I have probably listened to a lot more new music this year than any other year. This was partly due to changes in lifestyle that left me with ample spaces in my daily routine that could be filled by putting a new album on – public transport commutes, long walks, cooking alone. Beyond that, though, I guess I got to a point where the amount of new music I had listened to reached some kind of tipping-point and triggered my completionist impulses: if I had already listened to so much, I figured, I might as well try to listen to everything that sounded even vaguely worth listening to, and really be able to say that I had ‘done’ the year 2012, at least when it came to music.

I soon found out this was impossible. Here’s the thing: there is so much great music being produced. So many wonderful people doing amazing things that it feels rude not to lend them your ears and listen to the product, time, and hard, hard work. But there’s only so much time in a year, and so many albums I can listen to. There’s probably an album I haven’t even heard of out there somewhere that blows everything on my list out of the water.

Anyway. This is the list. This is my list, and I make no pretense to objectivity or to this list representing a complete overview of the most culturally relevant releases of the year, or of its accounting for every major genre and movement. It’s simply a link of what I liked, what moved me, what stuck with me enough to keep me listening to it over and over.

First off, today, the honorable mentions – the albums I loved but couldn’t quite fit into the top twenty-five. In alphabetical order, it’s…

Brikkuni – Trabokk

So it seems there was some sensitivity beneath the brash confrontation of Kuntrabanda. Of  course, now that the EFAs have made them household names all over Europe stardom will probably go to their heads. It was fun while it lasted.

Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory

The alt-rock 90s live!

Daphni – Jiaolong

Dan Snaith’s side-project doesn’t hit the same grace notes or touch the same raw nerves as Caribou, but you can tell how much fun he’s having, and it’s infectious.

Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t

Witty, smart, tender, melancholy. It’s good to have you back, Jens.

Krallice – Years Past Matter

I’m not necessarily big on metal, but I do have a soft spot for the vein of black metal that veers towards noise, unpredictability and elemental chaos rather than cheesy riffs, and this provided my recommended yearly dose of that.

Liars – WIXIW

Few bands can reinvent themselves so totally and yet still sound like no-one but themselves. Keywords this time round: texture, repetition, atmosphere.

Lower Dens – Nootropics

Understated, but sneakily so: this is an album that slowly reveals tremendous force with repeat listens.

Frank Ocean – Channel Orange

Or: the one that’s topping everyone else’s list and taking over the world. I must say it took me some time to get into Ocean, but there is warmth, craft and massive ambition here: this is an album of great empathy and keenly-observed detail.

Frankie Rose – Interstellar

Because sometimes, all you need is a dose of crystal-clear, chime-perfect, dreamy new-wave pop.

Sharon van Etten – Tramp

Van Etten adheres so closely to the broken-hearted confessional female singer-songwriter trope it’s almost parodic, but when she carries it off with such intensity of feeling, it really doesn’t matter one bit.

Sleep Party People – We Were Drifting on a Sad Song

My sound of Copenhagen.

Stolen Creep – Throw Your Heart to the Sea EP

So yes, a very good friend of mine is in this band. But that’s not the reason why their brand of early-90s-alt-rock-by-way-of-Warpaint was one of the most promising local releases of the year.

John Talabot – fIN

Dark, uplifting, soothing, floor-filling – trying to describe fIN sounds like a list of contradictions. That’s why it’s so great.

The Walkmen – Heaven

Hardly what you’d call a new direction, but the Walkmen add enough nuance and subtlety to their sound to make this a clear improvement over Lisbon. 

Wild Nothing – Nocturne

Few people can craft a guitar tone as perfectly as Jack Tatum. While there’s nothing here that hits the highs of “Chinatown” on Gemini, this is still music to sink into.

Advertisements

If any confirmation were needed, last night’s packed gig at MITP underlines what has been obvious for the past couple of months: Brikkuni have become the first bona fide superstars of the Maltese alternative scene. Yesterday’s gig united virtually every subculture, from punks to indie kids and literati, under one roof, mixed in with curious casual observers checking out what all the fuss was about. The turnout wasn’t just impressive – I don’t think MITP has ever been quite so crowded, and it goes some way towards illustrating the impact Brikkuni have had on the local scene.

I realize I haven’t written about the album itself, though I don’t think much else needs to be said. That it’s the best piece of recorded music to ever come out of these islands has become a cliche, but it’s no less true for that – and nor should it be taken as damning with faint praise. I consider Kuntrabanda one of the albums of the year, irrespective of country of origin, and, in conjunction with this year’s also-excellent Areola Treat EP, it suggests that the time has come to stop thinking of local music as somehow handicapped or disadvantaged. Kuntrabanda may not be a perfect album, but it can hold its own with the best of them, and the reason isn’t just that it’s a polished, musically inventive, exciting piece of songcraft. What truly makes the album great – and, unfortunately, what makes it virtually unexportable – is that it recombines all the genetic traits of Maltese culture – band marches, ghanja, spaghetti westerns on late-night Sicilian channels – into a whole that seems both intimately familiar and thrillingly new. It’s like a shift of a few degrees in viewpoint that suddenly makes everything fall into place. Before Kuntrabanda – and I realize this is entirely a failing in my own make-up as a writer – I couldn’t imagine good music being made in Maltese, or any art – music, but also films or novels – so specifically Maltese in character. Now, anything seems possible.

This was Brikkuni’s first gig after the album launch; for the first time, their audience came to the show knowing the songs inside out. This couldn’t have been more obvious yesterday – every single one of the songs on Kuntrabanda has become an anthem. Familiarity hasn’t dulled the impact of these songs; rather, it has further energized the audience. Half the crowd was singing along from beginning to end, and the scorching, energetic set had the feel of a victory march – Brikkuni have won their place, now it’s time for the celebration. 

Among all the familiar songs, of course, a standout moment was the inclusion of the band’s first new post-Kuntrabanda song. If there’s anything to complain about in Kuntrabanda, it’s that Mario Vella’s lyrics too often fall back on bile, sarcasm and satire – it works, and it’s the basis of the most anthemic songs on the album, but it does give rise to the mistaken impression that Brikkuni are a Xtruppaw-like “joke” band, and I can’t help but wonder what Mario can do with more varied material. The newest addition to the repertoire at yesterday’s gig, “L-Ufficju”, suggests they’re on the right track – a mellow (by comparison) ballad that makes bittersweet poetry out of the daily grind, it’s an encouraging indication of a band attempting to widen their horizons and not resting on their laurels. I can’t wait to see where they go from here.

kuntrabanda!

September 5, 2008

In 2006 a little band called Brikkuni played two shows – one in Scaremongering’s Memento Mori exhibition in Valletta, the other, a few days later, in a hay-strewn Poxx Bar – and instantly proved themselves to be possibly the most exciting Maltese band since, well, ever. Their mixture of local and foreign folk influences, a harsh satirical eye, carnivalesque pop energy, inventive songwriting and rich instrumentation set them apart from the unambitiously derivative output many local bands unfortunately fall into. Not only did it sound like something new, it sounded like an idiosyncratically Maltese take on pop music, with its own distinct character that could not have emerged anywhere else. More importantly, their gigs were capitalized, italicized Fun, and the local scene was left wanting more.

Then…they went under the radar.

Now, with some changes in lineup, they’re back, with big news. They’ve been working hard on debut album Kuntrabanda!, which shall be out soon. Some shows are also planned for the near future, though details are still unavailable. If you’re already acquainted with the band, you need no encouragement. If you aren’t – make some space in your schedule.

You can listen to a couple of (unmastered) tracks from the album by following the link below. Those present at the 2006 gigs will remember the songs…

Brikkuni on MySpace