Friday, December 18, 2009

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Eighteen

I did the whole lucky number seven thing 11 days ago. Which is a shame, because it would have worked here too...

Ah well.

Ali Mason

The XX - XX (XL)

Track: Infinity

Nothing is wasted on this album of simple, elegant beauty. This is Pinter-esque music, as much about what's not there as what is. Every pause is as important as every note, every beat is as important as every word. Perhaps their youth allows them to write unaffected, heartbreaking and unapologetic songs about seemingly little things, but it's a rare maturity which drives them to treat every one with meticulous care and restraint. These tiny elements somehow combine to create a huge, resonant sound, engulfing the whole room and leaving two heartbroken people shivering in the middle, spilling their hearts

Rory Dollard

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson - Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson (Saddle Creek)

Track: Above The Sun

An early favourite that dominated the first part of my 2009 listening. MBAR, an engaging storyteller like only New York can produce, sired an album of scuzzily-produced, tautly played rock’n’roll. Add in a memorable voice, an opening track set at the narrator’s own funeral and some poetic lyrics and you have a sure-fire winner.

Dom Farrell

Doves - Kingdom of Rust (EMI)

Track: Kingdom of Rust

Much of the initial press for Kingdom of Rust spoke of how Doves had moved back to their Sub-Sub post-Hacienda roots and recorded a dance orientated record. However, this proved to be only a partial truth and a one-dimensional way of looking at a fine record by a fine band, even if it was not their finest. Certainly the likes of the 10:03 and The Greatest Denier ensure that the pace does not let up for the first half of the album, and you can picture the strobe lights being unleashed. But as usual, Doves bring a myriad of styles to the table. The lilting Spellbound would not be out of place on their 2000 debut Lost Souls, while the punching 60s R&B of House of Mirrors is a delight. The title track and lead off single showcases the uplifting melancholy that has become their trademark, while having the rare distinction of being one of the best songs ever played in the back of a black cab.

Andy Welch

Girls - Album

Track: Hellhole Ratrace (Fantasy Trashcan)

As stories go, the tale behind this album is up there with the best of them. Girls’ Christopher Owens spent the first 16 years of his life in a cult. During that time, his infant brother died because the cult didn’t believe in medical treatment, his dad upped and left and his mum was often forced to prostitute herself by the Children Of God movement to which they belonged. Owens then left the cult, fled for Texas, was befriended by a millionaire and moved to San Francisco where he formed Girls with Chet ‘JR’ White. As you might suspect, that background has clearly had an effect on Owens, and it’s all here on Album – pretentious title, granted. On Hellhole Ratrace, Owens is unhappy and “sick and tired of the way that I feel,” on Laura he’s just broken hearted while on Lust For Life he admits “I wish I had a father, and maybe then I would turned out right.” Despite the despairing lyrics, musically there are nods to Elvis Costello, Roy Orbison, early Beach Boys and Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound production. Quite simply, it’s a fascinating record in every way.

Guy Atkinson

The Grammatics - The Grammatics (Dance To The Radio)

Track: Rosa Flood

This album had been festering in my iTunes for what seemed like an eternity and it was only after seeing the Leeds four piece play a swoontastic acoustic set with Blue Roses that I decided to take the plunge. They're all awkward time signatures and angular guitars, but it's Owen Brinley's voice that really sets them apart. A unique hybrid of angelic falsetto and ear-shattering post-hardcore screaming combine to impressive effect and ensure that this is one talent to keep a close eye on.

Pranam Prabhakar

The Flaming Lips - Embryonic (Warner Bros)

Track: See The Leaves

Just when you thought it was safe to put your animal costume back in the closet, the Lips return with this monster of a track from a beast of an album, and in doing so, defy many preconceptions the casual fan might have of them. The symphonic sound of their last few records has been replaced by riffage. Dirty, proggy, smelly riffage that reeks of rehearsal rooms and poor ventilation. Crank up the bass on this one.

John Skilbeck

La Casa Azul - La Nueva Yma Sumac (Elefant Spain)

Track: Die Sexuelle Revolution

Like pop music, dancing and fun? So does La Casa Azul, aka Spanish super-producer/songwriter Guille Milkyway, who in 2008 unleashed his masterpiece album La Revolucion Sexual. He nearly represented his country at Eurovision last year but was sadly squeezed out in the final vote. But Milkyway is no Javine, he’s at least twice as good. His 2009 album was just as incredible as last year’s opus, largely because it contained four new reworkings of La Revolucion Sexual’s title track (including versions in English and German), cover versions galore including a euphoric Love Is In The Air, a guest appearance from head BMX Bandit Duglas T Stewart, and a few more reworkings of one-year-old tracks. The man’s a genius, and I’ve seen some great gigs in my life but none better than his at this summer’s Indietracks festival. Vive la revolucion.

Matt Collins

Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More (Island)

Track: Roll Away Your Stone

Get a bunch of men together. Arm them with guitars, banjos, a big tom drum and a beater to hit the drum as hard as possible. Tell them to play as fast as they can, then to hit the drum as hard as they can when they want to slow down. The result will be something akin to Sigh No More. Every song sounds like a folk anthem that indie kids can somehow still leap around to. The formula kicks off with the title track's defiant declaration of "Love that will not betray you, dismay or enslave you / It will set you free / Be more like the man you were made to be" and may start to wear a bit thin by the time After the Storm echoes out, but by that point, you should need a rest from furiously banging that air drum.


Drums - Summertime

Track: Let's Go Surfing (Moshi Moshi)

For a while now, anyone who can string a harmony together has been instantly compared to the Beach Boys and by that they usually mean the later bit when Dennis got good, Brian went wacko and they all bought into the late 1960s hippy Cali fragile egotistical dream. Thank the sweet lord for Drums then, the Moshi Moshi outfit who instead channel the spirit of the Wilsons circa '62 with their rampant paeans to the joys of surf. Summertime isn't just a one-dimensional throwback either though. There's cute arrangements, huge melodies and the greatest dose of late summer melancholy this side of Don Henley. Sure this is only seven tracks long but pull up a sandpit, jam the iPod on repeat and Christmas will soon seem six months away.


Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest (Warp)

Track: While You Wait For The Others

I first latched on to Grizzly Bear when I picked up their Friend EP, primarily because it had the Band of Horses on it. Research following a subsequent conversation with Pranam found a video of these boys performing in the bath, and thus it immediately became clear they were musical visionaries. This theory was initially laughed at by folks Pranam and I sought to share it with. They should doubt us no longer. No album released this year is bursting with more ideas than Veckatimest. Trying to pin down Grizzly Bear to a particular style is a pointless exercise, they simply dabble in everything. From the soaring beauty of Two Weeks to the pop of While You Wait For The Others via the more ramshackle likes of Hold Still, this is an album that gives a little more each time.


  1. So it's finally revealed - Grizzly Bear at number 6 for you Ian. I'm tempted to follow Ali's lead and buy all the albums in the top 10.

    Can I also use this opportunity to applaud Rory for his use of the word ‘sired’ in his review.

  2. That's some poor maths Pranam dude. Today is No. 7...

  3. Yeah numbers were never my strong point. I guess that's why I never formed a math-rock band. Imagine the chaos.

  4. I am surprised to see Grizzly Bear so low on your list Agent P. I figured them as sure-fire top-three fodder given your eulogising over them in recent months.
    I'm loving it now that we're into meat of this now...

    Also, many thanks for Pranam's nod...I was rather pleased with that one myself.