25 Essential Echoes CDs: The Best of 2012

 25 Esssential Echoes CDs for 2012

Depature SongsThere are always three year end lists at Echoes.  The first is my personal Top Ten which embraces all the music I listen to, not must what I play on Echoes (John Diliberto’s Top Ten Albums of 2012 and John Diliberto’s Top 10 Songs for 2012).  Then comes the Best of Echoes 2012 listener poll, and finally comes the 25 Essential Echoes CDs of 2012. These are the albums that the Echoes staff thought were the most significant releases of 2012 that were played on Echoes.

Fifteen of 25 on this list were not in the Listener Poll.  Fifteen albums that were in the Listener Poll did not make the 25 Essential list. Eleven of the discs were Echoes CD of the Month selections.  Sixteen of them were from artists who began recording in the current millennium. Hit many of the links below and you can read reviews and hear tracks.

Leading that list is Hammock who swaps places with Dead Can Dance who won in the listener poll. We put Departure Songs at number one as a defining album of ambient, shoegaze post-rock.  Now that might seem to define it narrowly, but in fact, it embodies all those genres and surpassed the 2012 works of their heroes like Robin Guthrie and Sigur Ros for shear ambition, successfully attained.

Dead Can Dance’s Anastasis was more than anyone could’ve expected for a band that took a 16 year break between new albums.  Lisa Gerrard, as always, is the voice of the divine plumbing the archetypal consciousness.  Brendan Perry never sounded better.  One song in particular drew my attention, “Children of the Sun.”  This song has been lambasted by hipster critics like Jim DeRogatis  of Sound Opinions.  DeRogatis was right in mocking  Perry’s hippie-cum-New Age lyrics, but what he missed was his yearning, heartbreaking vocals and the John Barry horns that lent those lyrics poignancy and a triumphal heroism in the face of lost innocence.

61ssHhjS7xL._SL500_AA300_Liftoff’s Sunday Morning Airplay took tripped out psychedelic music, trip-hop rhythms and wed them to Summer of Love songs that echoed the Beach Boys, Mamas & Papas and more obscurely, The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. (Look ‘em up ).  It’s the most overlooked album of the year and a CD that never fails to make me smile.  They manage to be modern and nostalgic at the same time.

The same could be said about Raygun Ballet.  World That Wasn’t is a project of Hollywood CGI designer John-Mark Austin. He mixes retro analog synth sounds with spoken word snippets from 40s and 50s radio and TV shows creating visions of the future from the past in the present.

Thierry David is all future in his expansive, melodic and ambient Stellar Connection.  I’m still impressed, nearly a year later by the detailed sound design and melodies that are shaped by laser brushes with feather strokes.  And David puts lots of shadows and dark undertows in these songs that keep it from being simply pretty.

Some quick shots:

Icebreaker’s Apollo: An inspired interpretation of one of Brian Eno’s most moving, studio crafted albums as a live performance vehicle.  Like Bang On A Can’s rendition of  “Music for Airports,” it reveals the compositional depth of Eno’s work..

Marconi Union’s Different Colors: A new darkly melodic but thoroughly ambient direction for this band.

Sebastian Plano’s The Arrhythmical Part of Hearts: Beautifully detailed ambient chamber music that came out of nowhere from this Argentine born artist.

Jeff Johnson & Phil Keaggy’s WaterSky: A perfect album of sublime ambient chamber music with arrangements and melodies that flow in oil-based colors framing a  a virtuoso of the guitar and the soul.

Ablaye Cissoko & Volker Goetze’s Amanke Dionti:  African serenity for kora, trumpet and voice that are breathtaking in their poignancy.

Tycho’s Dive: Exhilarating chamber rock with electric neon energy and minor key melancholy.Watersky

Air’s Le Voyage Dans La Lune: Still quirky after all these years in this ambitious soundtrack for the 1906 silent film.

Hans Christian & Harry Manx’s You Are the Music of My Silence:  In the year in which we lost Ravi Shankar, no band did more artistically to maintain his legacy of fusing east and west.

Silence CVRAll India Radio’s Red Shadow Landing: Another CD of ambient Americana from this yet to be discovered Aussie band who has been melodically immersive moods for years.

Julia Holter’s Exstasis: Haunting songs with beautiful, almost Enyaesque multi-tracked vocals but with an avant-garde edge and lyrics that come from an interior world rather than an Elven one.

Niyaz’s Sumud: Persian fusion topped by the ecstatic voice of Azam Ali.  I don’t even think of the Lisa Gerrard comparisons anymore.

Sigur RosValtari: The most ambient album form this Icelandic band who has never met a hook.

SHEL’s SHEL:  Angelic, charming country-scrubbed dream pop folk music with heavenly harmonies and personal songs.

Tino Izzo’s Morning Scapes: I think many people forgot this album from early 2012 that featured Izzo’s intricate multi-guitar arrangements.

Todd Boston’s Touched by the Sun: Eastern inflected songs from the Urban Nature guitarist with subtle accompaniment arranged by producer Will Ackerman.

Balmorhea’s Stranger: The Austin chamber rock group ups the rock end of the equation without sacrificing any of their introspective, dust-tinged lyricism.

Azure Ray’s As Above So Below: The mavens of melancholy go electronic on this set of dark, heartbreaking laments.

Janel & Anthony’s Where Is Home: Sweet lyricism meets avant-garde explorations with this plugged-in duo of cello and guitar.

Forastiere’s From 1 to 8: We get a lot of solo guitar albums in.  Only one of them was perfect.  This is it.

Kaki King’s Glow: How do you return to form while experimenting beyond your comfort zone.  I don’t know, but Kaki King does it on Glow which highlights her acoustic guitar again, but puts it in places it’s never been before.

Here’s the complete list for you.

  1. Hammock – Departure Songs (Hammock) Departure Songs - Hammock
  2. Dead Can Dance – Anastasis (Pias America) Anastasis - Dead Can Dance
  3. Liftoff – Sunday Morning Airplay (Fort Knox)
  4. Thierry David – Stellar Connection (Real Music) iTunes
  5. Raygun Ballet – World That Wasn’t (Raygun Ballet)
  6. Icebreaker – Apollo (Cantaloupe) iTunes
  7. Marconi Union – Different Colours (Just Music)
  8. Sebastian Plano – The Arrhythmical Part of Hearts iTunes
  9. Jeff Johnson and Phil KeaggyWaterSky (Ark Records) WaterSky - Jeff Johnson & Phil Keaggy
  10. Ablaye Cissoko/Volker Goetze – Amanke Dionti (Motema Music)
  11. Tycho – Dive (Ghostly International) Dive - Tycho
  12. Air – Le Voyage Dans La Lune (Astralwerks)
  13. Hans Christian and Harry Manx – You Are the Music of My Silence (Allemande) You Are the Music of My Silence - Hans Christian & Harry Manx
  14. All India Radio – Red Shadow Landing (Inevitable) Red Shadow Landing - All India Radio
  15. Julia Holter – Ekstsasis (RVNG International) Ekstasis - Julia Holter
  16. Niyaz – Sumud (Six Degrees)
  17. Sigur Ros – Valtari (XL Recordings)
  18. Shel – Shel (101 Distribution) Shel - Shel
  19. Tino Izzo – Morning Scapes (Electrofone) iTunes
  20. Todd Boston – Touched by the Sun (Gita Records)
  21. Balmorhea – Stranger (Western Vinyl) Stranger - Balmorhea
  22. Azure Ray – As Above So Below (Saddle Creek) As Above So Below - EP - Azure Ray
  23. Janel and Anthony – Where is Home (Cuneiform) Where Is Home - Janel & Anthony
  24. Forastiere – From 1 to 8 (CandyRat Records)
  25. Kaki King – Glow (Velour) Glow - Kaki King

~© 2012 John Diliberto ((( echoes

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