Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Musical Advent Calendar - The Overall Top 10

Merry Christmas!

And welcome to the final door of the 2011 Musical Advent Calendar...the overall top 10. Using our patented, multi-layered and highly sophisticated rating system (one point for a No. 24 nomination, 24 for a No. 1, and everything else in between), we've calculated what the panel rated as the best 10 albums of the year. You can see just how many points each one got under the album name.

Before we dive in, some facts and figures of note. This is our most diverse Advent Calendar to date. A total of 159 different albums got nominated, with no two people having the same number one, while Guy managed to find 24 albums that didn't appear on anybody else's list. The net result is that, while the National's High Violet required 150 points to top last year's overall top 10, this year's winner did enough with just 82.

Enough nattering. Here are the results:

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

82 Points

While almost unanimous in agreeing her third album deserved a place in any top 24 of the year, our panel couldn't quite figure out what to do with it as it finished anywhere between No. 24 and No. 2 on the lists. But sheer strength in numbers saw Laura take the prize.

Andy Welch - 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.

Matt Collins - Laura Marling’s folk music is developing an extra level of maturity that makes her age (still 21) quite incredible. Officially indie folk’s elder stateswoman.

Ali Mason - After two albums heavily influenced respectively by Noah And The Whale and Mumford And Sons, it’s good to hear Marling developing a sound which feels more uniquely hers. My brain loves it – though, as ever with Marling, my heart isn’t quite so sure.

Ian Parker - If her debut Alas, I Cannot Swim carried the influence of backing band Noah & The Whale, and I Speak Because I Can was dominated by Mumford & Sons' stylings, A Creature I Don't Know might finally be showing us Marling's own distinct sound. If it is, great. If it's not, even better, because there's genuine excitement in seeing an artist so young already master so many different sounds.

Steve Pill - Whereas I found some of the earlier stuff a little too twee, try-hard or just affected, this record really caught me out.

Rory Dollard - 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 - Ragged Glories panellist picks Laura Marling. Thinks her songwriting is astonishing, her lyrics beguiling, her talent astounding. Wants to marry her a little bit. Standard.

2. = St Vincent - Strange Mercy (4AD)

78 points

Robbed of second spot outright by Dom's late re-jig of his list, Annie Clarke instead has to settle for a share. But she'll probably get over it. In time.

John Skilbeck - Gift-wrapped in ribbons of mini-Moog but still bearing flourishes of fuzzed-up guitar and shimmering keys, it told what could be interpreted as dark tales.

Pranam Mahavalli - Strange Mercy is filled with great hooks, memorable melodies and huge choruses; it’s just they don’t always come where you’d expect them. The songs are huge, occasionally melodramatic, and feature the kind of six-string pyrotechnics that make want to practice more guitar.

Ian Parker - 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.

Rory Dollard - 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.

Dom Farrell - Third album Strange Mercy is bursting and brimming with a rare verve, from infectious hook-laden single 'Cruel' to plaintive closer 'Year of the Tiger', not to mention some of the year’s most inventive and idiosyncratic guitar work.

= Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues (Bella Union)

78 points

With stories of the recording process giving a different meaning to the notion of the 'difficult' second album, nobody was quite sure what to expect of Helplessness Blues. But clearly, what did arrive did not disappoint our panel.

Ali Mason - Hats off to Fleet Foxes – this is exactly what a second album should be: progression without losing what was so good about the debut.

Ian Parker - After wowing us with the timeless beauty of their debut album three years ago, the Fleet Foxes returned with a follow-up that barely strays from the wonderful formula they had already perfected.

Matt Collins - 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.

Rory Dollard - The element of surprise that greeted their arrival in 2008 has long since gone but both melodies and musicianship are as graceful as before.

Andy Welch - This is a simply mesmerising album; beautiful, timeless and worth every bit of suffering that went into it.

4. PJ Harvey - Let England Shake (Universal)

73 points

Dom Farrell - 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.

Pranam Mahavalli - 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.

Ian Parker - Polly Jean has broken out of her introspective (dis)comfort zone with a startling record about this country we call home.

Andy Welch - In some ways, for all the Mercury Prize-winner’s themes of war and conflict, this tells us more about the enigmatic artist than ever before.

Rory Dollard - "Yeah, but wouldn't it be higher on the list if it was a little less considered and a bit more raw?"
"Yes. Yes it would."

5. Radiohead - The King of Limbs (XL)

72 points

Steve Pill - It felt like this was the record they'd spent the last decade trying to make but were too uptight, conflicted or successful to be able to get across.

Andy Welch - Cynical gimmicks aside, it’s hard to argue with the quality of the music on The King Of Limbs. Just as In Rainbows is now among my favourite albums of all time after a sluggish start, TKOL (not Kings Of Leon, for clarity), to a lesser extent, has wormed its way into myhead with its hypnotic, eerie and sinister songs. Not a masterpiece, but the band’s consistency is staggering.

Dom Farrell - Restless beats and rhythms dazzle in the album’s first half, before haunting piano ballad “Codex” begins the ascent for air, completed by assured closer “Separator”. The monkey is back on Yorke’s shoulders and he’s feeding it loads of bananas.

Pranam Mahavalli - 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?

6. Bon Iver - Bon Iver (4AD)

71 points

Matt Collins - Bon Iver is in fact a step above For Emma, Forever Ago, weaving electric guitars and walls of noise in epic, intricate melodies and that unmistakable falsetto. Simply beautiful.

Rory Dollard - Gone are the mournful acoustics, replaced with synthetic, gently manipulated soundscapes that bubble under beneath Vernon’s trademark double-tracked vocals.

Ian Parker - It's an absolutely beautiful, engrossing record that I enjoy more every time I hear it.

Pranam Mahavalli - A belting performance on Jools was all it took to make me revisit this record, which though bigger in scope than the debut, has the same level of ear-candiness and attention to detail that made his first so rewarding.

Steve Pill - Despite suffering in comparison to Justin Vernon’s debut, there are still some flat-out beautiful songs on here, not least the gently rousing 'Holocene'.

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

68 points

Rory Dollard - 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.

Pranam Mahavalli - 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.

Ian Parker - 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.

8. Wild Beasts - Smother (Domino)

64 points

Ali Mason - 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.

Andy Welch - 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.

Dom Farrell - Endearing and unnerving in equal measure, Smother is an eloquent portrait of terminal relationship decline. Icy, atmospheric synths and throbbing bass provide a thrilling sonic foundation for intelligent flecks of guitar and piano, not to mention an easy resting place for singer Hayden Thorpe’s dramatic, occasionally preening, delivery.

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

63 points

Rory Dollard - Pearson’s labyrinthine country-tinged laments are not for everyone - and with their lengthy, meandering style and a poetic wordplay that rewards repeat visits, they probably actively discourage the casual listener. But for those who are up for the idea of being immersed in a gloriously bittersweet torrent of self-loathing and lost love, all set to near-virtuoso fretplay, this is set to be a timeless classic.

Ian Parker - 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.

Dom Farrell - A few months ago I had an epiphany. The combination of doing about my 20th job application in 18 months and having David Cameron’s Tory conference speech on in the background as the record played created the combined feeling of anger, despair, loathing and anguish that poor old Mr Pearson seems to be getting at.

10. Wilco - The Whole Love (Anti)

57 points

Rory Dollard - The Whole Love is a beaut in its own right, calling in most of the tricks the bands have learned over 20 years. Fearless and experimental ('The Art of Almost'), singalong fun ('I Might'), heartfelt and emotional ('One Sunday Morning')'s all here.

Dom Farrell - 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.

Matt Collins - They haven’t lost the chirpiness from 2009’s Wilco (The Album), and this collection of songs repeatedly brings Paul McCartney’s upbeat Beatles tracks to mind for me. In a good way.

Ian Parker - Every Wilco album now is a reinvention, and given the scale of the ambition on show on The Whole Love, maybe now they will all be reinventions of the wheel.

Andy Welch - There’s not a misguided note on The Whole Love, and Tweedy, in upbeat mood, sounds more focused than ever, yet the spirit of adventure never vanishes. A wonderful record, and easily Wilco’s best since the essential Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed enormously again thanks to my music gurus for introducing me to half a dozen or so albums which means, again, I'm a year behind you all. Just got High Violet on now as I tap this out! Well done!
    Ashley Broadley