Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Nineteen

And so we stand on the cusp of the top five. What came so close it hurt?

Witness our panel's No. 6 albums of the year:

Ali Mason

The Leisure Society - The Sleeper (Full Time Hobby)

Track: The Darkest Place I Know

The cover art to The Sleeper looks like an old-fashioned vision of the future and that somehow reflects The Leisure Society's sound, which feels somehow suburban and nostalgic, but at the same time outward looking and fresh. What The Leisure Society do best is sweet, lilting acoustic tunes and swoonsome harmonies, masking some jaded and at times dark lyrics. It's a winning combination, especially on standout tracks We Were Wasted and The Darkest Place I Know.

Rory Dollard

The XX - XX (XL)

Track: Heart Skipped A Beat

One of the more surprising indie offering of the year, The XX debut was an effortlessly cooler-than-thou offering. In an era when many new bands go mad with studio toys and fill every nano-second with marching bands, loops, choirs and samples this record was defined by its sparseness and simplicity. The back-and-forth boy-girl vocalists, meanwhile, sounded like supermodels muttering sweet nothings to each other and the use of drums and bass nodded, ever so stylishly, towards hip-hop.

Dom Farrell

Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears - Tell 'Em What Your Name Is (Lost Highway)

Track: Gunpowder

Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is! must be the most entertaining 40 minutes I’ve spent listening to anything in a long, long time. Opener Gunpowder doesn’t so much kick things off as send the ball screaming in off the underside of the crossbar from 35 yards. Next up, Sugarfoot explodes into view and you can almost see the smoke coming off the horn section. As influences such as Howlin’ Wolf and James Brown career into one another over the next eight tracks, there is not a dull moment to be had. If you don’t like this, you probably haven’t got ears attached to your head.

Andy Welch

Doves - Kingdom of Rust (EMI)

Track: Lifelines

A band from the North West with a cult-yet-devoted following releasing their fourth album. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? No, it’s not Elbow and last year’s Mercury winner The Seldom Seen Kid, it’s their friends Doves with Kingdom Of Rust. Having worked on the album almost solidly for three years, the pressure was on for the trio to deliver. They’ve an almost flawless back catalogue to consider for starters; three albums of music that manages to be resolutely English, nay Northern, while still maintaining dazzling ambition and aching sincerity that never falls into the trap of sentimentality or cliché. When Jetstream was released, fans knew to expect something special. And they got it. There’s Jimi’s trademark, hurt howl, carnival drumming from Andy Williams and brother Jez’s guitar playing, as wide open and sprawling as the rolling Cheshire landscapes and industrial wastelands the songs pay tribute to. As for following in Elbow’s footsteps? Doves dance to their own tune.

Guy Atkinson

The Wild Beasts - Two Dancers (Domino)

Track: Hooting and Howlin'

These complete kooks are only one of the two genuinely unique bands that I've heard this year and for that they are rewarded with sixth spot. The only reason this isn't number one is that the rest of the album doesn't quite match the sheer brilliance and eccentricity displayed on 'Hooting and Howling', 'We Still Got The Taste Dancing On Our Tongues' and 'All The Kings Men'. I could sit here all day and write about how much I have enjoyed this album, but I think this lyric does it better than I ever could: "His hairy hands, his falling fists, his dancing cock down by his knees..."

Pranam Prabhakar

Micachu & The Shapes - Jewellery (Warner Bros)

Track: Lips

I was first drawn to Micachu when I saw footage of her playing a vaccuum cleaner live onstage. It was a bit ridiculous, but mostly it was awesome. I think that sums up this record. It's a bit ridiculous and it doesn't take itself too seriously, but it's incredibly good fun.

John Skilbeck

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart - The Pains of Being Pure At Heart (Fortuna Pop)

Track: Everything With You

There's hardly any point in me describing the sound of The Pains... this won't be the first time you've read about them in the countdown, or heard their music, and I guess it may not be the last. But I've positioned them at number six in this here chart so should probably offer something of a fresh perspective. Here goes then. I used to go and watch a Scottish band called The Starlets whenever they came to Leeds in the early part of the decade. Their 'Surely Tomorrow You'll Feel Blue' album from 2001 is still a personal favourite. They had that Aztec Camera/Belle and Sebastian vibe to them, and possessed one particular shimmering gem of a song, 'Rocking In A Shy Way'. That song's title pretty much encapsulates TPOBPAH for me. Sure, their lyrics are intriguing and engaging, but Kip Berman and co aren't going to be blowing out speakers any time soon with tracks from this debut album, which was as fey as its guitars were fuzzy. Still, I loved it, and there should be more to come from them in 2010. They put out an all-new and all-wonderful EP, Higher Than The Stars, in the autumn, and if those tracks were leftovers then album number two should be wondrous.

Matt Collins

Martin Carr - Ye Gods (And Little Fishes) (Sonny Boy Records)

Track: Bear Lake

I've been following Martin Carr's career ever since I found out he wrote all of the Boo Radley's songs, collected as they are in a series of criminally underrated albums that didn't end till 2000. This is his first since dropping the Brave Captain moniker, and like all returns to form, Carr seems to have realised what he was originally good at and just gone back to bloody doing it. His voice still ain't up to much, and some would accuse him of oversimplicity. However, to have pre-empted Fleet Foxes' sound by a full year (this album was recorded and mixed in 2007), this collection of wistful folky laments deserves rather a lot more attention than it got.


Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest (Warp)

Track: Dory

Named after one of the Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts (who knew?!), Veckatimest wins the awards for the most unlikely influences in a top 24 album. Laptop electronica? Victorian chamber music? Paul frickin' Simon? And while I'm leaving myself open to chants of "Are you Pranam in disguise?!", I have to confess Dory was my least favourite track when I first heard this album. The dizzying circus of Two Weeks is the immediate stand out but this mid-set folk interlude is the key to the heart of this most inventive of albums. Repeated listens reveal it to be a dark-hearted gem, like a Fleet Foxes for the bleak midwinter and closer in tone to the sinister melodies of Yellow House.


The Pains of Being Pure At Heart - The Pains of Being Pure At Heart (Fortuna Pop)

Track: The Tenure Itch

It takes a special album to instantly feel both fresh and familiar. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart did just that with their wonderful brand of shoegaze pop, which would have transported me right back to the late 80s/early 90s had I been buying records back then. With ten tracks that were all candidates to be singles in their own right, this is a 35-minute mini-masterpiece. It's an entirely joyful listening experience, and formed the backbone of my summer soundtrack.

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