Friday, December 23, 2011

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Twenty-Three

The penultimate day of the Musical Advent Calendar means first losers, chief runners-up, the number twos. I'm sure they'll all get over it.

Ali Mason

Wild Beasts – Smother (Domino)

Undoubtedly the grower of 2011, Smother sees Wild Beasts embrace a quality never previously high on their agenda: restraint. Gone are the camp, the madness and the theatrics, replaced by something that throbs gently and invites you to use words like shimmering and ethereal. From lyrics about going deeper, deeper to the orgasmic moans on ‘Bed Of Nails’, this is an album soaked in sex. The band use Thorpe’s famous falsetto and Tom Fleming’s more traditional, mournful delivery to suggest and imply and subvert – hetero or homo is a side issue here, it’s the sexual that’s important. Fans may pine for the grimy majesty of the Two Dancers, or the sheer jaw-dropping audacity of Limbo Panto but with every listen, the album’s own distinct rhythms and subtleties shine through.

Guy Atkinson

Fucked Up - David Comes To Life (Matador)

An 18-track concept album from a hardcore band shouldn't work, but it really, really does. Absolutely rammed with hooks and melody, you still find yourself discovering something new every time you listen to it.

Ian Parker

Josh T. Pearson - Last of the Country Gentlemen (Mute)

It took me a while to crack this one. Or at least I thought it did. It turned out that, in what must have been something of a daze, I spent the first two weeks after I bought it listening instead to the bonus CD of alternate versions. Some of those, for the record, aren't that great. But listen to the album proper and the heartbreaking beauty of this stark, bruised record will become apparent immediately. It's not an easy listen, for sure, but it's an entirely compelling one.

Matt Collins

Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues (Bella Union)

Talk about long-awaited. Three years after their eponymous debut with harmonies and 70s-tinged folk, Fleet Foxes have wisely decided not to mess with a winning formula. The delicately poised acoustic guitar lines, strong songwriting and harmonies are all there, with the echoing line about owning an orchard the thread that holds it together. Perfect, err, orchard owning album.

John Skilbeck

Anna Calvi - Anna Calvi (Domino)

The album that kept me sane for the 17 days and nights of the World Snooker Championship, and truly it’s some achievement to remedy the rigor mortis-inducing play of Rory McLeod. Later in the summer I saw Anna Calvi perform in York and all the flamenco flair, the virtuoso vocals, the drama-drenched songs of the record translated across to the live show. Compared in some parts to the works of Buckley (Jeff rather than Tim) and Bellamy (Matt rather than David), the latest in a long line of self-titled LPs on my list perhaps shared grand ambitions with those artists but it was hardly derivative and more signalling the arrival of a major new talent.

Andy Welch

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

I Speak Because I Can, Laura Marling’s previous album, took my No. 1 spot on this blog last year. Back then I wrote about how it delivered on the promise hinted at on her innocent debut Alas, I Cannot Swim. Remarkably, this third album, A Creature I Don’t Know, makes similarly giant leaps forward. She’s gone electric for the first time, 'The Beast' being a swirling monster of a song Led Zeppelin could’ve easily recorded, while 'Sophia' comes over like a glorious, tragic hoedown. As before, Marling gives little of herself away here, and while detractors grumble this makes her music aloof, that enigma, coupled with her fierce, brooding delivery, is the most attractive thing about this sensational record.

Steve Pill

The Antlers - Burst Apart (V2)

I know plenty of you on here were fans of 2009’s Hospice but I found it a little too unremittingly bleak – with my Mum passing away in the same year, a concept album based around a terminally-ill patient was a bit too much for me to put on repeat. Burst Apart was a revelation then: shot through with hope and some surprisingly punchy guitars, there was more of an interesting contrast to Peter Silberman’s broken soul vocals this time around. Oddly, something in the jazzy chords and elegant arrangements even reminded me a little of Coldplay’s Parachutes, an album I still have a soft spot for, even after all of the Rihanna-duetting, Paltrow-bonking madness that followed. This was even better and also spared me mental pictures of excruciatingly middle class dinner parties with Jay-Z, Beyonce and Gwyneth. Winner.

The Antlers - I Don't Want Love by Transgressive Records

Pranam Mavahalli

tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l (4AD)

Neil Young, referenced in the title of this blog, has always appealed to me because he’s charted his own path. And while Merril Garbus under the moniker of tUne-yArDs sounds nothing like Neil, for me she has the same unique appeal of an artist ruthlessly following their own muse. Bold, brash, invigorating, and on tracks like Powa beautiful too, Garbus has created a record that shows there’s life in conceptual pop music yet. Life-affirming, inspirational and best served loud.

Rory Dollard

tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l (4AD)

Choosing between St Vincent and tUnE-yArDs for spots two and three was as easy as deciding who you’d rather have up front, Pele or Maradona. Or who you’d rather punch, Piers Morgan or Jeremy Clarkson. Both solo projects under lavish names, both staggeringly assured female artists with a sense of fun to go with a kitchen-sink musicality. At its best w h o k i l l threatens to break all boundaries in its path and create a whole new genre of politicised afrophile, scat-tastic, horn-blowing, gut-busting pop.

Dom Farrell

Bon Iver - Bon Iver (4AD)

Given Justin Vernon’s previous incarnation as an incredibly talented, incredibly hairy man with a bruised Americana heart, the sonic ambition of Bon Iver is startling. From its intensely evocative opening guitar phrase to the stirring, brass-bursting finale, ‘Perth’ is a blinding way to kick things off. Thankfully, the quality is maintained – ‘Holocene’ and ‘Wash.’ possess a particularly beguiling and aching beauty. Well, it’s almost maintained. Closer ‘Beth/Rest’ sounds like something off the soundtrack of one-time Channel 5 daytime favourite Sunset Beach. It’s surely a gag.


  1. i was gutted that tUnE-yArDs didn't appear for ages on the advent calendar. i was hoping at least a couple of people would have tossed it in somewhere. to see Ian and Pranam give it top three love too has gladdened my heart. I really like pretty much every album today...anna calvi, bon iver or fleet foxes could easily have been higher up my list, laura marling was a certainty for my top five until i actually did the maths and Antlers just, just missed out on the 24.
    great times.

  2. YES! Finally, I can give Ali the 'track of the day' award. Worth the wait, wasn't it babes?