What music did we listen to at Polari HQ in 2012?
Bryon Fear – Highwire Poetry – Karin Park
Yesterday I was horrified to read Karin Park ask the question on Tumblr: “Do I really make any sort of difference with my music?”. Her answer was “Probably not.” Mine is “Hell yes!”. Highwire Poetry is, certainly within my social circle, one of the most talked about and most listened to albums of 2012 – and I was not the only person who chose Highwire Poetry as their favourite album of 2012 for this feature – I just got there first. To my shame I had not even heard of Karin Park this time last year, but according to my iTunes play counter, I have made up for lost time. As an artist, I use music to set my mood, and when creating I chose music that inspires me. Music has always been my muse and Highwire Poetry was the soundtrack to some of my best work last year. So, if Karin needs an answer to her question, it is this, “yes, your music makes a difference”. 2012 was an amazing year for music, and Highwire Poetry was for me its pinnacle. In years to come, listening to the album will spark some of my fondest memories of a very memorable year. If you still haven’t heard Highwire Poetry make it the soundtrack to your 2013!
Walter Beck – Middle West – Eli Van Sickel
Considering I consume music like most people breathe air, it’s hard for me to narrow down my favorite album of 2012.
Eli Van Sickel’s Middle West is definitely near the top of the heap, probably one of the best folk albums I’ve heard since Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited. Both of us being Midwestern natives, his raw, lo-fi depiction of life here speaks volumes to me. Eli painted an honest portrait of life in Middle Nowhere, USA, the small triumphs, the dreams and the set-backs.
The follow-up to Middle West, entitled Nightlife, is planned for release in February, so definitely expect a full review of that one when it’s released.
My other pick for Best Album of 2012 would be X-TG’s Desertshore/The Final Report; a double album that features guest vocals by Gaspar Noe, Marc Almond, Blixa Bargeld and others on the first disc, a re-interpretation of Nico’s 1970 album Desertshore and the second disc consisting of ten originals, the last work of the legendary Throbbing Gristle With Genesis P-Orridge retired from live performing and the death of Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson in 2010, this double album is the last audio testament of one of the most extreme bands to emerge from Britain’s late 70’s punk scene.
Dan Hall – Fairground Attraction, Boomtown Rats, The Buggles.
Those 1980s School Disco standards are so hideously deep in their own postmodernism. But I love the era and am keen to discover new bygone gems. As a teenager, I found albums too cerebral … just give me THREE MINUTES OF FUN. So this year I explored the LP homes of famous, overplayed tracks.
First of a Million Kisses (Fairground Attraction), is the home of ‘Perfect’. The Skiffle style and vocal is beautifully ageless. Away from the lead single’s hype the album is allowed to breathe. And it does so with a beautifully unique North London style.
The Fine Art of Surfacing (Boomtown Rats) is home to the iconic ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’. It gives the lead single a run for its money. ‘Diamond Smiles’, a terrifying story of glamour gone wrong, is an absolute stunner as is the suffocating youthful inaction of ‘Nothing Happened Today’. The Rats manage to perform anger without being angry.
Most surprising is the home of ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’, The Plastic Age (The Buggles). It continues the single’s themes of techno-fear. ‘Elstree’ is a particularly appealing hymn to the dying film industry of 1980s England. But through this pessimism there is a still an idealist innocent about a future Utopia. Give it a few spins.
Rupert Smith – 2nd Symphony – Sibelius, cond. Vassily Sinaisky (Royal Festival Hall)
My outstanding musical experience of 2012 was Sibelius’s 2nd Symphony at the Royal Festival Hall, played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Vassily Sinaisky. It’s one of my favourite pieces of music anyway, but nothing compares with the emotional impact of hearing it performed live. Orchestral music means so much more to me these days than popular stuff. I still love listening to my old pop records, but I feel absolutely no desire whatsoever to see a live band again as long as I live, unless they’re friends. If I want to be treated like cattle and wade around in urine I’ll go to the countryside.
Andrew Darley – Not Your Kind of People – Garbage
After a five year break from making music, Garbage returned this year with a superb album. It’s no secret internal tensions and pressure from management brought on their creative pause but fear not! Shirley and her boys came back rejuvenated, producing a record with a burning fire in its belly. Not Your Kind of People embraces their hybrid style of rock, electronic and pop that grabbed imaginations and shook the music world up early in their career. From the unrelenting beast of ‘Man On A Wire’, disco distortion of ‘I Hate Love’, to the spectral sweetness of ‘Sugar’, they reclaimed the essence and energy that made them different and stand out from their peers. Having grown up with their music, seeing them live for the first time made my 2012 truly unforgettable. Watching them perform with fine determination and conviction was like the final line in Sylvia Plath’s Lady Lazarus: “Out of the ash / I rise with my red hair / And I eat men like air”.
Nick Smith – Devotion – Jessie Ware
In a year peppered with formidable breakthroughs for female artists such as Emeli Sandé, Moya and Loreen, Jessie Ware released her album Devotion as the sun set on the summer of 2012. The record was a platform for the sultry Ware to channel the best of British R’n’B, pop, soul and electronica on this slick and distinctive production. Precursed by the wonderful ‘Wildest Moments’, evoking Alicia Keys at her most majestic, Devotion garnered a Mercury Music prize nomination for its eclectic mix of hard-hitting drums, sultry vocals and smoking ballads. This impressive and sophisticated debut pitches Ware as Sade meets Neneh Cherry with an effortlessly, fresh and exuberant collection of tracks, including the deliciously sinister ballad ‘Night Light’, the garage dubstep of ‘110%’ and the downtempo funk of ‘Sweet Talk’. The album’s standout is ‘Taking In Water’, where Ware pours out her heart with a soaring and powerful vocal performance. Ware is truly “the” sound of 2012.
Scott De Buitléir – Girl On Fire – Alicia Keys
Alicia Keys’ earlier music was the sole reason I fell in love with the piano, though I always loved soul and R’n’B – the story goes that only Sade’s music would send me off to sleep as a baby. Keys’ recent albums, however (such as The Element of Freedom and As I Am) lost her original soulful style that had made her so famous, with the exception of only the odd song. Girl on Fire returns fully to the style that suits her so much, though, bringing with it a new level of maturity. For those who can’t name any song by Alicia Keys apart from her groundbreaking Fallin’, I’d suggest going having a listen to Girl on Fire – and then enjoy the rest.
Little Bastard – Channel Orange – Frank Ocean
I’m an idiot – and on occassion I let hype and drama overshadow something really great. In 2012 I let Frank Ocean’s debut album pass me by slightly, and it was the biggest mistake I made all year. A laid back affair, kind of like Erykah Badu baring Pharell’s child, Frank’s tales of love and loss, and mostly same-sex love at that, are as painful as they are ambient. From his first gay experience to a stripper called Cleopatra & a crack pipe, the album manages to be both hard hitting and easy listening throughout its 56 minutes. Hopefully Frank’s decision to come out before the release of his debut album won’t harm his career (a risk in the American R’n’B scene) as this isn’t just the best R’n’B album I heard all year, it’s the best I’ve heard since Erykah Badu’s 2010 offering “New Amerykah Part Two”. Frank’s had success both with Alt Hip Hop crew Odd Future and writing for people like Beyonce and Brandy, and if his own output is anything to go by he’ll be around for a long time – gay or straight.