Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Thirteen

Door number thirteen reveals not only our No. 12 albums of the year but dazzling new analysis of the prog genre from Pranam.

Ali Mason

Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrell – Kite (Rabble Rouser)

Well, I’m supposed to be the twee, folky one, so here is my tweest, folkiest offering. Fans of my review of my number two choice in 2009 will no doubt remember I love a low-key opening, so I was won over from the first time I heard 'There’s A Disease' with its hazy harmonies, lazy saxophone and laidback tempo. The folk veers towards the trad at times and the influence of The Unthanks, who were involved in the production, is felt strongly in tracks like 'Winter Got Lost', 'Down In Adairsville' and 'Peggy Gordon'. It’s when Kearney and Farrell go twee though that they’re most loveable – particularly the impossibly sweet 'Green Leaved Trees'.

Kearney & Lucy Farrell - Green Leaved Trees from fotomuse on Vimeo.

Guy Atkinson

Title Fight - Shed (Sideonedummy)

It's hardly breaking new ground (like most bands on my list they pretty much rip off Hot Water Music) but who cares when the tunes are so, well, tuneful.

Ian Parker

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

With her third album, Laura Marling shows us a third different side. If her debut Alas, I Cannot Swim carried the influence of backing band Noah & The Whale, and I Speak Because I Can was dominated by Mumford & Sons' stylings, A Creature I Don't Know might finally be showing us Marling's own distinct sound. If it is, great. If it's not, even better, because there's genuine excitement in seeing an artist so young already master so many different sounds. There's talk now that Marling might 'go punk' on an upcoming project. We'd have to back her to nail that too.

Matt Collins

Beirut - The Rip Tide (Pompei)

Beirut had to go pop eventually - they have access to too many trumpets not to. This is a wonderfully accessible simple album that replaces the trademark wailing with James Yuill-inspired gypsy folkytronica.

John Skilbeck

Vivian Girls - Share The Joy (Polyvinyl)

Their debut featured six tracks clocking in at less than two minutes, and its follow-up had eight below three minutes, so for Vivian Girls to launch into their third album with a six-and-a-half-minute slow-burning groove was either audacious or reckless. Audacious won out, because while opening track 'The Other Girls' was a dreamy sprawl, it was only a hint of what to expect on an LP which showed a playful, more assured new side to the Brooklyn three-piece. Unfairly written off as C86 fetishists, on Share The Joy they showed occasional psychedelic leanings and much affection for sugary party pop. And that opener was a red herring anyway; the next six tracks all came in under the three-minute mark. Reassuringly brief; a joy. As ever.

Andy Welch

Emmy The Great – Virtue (Close Harbour)

Emmy The Great’s first album was a wonderful demonstration of lo-fi folk. Instruments were recorded by mics wrapped in cotton wool to ramp up the ramshackle. For Virtue, Emmy discarded her homespun, hand-stitched aesthetic for an altogether more sophisticated sheen. And it suits her. Influenced as much by classic mythology and personal heartbreak as much as trivial pop culture, it’s an eclectic album, musically too, and never less than brilliant.

Steve Pill

Toro Y Moi - Underneath the Pine (Carpark)

After the bass rumbles and dark electro of debut Causers of This, Underneath the Pine was a real surprise - a kitsch confection that channelled great French pop from almost every era (Gainsbourg, Air, that band from the early noughties I can't remember the name of) and delivered it with a funky, Beck-like shuffle. 'Still Sound' is a harmony-laden three minute gem; long enough to hook you, short enough to demand repeat listening.

Toro Y Moi - "Still Sound" by Carpark Records

Pranam Mavahalli

Justice – Audio, Video, Disco (Because)

Prog rock, with its penchant for flute solos, wonky time signatures and occasional bouts of yodelling has typically appealed to a certain kind of Tolkein-reading male. Girls probably don’t like it. But on this album, two impossibly cool French dudes are bringing the sexy back to prog. There’s no yodelling, but there are loads of widdly guitar solos and some suitably pompous lyrics. The vid below is the most un-proggy track from their album, but gives an approximate flavour of what to expect.

Rory Dollard

Beirut - The Rip Tide (Pompei)

At the start of the year I thought Beirut were boring beyond words. Then I remembered some words. Words like dreary, overblown and hollow. I got hold of The Rip Tide for review purposes and was probably intending to eviscerate it like a Rambo extra. Imagine my disappointment when it turned out to be a delicately rendered set full of tenderness, understated brass and romanticism. In terms of the band's previous output this was as unexpected as Michael Bay directing a kitchen sink drama.

Dom Farrell

The Low Anthem - Smart Flesh (Bella Union)

Many bands respond to their breakthrough album by disembarking to a swish, high-end studio and throwing a sonic kitchen sink at the follow-up. On the back of 2009’s tour de force Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, the Low Anthem rocked up in an abandoned pasta factory and recorded Smart Flesh. The mid-album raucous stompers of Oh My God…. are conspicuous by their absence here. ‘Boeing 747’ and ‘Hey, All You Hippies!’ do ramp up the volume with their ‘Basement Tapes’ vibe, but the Low Anthem largely provide a lesson in understatement. When the eloquent storytelling is allowed to breathe, as mournful accordion and banjo bounce off the old tagliatelle machine, heartstrings are being plucked all over the place.

The Low Anthem - Smart Flesh - Burn by The Low Anthem


  1. Really enjoyed your pick today Ali, certainly my favourite. A hint of Stuart Murdoch in Jonny Kearney's vocals I thought.
    Meanwhile I'm admiring Guy's choices more by the day. They remind me of Friday nights in the back room at Star at Leeds Met circa 2000, when the freaky kids came out to play.

  2. Good to see the Beirut love continue today. Rip the Tide just missed my final 24, but what a fine record. Also, changing a premeditated, bile-filled Dollard review is no mean feat.

    In other news, may I join Ali in feeling lost and upset by the continued absence of Guy's track of the day.

  3. What? No love for Pranam's review? You've obviously not watched all three videos linked within...

  4. I thought you'd like that one Skillers!

    In other news, is Guy now confirmed as the one who has no albums the same as anyone else? I think everyone else has had some crossover now...

  5. Fear not gents, I'll be getting stuck into the last few days' tracks imminently and will report back in due course.

  6. I've come to learn that in my unwavering love of prog, I'll always be in a minority...

    However, if you only have room in your lives for one Dutch prog rock track, then head straight to link three, which sees the mighty Focus in action. Awesome.

    While I'm here, good to see props being given to Beirut. Even if Rory's assessment is something of a backhanded compliment.

  7. Again, nothing here that tickles my balls. I'll give the award to The Vivian Girls, though, because, well, errr, they're hot. Sorry.

  8. I'm concerned the once coveted Guy's Track of the Day award is losing its edge.

  9. Ian, I really do hope I can give it to something for musical merit in the next few days. Because I'd much rather listen to great tunes than look at hot girls, obvs.

  10. I've only one thing to say: Girls (hot ones too!) read tolkien and listen to Justice. Profusely.

    that is all ; )

  11. Ah, but do you yodel?