Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Seventeen

You can actually feel the tension rising now as we move through the top tens. No throwaway picks here, no more making up the numbers. Get one of these choices wrong, you will hear about it...

Ali Mason

Left With Pictures - Beyond Our Means (Organ Grinder)

Track: Every Stitch, Every Line

Single Every Stitch, Every Line sets the pattern for what Left With Pictures do best which is erudite three-minute folk-pop songs, a pattern which is repeated in the nostalgia-fuelled Her Father's Nose. The band also does a fine line in whimsy, as with Yours, Tom Maclean, written in the style of a letter, and, most touchingly, The Flight Paths, arguably the album's smile-inducing highlight. Every song seems initially simple, but each is deceptively complex, with layers of violin, glockenspiel, banjo and accordion, as well as unusual, thoughtful lyrics. Indeed, they have all the ingredients to become real cult stars.

Rory Dollard

Blue Roses - Blue Roses (XL)

Track: Greatest Thoughts

If history is kind it will judge Leeds singer-songwriter Laura Groves as 2009’s lost superstar. Despite limited exposure, she wowed all who came into contact with her intricate take on piano-based balladry. Her delicately woven vocal harmonies called to mind Joanna Newsom, while her meandering, off-kilter song structure meant every track contained surprises. A serious talent.

Dom Farrell

Noah And The Whale - The First Days of Spring (Mercury)

Track: The First Days of Spring

Ever felt like you were intruding on somebody else’s grief? Pop The First Days of Spring into your CD player and you’ll probably want to stand up after a few songs, apologise to singer Charlie Fink and shuffle out of the room. But bear with it because it is a truly stunning album. Charting the break-up of Fink and folk songstress Laura Marling, The First Days of Spring is a stark, painfully honest and often beautiful piece of work. Yes, it can be uncomfortable listening at times, but any music that can both explore and provoke such depths of emotion should be admired.

Andy Welch

Blue Roses - Blue Roses (XL)

Track: I Wish I...

In some cultures, a blue rose signifies love at first sight or a feeling of enchantment. That pretty much sums up how I felt about Blue Roses, or Laura Groves as her mum calls her, the first time I heard her voice. I luckily caught her live session on Marc Riley’s 6Music show and literally had to stop what I was doing to concentrate. Her voice is like glass, with no hint of warble or histrionics, and when she hits one of those top notes, it’s so pure and true. It’s hard to get away from Joni Mitchell comparisons, although Blue Roses is more rooted in traditional British folk than Americana. If this was a list for underrated albums of the year, it’d be sitting pretty at No 1.

Guy Atkinson

Passion Pit - Manners (Frenchkiss Recordings)

Track: Seaweed Song

After the impressive taster EP 'Chunk of Change' I had an inkling these bearded wonders were onto a winner. Thankfully they didn't disappoint as they unleashed a debut album brimming with sumptuous slices of synthy-pop goodness. A life-affirming set at Glastonbury cemented their place in my heart, but it was the track that I've selected that opened it up in the first place. *gushing over*

Pranam Prabhakar

Atlas Sound - Logos (4AD)

Track: Quick Canal

Bradford Cox produced one of my favourite albums of the year in 2008 with Microcastle, and has done it again with his solo project Atlas Sound. He's prolific enough to make Prince want to take a nap. This track features Laetitia Sadler from Stereolab and replicates that band's gallic kraut groove perfectly.

John Skilbeck

The Lovely Eggs - If You Were Fruit (Cherryade)

Track: O Death

Holly (ex-Angelica) and David from The Lovely Eggs are a married couple from Lancaster who write cranky pop songs. They like to rhyme, so if you’ve not experienced the digital accordion, Richard Brautigan, a deadly scorpion, the Delorean, or beef bourguignon, they’re “fairly sure you’ll BURN IN HELL”. Touching in places, but mostly nuts, Holly likes to scribble ‘Eat Shit’ on fruit, hence “I bought a melon and thought of you/You’re not seedy, I just like melons” and “I bought a lemon and thought of you/You’re not sour, I just like lemons”. What sound are they aiming for? That of an unruly school music class playing filthy gonzo nursery rhymes on whatever instruments they can get their hands on. Really, there are no rules here.

Matt Collins

The Decembrists - The Hazards of Love (Rough Trade)

Track: Won't Want For Love (Margaret In The Taiga)

It's a rock opera, themed like the last Decemberist's album (The Crane Wife) about a woman named Margaret who falls in love with a shape-shifting boreal forest dweller named William, voiced by lead singer Colin Meloy. Similar to being able to write an album about your wife turning into a crane and flying out the window as he did with their previous album, Meloy deserves praise for this not being as laughable as R Kelly's Trapped in the Closet, and for establishing any kind of emotional connection with his subject matter. In fact, as it segueways through a series of recurring riffs and deep motifs, it's hard not to be impressed by the grandness yet catchiness of it all.


Vetiver - Tight Knit (Bella Union)

Track: Sister

Sometimes you want to shout from the rooftops about a new band and sometimes you have to just put down an old reliable favourite, even if they haven’t turned out their greatest set. Tight Knit isn’t Vetiver’s best but it is still inventive, charming and a reliable go-to album for wet afternoons. Sister is every bit as slinky and softly-spoken as those folk-jazz and country-soul albums from the early 1970s; add it to a playlist alongside Linda Perhacs, Jose Feliciano or Christine Perfect and you’ll know what I mean.


Alessi's Ark - Notes From The Treehouse (EMI)

Track: Magic Weather

This album is so totally addictive that after a couple of days of having it practically on repeat I sometimes have to remind myself that I have others to listen to besides. The lush instrumentation and gorgeous hooks make this debut effort a total winner. We can only look forward to what more this prodigious young artist has to offer going forward.


  1. May I commend Rory on his choice today.

  2. yours was very accurately placed too andy.

  3. I'm pondering making a commitment to buy every album I don't already own which features in the overall top 10. Unless there's one I really don't want, obviously.

  4. I'm going to have a bit of that Atlas Sound album. They were brilliant on Marc Riley's show a few weeks ago. First time I'd heard them and Pranam's endorsement clinches the deal.

  5. Not least because, unusually for Pranam, it is actually an endorsement...