It's been a good year for music with the likes of Bloc Party, The xx and Crystal Castles among the most prominent releases of 2012 while Kendrick Lamar and Purity Ring announced their arrivals in style with excellent debut albums from each. Electric Picnic 2012 was a landmark year for the ever growing festival and saw The Cure, Elbow and Sigur Ros dominate the main stage.
So what was my favourite album of the year at Heavy Metal Mouth? Here's my top 5.
5. Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city
Lamar has been touted in recent times as the next Kanye West, Drake or even Biggie Smalls and it's not hard to see why. Following the release of his acclaimed debut mixtape Section .80, Kendrick dropped good kid, m.A.A.d city in late October to near universal critical approval and rave reviews which compared the Compton rapper to the late Notorious B.I.G for his storytelling style and lyrical ability.
A concept album laden with atmospheric beats and low key production, good kid, m.A.A.d city has been rightfully ranked in several end-of-year best lists already and it makes Heavy Metal Mouth's with ease.
Best Tracks: Sherane/The Art of Peer Pressure/Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst
4. Grizzly Bear - Shields
It says a lot about the year in music that Shields was my number 1 pick for album of the year before a string of late releases beat it to the top. Grizzly Bears fourth effort was a worthy follow-up to 2009's Veckatimest, an album I'd certianly rank among the finest releases since the turn of the century. Daniel Rossen took a stronger position in the band with lead vocals on stand out tracks such as ''Sleeping Ute'' and ''Sun In Your Eyes'', and it was easy to hear that this was Grizzly Bears most collaborative and balanced effort yet. Despite Ed Droste's reduced leadership role, the groups founder had by no means lost his touch, demonstrated most effectively on lead single ''Yet Again''.
Ultimately, Shields represented a continued streak of standout releases by a band rivaled only by The Arcade Fire for consistency in modern times, and gives me real reason to believe that Grizzly Bear are capable of many more quality records over the next decade and perhaps even longer.
Best Tracks: Sleeping Ute/Yet Again/Sun In Your Eyes
3. Bat For Lashes - The Haunted Man
Natasha Khan has enjoyed another prosperous year in the spotlight that has seen her status increase to even greater heights following the release of The Haunted Man in October. Her third effort followed an appearance at Electric Picnic which recieved great acclaim from the Irish audience who were witness to the Londoner's set.
The Haunted Man continued Bat For Lashes' outstanding streak of releases following Fur & Gold in 2006 and Two Suns in 2009. Kicking off with ''Lilies'', Khan couldn't help but draw comparison to Kate Bush for her near identical vocal delivery, which was mentioned back in our original review of the record. Khan's vocals dominate the record on tracks such as ''All Your Gold'' and ''Deep Sea Diver'' which stripped back much of the instrumentation used in previous releases while ''A Wall'' and ''Marilyn'' upped the electro approach found on signature hit ''Daniel''.
Khan's third record is a synth pop pleasure that more than deserves a place on this list and many more before the new year begins.
Best Tracks: All Your Gold/Laura/Deep Sea Diver
2. Crystal Castles - (III)
(III) felt like a watershed moment for Crystal Castles on first listen; gone were the hysteric electronic freakouts of (I) and to a lesser degree (II) in favour of a softer side which often resulted in a gloriously affecting, emotive sound that had eluded Alice Glass and Ethan Kath on their earlier releases. Songs like ''Affection'' and ''Child I Will Hurt You'' broke down emotional barriers and introduced a developed, matured approach that many never thought was possible from the Toronto pair.
The possiblities seem endless for Crystal Castles following (III) and thoughts of what their next release will sound like are already exciting listeners, but first of all there's an incredible live show to look forward to from the always reliable performers.
Best Tracks: Affection/Violent Youth/Child I Will Hurt You
1. Purity Ring - Shrines
I actually came across Shrines while searching for something Crystal Castles like to explore and the results were quite amazing. While I can still see the original comparison that led to my discovery of Purity Ring, nowadays I'd liken them more to SBTRKT meets Joanna Newsom, due to Corin Roddick's penchant for chilled electro dub beats and Megan James' strange yet enticing lyrical imagery (perhaps most obviously in ''Fineshrine'' with 'Cut open my sternum and pull my little ribs around you') and her playful vocal delivery.
Originally Shrines stood 5th on this list, then 4th, then 3rd, 2nd and now 1st simply because everytime I returned to it I loved it even more than the first. The idea of ranking a small-time, not as yet truly established act from Montreal, Canada ahead of Grizzly Bear, Bat For Lashes, Crystal Castles and many more seemed a little odd at first, but the fact remains that Shrines was the best album released in 2012 (at least for my money) and if you haven't heard the electronic beauty of it all yet you are doing yourself a real injustice. So start listening now because this is a truly wonderful album from a band with potential to be incredibly special. Watch this space.
Best Tracks: Fineshrine/Belispeak/Shuck
Well they were my favourite albums released this year but on a shorter note here are ten of my top picks for song of 2012.
10. Arise, Awake - Paul Banks (Banks)
A tense build up that recalled the old days for Banks on a second solo effort that was suprisingly solid. If he could craft more songs like this for a new Interpol record then hopefully the damage could be repaired in the next few years for the bands mundane self -titled fourth in 2011.
9. Heart - MMOTHS (MMOTHS EP)
An intimate electronic tune that became a signature hit for rising Irish star MMOTHS in 2012. The Dublin born performer is set to grow in stature over the next 12 months and it's easy to see why after a nostalgic beauty such as this.
8. 212 - Azaelia Banks (1991 EP)
Taken from the 1991 EP, 212 was a shoe in for this top ten and I have no doubts it will feature in many other year end lists with the American rapper set to realise her obvious potential in 2013 with the release of debut album Broke With Expensive Taste.
7. Yet Again - Grizzly Bear (Shields)
Ed Droste's powerful vocal performance dominates this track which was one of many stand out songs taken from Shields. A perfectly constructed lead single which announced the return of the band in some style and will most certainly become a live fan favourite in years to come.
6. Chained - The xx (Coexist)
Coexist was seen by many as the most complex and divisive album of the year, splitting both the band's fan base and critics with it's sparse, minimal style and I must admit it was a confusing one for me to review aswell. Originally taking a positive stance and defending criticism of the album back in July, my mind was then changed following their headline performance at Electric Picnic and I then decided it was an unusually dull, disappointing follow up to the London trio's flawless debut.
Following many repeated listens and a second, much improved live show, Coexist is finally starting to make sense to me and I feel a lot more positive about it come the end of this year than in recent months, but even at my most negative stance regarding te album, ''Chained'' was one of the highlights of my year for it's call and response vocal delivery from Sim and Madley Croft. The aching ''Ooh ooh ooh'' of that chorus carries more emotion than any words uttered on Coexist and for that, it stands out as my pick of the bunch.
5. Child I Will Hurt You - Crystal Castles (III)
The culmination of III was a callback to the closer of the band's debut album, ''Tell Me What To Swallow'' no only in terms of its quiet, unexpected beauty but also in the abusive childhood issues it raised. In any case, it served as a beautiful closer to Crystal Castles best yet and is eaily counted among my all time favourites by Alice Glass and Ethan Kath.
4. The Healing - Bloc Party (Four)
Four was another album that I found difficult to review this year, mainly due to the fact that Bloc Party just didn't sound like themselves as they bizzarely attempted to introduce an almost metal, grunge-like element to their work which just didn't fit. When they slowed things down though, the results were amazing and ''The Healing'' is the perfect example of this, recalling Radiohead's In Rainbows era, particularly the stunning ''Nude''.
So while I may be frustrated at the band for ignoring the oppurtunity to create a softer, well-crafted release that expanded on tracks like ''Real Talk'', ''V.A.L.I.S'' and ''Truth'', I can also take great comfort in the fact that ''The Healing'' stands among Bloc Party's finest moments.
3. Fineshrine - Purity Ring (Shrines)
The finest example of Shrines ten track long electronic orgasm, ''Fineshrine'' brings together James' erotic, unusual imagery with one of Roddick's finest constructions. It's chillout electronica at it's finest although you'd be unlikely to be able to sit still or lie down after hearing the opening ten seconds as a glorious, haunting beat kicks in before James' takes it away with her chilling, unique vocals.
2. The Art of Peer Pressure - Kendrick Lamar (good kid, m.A.A.d city)
Probably the best track I could use to summarize Kendrick's ability to effortlessly meld songs together, what starts out as a floating piano ballad quickly transforms into a disturbingly real account of Kendrick and his friends criminal activities in their home city of Compton on an average night out for the gang. It's a shocking tale that exposes Lamar's culture better than any other song on the album and showcases his outstanding lyrical ability and delivery perfectly.
1. Laura - Bat For Lashes (The Haunted Man)
Natasha Khan takes a break from the electro pop soundscape of The Haunted Man to break down the record with a piano ballad centrepiece that recounts the story of broken hearted party girl Laura with a genuine empathy and quiet sadness. ''Laura'' is Bat For Lashes at her most effective as the raw emotion and brutal honesty of the lyrics pour through the listener in a manner that almost no other modern day artist could hope to acheive.
So that's what made 2012 for me, hopefully 2013 can bring even greater things. Happy New Year and Merry Christmas from Heavy Metal Mouth!