Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Eighteen

As we reach our lucky No. 7 albums of the year, SP begins name-dropping shamelessly, while Pranam is raging against the Establishment. Occupy The Musical Advent Calendar!

Ali Mason

Zoey van Goey – Propeller Versus Wings (Chemikal Underground)

If we’re giving out prizes for the most improved band of 2011, mine goes to Zoey van Goey. Not a massive amount has changed since their patchy 2009 debut. All they’ve really done is gone and got better. Much better. Broadly, their tunes can be split into two categories: the straight songs, voiced by Kim Moore, and the weird ones, fronted by Matt Brennan. Moore’s vocals skim across tender opener 'Mountain On Fire' like white horses on water, then light up the old-fashioned jazz of 'My Aviator' with rich warmth. Meanwhile, Brennan’s songwriting has matured immeasurably: 'You Told The Drunks I Knew Karate', which ought to be a novelty song, is heartfelt and genuinely funny. Odd moments grate: single 'The Cake And Eating It' underwhelms, while the lyrics at times can feel like they’re trying a little too hard, but there’s so much variety and quality here, it seems churlish to complain.

Zoey Van Goey - Mountain On Fire by Chemikal Underground

Guy Atkinson

Defeater - Empty Days and Sleepless Night (Dear Father)

A second album of crushingly heavy, yet melodic hardcore from another band pushing American punk to new levels. This is a punishing listen, in the best possible way.

Ian Parker

St Vincent - Strange Mercy (4AD)

Despite the obvious respect a resume like hers should bring, I admit I've never really given St Vincent much time until this year, dipping in, deciding I was a bit confused (happens easily), and retreating. But Strange Mercy was thrust before me and how glad I am to have finally got my feet properly wet. It is never less than a thrill. Are all the other albums this good? I'm going shopping.

Matt Collins

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds - Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds (Sour Mash)

Finally getting on the life after Oasis bandwagon, the tunesmith of Oasis strikes out alone. Sounds like he's been saving some of his best songs for this record. With the typical mix of acoustic and electric guitars that you'd expect, and at least two or three standout singles, Gallagher Sr has clearly taken the upper hand.

John Skilbeck

Las Kellies - Kellies (Fire Records)

You might not have woken this morning with the thought: ‘What I need in my life is a honking great party record from Buenos Aires’. But pump a little Las Kellies through headphones and you might just hit the pillow thinking that way. Kellies was a record from four energetic Argentinian girls which hit the listener with a barrage of frenetic disco-punk, playful hip-hop, and sidewinding dub. What’s not to like? Not to be confused with: Las Ketchup.

Andy Welch

Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi – Rome (EMI)

Danger Mouse and Daniel Luppi met when the latter was drafted in help with the arrangements on the first Gnarls Barkley album. It was then they discovered their shared love of Italian film soundtracks, and started planning their tribute to the genre. It might have taken six years to come to fruition, but it was well worth the time and effort. The attention to detail in the way Rome was recorded is joyous in its geekiness. Luppi, for example, drove around Rome looking for someone that would lend him the specific Fender VI used on their beloved 60s soundtracks, while the players, now in their 80s, were reassembled to mimic the period perfection. Impressive as the production may be, it’d be nothing without the songs, and with the likes of 'Season’s Trees', 'Two Against One' and 'Black', featuring Jack White and a career-best performance from Norah Jones, they succeed on that front just as impressively.

Steve Pill

Elbow - Build A Rocket Boys! (Polydor)

After the unexpected success of The Seldom Seen Kid, Elbow looked set to suffer from difficult fifth album syndrome (and I liked the suggestion that they might do a Radiohead and this might be their “Seldom Seen Kid A”). Instead of any radical departures or full-blown pitches for mainstream success (you feel they could have re-written 'One Day Like This' twelve times over, blindfolded), the Bury boys instead simply honed every individual aspect of what made people love them in the first place. The dark-hearted lyrics got more nostalgic, Garvey’s Lancashire accent more pronounced, the glorious production values were polished up to Olympic standards, while the whole band’s modesty and respect for each song became more acute – no solos here. It was another beautiful collection of songs and, like most decisions Elbow have made, it was exactly as you would have hoped.

(I should confess a bit of bias in this pick as I did DJ for Elbow on two short tours and an album launch when I was back in Manchester. Rather proudly, you can now also measure Elbow’s success in a weird mirror of me being anywhere near them – I DJed for them at gigs on their second and third album tours, which largely bombed commercially; I was nowhere near them on albums 1, 4 and 5 , which sold millions and nominated for Mercury, Brit and Ivor Novello awards. I’m like a diseased rabbit foot, me. Mid-level indie rock bands in a need for a career nose dive, you know where to find me…)

Pranam Mavahalli

PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (Universal)

Argh, so apparently this is Samantha Cameron’s album of the year! That shouldn’t make me like it any less, but for some reason it does. With an endorsement from the PM’s wife, does that mean PJ is now a safe part of the establishment? I do miss the raggedness and dirt of her early records, but this is still at times a marvellously strange record that doesn’t deserve to be purely the preserve of the chattering classes.

Rory Dollard

Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know (Virgin)

Despite following her career from an early stage, I abstained in the great Laura love-in of 2010 because I found I Speak Because I Can too emotionally distant. I’ve caved in a big way this time, though. Here her precocious songwriting is on an even bigger scale, with added passion and a spritely, organic flourish that makes good on all those Joni Mitchell comparisons.

Dom Farrell

Gruff Rhys - Hotel Shampoo (Turnstile)

Wales’ answer to Jack White when it comes to side-project juggling, Gruff Rhys’ latest solo offering is a gem. Opener ‘Shark Ridden Waters’ slinks into view from beneath a haze of seaside noises and radio static, it unveils a dreamy four minutes of lo-fi pop. “I don’t know what happens to me when you come along, it’s just the way the sunlight catches your hair,” sings Gruff. Isn’t that nice? ‘Vitamin K’ and ‘Take A Sentence’ are lessons in simplicity – quite something from a man who likes to occasionally confuse his audience with Welsh language albums – and ‘At The Heart Of Love’ could easily sit on the Super Furries’ career-high Rings Around The World. A sun-kissed record about love that could blister into a horrible burn at any minute.

Gruff Rhys - Shark Ridden Waters by CulturedeluxeDotCom


  1. Las Kellies wins my coveted track of the day award.

  2. I may have to reassess my initial decision to not listen to this Rome album. Las Kellies a bit of unknown pleasure, good advent calendar fare. i didn't get anything out of the Gruff Rhys album at all though...i think i listened to it three times before i ditched it.