This post is designed to look again at two albums that I covered back in November that missed the cut for Albums of the Year and two that came out in November but weren’t covered as they hadn’t been recommended.  First up the two I previously covered.

Oneohtrix Point Never – “Replica” (Software/Mexican Summer)

Repeated listens to this album shows up the best and worst things about “Replica”. The edited and micro sampled vocals that annoyed before are more annoying and the impressive use of space, atmosphere and use of percussion is more so. However, the album feels transitional and as other critcs have suggested, “his best work to date”. Daniel Lopatin is just beginning to explore this territory and is still learning how everything works together, particularly the new elements such as the micro sampled vocals and use of percussion. He’s also extended his use of piano on “Replica” and demonstrates a new confidence in this skill, in which he’d only previously dabbled. In an electronic music world being more driven by loop-based compositions Oneohtrix Point Never pushes his composition skills to the limits and usees his tools to their full potential, littering the tracks with unexpected twists and turns. Though I still believe “Returnal” is Lopatin’s finest work, I look forward to seeing how he develops and improves upon the sound of “Replica”, still an album well worth investigation.

Chris Watson – “El Tren Fantasma” (Touch)

“El Tren Fantasma” is one of the hardest albums to describe that I’ve written about for Sonic Fiction. A musique concrete album based on a cross-country train journey on Mexico’s now defunct “Ghost Train” isn’t an easy thing to describe without creating a dry and literal piece of writing. However, I can add a little to what I’ve already said, firstly the more I listen to the album the more it becomes clear that Watson has processed and possibly edited the original field recordings he made. This helps explain way the album feels more musical than the only other Watson album I have heard, the excellent “Stepping Into The Dark” (1996), which literally used pure field recordings to achieve its sound. In my original post I said, “I’d throughly recommend “El Tren Fantasma” as an experience that should be tried at least once, it won’t be for everyone but I think it will surprise many people” and I stand by that now.

Atlas Sound – “Parallax” (4AD)

‘Parallax’ is Bradford Cox’s most consistent and involving album to date. I’ve often found myself off-put by his tendency to hide his vocals and sometimes whole songs behind reverb or lo-fi quality recordings. It was frustrating as you wanted to get closer to the artist and music yet this all changes now with a new found confidence and less reliance on effects, revealing the pop nous I always suspected was buried in Cox’s music. It’s interesting that Cox chose to have Mick Rock photograph him for the cover of “Parallax’ as one of the artists the album most instantly recalls is David Bowie (whom Rock photographed throughout his career), particularly Bowie’s faux rock ‘n’ roll period in the mid ’80s. Album opener ‘The Shakes’ starts with arching feedback, followed by a faded in acoustic guitar and then seconds later the tune kicks in properly. This sets the tone for the rest of the album perfectly as Cox balances effects and organic instrumentation brilliantly. For me the highlights are ‘Te Amo’ with its delicate music box synth melody and complementary lo-fi drum sounds, ‘Modern Aquatic Nightsongs’ which reminds me of the Cocteau Twins and ‘Doldrums’ a piano and vocal lead ambient piece with muffled drums and heavily reverbed reversed samples and synths.  With “Parallax” Cox has made a very modern album that also calls on the vintage sounds of rock ‘n’ roll, he’s shown how naked he can make his lonesome music (‘Terra Incognita’) but also that now he can welcome in the listener and let his song writing shine.

A$AP Rocky – “LiveLoveA$AP Mixtape” (RCA/Polo Grounds Music)

I’ll admit to never having got into hip-hop’s mixtape culture but having heard a couple of tracks I was intrigued by A$AP Rocky’s “LongLiveA$AP”. I have found a rapper whose lyrical subject matter isn’t always to my taste but is the one most engaging new rappers I’ve heard for quite a while. Add to this production by some of the best up and coming hip-hop producers including Clams Casino, Spaceghostpurrp, Beautiful Lou and Ty Beats and you’ve got a powerful combination. My only complaint other than the some of the lyrics is that the first half of mixtape relies quite heavily on the same base elements: pitched down vocals and heavy use of reverb but this is only a small problem. The second half is where A$AP changes things up and shows the variety of tracks and vocal styles he can cover from the twanging country guitar and double time beats of ‘Trilla’ to the hollow pads of ‘Leaf’ via the yearning strings of ‘Houston Old Head’. His vocal range expands to almost singing on ‘Kissin’ Pink’ and ‘Houston Old Head’, laid back rapping on ‘Acid Drop’ and sounding subdued on ‘Demons’.  On ‘Leaf’ he demonstrates his greatest lyric put down without insulting the rappers he references. “They say I sound like André/ Mixed with Kanye/ A little bit of Max/ A little bit of Wiz/ A little bit of that/ A little bit of this/ Get off my dick.” A$AP Rocky seems like he’s put together the whole package and can dominate hip-hop in 2012.

For now, me and Sonic Fiction are finished with 2011, on with 2012.

Liam Flanagan (Sonic Fiction Editor)

Spotify playlist:

2012 through my (biased) eyes: Catch #1