Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Three

Three is a magic number.

But, well, these are actually the 22nd best albums of the year. You'll need to wait until December 22 for our No. 3s. You see how this works?

If there is magic in the air though, that might explain how one album has reproduced itself and managed two nominations today. For more, read on...

Ali Mason

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart (Fortuna Pop)

Track: A Teenager In Love

In the midst of an 80s revival which has, on the whole, given us such undesirable trends as leggings, big hair and New Romantic reunion tours, it seems only fair that we should get some of the good stuff as well. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart sound like The Smiths, Jesus and Mary Chain and The Stone Roses, while lyrics move from genuinely funny to out-and-out creepy. A little more variety wouldn’t go amiss but (know your audience…) indie-pop fans are always gonna love a band who sing about microfiche.

Rory Dollard

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion (Domino)

Track: My Girls

MPP has roundly emerged as the critical darling of the traditional 'lists season' with publications and websites queueing up to shower the Baltimore quartet with garlands. I struggled to buy the 'album of the year' buzz but it was hard not to be won over by the hypnotic, disorientating synth washes and fractured rhythms. In My Girls the band even stumbled upon the year's most forward-looking pop song.

Dom Farrell

Florence & The Machine - Lungs (Island)

Track: Girl With One Eye

In spring 2008 I saw Florence Welsh supporting The Coral at an intimate acoustic gig in Manchester. Already a magnetic stage presence, she was joined only by a single drum and an awkward looking chap playing guitar. The songs were great, the lyrical subjects a bit unusual and, best of all, she seemed ever so slightly barmy. A year later, Lungs’ fantastic breakthrough single Dog Days Are Over had blasted its way into the public consciousness with altogether shinier production values. Indeed, the move towards the mainstream means some of Florence and the Machine’s edge is lost, but this is still a very good record. Lazily grouping Welsh in with the likes of La Roux and Little Boots as part of a 2009 female clique is complete folly as there is discernable talent at play here. And tracks like The Girl With One Eye show the crazy to still be very much in evidence.

Andy Welch

The Dead Weather – Horehound (Columbia)

Track: Treat Me Like Your Mother

Another Jack White band? What does this guy do, write a song and decide he needs a new band to play it with? Maybe, but whatever the Duke of Detroit’s reasons are for forming The Dead Weather, we’re not going to argue with them. The Kills’ Alison Mosshart finally gets the material her voice deserves, coming over like some dangerous snake-hipped femme fatale, while White sounds remarkably restrained compared to the way he dominated the last Raconteurs record. It’s not perfect, which accounts for much of Horehound’s charm, having been recorded quickly in White’s studio – on antique equipment, obvs – with little to no editing. They’re recording their second album early in the New Year, and if it’s half as good as this, we should be very excited indeed.

Guy Atkinson

Manic Street Preachers - Journal For Plague Lovers (Sony)

Track: This Joke Sport Severe

Without question, the most triumphant return to form by any act this year. The natural successor to the flawless 'The Holy Bible', it harnesses Richey Edwards' lyrics with a batch of tunes so stonking it almost makes up for the bilge-fest that was 'Send Away the Tigers...ALMOST.

Pranam Prabhakar

Super Furry Animals – Dark Days/Light Years (Warner Bros.)

Track: Inaugural Trams

Down with DemRockracy!
DemRockratic freedom is the bane of rock and roll. Why else would Pink Floyd allow their drummer a whole side to himself on Ummagumma? Who let Ringo sing on Octopus' Garden? And was it really such a bright idea to allow Nicky Wire more 'vocal duties' for the Manic Street Cleaners?
Demrockracy is at least partly to blame for the mediocrity of SFA's latest album. Patchwork songwriting with a stinker from Bunf and an under par contribution from Cian dillute outstanding efforts from Gruff such as Inaugural Trams.

John Skilbeck

Joe Gideon and the Shark - Harum Scarum (Bronzerat)

Track: Kathy Ray

Supporting the Hold Steady is a task for the bravehearted, given Craig Finn's band are rarely upstaged, but brother-sister combo Joe Gideon and the Shark pulled it off this year. At the Leeds Cockpit back in May they were a revelation and the next day I bought this album. Like the Hold Steady, their strength lies is in their storytelling, and Harum Scarum is an album laiden with tales - witty, noirish, inventive, probably largely fabricated. Their sound is bluesy but the attitude is punky, with 'the Shark' (sister Viva) beating the bejesus out of her drum kit at the slightest invitation and Gideon's deep half-spoken, half-sung vocals craning over a wall of guitar noise.

Matt Collins

Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (V2)

Track: Lizstomani

Phoenix are one of the few bands that are too smart to mess around with their tried and tested formula. No noodling jazz odysseys or getting out of the comfort zone with some ill-advised electronic influence infusion for them, just plain old fast fun songs. Their fourth album is simply a distillation of the joy of being an indiepop band which tours the world making people jump around in sweaty rooms with big grins on their faces. This track was the first single from the album so might lose points for being an obvious choice, but like the record as a whole, it's impossible to resist.


Super Furry Animals - Dark Days/Light Years (Warner Bros.)

Track: Crazy Naked Girls

For years, I always liked the idea of the Super Furries more than I liked their records. The psychedelic references, the defiantly Welsh patriotism, the constant stream of releases... Admirable sure, but often strangely soulless. This latest adds bad foreign language rapping and full on Can-style wig outs to their long line of unlikely influences, yet it remains - in my opinion - their most cohesive, inventive and downright fun album to date.


William Elliot Whitmore - Animals In The Dark (ADA)

Track: There Is Hope For You

It's just occurred to me that, in selecting 'There's Hope For You', I've gone for the only vaguely optimistic sounding song on what is a superb album of bluesy gospel and americana. Consider that other song titles include 'Who Stole The Soul', 'Hell or High Water', 'Hard Times' and 'A Good Day To Die'. Whitmore has one of those priceless voices that a million songwriters must surely be willing to kill for, and he mixes it with guitar or banjo to outstanding effect. Seasick Steve may have drawn the hype, but Whitmore has made the better album.


  1. Ooooooh... It's hotting up. Rory spunked My Girls far too early in the month, at least one other of my picks has cropped up early here, while Pranam and me offer contrasting reviews of an album in the same spot. Love it.

    In fact, with the Springsteen controversy yesterday and Pranam's faint praise for much of the SFA album, I'm concluding that either:
    a) We're impossible to please.
    b) Bad reviews are more fun to write.
    c) 2009 was a fairly average year for music, all told.

    And while I'm here, can we have a round of applause for Parky's hard work stringing this together so we can all grumble our way to Christmas? Sterling work Mr P.

  2. Oh yeah, and I saw Joe Gideon support YYYs in London earlier in the year and they were so boring it was untrue, but their inclusion here has made me wonder if it was a bad night or maybe they are just better on record. Sweet track...

  3. I didn't want to unleash the My Girls bomb so early but it turns out nobody else picked that one so i thought it would have been a travesty to not have it appear at all.

  4. and as for the average reviews. i think it's only fair that we give some of the reasons for why these albums are numbers 23 or 24 instead of in the top 10. it gets on my tits when you pick up a 50 best of the year feature and for number 50 they say "this is stone cold amazing, flawless throughout" - why is it number 50 then?

  5. I really don't like Animal Collective. There, I've said it.
    I thought 2009 was fairly average really, but I've heard one or two gems I'd missed already, so maybe I'll revise that by the end of this.
    And like SP, a big 'Nice one' to Ian. This is a great idea.

  6. That Joe Gideon track sounds like Lullaby by Shawn Mullins.

  7. ...and now I hate Joe Gideon again by association.
    And Parky obviously isn't reading these lists very closely as I picked My Girls too. Obviously, this could be down to my late submission, but maybe I should withdraw my wholehearted praise of his good work? ;)

    Ach, it's a fickle old world sometimes.

  8. First come, first served SP. File three days late, feed on the scraps...