Friday, December 17, 2010

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Seventeen

My girlfriend has made me loathe the number 17 for reasons we need not go into here, but, on reflection, this version doesn't seem so bad...Our number eight albums of the year...

Pranam Mavahalli

Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me (Drag City)

Track - Jackrabbits

A three-course meal of an album in an age when we people seemingly prefer to snack on single-track downloads. It might be more than two hours long, but it’s constantly interesting, challenging and bold. I’ve owned it almost a year now and am still surprised by it with each listen.

John Skilbeck

Neverever - Angelic Swells (Slumberland)

Track: Here Is Always Somewhere Else

When the Glasgow-based Royal We split in 2007, cutting and running on the day they released an exhilarating eight-track album on 10" vinyl, it seemed a sensational pop band had combusted barely as soon as they had surfaced. Thankfully, they have merely splintered. So while the marvellous Veronica Falls have sprung up in London, across the Atlantic, former Royal We singer Jihae Jean Simmons is presently making her rich, sensuous voice heard as the frontwoman for LA-based Neverever - who in 2009 briefly surfaced as The Champagne Socialists. Angelic Swells emerged in May, all brassy vocals hanging over arch yet elegant choppy guitar. Simmons might have left Glasgow, but the trademark sound of the city clearly had left its mark.

Steve Pill

Houses - All Night (Lefse)

Track - Reds

As fragile as a dandelion clock, I almost don't want anyone else to hear this superbly short, heartbreaking little record for fear that they might trample it with their great big damn shoes. Choruses pass by in a shimmer of shoegazing effects and the singer's voice sounds like he's arrived at Sunday morning from the night before. I know nothing about Houses (you try Googling it) apart from the fact that they share a label (Lefse) with the equally excellent School of Seven Bells and How To Dress Well. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Matt Collins

The Acorn - No Ghost (Bella Union)

Track - I Made The Law

Following on from their brooding yet rhythmically exciting classic Glory Hope Mountain, The Acorn return, picking up exactly where they left off. Complex guitar parts, drum tracks that make you want to dance to looping acoustic guitar riffs, all the while feeling guilty that there’s depth and sadness in the dance.

Andy Welch

Grinderman – Grinderman 2 (Mute)

Track – Kitchenette

Few albums this have both made me laugh out loud and freaked me out to the extent of Grinderman’s second album. Lean, primal and full of delicious insults, there are far too many highlights to list, but mocking an ex’s children sticks in my mind as particularly malicious. It’s even more mind-boggling to think all of the album was improvised and edited down from weeks’ worth of recorded material with very few overdubs, but it does go some way to explaining Grinderman 2’s sheer looseness and swagger. The only thing more satisfying than listening to the album is the feeling that the band had even more fun making it.

Guy Atkinson

Blood Red Shoes - Fire Like This (V2)

Track - Heartsink

This second album from the effortlessly beautiful Brighton duo takes all that was snotty and thrilling from their grunge inspired debut and blends it with a level of maturity to create a collection of songs that grab you by the bollocks and refuse to let go for 41 minutes. Ouch.

Dom Farrell

Grinderman - Grinderman II (Mute)

Track - Mickey Mouse And The Goodbye Man

Nick Cave’s apparent urge to swap wistful macabre for lairy mid-life crisis via the medium of guitar meant the Grinderman project got a second airing this year. Grinderman II is a far more rounded effort than its predecessor, with some thrilling moments in the nine track visceral assault. Buzzsaw guitars underpin opener Mickey Mouse and The Goodbye Man and feature prominently throughout. And despite all the enjoyable silliness, Cave’s lyrics demand attention as always. When he sneers “you think you’re government will protect you, you are wrong” in Heathen Child, you find yourself marching, grizzled, right behind him.

Ian Parker

Anais Mitchell - Hadestown (Righteous Babe)

Track - Why We Build The Wall (ft. Greg Brown)

At once huge, sprawling, almost boundless, and yet also delicate, almost reserved, Hadestown is a rich album of many layers. Where rock operas are usually mocked, folk operas either don’t exist or don’t register. Until now. Mitchell’s big idea is a gift that keeps giving, every listen revealing new depths to the story. If there is to be a criticism, a reason it does not ascend further in this list, it is that there is a lull in the second half of what is a lengthy album, but we’re splitting hairs here. It’s excellent stuff.

Rory Dollard

Massive Attack – Heligloland (Virgin)

Track - Splitting the Atom

Blue Lines is a stone cold classic. Mezzanine is close. Protection has truly great moments. And then there’s 100th Window, which is about as satisfying as a bath bomb made entirely from fag ash. It was, then, a big and unexpected leap for the Bristol soundsystem to get close to their former glories. The return of Daddy G from hiatus helped. He did, as promised “bring the black back” to the sound and he also contributed a socially conscious, sonically arresting rap on Splitting The Atom. The quality is so high, and the textures so rich, that a cameo by Damon Albarn passes by almost unnoticed.

Ali Mason

Fyfe Dangerfield – Fly Yellow Moon (Polydor)

Track - High On The Tide

According to rock rules, the first album is excellent, the second album is a slightly worse version of the first album and the side project is what the frontman does to try something completely different. By rights, then, the Guillemots’ second album, the almost inexplicable Red, should really have been Fyfe Dangerfield’s solo effort and Fly Yellow Moon should have been the beautiful follow-up to Through The Windowpane. The thing about Fly Yellow Moon is that it’s relentlessly good. There’s nothing groundbreaking here – just stonking indie singalongs and beguiling ballads. And really – what more could you want?

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