Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Two

Welcome to day two, and the 23rd best albums of the year.

(All these numbers are confusing me).

For those just catching on to this project, by the way, some form of explanation is offered here.

Ali Mason

The Felice Brothers - Yonder Is The Clock (Team Love)

Track: Cooperstown

The Big Surprise (“your jazzy band has lost its swing, revolution's lost its ring”) sets the tone for what is, on the whole, a pessimistic collection of songs which contrasts with the country rockers’ boundless energy, which makes them one of the best live acts around. They might be cynical, but that doesn’t been they can’t be enthusiastic about it. On the whole they’re at their best when they let rip on barnstorming crowd-pleasers like Run Chicken Run, but the highlight here is the nostalgic slow trail of Cooperstown. They may only be 23rd in my albums of the year, but in my (entirely theoretical) list of gigs of the year, their Brudenell show in Leeds is a comfortable number one.

Rory Dollard

Bruce Springsteen - Working On A Dream (Columbia)

Track: The Wrestler

It was not a vintage year for the grand old men of rock, with Bob Dylan and Neil Young both releasing interesting new albums that fell some way short of even their recent vintage. The Boss' latest was also a step down in quality from his imperious best but while WOAD is unlikely to gain classic status in the Springsteen canon, his curious channelling of cinematic westerns (Outlaw Pete), The Byrds (Surprise, Surprise) and unashamed motown lifts (This Life) brought it back to the turntable an impressive number of times.

Dom Farrell

Brendan Benson - My Old Familiar Friend (ATO)

Track: Garbage Da

Brendan Benson returned from Raconteurs duty to deliver his fourth solo offering, picking up largely where he left off with 2005’s Alternative to Love. My Old Familiar Friend comes flying out of the blocks with A Whole Lot Better and Eyes on The Horizon – all power-pop guns blazing. The usual Benson touch points of mid era Beatles and Kinks pop sensibility are gladly in evidence. The album does tail off towards the end, falling short of the effortless consistency that still makes 2002’s Lapalco his definitive work. Nevertheless, the Philadelphia soul-tinged Garbage Day stands up against any of Benson’s best moments and could very well be one of the finest understated love songs of the decade.

Andy Welch

Kings of Convenience - Declaration of Dependence (Source)

Track: Mrs Col

Thankfully, and I expect to be shot down for saying this, Erlend Øye has left the dreadful side-project Whitest Boy Alive behind and gone back to what he does best with the Kings Of Convenience - gentle folk with intricate melodies and heavenly harmonies. The band’s first album, Quiet Is The New Loud, was released in 2001 and was the perfect counterpoint to The Strokes and the rest of those leather-jacketed invaders from across the pond. Declaration Of Dependence doesn’t move too far away from that formula, with Erlend and musical partner Eirik Glambek Bøe’s voices and guitar-played magically matched, nowhere better than Mrs Cold, which, despite being defiantly acoustic, proves there is funk to be found in folk after all.

Guy Atkinson

Julian Plenti - Julian Plenti Is...Skyscraper (Matador)

Track: Unwind

While never hitting the giddy heights of Interpol's finest moments, this solo freshman offering by frontman Paul Banks delivers a tantalising insight into where next year's 'Pol record could be headed. Haunting, stripped back offerings duel with bombastic and brash anthems and, in truth, it's often on the softer moments where he really finds his voice.

Pranam Prabhakar

Devendra Banhart - What Will We Be (Warner Bros)

Track: Walliamdzi

An open letter to Devendra Banhart from a super fan who isn't me:

"Devendra, why don't you make records like you used to? You know, those timeless, acoustic records that led to the folk revival in the mid-noughties. We love those records because they had sparse, minimal arrangements that highlighted your way with melodies and words. Those records were abstract and haunting, and completely unlike anything we'd heard before.
Some of us think you lost it the moment you went out with Hollywood actresses. Those people are probably shallow, but others also got concerned when you licensed your music to cheese and mobile phone ads.
The majority of us remain loyal to you and your music and anticipate the day you return to your roots - roots that were displayed all too rarely on your latest record - and not simply because we appreciate comfort in conformity.
Bearded nu-folk Devendra uberfan"

John Skilbeck

Girls - Album (Fantasy Trashcan)

Track: Summertime

The pre-release hype had centred on Girls frontman Christopher Owens' background story, which you can read all about elsewhere, so when it arrived the record soared beyond my expectations. Recalling Deserters Songs era Mercury Rev in places, and with Owens' vocal strikingly similar to Elvis Costello, an aching sincerity bled from the likes of Ghost Mouth and Hellhole Ratrace, Summertime was just sublime, and at times, as extravagance rippled through its 12 tracks, it felt like a record which might have been touched by the hand of Brian Wilson. Smile? Despite the often desperately sad subjects tackled by Owens, I hardly stopped.

Matt Collins

Jarvis Cocker - Further Complications (Rough Trade)

Track: I Never Said I Was Deep

It really doesn't matter that Jarvis is still trying to be a pop star at well past 40 - he looked like the weird old man across the street when he was 25. Divorce seems to have unleashed the beast within Mr Cocker, causing him to reach for the electric guitars, crank out some crunching rawk riffs and attach a set of unashamedly sexual lyrics to them. This track for example sings the virtues of being a love-you-and-leave-you kind of guy, while at least being up front about it. There's no Common People on this record, just honesty - loud, chaotic honesty.


The Phantom Band - Checkmate Savage (MRI)

Track: The Howling

The Beta Band comparisons drew me to this Scottish troupe but it is the frenetic pace of opener The Howling that gets me going every time, coupled to Rick Anthony’s unnervingly direct Glaswegian accent - imagine Nick Cave and Arab Strap duetting on a krautrock album spun at 45rpm.


Broken Records - Until The Earth Begins To Part (4AD)

Track: Nearly Hom

This is one of those tremendously addictive albums that you might leave on one side for a while, but once you do pick it up again, you want to just listen to over and over again until it wears itself out. The seven-piece band come with their own in-built orchestra which lifts them out of the mundanity of being just another indie-rock band, giving them a sound of their own and lending power to their grand anthems.


  1. okay...first album controversy ahoy. i'm sure this will appear on more lists down the line but as Skillers has debuted it here i feel the strong need to say the following:

    i tried really, really hard with the Girls album, Album, and every single time i came away with one thought in my head 'this is an american Razorlight'. if anyone is in any doubt after Slipway Fires, this is not a good thing.

  2. It's not a great album, but it has a couple of fantastic tracks, and a fair few other decent ones. Maybe it didn't live up to the hype, but a Razorlight comparison is below the belt...

  3. I heard there was a huge buzz about them. I do not get it in the least. And calling your album "Album" is the height of pretentiousness.

  4. I'm entirely with Mr Skillbeck here. It's amazing.

  5. Apologies for the two Ls.

  6. All this attention on Skillers' pick is diverting attention from the real issue here: Dollard's selection of an album that he and I discussed at length earlier this year, concluding that, well, it's just not that good...

  7. He doesn't even seem that enthusiastic in his write up. "It's a pretty mediocre album by a dwindling talent" is basically what you're saying - and you'd be right - yet it's 23? You must actively dislike yesterday's record Rory?

  8. It depends what your expectations are to an extent, though, doesn't it? If your expectations are high and the album doesn't meet up, you're gonna slag it off a bit - more than an album that you had no expectations of and surprises you, but which you still might not like as much.

    Having said that, the words 'dwindling talent' don't necessarily sugest high expectations. I'm basically just defending Rory because I'm pretty sure there are some albums higher up in my list which I slagged off...

  9. Righto, i knew Springsteen day was a dodgy one to pick at other people's lists but anyway, here goes.
    I felt i had to be a bit of a downer on it because given my Boss fetish there had to be some reason why it wasn't top three material. basically, it's goes back to the idea that an average Springsteen album is better than the best album in some artists' career.

  10. I'm going to have to revisit Razorlight

  11. Oh God...please don't do that on my account

  12. Oh God...please don't do that on my account

  13. One other thing before I let this lie, Dollard. 'The Wrestler' isn't technically on the album, just a bonus track. So, aside from it being a slightly pap album, and you choosing a song not actually on it, great pick...

  14. Okay, one last thing before we let this one lie Dollard. 'The Wrestler' isn't actually on the album - it's a bonus track. So not only have you picked a slightly pap album, you've gone with a song not even on it. Dire effort. (Of course, I could have mentioned this earlier, but where's the fun in that?)