Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Eighteen

I made all the lucky number seven gags 11 days ago (and a year ago), but that's the beauty of the Musical Advent Calendar. These things come around twice. So though it may be day 18, these are the lucky albums which get to be our number sevens of the year.

Pranam Mavahalli

LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening (EMI)

Track - Dance Yrself Clean

LCD Soundsystem make me pull shapes so obtuse they’d even be disowned by Ann Widdecombe. So while those who associate with me might be heartened to hear that this album could be LCD’s swansong, me and my malcoordinated limbs will miss them dearly.

John Skilbeck

Lucky Soul - A Coming of Age (Ruffa Lane)

Track: A Coming Of Age

Goodness knows where Lucky Soul go from here. Having broken out in 2007 with The Great Unwanted, a charming pop album which came after a run of delicious singles, they returned this year and improved on it with this luxurious, superior follow-up. It opens up with the auspicious lyric "Tough times ahead...", and even if Ali Howard's candied vocals might mask them to the casual listener, darker themes pervaded the lyrics on the album than did its predecessor, as the title suggested they would. Based in London, Lucky Soul are in a sense a manufactured band, the brainchild of former sound engineering student Andrew Laidlaw, who brought the line-up together after developing an attraction to the sucrose sounds of sixties soul. And if he is a svengali of sorts, Howard is the band's Dusty - the 'talent' up front - her voice floating above rich, strings-attached arrangements to complete a collection of songs fit for any era. Makes Duffy look stuffy and should have sold hundreds of thousands but probably sold barely a few thousand. This was almost number one in my chart. You can assume the same applies to each of the remaining albums.

Steve Pill

!!! - Strange Weather, Isn't It? (Warp)

Track: AM/FM

On stage, !!! have always come off like some monster warehouse party band, clanking away like New York City punks in the last days of disco. The eight piece never quite recreated that atmosphere on record though, always drifting off into noodly jams and incessant cowbell solos. That was before Strange Weather, Isn't It? Averaging four minutes a track and packing more punch than a title fight, they have finally managed to make an album fit to soundtrack these attention-deficit times.

Matt Collins

First Aid Kit - The Big Black and The Blue (Wichita)

Track - In The Morning

Harmonies tighter than this you’ll never hear. Young Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara infuse their woodsy folk songs with the results of a lifetime spent singing together. Live, their hypertight harmonies are effortless and stunning. On this, their full length debut, they’ve got the stories and Fleet Foxes influenced acoustic guitars and pianos show they’ve got more than one trick up their sleeves.

Andy Welch

Tame Impala – Innerspeaker (Republic Of Music)

Track – Lucidity

Hendrix-obsessed Australian student stoners make psychedelic album. Christ, leave it out will you? But wait. While it might not sound a worthwhile endeavour on paper – in fact it sounds utterly dreadful – Innerspeaker takes the well-worn influences of Jimi, Cream, and Revolver-era Beatles and does something pretty thrilling with them. Kevin Parker’s voice, so low in the mix, allows the other instruments so much space, giving the album an incredible scale, and their show at Heaven is perhaps the best thing I’ve seen all year. Pastiche is only a problem when it’s boring. In the hands of this lot, it’s positively life-affirming.

Guy Atkinson

Against Me! - White Crosses (Sire)

Track - I Was A Teenage Anarchist

Seldom has a band made such a dramatic transformation as these former anarchist punks from Florida. Scratchy folk punk has made way for glossy hooks and soaring choruses on this fifth album, which has pissed off as many old fans as it has won new ones.

Dom Farrell

Neil Young - Le Noise (Reprise)

Track - Hitchhiker

In 2009, just an album on from the definitive call-to-arms anti-Bush album (Living With War), Neil Young released one about his environmentally friendly car. All but one of the tracks on Fork In The Road were about his sodding Lincoln in one way or another. Naturally, he keeps us all on our toes with the excellent, if horribly titled, Le Noise (produced by Daniel Lanois - geddit?). This is Young in stark, dark confessional mood. As he thrashes away on his trusty Gibson and Gretsch steeds, Neil sounds like a rueful old soul, disgruntled with the fact that he is still some way from comprehending life, love and all that jazz. So long as he doesn’t crack it anytime soon, the inevitable album about his colossal model train track can stay on the back-burner.

Ian Parker

Dylan LeBlanc - Pauper's Field (Rough Trade)

Track - Tuesday Night Rain

Who really knows what Ryan Adams is doing with himself any more? Ever since Cold Roses, he has seemed to be more concerned with quantity than quality, churning out endless projects, reinventions, and unnecessary double albums - ironic for a man who has repeatedly suggested he wants to get away from it all. And so it is left to others to build on the platform of Heartbreaker. Luckily for all of us, Dylan LeBlanc appears ready to rise to the challenge. Pauper’s Field is exactly the kind of album Adams should have spent the last decade making.

Rory Dollard

She and Him – Volume II (Double Six Song)

Track - Ridin' In My Car

While Volume I was one big, unexpected surprise it set expectations unbearably high for this follow-up. Luckily, all the things that made the debut such a rip-roaring success – Zooey Deschanel’s gorgeous vocals, M Ward’s wonderfully authentic production and a songwriting tendency towards nostalgia and innocence – are present and correct once again. Incidentally, watch Elf when it’s on at Christmas...even if you hate Will Ferrell, Zooey has a wee sing song in it which makes it worth the effort.

Ali Mason

The National – High Violet (4AD)

Track - Conversation 16

I can’t think of anything to say about this other than ‘it’s well good’ and that Bloodbuzz Ohio sounded amazing when I heard it played in a church (on CD, not live). Read the other six reviews. They’ll be more eloquent and amusing anyway.

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