Saturday, December 01, 2012

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number One

Hello, and welcome to the 2012 Musical Advent Calendar. If you're new to this thing, this is where our panel of 10 count down their favourite 24 albums of the year, one a day, until Christmas. Who are the panel? Here's a somewhat ageing introduction from our 2009 debut. Most of it is out date, but you get the idea. If you've been here before, welcome back. 

If there's one thing we've learned over the four years the Musical Advent Calendar has existed, it's the fact that folks are just as precious about the No. 24 album on their list as they are of No. 1 pick. Maybe it's becase they are making what Dollard calls the 'statement' pick, the left-field choice that only feels right at the foot of the table, or maybe it's because there were five candidates for that last slot and they agonised over it for days. Either way, these picks matter. 

So what made the cut?

Andy Welch

The Beach Boys – That’s Why God Made The Radio (EMI)

Naturally when you’re thinking about your 24th favourite album of the year, there are a few candidates. There was a lot of music I enjoyed this year and most haven’t made my list. Summer Camp’s Life EP was great, I liked The xx’s album, Bombay Bicycle Club, Chairlift, Frank Ocean, Polica, Allah-Las and Chad Valley too. The reason The Beach Boys’ album made the cut was simply its final three songs. They’re stunning. There’s a lot of dreck on this album, none worse than 'Spring Vacation' which finds the group of septuagenarians, barely on speaking terms, singing about cruising around in their hot rod, “digging the scene”. It’s a dreadful slab of ‘will-this-do?’ nothingness. The trio of 'From There To Back Again', 'Pacific Coast Highway' and 'Summer’s Gone', however, are a different beast entirely. They sound how The Beach Boys should now, not a piss-poor impression of what they sounded like in 1965. Nostalgia has always been a huge part of the band’s appeal, more specifically the rose-tinted kind, where you spend your time longing for a day that never really existed in the first place. Here, in their advanced years, the dignified reflection makes total sense. 'Pacific Coast Highway' shows a self-awareness and poignancy completely missing from their work since the mid-70s. “Sunlight’s fading, and there’s not much left to say,” sings Brian Wilson on 'Pacific Coast Highway', to a heart-breaking, minor-key accompaniment, while 'Summer’s Gone' takes it a step further. “Summer’s gone, gone like yesterday. The nights grow cold, it’s time to go. I’m thinking maybe I’ll just stay.” As a bookend for an entire career, these few songs are  perfect. Let’s just agree to overlook what comes before them.

Matt Collins

Efterklang - Piramida (4AD)

Efterklang has made a concept album named after the tiny place it was made. But Piramida is far more like an exotic Richard Hawley than the prog-rock odyssey that the concept would suggest, all warm baritone vocals over the suprisingly accessible and melodic soundscapes beneath.

Pranam Mavahalli

Alt-J - An Awesome Wave (Infectious)

I wasn't really sure about Alt-J at the start of the year, but seeing them at the Green Man Festival did much to settle my mind. Stood at the back of the Far Out Stage, munching on a veggie burrito, straining my neck for a decent view, I looked around to see lots of people nodding appreciatively. The band were undoubtedly professional. If I was an X-Factor judge, I’d go so far as to say their vocals were very much 'on point'. I then caught the eye of a middle-aged bloke who'd brought his family along. He nodded and smiled at me, and being the genial chap that I am, I nodded and smiled back. But in doing so I realised I was following the crowd in tacitly congratulating Alt-J for their ability to precisely replicate the sound of their album in a live setting. I was in a way patting them on their heads for singing all the right words, in all the right keys, with all the right chords played at the right time and at exactly the same tempo and timbre as on their record; when actually I wanted to kick out at this perfectly executed example of coffee table conformity, and say I’d much rather be listening to this, this, or this.

Ali Mason

Best Coast – The Only Place (Wichita Recordings)

I was hoping this would be my album of the summer in a Jenny and Johnny I’m Having Fun Now style. It’s not that good, unfortunately, but in the title track it boasts possibly my favourite single of the year, so it’s worth its place for that alone.

Guy Atkinson

No Trigger - Tycoon (No Sleep Records)

A lot has changed in hardcore in the six years since No Trigger's debut album, not that you'd particularly be able to tell by listening to Tycoon. This album offers more of the same frenetic, melodic hardcore that helped them make such an impression on the scene back in 2006. Now, don't make us wait another six years for a third album, eh lads?

Dom Farrell

TEAM ME – To the Treetops! (Propeller Recordings)

It is often polite to start with an apology. At odds with our occasionally cheeky and chirpy reviews, here at Ragged Glories we’re suckers for downbeat melancholy – I’m not ashamed to say I was part of last year’s Josh T Pearson love-in. So, with this being the season to be jolly and all, allow me to present Norwegian sextet Team Me as a precursor to some woe-is-me folk.  Over the course of To the Treetops! things can become a touch saccharine but it’s hard not to be swept away smiling by this epic, euphoric pop that draws on the more lucid parts of Sufjan Stevens’ back catalogue.

Ian Parker

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Americana (Reprise)

Okay, let’s get this one out of the way early on, because I can already sense what at least half the panel are thinking. But this record ended up being such a big part of my listening this year that I couldn’t not include it, and if the ranking was based on anything like the number of plays, it would be way higher. The initial overexcitement that accompanied news of Neil reuniting with Crazy Horse was admittedly tempered when they announced the first release would be a series of recordings of “traditional folk songs” which, in practice, amounted to what looked like a curious assortment of old standards, nursery rhymes, and, um, 'God Save The Queen'. But that early trepidation soon melted away. The tracklisting actually makes sense when you think about it - even, 'God Save The Queen', included not as some bizarre monarchist statement from this aging Canadian hippy but as an exploration of its unique place in American musical history (hence the inclusion of some lyrics from 'My Country, Tis of Thee'). Sure, there are a few misses on here, but they are in the minority. Oh Susannah is an instant classic, and 'She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain' has never sounded this frickin’ awesome.  

Rory Dollard

2 Bears - Be Strong (Southern Fried)

Well here we are again, ay? Good to see you. How's the family? Work good? Great. Yeah, me too. Here's where the self-recrimination begins. Today's pick is blatantly ridiculous, but none the worse for it. 'Bear Hug' is the most dumb-ass track on a not always, but definitely sometimes, dumb-ass record. Thing is, it makes me smirk and that Hot Chip fellow Joe Goddard doesn't half know his way round some chirpy, wonky dance music.

Steve Pill

Jack White – “Blunderbuss” (XL)

If this album were a shop, it would be one of those places that cherry picks secondhand clothes and albums from charity shops and other unsuspecting targets and sells them on at massively inflated prices to people who are too lazy to really scour the bargain bins. Everything inside is impeccably vintage and thought through to the very last little detail but somehow it feels like a triumph of style over substance and even if you might truly love the odd item (or in this case, song), you can’t help feel like you’ve cheated a little and pine for the old days when the shop owner (read “Jack White”) was more haphazard and unpredictable in his tastes.

John Skilbeck

Julia Holter - Ekstasis (Domino)

Ekstasis was my gateway drug, the opiate that kicked down the door to the addiction I'd briefly kicked. Until March I'd not bought an album, the New Year's resolution had held, but while in New York for a wedding, thousands of miles from home and responsibility, I was drawn all to easily to its few remaining record shops, and it was Ekstasis that was the buzz disc. Holter was playing her debut NYC show around the corner from my hotel, and then an in-store. I could make neither as it happens, but that pledge of abstention didn't last. It turned out the whispers had it right: Ekstasis is special indeed. Holter's feather-light vocals float above and sometimes beneath a moving tapestry of bells, keys, found sounds and soft strings, borrowing lyrics from literary history and creating this mesmerisingly abstract sound. So of course I had the record-buying bug back. What else was out there?


  1. I like that Julia Holter track John. You win today.

  2. I know it's the moment you've all be waiting for, so I'm pleased to declare that my track of the day goes to 'TEAM ME'. Ali - your selection was a very, very close second.

  3. Well, my laptop is not letting me listen to anything today, but I'm quite sure my favourite track would be Dom's if I could hear it. It sounds great from the description.

  4. i woke up with a night shift induced head-fuzz going on today and Guy's blast of guitariness most successfully got rid of it. Efterklang, meanwhile, sound a bit like the head-fuzz themsevlves. not a bad thing of course. welcome back.

  5. Wowzers, one-and-a-half track of the day nominations. Very kind. Loads to enjoy here, including Pranam's three alternative selections that are miles more fun than Alt-J. My favourite is the Beach Boys track though. It's made my heart melt quite a little bit.

  6. There's quite some art in 'doing a number 24', and Rory is Dali of the day with that nonsensical track.

  7. I worry about Dollard.