Monday, December 14, 2009

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Fourteen

Just think how close these here albums came to being in the top 10. I'd say it was a question of about 24 hours. The Musical Advent Calendar rolls on...

Ali Mason

The Mummers - Tale To Tell (Republic of Music)

Track: March of the Dawn

No album on my list has the ability to put me in a good mood like the lush orchestrations and childish delights of Tale To Tell. From the carnival-esque March Of The Dawn to the dreamlike Nightbus, this is comfort music - like a hot bath on a cold day or snuggling up in bed as the rain falls outside. The lyrical references to circuses and Alice In Wonderland, give the best clues to musical sound of an album which, I can say with authority having listened to it repeatedly while working nights, sounds perfect at 3am. Tragically, Mark Horwood, who orchestrated the album around Raissa Khan-Panni's lyrics and vocals, committed suicide in the treehouse studio where it was recorded five months after its release.

Rory Dollard

Bill Callahan - Sometimes I Wish I Were An Eagle (Drag City)

Track: Eid Ma Clack Shaw

Having ditched the Smog alias, Callahan finally seems settled enough in his own skin to open up. His last two self-titled releases have ditched the occasionally experimental, diversionary shells that Smog records tended to favour, replacing them with a spare, confessional feel that puts his hefty voice front and centre on some of his finest vignettes yet. Callahan, along with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, is emerging as one of folk music’s finest contemporary artists.

Dom Farrell

The Flaming Lips - Embryonic (Warner Bros)

Track: Convinced Of The Hex

They’re going to have a job dancing round in giant animal suits to this. A decade ago, The Flaming Lips astounded us all with The Soft Bulletin - a lushly orchestrated, euphoric masterpiece that left mouths open in awe and set the tone for their subsequent work. The sparse icy electronic darkness of Embryonic will leave many similarly aghast. Wayne Coyne admitted that he and his companions “completely lost their way” during the making of the record, and as Karen O is prompted to do animal impressions down the phone by Coyne in I Can Be A Frog, the listener can be forgiven for thinking this is all a tad self-indulgent. Nevertheless, the Lips remain an irresistible band. Opener Convinced of the Hex bobs, weaves and pulses its way into your consciousness, while See the Leaves and Evil harbour a wonderful bruised beauty.

Andy Welch

Fever Ray - Fever Ray (Enhanced)

Track: Triangle Walks

Karin Dreijer Andersson, along with her brother Olof Dreijer make up Swedish electronic duo The Knife. They’re famously secretive, rarely playing live – and when they did, they performed behind a screen, wearing masks – and never giving interviews. What made Karin put her head above the parapet as Fever Ray isn’t clear. Perhaps it was swelling pride? I normally find electronic music quite dull if I’m honest, but Fever Ray’s emotion and otherworldliness kept me coming back to it. Many of the songs here could easily be Kate Bush songs, Triangle Walks in particular. Andersson said the record was written with sleep deprivation in mind, and somehow she’s managed to capture the sound of insomnia or an endless Scandinavian summer perfectly.

Guy Atkinson

Brand New - Daisy (Polydor)

Track: You Stole

'Daisy' marks one of the most dramatic and compelling transformations of any band during the 21st century. After Taking Back Sunday-influenced debut 'Your Favourite Weapon', New Yorkers Brand New conjured two of the finest albums I've ever heard in the shape of 'Deja Entendu' and 'The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me', both masterpieces in brooding, dense alt-rock. While Daisy doesn't quite match the breathtaking highs of those two aforementioned albums, its 'In Utero'-inspired sound spits out a batch of songs designed to be played live and loud. VERY LOUD.

Pranam Prabhakar

Wild Beasts - Two Dancers (Domino)

Track: We've Still Got The Taste Dancing On Our Tongues

Howling and hooting their way into my heart, this band keep the flame of British idiosyncracy alive. They're a little mad and a wee bit proggy, but they write great songs, such as the album highlight below.

John Skilbeck

The Thermals - Now We Can See (Kill Rock Stars)

Track: When I Died

The Portland trio left Sub Pop and joined the Kill Rock Stars roster for their fourth album. From one great American indie imprint to another, lucky them. They also found a new drummer, Westin Glass, but on the record bassist Kathy Foster handled the percussion after Lorin Coleman vacated his stool for good prior to going into the studio. Otherwise it was business as usual. Want to aim a cheap shot at The Thermals? Compare them to modern-day Green Day. But they possess a hunger which cannot be faked, real urgency, and a punk spirit which only a band without millions in the bank can summon up. Granted, early Green Day had that. Fronted by Foster and guitarist/lead vocalist Hutch Harris, Now We Can See was a big pop record draped in noisy guitar licks and smart lyrics, and in opener When I Died and its title track it provided two of the band’s career highlights.

Matt Collins

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

Track: Love of an Orchestra

An album that better emotes the heartbreak of love straight after its giddy highs you are unlikely to find. Noah and the Whale's debut was packed with twisted lyrics carried along by the jauntiest of tunes, but this album, documenting the lead singer's breakup with collaborator and lover Laura Marling, is the bleakest of records. The title track sets the scene as the soundtrack for those moments of despair locked in one's bedroom, moving through the random periods of joy (Love of an Orchestra) and ending with the solemn, calm hope of My Door is Always Open. Since we've all been there, this is miserably compelling.


Dan Auerbach - Keep It Hid (V2)

Track: The Prowl

The Black Keys’ uneven attempt at becoming a hip hop backing band with Blakroc was one of the year’s strangest reinventions but half of the duo started on more familiar ground. Singer Dan Auerbach sounds invigorated on Keep It Hid, as if he’s just realised he is capable of making a record the equal of his 1960s garage rock idols. Prowl is just that, a roaming snarl of a song with suitably dusty production values.


Wilco - Wilco (The Album) (Warner Bros)

Track: I'll Fight

Okay, this is going to be one of those reviews where I've put the album quite high, and now I'm going to say what's wrong with it, but whatever. With all the hype this album got when it came out, I expected to love it. I've adored most things Wilco have done since Being There, and this was supposedly their masterpiece. But it's not. What it is is very good. Very good indeed. Heck, it's the 11th best album of the year! It was just supposed to be higher...


  1. I've loved doing this top 24 and seeing everyone else's selections but given that about 2/3rds of the albums I buy are old obscurities not new releases, I got to thinking that a list of new old albums would be good too. I wondered if anyone else would be up for sharing their new "old" albums too - be it reissues, secondhand vinyl finds or just things you never new existed before January 1st 2009?
    In the spirit of getting things going, here are probably the best 10 older albums I've discovered in the last 12 months and would recommend to anyone. I'd be really interested in hearing other people's recommendations too...

    1. Public Image Ltd. - Compact Disc (1986)
    - John Lydon's masterpiece. Fact.
    2. Arthur Russell - Love Is Overtaking Me (2008)
    - his ace rock-doc pointed me to this comp of 1980s home demos
    3. Bert Jansch - LA Turnaround (1974)
    - Brit folky adds pedal steel and a Monkee to great effect
    4. Palace Music - Lost Blues And Other Songs (1993)
    - Sublime and scrappy alt-country/folk/grunge
    5. Stark Reality - Now (1970)
    - the holy grail of fuzzed-up stoned psych jazz funk
    6. David Axelrod - Song Of Innocence (1968)
    - orchestral breakbeats, a must for DJ Shadow fans
    7. Aretha Franklyn - Aretha Arrives (1967)
    - Lady Soul tackles garage nugget 96 Tears and Stones' Satisfaction
    8. Iggy Pop - Zombie Birdhouse (1982)
    - Mr Insurance absorbs afrobeat and post-punk on lost classic
    9. Tindersticks - Simple Pleasures (1999)
    - Loved their first two but this slow burner passed me by until now
    10. Slint - Spiderland (1991)
    - Slightly dated post rock but still spooky as hell through earphones

  2. I like the sound of that. I will get thinking. Can't have enough lists!

    Also, that Mummers' album is great, and, without wanting to give too much away, I really wish I'd remembered to put it in my 24. Seeing them live last year was one of the best gigs I'd been to in a long time.

  3. If folks are up for doing this properly, there'd be room for another post before New Year's Day. Seems too good an idea to waste in the comments section...

  4. Re: The Mummers - Tale To Tell. How can something be recorded five months after it's release? You need a comma.

  5. The Thermals? An urgency and a hunger? Do fuck off. This is seriously what's wrong with journalism/critics these days. Up your own fucking arses. FUCK OFF.

  6. We've got a live one...

  7. Wow. We've all left ourselves open to criticism with this project, but I didn't expect to have my punctuation picked apart;

    Yeah, really sad I didn't get to see The Mummers live - they claim to be carrying on as a band but it's hard to imagine they'll be the same under the circumstances.

  8. Come on then, who's going to be first to tell 'englishoutlaw' that it should read its not it's in his first post?

  9. Steve - genius idea. I'm in. However, I'm convinced now that we are musically at odds. Not only do we disagree on the merits of the latest Super Furries album, but I have to disagree with your choice of Lydon's masterpiece.

    Metal Box is clearly his defining moment.

    (Nice to see Slint and Axelrod in there though. Quality albums).

  10. I do love englishoutlaw. I hope he comes back. Then I can tell him he's wrong about that comma.

  11. or i could tell him he's a cunt