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20 Overlooked, Underrated and Under-the-Radar Albums from 2012

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With the astonishing proliferation of music growing exponentially —with no signs of slowing down in the near future— it's only natural that more and more albums would get lost in the new-release flood; washed-away to obscurity by the onrushing tide of new releases. Which is why it feels worthier than ever to hold tight to those small, strange, marginalised, or overlooked albums that you know are really good; perhaps, even, great. The below albums will appear on very few Album of the Year lists at 2012's end, but they deserve to be on scores of them. These are the overlooked and underrated; the albums from 2012 that've earned a little extra love from me.

Altar Eagle 'Nightrunners'

Altar Eagle 'Nightrunners'
Digitalis
The second 'proper' album for husband-and-wife duo Altar Eagle serves as a pretty nice companion piece to those wobbly and water-damaged albums by another husband-and-wife act creating psychedelic synth music rife with a stoned vibe: Peaking Lights. Nightrunners shares the same fondness for thick, hazy, tangy sounds, in which old analog synths are layered atop each other in shape-shifting songs assembled on the shifting planes of dub production techniques. Yet, where Peaking Lights retreat into a groovy world their own making, Altar Eagle showed themselves as unafraid of reaching for the anthemic on Nightrunners; "Get Over It" finding thumping beats and fist-pumping synth licks building towards a giant crescendo, Eden Hemming's desperate singing the sounds of a passenger strapped in on for a wild, epic ride.

Boy Friend 'Egyptian Wrinkle'

Boy Friend 'Egyptian Wrinkle'
Hell, Yes!
Before they were Boy Friend, Christa Palazzolo and Sarah Brown used to be in Sleep ∞ Over. Though they left amidst some acrimony —they described their debut 2011 EP as a "break-up record" with remaining Sleep ∞ Over dame Stefanie Franciotti— their own project hasn't strayed far from their old band's sound. Boy Friend's debut album, Egyptian Wrinkle, is big with the dreamy drones and atmospheric echo and slumberous singing; staging a suite of sweet slow-jams on the border to the subconscious. Yet, for all its wafty, new-agey, ambience making, each tune harbors a hard kernel of pop-song at its centre; providing a melodic anchor for a band who sound like their heads are in the clouds.

Capullo 'Testigos del Fin del Mundo'

Capullo 'Testigos Del Fin Del Mundo'
Tropic-all
Mexican trio Capullo hail from the unlikely rock'n'roll outpost of Aguascalientes, Mexico; though their debut disc, Testigos del Fin del Mundo sources global sounds in its attempt to stage a wild party on the eve of the apocalypse. It's a circus of color and rhythm raiding culture and genre, Capullo bouncing between folklore and dancefloor as ricochet bright polyrhythms and saturated melodies off each other. El Guincho is a decent reference, but unlike Pablo Díaz-Reixa's project, Capullo don't get locked into grooves; at times, all this rhythmic frenzy fells as if it might just fall apart. The fear proves entirely unfounded on "A quien amas en realidad es a mí" (which features vocals by Colombian oddball Lido Pimienta, who herself put out an impressive record, Color Triangular, this year), which is naught short of one of the year's most buoyant and brilliant pop songs.

Fay 'Din'

Fay 'Din'
Time No Place
As the former vocalist for eternally underrated Chicago band Pit Er Pat, Fay Davis-Jeffers is like some patron saint of this list. After her past band never got the critical love they deserved, it's no surprise Davis-Jeffers' smaller, stranger solo debut proved stayed strictly underground. Setting Fay's voice against twitchy rhythms and ersatz exotic presets, Din isn't, in some ways, far from acts like Gang Gang Dance and Rainbow Arabia. But, still, it's definitely not an album interested in tribalist fury, locked-in groove, or dancefloor programming. Instead, its a work of fried digitalia, spasming circuitry cut up into complex compositions whose herky-jerky, fragmented, nearly Tourettic rhythmic movements feels like a challenge to notions of natural rhythm. It's an album employing new-age synths and placating presets to, paradoxically, create a state of high anxiety.

Gepe 'GP'

Gepe 'GP'
Quemasucabeza
Alongside beloved synth-pop starlet Javiera Mena, Daniel Riveros has been one of the twin pillars of a Chilean indie scene that's long been criminally, bafflingly ignored by the world-at-large. Riveros' fourth Gepe LP, GP, features a profound moment for longtime fans of both: "Campos Magnéticos" a piano-ballad that sounds like nothing short of a sister song to "Sol de Invierno," the all-time classic Mena/Gepe duet. Yet, GP as a whole is rarely so slow-tempo; forsaking the folkie, fingerpicking feel of his early records for a striking boldness that builds off the developments of 2010's Audiovisión. It kicks off with "En La Naturaleza (4-3-2-1-0)," all brass overtures and reggaeton rhythm, and, throughout, Riveros comes across as confident showman, large and in charge.

Goat 'World Music'

Goat 'World Music'
Rocket
Mysterious, cult-like collectives aren't quite as rare as they used to be, but there's still something alluring about a troupe of nefarious figures banding together amidst shadowy secrecy. Especially when they sound like Goat. The Swedish cooperative make a very large, very loud ruckus on their debut LP, World Music. Named after that blanket term that flattened foreign cultures into a single, safe catch-all in the '80s, here Goat restore the danger to global genre-raiding; drawing from '70s sounds —ren faire folk-rock, prog, and wild African funk— with a feverish intensity that shows no signs of dilettantism. Here, "Disco Fever" is no piece of polyester kitsch, but a rabble-rousing, bashed-out big-band take on the seditious sounds of Black Africa. Be it teenage rebellion, political uprising, or stand against fashion, Goat are a band out to summon various forms of righteous musical protest.

Heavenly Beat 'Talent'

Heavenly Beat 'Talent'
Captured Tracks
In the battle of dueling Beach Fossils side-projects, Diiv got all the hype —all best new band this and 2012 breakout that— whilst Heavenly Beat went quietly under-the-radar. Where his bandmate, Z. Cole Smith, foregrounded guitars in Diiv's edgy jangle, John Pena took a less rock'n'roll —and, in turn, less acclaimed— route, erecting a shrine to twee-pop in a parade of trebly guitars and plasticky synths. Where Diiv rolled with Kurt homage, Heavenly Beat seemed more modeled on Bobby Wratten's post-Field Mice acts Northern Picture Library and Trembling Blue Stars. It got about 1/100th of Diiv's blog buzz; but on songs like "Messiah," Heavenly Beat sounded heavenly indeed.

Jenny Hval/Håvard Volden 'Nude On Sand'

Jenny Hval/Håvard Volden 'Nude on Sand'
Sofa
Jenny Hval's 2011 album Viscera —which began with one of the greatest-ever opening couplets: "I arrived in town with an electric toothbrush/pressed against my clitoris— was a suite of bodily studies set against spartan avant-gardism. Nude On Sand feels like a sister set, Hval again exploring corporeal, visceral, sexual themes through adventurous vocals and unexpected lyrics. Working with regular guitarist Håvard Volden (who gets a generous co-billing), the Norwegian singer contorts her voice into all kinds of strange and remarkable shapes; and the 'free-form folk' of acoustic guitars backing her brings to mind old Kath Bloom & Loren Mazzacane Connors albums. It's an impressive work from an idiosyncratic talent who deserves a far broader audience.

Laura Gibson 'La Grande'

Laura Gibson 'La Grande'
Barsuk
Laura Gibson's hushed songwriting has never seemed armed for a crossover; her 2010 collaboration with Ethan Rose, Bridge Carols, feeling so airy as to be ephemeral, as if it may vanish into the ether at any moment. Yet, La Grande, Gibson's third LP —and first for new label Barsuk— steps away from the folksiness of 2009's Beasts of Seasons, its oft-unexpected arrangements varied and vivid. "Feather Lungs" builds from half-whispered harmonies to a swelling orchestral culmination; "The Rushing Dark" sounds like a chain-gang ballad playing on a scratchy gramophone; "Crow/Swallow" sets spartan finger-picking against the warm glow of woodwinds; and "La Grande" barrels along amidst the dustbowl twang of Calexico-esque Americana. In short: it's Gibson's most accessible LP, even if the world-at-large didn't notice it.

Los Embajadores 'Faisanes'

Los Embajadores 'Faisanes'
Michita Rex
Chilean indie outfit Los Embajadores make music big on atmosphere; their densely-layered (if softly treading), downbeat pop music filled with the stately synthesizers and dreamy reverb that speaks of both old 4AD albums and Angelo Badalamenti's score for Twin Peaks. The band are fronted by two vocalists, Danae Morales and Cristóbal Gajardo, who swap boy/girl verses in voices all hesitant and breathy, trailing off into the echo that swims in their wake. Faisanes, their free-to-download debut LP (which is issued on the ace Michita Rex imprint, note), is a captivating set of airy synth-pop that caused barely a ripple outside of Santiago. Given I've been waiting eight years (and counting) for Chilean indie-pop to have its big crossover moment, this isn't unexpected, but it certainly makes Los Embajadores underrated.
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