’s like I’ve been sewn to the walls of my room." If that doesn't detonate deep within, we probably won't be friends. Carrying Lightning, the young Texan's fourth album, shot free of the trad constraints of her earlier, largely collaborative, recordings. A career high by some distance, it's anchored by its deft, elegant poetry, and Shires emerges as a songwriter in the mould of a young Emmylou. She sidesteps the trip wires of nu-country with breathtaking daring. (GK)

Shrag - Canines

Its way with a tune surely encroaches upon half a dozen EU regulations. Reassuringly uncompromising and yet almost sinfully melodic, album number three from the indie revivalists blew their back catalogue to smithereens. It's a whirr of ringing major chords, throbbing bass, clattering snare and the sharpest harmonies. Canines, with vulpine thrust and devilish swagger, was as accomplished a slab of alternative pop as 1989 - sorry, 2012 - had to offer. At the centre of it all is singer and lyricist Helen King, whose muscular, gymnastic wordplay is a marvel and gives her cool documenting of the grey panoramics of 21st century Britain a pin-hole clarity. When she purrs "I didn't anticipate weeping, but your neck slightly wet is a magnificent sight", it's done with such wide-eyed bonhomie it's like Rilke on a sugar rush. (GK)

The Staves - Dead & Born & Grown

A last minute addition to our roundup, The Staves have quickly become the darlings of the UK folk scene. The sisters' appearance on Jools Holland and Bon Iver support slots backed up the groundswell of critical support, support that was quickly enhanced by the paying public. Their harmony-driven material relies on a gorgeous vocal purity that elevates them above the usual crowd, and while they may sail too close to more conventional folk formats at times, there's little danger of mistaking what they do for anyone else. (Colin Polonowski)

Devin Townsend Project – Epicloud

Never one to rest on his laurels, Devin Townsend has taken his current project into the realms of the pop song – just not as we know it. Epicloud is still bursting with that familiar Hevy Devy tongue-in-cheek bombast, but the quality of the hooks and strength of the songs confirms its replay value. 2012's finest pop rock offering. (DH)

Tribes – Baby

When a January release ends up in a Best Of Year list, it's either a reflection on the year itself or the album. For Tribes' debut, it's definitely the latter. Its mix of carefree rock anthems and expansive, emotive pieces won over the critics and a spot on the NME tour garnered them a youthful following. Following their April/May headline show, successful enough to see venues upgraded, things went a little quiet on the Tribes front. Yet this is a result of a band refusing to stand still and pimp the same eleven tracks ad infinitum - album number two is already in the can, set for an early release in 2013. On the evidence of Baby, we're more than happy to go along for the ride. (IS)

Jessie Ware - Devotion

For much of 2012 it was hard to walk around town without seeing giant monochrome images of Mercury nominee Jessie Ware glowering out from the side of a bus or building. Her debut album embraced a sensual nostalgia for 90s R&B, with lashings of dance thrown in on the production side for good measure. Her impassioned, syrupy tones earned her comparisons to everyone from Sade to Whitney to Aaliyah, and rightfully so. This is, surely, only the beginning. (HN)

Jack White - Blunderbuss

Spring's solo debut from the ever-prolific Jack White surpassed his previous efforts at shaking loose from the White Stripes format. No mean feat we say. Accenting staples (not least those distinctive riffs, a love for the blues, and country and soul elements to the fore more than ever) developed in other guises, Blunderbuss showcased his versatility and marked him out - if we didn't already know it - as one of our living legends. A blistering blunderbuss of a record. (LM)


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