It’s time for the annual VPME Awards, as we reflect on the all that was awesome astounding and amazing during the musical year! It’s also a time to reward our favourite artists with our version of a musical Oscar, the quite stunning and splendiferous “Pipster.” Hewn from genuine 24-carat pixels, and then sculpted onto 5mm thick glossed, laminated PVC Board, this magnificent trophy will surely brighten up the drabbest of downstairs loos, tour vans, rehearsal spaces, or even garages. But on a serious note it’s our chance to say thank you to a host of musicians for striving and hoping and dreaming and for making the world that little but more tolerable (EMO alert!) And as we all know, a life without the things that bring us joy, is a life diminished. Therefore, the next time you see a musician, maybe give them a little hug, it ain’t easy out there and tell them you love them, unless of course it’s Gary Barlow.
Album of the year
Rules are for squares right? You said it Daddio! So we are going to break with protocol and award this year’s “Pipsters” to our FIVE favourite albums of 2012. Why? Well we simply can’t separate them and to be quite honest we don’t want to! These are the five albums that really have brought us the most joy during 2012.
Straylings –Entertainment on Foreign Grounds
Way back in February, we had already singled out ‘Entertainment on Foreign Grounds’ as a potential album of the year. It’s an epic, dark, portentous sounding slice of wide-screen drama, at times strident, unsettling, and haunting yet at other times gentle and consoling. It works perfectly and is an album of light and shade replete with some fabulous visceral, coruscating guitar riffs from Oliver Drake, which perfectly compliment Dana Zeera’s mellifluous vocals. Every track resonates with a dark beauty fusing a beguiling mixture of psychedelia, rock, blues, alt-folk, and even a touch of eastern mysticism.
The oblique nature of the lyrics, which at times would have Benedict Cumberbatch in full-on Sherlock mode scratching his sagacious noggin, only adds to the mystery and allure. For example we have no idea what album opener ‘Carvers Kicks” is actually about but we imagine it’s not about that copper who used to be in ‘The Bill.’ Similarly, we’re sure that the Mazzy Star meets PJ Harvey gem entitled “The Unravelling of Mr Ed” isn’t about a talking horse from the vintage U.S. TV show or indeed Milliband the younger for that matter! But frankly, we don’t care because this is a genuinely rewarding début.
Album Of The Year -The Raveonettes – Observator
In our recent interview with Sune Rose Wagner he stated that it was very likely ‘Observator’ would be their last album! This would of course leave something of a Raveonettes shaped void in our lives, as their sixth studio album encapsulates all that’s been wonderful about this band over the last ten years. But we can see his point, listening habits have changed beyond recognition, single downloads, streaming, play-lists and a culture of instant gratification have all contributed to the concept of ‘making an album’ somewhat ‘old school.’ Today’s music fans simply will not countenance the notion of paying for ‘filler’ tracks, mind you it’s a tricky task finding any ‘filler tracks’ on any Raveonettes albums over the past ten years, and ‘Observator‘ is no different. It may be an album born out of depression and a homage to the “nostalgic glorification of unrequited love” but the overall impression one is left with is that of hope. As ever The Raveonettes can take seemingly bleak subject matter and turn it into something gloriously uplifting. Long may they “Rave-on” and release music in whatever format suits them best thereby enabling them to keep doing what they do, because to paraphrase the Ramones ‘Oh Oh we love them so!’
Chromatics – Kill For Love.
The Chromatics returned this year after a five-year gap with a new album, the quite incredible ‘Kill For Love.’ A kind of John Carpenter meets Trent Reznor meets David Lynch -take on wide-screen cinematic pop, which was quite simply breathtaking in its scope and ambition. At seventeen tracks long it initially felt like separate albums , but repeated listens reveal just how it all clicks together with a seamless beauty and coherence that many less ambitious artists wouldn’t even begin to attempt. People keep telling us that the Frank Ocean album is deep, man, but we’re afraid we really don’t get Mr O, for us he sounds a plastic kestrel short of a Craig David, but ‘Kill For Love?‘ ‘Kill For Love’ is fucking deep!
Canada’s finest musical exports Metric are another band who we’ve been in the thrall of for almost a decade, and with their superb fifth studio album ‘Synthetica’ they demonstrate there’s absolutely no sign of them running low on creative juice! Is it their finest album to date? Possibly, ‘Synthetica’ is a kind of futuristic digital rock take on their own sound, fusing swirling electronic music with the anthemic indie rock. Occasionally some tunes sound like they wouldn’t sound out of place on a mid-Eighties soundtrack via perhaps a more cerebral take on the John Hughes coming of age dramas. This is a good thing. But despite the electronic jiggery pokery, the emotional honesty is never sacrificed for technical trickery, Metric remain as refreshingly candid and forthright as they have always been. ‘Synthetica’ hooks you from the get go as the album opens with Emily Haines singing ‘I’m just as fucked up as they say.” A wonderful album from a truly fantastic band.
Dark Horses – Black Music.
Dark Horses’ début album is full of shadowy allure and subtle bleak beauty in which Swedish siren Lisa Elle’s nonchalant, beguiling vocals, described as “a holy communion of Grace Slick and Siouxsie Sioux,” tease, coax, and seduce the listener into blissful submission. Cryptic, oblique, and heavily stylised Dark Horses combine a flamboyant futuristic 50′s noir biker gang vibe with music of substance and elegance. We never doubted Dark Horses, but get this concept wrong and you run the risk of sounding like the worst sort of pretentious art collective, but get it right and you can produce something enigmatic, nuanced stylish and utterly sublime. ‘Black Music’ is certainly all of those things as well as being a wonderfully immersive, richly rewarding listening experience.
They inhabit a world of their own construct in which the aural and the visual enjoy a symbiotic relationship, a place where manifestos obfuscate rather than enlighten. But a place where ultimately the seductive power of the music slowly fills the atramentous abyss with a burnished iridescent radiance. A fabulous début and a compelling introduction to world of Dark Horses.
6. Foe – Bad Dream Hotline.
Foe aka Hannah Louise Clark is without doubt one of the most significant and talented young singer songwriters to emerge from the UK in recent years. Initially described by some as a ‘snot pop punk pop princess’ her début album ‘Bad Dream Hotline’ proves there’s much, much more to her oeuvre than a pop centric riot grrrl and reveals her to be a songwriter, performer and storyteller of some depth.
7. 2:54 – 2:54
Whilst 2:54 may not have exactly reinvented the wheel there’s a seductive urgency to many of the finely crafted tunes on their debut album. If Warpaint and Curve collided in some sort of musical wormhole, 2:54 may well have been the result. Formed by sisters Hannah and Colette Thurlow 2:54, make the sort of swirling celestial noise noir we at The VPME simply adore. We even used the word ‘Brobdingnagian’ to describe them, which has never happened before!
8. The Waves Of Fury -Thirst
The Waves of Fury are a five piece from Somerset with a penchant for taking classic Rn’B influences and atomising them through a filter of mangled guitar distortion whilst at the same time blending them with rich soaring brass riffs ala The Memphis Horns. The result is “Thirst, “to call it “Psychocandy” with horns may be something of an overstatement, but it certainly contains the same explosive incendiary combination of noise, melody, and classic pop hooks. It also proves that like the Reid brothers, these guys certainly know their musical history. If you’ve ever pondered what Joe Strummer might have sounded like had he spent his formative years at Wigan Casino, then tracks such as ‘Death Of A Vampire’ and ‘Businessman’s Guide To Witchcraft’ may provide at least some clue. Fabulous debut!
9. Crocodiles – Endless Flowers
An album that steadily grew on us the more we played it and a glittering return to the bands earlier Noise-Pop. None of tracks quite reach the dizzying heights of the best song of their career so far, the vigorous, coruscating anthemic ‘Sunday (Psychic Conversation #9)’ but there is plenty of fantastic psychedelic infused goodness on display here, which the Crocs attack with visceral relish. Be warned, if you buy a copy of the album which lacks the discreet sticker on the cover you’ll be greeted by the sight of what appears to be a chap descending the stairs balancing a sausage roll a top a couple of spuds !
10. Policia – Give You the Ghost.
On paper, you’d think this wouldn’t be our bag at all, but music can still surprise us, which is why it’s always best to keep an open mind. Poliça are formed around the artistic nucleus of Channy Casselle and Ryan Olson, two members of Minneapolis collective known as Gayngs. Much play has been made with regard to the synthetic manipulation of Ms Casselle’s voice, but this isn’t employed to mask vocal defects, as she clearly has a wonderful voice, instead it acts to turn her vocal into an instrument imbuing the album with an atmospheric, otherworldly sound. Indeed instead of stripping emotion from the vocal performance, as you might expect it merely adds to the celestial, dream-like beauty and leaves one with the feeling of having been slowly roused from a state of deep slumber to find you’re being felated by a particularly considerate and attentive lover.
Best Of The Rest
11. Two Wounded Birds – Two Wounded Birds
Two Wounded Birds breathed new life into a genre that some may have felt is a pretty well worn musical path, and then in true rock n’roll style they promptly split up! Songwriter Johnny is too much of a talent not to surge back in 2013 with a new project. It’ll be very interesting to see what he does next!
12. Dead Mellotron -Glitter
Symphonic shoegaze, an epic all enveloping sound that’s as good as anything My Bloody Valentine at their finest have produced.
13. Unkindness Of Ravens – Virus
Electro Allen Poe anyone? The Unkindness Of Ravens produced a master-class in cybertronic electro-grunge from outer space, a relentless sonic assault of ear shredding brilliance.
14. Le Sera – Sees The Light
Shimmering guitar driven, melody- laden, pop- splendour to die for from Vivian Girl Katy Godwin’s solo project.
15. Golden Fable – Star Map.
Cocteau Twins vibes and celestial folktronica from North Wales duo’s shimmering début.
16. Race Horses – Furniture
A great return from another Welsh band mixing 80′s synth noir, angular art pop with crashing guitars and sky scraping choruses.
17. Garbage – Not Your Kind Of People
It seemed this wasn’t many people’s type of album, [well critics anyway,]but Shirley’s our type of girl and we loved most of it. It also makes a lot more sense if you listen to it more than once, y’know?
18. Rebekah Delgado – Don’t Sleep***
A kind of Nico meets a more sonorous Dietrich singing a musical version Webster’s ‘Duchess of Malfi’ vibe runs throughout ‘Don’t Sleep’ and if you’re looking for something more substantial than gap year hobbyists singing about a load of old arsebiscuits then Ms Delgado’s your gal.
19. Kyla La Grange -Ashes.
A compelling 11-track collection that combines huge swooping lovelorn epics juxtaposed with reflective, intimate folk infused numbers. At times, the wall of sound and tribal drumming conjures up the spectre of early Fleetwood Mac, a nod to the theatrical flair of Kate Bush with a touch of Big Country guitar squall thrown in. Vocally it’s that husky, honey cracked alluring Marianne Faithful meets Stevie Nicks at confession kind of vibe, all tied together by Kyla’s bleakly dramatic mini-sestinas.
20. Taffy – Caramel Sunset
Taffy are not as you might presume, given their name from Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch! They are in fact from Tokyo but they have taken a sound that has a distinctly British indie feel and made it their own. Instead of the arch smugness and “aren’t I ever so clever” attitude that pervaded many Brit-pop bands (see Sleeper) Taffy do it with an impish charm that is hard to resist. Music doesn’t always have to be ground-breaking, boundary pushing and innovative, and it’s not compulsory to slavishly worship the latest broadsheet championed hipster, which you wear like a fucking badge of honour to prove your intellectual and aesthetic credentials, because y’know, music can be fun too.