Alt-J: An Awesome Wave
There is a temptation to regard this album as over-hyped or pretentious given the, admittedly at times ridiculous, praise it garnered and the obscure literary references with which it is peppered. Perhaps these temptations are valid, but this is beside the point because An Awesome Wave really is that rarest of things in the 21st century; a genuinely innovative piece of music. Yes, Joe Newman’s vocals may at times be a tad annoying and the themes deliberately obtuse, but here Alt-J really have produced a brand new template for the postmodern album and for that alone they deserve recognition.
The Maccabees: Given To The Wild
Just a week into 2012, The Maccabees’ Given to the Wild was hailed by some reviewers as one of the best albums of the year. Whilst I’m always dubious of critics claiming to have such psychic powers, the South London band certainly merit a nomination for their third album. The Maccabees used to write songs about leopard prints duvet covers and the wave machine at their local pool. Now they’ve moved on to dreams, death and dissatisfaction. Accompanying these lyrical lamentations are driving guitar lines and lush soundscapes that sweep into swirling climaxes. ‘Pelican’ shows the band at their peak, fusing the youthful energy of their earlier work with a more ambitious and mature musicality.
Django Django: Django Django
If the Mercury prize this year doesn’t go to Django Django, then it would be more than a shame. It would be a miscarriage of justice. Django Django are a summery breeze sweeping through this cool autumn. With effortless style, the Scottish four-piece take all that’s best from Franz Ferdinand and introduce crazy psychedelic harmonies and electronic noises. Listening to their album is like being inside the coolest indie video game ever. Plan B has politics behind him, Richard Hawley has comparisons to Johnny Cash behind him, but for pure cool, nobody is ahead of Django Django.
Richard Hawley: Standing at the Sky’s Edge
Hawley’s most recent offering is somewhat of a stylistic renaissance setting itself up in opposition to his previous releases. The decision to smother his perceived greatest attribute, his voice, in layers of guitar distortion is controversial but the experimentation has lead Hawley to take a whole range of approaches never heard from him before. Sky’s Edge is a demonstration that, six albums in, his music shows no signs of becoming routine but more than that, it demonstrates that the scope of his vision goes beyond what we had previously expected. His next effort will be awaited with bated breath.
Plan B: Ill Manors
Transforming from nearly unknown grime artist to suited-and-booted soul-singing bad boy nearly overnight, London rapper Plan B has had a meteoric rise in recent years. As if to press the point that he can do whatever he wants, he’s directed a movie – Ill Manors – and done the soundtrack too. This album is bold in every sense of the word, blending amazingly audacious social commentary with powerful beats and a hip hop traditionalism which proves that songs like 2010’s “She Said” haven’t changed Benjamin Ballance-Drew’s commitment to being a hard bastard. The title single, a snarling state-of-the-nation address, is a headbutt of a song, and totally brilliant. Brave, loud and innovative, Ill Manors deserves to win the Mercury Prize.
PHOTO / Abby Gillardi