BEST OF 2012: 17. Django Django – Django Django

I love the moment when a song from an album you know well appears on a compilation and, as it comes to an end, your brain cues up the opening bars of the track that follows it on said parent record. That involuntary reaction, that euphoric familiarity, is an intoxicating feeling, not unlike certain songs’ ability to conjure locations, times of year and even specific events. When the gloriously louche ‘Hail Bop’ retreats into blankness, I can already hear the stuttering, thumping start to ‘Default‘ beginning in my mind’s ear. And as all of this music, both real and imaginary, plays I am transported to the downstairs counter of Rise in Bristol, where for several months this album seemed to always be playing.

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I didn’t even like it much the first time I heard it, finding it somewhere between a limp Beta Band and a novelty record. I know, I almost didn’t tell you that. Wouldn’t want you doubting my clearly sizeable credentials. ‘Firewater‘ does have more than a hint of Steve Mason‘s old band but there’s much more to this album than mere pastiche. Psychedelic synth-driven repetitive chant favouring electro-indie is very much the order of the day on this startling debut. The product of two years’ hard graft, Hot Chip fans and lovers of beautiful melody should form an orderly queue.

The percussive dropout during the aforementioned ‘Default’ before the beat returns louder and lovelier may be one of my favourite musical moments of 2012. The whole record has an irresistible feel-good factor which perhaps explain why it was such a constant on the instore stereo in Bristol during the sunnier weeks of the year. As is becoming something of a theme across these little write ups, plenty of my favourite music of this year has been influenced by the human faces of the record industry. You can’t be conditioned into liking an album by frequent visits to the websites of the nation’s various nefarious tax dodgers. You won’t have an amazing album thrust into your hands by someone who remembers something else you liked recently by the 1-Click checkout procedure. This year, more than ever, I have appreciated the experience, enthusiasm and effusive recommendations of people who are at the forefront of music retail in this day and age. If any snivelling fuckwit tells you 2012 hasn’t been a good year for tunes, point them in the direction of their local independent record shop and tell them to speak to the staff, instead of standing in the corner checking their smartphone to see if they can get 47p off the CD in their hand by shopping online.

BEST OF 2012: 18. Mark Lanegan Band – Blues Funeral

Possessing one of the finest album openers of the year in the shudderingly malevolent ‘The Gravedigger’s Song‘, it would seem that the eight years since Lanegan last flew solo have provided the inspiration for songs of an astonishing calibre. This is a confident, bold and captivating record, and one which is dominated by that beguilingly ragged voice. Musical accompaniment includes turns from Josh Homme and Greg Dulli, with whom Lanegan previously worked as part of The Twilight Singers. ‘Gray Goes Black‘ picks up the electro touches from the opener and belies a penchant for Krautrock which puts in another appearance on the splendidly titled ‘Ode To Sad Disco‘. Having worked up some of these songs using keyboards and a drum machine rather than the guitar, ‘Blues Funeral’ possesses the fullest and most varied sound of his career to date.

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When the guitars are foregrounded, Lanegan can still strut like the best: ‘Riot In My House‘ offers a particularly fine burst of raw energy. ‘Harborview Hospital’ is a curious collection of synth swirls and plodding drum loops, whilst tucked sombrely amongst the album’s louder moments is the beautifully melancholic ‘Phantasmagoria Blues‘. ‘Leviathan’, a squally waltz, takes an unexpected turn towards the end when the repeated lyric “every day a prayer for what I never knew, this is one I said for you,” suddenly gains ‘Pet Sounds’ style harmonies, conjuring a sense of what Brian Wilson‘s more troubling moments may have sounded like in his head. In a good way, of course. There’s also a touch of a grizzled, hungover Richard Hawley in several of the vocal performances and those fond of the most recent release by Sheffield’s will find plenty to enjoy here.

‘Blues Funeral‘ is one of those albums where you end up playing it endlessly for several months before letting it retreat into the racks for a while, so as not to tire it out. But when you return to it, as you surely must, it seems as fresh and ferocious as it ever did. Although it sounds imperious on a pair of decent speakers, it’s also a mighty fine headphones record, with just the right blend of menacing bass and sickening claustrophobia. In a good way, of course.