Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Fifteen

And so we begin the final countdown. The chosen few. The top 10 albums of the year.

Ali Mason

The Maccabees - Wall of Arms (Fiction)

Track: No Kind Words

No difficult second album for Orlando Weeks and co. Wall Of Arms builds on the sound of debut Colour It In and takes the band in a subtly, but very definitely, different direction for a more mature, coherent effort. Gone is the playfulness of songs like OAVIP and Latchmere, replaced by a harsher, more detached sound, with a sense of menace never more evident than in standout track No Kind Words. Lyrically, Weeks enjoys playing with the sounds of and rhythms of words, while at the same time spilling his heart onto the page. Discard any temptations to file under 'landfill indie' - this is a truly impressive achievement.

Rory Dollard

Soulsavers - Broken (V2)

Track: You Will Miss Me When I Burn

It can be tempting to wish failure on people who find success so easily at every turn. Surely it can’t be just me who wants Usain Bolt to trip over his laces once in a while or Russel Brand to be turned away by a lithe young filly for being “a bit of a wanker”. It is with the same spirit that I approach Mark Lanegan’s work these days. Having aced every musical assignment he has set himself over the last decade, I was half hoping Soulsavers would be the mis-step. Instead, their second album is a feral, post-apocalyptic rock beast punctuated by slabs of tender contemplation like You Will Miss Me When I Burn. Maybe next time, Mark.

Dom Farrell

Alberta Cross - Broken Side of Time (Ark)

Track: Taking Control

The old adage that good bands have great record collections certainly holds true on Alberta Cross’ full length debut Broken Side of Time. Frontman Petter Ericson Stakee arrived in London seven years ago via New York after spending his formative years in Sweden. However it seems improbable that he spent no time in Topanga, Neil Young’s infamous early 70s hangout. Indeed Young’s Crazy Horse and Stray Gators incarnations are both lovingly referenced here, while Old Man Chicago recalls The Band at their peak. But Alberta Cross are a band of true quality in their own right, as evidenced gloriously by the white heat assault of ATX, Taking Control’s driving melodic power and the haunting shuffle of Rise From The Shadows.

Andy Welch

PJ Harvey & John Parish - A Woman, A Man Walked By (Universal)

Track: Black Hearted Love

With such chameleonic tendencies, it’s impossible to know what PJ Harvey is going to do next. Her last solo album, White Chalk, primarily used piano as its main instrument and sounded much more gentle than she had done in years. This album, her first album with sometime cohort John Parish since 1996, finds her back to her angry, ball-breaking best. As my PJ-loving female friends always tell me, I will never fully understand Harvey’s music, and I don’t pretend to. I do know, though, that Black Hearted Love and the terrifying title track, are some of the best songs she’s ever written.

Guy Atkinson

Thursday - Common Existence (ADA)

Track: As He Climbed The Dark Mountain

For anyone who knows me seeing Thursday at number 10 will come as a shock. Second only to The Smiths in my own personal pantheon of greatest bands, the sole reason that this isn't number one is that it just falls ever-so slightly short of the masterpieces that the New Jersey six-piece had conjured up before. 'Common Existence' remains a masterclass in modern melodic post-hardcore, however, and Geoff Rickly's achingly emotive lyrics still hit me harder than the other 23 artists in my list combined. In short, I FRIGGIN' LOVE THIS BAND.

Pranam Prabhakar

Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs (Matador)

Track: Periodically Double or Triple

Another year, another Yo La Tengo album. But wait! This one's another gem from the band that never lost it. Popular songs plays to all of Yo La Tengo's stengths (it's loud, it's lovely) but also sees the band stretching themselves to new genres. Witness the tight-ass Taxman/Start Mod groove on this track that would make Paul Weller proud. Bonkers but brilliant middle eight too.

John Skilbeck

Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career (4AD)

Track: James

Another band - like The Thermals yesterday - who switched labels for their fourth album. Glasgow’s Camera Obscura left ace Spanish label Elefant (but still played their Indietracks stage in July, so no hard feelings) and found a new home at 4AD. Having begun to clean up their rough gems for previous album Let’s Get Out Of This Country, the Scots really applied the polish this time, and singer Tracyanne Campbell had never sounded so in control, her butter-smooth delivery smeared atop layers of lush strings. This was the album where Camera Obscura broke free from their indie-pop roots and made a dash for the charts. They got as far as the Radio 2 playlist and both opener French Navy and the title track were hits on the airwaves. Personally, well I loved the tender ballad James, open-hearted mourning for a lost love, but it was all a bit special.

Matt Collins

First Aid Kit - Drunken Trees (Polydor)

Track: Tangerine

Technically their debut album isn't due till 2009, but put out seven songs or more and it's an album, mini or otherwise. Teenage Scandinavian sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg have clearly been playing music together since year dot, writing as they have done a collection of folk-pop songs written from a standpoint of innocence yet somehow viewed through the eyes of someone who has seen a lot more of life. More instinctive harmonies than these two produce live have yet to be discovered. I'm looking forward to the debut proper.


Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino)

Track: Lion In A Coma

The fact that this topped most music magazines’ end of year polls surprised me at first but then more people have waved it in my face and said “have you heard THIS yet?” than any other album in 2009. The first listen did prompt feelings of ownership, as though you had unearthed a new sound unheard of by anyone else, like the first time I heard Arcade Fire or Flaming Lips, the album’s greatest quality is its unifying, post-rave atmosphere. My Girls filled up more dancefloors than any other but as that one has already been picked, the weird wobble of Lion In A Coma will have to suffice. Just don’t stare at the album cover while you listen to it...


Alberta Cross - Broken Side of Time (Ark)

Track: ATX

When Alberta Cross put out their debut EP, The Thief And The Heartbreaker, in 2007, they sounded like being the next great alt-country band. But when the album finally came, its clear they have even greater ambitions than that. Broken Side of Time is still infused with those same rootsy influences, but mixes it with much more. The Neil Young influences are everywhere, and Alberta Cross have clearly taken on much more of the great man's love of rock in their first full-length effort. It's been a while since someone produced an old-fashioned foot-stomper quite as good as ATX. Turn it up.


  1. I'd like to compliment Dom on his highly accurate placement of Alberta Cross on the 2009 scale of things.

  2. I actually love it when an album appears twice on the same day. Lends a certain authority to proceedings.

  3. PJ and Parish should have been in my top 10, but that record doesn't even make an appearance in my top 24.

    Blast. That's an oversight, just about made up for by the ripple of excitement caused by the Alberta Cross double entry.

  4. Meanwhile, I'm delighted someone has got Camera Obscura so high on their list. I was starting to think I was wrong to like the whole album and not just one song.