Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Twelve

We're pretty much halfway folks. And it just keeps on getting better (you know, by definition...)

Ali Mason

The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love (Rough Trade)

Track: The Rake's Song

The Hazards Of Love was inspired by the title of an English folk EP from the 1960s but sounds something like a John Steinbeck novel set to music. As a drama it feels beautifully structured without ever getting over-specific, while as an album it demands and holds attention, through its repeating motifs and intricate musicality, plus a handful of (sometimes literally) killer tunes. I defy you not have chills running down your spine when The Hazards Of Love 3 (Revenge!) kicks in.

Rory Dollard

BLK JKS - After Robots (Secretly Canadian)

Track: Molalatadi

My vote for the finest guitar work of the year goes to South African quartet BLK JKS. To these ears no British or American bands have bettered their riotous soloing and textured sound in the last 12 months. The tribal drums and chanted backing vocals have seen this unfairly bracketed in the non-genre of ‘world music’ but it is easier to spot the influence of new wave New York or Spiritualized in highly-evolved jams like Molalatadi.

Dom Farrell

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

Track: Chicken Wire

Taking it’s title from a line in Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger, Yonder Is The Clock aptly continues The Felice Brothers’ fascination with the tapestry of modern America. The subject matters are often bleak, but the character in Penn Station who is about to meet his death receives a rip-roaring send off, reminiscent of Basement Tapes era Dylan. Chicken Wire sounds like the most raucous barn dance ever, even though Ian Felice gleefully tells the listener of his aim to be at the bottom of the deep blue sea of his own device. The album also shimmers in its more openly melancholic moments - Cooperstown and Rise and Shine close proceedings in an accomplished fashion. Perhaps the greatest achievement of Yonder Is The Clock is The Felice Brothers’ use of numerous elements of the folk tradition to cast an often withering light on their homeland in the 21st century.

Andy Welch

Muse - The Resistance (Helium 3)

Track: Uprising

It’s over the top Jim, but not as we know it. Just when we thought Muse’s Matt Bellamy couldn’t get any crazier – he owns a jetpack and believes the Queen is a giant lizard – he goes and finishes off the band’s fifth album with a symphony, Exogenesis, divided into three parts – Overture, Cross Pollination and Redemption, and peppers the rest of the record with Doctor Who-theme ‘homages,’ Rihanna-worthy RnB and some of the heaviest riffs of his career. Perhaps the best thing about The Resistance, and maybe Muse in general, is that it knows how ridiculous it is and just at the point where they approach po-faced wankery, there’s a middle eight, guitar line or slap bass that reassures the listener that Muse are in on the joke too.

Guy Atkinson

The Veils - Sun Gangs (Rough Trade)

Track: The Letter

While not exactly reaching the pop euphoria of some of my other selections, this third offering from The Veils is a compelling listen. New Zealand-born front man Finn Andrews is the real star of the show and gives these sometimes slender, always heartbreaking songs added punch. I might not have listened to this as much as the other albums in my list, but there's been enough there on each occasion to suggest I should peek behind the veil and see what else they've got to offer.

Pranam Prabhakar

Beat The Radar - From The City To The Seas (Akoustik Anarkhy)

Track: 18, 19, 20, 21, 22

Beat the Radar are a band from Manchester who write tunes. Glorious hook-laden, juicy, indie-club tunes that are finely honed and well played. I urge you to check them out if you are not already familiar with them.

John Skilbeck

Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard - 'Em Are I (Rough Trade)

Track: Bugs & Flowers

This album has been in and out of my top 24, and up and down the chart, since the advent chart project was first mooted. So too have those excellent albums from Laura Gibson, Downdime, Martha Wainwright, Wild Beasts, Twilight Sad, Montt Mardie and Telepathe, acts who all missed the final cut. Have I made the right choices? Perhaps not in a few cases, there were some tough calls. Anti-folk hero Jeff Lewis delivered his fifth album in April and I played it to death for a month before leaving it alone for the next six. Returning to it in early November it dawned on me why it hooked me in in the first place. Despite it being a full-band effort, much like the Daniel Johnston record, and being perhaps less reliant on Jeff’s lyrical loquacity than previous shoestring-budget albums have been, ‘Em Are I was a measured break towards hi-fi terrain for an artist who has lived in the musical undergrowth for much too long. The lyrics suggest the artist has been riding an emotional rollercoaster – for the clearest example check Broken, Broken, Broken Heart’s handclaps and jaunty guitar juxtaposed with a lament to love lost.

Matt Collins

Ohbijou - Beacons (ROM)

Track: Cannon March

Funny name for a band. Canadian seven-piece Ohbijou are one of those acts who aren't very popular over here, and are from way over there, so the back-story is a little thin. Big instruments and soaring crescendos are the order of the day, as founding member and lead singer Casey Mecija's majestic voice sings indie pop melodies on the
top of violin and indie guitar led songs that are almost insultingly simple for such a big voice. You can almost hear the smile on her face as she sings each line, and like the album itself, it's damn infectious.


Modest Mouse - No One's First, And You're Next (Epic)

Track: King Rat

Okay, so this is actually a nine-track compilation of sorts but it has a 2009 release and Parks has allowed its inclusion. King Rat opens with a sound akin to an elephant butt-fucking a banjo, before Isaac Brock’s Waitsian growl stumbles across the track like a drunk at closing time. In lieu of a proper follow up to 2007’s We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank, this wayward cousin will have to keep us company in the meanwhile.


Deer Tick - Born On Flag Day (Partisan)

Track: Easy

Without repeating exactly what I said when writing about the track Nevada on here last month, I'm all over Deer Tick since discovering them earlier this year. A quick recap shows that frontman John Joseph McCauley got his musical education from an early combination of Hank Williams and Nirvana, and he somehow finds a delightful middle ground between the two here.

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