Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Twenty-Two

If this was a grand prix, there'd be a champagne-drenching, if it was the Olympics, there'd be medals and national anthems.

But it's neither of those things. It's far more important than that. It's the No. 3 albums of the year.

Ali Mason

Emmy The Great - First Love (Absolute)

Track: Easter Parade

"You know what they say about terrible hate - it will breed something good when it's through," sings Emma-Lee Moss on Museum Island, and she should know. Surely no artist in 2009 turned quite as much hate into quite as much beauty as Emmy The Great. First Love is an album soaked in bitterness and anger at boyfriends past, real or imagined. The fragile vocals speak of heartbreak, but the lyrics are smart and the rhythms unusual, stopping the album from being too morose, while in Easter Parade she has created one of the most beautiful tracks of the year.

Rory Dollard

Japandroids - Post Nothing (Polyvinyl)

Track: Wet Hair

Hollywood would have us believe the elixir of everlasting youth is found in some far off mystical valley. Nutritionists would argue it really lies in keeping tabs on your five-a-day. Andie McDowell, meanwhile, is still on the L’Oreal pay-roll telling us it’s mostly about expensive face creams. Well, the eight pop-rock gems that make up Post-Nothing are the best argument yet that the answer is really unabashed singalong melodies fused with fuzz guitar, pounding drums and lyrics about chasing girls and downing booze.

Dom Farrell

The Manic Street Preachers - Journal For Plague Lovers (Sony)

Track: Peeled Apples

Journal For Plague Lovers is a simply astonishing piece of work. Taking Richie Edwards’ final set of lyrics and weaving them around some white-hot slabs of post punk precision, the Manics sound more vital than they have done in over a decade. The pumping guitars and bass of opener Peeled Apples could probably strip paint, and a nod of credit must go to legendary producer Steve Albini. However the achievement here belongs to messes Bradfield, Wire and Moore, who complete a vibrant, moving and compelling record for a close friend they still miss dearly. That does not make Journal For Plague Lovers an exercise in nostalgia or the Holy Bible II. It stands alone as a superb album. This Joke Sport Severed is genuinely epic and one of their finest moments, while Jackie Collins’ Existential Question Time and Marlon JD showcase the articulate aggression that has been conspicuous by its absence some of their recent misfiring efforts. Bloody hell, I even quite like Williams Last Words, but you knew that already right?

Andy Welch

Richard Hawley - Truelove's Gutter (Mute)

Track: For Your Lover Give Some Time

If you’ve got any of Hawley’s five albums, you might think you have all the sepia-tinged, Yorkshire-based nostalgia you need. You’d be wrong. Truelove’s Gutter may be named after a Sheffield landmark like Lowedges, Coles Corner and Lady’s Bridge, but it’s much more adventurous than its predecessors. It features such wild instruments as the ondes Martenot, cristal baschet, Tibetan singing bowls, glass harmonica and musical saw, which give an ethereal, ghostly tone to the album. It’s a gloriously uncommercial album too, just eight tracks in length, some hitting the 10-minute mark, and add into that the serendipitous tales from the making of the album and you’re left with something truly special, even by the great man’s high standards.

Guy Atkinson

The Twilight Sad - Forget The Night Head (Fat Cat)

Track: Interrupted

After falling head over heels for debut album ‘Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters’ there was never any doubt that the follow up from these brooding Scottish gents would win me over. This is essentially a masterclass in epic, atmospheric rock that gets under your skin and refuses to go away. Stirring choruses are never far away and James Graham's potent Scottish accent spits out rousing lyrics like his life depends on it. In short, the record Interpol should have made after 'Antics'.

Pranam Prabhakar

The Phantom Band - Checkmate Savage (MRI)

Track: Folk Song Oblivion

Like The XX, I caught this band at Manchester’s Deaf Institute. Unlike the XX, the Phantom Band converted me instantly when they started their set playing home-made percussion to an insistent groove over a rootsy melodica refrain. They played the whole of Checkmate Savage live, albeit in a different order, and their curious mix of Scottish folk, krautrock, Beefheart and electronica was unlike anything I’d heard. This is a great album, totally unique in its charms, which is why I keep returning to it six months since I first heard it.

John Skilbeck

Pastels/Tenniscoats - Two Sunsets (Geographic)

Track: Song For A Friend

Two Sunsets is not at number one in my chart for two very good reasons, but it was by far the prettiest album I heard all year. It involved Stephen and Katrina from semi-retired Glasgow indiepop stalwarts The Pastels, and Japanese pair Tenniscoats, whose stock in trade is delicate, experimental pop, the kind you need large speakers not only to appreciate, but to hear. It was a project which could have become horribly lost in translation, yet a mutual admiration of each other's work helped it get off the ground, and the result was a record which soared above all expectations. The Pastels had not hidden the fact they have been moving away from the sound of C86 and in the direction of dreamy pop. There had been indications in their infrequent musical ventures of the past decade that they were ready to explore new territory, and on Two Sunsets they were led there by the hands of enthusiastic collaborators. Something special happened: Stephen Pastel's familiar low growl turned to more of a purring, perfectly complementing the fragile kitten voices of Katrina and Tenniscoats' Saya. 'Song For A Friend' was a heartbreaking tribute to a former Tenniscoats associate, DJ Klock, who committed suicide two years ago. It was the album's highlight, and you can listen to it now. Some tracks glistened, others noodled and ventured off piste, but every one was hugely rewarding as part of a luxurious listening experience.

Matt Collins

Fanfarlo - Reservoir (Fanfarlo)

Track - Drowning Men

Most reviewers are calling these guys a cross between Bierut and Belle and Sebastian. Not far off the mark, but beyond the singer's voice having a passing resemblance to Stuart Murdoch's, I think there's too much passion and pogo potential in these guys to compare that closely. The songs are consistently excellent, which is a rare trick to pull off on any album, and when achieved, almost instantly propels an album to classic status. There's something extremely triumphant in Fanfarlo's sound, helped along by the regal trumpets and stomping rhythms. And any band with about twenty members playing a mix of instruments like melodicas, mandolins and getting audience members to swing tubes will always, ALWAYS get my vote.


BLK JKS - After Robots (Secretly Canadian)

Track: Lakeside

Judging a book by it's cover can have the sweetest results and when I picked up this band's Mystery EP because it was on Secretly Canadian and had a cool photo on the front, I was pleasantly surprised. It still didn't quite prepare me for the head-throbbing freak out that is After Robots though. This is a monumental record, the sound of South Africa jacking up on Fela Kuti and TV On The Radio, all distorted jerks and unexpected diversions. Lakeside is perhaps them at their most conventional, but even then it is a sublime slice of 21st century guitar music.


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

Track: Woodfriend

This one will hit you like a freight train. With a powerful, bruised, troubled but ultimately uplifting album, Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson announced his frightening potential on his self-titled debut back in March. The themes befit a former drug addict who spent one too many mornings waking up on park benches in Coney Island, but the theme is of redemption and hope of a brighter future - hard to believe, I know, when the opening track is set at his own funeral. The raw power of the guitar and the urgency of his singing give this the feel of an album MBAR was compelled to make, an album that quite possibly saved him from relapsing into his old life and hurtling towards a terrible fate. Essential stuff all the way.


  1. Love that Pastels/Tenniscoats track, apart from the annoying clicking noise. And Fanfarlo I only got hold of after I'd submitted my list, otherwise it would have been in there.
    From the Blk Jks track Dollard posted I thought they were unlistenable rubbish. Hearing that second song today, I reckon I was half right.

  2. Right, after yesterday's unfounded suggestion that I'm given to slagging of great albums, the last thing I want to do is confirm a reputation for negativity, but... what am I missing with the Fanfarlo album? It really was one of my biggest disappointments of the year (not THE biggest - Regina Spektor had that sewn up in June). It just sounds like a big old dirge to me. Matt's displayed pretty excellent taste so far though, so maybe I'm wrong.

  3. I am an idiot for not having the twilight sad album in my top 24. It's as great as Guy suggests but for a while I couldn't get over the fact it was only 98% as amazing as their debut.
    Bring on the top two.
    Cheers for all your hard work Ian, I think this chart has brightened up all our dark Decembers.

  4. Unless someone has got The Twilight Sad in their top two I'm absolutely staggered that I'm the only person to have included it.
    Yep, thanks Ian for all the hard work - thoroughly enjoyed it.

  5. While I have the greatest respect for Dominic Farrell as an artist and flatmate, I feel the need to pass comment on his frankly ridiculous selection today.

    Journal For Plague Lovers is, for the most part, a fine album. In fact I would say Dom's brief description sums it up excellently.

    Unfortunately, the record is let down catastrophically by what can only be described as the most hideous track ever made by man or beast.

    I am of course referring to the ear-bleedingly toss William's Last Words.

    Listening to this so-called song is as pleasurable as attaching a lit catherine wheel to your pods while a scantily-clad Ann Widdecombe feeds you her toenails.

    Nicky Wire's lyrics may be packed with emotion, but that doesn't make it any less painful to listen to as he groans his way through what seems like 784 verses.

    Without this track, JFPL is worthy of a place in any list of the year's top albums.

    Unfortunately, the inclusion of such an abysmal pile of arse ensures it is not.

  6. I'd love to add a comment re: The Twilight Sad, Guy, but cannot at this point without giving away what I may or may not know about what may or may not be coming in the next two days.

  7. Also, Ali, Fanfarlo would be another one I'd add to the list I kicked off yesterday with Alessi's Ark. I just didn't want to pre-empt today's list.

  8. And while I'm commenting on everything going, a big thumbs up to Andy's pick today. Without giving too much away about what I have left to come, I criminally underrated this one, and shall regret its exclusion from the list for some time to come.

  9. Firstly, I'd like to thank Chris for the enduring Anne Widdecombe-related image.

    I am not about to launch a stirring defence of Williams Last Words. With Nicky Wire taking main vocal duties the song does suffer from the fad Pranam referred to in an earlier review as Dem-rockracy. You're the bass player - play bass. The singer is good, let him sing.

    However, there is a soft sentimental part of me that finds the track profoundly touching. After an album that assaults a variety of themes with vigour, Williams' Last Words reads like an acceptance of a person battle lost on Richie Edwards' part. It addresses "the best friends I ever had" and closes with the line "I'm really tired, I want to go to sleep and wake up happy." Irrespective of his monotone dirge, to hear Wire singing words like this, written by his best mate who disappeared in mysterious and upsetting circumstances is something I find quite moving and personally have respect for.

    I don't expect anyone to agree. In fact, I've tried to make this argument to many of this blog's Howden readers - much to their amusement and general ridicule. Also, listened to in isolation I accept Williams' Last Words can be painful. At the end of Journal For Plague Lovers, it works for me.

    Finally, the general assertion that one bad track can ruin an otherwise superb album is complete toss. Revolver has Yellow Submarine on it for goodness sake.

  10. Dear lord. I thought it was only fat 14 year-old goth girls who listened to the Manics?! He he...

    Also, am I the only one to think that the Fanfarlo track is an absolute rip-off of Over and Over Again by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and MBAR a complete rip-off of Times Like These by the Foo Fighters?!

  11. I mean the melodies, mainly... Especially the verses of MBAR.

  12. I'm not picking up too much I'd consider copyrighted by the Foos, but even if I did, I'm not sure I'd care. No one complained that Live Forever was Mary, Mary Quite Contrary, did they?

  13. Seriously? Try singing "I... I am a new day rising..." over the top of yer man Robinson's first line... Fits like a glove, it does.

  14. Just to return to the William's Last Words theme, I've just got through the new remix LP of Journal for Plague Lovers. Taking on the task of this track: Underworld.

    It may take me some time to pluck up the courage to drop the needle on that...