Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Twenty-Three

So close, and yet so far. They wanted to be number one, but instead these are our number two albums of the year.

Pranam Mavahalli

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (Mercury)

Track - The Suburbs (Continued)

I admire the passion, the energy and thought that’s gone into this album. I admire that Arcade Fire show they’re keen to recognise the album as an art form as opposed to a mere collection of tracks. The marketing and execution was inspired (different album covers, a Google chrome video, interactive download). It could be a handful of tracks shorter, but it’s a grand folly of an album featuring my favourite closing track of the year.

John Skilbeck

This Many Boyfriends - Getting A Life With EP (Thee Sheffield Phonographic Corporation)

Track - Three Year Itch

“We are fine purveyors of self-deprecation...,” This Many Boyfriends professed on Trying Is Good, “... You won’t hear our records on any radio station.” Well quite, Getting A Life With was hardly devised by the Leeds band as a clarion call to local dunderhead Chris Moyles. Its seven tracks of whip-smart fuzz-pop were influenced by The Pastels (for Getting A Life With, see Up For A Bit With) and Beat Happening among others, with the lyrics laced in wit so dry they could have fallen from Jarvis Cocker’s jotter. This was released in July on Sheffield’s tiny Thee SPC label, which brought you early records from the Long Blondes among others, and was just bags of fun from its tongue-in-cheek opener I Don’t Like You (‘Cos You Don’t Like The Pastels) to its closing lullaby lament It’s Lethal. And I won’t like you (if you don’t like This Many Boyfriends).

Steve Pill

Caribou - Swim (Co-operative Music)

Track - Leave House

Following my math rock crush at number three comes an album made by an actual mathematician. Numbers aside, Dan Snaith is something of a pop chameleon, making psychedelic noises on 2003's Up In Flames and perfect sunshine pop on 2007's Andorra before dropping this masterpiece. Swim is packed with naggingly catchy, atmospheric dance tunes that it is okay for indie kids to like and Leave House tops a throbbing bass with a chant that sounds not unlike a fey man saying "chicken steak" over and over again. This is maddeningly addictive.

Matt Collins

The Climbers - The Good Ship (Wilkommen)

Track - Uncommon

A kind of supergroup comprising members of Brighton-based Wilkommen collective, The Climbers are the brainchild of Nick Hemming, supported by various Wilkommen musiciains. The songs are simple, melodic and colourful affairs, delivered by a variety of sweet and inviting then dark and brooding vocalists. The Line of Best Fit summed it up best - “The Good Ship sweeps, soars and dives, delicately tip-toes, weeps and rejoices.”

Andy Welch

Janelle Monae – Archandroid (Atlantic)

Track – Locked Inside

As I said about the Gold Panda album, sometimes you love music because you fully understand how the artist arrived at that point. Other times, the sheer otherworldliness of the music bowls you over, and that’s how I feel about Janelle Monae. She’s clearly listened to a lot of Prince and old funk, but after that, I’m pretty stumped by her influences. Nevertheless, from the first time I saw her performing Tightrope on Letterman, I’ve been fascinated by this sci-fi-obsessed, James Brown / Audrey Hepburn hybrid, looking, behaving and sounding like a complete star. No artist has excited me quite as much as Janelle Monae this year, and Archandroid is a modern masterpiece.

Guy Atkinson

Pulled Apart By Horses - Pulled Apart By Horses (Transgressive)

Track - Yeah Buddy

Leeds' premier purveyors of hook-sodden hardcore punk do a better job of describing their irresistible sound than any muso ever could with Meat Balloon's delicious refrain of "awesome, radical, awesome, totally bodacious". That is all.

Dom Farrell

Dangermouse & Sparklehorse - Dark Night of the Soul (EMI)

Track - Revenge (ft. The Flaming Lips)

The conclusion of a torturous, drawn out legal dispute with EMI finally saw Dangermouse and Sparklehorse's opus Dark Night of the Soul benefit from general release. That Mark Linkous was no longer around to witness this was, like his untimely demise, genuinely tragic. In such circumstances it is easy to overplay the "genius" of the dead guy and read even more into what a generally troubled character was getting at when he wrote Dark Night of the Soul. If at all possible, such a highly accomplished album should be allowed to speak for itself. Linkous' genial songcraft and Dangermouse's slick, icy production mean Dark Night of the Soul has a vital silver thread running through it and avoids falling into the trap of so many projects featuring guest vocalists. Wayne Coyne, Gruff Rhys, Jason Lytle, Julian Casablancas, Frank Black, James Mercer, David Lynch, Iggy Pop, Nina Persson and (bizarrely) Suzanne Vega all sound like they are dutifully serving a superb record rather than their own egos. Coyne kicks things off with typically empowering fragility on the wonderful Revenge and the quality rarely lets up by the time the title track brings proceedings to a stark and eerie conclusion.

Ian Parker

The Mynabirds - What We Lost In The Fire We Gained In The Flood (Saddle Creek)

Track - Numbers Don't Lie

Before there was a Buffalo Springfield or a Crazy Horse (though after there had been The Squires), Neil Young was briefly in a band called the Mynah Birds, who were signed to soul label Motown. Only a handful of tracks were ever recorded before lead singer Rick James was arrested for going AWOL from the Naval Reserve, and only two of them have ever been released, albeit on a rather obscure compilation. Laura Burhenn has apparently decided, quite rightly, that the unrealised idea of Neil Young doing Motown was too great a loss for music, so she’s taken it upon herself to make the album they might have done. That’s right, Neil Young doing Motown. Sign me right up to that idea. And while this, of course, is not Neil himself, Burhenn’s best approximation about what it might all have sounded like is pure delight. Let The Record Go and Numbers Don’t Lie stomp along at a rollicking pace, while tracks like Ways of Looking and We Made A Mountain recall Dusty Springfield. Outstanding.

Rory Dollard

Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me (Drag City)

Track - In California

Having wowed the critics with Ys, a five-track song cycle of wandering epics featuring an orchestral Van Dyke Parks score and a lyric sheet that would have had Doctor Johnson scrabbling for his notepad, logic dictated the only route left open for harpist Joanna Newsom was to downgrade her ambitions. But you don’t make an album as staggeringly, daringly unclassifiable as Ys – or, for that matter, Have One On Me – by following logic. Instead she produced an outrageously proportioned triple album, featuring an even more ambitious set of ideas crammed tight into 18 mind-blowing compositions. No theme, refrain or melody outstays its welcome as the songs dissolve into endless new directions at the drop of a hat. A remarkable achievement.

Ali Mason

She & Him – Volume Two (Double Six)

Track - Lingering Still

For a movie star to make one good album could be a fluke – to make two begins to look like talent. Zooey Deschanel returns with M Ward and another enchanting bunch of songs which take inspiration from the past but still manage to feel of their time. This is a more consistent album than Volume One, and it’s testament to the quality of both the songwriting and the arrangements that the two cover versions nestle in nicely. The moment in Home where Zooey goes “...and I could be sweeter” might be the best pop moment of 2010. If she keeps this up she might one day reach the heights of Dogstar and 30-Odd Foot Of Grunts.

1 comment:

  1. Some fine choices once again. Not investigated the Mynabirds before, but that track is fantastic. Neil Young covering Motown is something I probably dream about once a week.