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A Rambling Fox 2012 – the honorary mentions

19/12/2012

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We’ve had this year’s official best 10 albums, and now as a dessert it’s time to gather up the stuff that normally does not get to such lists. Soundtracks, compilations, re-releases et al that are worth a mention, as well as a runner-up or two that almost made it to the list proper but didn’t quite manage. Join me after the cut for 2012 music experiences that are worth a listen even if their place isn’t among the official 10 studio albums of the year.

lanadelrey

ALMOST MADE IT: LANA DEL REY – BORN TO DIE

borntodieAll the hype/backlash/authenticity-drama around Del Rey has almost muddled one noteworthy thing: that not only is Born to Die a really promising debut, but it’s one which has a sound of its own. Del Rey (and her producers) has crafted a cunning mixture of hip-hop beats and elegant indie orchestras as her sound and then thematically filled the album with swooping drama and dark glamour, which has both charm and that special something which makes Born to Die stand out from the crowd. On top of that, Del Rey’s vocal mannerisms are a perfect fit for the music. She not only has a natural charisma to her voice, but the way she sings sounds a little bit unhinged and mentally unstable but fragile and wounded: a femme fatale broken to pieces with all the power to take command but is forced to subdue.  And then there’s the hits: “Video Games” deserves the attention it got, “Born to Die” takes the formula and brings it to perfection and “National Anthem” is effortlessly amazing. Some of the deeper album cuts proudly stand along their more famous brethren as well, eg “Dark Paradise” and “Summertime Sadness”. There are flaws to Born to Die of course, hence why it lost its spot in the 2012 top list, but its strengths overwhelm the chinks in its armour. It’s a promising debut from a potentially excellent artist and while the particular tricks it play might just become derivative on the second go-around, the songwriting on display makes the idea of another, more refined dose all the more exciting.

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COULD HAVE MADE IT: KERKKO KOSKINEN KOLLEKTIIVI – KERKKO KOSKINEN KOLLEKTIIVI

kkk_kkkI don’t like making rush decisions, especially with new encounters. Had I first heard the Kerkko Koskinen Kollektiivi album more than a couple of weeks ago, it could have been in the official top 10. Now, it lingers right outside, with all the potential but with the uncertainty of time and brief acquintance casting a shadow over it. It certainly has the credentials to reach their upper tiers. Kerkko Koskinen was the head songwriter of the fantastic Ultra Bra, a Finnish band that more or less reigned over the Finnish music scene during the latter half of the 90s and who are one of my personal favourite acts to come from Finland. Koskinen has been wasting his time pushing out jazz albums for the past decade ever since Ultra Bra amicably dissolved, but this year he returned with what is essentially Ultra Bra 2. There’s no stable band behind him this time and there’s a new set of singers fulfilling his vision, but the music remains the same: almost classic sounding pop structures meet towering vocal harmonies and a kitchen sink production, with choirs and orchestras and horn sections and double drum kits and everything else you could possibly imagine. There’s a part of me that adores big, bombastic music that proudly dares to be humongous and the Kollektiivi album rubs that part of me with a very pleasurable touch, especially since it’s coming from a songwriter who is a master of utilising such a sound. If there’s a flaw to the KKK album it’s that it’s so short you yearn for more. Otherwise it’s triumphant return of a great songwriter embracing his best skills, bringing with him some brilliant vocal talents (including PMMP’s Paula Vesala). It’s simply too early to say just how much I’ll eventually latch onto this album and hence why it didn’t make the cut, which feels almost criminal. Here’s hoping this won’t be just a one-off album.

petshopboys

COMPILATION OF THE YEAR: PET SHOP BOYS – FORMAT

formatSpoiler alert: Elysium isn’t going to be on the top 10 of 2012 list. The disappointment over that album was made even worse by the appearance of Format, their second b-sides compilation, earlier this year. For a supposed bunch of exiles and castaways, Format is a fiersomely strong bunch – some songs could be singles on their own right, many others would make ace album tracks and even most of the obvious b-sides aren’t here because of their quality but because of their nature as experiments and offshoot ideas, stylistic variations that would not have fit the albums they followed. Over at the album side, the period that Format covers – 1996-2009 – saw PSB at their most experimental and stylistically varied, practically reinventing their sound with each subsequent album. The b-sides curiously form the red line that runs through the often very different eras, connecting them together. A clear evolution runs through the two discs and it’s hard to tell where one time period ends and another one begins, leading to a surprisingly coherent set of songs that actually work as a whole despite the strictly chronological running order. Put these things together and you have a bizarro universe hit compilation: a showcase of the duo’s strengths almost as good as their actual single compilations or studio albums. In a year where Elysium made one wonder whether PSB had lost it, Format was a clarifying reminder of how great the duo are after all.

songens

SOUNDTRACK OF THE YEAR: BLUE BLUR: SONIC GENERATIONS OST

blueblurBorderline cheating here. Sonic Generations was a 2011 game and by all accounts, this soundtrack should belong to that year’s award ceremonies. Yet, it made its official appearance on CD in the very first steps of January – a borderline inclusion then, but one which is perfectly excused by its sheer quality. Generations acts much like a best of Sonic compilation, both as a game and as a soundtrack: it takes a large number of great, grade A songs from throughout Sonic’s 20 years of history and then creatively reinterprets them. Old classics are given new facelifts, sometimes in very surprising ways and always in a mindblowing fashion. Some stick closer to the original versions, others go beyond the call of duty and transform into damn near revelations: check out how the pop-punk of “Escape from the City” is suddenly turned into a delicious synth pop wonder (complete with a 90s house piano break!) that could have genuinely been a chart-topping hit in another reality. It’s only at the very end when the soundtrack slips in quality, with the original cutscene filler competitions that seem to have give up trying to match the hit collection, but those ten songs are preceded by 60 others of which nearly all are downright brilliant. Sonic music has always been some of the best in video game history, and this might just be the series’ magnum opus (which, given its pseudo-best of nature, is just as much borderline cheating as the OST’s inclusion here).

manics_1992

RE-RELEASE OF THE YEAR: MANIC STREET PREACHERS – GENERATION TERRORISTS

GTForgive me for the cop-out, but I wrote so many words on this already just a few weeks ago and I’ve no intention to intentionally repeat myself here. To nutshell, it’s a re-release that does (nearly) all the things a successful re-release does. It treats the original album with honour and respect and archives its original release era in all its glory into a single box, the extras are meaningful, the remaster job is perfectly done, and it relights a fan’s fire towards the original release. All we could have asked for more was some additional liner notes but that’s almost nitpickery when compared to everything else on display.

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Join us soon as we take the first steps of uncovering this year’s best albums!

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