Albums of the Year 10 – 6: Frank Ocean, Anais Mitchell, Sweet Billy Pilgrim, Maccabees, Dry the River

We're into our top 10 best albums of 2012 now - a very strong year for new music...

No. 10

Frank Ocean with Channel Orange

 Is there a touch of fashion and political correctness amongst music reviewers worldwide who have made this the overall consensus Best Album of 2012? After all, we’re talking about a black r'n b singer who writes intelligent lyrics, confesses to loving another man in the past, and sounds at times like other artists well-accepted by a white audience (Stevie Wonder, Prince and Outkast at their best). Well, maybe, and it’s not quite my album of the year as you can see. But it is a fine album of interesting, clever, varied songs – with a crossover appeal and accessible to rock or indie fans as well as soul or RnB lovers. I also suspect it will be rated a classic in the future, and I’ll wonder why I didn’t have it higher in this list!

 No 9

Anais Mitchell with Young Man in America

You may remember her last work, Hadestown, her amazing 2010 modern “opera” about the Orpheus myth.  Well, Young Man in America is a less complex work, with fewer guest performers, but there are strong themes running through this – mainly around the nature of parenting, and the development of work in 20th century America. If that sound s a bit heavy, don’t be put off. The songs are lovely, often sounding simple at first listen, but full of clever musical touches and of course the lyrics play an important role too.   Like another album on our list still to come, her voice can be an acquired taste, but she is one of the most talented singer songwriters in the world right now and this is her second excellent  album in succession.


No. 8

Sweet Billy Pilgrim with Crown and Treaty

Their previous album was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 2009 and I though this was just as good, although it didn’t get quite the same critical acclaim. Their leader and main songwriter, Tim Elsenburg, is quite possibly a musical genius, but not a natural front-man, perhaps one reason why they haven’t made it as big as they should have by now. Tending towards the complex, almost prog-rock at times, with layered songs, and obscure lyrics, they’re hard to categorise. Yet they can write simply gorgeous and stunning tunes like Brugada and Kracklite – the latter with a tune so addictive, you’ll be singing along by the second chorus.  Here’s an acoustic version of that song..

No. 7

The Maccabees with Given To The Wild

An album that is miles away from the derogatory “landfill indie” of certain critics scorn. The band have matured over three albums  - into a  mixture of “swagger and sensitivity”, said Kitty Empire in the Guardian, and that’s a good summary. This is carefully structured,  restrained but emotionally satisfying indie rock with touches of dance sensibility.  It took a while to grow on me actually – it isn’t as instantly engaging  as their previous album, Wall of Arms, although Pelican was one of the festival anthems of the summer. But it is a very satisfying and strong collection of songs that repays multiple listens.



Dry the River with Shallow Bed

An album from early 2012 that grew on me steadily through the year and one that I suspect will get played regularly for years to come. The classic Dry the River track starts sounding a little like the Mumfords – tuneful folk-rock, with very impressive four part harmony vocals (which they can pull off perfectly live, too).  Then it builds and builds, with the guitars getting more prominent  and the by the last 30 seconds or so,  it has moved into a full on Mogwai / Metallica metal noise thrash... without seeming to leap illogically at any point, and all underpinned by very strong tunes. So if you like both folk and metal, (as I do),  you'll love this!

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First Voice

  1. Alex Kleiner:

    Peter, thanks for all your good work in 2012, procurement- and music-related both. It will have taken a lot of time to distill so many albums and the effort is appreciated. Very happy to see We Are Augustines get the proper respect they are due… Sitting her now listening to a 6-piece chamber pop group from Iceland and trying to guess who will be in the top 5 – looking forward to it. Happy Holidays SM!

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