The Factory’s Top 10 Albums of 2012

It’s that time of year again! Join the Music Factory as Buster Stonham and Piers Barber take a look through the finest albums that 2012 had to offer.

10. Burial – Kindred EP

7357e-burial-kindred-epThe wordy splurges that tend to constitute reviews of Burial releases have always seemed to end up centring around the same predictable themes, largely that his music sounds like “walking through the streets of South London at 4am” or “dubstep made in outer-space”. This year, Burial’s Kindred EP rendered such summaries even less helpful than ever, for this is a daunting, stop-start record that is at the same time the paciest yet slowest; the richest yet most minimal; and the darkest yet most hopeful composition that Burial has produced to date. Forget all the stereotypes and instead become absorbed in the most confident and commanding demonstration of this exquisite producer’s talents released so far. Music with such startling and restless range deserves no pigeon-holing. PB

9. Mala – Mala In Cuba

c6736-cover-smlDubstep producer Mala, half of the legendary Digital Mystikz duo, chose an unusual angle for his long-awaited and long-overdue first full-length release. Encouraged by world music guru Gilles Peterson, the producer traveled to Cuba in a quest to soak up the nation’s instantly recognisable sound and identify new layers with which to colour his characteristic bass rhythms. Calling on the services of the masters of Cuban jazz piano, rumba and Afro-Cuban drumming, Mala In Cuba encapsulates the essence of the island’s rich musical heritage whilst at the same time retaining the minimal, ghostly echoes of South London’s finest early dubstep recordings. The ultimate holiday postcard. PB

8. Tame Impala – Lonerism

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The influence of psychedelic rock on Tame Impala’s music is well known, and in it’s unorthodox song structures, lengthy instrumentals and rich jams of distorted, crunchy guitars and hearty drum rolls, the influence of the early 1970s on second album Lonerism is instantly noticeable. Yet in its brilliant analogue synths, masterful sound manipulation techniques and impeccable electronic layering, this is a decidedly 21st century collage of a record. Following on from previous album Innerspeaker’s theme of introspective reflection, the lyrics speak of loneliness and isolation, but the glimmers of light that shine through the album’s storytelling and exhilarating production hint at how it is often possible to find a comfortable solace in being alone. At points it is a brilliantly uplifting record, and in songs like ‘Mind Mischief’ and ‘Elephant’, with its verses that are as catchy as the best of choruses, there are genuine hits here, too. PB

7.The xx – Coexist

c17dc-packshot2009 was the year of The xx, with their Mercury winning self titled debut album rejuvenating the independent music scene, creating a minimalist zytgeist that no-one knew they wanted until they heard it. On first listen Coexist appears to be little different from its predecessor, Romy Madley Croft’s whispered vocals coupled with ethereal chiming guitars on ‘Angels’ recaptures the simple beauty of their debut. But the real joy of this album comes after spending some time peeling back the subtle layers that reveal a band growing in confidence and maturity. Especially notable is the growing influence of Jamie Smith, who’s work outside of The xx has had a big impact on the band’s sound. ‘Reunion’ for instance is reminiscent of his reworking of Gil Scott Heron’s Take Care, complete with dreamy synths and a pulsing drum beat. Coexist is an album that takes time to reveal its beauty to you, time which it deserves, as the wait is more than worth it. BS

6. John Talabot – fiN

8e0db-john-talabotBalearic house magician John Talabot spent his early career tackling the task of producing those perfect Ibiza sunrise moments, a worthy, yet ultimately creatively limiting, musical quest. On debut LP fiN, Talabot takes things up a notch, expertly merging disco, deep house and indie to forge a more ambiguous sound that manages to exist in a space between tropical euphoria and melancholic, foreboding electronica. Talabot’s textures remain rich and complex throughout, creeping out of simple rhythms to become all-encompassing grooves. This album offers more intriguing depths than your typical house record, and time spent exploring its light and dark shades will reward you with some of 2012’s finest and most intricate dance music moments. PB

5. El-P – Cancer 4 Cure
The Factory's Top 10 Albums of 2012El-P, aka El Produco, aka Jamie Meline, has been a major driving force behind the alternative hip-hop scene for the past decade or so, first as a member of underground act Company Flow, then as a producer and owner of Definitive Jux records and finally as a solo artist. Cancer 4 Cure is the perfect antidote to today’s ubiquitous, chart dominating, mediocre hip-hop. Compared to the likes of Drake and Lil Wayne, C4C feels like taking a sledgehammer to the side of the head (in a good way!) Musically, El-P is wonderfully experimental, drawing on influences from electronica, drum & bass and using only a minimal number of obscure samples to a produce a unique sound that could have come from another planet for all we know. His lyrics are sometimes hilarious, sometimes deeply cutting and political, but always spat out at breakneck speed in Meline’s aggressive, arresting style: “It sucks to be nothing, nobody struts when they’re down on their knees, This whole rackets for the bees, fuck my life already, Fuck the law, fuck the sun, say goodnight already” he raps on ‘Drones Over Brklyn’. Cancer 4 Cure is a must listen album, if for no other reason than it’s unlike anything you’ll have heard this year. BS

4. How To Dress Well – Total Loss

The Factory's Top 10 Albums of 2012Total Loss is the sophomore effort from experimental R&B producer Tom Krell, a.k.a How To Dress Well, one of the most interesting and innovative artists out there making music today. His debut effort The Love Remains was dark, mysterious minimalist and beautiful all at the same time. However, the intricate layers were sometimes lost in the albums low-fi production. On listening to Total Loss it instantly becomes clear that the production values have improved, but the beauty of Krell’s unique sound has not been lost. His flawless and delicate falsetto voice soars over crackling Burial style beats, but the R&B influence on Total Loss is even more prominent than on its predecessor. ‘& It Was You’ sounds like it could have been written by Prince, and ‘Running Back’ is the sort of track that will end up being sampled by much more successful artists for years to come. This album is certainly an acquired taste, but its appeal lies in its desire to push boundaries and experiment with sounds and lyrics that no-one else would think to put together. BS

3. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange 
1d5f9-homepage_large-45e3c196If Frank Ocean had a CV it would make for some pretty interesting reading. Before setting out as a solo artist he wrote songs for mainstream heavyweights like Justin Bieber, John Legend and Beyonce Knowles, but then took the dramatic decision to join Odd Future, the Californian alternative hip-hop outfit. Working with artists like Tyler The Creator and Jay-Z he developed his song writing and created his own signing style, which was first seen on his critically acclaimed 2011 mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra. But it was his decision to publicly come out as gay, still somewhat taboo in the macho hip-hop world, that catapulted Frank Ocean into the media limelight. This incredible back story is what makes Channel ORANGE the incredibly accomplished debut album that it is. During tracks such as ‘Sweet Life’ the album seems to be a feels good mainstream hit, with easy going lyrics and a hook that would make Kanye West jealous. But at other times the album shows the influence of Odd Future, criticising the consumerism of mainstream hip hop like on ‘Super Rich Kids’ featuring Odd Future’s Earl Sweetheart. Stand out track ‘Thinking About You’, sees Ocean at his most vulnerable, sharing the pain of unrequited young love as he sings: “My eyes don’t shed tears, but, boy, they bawl/When I’m thinkin’ ’bout you…Do you think about me still?”. Such emotion and honesty are a rare thing in hip hop, but they make Frank Ocean’s debut something really special. BS

2. Hot Chip – In Our Heads

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In 2012 Hot Chip not only assumed their position as Britain’s finest pop band, but also succeeded in making pop cool again. If 2009 album One Night Stand ensured the band would not rot in the forgotten world of jumpy indie electro, In Our Heads was the moment when they secured their place as a proud British institution. This is a wonderfully warm, sincere and perfectly produced record drawing from the bands’ vast influences, seamlessly merging and jumping between the finest examples of UK garage, pop, 80s disco, future house and R’n’B. From ‘How Do You Do’ (“A heart is not for breaking/It’s for beating out all the life it needs to begin”) and ‘Look At Where We Are’ (“Remember where we started out/Never gonna be without each other’s love again”), these are songs that, backed by funky R’n’B rhythms, lush steel pans and outrageously infectious refrains, celebrate the unmatched pleasantness of waking up with someone you love each and every sunny morning. Glorious and glowing, it is an album that is guaranteed to encapsulate anything that was good about your 2012. PB

1. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city

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The sudden, brilliant emergence of 2012’s best rapper came from nowhere for many, but Kendrick Lamar’s all conquering success will have come as no surprise to Californians, who know more than most about prodigious rap talent and have been bellowing this guy’s name from the rooftops of Los Angeles for years. And it is clear from the off that Lamar’s major-label debut, a staggering bildungsroman about family, peer pressure and the lures and threats of young life in Compton, owes everything to his experiences in hip-hop’s great musical metropolis. Rap is a slippery genre that often misses the point of the album format, but here Lamar has constructed a record with a masterful narrative, complete with recurring characters, refined local detail and raw emotion, that add substantial new layers to his already world-beating technical dexterity and rare lyrical brilliance. Hip hop’s new master. PB

Follow Buster and Piers on Twitter @BusterStonham & @piersbarber18

4 responses to “The Factory’s Top 10 Albums of 2012

  1. Pingback: Review: Burial – Truant/Rough Sleeper | Music Factory Number 1·

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  3. Pingback: The Music Factory’s top 20 albums of 2014: Part one – 20-11 | Music Factory Number One·

  4. Pingback: The Music Factory’s top 20 albums of 2014: Part two – 10-1 | Music Factory Number One·

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