Monday, December 10, 2012

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Ten

As the calendar hits double figures, and the panel moves into their top 15 albums of the year, Mat turns up a day late with Lucy Rose, Guy threatens to melt your face, and Steve invites Tina Fey over to listen to records and have a dance around the living room. 

Andy Welch

Bobby Womack – Bravest Man In The Universe (XL)

Like Gil Scott-Heron, and Johnny Cash who, with Rick Rubin, created the modern trend for rejuvenating lost artists, Bobby Womack has lived a full life. He was Sam Cooke’s guitarist, helped define a slick soul sound in the early 70s, enjoyed a solo career, suffered personal and then the almost obligatory addiction hell. He then bounced back, first with Stylo and his Gorillaz involvement and now Bravest Man In The Universe. It’d be easy to be cynical about this now almost formulaic kind of record, but it’s just too good for that. Womack manages to pack in all that wisdom and experience on the album, it’s more a lesson from an old uncle than a collection of songs, which mostly lets his voice and some well-chosen duets to take centre stage rather than swamping with big arrangements. His story is fascinating, but his voice will always be the star.

Matt Collins

Lucy Rose - Like I Used To (Columbia) 

Anyone who wants to file Lucy Rose under "slightly nasal and chilled out lady singer songwriters" can go right ahead. Because that is very firmly where she belongs. Despite the slight leaning towards generic chill pop demanded by a sales conscious label, there are some genuinely lovely moments on Like I Used To. For best results consume on Sunday mornings.

Pranam Mavahalli

Plank! - Animalism (Akoustik Anarkhy)

Plank! somehow manage to take in influences ranging from Neu! to minimalist composer John Adams, churn them up, and spin out tunes much more accessible than they have any right to be. Sure, the arrangements verge on being complex, but there's always a rhythmic pulse to keep you locked in the groove, and hold your attention. They also boast the knack of making it all look much easier than it actually is. They're a ferocious beast of a live band, and it's great that the excitement of their performances have been captured so well on record. Buy this if you need some instrumental cosmic rock in your life (who doesn't?) but better still, check them out live.

Ali Mason

Jesca Hoop – The House That Jack Built (Curuja)

Jesca Hoop is an artist to treasure. Any release from her is worth listening to because it will be interesting, surprising and very, very good. Single 'Born To' haled a genuine change of direction, urgent and even slightly poppy. Three different producers worked on this album and they do perhaps spoil the broth at times. I heard Jesca sing 'Hospital', about enjoying the attention of being unwell (“there’s nothing like a broken arm to win your love”), live with just a guitar and a backing singer and it’s arguable whether the bells and whistles add much. 'Hospital' is followed by the title track, which is about the aftermath of her father’s death and is one of the most devastating songs you will hear.

Guy Atkinson

Converge - All We Love We Leave Behind (Epitaph)

For over 20 years, Converge have been pushing the sonic boundaries of extreme music and thankfully they show no signs of slowing down. Blending raw hardcore punk with face-melting metal has been Converge's calling card for some time now and that heady concoction is out in force again on their eighth album. I imagine that this is the kind of music that serial killers listen to before they go out on the prowl for their next victim.

Dom Farrell

Jack White – Blunderbuss (XL Recordings)

So Mr Side Project has finally made himself his own side project. In keeping with Jack White’s frenzied creative work ethic, Blunderbuss was toured with two backing bands –one all-male, one all-female; both astoundingly brilliant groups of musicians. He based them at different Nashville locations, driving between them for rehearsals. I like to think that by the end of the tour both bands harboured a vitriolic hatred for one another, all instigated fiendishly by Mr White so they played that little bit better. As for the record itself, having operated diligently under the self-imposed aesthetic constraints of the White Stripes, we find an artist liberated – seemingly trying to pile elements of all the records he’s ever loved into 13 tracks. Sure, it lacks the raw excitement of old but, as slabs of paint-stripping guitar rub shoulders with prog synthesisers, bluegrass stylings, classic folk and occasional Vaudeville chic, there is plenty to be compelled by.

Ian Parker

Dark Dark Dark - Who Needs Who (Melodic)

We've had a heap of break-up albums on the Musical Advent Calendar in recent years. Noah & The Whale, Josh T. Pearson, Emmy The Great and more, we can't get enough. But Who Needs Who is no ordinary break-up album, not least because both sides are still here to tell the story. Back in early 2011, Dark Dark Dark's lead singer and songwriter Nona Maria Invie and band co-founder Marshall LaCount ended their relationship with a year’s worth of touring commitments still ahead of them. Arguments raged on the road, and Invie channelled the emotions into his record, which she then promptly recorded and toured with Marshall standing somewhere over in the corner. How does he feel when she belts out: “I want to live in a time when you cherished me”? Where does he look when she sings: “Without you, I am a river, my love, and without you I lose what is good to the sea, and without you I am a river, my love, wandering aimlessly”? Who Needs Who is less playful than its predecessor, but, well, wonderfully dark. 

Rory Dollard

Cold Specks -I Predict a Graceful Expulsion (Mute)

A bristling autumn of an album this features, in Al Spx, one of the standout voices of the year - less earth-shattering but in its way more characterful and careworn than Alabama Shakes' Brittany Howard. There are few set-piece fireworks or unforgettable choruses here, with the emphasis instead on a slow build of mood and tone. But once that is under your skin it is hard not to fall pretty hard for it.

Steve Pill

Wild Nothing – “Nocturne” (Bella Union)

Fey-er than Tina Fey dancing to Belle & Sebastian in a knitted cardigan and pop socks, Wild Nothing's second album is nevertheless a masterclass in introspective, pant-swishing indie pop. Opener 'Shadow' sounds suspiciously like a partial re-write of early EP classic 'Golden Haze' but it sets a high standard for the rest of the record (for this is truly an album designed to be listened to on vinyl). Elsewhere, 'Only Heather' quickens the pulses with a proper 1986 Creation Records jangle, while 'Paradise' goes a little goth pop on our asses. Like the almost equally excellent Allah-Las debut album, this is a shameless throwback but none the worse for it.

John Skilbeck

Lightning Love – Blonde Album

Ypsilanti, Michigan's Lightning Love have been compared to Rilo Kiley, so if Jenny Lewis and co tickle your tastebuds you should enjoy this too. But Blonde Album might be more of a treat for anyone disappointed with the direction Regina Spektor took after Soviet Kitsch. What I'm getting at is that, yes, there are vocals you could lazily categorise as 'kooky', but these songs are bursting with character and tales both glad and sad.


  1. Wow, Ian, you've made my review yesterday seem almost dismissive. Almost.

  2. Much as I love Skillers' choice today, mine is obviously the track of the day.