Liars – WIXIW
Liars’ greatest suit is their immense control over creating atmospheres with original combinations of sounds. On WIXIW, their focus is on moods rather than traditional song forms, as they give dark synths and recorded instruments an unusual treatment with electronic effects. Despite falling a long way from the raw guitar power of their last album, the shift still clings to their trademark visceral, menacing style. Another constant is Australian frontman Angus Andrew’s performance at the microphone, which is as deranged as ever.
Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE
Already lavished with more praise than any other release this year, Frank Ocean’s mid-tempo studio debut is a great exhibition of empathy over ego. His lyrics, which touch on relationships between happiness and money, religion and sex, and other kinds of hedonism in conflict with higher pursuits, reveal a storytelling style which firmly falls on the side of the latter. Co-produced with long-term collaborator Malay, channel ORANGE‘s R&B/soul genre hybrids are sandwiched between fragmentary skits of spoken words and samples.
Field Music – Plumb
The Mackem brothers’ 2012 Mercury Prize nomination was a deserved tribute to years of intelligent music making. Their fourth album is full of clever, calculated nods to British rock music stretching back decades: songs like ‘A New Town’ rest on catchy drum patterns, while the brilliant opening medley plays with the more fragmentary style of their earlier work, thriving on unpredictable shifts of tempo and rhythm. Plumb doesn’t set out to capture the Zeitgeist, but its wit and everyday images paint a neat picture of life in 2012.
The Music Tapes – Mary’s Voice
As one of the mainstays of the revered Elephant 6 Collective, Julian Koster provided iconic musical saw parts to the unique compositions of Neutral Milk Hotel et al. His own vehicle channels the spirit of outsider music, with the trappings of contemporary style cut away in favour of rudimentary string and brass arrangements, interludes on barrel organ and saw, and yearning, childlike vocal deliveries. His lo-fi production values complete an appealing psychedelic world that might have been created in the earlier years of sound recording.