Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2012: A Look Ahead

Great Expectations... will 2012
be the year that The Gaslight
Anthem become huge?
Ah, finally it's 2012, and thank Christ - no more end of year lists!

Yes, the obligatory avalanche of retrospective madness has finally ran it's course, and at long last we can begin looking ahead at what the new year has to offer. And wouldn't you know it, even a cursory glance over the coming months reveals plenty that's worth getting excited about.

As well as the obvious big names and returning old favourites, there are also legions of newer acts hoping to make an impression with debut releases, while others who have already completed that opening hurdle will be looking to kick on and really establish themselves within the industry. So, with a run through the early year release schedule, as well as a few well educated pieces of guesswork, let's cast our minds ahead and behold what could well be another year of stellar musical achievement...
Sensational Scots Frightened Rabbit
Perhaps top of my own anticipated list is the new record from The Gaslight Anthem, which should see the light of day sometime around the summer. Supposedly nearer in sound to the blissful nostalgia of The '59 Sound than the populist leanings of American Slang, I can't help but feel that this could be the album which makes them massive, with Brian Fallon's golden touch and the backing of major label Mercury making for a potentially crucial combination. Aside from that, the release that I'm most excited for comes from Frightened Rabbit, probably my favourite current band. Admittedly, it's hard to see the Scots matching - or even coming close to their opus, The Midnight Organ Fight, but something along the same lines quality-wise as 2010's The Winter Of Mixed Drinks would more than suffice, such was it's excellence. While by no means a certainty, there's also the outside possibility that The National will unveil their eagerly awaited successor to High Violet sometime in the next 12 months, though having created three masterpieces in a row they've more than earned a lengthy spell in which to reach such heights again. 

Jay-Z and Kanye West: both set for
another massive year
As brilliant as they could be, all of those albums will inevitably fall behind the true big hitters when it comes to units shifted, but will the members of that A-League justify such sales volumes? Green Day for one will have to make a big improvement on the hideously overblown 21st Century Breakdown if they're to do that, as will Muse, whose similarly bombastic The Resistance perhaps stands as the most disappointing record of the past few years. LA indie darlings The Killers and the evergreen (in popularity terms, at least) U2 also find themselves in a similar position, but not all of the big guns have so much to prove. Hip hop heavyweights Jay-Z and Kanye West - particularly the latter - have married success and substance to great effect on their past few releases, and both look set for another massive year in 2012. Details of their new individual exploits are scarce, but the pair are also reportedly working on a follow-up to last year's collaborative release Watch The Throne, so expect plenty more larger-than-life ego massaging shortly down the line! Of course, it wouldn't be right to speak of big names without acknowledging the true legends also making a return, namely Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney, who are both due to release new LP's in the first half of the year. Oh, and the newly reformed Beach Boys also have a new album mooted... though in all probability that'll be awful.

On the verge of a breakthrough?
...The Maccabees
As always, there will plenty of lesser known acts looking to make their big breakthrough and be elevated to the status of household names. Last year saw plenty of Brits in particular take that crucial step, and the early signs are that that is a theme which could well be set to continue. At the front of the queue are London indie pop quintet The Maccabees, who will unveil their third album Given To The Wild later this month, having already caused quite a stir with excellent lead single 'Pelican.' Already a big deal, but seeking to become even bigger are Biffy Clyro, who are looking to shake off the somewhat dismissive "Scottish Foo Fighters" tag once and for all with the release of a daunting double album. It's risky in the extreme, but should they get it right the results could be spectacular. Perhaps the most intriguing proposition of the coming year is a new album from The xx, who are due to release the follow-up to their Mercury Prize winning debut. How they, and their sound will react to the unexpected attention brought about by that success could ultimately decide whether or not they're in it for the long haul. Across the pond, Janelle Monae finds herself in a similar situation, having wowed critics with 2010's The ArchAndroid. The ludicrously ambitious Kansas City singer has already stated her intention to release two separate LP's this calender year and it'll be interesting to see whether she can translate her otherworldly themes and widespread acclaim into genuine mainstream success.

Far less likely to bother the charts, but no less interesting will be the plight of metal, with the genre having endured a relatively poor year last time around. If the past four decades have taught us anything though, it's to never underestimate this most enduring of styles, and indeed there are enough promising releases in 2012 to dismiss any suggestion that it's in terminal decline. Underground legends Converge are set to enter the studio later this month to unleash their musical shitstorm once more, while sludge titans Neurosis are readying their first album in five years, though an imminent arrival shouldn't be expected. Taking their time as always, Tool should also return with the long awaited successor to 10,000 Days, and the prospect of a new Meshuggah album is always an appealing one. What I'm looking forward to more than any of these, however, is the second album from Norweigan sextet Kvelertak, which if all goes well should see them take their thrilling "blackcore" template to a whole new level.

Top tips... The Tower & The Fool
Even more exciting, though is the knowledge that there'll be hordes of new bands emerging throughout the year looking to make their mark and have their sounds heard. Many of these will come completely out of the blue, but it's always worth bigging up a few who could well make it. Lana Del Rey certainly will. Having released a stunning series of singles towards the back end of 2011 which were adored by critics and the public alike, it doesn't take a genius to work out that she's probably set for Adele-like dominance once debut album Born To Die drops later this month. The Tower & The Fool won't enjoy anything like the same level of success (or for that matter exposure), but they're my top tip for the year ahead, having released a pair of fabulous EP's since their inception in 2010. A full length seems quite a way off yet, but any release from this outrageously talented folk collective should be an event worth celebrating. By contrast, Love American are already deep into the process of writing their debut album, which should see the light of day come spring time. The Californian hardcore trio are another who have already impressed on the shorter format, and will be looking to make an even bigger impact in the year ahead. Howler on the other hand will unleash their own debut in just a few weeks, and will hope that it justifies their tag as this year's actually-rather-good Strokes ripoffs.

There are, of course, loads of other great bands that I've had to exclude from this piece, and doubtless plenty more that I've completely forgotten about, but that only reaffirms my point that we potentially have quite a year in front of us. Some of those mentioned will deliver, others quite frankly won't, but even those failures will most likely be made up for by unexpected successes from artists we wouldn't have thought capable. The promise of such ups and downs make it all the more exciting to be a music fan in 2012, and I for one can't wait to get started.

Happy New Year!

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