Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Six

Day six sees us move into the troublesome teens with our No. 19 albums of the year. Today we find Dom skilfully avoiding the superfluous schmaltz, Pranam indulging high levels of ear-candiness, while Guy looks to rebound from yesterday's surprise slating in the comments section by nominating an album of somebody farting. Or not.

Ali Mason

Mechanical Bride – Living With Ants (V2)

I can’t help but think of Nancy Elizabeth when I listen to Mechanical Bride, with her low key beginnings, her haunting piano riffs and her gently experimental songs. Lauren Doss has been kicking around for a while now in the guise of Mechanical Bride so it should be little surprise just how accomplished her debut album sounds. Strings, brass and funny noises are all expertly deployed – never out of place and always given the space to shine – but it’s when a few precisely-played piano notes and Doss’ voice do most of the work, as on 'Magpie' and 'Colour Of Fire', that Living With Ants is at its arresting best. She’s not quite as good as Nancy Elizabeth yet – but she’s not too far off.

Guy Atkinson

Rise Against - Endgame (Polydor)

More stadium-sized protest punk from these absolute giants of the scene. Frankly, they've got so big that they could churn out an album of fart sounds and they'd still sell a bucket load. Fortunately, they've still got enough hooks and melodic hardcore treats up their sleeve to ensure they don't need to resort to 'The Gas Sessions: Volume I' just yet.

Ian Parker

Drive-By Truckers - Go-Go Boots (Play It Again Sam)

I have an odd relationship with the Drive-By Truckers. Their 2004 masterpiece The Dirty South would occupy a place comfortably inside my all-time top 10 favourite albums, and Southern Rock Opera wouldn’t be far outside, but while the records that have followed have only seen their critical acclaim grow, none of them have connected with me on anything like the same level. Maybe it’s just taken me seven years to accept that, with the band realigned after the departure of Jason Isbell, they are never going to make another Dirty South, but with Go-Go Boots I’m finally ready to get back on board. The hard edge of those old albums is gone, but no band combines such powerful, thoughtful lyrics with kick-ass southern rock like this lot.

Matt Collins

The Middle East - I Want That You Are Always Happy (Play It Again Sam)

Ironically not an album for the cheerful, I Want That You Are Always Happy is like a long sad hymn. Unlike a hymn, its pianos, beautiful vocals and melancholy make for absorbing music.

John Skilbeck

SBTRKT - SBTRKT (Young Turks)

SBTRKT, aka London producer/DJ/performerAaron Jerome, is a solo artist surrounded by, and building an empire around, a glittering cast of collaborators. Jerome had a rather phenomenal 2011, putting out a slinky debut album in June which cut across the dance, electronic and modern r&b scenes, dipping a foot in each pond and avoiding perils of cross-contamination. There'’s more than one track you might compare to material on the XX's album of last year, others you'’d maybe imagine Janet Jackson arm-wrestling her brother for a decade ago (which is not to say SBTRKT sounds dated, just futuristic). It was meant to be a huge year for James Blake: SBTRKT rendered him almost irrelevant.

Andy Welch

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Unknown Mortal Orchestra (True Panther Sounds)

I don’t know anything about Unknown Mortal Orchestra, other than they’re signed to True Panther, and I think they’re from New Zealand, or Portland, or somewhere. Anyway, none of the details are important, and despite the fact I’ve slowly fallen in love with their heavily distorted psychedelic garage funk – try that for a genre – I’ve not once felt compelled to find out any more. In truth, I got the album because I liked the cover, but now its Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s contents that fascinate me most. It’s just a brilliant record.

Steve Pill

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Belong (Play It Again Sam)

Fey, fun and flimsy, the first Pains album was enjoyable but could never have prepared us for this. The Brooklyn quartet looked to Smashing Pumpkins/Depeche Mode production team Flood and Alan Moulder to toughen up their sound and in the process found inner depths in their wistful indie pop. Title track 'Belong' is a brutal three-minute distillation of their new ambitiousness, mixing brutal Mellon Collie-style multi-tracked guitars with My Bloody Valentine sub aqua effects and shoegazing introspection.

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart - Belong by Slumberland Records

Pranam Mavahalli

Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver

As in yesterday’s post, here’s an artist that had a lot to live up to for me. Having listened to Bon Iver’s debut endlessly, I was a bit disappointed with this at first. But a belting performance on Jools was all it took to make me revisit this record, which though bigger in scope than the debut, has the same level of ear-candiness and attention to detail that made his first so rewarding.

Rory Dollard

The War On Drugs - Slave Ambient (Secretly Canadian)

Okay, so I’m aware that a lot of guys who well and truly lost their loads over Kurt Vile this year but I was left cold by the whole affair. Much better to my ear was the band he left behind to peddle his own brand of guff. Slave Ambient was a real grower for me - the drone-rock vibe started out as merely diverting but, once I’d realized it was essentially a Pennsylvanian version of Spiritualized fronted by a Pensylvanian version of Tim Burgess, it became an ipod regular. There are few fireworks on show, it’s a more distant, moody work than that and all the better for it.

Dom Farrell

Elbow - Build A Rocket Boys! (Fiction)

With the exception of the 'Lippy Kids' – a wondrous, majestic six minutes of occasionally tear-inducing perfection – Build A Rocket Boys! rarely scales the heights of predecessor The Seldom Seen Kid. Nevertheless, there remains plenty to admire amid Guy Garvey’s peans to the idle dreams of his north Manchester youth. The hushed patter of 'Jesus Is A Rochdale Girl' (being from nearby Middleton I find this to be incredibly unlikely) is profoundly touching, although the “Jerry’s Final Thought” vibe of 'Dear Friends' provides superfluous schmaltz.

Elbow: Lippy Kids from percy dean on Vimeo.


  1. Love that Mechanical Bride song. Nice one Ali. Passed me by, that album. Hopefully my Our Price record token will stretch to that after Christmas.

  2. That's me saying that, by the way.

  3. Best day yet, I reckon. Good work folks. Enjoying Unknown Mortal Orchestra and War On Drugs particularly. Although I bloody hated that Middle East album - a real disappointment for me.

    Incidentally, one thing that's become clear to me over the last week: aren't music videos, almost without exception, a heap of shit?

  4. Congratulations Dollard, you win the coveted prize of my favourite song today.

  5. Great picks today from Ali, Ian and Rory. Hep kids.
    The TPOBPAH album I really enjoyed, and I'm impressed they didn't just rewrite the first LP, but it was a touch patchy. Even In Dreams definitely one of my favourite tracks of the year.

  6. I'm a huge fan of the Unknown Mortal Orchestra track, which is the sole reason I bought the album. Perhaps if I'd had a little longer to absorb it, it'd have cracked my list too. I'll look into that, post haste.