Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Fifteen

It's a big day, the day when the Musical Advent Calendar makes that symbolic step into our top 10 albums of the year. You might think this would call for focus, but instead Ali's getting himself lost in time and SP is running for a plane, leaving his scattered notes across the terminal floor as he goes.

Ali Mason

Shimmering Stars – Violent Hearts (Almost Musique)

It’s the 1950s again! Or is it the 60s? Or the 80s? It’s hard to tell. Violent Hearts is unapologetically moored to the past – not any specific past, just definitely not now. It’s good old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll for shoegazers, or doo-wop for garage rockers, or grunge for surf popsters. And it’s bloody good fun. Encapsulating the whole contradictory bundle is 'I’m Gonna Try', which sounds like a squeaky clean rock ‘n’ roll band sending sweet harmonies echoing round a hall at a high school prom. That is until you notice frontman Rory McClure is singing: “Walking down the street and I want to kill everyone I meet” - and suddenly the party doesn’t seem so jolly any more. It’s the bubbling tension that lifts Shimmering Stars to a higher level than many of their contemporaries, though, like the thrill of a crowd that might turn nasty at any moment.

Shimmering Stars - I'm Gonna Try from Salazar on Vimeo.

Guy Atkinson

Into It. Over It - Proper (No Sleep Records)

Everything the obscenely prolific Evan Weiss touches seems to turn to gold at the moment and he marked another eventful year with this collection of Death Cab inspired tunes.

Into it. Over it. - "P R O P E R" from Dorian Park on Vimeo.

Ian Parker

Yuck - Yuck (Mercury)

Yuck, much like their name might suggest, don’t go in for anything too fancy. They rip off Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth et al and don’t even bother to pretend otherwise. But damn they write a good tune, and this album proved entirely addictive for me for most of the first half of the year, and a good part of the second.

Yuck - Get Away from Yuck on Vimeo.

Matt Collins

The Decemberists - The King Is Dead (Rough Trade)

The one indie band crying out to have a musical made about them. The Decemberists have made the concept album their own, and The King Is Dead smooths out some of the weird edges the Band like to boast, with a fine blend of protest rock taking its place.

John Skilbeck

Ponytail - Do Whatever You Want All The Time (We Are Free)

Baltimore’s Ponytail have split up twice in the past 18 months. Which, considering they have a habit of making great records, is rather a shame. This year they reformed, released an amazing record, and split, before I had the faintest idea they were reunited. While I slept, Dustin Wong and Ken Seen were back lacing together feral guitar riffs, Jeremy Hyman was trying to keep pace with frantic drum rhythms, and Molly Siegel was daubing scattergun vocal brushstrokes – they’re hardly lyrics - over the top. Siegel, a coiled spring of a performer, now uses the name Willy. If a second split of the ranks is terminal for Ponytail, this was some way to bow out.

Andy Welch

Real Estate – Days (Domino)

I’d heard good things about Real Estate and when I got the album I put it on, and four hours later I realised I’d had it on repeat for the whole time. Weeks passed by and I was still listening to Days to the exclusion of almost everything else. There’s an addictive quality to the album, clearly, which perhaps comes from the hazy nostalgia it conjures up so brilliantly with warm, gentle summery surf pop. It’s most definitely a record to get lost in.

Steve Pill

WU LYF – Go Tell Fire on the Mountain (LYF Recordings)

I'm writing this batch of reviews in Heathrow Terminal 3 on my phone, waiting for a flight to Stockholm. Given that I've just had the last call, it leaves me with no time to do WU LYF justice - something of a relief really as this is unclassifiable madness on a deep and dark scale. Play it loud.

Pranam Mavahalli

Gillian Welch – The Harrow and the Harvest (Warner)

Gillian kept us waiting a full eight years for this. I’m not prepared to say whether it was worth the wait yet, but she and guitar player Dave Rawlings will always have a place in my heart, as their album Time (The Revelator) first really introduced me to folk/acoustic music. Nice cameo from a crow in 'The Way It Will Be' too. I love crows.

Rory Dollard

CANT - Dreams Come True (Warp)

It’s a great feeling when a genuine impulse buy pays off big and in terms of gambles, this one paid off much more handsomely than my £25 on Mischa B to win the X Factor. The musical landscape is broadly latter-day Radiohead – densely packed, melodic and industrial in equal measures and never afraid to play hard to get – but I’d take this over King Of Limbs.

Dom Farrell

I Break Horses - Hearts (Bella Union)

As opening gambits go, ‘Winter Beats’ – the first track on Hearts – is pretty special. From the first seconds of whirling synth, you know something is going to happen. Then comes the pulsing bass drum, Cocteau Twins vocals, My Bloody Valentine feedback, razor-sharp snare and then.….. WALLOP. The track is hurtling downhill and you’re utterly enveloped. The grandeur rarely lets up thereafter – the sort of widescreen introspection that cool people from Sweden seem to do better than anyone.


  1. Yuck wins track of the day today - only because I can't pick I Break Horses as I've already selected it previously.

    For info, my favourite track from the Into It. Over It album is actually below as the link I gave to Ian had the track removed:

  2. It is of course an honour to pick up this prestigious award today, even if it was only because I Break Horses won before.

    As Homer Simpson once exclaimed in similar circumstances: 'DE-FAULT! DE-FAULT! DE-FAULT!'