Monday, December 21, 2009

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Twenty-One

The tension is palpable as the scrutiny intensifies and No. 1 draws ever closer. Every choice now means one less candidate for the Big Prize, every curveball thrown in means something big must have been missed off.

Welcome to Day 21 of the Musical Advent Calendar, featuring uncharacteristic u-turns from Ali and an oversize MJ Hibbert thumbnail.

Ali Mason

Wild Beasts - Two Dancers (Domino)

Track: This Is Our Lot

Never have I performed such a complete U-turn over an album as I did with Two Dancers. When I first heard I hated it, I loathed it - I thought it was some sort of joke. But somehow it kept dragging me back until I conceded that, while I still didn't like it, I found it compelling. By the time I saw them owning Leeds Cockpit, I absolutely loved it. For anyone like me who missed out on their 2008 debut effort Limbo Panto, Hayden Thorpe's wailing falsetto is a disarming instrument - perhaps it was my utter loathing of the Bee Gees that made me instinctively dislike it. The funny thing is, as much as that voice is the band's trademark, it's not what makes them great. What makes them great is their daring, filthy songs - pulsing with bass and oozing with grime. No artist has quite nailed life in 21st-century Britain like this, from the casual misogyny of All The King's Men through to the boozed-up anti-ballad This Is Our Lot. Kaiser Chiefs, take note.

Rory Dollard

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

Track: The First Days of Spring

Remember when Adam Sandler ditched the screwball comedies for a second and turned out a knockout performance in Punch Drunk Love? Noah and The Whale’s Charlie Fink has just blown Happy Gilmore out of the water for unexpected turnarounds. Less than a year after a jaunty but forgettable debut, Fink has penned a potential break-up classic for the ages. Hewn from the same raw material as Blood on the Tracks or Blue, First a relentlessly honest chronicle of his split from folkie Laura Marling which aims for brilliance and, sometimes painfully, succeeds.

Dom Farrell

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

Track: Buriedfed

On Written Over – one of the many highlights on MBAR’s stunning eponymous debut – the New York troubadour sings of having his “face in the dirt” and “ass in the sky”. This sentiment does a good job of summing up lyrically stark and bleak record telling tales of drug-addled failure and a desperation for redemptive second chances, which at times Robinson scarcely seems to believe he deserves. Against the odds, near flawless song craft allied with gloriously ragged (see what I’ve done there) production allows for many uplifting moments. As Buriedfed builds from its hushed beginning to a rousing, skyscraping crescendo, Robinson is damn close to perfection. The course guitar work on Woodfriend and The Ongoing Debate of Present vs. Future calls to mind Neil Young’s faithful ally Old Black. In fact, if you imagine Young’s legendary ditch trilogy, but with heavier, murkier drugs in Brooklyn’s back streets then you’re probably getting a grasp of the wonders unfolding here.

Andy Welch

Ian Brown - My Way (Polydor)

Track: Stellify

It’s interesting Ian Brown should call his latest solo album My Way. It kind of suggests he’s not been doing things his own way for the last 20 years, which of course, he has. There aren’t many British artists who’ve so steadfastly stuck to their guns, and the fact he so vocally shouts down any chance of a Stone Roses reunion is worthy of huge respect on its own. Stellify, which kicks off King Monkey’s sixth solo album is up there with FEAR as one of the best songs he’s ever written. Originally intended for Rihanna, it’s easy to imagine her singing over the song’s fierce beat and stabs of piano and Mariachi horns. Vanity Kills, one of the other stand-out tracks, was meant for Kanye West too. There are still some of the moralistic, state-of-the-nation lyrics leftover from last album The World Is Yours, but this time around it’s more personal with Brown concentrating on his past, and John Squire in particular. “You walked yourself into the wilderness,” he sings on Always Remember Me. “Those were the days when we had it all, and these are the times I’ve got so much more.” Compelling, insightful, exciting and above all, enjoyable, it’s his best solo album to date.

Guy Atkinson

Paramore - Brand New Eyes (Fueled By Raman)

Track: Careful

Stop sniggering at the back, this is absolutely ruddy great. While there's probably been cases of my inner muso swaying certain selections in this list, my inner emo-pop-punk lovin' 15-year-old self was responsible for this one. 'Pure pop perfection' is a phrase people will have heard me mutter on numerous occasions and rarely has it been more appropriately deployed than when describing Paramore's third offering. Hayley Williams' soaring vocals remain the driving force behind their appeal, but with stadium-sized choruses intertwining with irresistible melodies on nearly every track there was only ever going to be one outcome...SMITTEN.

Pranam Prabhakar

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion (Domino)

Track: No More Runnin'

I think Animal Collective have put out consistently good albums since Sung Tongs, so I found it surprising that critics leapt on MPP. Many were predicting it would be in the end of year polls even before it was released. The excessive praise put me off at first – but again here’s an album that I return to regularly. My only criticism is that the post-rave euphoria starts to drain towards the last third of the album, which is why I choose 'No more runnin' as my favourite track. Its gentle, lilting tone was a welcome come-down, and sounds just as great on its own as it does sequenced on the album.

John Skilbeck

MJ Hibbert & The Validators - Regardez, Ecoutez et Repetez (Artists Against Success)

Track: It Only Works Because You're Here

Mark Hibbett is a self-confessed database manager with a nice sideline in witty storytelling through the medium of pop. Frequently likened to Half Man Half Biscuit he may be, but to my mind Hibbett's songs have a warmer heart. Regardez, Ecoutez et Repetez was not strictly a comedy record, but it was at times laugh-out-loud funny.'Do The Indie Kid' told of a worrying trip to a French indie club, where the locals "partied like it was 1959", and of a wedding horror show where parents "started twisting to The Pixies... I could have died". Cream of the bunch was 'It Only Works Because You're Here', a saga of love rivalry in the workplace which veered close to pantomime. The good guy - the computer desk geek - eventually beats the baddie - the 'main site IT guy' - for the affections of the blushing girl on the top floor. It's all rather daft. Brilliantly so.

Matt Collins

Doves - Kingdom of Rust (EMI)

Track: The Greatest Denier

This year I've somehow managed to move beyond my habit of only buying new albums by bands I was into ten years ago, but clearly not in this instance. I wasn't expecting much from a title as pompous as this, or from a band who delivered something as lacklustre as Some Cities as a follow up to one of the best albums of the last 10 years in The Last Broadcast. But this is fine stuff - mesmerising effect-heavy guitar riffs swirl round a fast paced series of almost excluvely strong rock songs. Only the making-it-up-on-the-spot sound of Birds Fly Backwards spoils the party, which is what the skip button was made for.


The Memory Tapes - Seek Magic (Something In Construction)

Track: Bicycle

It's going to be hard to top Pitchfork's succinct description of Memory Tapes' eight-song debut ("this shit is fucking hazy") but here goes... If New Order had gotten stoned in a field on a late Spring evening and decided to write their masterpiece, it might have come out a little like Seek Magic and Bicycle is arguably one of the singles of the year. It all comes from the inspired mind of Mr Dayve Hawk, who is perhaps the only person in the world who is more of a genius than whichever one his parents decided his forename needed a Y in it. You need this album in your life.


The Low Anthem - Oh My God, Charlie Darwin (Bella Union)

Track: The Horizon Is A Beltway

Every now and then a band comes out of nowhere with what turns out to be their third album, and you wonder how the heck you never heard of them before. It would be fair to describe Oh My God, Charlie Darwin as the Low Anthem's coming out party as they have exploded into the consciousness with this delightful sampling of Americana. Gospel, folk, country, it's all on here. Gorgeous harmonized folk on tracks like To Ohio and Ticket Taker somehow sits comfortably with the raucous likes of The Horizon Is A Beltway, a song which Ben Knox Miller screams out in such a way you fear for his ability to ever perform To Ohio properly again. As an Americana addict, I can't help but love an album that touches every base.


  1. Given how many outstanding albums Ali has dismissed when I or others have recommended them, to see the Wild Beasts at No. 4 is genuinely heartwarming. If he can make a U-turn of this magnitude, there is hope yet...

  2. I haven't really dismissed that many albums, have I? I think all I've done is (accurately) say Edward Sharpe sounds like Johnny Borrell. And I wasn't even the first person to say it.

  3. Now you're just mentioning albums you know I don't like to get me to slag them off and back up your point. That's cheating.

  4. Anyway, it doesn't back up your point because Alessi's Ark clearly isn't an outstanding album.

  5. I think here we find the root of the dispute.

  6. Elsewhere, as he's clearly unwilling to do it himself, allow me to quote a debate-starting email from Dom earlier today.


  7. Apparently it's, like, a matter of opinion, or some shit like that.

  8. Sorry, that was meant as a continuation of the Alessi's Ark discussion. I'm not attempting to stifle the Paramore debate, which I think should rage. Come on debate... rage...

  9. After much provocation from Mr Parker, here follows my first, slightly reluctant, comment.

    Of course, as Ali states this is very much a matter of opinion. However, I find Paramore and their work to my knowledge to be utterly deplorable drivel of the highest order without redeeming feature. But huge "props" and such to Guy who has selected some wonderful efforts thus far. I can only assume his radar has headed in an Ian Bell direction on this occasion.

    Also, this is perhaps a pre-emptive entry of sorts as my Johnny-come-lately housemate is poised to make an unfounded attack on me for tomorrow's selection. It will be immense fun.

    Finally, in reference to the previously mentioned rage, how about laying the groundwork for a campaign whereby Ragged Glories righteously selects the Christmas No1 for 2010......

  10. Don't pin this on me, Dom. You said it. You stand by it.

  11. For the record, if I was basing this list on how often I had actually listened to records over the year Paramore would be proudly on top. 'Emo 4 life'