Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Twenty-Two

While Skillers quietly enjoys some "musical marmite", Pranam quietly suffers a meltdown.

Ali Mason

Left With Pictures – In Time (Organ Grinder)

Coming out of a project which saw the band write, record and shoot a video for one song a month for the duration of 2010, In Time is a remarkably coherent album. At first glance not much has changed since their debut effort – 12 shiny chamber pop songs which draw on the band’s classical training and will have you singing along before you even know the words. But there’s an impressive widening of scope here, whether that be in the a capella of ‘October Waits’ or ‘June’, a jaunty pop song which makes use of the little heard 7/4 time signature. These, and other offbeat treats, come from the second of the band’s two frontmen Toby Knowles. But it is Stuart Barter, whose voice and songs have a more traditional beauty, who produces the crowning glory in 'River Avon', a tale of nostalgia and thwarted young love so heartbreakingly delicate you hesitate to listen to it too often for fear it may break.

Guy Atkinson

Balance and Composure - Separation (No Sleep Records)

After two breathtakingly brilliant EPs, it's little wonder that Balance and Composure were capable of creating a full length that is every bit as dark and brooding as Brand New's masterpiece Deja Entendu. A classic.

Ian Parker

tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l (4AD)

w h o k i l l is a big bubbling monster of an album, impossible to define, impossible to contain, and impossible to ignore. Many, many words have been used to try and sum up the contents of this record, of which may favourite is rambunctious (this words should be used much more often in many walks of life) but adding to the list, or just borrowing from it, only serves little purpose. The best thing to do is listen. And watch too, cos this video is a riot.

Matt Collins

Elbow - Build a Rocket Boys (Fiction)

The sickeningly happy title and the global smash of 'One Day Like This' meant there was always a danger Elbow would try to write 12 similar stadium songs, when in fact their strengths lie in the melancholy. 'Open Arms' aside, they do indeed stick to what they know. Jaggedy guitars, complex time signatures, and beautiful lyrics - a great follow up in their new era.

John Skilbeck

The Lovely Eggs - Cob Dominos (Cherryade)

Utter musical marmite from Lancaster’s Holly and David. Either you’ll love the scrambled textures of the Lovely Eggs, as I do, or you’ll hate them and everything they stand for. Having cast my eye over quite a few end-of-year lists, they’ve been nowhere in sight. PJ Harvey, the Kate Adie of alt.rock, is the towering presence, with no Eggs hatching in any charts. Shame that, and surely an oversight John Peel’s listeners would have rectified. I reckon my selected track, the lead single, was the most triumphant moment of their skittish second album but it faced competition from 'Panic Plants', which took a sensitive topic, OCD, and smeared gags all over it, and the call-and-response jest-fest of 'Why Don’t You Like Me?'.

Andy Welch

Wild Beasts – Smother (Domino)

It’s hard to believe music as beautiful as this was written in a dingy room of an East-London towerblock. Clearly the Cumbrian band were thinking of home, as Smother is a sprawling, glacial-sounding record. Much was made of the album’s sexiness when it was release, and indeed it’s a carnal-sounding record too, with slinky basslines and seductive, sweeping melodies and arpeggios lacing most of the songs. Lyrically, Hayden Thorpe is on fine form, somehow managing to be playful, mysterious and obtuse at once. Putting it simply, there isn’t a British band as interesting or idiosyncratic as Wild Beasts at the moment. On paper, they’re preposterous. In reality? Absolutely heavenly.

Steve Pill

Gardens & Villa - Gardens & Villa (Secretly Canadian)

At their first UK gig at the Lexington in Kings Cross, this Santa Barbara four-piece bounded back on stage for an encore and promptly tore Gary Numan’s 'Cars' a new one. “We’ve always wanted to play this in England…” Seeing them live made more sense out of an album that was already a favourite this year. With touches of new wave and even glam rock, there was an edge and variety to the songwriting that belied the slick electro style production. 'Black Hills' throbbed like a sun-bleached Stooges, while 'Sunday Morning' even aped the Beatles, with its beautifully weary psychedelia. Only a slight tail off in the last couple of tracks and an over-use of that note-bending lever you get on the side of 1980s keyboards that Talking Heads used to do on every track stopped this being at number one.

Pranam Mavahalli

Radiohead – The King of Limbs (XL)

Is the general consensus on this album that it’s not up there with Radiohead’s best? Is this because at eight tracks its too short? Aren’t each of the individual tracks incredibly strong in themselves? Would you even go so far as to put 'Lotus Flower' as among their best songs? Since the release of OK Computer, do we now expect too much from a new Radiohead album? Is The King of Limbs a record that both reinvents the band and sidesteps expectations? Is that a good thing? Does it warrant a place in my top 24 merely because I’ve listened to it so many times? What merits a good album? What do we mean by ‘merits’? What is an ‘album’? What is held by the concept of ‘good’? Do some of us get too hung up about music nowadays? Do some of us not care enough? Do I need a nice sit down now and cup of tea? Do you?

Rory Dollard

St Vincent - Strange Mercy (4AD)

Annie Clarke’s previous record as St Vincent, Actor, just missed the cut after the umming and the aahing was done on my 2009 Advent Calendar. This time it took a bucketload of umms and even more aahs to keep it out of the top two. Clarke’s writing has taken a stellar leap in the last couple of years and her guitar work is as ferocious as her ear for a killer hook is sharp. Lyrically, there’s stacks of mischief, double talk and the occasional filthy aside and in 'Cruel', she has my single of the year.

Dom Farrell

Wilco - The Whole Love (Anti)

Wilco begin their best album since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by echoing its more claustrophobic moments in opener ‘Art of Almost’ - seven intricately woven minutes that Nels Cline blasts into the stratosphere with his thrilling guitar assault. From there on Cline’s new wave flair offsets Jeff Tweedy’s Abbey Road sensibilities. The haunting ‘Black Moon’ is a magnificent mid-album sandwich filling between the good-time guitar pop of ‘Dawned On Me’ and ‘Born Alone’, and when lilting epic ‘One Sunday Morning’ closes the show, it’s hard to shake the impression that this band is incapable of making bad records.


  1. Good stuff today. The Lovely Eggs track is great, but not as good as your description of dear Polly, Skillers.
    Still can't work out who will top the overall list. Wilco seems to have picked up a few votes. Josh T Pearson is conspicuous in his absence from a few of lists - is he about to make a strong final showing?

  2. Having heard one song and been really impressed, and then downloaded their first free EP off their website, and been less so impressed, I'm really impressed with this here Gardens & Villas song.

  3. That Lovely Eggs track....really Skillers? You must be Yoking.
    It's time you omelette it go.

  4. Wow, just WOW. I'm in a state of shock after listening to that Lovely Eggs track. You were leading the charge in my tracks of the day list, Mr Skilbeck, but I think I'm going to have to suspend you for today's atrocity.

    All your votes have been passed over to Ali.

  5. As for track of the day, I should give it to Wild Beasts as it's the only one I like. However, this very track has already had the honour, so I'll give it to Gardens & Villa as it's 'okay'.

  6. and in answer to Pranam...

    Yes; No; Not really; No; Probably; Don't think so; Whatevs; That's a decent reason; Lots of good songs; Dunno; This is one; Hmmmm; Thankfully, yes; Thankfully, yes; I'm sure you do; Mine's a coffee.


  7. If I could change the intro to this post, I guess the storm he has, as he put it, "whisked up" in picking the Lovely Eggs means that while Skillers may be enjoying his musical marmite, he's not doing it quietly.

  8. Thanks for clearing all that up Rory. Some much needed, 'hard-boiled', objective certainty there. I'd be very interested in employing your services on a regular basis. There's a lot more that needs sorting in a similar manner.

    In other news I love marmite and The Lovely Eggs. John Shuttleworth's in that there vid with a sausage roll thumb. What's not to like?!

  9. Well, I enjoyed the video for the Lovely Eggs, but I think I'd have to do a bit of work to convince myself I liked the song.

    Incidentally, apologies for my reviews, which seem to be getting longer and longer. I imagine nobody's actually read any of them for about a week now, and quite right too.