The Wire

Magazine

Top 50: Albums of the year 2012

December 2013

The Wire's top 50 albums of 2012 as voted for by our writers, from our annual Rewind issue.

1.
Laurel Halo
Quarantine
Hyperdub

The follow-up to last year’s Hour Logic saw the Brooklyn based electronic musician explore darker, more disorienting sonic territory than its Acid-bright predecessor, with increasingly waterlogged synth textures, analogue and digital noise fragments, and refracted, disintegrating rhythms. But Halo’s confidence with melody and her deftly written and direct, often harshly vulnerable vocal lines raised Quarantine above the vague techno-dystopian mood that permeated much of 2012’s electronic music. Not content with merely creating atmosphere, Halo placed herself at the centre of this drowned world, a skilful avatar of the near future. We said: “A general wrongness fills and warps [the tracks], as if the very air that carries these sounds was toxic to breathe... ‘Songs’ is both too enclosing and too sloppy a term – these are smears of technological colour that spill across the canvas, just abstract enough to be perturbing.” (June/340)

2.
Sun Araw & M Geddes Gengras meet The Congos
Icon Give Thank
Rvng Intl

Sun Araw’s Cameron Stallones and his friend M Geddes
Gengras took a trans-Caribbean jaunt and found a veteran
reggae collective alive and well in a St Catherine Parish
compound (documented on the accompanying film Icon Eye).
The collaboration was a meeting of sublimely stoned minds:
a blissed out psychedelic dub encounter with a burning core
of Rastafari righteousness, recorded in a studio cloudier
than when Lee Perry set fire to his Black Ark. We said:
“Gushes of white noise, long-chain percussion loops and
guitar squall – albeit at a Caribbean tempo – predominate...
Cedric Myton’s honeyed tenor remains an instrument of
glory and power and his group’s harmonies still cohere with
ragged majesty.” (March/337)

3
Actress
RIP
Honest Jon’s

The title of London producer Darren Cunningham’s third
album was not a death knell but an invitation to a twilight
interzone between rest and wakefulness. RIP is a suite
of oblique dubstep tangents, zen melodic sketches and
tonal laments, all painstakingly forged through manual
sound processing way off the grid of commercial electronic
software, and all obliquely wrapped around the narrative
of Milton’s Paradise Lost. We said: “He plays games on
the margin of what works on a dancefloor... Deliberately
crossing these lines adds another layer to dance music’s
tension-release formula, making it more perverse and more
gratifying at the same time.” (April/338)

4
Jakob Ullmann
Fremde Zeit – Addendum
Edition RZ

Three discs of some of the quietest, most intense works in all of contemporary composition. The four longform pieces here used graphic scores and empowered performers to create lengthy, almost static performances which, when heard closely, became teeming ecosystems of sonic activity, incorporating the noise of the instrumentalists themselves and huge recording spaces. The East German composer’s music is intended to be played just above the threshold of ambient noise, forcing the listener to hear more closely, and hear more. We said: “It’s enticing and yet somehow unobtainable, always a few feet ahead, just out of reach, always causing the ear to be strained... All of the pieces are beautifully still on the surface, but this tranquillity betrays a wealth of detail.” (April/338)

6
CC Hennix & The Chora(s)san Time-Court Mirage
Live At The Grimm Museum Volume 1
Important

This rarefied wave of sound, made by Swedish-American composer Catherine Christer Hennix with a group including Amelia Cuni, Robin Hayward, Hilary Jeffery and Michael Northam, was constituted from an alchemical brew of high mathematics, quantum physics, dhrupad modes and Just Intonation blues. The rising and falling audio mist provided one of the year’s most hallucinatory sonic experiences. We said: “... Like something deeply earthed, something uncoiling around your spine from the ground up... It’s a stunningly beautiful piece of music, with just enough undertow hints of remembered pain as well as blissful pleasure”. (June/340)

7
Bob Dylan
Tempest
Sony/Columbia

In another lifetime a Dylan song would get you running for shelter from the storm, but on Tempest his words fell right in step with his regular touring group’s take on roadhouse blues, Country swing and atavistic boogie modes. As ever, it was the voice that kept pulling you back in – weary and worn out, but also dirty, low down and sly enough to keep you guessing where these songs were coming from and where they were going. We said: “Tempest reveals not only phantoms of Dylan’s previous work but also many key preoccupations... a sense of dues paid as a continual creative replenishment, rather than a swansong.” (November/345)

5
Jason Lescalleet
Songs About Nothing
Erstwhile

After numerous collaborations, Songs About Nothing was US tape tweaker Lescalleet’s first solo album proper in six years. The result was a tantalising MC Escher puzzle of bastardised remixes, electroacoustic sketches, urban field recordings and oblique riffs on Big Black’s hardcore classic Songs About Fucking. Its two discs, one of spiky fragments and the other a single multilayered track, presented radically different sides of the same coin, united by subtle motifs and thematic echoes. We said: “A fragmented, selfreflexive and quizzically conceptual collection of collages and cut-ups... convincing evidence of Lescalleet’s gradual emergence as one of the US Noise underground’s more distinctive voices.” (October/344)

8
Julia Holter
Ekstasis
Rvng Intl

The Californian composer’s background is steeped in music theory, classical literature and philosophy – heavyweight influences that made the airy, dreamlike pop miniatures on her second album seem all the more fresh. The title of Ekstasis was inspired by Ancient Greek poetry, as was its predecessor Tragedy, yet Holter deals not in academic detachment but lo-fi intimacy, realised on bedroom electronics, twinkling keyboards, cello and heartfelt vocal harmonies. We said: “Don’t expect ecstasy in a traditionally climactic mode... Ekstasis might be full of... undermining moments, but it’s free of the knowing kitsch that characterises so much contemporary production.” (April/338)

9
Carter Tutti Void
Transverse
Mute

The introduction of a third party into the hermetic duo of Chris & Cosey was first mooted in 2011, when Carter appeared live with London trio Factory Floor and that group’s guitarist and vocalist Nik Void then collaborated with the post-Throbbing Gristle duo – an experience Tutti described in The Wire 332 as “a joy”. This live set, recorded at London’s Roundhouse, was a buzzing circuit of energy and synergy, Void and Tutti deconstructing their respective electric guitars in a percussive semaphore of scratch and squeal amid Carter’s darkly grooving analogue pulses. We said: “Sonically enthralling... the welcome rarity of a female-dominated electronic noise collaboration can hardly be understated.” (April/338)

10
Ricardo Villalobos
Dependent And Happy
Perlon

Ricardo Villalobos’s first studio album in nearly a decade, released across no less than five LPs in its vinyl edition, trumpeted his domestic bliss in its title, but family life seemed to have spurred the Minimal Techno producer into ever deeper experiments in sound. A perpetual central pulse was the only fixed reference point as around it sounds morphed like plasticine, voices chattered and swooped, and live percussion drifted through the mix. We said: “This is magic in the truest sense, where sleight of hand makes the inconsequential sublime and vice versa, with its maker’s apparent idleness hiding music of ferocious potency.” (December/346)

11
Scott Walker
Bish Bosch
4AD

12
Josephine Foster
Blood Rushing
Fire

13
Fushitsusha
Mabushii Itazura Na Inori
Heartfast

16
Emptyset
Medium
Subtext

17
Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland
Black Is Beautiful
Hyperdub

18
Andy Stott
Luxury Problems
Modern Love

15
Death Grips
The Money Store
Epic

14
Keiji Haino/Jim O’Rourke/Oren Ambarchi
Imikuzushi
Black Truffle/Medama

21
Richard Skelton
Verse Of Birds
Corbel Stone Press

22
The Bohman Brothers
Back On The Streets
Peripheral Conserve

20
Morton Feldman
Crippled Symmetry: At June In
Buffalo
Frozen Reeds

19
Wandelweiser Und So Weiter
Various
Another Timbre

23
Kendrick Lamar
good kid, m.A.A.d. city
Top Dawg Entertainment/ Aftermath/Interscope

25
Bass Clef
Reeling Skullways
Punch Drunk

24
Michael Pisaro & Toshiya
Tsunoda
Crosshatches
Ertswhile

26
Aaron Dilloway
Modern Jester
Hanson

27
Killer Mike
RAP Music
Williams Street

28
Shackleton
The Drawbar Organ/Music For The Quiet Hour
Woe To The Septic Heart

30
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
Mature Themes
4AD

29
Rhodri Davies
Wound Response
alt.vinyl

30
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
Mature Themes
4AD

31
Wadada Leo Smith
Ten Freedom Summers
Cuneiform

32
Thomas Köner
Novaya Zemlya
Touch

33
Annea Lockwood
In Our Name
New World

34
Earth
Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light II
Southern Lord

35
Lee Gamble
Diversions 1994–1996
Pan

36
Heatsick
Deviation
Pan

37
Duane Pitre
Feel Free
Important

38
Raime
Quarter Turns Over A Living Line
Blackest Ever Black

39
Swans
The Seer
Young God

40
Mark Ernestus presents Jeri-Jeri with Mbene Diatta Seck
Mbeuguel Dafa Nekh
Ndagga

41
Cooly G
Playin’ Me
Hyperdub

42
Traxman
Da Mind Of Traxman
Planet Mu

43
DJ Rashad
Teklife Vol 1: Welcome To The Chi
Lit City Trax

44
Charles Gayle Trio
Streets
Northern Spy

45
Frank Ocean
Channel Orange
Island/Def Jam

46
Pye Corner Audio
Sleep Games
Ghost Box

47
Peter Cusack
Sounds From Dangerous Places
ReR Megacorp/Berliner Künstlerprogramm Des DAAD

48
Pelt
Effigy
MIE Music

49
DVA
Pretty Ugly
Hyperdub

50
Peter Brötzmann/Masahiko Satoh/Takeo Moriyama
Yatagarasu
Not Two

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