1. Blood Red Shoes – In Time To Voices
Blood Red Shoes have been one of my favourite bands since first spotting them at a festival a few years back: a beautifully simple set-up with only two members covering guitars, drums and shared vocals, yet somehow managing to produce a huge sound that escapes many bands with twice the instrumentation. The shared vocals also provide one of the more unique aspects to Blood Red Shoes, with both male and female voices trading off during tracks for a great contrast and sound. If you are familiar with the last two albums, In Time To Voices is both familiar and yet slightly new: instead of sticking to the fairly simple rock tracks that populated the previous albums, they have instead chosen to go for a slower and more textured sound that sounds absolutely fantastic. This is not to say that all the tracks are now slow ballads, with tracks like Je Me Perds going the complete opposite and creating even more noise than before.
2. Metric – Synthetica
The fifth album from Canadian new wave/indie artists Metric, and easily one of their best, taking all the elements we loved from their earlier work - the pop sensibilities and hook laden music, the blend of styles and Emily Haines' superb vocals – and adding to them, improving and growing as a band and as songwriters. If you are a fan of their last few albums (or even just heard them after having one of their songs used in the Scott Pilgrim movie) then you won’t be disappointed.
3. Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra – Theatre Is Evil
The first of two albums on this list to come from the crowdfunding website Kickstarter, this one being the third solo album from Amanda Palmer. Theater Is Evil is a cabaret-influenced pop/rock album, blending guitars, piano and vocals in a bouncy, enthusiastic package that sounds quite unlike anything else I have heard, going as far on the theatre/cabaret theme to include a short intermission at the midway point. One of the best albums this year by a fair distance, only pipped to the post in this list by two long time favourites of mine.
4. Sigur Ros – Valtari
Sigur Ros have a place in my record collection as a band that never fails to let me relax and forget about the day, and Valtari fits that bill perfectly. Full of ethereal soundscapes and vocalist Jónsi’s distinctive falsetto vocals, Valtari just draws you in to the music and sound.
5. Kid Koala – 12 Bit Blues
Created solely by sampling old blues records on an SP1200 sampler and decks, and eschewing the use of computer based recording, sampling, sequencing and editing, 12 Bit Blues is the perfect example of how older methods can still produce incredible results in the right hands. Sampling purely from old blues records has meant that this time around Kid Koala has taken on a lovely laid-back sound, blending together old blues licks, beats and vocals with a more recent hip-hop style. It's one of those combinations that on paper sounds pretty dreadful, but works perfectly with the right guy behind the decks. I should also give some respect to Kid Koala for making one of the most unique CD releases I have seen for years – including a (working) DIY cardboard turntable and record to play on it, along with some proper effort put into the packaging and liner notes – something all too regularly missing nowadays with the move to digital downloads.
6. Deerhoof – Breakup Song
Bizarre noisy indie of the best type, Deerhoof are one of those bands who seem to collect together a wide range of sounds that shouldn’t really work together, but somehow just do. Electronics, noise, unique vocals and a top album throughout.
7. Meursault – Something For The Weakened
Here at Hercules Moments we were big fans of Meursault’s first two releases, and their third album Something For The Weakened is no exception. This time around Meursault seem to have lost some of the noise and electronics that underscored their earlier work, instead shifting to a more traditional indie band setup and making full use of Neil Pennycook’s distinctive soaring vocals to draw you into one of the best Scottish indie albums of the last few years.
8. Danielle Ate The Sandwich – Like A King
The second album on this list that owes its existence to the website Kickstarter, this time the singer/songwriter Danielle Ate The Sandwich, known by many thanks to her songs/skits posted on Youtube.
Interesting beginnings aside, Like A King stands proud as a superb album in its own right, blending together the ukulele, guitar and Danielle’s voice with the perfect amount of strings and assorted backing instrumentation to really immerse you in the sound, and with everyday relatable songs that just draw you in to Danielle’s world.
9. Jeff Wayne – War Of The Worlds: A New Generation
Jeff Wayne’s original interpretation of H.G. Well’s novel still stands as one of the best concept albums out there, so with a new tour it was decided to release an updated version with modern cast and music. The new cast hold their own well – in particular the combination of Liam Neeson and Gary Barlow as the spoken/sung parts of the narrator – and the updated music has been kept very similar to the original score, only updated with modern flourishes to bring it slightly more into line with modern culture, if anything helping to enhance the grandeur and feel of the music.
The latest album from the genre hopping Sonic Boom Six, joining together the forces of ska, punk, metal, reggae, dubstep and more into a stellar hybrid and example of why sticking rigidly to genre classifications is a bad thing. Add to that lyrics very much based in real life outside the view of tabloid readers, and a refreshingly pleasant moral outlook, and you have a superb album.