Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Twenty-One

Who needs an intro? There are No. 4 albums of the year to read about...

Pranam Mavahalli

Gonjasufi – A Sufi And A Killer (Warp)

Track – Suzie Q

For the first few months of the year I couldn’t get enough of this record. Is it rock? Is it hip-hop? Is it dance? I don’t really care! It’s utterly distinctive and had me trawling Google to find the numerous samples it uses. Sumach Ecks (aka Gonjasufi) has a unique voice which this record stretches in improbable directions. My only criticism – his melodies are occasionally a little samey, but for a debut of this quality, this is just a minor quibble. Turn the dial up and hit play below for a slice of proto-Stooges meets Tom Waits rock action.

John Skilbeck

Shrag - Life! Death! Prizes! (Where It's At Is Where You Are)

Track - The Habit Creep

Brighton’s Shrag ripped their LP’s title from the front cover of a women’s weekly and critics might contend their sound is not wholly original either: a touch of Comet Gain poignancy here, a swish of Bikini Kill unruliness there. Such influences nevertheless stand up to close scrutiny. And so too did the second album from the two-girl, three-boy line-up who, fed up with being asked to define their sound, have tagged themselves a ‘post-lunch’ outfit. Following their self-titled debut, Shrag lost drummer Leigh-Ann to an injury-enforced rock-and-roll retirement and brought in a replacement, Andy Pyne, who arrived with a distinguished krautrock past and looks to have fortified the band. Rabbit Kids was a boisterous single, and Tights In August delighted with its twin perspectives on a relationship: "I feel something deep inside"/"I feel slightly petrified". L!D!P! comes highly recommended – Marc Riley is a big fan, as am I - and The Habit Creep is one of its highlights.

Steve Pill

The National - High Violet (4AD)

Track - Sorrow

Bruce Springsteen has the market covered for blue collar rock & roll but could the National be the first white collar guitar band? High Violet is a world weary, intellectual record, battered by the pressures of modern middle class life and perfect for a faceless commute across the city. Unlike their career-best, Alligator, this latest set won’t have you ballerina-ing on the coffee table, cock in hand. However, what it lacks in dynamics, it more than makes up for in creeping atmospherics and warm, repeated melodies. And that violin kills me every time.

Matt Collins

Larsen B - Musketeer (Old Radio Tunes)

Track - Stitch

Hertfordshire’s Larsen B were described by Uncut as “conjuring up memories of the most dazzling 60's pop”. This doesn’t do such a gloriously technicolour album the justice it deserves. Creating an album chock full of melodies that you are sure you have heard somewhere before (a sign of genius rather than plagiarism) means you have written an indie classic, singles Marilyn and Stitch the finest examples.

Andy Welch

The Coral – Butterfly House (Deltasonic)

Track – More Than A Lover

In my eyes The Coral are one of Britain’s most criminally underrated bands. I can completely see why, mind; they’re not glamorous, there’s no ‘story’ behind them, and their live shows, while flawless, do largely consist of the band walking on heads down, playing the songs – albeit brilliantly – and walking off again. I love Butterfly House in a way I used to love albums when I was 15; I’ve listened to it on repeat for days at a time and know every word to each song. The unpredictable time signatures and tempo changes of their debut may have gone, but they make up for that excitement in other ways; the feeling that the most glorious of middle eights or bridges is only bars away, for instance. To me, Butterfly House is the sound of a band at the top of their game, understanding exactly what they’re doing.

Guy Atkinson

The Foals - Total Life Forever (Warner Bros)

Track - Black Gold

The Foals' debut record polarised opinion, with musos deriding its 'math rock' (blurgh) stylings as a hipster fad, while the Facebook kids heralded it as a beacon of originality and invention (we'll ignore the fact that Minus the Bear and Q and Not U had done it all before). There's been no such disagreement with this second effort, which is brimming with heart swelling tunes, introspective lyrics and typically spine-tingling denouements. Who's the muso now, boi?

Dom Farrell

Beach House - Teen Dream (Bella Union)

Track - Norway

Teen Dream, Beach House's third full-lengther but the first to have come to my attention, is a truly spellbinding piece of work. This is lo-fi pop delivered with widescreen ambition. The highlights are numerous as drum loops and keyboards cascade around each other, with understated guitar lines and melody shimmering over the top. Here's hoping the back catalogue makes an appearance in my Christmas stocking.

Ian Parker

Admiral Fallow - Boots Met My Face (Lo-Five)

Track - Dead Against Smoking

Sometimes an album comes from absolutely nowhere to take hold. In the case of Admiral Fallow, it came, rather innocently, through the postbox as they sought the attentions of the For Folk's Sake New Bands Panel (shameless plug here) for a review. From the moment I stuck it on, I didn't want to turn it off. Louis Abbott's heartwarming vocals are beautifully set off by a wonderful meld of instrumentation. Although it soundtracked much of my summer, I'd have to say this is an album best heard in the cold of winter.

Rory Dollard

The National – High Violet (4AD)

Track - Runaway

The National are the definitive slow-burners. They do slow-burning singles, albums, choruses, lyrics. I’ve yet to see any National branded candles but I imagine they’d last you a lifetime. When High Violet hit, I kind of liked it but not as much as 2007’s Boxer, which I initially kind of liked, but not as much as 2005’s Alligator. Now, of course, I love the lot. Each time I listen to High Violet I seem to discover something else lovingly stashed down there in the thicket of the mixing desk and the onset of the English winter seemed to place the whole thing in its aptest context.

Ali Mason

Mountain Man – Made The Harbor (Bella Union)

Track - Buffalo

Fans of complex instrumentation, look away now. This one’s not for you. Don’t expect drums or keyboards or bass or banjos from their debut album, Made the Harbor. All you’re going to get here is three voices, the occasional strum of a guitar – and oodles and oodles of the most beautiful harmonies you’ll have heard this year. It’s pure Americana – there’s no way this band could be from anywhere else, their bluegrass-tinged folk songs bringing to mind the vast sweeping landscapes of the United States, from the New England hills through the Rockies and the Deep South and beyond, as they sing about buffalos and herons and rivers and bees. What marks it out more than the complex, three-part harmonies which flit so gracefully on the air is the sense of stillness and calm which pervades. It’s the mark of a band totally in control of their trade.


  1. You're a wise man, Rory... Snap!

  2. Let's not casually toss around words like "wise" where Dollard is concerned.