Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Thirteen

There are many superstitions about the number 13. But we don't feel unlucky to have opened the door on all of these treats, some of which we expect to spark more than a little debate.

Ali Mason

Andrew Bird - Noble Beast (Bella Union)

Track: Oh No

As glorious opener Oh No and the swooping delight of Fitz & Dizzyspells prove, Andrew Bird has an fine ear for a pure pop tune. He also has a stubborn streak which sends him off into experimental territory more often than not. Usually, as with the tricksy Tenuousness and industrial-tinged Not A Robot, But A Ghost, this has triumphant results, but occasionally it feels a touch self-indulgent. Noble Beast is a rich album, though, with enough ideas to last most artists a career - and some of the best whistling since long-haired pop irritant Bob Sinclar.

Rory Dollard

The Antlers - Hospice (Frenchkiss Recordings)

Track: Kettering

Every time I hear this record I feel as though I’ve been punched square in my not inconsiderable gut. Ostensibly a concept album about terminal illness, the doom-laden atmospherics throughout work independently of the unifying ‘story’. At times, the downbeat glitchiness feels like an alarm clock with a hangover and elsewhere more traditional guitar strains do the spadework. Imperfections in sound are everywhere and listening to it full can be a draining experience but this is an album of genuine substance.

Dom Farrell

Dan Auerbach - Keep It Hid (V2)

Track: When The Night Comes

Last year, the Black Keys’ third album Attack & Release saw the Ohio duo team up with producer Danger Mouse and broaden their sonic palette. Singer Dan Auerbach carries this approach further with his debut solo outing Keep It Hid. Fans of the Keys’ trademark rootsy blues rock assault will undoubtedly be pleased by the rumbling groove of tracks such as I Want Some More and Street Walkin’, although the presence of a full backing band and the frequent use of vintage keyboards marks a clear dividing line between this and Auerbach’s previous work. The bruised folk of opener Trouble Weights a Ton demonstrates another sting to his bow, although the highlight comes with When The Night Falls - a first rate tearjerker where Auerbach’s delivery brings to mind Van Morrison circa Astral Weeks.

Andy Welch

Monsters of Folks - Monsters of Folk (Rough Trade)

Track: The Right Place

It’s a dreaded word, supergroup. As if Van Halen, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Joe Satriani weren’t bad enough, members of each group joined forces earlier this year to create the abortion known as Chickenfoot. The main problem with the supergroup seems to be they have so much more fun ‘jamming’ than the listener has. Look at Them Crooked Vultures. Not a bad album, but there’s no one who enjoyed that record as much as Dave Grohl, John Paul Jones and Josh Homme did making it. Monsters Of Folk, however, are genuinely worth getting excited about. On paper the band sound perfect; Jim James of My Morning Jacket, solo star and the Him of She & Him M Ward and Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis and Conor Oberst – but it’s every bit as good as you might hope in reality. There’s a refreshing lack of ego, with each taking their turn in the spotlight and a handful of songs to rival the highlights of their respective day jobs.

Guy Atkinson

La Roux - La Roux (Polydor)

Track: I'm Not Your Toy

Once again, another album that taps into my relentless thirst for poppy hooks and choruses so saccharine they should come with a dentist's warning. This London-based duo boast some of the year's most memorable singles in the shape of 'In For The Kill', 'Bulletproof', 'Quicksand' and 'I'm Not Your Toy' but Ellie Jackson's shrill vocals - which I actually really like - and Ben Langmaid's lush synths and glitchy electronics combine effortlessly to conjure up an entire album of 21st century pop treats.

Pranam Prabhakar

Sonic Youth - The Eternal (Matador)

Track: What We Know

I am the kind of devoted Sonic Youth superfan who has no objectivity when it comes to this band. They could wave microphones in front of a speaker and call that music, but I'd like it. In fact they've already done that, and I did like it. They absolutely ruled when they played this track live on Jools Holland. But then, I would say that.

John Skilbeck

Art Brut - Art Brut vs Satan (Cooking Vinyl)

Track: Demons Out!

From one heroic raconteur to another: yesterday Jeff Lewis jostling with his inner demons, today Eddie Argos and his Art Brut taking on the pop antichrist one wise-cracking lyric at a time. Second album It’s A Bit Complicated was a let-down after the wonderful debut/manifesto Bang Bang Rock And Roll, but this was a return to form, musically and lyrically. Argos makes a splendidly insincere analysis of his drinking habits on opener Alcoholics Unanimous , then brings out his inner geek for DC Comics And Chocolate Milkshake (“Some things will always be great... even though I’m 28”). Returning to a familiar theme, namely the public’s apathy for his own band, Argos preaches on Demons Out!: “The record buying public we hate them, this is Art Brut versus Satan/Don’t worry we can take them.” Making a desperate bid for rhyming lyrics of the year, he continued: “On your visa it says entertainer/You’d better step it up or they’re going to
detain ya/It’s all smoke and mirrors, don’t go and see ‘em/I wanted rock and roll I got a science museum.”

Matt Collins

The Pet Shop Boys - Yes (Parlaphone)

Track: Did You See Me Coming?

A pop choice certainly worthy of inclusion. Production team Xenomania had a big hand in this album, renowned for their massive work ethic and according results. The Pet Shop Boys do pop songs, songs about love, and the occasional rant against subtle encroaches onto our human rights. Okay, leave the latter behind, and you've got the best pop single in years in Did You See Me Coming, and some really heart breaking balladry in King of Rome. They still got it.


Bibio - Ambivalence Avenue

Track: Lovers' Carvings

After three pleasant but hardly earth-shattering albums of lo-fi loop collages and folk sound effects, Stephen “Bibio” Wilkinson’s fourth album was an unexpected delight. He upped his game for his Warp debut, channeling 1960s British folk, Four Tet, Badly Drawn Boy and J Dilla into a hypnotic headphone collage. Lovers’ Carvings starts out like a lost Big Star guitar lick caught on repeat before blossoming midway through into a hazy, late summer anthem.


The Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz (Polydor)

Track: Heads Will Roll

I'll admit until now I've always liked the idea of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs more than I actually liked the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, so when I heard they'd been playing about with synthesisers on the new album, I was a little more than sceptical. How wrong could I be? From the opening bars of Zero to the very end this is an album that grabs you by the lapels and demands to be loved. Driving rhythms put to thumping beats and Karen O's trademark sneering delivery of the lyrics make for compelling listening.


  1. Okay, someone has to say it, and apparently it's been left to me.

    The Pet Shop Boys? La Roux? Was there some kind of memo regarding 'Pop Day' that I missed?

  2. I seriously flirted with La Roux (no..not the man-boy-girl singer chick, the album). It's actually very good and as Akko correctly diagnoses I'm Not Your Toy is a killer tune.

    Pet Shop Boys though...

  3. I'd defend it a lot more if it was actually possible to defend one's personal preferences beyond saying "I like it".

    Also, I think we all have bands we were raised on, so to speak, that we acknowledge as being incredibly uncool yet still (to us at least) good.

  4. "Matt Collins - Raised on a Pet Shop Boy" shocker!