Friday, December 24, 2010

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Twenty-Four

And so we reach the promised land, the No. 1s, where we find that, after a good amount of pontificating, Ali eventually talks himself into liking his favourite album of the year...

Pranam Mavahalli

Caribou - Swim (Co-operative Music)

Track - Sun

I read somewhere that Dan Snaith set out to make an underwater dance record with this album. Well if that was his aim, then he’s executed it beautifully. An album that smuggles in some of the most gorgeous melodies I’ve heard this year and shows that electronic music can be just as emotive as that played on other instruments. Laibela is the standout track for me, but works much better in the context of the rest of the album. So here’s another album highlight – the rather unseasonal, but utterly glorious, Sun.

John Skilbeck

Allo Darlin’ - Allo Darlin’(Fortuna Pop)

Track - The Polaroid Song

It was on a rainy Cambridge day in August that I concluded it must be love. Sheltering in a convenient record shop, the soft voice of Elizabeth Morris poured through the speakers. I was soaked through, peeved the weather had ruined a day of sight-seeing, but all of a sudden calm descended over me. I might just have found a quiet corner and sung along a little. Just three weeks earlier I’d watched Allo Darlin' play a swoonsome late-evening set at Indietracks, since when I’d kept a distance from an album I had grown much too close to. But it was the unexpected chance meeting which confirmed I harboured more than a crush for this band. There’d been an instant attraction to the early EPs and then came the LP, its 10 hot-to-trot flirty pop songs which managed to live up to all expectations. Some might have found it as wet as that Cambridge day, the NME reckoned it sounded like “the Beautiful South playing for an early ‘90s Christian book fair”, and yes, sure, it was twee, but so was Tigermilk, and for me this belongs up there with that very great debut.

Steve Pill

Steve Mason - Boys Outside (Double Six Records)

Track - Am I Just A Man

I interviewed Steve Mason in 2006, a fortnight before the release of Black Gold, his first post-Beta Band solo album as King Biscuit Time. The following week, his record label revealed he was quitting music. Now, this might say something about my interviewing skills but in truth it was just one of many self-sabotaging acts, following on from his denouncing of the first Beta Band album and Mason's general struggles with depression and an apparent lack of confidence. Never in the history of pop music has one man damaged his own reputation on quite so many occasions and never has one man's sheer talent brought himself back into contention again and again. Stripped down by Richard X’s production and proud in his declarations of his own failings, this is every bit the equal of Three EPs. Even better, call it an electro-tinged Blood On The Tracks for the 21st century. It's that good.

Matt Collins

The National - High Violet (4AD)

Track - Anyone's Ghost

The National could release their shopping list rapped over a soundtrack of Elmo bashing his bin lids together and be hailed as the saviours of rock. Essentially, this is more classic National. They never really get out of third gear, but with songs as broodingly intense as Anyone's Ghost, Lemonworld or the epic England, who cares? The guitars are unique, the production prevents repeat listens being anything but repetitive and Matt Berninger’s baritone vocals bring the endlessly sexy brooding to indie.

Andy Welch

Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can (Virgin)

Track – Rambling Man

After Laura Marling released Alas, I Cannot Swim, the general consensus seemed to be that it was a lovely album, but the real excitement lay in this outlandish talent’s potential, kind of ‘this is good, but she’s going to be GREAT.’ To fulfil that promise two short years later with I Speak Because I Can, rather than, say, four or five albums into a long career, is mind-blowing. I love everything about this album; the wider issues such as her transformation from delicate nu-folk flower to devastating, Greek-mythology-steeped heroine, to smaller nuances like the “We will keep you” refrains of Goodbye England that sound like the Bagpuss mice. Above all, as with that debut, and despite the Leonard Cohen-esque levels of gravitas on display, I love the idea that we still haven’t heard the peak of this incredible young lady’s talents.

Guy Atkinson

Deftones - Diamond Eyes (Warner Bros)

Track - Sextape

When considering that Diamond Eyes was set against the backdrop of bassist Chi Cheng's near-fatal car crash (he's still in a coma) it makes this even more jaw-droppingly stunning than it already is. Scrapping a full album's worth of material and starting again after the accident, this album is a triumphant 'fuck you' to all those who had written them off after 2006's Saturday Night Wrist, which JUST failed to live up to the ridiculous standards set by their first four albums. The atmosphere is as brooding and ethereal as ever and the riffs as crunching as you've come to expect from the band with the most distinctive guitar sound in metal. Long live Deftones.

Dom Farrell

The National - High Violet (4AD)

Track - Bloodbuzz Ohio

I really hate Q magazine. You see, I actually really used to like it. Then the television station happened. All objective journalism was placed on the back-burner so any old piece of tripe could be awarded three stars and the rubbish artist's corresponding video aired on the publication's sister channel. Then there's the sodding awards. This year they doled out "Idol", "Inspiration", "Hero" and "Icon" awards. The only solace I take in not being able distinguish between this shower of guff is the entirely pointless nature of the whole thing. Imagine my horror, when the very same awards proclaimed The National's High Violet as the best album of 2010. In darker moments, this has made me question the very point of my existence. Good thing that at such times I can simply stick High Violet on and immerse myself in all its sweeping, majestic, life-affirming grandeur. Tender but still forceful, downtrodden but also euphoric, it is an unrelenting triumph and sits proudly amid the lineage of sweeping blue collar rock that Americans tend to do so well, while we get stuck with The Enemy and some other such rubbish. Next year The National should be poised to received the "These Lot Are Really Proper Good and Stuff" award from Q.

Ian Parker

The Smoke Fairies - Through Low Light And Trees (V2)

Track - Summer Fades

Just think, I was actually worried about the Smoke Fairies' debut album. When I saw they'd chosen not to include a single track from any of their outstanding EPs (which I spent all of the year before this thing was released utterly addicted to), I figured it was going to be a let down. They'd take a different direction, and it wouldn't be as good. How could it be as good? But from the first time I heard the opening bars of Summer Fades, I was in love. Seductive and bewitching, the Smoke Fairies create a world you can sink in to, that you may not have a choice but sink in to as their hypnotic compositions swirl about your ears. Don't fight it. Let yourself go.

Rory Dollard

Anais Mitchell – Hadestown (Righteous Babe)

Track - Way Down Hadestown

I’m not going to pretend this is an easy sell, but here goes. Hadestown is a concept album based on the ancient Greek Orpheus myth, relocated to a post-apocalyptic America and told in the form of a ‘folk opera’. It is also, perhaps improbably, the boldest, brightest and best realised album of 2010. Anais Mitchell has crafted the story expertly, honing a welter of cracking songs and set-pieces and balancing them off beautifully against the narrative demands of simply telling the story. The cast list who’ve signed up to play parts – Bon Iver, Ani DiFranco, Ben Knox of the Low Anthem among them – are testament to the calibre of the songs, while the musicians move effortlessly between genres. The whole thing also works as a pin-sharp allegory of the financial crisis, with a sub-textual caution against isolationism in times of hardship - but I think that sounds a bit pretentious coming from my mouth. So here’s a cock joke. It is brilliant, though. The album, not the cock joke.

Ali Mason

Avi Buffalo – Avi Buffalo (Sub Pop)

Track - Summer Cum

I’m not going to claim Avi Buffalo was the best album released this year - it probably wasn’t. I’m not even 100% sure it was my favourite. But it was the only one which evoked in me a palpable sense of excitement. It’s sunny and breezy and serious and weird, but mostly it just pulses with youthful energy. Try to ignore the fact that frontman Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg has given two of the most infectious songs of the year, Five Little Sluts and Summer Cum, two of the most unfortunate names and just let the sunny, fuzzy soundscapes wash over you. Even Remember Last Time, which, clocking in at seven and a half minutes, is pure youthful self-indulgence, sounds tremendous. In fact the more I think about, the more I think this really was the best album released this year.

- And there we go. Don't forget, tomorrow, we'll be revealing the overall top 10, based on an elaborate* scoring system that tallies up the all the panel's votes.

*Not remotely elaborate.


  1. Now we've just about reached the end, allow me to say that, on the whole, I've enjoyed Pranam's reviews the most. The skittishness, the self-doubt, and the occasionaly confusion as to exactly what he's picked has all made for a daily delight.

    But Ali's review today, in which he essentially has to persuade himself to like his No. 1 album of the year, ranks above all others.

  2. I need to buy this Anais Mitchell record, and then listen to The National a lot more, as I just think it's dull and not as good as their last two.

    Happy Christmas everyone.

  3. I've had a lot of enjoyment reading all this again this year. It has rather devalued the crummy little chocolate calendar that used to brighten up my december, but I can deal with that. Time for my confession now...laura marling. I like it and everything, but I couldn't get all lovey dovey with it. I found it a little cold I'd say. The general marling love-in among the esteemed ragged glorious means I will try again.

  4. I'm easily confused and certain about pretty much nothing, so it's perhaps unsurprising that my reviews came out as they did.

    For the record, while I find coming up with choices gets harder each year, I've thoroughly enjoyed the panel's picks and reviews. It's impossible to narrow done my favourite choices but I'm sure I'll be giving more attention to the following: Smoke Fairies, The National, Darwin Deez, Pete Molinari, Robyn, Yeasayer, Admiral Fallow...and god knows how the Dave Rawlings album slipped by my radar.

    I'll also try to make more time to curl up with a good book.