Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Twenty

Ali Mason

Florence & The Machine - Lungs (Island)

Track: Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)

The public aren't always noted for their good taste - they like Susan Boyle, Transformers movies and those books about abused children. However, iTunes revealed recently that Lungs was their fifth best-selling album of the year so on this occasion the public were exactly right. Florence Welch's brand of theatrical, percussive pop-rock caught the imagination this year and quite right too - it's thrilling stuff. Single Rabbit Heart is one of those songs it's hard to imagine didn't exist as recently as a couple of years ago and the standard of her gothic pop fairytales rarely drops. Florence's voice (she's an entrancing live performer, too) is captivating, but it's as much the almost tribal drumming which drives this album, embodied in Drumming Song, and even the more pedestrian songs are pulled of with such sheer energy, they win you over. The only black mark is the ill advised cover of You've Got The Love - the album deserves a better finish than this uninspiring 'bonus' track.

Rory Dollard

Wilco - Wilco (The Album) (Nonesuch)

Track: Bull Black Nova

Increasingly, Wilco’s back catalogue is looking like the primary text in the Americana canon. This latest chapter fuses elements of their previous efforts – from the fevered, almost delinquent intensity of Bull Black Nova to the playful AOR of Wilco (the song) and the epic acoustic closer Everlasting Everything. Jeff Tweedy’s weatherworn voice, meanwhile, has never sounded better.

Dom Farrell

Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest (Warp)

Track: About Face

The third offering from Brooklyn quartet Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest is a gift that keeps on giving. A densely textured collection of songs that reveals more to the listener with every listen, it is a joy of a record. Influences from the Beach Boys to Radiohead are in evidence. Indeed 2007’s support slots with Oxford’s finest appear to have shepherded Veckatimest in an In Rainbows direction. Southern Point and Two Weeks provide a thrilling, enthralling opening salvo, while About Face is simply a lovely slice of tenderly crafted sunshine pop. By the time the bruised epic Foreground closes proceedings it is very hard not to have been won over.

Andy Welch

Jack Penate - Everything Is New (XL)

Track: Be The One

Quite frankly, Jack Penate had no right to make this album. His first record was an annoyingly jaunty affair, each track seemingly more indebted to The Housemartins’ hit Happy Hour than the last. It’s hard to imagine anyone being excited by the prospect of another album from the South-London-born singer songwriter; his record label, his fans, hell even him. Then he went and wrote this, one of the very finest albums of the year. Calypso rhythms, steel drums and dub basslines – whose record collection was he borrowing? – are all capped off by Jack’s mature, impassioned vocals. Pull My Heart Away, the title track and Tonight’s Today, nonsensical chorus aside, are obvious highlights, but it’s Be The One, a contender for single of the year with its unconventional structure, swirling brass and electronic stabs, that is this album’s crowning glory. A minor classic.

Guy Atkinson

Japandroids - Post-Nothing (Polyvinyl)

Track: Young Hearts Spark Fire

In short, this is what Times New Viking and No Age would sound like if they actually had tunes to back up their lo-fi posturing. In slightly longer, this is by some distance the most life-affirming record I've heard this year and continues to make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Scuzzy guitars, breathless drumming and bombastic choruses drive these songs forward at a relentless pace, but it's lyrics like "We used to dream, Now we worry about dying" that resonate longest and keep me coming back every time.

Pranam Prabhakar

The XX - XX (XL)

Track: Fantasy

I saw The XX live in Manchester earlier this year when they supported Micachu and the Shapes at the Deaf Institute. And frankly, I was less than impressed. I admit that I hadn’t previously heard them, but their sparse arrangements and shy demeanour didn’t really gel for me. But then they rolled out Basic Space and everything suddenly made sense. A Florence and the Machine remix and several listens on Spotify later, and I was hooked, addicted, bewitched and totally in love with this band. It’s a record that whispers rather than shouts, and my ticket for their return trip to Manchester is now very much booked.

John Skilbeck

Mika Miko - We Xaxu (PPM)

Track: Beat The Rush

Mika Miko will play their last ever gig on January 1, so, y'know, I'm sorry if you dig this marvellous punk record and want to adopt them as your new favourite band. Their second proper LP came a few months before the announcement of their demise, and pretty much perfectly reproduced the frantic nature of their live shows. They didn't so much support the Black Lips on tour earlier this year, they showed them up. Coming on like the Ramones but with Riff Randell filling in for Joey, the band emerged from the Los Angeles scene centring on the Smell club and have been pretty much trailblazers for the city's scuzz-punk movement. The four-girl, one-boy outfit played hard and fast on We Be Xaxu and were apparently unable, certainly unwilling, to drop down a gear. That might be considered a weakness but to my mind it's the album's strength. They pound the ear drums, the lyrics are pretty much impenetrable, and then, barely 20 minutes later, they're done and you're spent. They've got a killer track, Turkey Sandwich, which you might want to play come Christmas Day eve. If you want to upset Grandma.

Matt Collins

The Joy Formidable - A Balloon Called Moaning (Joy Formidable)

Track: Cradle

Welsh trio The Joy Formidable are very much a band on the ascendancy. Fusing simple yet effective songs with a desire to make guitar and bass amps scream as loudly as possible, they take indie rock somewhere that lovers of melody and moshing can both follow. Recorded in their bedroom a mere mile and a half from my flat, the band gave away the album via revoluntionary music website Music Glue, and are set to take over the world with a full length follow up in 2009.


Florence & The Machine - Lungs (Island)

Track: You've Got The Love

Sometimes I feel like throwing my hands up in the air, and I know I can count on Florence. Lungs is the sort of giddy, lovable album that I wasn't sure would ever get made again, this side of the 1970s, with its earnest lyrics, Bush-like banshee wails and unlikely danceable rhythms. And while the original singles were pretty amazing anyway, Flo proved herself a fine interpreter too on this slow-burning bonus track - fans should definitely check out her cathartic Cold War Kids cover, Hpspital Beds, released as a B-side. Magic.


Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros - Up From Below (Vagrant Records)

Track: Home

For a long time I was sceptical of albums with a retro sound - albums that didn't sound to be of their own time. It's too easy to pigeonhole yourself as a novelty act if you do that. But 2010 would seem to be my year of embracing it. Among the acts to benefit are the quite spectacular Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes. Apparently stuck in the Californian desert with only an immense stash of psychedelic pharmaceuticals to live on, Mr Sharpe takes us back to the late 60s/early 70s on a quite magical ride. It's an eccentric album, but an irresistable one. Stacked full of immensely catchy tunes, I defy you to come away without a smile on your face and half the album stuck in your head.


  1. Could I take a moment to congratulate Ali on his astute positioning of the Florence & The Machine album...
    And did anyone else do a double-take halfway down today's list because they thought someone was recommending Mika?!

  2. Jack Penate's album is so good I wrote it twice.

  3. The Joy Formidable track is sumptuous.

  4. My bad Andy - more 3am sleep-posting. Let me fix that.

  5. Ha! Were we listening to the same album though? Our reviews are pretty much diametrically opposed, although we somehow managed to come to the same conclusion. I was fully prepared for a barrage of abuse for putting it so high, too.

  6. Aw, I think I'm just a sucker for that song, regardless of who covers it. You should definitely check out the Cold War Kids cover though, it's bleak but awesome.