Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number One

Hello, and welcome to the 2011 Musical Advent Calendar. If you're new to this thing, this is where our panel of 10 count down their favourite 24 albums of the year, one a day, until Christmas. If you've been here before, welcome back.

The advent calendar might only be three years old, but when putting it together we somehow already talk in terms of 'traditions' and what 'usually happens', as if we've anything to go on. One thing that may well come to be a mainstay of future advent calendars is using the opening pick as something of a statement, a marker, rather than just the last thing on the list.

Whatever they represent, here they are. The Musical Advent Calendar is under way.

Ali Mason

Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know (Virgin)

Twenty-four is a difficult and important spot to fill – much more so than, say, 23. For a long time this statement position was going to be occupied by Build A Rocket Boys! because it was inconceivable to me that Elbow would not feature on my list. Ultimately, though, I had to concede: it’s just not that good an album. A Creature I Don’t Know is a good album: intelligent, coherent, melodic. After two albums heavily influenced respectively by Noah And The Whale and Mumford And Sons, it’s good to hear Marling developing a sound which feels more uniquely hers. My brain loves it – though, as ever with Marling, my heart isn’t quite so sure.

Guy Atkinson

Death Cab For Cutie - Codes and Keys (Atlantic)

Considerably more jaunty than we've come to expect from Death Cab For Cutie, this album is the sound of a man head over heels in love. However, here's hoping Ben Gibbard's recent divorce signals a return to their melancholic best as this is a little 'wet'.

Ian Parker

Dark Captain - Dead Legs & Alibis (Loaf)

Dark Captain, Light Captain and their debut album Miracle Kicker totally passed me by. Perhaps there were too many syllables and I lost concentration half way through their name. That would make sense, at least, because now they've returned under the more efficient moniker Dark Captain, I'm absolutely on board. Dead Legs & Alibis is all pulsing rhythms, marshal beats, and softly spoken lyrics. The results are infectious.

Matt Collins

Treefight for Sunlight - Treefight for Sunlight (V2)

Treefight for Sunlight have that relentlessly cheery thing going on and aren’t going to give it up. A gorgeous combination of Flaming Lips, Polyphonic Spree and the long lamented Captain.

John Skilbeck

Alex Turner - Submarine OST (Domino)

Submarine was a charming, rum movie, but I enjoyed this particular coming of age story just as much. Turns out Alex Turner is not quite so wrapped up in American stoner rock as he once perhaps was. This short but enchanting soundtrack EP featured five sweetly sung laments to youth, each of them rather becoming of Turner’s old pal Richard Hawley on peak form. The boy has a soft side; more of this please.
:: I’m staring at a list of records which failed to make the cut on my chart, and boy I really love some of these. What a brilliant year it’s been.

Andy Welch

The Joy Formidable – Big Roar (Atlantic)

I don’t just love The Joy Formidable because they’re from the same neck of the woods as me – singer Ritzy’s mum lives on the same street as my nanna, no less. I love them because they’re about the most exciting British rock band to release an album in 2011. In a time when guitar music is as unfashionable as I can ever remember it being, their expansive, stadium-ready music still seems fresh, urgent and essential. 'A Heavy Abacus' is the obvious standout track, but you don’t have to delve too much deeper to find many more brilliant, emotional songs.

Steve Pill

Bon Iver - Bon Iver (4AD)

From the highest highs of For Emma, Forever Ago (and the equally ace Blood Bank EP), this would have been filed under “2011’s most disappointing comebacks” if that particular folder wasn’t already too full (I’m looking at you REM, The Strokes, My Morning Jacket …). Despite suffering in comparison to Justin Vernon’s debut, there are still some flat-out beautiful songs on here, not least the gently rousing 'Holocene'. Just make sure you turn it off after track 9 and avoid the auto-tuned Phil Collins-esque tragedy that is album closer Beth/Rest

Pranam Mavahalli

The Field – Looping State of Mind (Kompakt)

Hypnotic, minimal, and repetitive (all compliments), I’ve found this album great for filtering out the noise and bustle of city life. It’s not quite ambient, nor as meditative as other music I like. But it is refreshingly free enough of incident to counteract the busy tide of the turning world. As an aside, the bpms of some of the tracks here set at perfect strolling speed for what could best be described as an ‘assertive amble’ – a walk that gets you places, but not in a fluster.

The Field - Then It's White by Kompakt

Rory Dollard

Summer Camp - Welcome to Condale (Apricot Recording Company)

As any self-respecting Ragged Gloryist knows, the number 24 pick is a little bit different. It’s about laying down a marker. Making a statement. I considered Elbow’s Build A Rocket Boys! as a sort of back-handed compliment (The Seldom Seen Kid would have been a clear Number 1 had the calendar existed in 2008), I almost caved on the patchy Tyler the Creator album because I noticed I had no rap this year but I’ve settled on Summer Camp as my wild card. I haven’t lived with it as long as some of the other contenders but there is something infectious about this snarky 80s love-in that drew me in. In a couple of months I may like it even more, or it may have slipped off the radar entirely...but that’s what the number 24 slot is for.

Dom Farrell

Dangermouse & Daniele Luppi - Rome (Parlaphone)

The soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist. Inspired by, and often just plain old lifting from, the sweeping accompaniments to classic Spaghetti Westerns, Dangermouse and Daniele Luppi’s odyssey has endured a long gestation. In its best moments it is worth the wait. Jack White and Norah Jones are the hero and heroine of the piece and the latter’s vocal contributions are often mesmerising - something quite at odds with the rest of her career. It is hard to escape the feeling that the lush orchestration provided by a group of wily Italian session veterans would benefit from a smattering of White’s head-shredding guitar work. You know, for the scene where everyone blows each other’s heads off.

4 - Season's Trees by muzzninu


  1. I'm overjoyed at the return of the calendar. One quick comment though - there seems to be a lot of gushing praise for albums deemed only worthy of 24th best album of the year status. Surely it can't that good if it's only in 24th place?

  2. Depends on how good the other 23 are...

  3. I found that with some albums near the bottom I was justifying why they were on the list at all, while with some near the middle I was justifying why they weren't higher up my list. Therefore some of the albums lower down get more positive reviews than some albums above them. That's what I think anyway.

    Also, I've had the Sesame Street theme tune in my head all day after listening to that Treefight for Sunlight track.

  4. Anonymous1/12/11 20:17

    When I saw that the calendar had launched again, I nearly dropped my (extremely large) breve non fat no whip americano, gave a small scream of delight, and immediately turned down Desperate Housewives of New Jersey to listen to what you'd posted.

    Actually, nothing about that is true, except for the small scream of delight.

    So happy to have you back! I'm digging the use of videos too. Bravo. High fives from across the pond, 'gents!

  5. Really enjoyed Dark Captain and will investigate further, already loved Summer Camp (though preferred their EP) and The Field.

    Could I still listen to Death Cab? I expected it to be like a fling with an ex. Loved them five years ago, don't feel any need to see or hear from them these days. Turns out they've changed - or were they always so drippy?

    Interesting point from Guy about high praise for the number 24 selections, but I've left 20 or so albums out of the chart that I really liked a lot, one of which sat around no5 in my chart for a few days until it kept being nudged down. (Mazes - A Thousand Heys, which is well worth a listen)

  6. Ah, a welcome return from our number one fan - good to have you back, Jasmine.

    I think the main reason I'm struggling with the high praise for albums this low is that I think I genuinely struggled to listen to the amount of new albums I wanted to this year. This year seemed to be a lot more about finding albums from years gone by that I missed. But, yes, I can see why if you had a 'shortlist' of over 50 albums that the one in 24th would still be worthy of praise.

  7. Guy, when you say 'number one fan' you mean 'fan'. And yes, welcome back Jasmine!

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  9. I was going to include Submarine, but then decided it didn't have enough tracks on it. However it turns out Skillers is right and I'm an idiot. My mate asked me to do his wedding do playist this year and I stuck 'Hiding Tonight' on it early doors. Twas a lovely moment.

  10. I've only just had the chance to listen to all the songs from this day and I think my favourite is the Dark Captain tune.

    I think I'll write a little update like this every day, which is exciting I know.