Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012: A Year In Retrospect

The Twilight Sad
I don't want to cast a downer on the past 12 months, but I think most would agree 2012 has hardly been a vintage year. Let's not get overly dramatic here; affairs in the musical world have been as compelling and headline-worthy as ever, and although short on true masterpieces we haven't exactly been bereft of quality releases on which to gorge. Speaking from a personal perspective, nothing has hooked me in the way that WU LYF's Go Tell Fire To The Mountain or The National's High Violet have in recent times, though to grumble would seem irreverent given the wealth of worthwhile material we have been blessed with.

One record which has made a telling impact is Frank Ocean's channel ORANGE, an outstanding full debut which has spearheaded the current R&B fad and seemingly topped the collective critics' poll. With a classic backstory, a classic crop of songs and even a classic cover, OFWGKTA's breakout star may already have calved himself something of a legacy, and that, if nothing else, should ensure his success is remembered beyond the immediate future. With regards to personal preferences, meanwhile, no one has come closer to striking gold than The Walkmen, who've shattered their 'nearly men' reputation with a long overdue magnum opus in the shape of Heaven. Passionate, assured and sophisticated, it was the album many fans feared they'd never make, and led the way for other reliable heads who dutifully followed suite. New Jersey natives The Gaslight Anthem and Bruce Springsteen for example earned typical widespread praise for their own exploits; the former accelerating their upward trajectory with major label bow Handwritten, whilst the latter's Wrecking Ball proved another improbable triumph and arguably his finest outing since that glorious late '70s/early '80s heyday.

Some genres have of course fared better than others. With the much revered return of Burial adding to the excellence of Andy Stott, Clubroot and John Talabot among others, electronic music has enjoyed an exceptional year, and continued to spawn some of the most creative and cultured acts going. The same could be said of R&B, which has built upon The Weeknd's success in 2011 with a string of luxuries from the likes of Poliça and How To Dress Well as well as the aforementioned Frank Ocean. Metal, by contrast, has had another shocker, once more relying on the old guard of Converge and Deftones to prop it up - albeit with records far from their best. That more than any other is a community in need to fresh blood, but with such an emphasis on the past and dependence on worn-out clichés it's difficult to see where any injection is going to come from.

Perhaps due to those mixed fortunes, 2012 has by and large been a period in which I've fallen for artists as opposed to individual albums. The Twilight Sad, for instance were an outfit who'd left me cold until February, when their third LP No One Can Ever Know kick-started a process that's culminated in them becoming one of my very favourites. The deal was effectively sealed by a stunning live appearance at Newcastle's Cluny back in October - a memorable night in that it also introduced me to the mastery of fellow Glaswegian RM Hubbert. It's no coincidence this lone ranger opened three of my top four gigs of the year. While sublime on tape (as evidenced by Thirteen Lost & Found), his stage performances are on another level entirely, carrying a vibe and weight of emotion quite staggering given they're largely instrumental - a situation aided no end by all the candid context and gallows humour thrown in.

If he's the finest support act I've witnessed, the best headliner would have to be Richard Hawley, a figure I'd always respected but never truly immersed myself in until catching his stunning live show in May. Then, of course, there's The Neat, the Hull-based oddballs I maintain are the greatest band on earth and whose utterly brilliant gigs and singles have continued to fuel my neigh on obsessive fandom. Less forseeable was my sudden affinity to Brooklyn's Graph Rabbit, whose ethereal debut set Snowblind caught me completely off guard and remains dazzling even now the initial 'wow' factor has worn off. The lack of attention this duo have garnered thus far is absolutely criminal, and I for one can't wait to hear what they do next.

As if to make up for a largely disappointing year, my two favourite regional scenes have also done rather well for themselves. As a North-East resident, it's given me great pleasure to see my local outlook spring to life with the emergence of acts like Ajimal, The Watchers and Let's Buy Happiness, all of whom I expect to make big strides in the coming months. Scotland meanwhile has once again yielded an uncanny percentage of the music I hold dearest, with excellent efforts from Admiral Fallow and Meursault adding to those by The Twilight Sad and RM Hubbert in justifying my obsessive allegiance. Indeed of all the fortunes we've received of late, these quirks are perhaps the two that've granted me the most satisfaction, and should they advance in a similar manner will surely render 2013 equally profitable. Let's hope the rest of the world follows their example...


1. The Walkmen - Heaven
2. Future Of The Left - The Plot Against...
3. Beach House - Bloom
4. Graph Rabbit - Snowblind
5. Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE
6. Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball
7. First Aid Kit - The Lion's Roar
8. Sharon Van Etten - Tramp
9. The Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten
10. John Talabot - Fin

1. Frank Ocean - 'Pyramids'
2. Graph Rabbit - 'Only Fields'
3. Grimes - 'Genesis'
4. Meursault - 'Settling'
5. The Shins - 'Simple Song'
6. The Walkmen - 'Song For Leigh'
7. The Twilight Sad - 'Dead City'
8. The Neat - 'New Kids'
9. Spiritualized - 'Hey Jane'
10. The Gaslight Anthem - 'Keepsake'


1. Richard Hawley @ The Playhouse, Whitley Bay, 13/07
2. The Twilight Sad @ The Cluny, Newcastle, 18/10
3. Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat @ DCA, Dundee, 28/11
4. Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat @ Twa Tams, Perth, 23/11
5. The Cure @ Leeds Festival, 25/08
6. Richard Hawley @ O2 Academy, Newcastle, 28/09
7. Admiral Fallow @ The Cluny, Newcastle, 30/05
8. Frankie & The Heartstrings @ Hoults Yard, Newcastle, 10/05
9. The Neat @ Cult Festival, 07/07
10. At The Drive-In @ Leeds Festival, 26/08

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