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2012 Round-Up

Music Round-Up 2012: Tracks Of The Year (5)

5: Harald Grosskopf – Synthesist (1979)

No, I hadn’t heard of him either. Harald Grosskopf released this album of space-travelling synthesizer music back in 1979 and it got a re-release in 2011, complete with obligatory remix album. It helps a lot that Harald is a drummer, so what passed for drum machines in 1979 are nowhere to be heard, instead replaced by beautiful live drums. Most of it sounds way ahead of its time, and the influences on modern electronic artists are abundantly clear. This, the title track, is at the most accessible end, a starry-eyed synth-anthem  – listen and beam away into the cosmos!

Music Round-Up 2012: Tracks Of The Year (4)

4: Jaga Jazzist – Toccata (2010)

Steve Reich’s influence ringing loud and clear. This piece is a quite breathtaking achievement – if so far on this list I have focused on easily digested sugary morsels, then this is the complex meaty feast. The inexorable rhythm section, the exquisite harmonic tension, the dynamic ebb and flow, the beautifully judged trombone solo at the climax – I’m tempted to say ‘masterpiece’.

Music Round-Up 2012: Tracks Of The Year (3)

3: Johan Agebjörn – Last Day Of Summer (2011)

This popped up on random in the car recently, and as the intro blossomed into the full song, I thought “ah, they don’t make them like this any more” … before realizing that, actually, yes they do – ‘they’ made this only last year.  This is the sort of neon-coloured, ecstatic disco-pop track that we were supposed to have left behind in the 80s. Turns out there’s still room for more, as long as the songs are as brilliantly written and produced as this. It even gets away with a barnstorming synth solo. Majestic!

NB – this YouTube video is of the rather clumsily-edited ‘Official Video’ version – the album version unfolds in a far less abrupt fashion, but I couldn’t find it on YouTube…

Music Round-Up 2012: Tracks Of The Year (2)

2: Rustie – Surph (2011)

First time I listened to this I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing – a sugar rush so euphoric it almost felt a little shameful. A whole album’s worth is too much, for me, but this is its finest distillation.

Music Round-Up 2012: Tracks Of The Year (1)

Top 5 Tracks Of The Year

There are rules here. I’m not allowing any tracks off my top 10 albums but I am allowing things that weren’t released this year, as long as I acquired them in the last 12 months. The basic idea is that these are songs that stood out and were listened to more often as a result.

So, again – in no particular order:

1: Todd Terje – Swing Star Pt. 1

From the It’s The Arps EP, which would definitely be my EP Of The Year, if I had a category for such things. Oh look, I just created it! I think the idea was that Norwegian Todd would use only vintage synthesizers to make the four tracks. The narrow palette seems to focus his attention on the song-writing, or maybe he was just in a really, really good mood at the time. This can certainly cheer me up any time. Twiddly-widdly-widdly, it goes, before barreling along at a rollicking pace – the momentum is infectious and the effect is grin-inducing.

Music Round-Up 2012: The Best Ones (10)

10: Emeralds – Just To Feel Anything

Emeralds

Emeralds’ previous album, Does It Look Like I’m Here?, blew me away in 2010 and introduced me to so many fantastic artists – Mark McGuire in particular, but also Steve Hauschildt (who released the excellent Tragedy & Geometry in 2011 and the rather odd Sequitur this year), Mist, Motion Sickness of Time Travel and probably several others one way or another. So it would be fair to say I was rather excited about Emeralds releasing a new album this year. Just To Feel Anything is a funny beast, in a way. For one thing, it’s surprisingly short at about 40 minutes – for a band that had never seemed to rein-in excess. Also striking is how far they’ve come since 2009’s What Happened, an avant-garde collage of improvised drone and abstract noise (not my thing at all). Just To Feel Anything, on the other hand, is very easy to listen to, alternating between languid, beatless synth-scapes and downright bouncy, drum-machine-backed synth-and-guitar anthems. All a bit – whisper-it-quietly –  new age, wholly un-shame-faced in its aim and all the more likeable for it.

Listen:

Music Round-Up 2012: The Best Ones (9)

9: Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

GYBE

Such a surprise when this was announced, late in autumn. For such a legendary band it was amazing to think that GY!BE only had fourteen recorded tracks in their entire discography before this. (Of course, it helps if most of those are more than twenty minutes long.) More material was always going to be lapped up and these pieces do not disappoint – the doom-laden atmosphere seems so much more appropriate now than in, say, 2000, when things were actually going pretty well now that we look back. Have they moved on? Possibly. The two shorter drone-based pieces are newish, but the two longer (albeit excellent) tracks could probably have fitted seamlessly on previous releases. The fact remains that no-one else is making music like this, and it is still utterly uncompromising.

Music Round-Up 2012: The Best Ones (8)

8: Tame Impala – Lonerism

Tame Impala - Lonerism

At times this Australian psychedelic band sounds so throw-back you wonder if you are actually listening to a long-lost John Lennon side-project. However, it’s combined with a bank of synths and a chunky, (slightly-) hip-hop-influenced production that brings it kicking and screaming into 2012. You don’t get away with this sort of thing unless you write good songs, and that’s what clinches it for Tame Impala.

Listen:

Music Round-Up 2012: The Best Ones (7)

7: Lymbyc Systym – Symbolyst

Lymbyc Systym - Symbolyst

Hmmm, how to describe this one… It is electronic music in terms of its creation (laptop-based, undoubtedly) but most of the sounds are real instruments. The pieces have song-like structures but no singers. I’ll just have to settle for saying that it’s really good – and how could you not like a band with that many Ys in their name?!

Listen:

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