The Best Albums of January 2012
BBC Album Reviews Editor Mike Diver casts an ear over the best of the bunch from January's raft of new record releases.
Album of the Month
"Smart but not showy, clever but never at the expense of a catchy hook, this is 'indie' par excellence: guitars that ring through the mix like a clarion call from the inspired to take up arms against the dunderheaded legions of lad-rockers; buzzing synths that swirl around like a cloud of friendly wasps; lyrics delivered in mantras, summoning forth similar sermons to those once purveyed by the mighty Beta Band."
The best of the rest...
"Born to Die isn't perfect: it slumps slightly towards the end, and the glossy trip-hop production grows wearying on lesser gothic melodramas like Dark Paradise. But it's the most distinctive and assured debut since Glasvegas' eponymous disc in 2008, and makes you desperate to see where she goes from here. Del Rey's defenders can take a break: Born to Die does their job better than they could hope to."
"Be Strong, in short, is superb: a joyous amalgam of disco textures and dancefloor stylings which never fail to bring a big grin to your face. A love letter to the last 20-plus years of dance nation sensations which references the finest moments with a cheery and cheeky approach, this is far from a pastiche. In a just world, this set would sell by the bucket-load. So yeah, follow the bears. You know it makes sense."
"Whether Given to the Wild provides the hoped-for kick up the festival billings this summer remains to be seen - at times the obsessive shading masks a lack of melodic punch - but its makers are right to be proud of it. If only all bands had the guts and honesty of The Maccabees, maybe they'd get round to making third records as good as this."
"Far from being the expected hook-shy mope, Something does what so many of us fail to do when romantic endeavours go arse-over-tit. It offers a confident, head-held-high reappraisal of the band's MO, with the newly-promoted Wimberly a more than capable foil for Polachek's songwriting smarts. In producing a focussed follow-up that completely transcends its litigious backstory, Chairlift have summoned a watertight case for the defence with their second LP."
"As with any album to which Leonard Cohen puts his name, Old Ideas is a work which displays great finesse. The music presented is gentle, even fragile, with backing vocals and instrumentation similar to that heard during his brace of UK concerts four years ago. But as ever, it is the author's sense of poetic balance that renders this release as being a work of art."
"Everything still sounds familiarly Portico Quartet, only fresh, forward-thinking and a little bit tougher. Their arrangements and wide-open ambience remain sparse, but, on InterRailing-inspired Window Seat, are paired with drifting synths; elsewhere, Ruins and Steepless carry the Radiohead gene always present in their improbably tuneful experiments. As journeys go, this one's endlessly absorbing."
"Johanna and Klara Sodenberg's close harmonies charm unaffectedly, pitched in the mix like the faint voices of songbirds echoing through a woodland scene, and it's difficult to imagine anyone topping this collection in 2012. Sat neatly between Laura Marling's trauma, Alessi's Ark's florid scenes and Joni Mitchell's spot-lit thoughts, First Aid Kit's second album lines them up as the band most likely to cross over into the big time."
"Her voice, which has always been pretty, in a vintage, timeless kind of way, reaches new levels here. On songs like The Rushing Dark, call-to-arms Time Is Not and measured, graceful closer Feather Lungs, they add to the record a wonderful old scratched-vinyl quality. This gem of a long-player - both sleepy and steely, mystical yet rooted in very real and universal themes - deserves all the plaudits that will hopefully meet its release."
"Have Some Faith in Magic is impressively characterised by its very organic design. It sounds as if it's the work of human trial and error, rather than a series of computer-coded phrases and melodies, and it's this fragility that really has it standing out as the work of a band hitting its peak. This is, easily, the Scottish 'post-electro' band's most composed, defined album to date."