The Universal Wax Top 12 of ’12 – Part One

It’s that time of the year again when music blogs worldwide take a few paragraphs to discuss their favourite albums of the year and make a comprehensive list out of it; who are we to break the trend, so without further ado I present to you the Universal Wax Top 12 of ’12. In no particular order and over the course of three parts, each of us will be taking four of the albums released this year that we are particularly fond of and devoting a few sentences to why you should check it out. If you are already familiar with them let us know what you think, why not take the time to let us know your top 12 albums of 2012?  – Sam

Top 12 of 12 Covers-Part One

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2012 Highlights in Music: Quarter One (January – April) [Feature]

It’s already been a busy year for releases and with the constant slew of new music it has been far too easy for things to fall by the wayside. I hope you are all suffering from a heavy chocolate hangover right now; hair of the dog doesn’t seem to have the same effect with this one unfortunately so why not spend your lazy sunday afternoon/evening reading through our run down of some of the highlights 2012 has had to offer so far! Lets hope the rest of the year continues in the current fashion! Without further ado and in no particular order:

Lilacs & Champagne – Lilacs & Champagne

Lilacs & Champagne’s self titled dropped at the tail end of January and we thought it was rather superb.

[Lilacs & Champagne] have managed to craft one of the most interesting and promising debuts I think I’ve ever heard. It’s a rich tapestry woven from samples and organic pieces strung together perfectly to create a sound that’s incredibly fresh.To put it crudely, if you take the Grails template from their recent efforts and give it a hip hop, sample focused twist, this is what you get. 

It’s followed up with some more excellent reviews from various other publications. We can’t recommend it enough!

Quantic & Alice Russell With The Combo Bárbaro – Look Around The Corner

Will Holland reunites with Alice Russell, backed by the ever excellent Combo Bárbaro. As you’d expect it’s packed with Columbian grooves, soul soaked vocals, smooth strings and brassy funk. It’s a graceful fusion and throw in Quantic’s sublime production and it will bring sunshine to your stereo whatever the weather. This is another album that’s escaped a proper review for the moment, but it hasn’t left my CD player since it dropped on my doormat so expect one soon. Highly recommended!

Dodgy – Stand Upright In A Cool Place

90’s band Dodgy reformed for a new album after eleven long years. Think Crosby, Stills & Nash combined with all the good Britpop you’ve ever heard, then add a little Fleet Foxes and a dash of excellent song writing. It’s a winning combination and perfectly executed, if not released a little early as these songs sound like summer anthems through and through.

Errors – Have Some Faith In Magic

The four-piece band from Glasgow released their brilliantly catchy full length follow up to 2010’s Come Down With Me. It’s catchy electro-indie at it’s finest and really builds upon the sound they’ve made their own over the two previous records. Bold, pulsating rhythms and bright keys aside it comes across as a rather organic sound and most importantly a finely crafted album.

The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow

I still have yet to review this album, it’s been one of the best of the year so far on many levels. Stripped and spacious, John Paul White and Joy Williams have managed to bring together one of the most intimate sounding records I’ve heard for a while. It’s primarily acoustic, largely without any form of percussion and effortlessly straddles both modern and old creating a timeless album that should appeal to a great many people. It’s beautiful stuff indeed and shifts between mellow, tender tracks and bluesy roots tracks with ease. I believe it’s been out for a year across in the States but we’ve only had it over here for a short while so if you’ve missed it, now’s the perfect time to catch up.

Django Django – Django Django

The British Quartet sprung almost out of nowhere with this infectiously catchy psychedelic indie-pop debut. It’s hard not to mention legendary group The Beta Band but throw in a little Metronomy as well and you’re half way there to Django Django’s sound. Deep, detailed, throughly danceable, quirky yet entirely accessible, this album should not be overlooked and was a real surprise highlight of the year as yet.

The Shins – Port of Morrow

If any of you have read my review of Port of Morrow you’ll already know how highly I regard this album. James Mercer returns with a finely crafted and absolutely stunning slice of Indie Pop. Its addictive melodies, beautifully written choruses and superb production contribute to arguably the strongest Shins record yet. 2010’s Broken Bells diversion with Danger Mouse is evident with a more electronic influence and helps to bring the Shins sound forward. Miss this album at your own loss!

Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself

Quirky, beautiful, haunting, charming. A mish-mash of various styles coming together to form something quite wonderful. It’s almost traditional yet thoroughly modern and has some killer whistling solos. Yes, you read that right, whistling solos. This was my first instruction to Andrew Bird and after reviewing it back in the first half of March it’s become a regular in my CD player. Blending traditional folk with a more modern rock approach it flits effortlessly between the two, forming an interesting flowing album that’s rich and detailed.

If you’ve made it this far hopefully you’ve either found something you’ve missed this year, or even better, maybe discovered something new. Let us know in the comments box if we’ve missed anything! I know I have!

Happy Easter from the Universal Wax team! I’m off to eat some more chocolate.

The Shins – Port of Morrow [Review]

It’s been five years since the well praised Wincing the Night Away and The Shins are back featuring a new line-up with Port of Morrow, arguably their strongest record yet.

Mercers dabblings with Danger Mouse on the superb 2010 Broken Bells record is evident with a slightly more electronic sound bubbling away in the background throughout, it’s never at the forefront but it’s noticeably subtle – a nice evolution of the sound Mercer has crafted for The Shins. It’s also unmercifully catchy; something The Shins have always managed and over time has become apparently easier for Mercer judging by how many of the tracks have been jammed in my mind the last two weeks. Vocal melodies bounce effortlessly along with the music (check out The Rifle’s Spiral (below) & Simple Song for prime examples) and this is really one of my favourite elements of the album. James Mercer really is a genius when it comes to the flow of his lyrics. It’s pretty straight up Indie Pop but goddamn it sounds effortless and so very, very confident.

Five years is a long time and if the sound of Port of Morrow is anything to go by it’s not just Mercers vocal melodies that have been honed, the production is sublime and a leap forward from previous efforts. It’s smooth, warm and well balanced, nothing is lost in the mix and it sounds bright and summery. It doesn’t sound like it’s taking elements from any one decade of the past 40 years but blending carefully the best of all of them. Pacing is well managed with a comfortable blend of slower mellow tracks and more upbeat singles helping the albums rhythm and never really outstaying its welcome. If there was ever any doubt after the line-up changes and five year gap between albums, it is very clear that James Mercer is back. He is The Shins and he’s back, familiar yet better in nearly every way.

If you’re a fan of The Shins you should be checking this album out, I have no doubt about that. If you don’t fall into that camp and you’re on the fence, then you could do a lot worse than checking out this brilliantly catchy Indie Pop record. Finally, it also benefits from excellent artwork courtesy of Jacob Escobedo who also worked on the Broken Bells artwork.

Track listing is as follows (complete with highlighted highlights).

  1. The Rifle’s Spiral
  2. Simple Song
  3. It’s Only Life
  4. Bait and Switch
  5. September
  6. No Way Down
  7. For a Fool
  8. Fall of ’82
  9. 40 Mark Strasse
  10. Port of Morrow