Friday, December 25, 2009

The Musical Advent Calendar - The Overall Top 10

A very retro Christmas to you all

First things first. We here at Ragged Glories are traditionalists. There's a reason we picked our Top 24s, and not Top 25s, for this project. A real advent calendar has only 24 doors.

So, er, what are we doing here today?

It's Christmas Day. There's turkey to eat. What could possibly be so pressing?

The overall top 10, of course. In all, there were 156 albums nominated by the panel over the last 24 days. Every single one of us came up with a different number one.

To make sense of it all, we wanted to then figure out what the consensus was amongst us - what was our collective No. 1 album of the year. Using a simple scoring system, one point for a No. 24 nomination through to 24 points for a No. 1, a chart was produced, and here for your listening pleasure is to the Top 10. The number in brackets indicates where in their top 24s individual panelists placed the album.

Have a very Merry Christmas.

1. The XX - XX (XL)

What we said:

Pranam (No. 5): "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."

Ali (No. 7): "Nothing is wasted on this album of simple, elegant beauty. This is Pinter-esque music, as much about what's not there as what is. Every pause is as important as every note, every beat is as important as every word."

Guy (No. 2): "Put simply, it's just astoundingly good."

Rory (No. 6): "One of the more surprising indie offering of the year, The XX debut was an effortlessly cooler-than-thou offering."

SP (No. 1): "...the teen quartet the XX produced an album of such simple, unfettered joy that to ignore it just seems perverse."

Track: Islands

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

What we said:

Dom (No. 2): "The Pains of Being Pure At Heart is one of those records you listen to and want to tell everybody about immediately. Buzzsaw guitars churn away merrily underneath sugar sweet boy/girl harmonies and addictive melodies to create ten delicious slices of irresistible indie pop."

Pranam (No. 16): "The Pains should be thanked for making it okay to like indie music again."

Ali (No. 22): "The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart sound like The Smiths, Jesus and Mary Chain and The Stone Roses, while lyrics move from genuinely funny to out-and-out creepy."

John (No. 6): "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."

Me (No. 6): "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."

Guy (No. 1): "While this might not be the most cutting edge or original album I've heard this year, its unrelenting ability to inject fuzzy rushes through my veins every time I listen to it means it thoroughly deserves its place at the summit of this list."

Track: Contender

3. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest (Warp)

What we said:

Andy (No. 20): "Hard to describe but easy to love, Veckatimest, the band’s fourth record, draws on everything from jazz and doo wop to folk and Sixties pop – namely Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys – which makes for a seriously special album."

Dom (No. 5): "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."

Pranam (No. 1): "Grizzly Bear have blossomed. I love Veckatimest because it sounds like an album conceived in the old school classic sense of the term – something it has in common with all my top ten entries. To quote Dory, the tracks ‘wildly cohere’ though they may be different to each other in style, and there’s a mood and soundscape that lingers throughout the whole."

Me (No. 7): "No album released this year is bursting with more ideas than Veckatimest. Trying to pin down Grizzly Bear to a particular style is a pointless exercise, they simply dabble in everything. From the soaring beauty of Two Weeks to the pop of While You Wait For The Others via the more ramshackle likes of Hold Still, this is an album that gives a little more each time."

SP (No. 6): "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."

Track: Fine For Now

4. Noah & The Whale - The First Days of Spring (Mercury)

What we said:

Andy (No. 1): "I can’t remember hearing a record that chronicles the dissolution of a relationship so well, from the realisation things might be coming to an end, to desperate, I-don’t-know-what-to-do-without-you laments. There’s bitterness, mourning, sorrow and regret, but perhaps most magically, through the layers of high emotion there are green shoots of hope; first that his erstwhile love will return, and later, on the more realistic Blue Skies, for an end to the suffering."

Dom (No. 8): "Charting the break-up of Fink and folk songstress Laura Marling, The First Days of Spring is a stark, painfully honest and often beautiful piece of work. Yes, it can be uncomfortable listening at times, but any music that can both explore and provoke such depths of emotion should be admired."

Matt (No. 11): "An album that better emotes the heartbreak of love straight after its giddy highs you are unlikely to find."

Ali (No. 18): "It's a world away from happy-clappy 5 Years Time which made them mainstream stars and it's utterly compelling, though it's sheer honesty - particularly on Stranger, an account of a one-night stand written as a confessional - will have you blushing, curling your toes and trying not to catch anybody's eye."

Rory (No. 4): "Less than a year after a jaunty but forgettable debut, Fink has penned a potential break-up classic for the ages."

Track: My Door Is Always Open

5. Blue Roses - Blue Roses (XL)

What we said:

Andy (No. 8): "In some cultures, a blue rose signifies love at first sight or a feeling of enchantment. That pretty much sums up how I felt about Blue Roses, or Laura Groves as her mum calls her, the first time I heard her voice."

Matt (No. 2): "The combination of instruments is gorgeous, from the familiar yet expertly played acoustic guitars and piano, through to thumb pianos and swirling harmonies."

Ali (No. 1): "From the intake of breath which precedes Greatest Thoughts to the resonant piano that punctuates the end of Imaginary Flights, Blue Roses' debut album is spellbinding."

Rory (No. 8): "If history is kind it will judge Leeds singer-songwriter Laura Groves as 2009’s lost superstar. Despite limited exposure, she wowed all who came into contact with her intricate take on piano-based balladry."

Track: Does Anyone Love Me Now?

6. Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More (Island)

What we said:

Andy (No. 2): "They only formed about two years ago, but in that time Mumford & Sons have gone from sometime backing band of Laura Marling to genuine stars of 2009 with their sincere, powerful blend of traditional English folk and American bluegrass."

Matt (No. 7): "Get a bunch of men together. Arm them with guitars, banjos, a big tom drum and a beater to hit the drum as hard as possible. Tell them to play as fast as they can, then to hit the drum as hard as they can when they want to slow down. The result will be something akin to Sigh No More."

Rory (No. 9): "...They delivered with a robust set of big rootsy tunes, driving banjos and frequently blurred the lines between emoting and rabble-rousing. This is country-rock with a soul."

Ali (No. 16): "Single Little Lion Man and a reputation for storming live shows set the bar high Sigh No More, which largely lives up to expectations."

Me (No. 16): "...These are real growers, and who knows, had it had more time it might even have made it higher up the list."

Track: The Cave

7 (Tie). Wild Beasts - Two Dancers (Domino)

What we said:

Andy (No. 14): "It’s easy for a band to be weird for the sake of it, but it’s even easier to see through. Obtuse lyrics, theatrical flourishes and depressing, morose imagery alongside fabulous pop melodies, though? Now you’re talking."

Pranam (No. 11): "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."

Ali (No. 4): "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."

Guy (No. 6): "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'."

Track: Two Dancers (I)

7. Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson - Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson (Saddle Creek)
What we said:

Ali (No. 20): "The visceral thrill of seeing Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson's raw stage act doesn't quite transfer to record, but his pounding, shambolic rock anthems (Woodfriend, My Good Luck) and the feeling that you're listening to a man constantly on the brink of a breakdown lend an excitement of their own."

Dom (No. 4): "Against the odds, near flawless song craft allied with gloriously ragged (see what I’ve done there) production allows for many uplifting moments."

Rory (No. 7): "An early favourite that dominated the first part of my 2009 listening. MBAR, an engaging storyteller like only New York can produce, sired an album of scuzzily-produced, tautly played rock ’n’ roll."

Me (No. 3): "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."

Track: The Debtor

9. Doves - Kingdom of Rust (EMI)

What we said:

Andy (No. 6): "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."

Dom (No. 7): "Much of the initial press for Kingdom of Rust spoke of how Doves had moved back to their Sub-Sub post-Hacienda roots and recorded a dance orientated record. However, this proved to be only a partial truth and a one-dimensional way of looking at a fine record by a fine band, even if it was not their finest."

Matt (No. 4): "But this is fine stuff - mesmerising effect-heavy guitar riffs swirl round a fast paced series of almost excluvely strong rock songs."

Track: House of Mirrors

10. The Horrors - Primary Colours (XL)

What we said:

Dom (No. 21): "Reference points including My Bloody Valentine, Joy Division and Heaven Up Here-era Echo & The Bunnymen combine to produce an impressively brooding soundscape. This record is a lesson that well layered guitars with classic 50’s style echo produces far more gothic darkness than shit eyeliner ever could."

Pranam (No. 2): "No one saw it coming. Primary Colours is a thrilling ride from start to finish."

Guy (No. 14): "They've toned down the Stooges-influenced jams of their debut and branched out to embrace a much fuller sound, incorporating gothic synths, psychedelic guitars and tuneful pop ditties to impressive effect."

SP (No. 9): "Just when you thought The Horrors were going to go the way of JJ72 and Terris (remember them?!), they startled everyone with an album of unexpected depth. There are no primary colours in this gothic shoegazing fuzzfest but Farris Rotter and co. paint it black in style nonetheless."

Track: Mirror's Image

And that's it. This whole crazy scheme is over (until we do it again next year). A big thank you to the panel for their work, and to all those who followed along and made sure we weren't just talking to ourselves.

Normal service will resume on Ragged Glories just as soon as I find the energy.

Merry Christmas.

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