Music

Slipped Discs 2012 - Part 1: From Antibalas to Kowloon Walled City

The two-day 2012 edition of Slipped Discs -- where we feature great albums that missed our Best Albums of 2012 -- kicks off with PopMatters writers offering their personal picks for some of the best records of last year.

The two-day 2012 edition of Slipped Discs -- where we feature great albums that missed our Best Albums of 2012 -- kicks off with the forward-looking Afrobeat of Antibalas, the brilliant comeback of Dexys, a host of stellar indie and metal, the electrodance of Kindness and many more.

 
Artist: Antibalas

Album: Antibalas

Label: Daptone

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Antibalas
Antibalas

The core influences of Brooklyn based Antibalas could have easily trapped them in a musical time capsule, leaving them in the niche territory of Fela Kuti tribute act. However, the key to the success of their eponymous fifth album, is the startling urgency which they bring to a sound, which has its roots in the dark and humid dancefloors of 1970s Lagos. Antibalas shines, because whilst the musical references may be self-evident, the band draw together everything that they have learnt from their earlier, looser, more experimental albums.

Creating something which strips away the fat from the bone, pairing their sound down to tight grooves, blazing funk and high horn stabs which were the hallmark of their antecedents. It's this vitality which they bring to tracks like standout, "Dirty Money", a tale of corporate greed and oppression of the little guy, which fits perfectly within the Afrobeat style, but also places their sound very much in the present, with themes and ideas which resonate hard in these times of global instability. Rather than a new album from old hands, this bristles like the debut of a band with fresh purpose. Invigorated by the spirit of the times and blistering with the fire of highlife. Tom Fenwick

 
Artist: The Autumn Chorus

Album: The Village to the Vale

Label: Fading

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The Autumn Chorus
The Village to the Vale

This past year saw the release of some of the most emotionally draining and ingeniously beautiful music I've ever heard. For example, Anathema's Weather Systems and Gazpacho's March of Ghosts magnificently expressed heartache and the human condition with melodic brilliance. However, perhaps no album last year soared higher than The Village to the Vale, the debut LP by the Autumn Chorus. Full of sorrowful lyrics, delicate vocals, splendid English orchestration, restrained dynamics, and tinges of post/progressive rock instrumentation, the album is a relatively unknown gem that may just bring you to tears.

Like many great albums, The Village to the Vale is best thought of as a single statement broken up into tracks. While every second of the album is breathtaking, a couple selections stand out. The blend of acoustic guitar, flutes, and complex percussion makes "Thief" a fine piece of folksy progressive rock, while "Brightening Sky" is absolutely heavenly thanks to its exceptional synthesis of male and female vocals, horns, piano, and devastating melodies. The other six compositions are arguably just as overwhelming and impressive, though, making the record flow blissfully from beginning to end. The Village to the Vale is an absolute masterpiece that you should seek out ASAP. Jordan Blum

 
Artist: Kap Bambino

Album: Devotion

Label: Because Music

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Kap Bambino
Devotion

You say you want a revolution? Well Kap Bambino's Devotion is everything you dreamed 21st century pop music could be when you were a kid. Inventive, incendiary, insane. Futuristic, frantic, fresh. Mysterious, maniacal, melancholic. A dayglo riot o' dynamite packed tight into a mercurial magic box designed in league with Ol' Beelzebub by feral, wide-eyed French outcasts. A blueprint of wreckin' ball resistance to flip the finger to the plastics, the greys 'n' The Man and the perfect soundtrack to annihilate our loveless, lobotomised slavery into oblivion. Le Bambino's fourth and most exhilarating 'Speed-demon, watch-the-world-burn' EST broadcast Devotion proves such a trip 'n' a kick it surely must be illegal if not now then in some dystopian future ruled by the Kardashians. Yet beneath the amphetamines, spraypaint, suicides, switchblades, stitches and burning crosses there's bloody beauty and beating-heart martyr soul too. Friends, lovers, comrades pack your bags, the circus has come to town. This is an exit. Matt James

 
Artist: Bastille

Album: Other People's Heartache / Other People's Heartache Pt. 2

Label: Self-released

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Bastille
Other People's Heartache / Other People's Heartache Pt. 2

The cover version is a subtle art. It's not merely enough to provide a jazzed up take on a song someone has already written; what truly makes a cover distinct is in its ability to reflect the artist performing it while also elevating the song beyond its original performance. In 2012, no artist achieved this difficult task better than the British band Bastille, headed up by Dan Smith. In February, Bastille released a groundbreaking collection of covers in the mixtape Other People's Heartache, which included cover versions as recent as Lana Del Rey's "Blue Jeans" and as obscure as the mid-'90s minor dance hit "The Rhythm of the Night", rendered by Smith as a nocturnal ode to the allure of darkness. The influences that go into these tracks are many, including electronic, rock, soul, and hip-hop, all with innovative uses of film samples (audio from Requiem for a Dream is used as a chilling lead-in to the "Blue Jeans" cover).

While Other People's Heartache was strong enough to stand on its own, Smith gave something of a Christmas surprise with the December release of a followup mixtape, Other People's Heartache Pt. 2. Smith's song choices on this second half are even more eclectic: Seal, TLC, and Fleetwood Mac all comfortably mix together on this EP. But where Bastille really hit home was with a haunting rendition of the traditional Christmas hymn "O Holy Night", interspersed with darkly comic samples from Home Alone. 2012 saw a great many albums released for free over the internet—BBU's hip-hop masterpiece bell hooks being a prime example—and Bastille easily stood out amongst the ever-growing DIY online labels and distributors. Hell, Bastille made better music than much of the stuff you'd have to pay for. The band's debut Bad Blood will be released in March of 2013, and although most of what we've heard from them has been the words of other musicians, they've made those words entirely their own. Brice Ezell

 
Artist: Beat Connection

Album: The Palace Garden

Label: Tender Age

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Beat Connection
The Palace Garden

Seattle four-piece Beat Connection have brought us a debut LP of warm, joyous electronica with Palace Garden. For those still unconvinced that electronic music can be warm and joyful, here's a tip: listen to the lush synths of "Saola", or lose yourself in the after-hours romance of "The Palace Garden 4am". From the unexpected steel drums on "Further Out" to the blissful "Other Side of the Sky", this record lulls us into a seductive summer haze, heightened by the gentle nostalgia of Tom Eddy's vocals. "I think too little and feel too much," he sings on "Think/Feel". If these are the results of such an excess of emotion, Beat Connection shouldn't worry too much about that state of affairs. Devoid of the intellectual posturing that often plagues the genre, this is electro with genuine heart, a delicious cocktail of summer vibes with a faintly wistful kick. Gem Wheeler

 
Artist: Belbury Poly

Album: The Belbury Tales

Label: Ghost Box

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Belbury Poly
The Belbury Tales

The Belbury Tales is an eccentric and mysterious love letter to another time and space, the story of an alternate mid-20th century Britain in the quaintly sinister 'Parish' of Belbury Poly. A nostalgic patchwork of vintage electronica, psychedelia and folk, intertwined with samples from film, television and spoken word recordings. To the uninitiated, imagine a fevered hallucination, where the BBC Radiophonic Workshop perform incidental music from Quatermass and the Pit, at the base of a wicker effigy. Unlike his previous albums, this fourth outing has seen Jim Jupp expanded his once solo project to include a wider array of musicians. In doing so the possibilities have broadened, creating an immersive distillation of the Belbury sound: from eerie prog-tinged funk in "Goat Foot" and the psyche freakbeat of "Chapel Perilous", to the glacial, but unnerving electro ambiance of "Summer Round". With looming shadows of myth and folklore to regulate it from falling into the realm of novelty or self parody, The Belbury Tales is staring through a dark glass, from the future to the past and back again, conjuring up sonic vibrations from another world. Tom Fenwick

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