Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Twenty

As we reach our top five albums of the year, SP has his head turned by a (seemingly) faulty listening post while the rest of us take note of a certain pick and prepare for the almost inevitable Dollard rant in the comments section.

Ali Mason

Sea of Bees – Songs For The Ravens (V2)

This is one of two albums I’ve picked this year which was also eligible for the 2010 list, which is a shame because, had the vote not been split, it might have had a better shot at the overall top 10. It’s great stuff though: joyous and despairing at the same time, individual but familiar. Julie Ann Baezinger’s girlish vocals make everything sound fresh, whether it’s the ecstasy of new love or the pain of heartbreak, while the arrangements are never obvious but always understated enough to let the songs do the talking.

Sea of Bees "Sidepain" from TERROREYES.TV on Vimeo.

Guy Atkinson

Touche Amore - Parting The Sea Between Brightness and Me (Deathwish Inc.)

I'm not sure I've been as excited about a new hardcore band as I am with these guys. This second album clocked in at under 20 minutes and is a relentless onslaught of riffs, breakdowns and screaming, also known as 'heaven' to me.

Ian Parker

Slow Club - Paradise (Moshi Moshi)

Slow Club return two years after debut Yeah So having done a whole lot of growing up. Shaking off an unwarranted 'twee' tag they never wanted, they return with a measure of gloom and despair injected into their trademark sound. Not that this is a morbid listening. The tunes are too engaging and exuberant for that, making for a compelling listen.

Matt Collins

Coldplay - Mylo Xyloto (Parlaphone)

It's always hard to put stadium fillers in your albums of the year list, but you have to hand it to them. Another collection of arms aloft anthems from the band Alan McGee once dubbed bedwetters, this time featuring Rihanna's dulcet tones and Brian Eno's unmistakable guiding hand, the latter taking standard indie sounds and propelling them skywards.

John Skilbeck

Comet Gain - Howl Of The Lonely Crowd (Fortuna Pop)

The first album since 2005 from Comet Gain, and worth the wait, Howl… was loaded with whirling organ flourishes, rhapsodic twirls and punk poetry. Given the pick of co-producer Edwyn Collins’ guitars, it was little wonder they turned out a flurry of cornerstone classics that would have fitted snugly into the Orange Juice canon. My choice was its grandstanding opening track.

Comet Gain - 'Clang Of The Concrete Swans' (What's Your Rupture?) by Independent Label Market

Andy Welch

PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (Island)

So much has been written about Let England Shake – it’s a protest album using centuries-old stories to make a profound point about the present – that it’s not worth going over it again. It’s the first time Harvey has put her head above the parapet in this area, much of her past work being about more mysterious or emotional matters, but in some ways, for all the Mercury Prize-winner’s themes of war and conflict, it tells us more about the enigmatic artist than ever before.

Steve Pill

Balam Acab - Wander/Wonder (Tri Angle)

I’m not ashamed to say that I complained to the staff in a record shop when I first heard this on a listening post. Or rather, I couldn’t hear anything and told them it was broken. Of course, it wasn’t, but Wander/Wonder takes an inordinately long time to get going. In fact, it’s not until a barrage of strings kicks in after four minutes on the aptly-named opening track, 'Welcome', that you’d even know it had really started. Luckily what follows is worth the wait, a perfectly paced mix of distorted R&B, dubstep atmospherics and floating, ethereal vocals. Gorgeous stuff.

BALAM ACAB - Oh, Why by TriAngleRecords

Pranam Mavahalli

Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica (Software)

Wintry, desolate, glacial, minimal, this is an album that doesn’t try very hard to grab your attention. It's a slow-moving, hypnotic album, and as with my top choice of last year (Caribou’s Swim) is for me a good example of how music with electronic sounds can be as affecting as that made with conventional instruments.

Rory Dollard

Emmy the Great - Virtue (Close Harbour)

My fellow panellists - or indeed anyone who talked to me in 2009 – won’t need reminding how deeply I fell for Emmy’s debut album. But while there’s nothing quite like your First Love, this is no rebound fling. The arrangements are more textured than before, providing greater depth and the some disarming musical detours but the songs – and the characters that populate them - remain the key. Emmy’s voice, meanwhile, remains the best in the business.

Dom Farrell

PJ Harvey - Let England Shake (Island)

So, after selecting a run of albums about heartbreak and break-ups, allow me to present a record where everyone gets killed in wars. Tis the season to be jolly after all. Let England Shake is a phenomenal achievement by a consistently phenomenal artist. Harvey tackles a heavy, complex subject matter melodically and accessibly, without either dumbing down or straying into holier than thou territory. Sparse, reverb-laden arrangements set the mood perfectly. Ten years on from her first Mercury win in the wake of 9/11, the fact that an album exploring the horror and futility of war, with a focus on the doomed souls of Gallipoli, should resonate so strongly and profoundly is a sombre and sobering one.


  1. At the risk of furthering Ian's point about me developing a sense of self-importance, there's once again nothing here that excites me. However, in a bid to maintain some integrity I'm going to dish out today's award to Dom as I quite liked that song.

  2. it's hard to rant to order Agent Parker...it kind of makes you feel a bit like a performing seal. so let it rest at the following: my profound hatred of coldplay in 2011 comes from my profound love of coldplay in 2001.
    The harshest blows are dealt by those closest to us.
    In other news, while it ain't my bag i was glad to hear a good old screamer on guy's track - i thought you'd gone a bit soft on us with the vocals this year soldier.

  3. loving Pranam's moody little number today too.

  4. I now have an image in my head of Dollard as a performing seal.

    Anyway, as we reach our top fives, we're probably all at the stage where we wish we could re-write at least part of our lists. But I've got to admit that two of the albums I'd like to draft in missed out not because I think I misjudged them, but rather because I forgot they came out in 2011. Dismal, I know. Anyway, honourable mentions must now go to Hannah Peel and Sea of Bees, which would have fully deserved a place, and a thanks go to Ali, who manages to bring my failings to light in new ways every day.

  5. Sea of Bees and Slow Club were very close to making my 24, so I shan't argue with their inclusions today. Two seriously good albums, Sea of Bees girl reminds me a bit of Tanya Donelly.
    And again Pranam hits the bullseye with his pick, I'll definitely be exploring Oneohtrix Point Never, who are completely new to me.
    Might list my alternative 24 tomorrow, it's probably better than my list.

  6. Pleasantly surprised by Guy's selection. It's a bit raaargh but splendidly brief and not ashamed to have a song lurking beneath the fury.