BEST OF 2012: 1. Martin Rossiter – The Defenestration Of St Martin

Eight years on from Gene’s almost inaudible death rattle, Martin Rossiter emerges with an album that hits the heights of their most dramatic ballads and retains the wit and verbal dexterity that made him a frontman to adore. Having checked in on him sporadically over the past decade, the promise of new material had always seemed faint but, when Rossiter took to Twitter at the end of August to announce an album would be with us shortly, the anticipation could finally mount. Along with a little Pledge action, I was lucky enough to get hold of the album at the end of August, so please don’t think this album chanced its way to the top on only a few weeks of listening. This remarkable record is utterly deserving of its position.

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Essentially one man and his piano, the mellifluous roar of old is given free reign over beautifully crafted melodies. ‘I Must Be Jesus’, every bit as good as the title suggests, sets hyperbolic teenage angst against JC’s plight, and contains some of his predictably fabulous lyrics: “If life’s unkind, then you must be divine. And, yes, I do mean literally”, followed by the piano refrain equivalent of a deadpan stare. You will play it over and over just to enjoy the warm, fuzzy feeling it provokes. The sparing use of a small male voice choir to reinforce the chorus is one of many breath-takingly meticulous touches on this exceptionally fine record.

The simplicity of ‘My Heart’s Designed For Pumping Blood’ can summon an involuntary physical response, be it hairs on the back of your neck or that little raising of one’s shoulders that occurs upon hearing something stirring, while relatively grandiose opener ‘Three Points On A Compass’ denounces useless fathers with the aching refrain “the only thing I got from you was my name” played out over an irresistible, largely instrumental, second half. There is a primal roar of “no” at one point which has echoes of that supremely powerful moment in Gene’s ‘Speak To Me Someone’ from 1997’s ‘Drawn To The Deep End’ when Rossiter bellows the same word at 2:23 and the song heads off towards the stratosphere.

This is not an album to debut to a large group of people. There’s plenty of, albeit beguilingly expressed, sadness in these songs and the pared down arrangements demand your attention and your emotional energy. A good pair of headphones will see you right, or perhaps a dark night, a good seat and a stiff drink.

I could gladly rattle off reasons why each of the ten songs here are worthy of your precious time, but I would hope the quality of this album has been made clear by the examples above. If Gene ever meant even a little to you – or you simply like well written, beautifully performed music – then ‘The Defenestration of St Martin‘ could well be about to be your new favourite record. A very welcome return and a quite remarkable listen.

BEST OF 2012: 2. Hot Chip – In Our Heads

For quite a while, this was going to be at the top of this list. If you’d told me that this time last year, I’d have laughed in your, I’m imagining now, staggeringly beautiful face. The ones with the odd decent single from time to time? Slightly pretentious dance music that noodles a bit and can get rather samey over a whole album? Them? Well, actually not them, for the Hot Chip that arrived in 2012 are like pop alchemists, students of the fine art of song delivering their thesis on how to get people’s heads-a-nodding in an eleven song format. ‘In Our Heads‘ is the most joyous release of 2012 and a record which makes me dance around the house without a care for who can see me. Although, obviously, almost nobody can as it’s my house. And I normally only really let the moves out when the good lady’s not in. But if it can get even an uptight muso like me dancing then this is quite the concoction.

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As the pounding beat of ‘How Do You Do?’ kicks in, presaging the unflinchingly cheesy chorus to follow, I am beaming. Every time. And that is what makes ‘In Our Heads’ one of my absolute favourite albums of the year. After a few listens, you find yourself welcoming each track with excitement, rekindling that feeling of youth when your favourite song from that week’s chart came on the radio. Only eleven times over. ‘Don’t Deny Your Heart’ serves to emphasise the other notable difference about this particular incarnation of Hot Chip: the vocals are gorgeous. Alexis Taylor always had an enjoyable reedy falsetto but here it truly shines.

Let Me Be Him’ and ‘Always Been Your Love’ close the album in triumphant fashion, the former going from quiet to loud in the way songs used to do. Gentle synth, tricksy percussion and lullabyesque vocals combine in the early stages, seducing you ahead of the ‘uh-uh-oh-uh-ehhhhh-ehhhh’ backing vocal which was never going to be done justice when written down. Don’t let that put you off. Seriously, click the artwork above, listen to it in Spotify and then come back. I’ll still be here.

See? And then there’s the album’s closer, which ensures a delicately euphoric feeling to end proceedings. Eighties keyboard and shimmering synth noises are the order of the day, with accompanying handclaps and just the right amount of repetition. Just like the very best compilations, ‘In Our Heads’ ebbs and flows perfectly, with the more frantic ‘Night & Day‘ and ‘Flutes’ positioned smack in the middle of things and the comedown music neatly rounding things off. I’m as surprised as you are to find this so high up my list but it is, quite simply, a wonderfully constructed album with an embarrassment of melody. Treat yourself.

BEST OF 2012: 3. Cian Ciaran – Outside In

I’m sure there’s some sort of point to be made about how the last Super Furries album made number twenty in my Best of 2009 list and yet this is the second successive year where one of the band has occupied third place with a magnificent solo album. Not sure what it is, mind you, other than to prove that there was a staggering amount of talent in a band whose output never dipped below excellent. The sprightly sunshine pop of Gruff Rhys‘ ‘Hotel Shampoo‘ seemed a logical extension of his previous solo work and his role in that band, but who really saw an equally vintage sounding indie pop album emerging from electronic wizard and production maestro Cian Ciaran?

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The slightly warped spin on the music of the past that ran through the music of SFA like the word Newport through a stick of rock made for come truly captivating songs over the years. similar sensibilities are at work here. The swooning Sixties sounds of ‘Outside In’ are stunning, not least on ‘Martina Franca‘ which has more than a hint of ‘Heroes & Villains‘ about it. The beautiful acappella of ‘1st Time’ will have you reevaluating which bits you used to think we’re still Gruff were actually Cian. And, while we’re mopping up the logical DNA trail back to one of Wales’ finest ever bands, Dafydd Ieuan and Guto Pryce provide drums and bass.

Despite all of this,Outside In’ deserves to be held up as a celebration of a wonderful talent, both in terms of strikingly affecting lyric writing and soul-hugging melody. ‘Love Thee Dearest’ features the gorgeous lines, “now you’re gone my days grow longer, and yet they fly and pass me by. My dreams are gone of growing older, with you right there by my side.” Heartbreakingly honest stuff which, coupled with his cooing vocals, will leave you a moist eyed wreck. Then there’s3rd Time Lucky‘: a full on piano croon, building gently with the addition of some subtle strings, only to subside to a reverby piano which plays out the melody for the final third of the song in stately, stirring fashion.

Having quietly snuck out into the Welsh music scene, ‘Outside In‘ deserves to be shouted about from the rooftops, to be bought for the special people in your life for Christmas and to be universally acknowledged as one of the most strikingly beautiful albums of the year. My thanks to Spillers for making such a fuss about this one. Now it’s time for the rest of us to join in.