This list is not intended as a Best Of 2012, I've not listened to enough music to make any such claim, it's merely a survey of records I've enjoyed. There are many others released this year which are clearly excellent but I've not explored thoroughly enough to write about (Eamonn McGrath's Young Canadians and R.M. Hubbert's Thirteen Lost & Found being examples). Hopefully this list will make you want to explore further.
Sweet Lights – Sweet Lights
Technically sophisticated but entirely accessible, dozens of instantly memorable melodies make this feel like an album you've known your whole life. One of those 'songwriter's songwriters', Shai Halperin makes it all sound so easy, but it takes a peer and rival to fully appreciate why it's anything but. The album George Harrison never made.
Land Observations – Roman Roads IV-XI
This eight-part survey of ancient highways and byways is composed from the simplest ingredients; picked harmonics and looped guitar riffs evoke a sensation of internal travel, it's unusual in being an ambient record built around propulsive rhythms rather than drones and field recordings, tracing a map rather than capturing territory. A sonic gazetteer for the armchair navigator.
Warm Digits – Keep Warm With The Warm Digits
Rarely is a band so suited to their name; digital music served with the warmth and depth of mulled wine, this record is a playful sonic pillow fight.
Neil Halstead - Palindrome Hunches
Mainstream music journalism's obsession with 'authenticity' has resulted in a critical medium reaching a dead-end, a satellite orbiting a dying star, sending back increasingly absurd reports – the ascetic log cabin retreat and the 'primitive' recording equipment, the beard and the buffalo plaid; for many, such ludicrous framing devices seem to resonate louder than the music. Fortunately not all music writers are so easily hoodwinked, and not all record labels are so patronising. Neil Halstead has found a natural home at Nat Cramp's wonderfully understated Sonic Cathedral imprint. 'Palindrome Hunches' is Halstead's darkest solo album so far, but more importantly it's his most focused, his penchant for whimsy reined in and his plaintive melodies allowed to suspend in the air until they dissolve. While the fact remains that many artists write their strongest work under duress, albums like this don't need a back story.
Kuedo – Severant
Severant is on first blush a straightforward arranged marriage of Tangerine Dream synthtopia and cutting-edge footwork percussion, an album with each foot planted firmly in a different decade, but the melody lines are so strong and the sound-scapes so sweeping that the listener will find themselves asking more of it. What then emerges is a world where humans are long gone, each hi-hat tick is the footfall of an army of synthdroids terraforming a newly claimed planet, overseen by an infinitely wise and benign Philosopher-King supercomputer. Beautiful and unabashedly escapist, Severant is an intergalactic holiday brochure for wistful robots.
Burial - Street Halo EP / Kindred EP
Will Bevan made life difficult for himself in a way that Portishead did a decade before him. Creating an aesthetic so instantly influential it left them without room for manoeuvre, by the time Portishead got round to their second album, a thousand indie bands had pointlessly bolted a pair of turntables onto the side of the stage, and with the echoes of Dummy ringing endlessly in a hall of mirrors, Portishead's sound was no longer theirs. So they took their time, adapted and moved on. Both artists stand in a grand tradition of sonic pioneers weaving a noose to hang themselves with. My Bloody Valentine have yet to rise to their own challenge, The Stone Roses made a pig's ear of their's, but Bevan continues to hone his occult craft so elegantly that no-one has come close to cracking the code, and by releasing EPs instead of albums, he has avoided the issue, forcing people to appreciate his music outside of the arbitrary strictures of track counts, running times and size formats.
Emptyset – Medium
Put up microphones in an ancient building, record the sound of nothing, play it back through a P.A. in the same room, record the results. Repeat this process indefinitely. Will you capture the murmurs of ghosts? Definitely.
Happy New Year.