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Both Bars On: Top 20 Records of 2012

BBO album of the year

Yes, that’s right dear reader: such was the overwhelming amount of top music this year we’ve given our end-of-year list a dose of max enlargement pills and extended it to a mighty top twenty.

Those that didn’t make this engorged run-down and hence reside in our honourable bubbling under category include: Swans – The Seer; Toy – Toy; Monolake – Ghosts; White Manna – White Manna; Easter – Innocence Man; Bass Clef – Reeling Skullways; Umberto – Night Has A Thousand Screams; The Eccentronic Research Council – 1612 Underture; and Mouse on Mars – Parastrophics.

A special mention goes to British Sea Power’s EPs 1-6. Well it wouldn’t be one of our lists without them, would it? If we could have counted these as one album it would have made the top five. Obviously.

So here it is, Merry Listmas. Everybody’s having fun (somewhere else).

20. Eat Light Become Lights – Heavy Electrics

19. Alexander Tucker – Third Mouth

18. White Hills – Frying On This Rock

17. Fanfarlo – Rooms Filled With Light

16. Wishmountain – Tesco

15. Drokk – Music Inspired by Mega-City One

14. Mugstar – Axis

13. Fighting Kites – Fighting Kites

12. Belbury Poly – The Belbury Tales

11. Euros Childs – Summer Special

10. Egyptology – The Skies

The Skies

This analogue symphony had us frothing on about ancient astronauts and the geomancy of Giza back in July. It’s still taking us somewhere weird and wonderful. The best of the seemingly never-ending fascination with old synths and arpeggiators that pervades the world of electronica. Long may this fascination continue.

Orbis (Live):

9. Deerhoof – Breakup Song

11183_lpjacket

All over the shop, but in a good way, Deerhoof’s Breakup Song threw all kinds of idea together to make another off-kilter pop hit. Needs to be played loud.

‘Fête d’Adieu’:

8. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

godspeed

It came from nowhere, and nowhere on BBO will you find the review this album richly deserves. Yet it does exactly what you want a Godspeed! album to do, and then some. Colossal drones, magisterial builds and releases, and immense noise, all suffused with a politics for those that know.

‘Mladic’:

7. Bill Fay – Life is People

billfay.11298alt

Two astonishing albums at the start of the 1970s and then another one in 2012. The voice is warmer, but even more haunted, and Fay’s conviction still burns through as clearly as it ever has: “I personally need to believe that this world just can’t go on and on and on in the way that it goes.”

‘Be At Peace With Yourself’:

6. Beak > – >>

Beak

A marvellous pulsing head throb of analog musings and music from this threesome. Retro-futurism might not be a thing, but this sounds so extra-temporal we can’t help looking at the future through the past (and often vice-versa). If we had a record label of the year award it would probably go to Invada Records as well.

‘Mono’ (Ok, not technically on the album, but it’s a cracker):

5. Fang Island – Major

Major

Like a cheeky-monkey off its bits on riffs. With shit-eating gurns and post-ironic chest bumps all round, Major is always there for the dark days and the light days. Simply…YES!

‘Asunder’:

‘Sisterly’:

4. Plank! – Animalism

Animalism

Owls and pigs. Owls, pigs and fighting ferrets. Animalism  is nothing short of an extraordinary debut of Neu-proggish grooves and looped noodling and funk. Looked into the Owl’s eyes and agree. You now agree.

‘Dying for Pigs’:

‘King Rat I, II, III’:

3. Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Crown and Treaty

sbp

Prog, pop, country – Sweet Billy Pilgrim will do you an album containing all of those elements, and live they’ll throw in an a cappella version of ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ just to keep you guessing. Crown and Treaty is the sound of a great, genuinely original, band still discovering what they’re capable of.

‘Archaeology’:

‘Brugada’:

2. Bob Mould – Silver Age

bobmould

Ignore those people who tell you this is a ‘return to form’ – the amazing thing about Bob Mould is not that he’s produced an album reminiscent of the best of the Sugar records, but that he’s been writing songs this good since the early 1980s.

‘The Descent’:

‘Star Machine’:

1. Goat – World Music

World Music

The hype realised for once. An album that possesses you. We called it a transnational psyche agenda for the weird underground and we stand by these words. Syncretic brilliance. Stunning.

‘Disco Fever’:

‘Goatman’:

Det Som Aldrig Förändras/Diarabi:

A massive thanks to everyone who has supported us, read these ramblings and listened to anything we’ve recommended this year. You probably will never know how much we appreciate it.

Want more recommendations? We’re available on Twitter and Facebook to annoy you further.

jkneale and angrybonbon

[All of these lovely records are available from shops – independent ones, big shiny ones, online ones (who pay their tax), ones where there isn’t really a shop but you have to email some bloke. We like buying records – actually, we really do. And we think you should too, so if you like any of this and haven’t already bought them, go on! They’ll be cheap by now]

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Bill Fay: Life is People

billfay.11298altBill Fay last released an album of new material in 1971. That was Time of the Last Persecution (we reviewed it and his first, eponymous, album here) and though Fay continued to write songs, he’s spent four decades doing other things since then. His albums were re-released in 1998, with a number of younger musicians starting to sing his praises (this album comes with a sticker of appreciative blurbs from Jeff Tweedy, Nick Cave and Jim O’Rourke). There’s been another album since, though it sounds more like a set of demos, and some other fragments have been released. But here we are in 2012 with a new album, of new material, and it’s something special.

Fay is now in his late sixties, and this album sounds like he may well have made peace with himself and the world – Time of the Last Persecution is a fairly troubled work, fearful for what was coming next – and while Fay isn’t a fan of modern life he does at least seem to have refound his conviction that there is still hope, still something beautiful in this world and in each other. Jesus gets a name-check, and there are gospel arrangements throughout these songs, but it’s not clear, or even really very important, whether this simply goes with the territory when you’re singing songs of redemption or is genuinely part of who Fay is. As he sings on the sweeping standout of the album, ‘Cosmic Concerto’, ‘As my old dad said, life is people’.

While this is a genuinely charming album, with some beautiful highlights (‘Cosmic Concerto’, ‘Be at Peace with Yourself’), the production and arrangements are less startling and imaginative than the first two albums, which still sound fresh in comparison. Fay’s new band of musicians do an excellent job, but are perhaps more reverential than those who contributed so much to the other records – this is a Bill Fay record, and the music is secondary to his (admittedly marvellous) voice. But this is a minor criticism and this is certainly worth waiting 40 years for. I hope he continues to write and sing, because we may not have another forty years.

And from ‘Later’:

Buy the album here or in decent record shops.

jkneale

Bill Fay

For a long time Bill Fay stood at the top of my Last.fm charts, because I played this album, and his second, over and over again. I can now go weeks without playing them, but there’s something special about this music.

Bill Fay’s eponymous album didn’t make him a huge star in 1970 despite some support from John Peel (and the fact that he could clearly walk on water). It’s a shame, because this is a fantastic mix of simple piano-driven songs and lush orchestration, heard to best effect on opening track ‘Garden Song’, which lifts out of a super-quiet intro into swelling strings and horns. Fay’s lyrics can sound whimsical (when he’s trying to make friends with greenfly, spider and maggot, for instance), but his voice sounds like he’s got something more important to impart. This is most obvious on ‘Be Not So Fearful’, a song about forgiveness and hope; it might almost be a hymn, in exactly the same way that Nick Cave’s ‘Into My Arms’ is almost a hymn, and it’s just as beautiful.

Garden Song‘ – Bill Fay – Bill Fay

Be Not So Fearful‘ – Bill Fay – Bill Fay

The following year Fay released Time Of The Last Persecution and something is obviously on his mind; the music is dominated by his voice and piano, though there’s some fantastic one-take playing from his band. The lyrics are apocalyptic, dominated by images from Revelation: St George, Christ and the Devil, Hitler and Caesar. This (and the frazzled-looking Fay on the cover) prompted rumours that he’d gone mad, joined a cult, or both, though that doesn’t seem to be the case at all. Still this is a tremendously affecting record, one worth hearing in its entirety. It descends through paranoia and panic to ‘Tell It Like It Is’, which offers a breathing space of English normality (football and dustbins), before more prophecies of the end times (the beautiful ‘Plan D’), the warning that ‘Christ or Hitler’ is the choice we’ll have to make (‘Pictures of Adolf Again’) and then ‘Time of the Last Persecution’ itself. Bill testifies about the return of the Anti-Christ and concludes “Make for your own secret place/And others will join you there/And you wait for the ships in the air/And you wait for a sign like a trumpet sounding/And you go out and walk to the Christ”. It’s pretty draining stuff and you can see where those rumours came from.

In fact it seems that Fay just gave up on recording. Two further albums have been released, a collection of more recent demos and a compilation, and both are worth exploring. He’s had some press with these re-releases, and has been rediscovered by bands like Wilco, who duetted with him on ‘Be Not So Fearful’ in London last year (though the duet I’d like to see would be with Nick Cave). He’s a real original and his music is highly recommended.

Pictures of Adolf Again‘ – Bill Fay – Time Of The Last Persecution

Time of the Last Persecution‘ – Bill Fay – Time Of The Last Persecution

Buy here. Fan site here.

JKneale

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