Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Twenty-Two

As we reach the top three, it's tempting to call this Laura Marling Day. See if you can figure out why...

Pranam Mavahalli

Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest (4AD)

Track – Revival

About halfway through this record is a track called Desire Lines. It starts innocuously enough – a charming pop song graced with a lovely descending guitar line over a languorous baritone vocal. Then three minutes in, it unexpectedly shifts up several gears, engages a motorik beat, vocals are despatched with, guitars chime and the song rides blissfully on, and on, and on, and on, and on... It’s a magical moment. Almost equally magical is the middle eight of Revival, where the bass drops out about 1 minute 20 seconds in, turning a good song into a great one. It gets me every time.

John Skilbeck

Best Coast - Crazy for You (Wichita)

Track - Bratty B

Bethany Cosentino knows good love. Whether it’s for her cat, her boyfriend, or her weed, she’s either smitten or she’s smarting. And if you can tolerate those lyrical obsessions, you’re halfway to going crazy for Best Coast. It was an audacious move of Cosentino to take the plunge and record an all-new LP, disregarding the run of singles and EPs she and band-mate Bobb Bruno had released in a prolific first year together. There were some fine songs there, but only the blissful When I’m With You made the eventual cut, as a bonus track. Astonishingly she carried it off, the album contained no filler and was crammed with polished pop songs. Cosentino has a beguiling charm and a rich, confident voice tailored for surf-pop. Her songs might appear simplistic but they carry emotional baggage, similar in that respect to The Ronettes. And she’s not always the girl getting the guy, sometimes she’s doing the begging. On Bratty B she’s left heartbroken, promising not to "be such a brat", and all alone.

Steve Pill

Foals - Total Life Forever (Warner Bros)

Track - Blue Blood

The first Foals album was lumped in with the whole math rock scene and it certainly sounded like the work of men more comfortable juggling complex equations, all awkward moves and cryptic lyrics. Total Life Forever is a revelation though, more intimate and yet more expansive too. Blue Blood begins, like the album, with a meek vocal before it bursts into life with encouraging baselines and chiming guitars. Like Bloc Party before them, some of the lyrics are cringeworthy, over earnest 6th Form nonsense on paper but they win you over through the sheer force of the band's collective attack, while cribbing from The Lemonheads showed they did have a sense of humour after all.

Matt Collins

I Am Kloot - Sky at Night (Shepherd Moon)

Track - Lately

I Am Kloot abandoned the acoustic guitars that made their ramshackle folk so loveable and unique ten years ago, and decided to rock out over a series of anonymous albums. Finally, Johnny Bramwell has dusted off his busker’s guitar and come back with another collection of delightful and lyrically razor sharp observations on a life spent overindulding, including the reworked classic Proof from their second album.

Andy Welch

Best Coast – Crazy For You (Wichita)

Track – Our Deal

I love the scuzzy sounds of Jesus & Mary Chain almost as much as the sugar-sweet Spector-inspired girl groups of the early Sixties. It’s no surprise that I fell for Best Coast’s Crazy For You so hard earlier this year, an album that combines both influences so fantastically. Bethany Consentino sounds like a simple character – she’s heartbroken and she likes smoking weed, but nowhere on this record does she get boring.

Guy Atkinson

The National - High Violet (4AD)

Track - Lemonworld

It is testament to the strength of The National's back catalogue that High Violet would only feature third in my list of their best albums. It's probably a better all-round piece of work then Alligator and Boxer but it just lacks the sheer quantity of stand out tracks that were present on those two. However, this is an era defining band, who continue to outshine their peers with effortless ease and deserve a place in everyone's life.

Dom Farrell

Laura Marling - I Speak Because I Can (Virgin)

Track - Devil's Spoke

As enjoyable as Laura Marling's debut Alas, I Cannot Swim was, the overwhelming impression of another pleasant, twee and unobtrusive English singer-songwriter meant it could happily be left in the CD rack for months. By contrast I Speak Because I Can demands attention and demonstrates Marling's boundless potential. She played a part in one of 2009's stand-out records when her break up with Noah from Noah and The Whale resulted in the latter's uncomfortably heartbreaking The First Days Of Spring. But Marling's response smacks more of an unflinching defiance, assurance and no little devilment.

Ian Parker

Laura Marling - I Speak Because I Can (Virgin)

Track - Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)

It would be unfair to describe Marling's debut, Alas I Cannot Swim, as the sound of a young artist finding her way - it was much better than that - but the leap from that promising opener to the powerful and assured I Speak Because I Can is immense. The switch in backing bands from Noah and the Whale (no going back there now, of course) to Mumford & Sons is clearly in effect, with Mumford's pounding rhythms powering these songs along (except, that is, for Goodbye England) and creating a very different sound, but what stands out is Marling's own songwriting, establishing her as an artist to be reckoned with.

Rory Dollard

Bruce Springsteen – The Promise (Columbia)

Track - Ain't Good Enough For You

How much do I love The Boss? I love him enough to risk a highly unedifying skirmish with my bank manager by purchasing the deluxe package The Promise. I can’t include any of the archive materials in my ratings here, just the double album of previously unreleased tracks from Bruce’s Darkness on the Edge of Town sessions, spruced up and spring cleaned for release 32 years down the line. Luckily it’s a treasure chest of Springsteen’s most playful and pop savvy anthems. Most of the material here eschews the taut, downtrodden ethic of the album that did see the light of day in favour of an old school billboard chart feel. Hit single Hungry Heart used to be viewed as an anomaly in the Springsteen canon but apparently he had dozens of breezy three-minute romps just waiting in the vault.

Ali Mason

Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can (Virgin)

Track - Alpha Swallows

Because Laura Marling is so young, it’s tempting to think: “It’s amazing how good her songwriting is given she’s so young.” But really that does her a disservice because, basically, it’s just amazing how go her songwriting is. It’s a definite step up from Alas I Cannot Swim, and there are some absolute stunners here – the huge Alpha Swallows, the exquisite Goodbye England and breakup track Blackberry Stone, which could teach Charlie Fink a thing or two about restraint. Perhaps her ex still has something to teach her too, though – just a touch of the emotional rawness that characterised The First Days Of Spring might make this a truly exceptional album.


  1. I'm sensing a one-on-one scrap between The National and Laura Marling for album of the year.

  2. If I didn't know about Laura Marling before today (I didn't) then I'm well educated now! Thanks for the introduction. The National are vying for top spot for a very good reason. I salute everyone's good taste!