Before I say anything, let me stress that this is subjective, and so if you don’t agree then fair enough. But that doesn’t mean that I am going to change my opinion. This is just a selection of the music that has hit home this year and it is good to talk about the things that inspire, move and enable us to wake up in the morning and get through the day.
5. “Ill Manors” | Ben Drew a.k.a Plan B
One of the first albums that really struck me this year was Ill Manors by Plan B – the soundtrack to the motion picture that he also released this year. I am never usually attracted to rap or grime, but the subject matter was what caught my attention – based around the London riots of 2010. His first single off the album, the namesake; was gritty, dynamic and hard hitting, pushing the boundaries of the attitudes of the people, ground level. There has been a lot of backlash from the critics about the themes and reverence of the album, but as a music lover, it is easy to see how it will not only maintain his already huge base but expand it to a whole new audience. It seems as if Ben Drew is going back to what he does best – making the microphone shudder and the people think. Listen to ‘Lost My Way’ and you will see what I mean.
4. “Coexist” | The xx
I must admit that when I first heard the xx, I was a bit disappointed with the sound. But it has definitely grown on me. It seems that they have definitely received more acclaim for their second album, Coexist, and their stand offish, almost hypnotic trademark has made its own hallmark. Being the perfect revision music, it has no frills, spills or thrills, just incredibly well produced tracks that formulate one of the most well rounded albums in the last few years. The consistency of the sound is so expert that you can almost forget where one song starts and another ends – that speaks for itself. The earthy tones and the heavy bass on ‘Sunset’ catches my ear every time it pops up on my iPod and the slow, almost sultry notes in ‘Angels’ takes this album from good to great. Whether you are listening to it on a busy train or in an empty train, it has the most profound calming effect with every track making you tilt your head back, close your eyes and take the world in. And we all need a little more of that.
3. “Votive Life” | Cave Painting
Many of you will probably never have heard of this band, but they are set for a big 2013. Touring with the massive Alt J (who do not escape my list!) they have been slowly and steadily getting fans with their new album, Votive Life. This is…Cave Painting. It may not be every one’s cup of tea, but this Brighton-bred band has peddled their Californian sound since they began in 2010. The familiar sound of a falsetto vocal mixed in with the odd snare drum and a heavy bass make their music un-put-down-able (not sure that is a word…) The genre is alternative, but I guess these guys are a bit farther down the scale, bordering on a unique and almost folky clique. Basically it is difficult to put them in a box and label them. Their singles: So Calm, Gator and Rio have received very warm responses and the future look very bright for them. Rio especially will appeal to all of those that like a steady beat, and a solid vocal and no drop in quality from either. Definitely one of the finds of the year for me: beautiful album, beautifully delivered and beautifully packaged.
=1. “An Awesome Wave” | Alt-J
I first heard them as Fern Cotton’s Big Thing on Radio 1 in March with Matilda and instantly fell in love with them. They are truly one of my favourite bands and it was the first album that I actually bought on iTunes. An Awesome Wave captivated the first 7 months of this year and it rightfully tops my list. Starting off as something of a guilty pleasure to a small number of people, these boys from Leeds showed us another side of music: folk-step. But that isn’t the only thing that makes them fantastic. The secret ingredient: they are clever cookies. Each track has pain staking intricacies in the lyrics, beat, melodies and harmonies that truly make the 12 tracks a crafted sculpture of an album, rather than just a shelf vinyl. It goes from the synth trips in ‘Tessellate’ (which is beautifully written) to the dubstep beats of the ‘Intro’ to the haunting vocal of ‘Something Good’. Although my personal favourite is ‘Taro’ with the Indo-Asian influences and the truly delicious instrumental chorus that raises all the goose pimples on my arm every time I hear it. This album has it all. And they have a Mercury Prize to boot. I cannot wait to watch them live next year. (You can see all their music FOR FREE on Sound Cloud – just have a gander!)
=1. “Babel” | Mumford & Sons
My final pick is of my favourite band of all time – Mumford and Sons. I have been eagerly anticipating the release of their new album ‘Babel’ for a year and when it finally released in September; I have listened to it every day since. It has received mixed reviews, but for someone who was converted with their first album ‘Sigh No More’ it was the perfect concoction of rusty vocals, folk charm and an expert use of the banjo. From start to finish, it is an explosion of passion with every line of lyric holding its own deeper meaning, making listening to it akin to a religious experience. For those of you that are unfamiliar with them – where the hell have you been first of all – they epitomise empowerment. Many a time have I listened to their songs and been given the strength to carry on when I felt like there was no reason to. And at the same time they present a softer, rawer side to them which enables to pause for thought, close your eyes and appreciate the words. This album is an emotional experience, that if you truly embrace, will give you the chance to explore feelings that were buried or that you have not felt before. This may seem grandioso but for me, the music made by these four guys have touched my soul, in the same way as it has done for millions around the world. I had the fortune of seeing them live in London, for their homecoming date, and it an experience that I will never forget – the concert of a life time.
That concludes my list of my top five albums for this year. To be honest, I could have expanded the list to at least 15, but I am happy to just stick with these five. Even if you hated every choice, you cannot deny that music in its entirety is part of the glue that holds together the fabric of our lives and we cannot dismiss it. This has been a monumental year for music, and unfortunately it draws to a close. But to paraphrase a great saying, “The music will live on.”