Welcome back for part two of the Universal Wax Top 12 of ’12. Our twelve albums of the year and why you should check them out. Part One covered Sams four albums of the year which included Beth Orton and her wonderful return with Sugaring Season, De La Mancha The End* of Music, Lilacs and Champagnes self titled debut and finally the outrageously catchy Port of Morrow from The Shins. Martins four album choices are up next and run with a theme of bands who have not only extensive back catalogues, but exceedingly strong ones that spread decades in some cases. Again, if you are already familiar with them let us know what you think of our choices and why not drop us a list of your top 12 albums of 2012? We’d love to hear yours and might even discover something we missed. – Sam
Part Two: Martin
Dinosaur Jr. – I Bet On Sky (Jagjaguwar, September 2012)
I Bet on Sky is the tenth studio album by the alternative rock band Dinosaur Jr. and is the third of the releases in the modern era of the band. Originally formed in 1985 the group rejoined in 2005 with the original lineup of Guitarist J Mascis, bassist Lou Barlow, and drummer Murph. The band is characterised by a heavily distorted loud guitar style matched with tender droning vocals all delivered at an upbeat pace. The band have influenced the sound of alternative rock for over 30 years, yet still sound utterly unique and are more than capable of making notable new music.
The new album follows the traditional warm and fuzzy sound with J Mascis’ epic guitar noodling kept in check with an excellent rhythm section. Piano is introduced to good effect on the track Stick A Toe In and the extra production works well on many of the tracks. Wonderful crunchy guitar permeates through Watch the Corners and chugs through the epic closer See It On Your Side which also evokes Crazy Horse in its sound. Even with all the guitar sound the album is much lighter than previous albums and has an air of laid back calmness, as if it just flowed from the band during its recording. Dinosaur Jr. are one of the great American bands and it’s obvious that there is much life in the old dogs yet.
Listen to Watch the Corners here:
The Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania (EMI/Caroline Distribution/Martha’s Music, June 2012)
After the previous comeback of the Smashing Pumpkins in 2007 with the album Zeitgeist, I was left feeling a little empty. The songs sounded like the classic tracks from the nineties – that was the problem, it sounded just like a flatter regurgitation of former glories. Billy Corgan was quoted as saying “I know a lot of our fans are puzzled by Zeitgeist. I think they wanted this massive, grandiose work, but you don’t just roll out of bed after seven years without a functioning band and go back to doing that”.
It makes sense that the latest return of the band was conducted in a smaller, almost indie way. A fresh lineup was announced as well as an ambitious project to release 44 individual tracks under the umbrella of Teargarden by Kaleidyscope. The idea was to gradually release the tracks for free and then group the collections into EPs for sale at a later date. Despite the ridiculous name, the project started turning out some interesting tracks. For the first time in many years, the band actually sounded happy; the group seemed to be producing cohesive work and enjoying it.
With this new lease of life, the group announced that they would release an LP called Oceania, ‘an album within an album’ in regards to the on going Teargarden by Kaleidyscope project. Oceania was a really pleasant surprise, the sound was similar to the recent output but also had some nods to the heaviness of the band in it’s heyday and it’s earlier psychedelic roots. Tracks like the opening song Quasar and the following track Panopticon especially highlight this mesh of eras.
The invigorated writing is apparent in the tracks My Love Is Winter, The Celestials and Pale Horse – the album feels like it has a sense of real purpose. The album was contributed to by all four band members and I really hope that this current lineup continues as a group and doesn’t just become another temporary backing band for Corgans journey with the Pumpkins. It will be interesting where the Teargarden by Kaleidyscope project will go next, a follow up album has been penciled in for the end of 2013 and Corgan has already hinted at it being a ‘cruel record’.
Listen to Panopticon here:
The Levellers – Static on the Airwaves (On The Fiddle Recordings, June 2012)
The Levellers’ blend of political folk and punk rock probably had it’s heyday, commercially, in the mid nineties – when the track One Way was a staple of many a student union’s jukebox. The band even headlined the Glastonbury Festival and performed to its biggest recorded audience in 1994. The band have been continuously recording and touring ever since, and after the 20th anniversary tour of their classic album Levelling The Land, the band seem invigorated.
Static on the Airwaves is a real return to form for the band. The organic melodies have returned and under the production stewardship of Sean Lakeman the record sounds great. The swooping violin of Jon Sevink has been pushed to the front of the mix and leads many of the songs along the familiar themes of war, society and injustice that listeners would expect. One of the main aspects of this record are the huge memorable choruses that only take a few listens to be fully entrenched in your mind – tracks like Truth Is and No Barriers are perfect examples of this. The political message is not forgotten either with The Recruiting Sergeant telling the story of a petty criminal signing up to fight in Afghanistan rather than face the consequences of his crimes.
Static on the Airwaves marks a band in full maturity, comfortably doing what it does best.
Listen to clip of No Barriers here:
Chris Helme – The Rookery (Little Num Num Music, August 2012)
Famous for supplying the vocals in the Britpop group The Seahorses along with guitarist John Squire, Chris Helme’s solo career has deviated from the sound you would presume into something wonderfully unexpected. Coming back with a folky acoustic sound, he has produced one of the albums of the year. The Rookery moves through straight up folk to blues and even a stompy Rolling stones sound on the track Daddy’s Farm; all are held together with his most powerful weapons – his voice. Helme’s vocals are always distinctive, highly melodic and vulnerable all at the same time.
The track Plane introduces an orchestral sound with the gentle use of a string quartet and the excellent The Spindle And The Cauldron adds a flavor of early Led Zeppelin to the proceedings. The album has it’s share of pop moments too, the song Longway Round would easily find it’s way on to any radio playlist. The quality and confidence of the album show through and the production of the album feels very natural, amazingly it was created in just nine days in the Yorkshire dales with Sam Forrest (Nine Black Alps). The journey through this album is incredibly varied but all the twists and turn feel right and it has shaped up to be one of my albums of the year.
Listen to Longway Round here:
We would love to read your lists below, or drop us an email via the contact page if you prefer. Don’t forget to stop by over the weekend when Tom will reveal his final four choices and conclude our top albums of 2012.