Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Thirteen

As the Musical Advent Calendar passes the halfway point, a 28-year-old Guy just can't kick his teenage kicks (though he does find time to re-define 'tuneful'), Skillers finds that now Shrag are getting some love from the rest of the panel they're just a little too mainstream for him, and Steve denies, not for the first time, being gay for Gosling. 

Andy Welch

Cat Power – Sun (Matador)

I came late to Cat Power. The first record of hers I heard was Jukebox in 2008, her collection of covers. Liking what I heard and eager to find out why so many of my friends adored her, I went back through Chan Marshall’s previous seven albums. I really enjoyed each record, but the sheer volume of work meant didn’t fall for any of them in the same way I have with Sun. It’s bleak from the outset – she’s singing about excruciating emotional pain and everything dying within seconds of opener Cherokee beginning – but set to electronic beats, it’s addictive listening, while the two songs that follow it, the title track and the pulsating Ruin, are among the best of the year. 

Matt Collins

Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light (Double Six)

Spirtualized have spent much of the last decade fulfilling the prophecy of their almost forgotten classic album, Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating in Space. But this right here is a return to form. Like all bands who go back to what they do they best after a few years poncing about with new directions, you will find little new but plenty to delight. The endless wig-outs, the references to sweet hearts, my lord and various mentions of Jesus are all in present and correct. And so is a rocking, feisty drive towards the light. Rarely have they sounded so full of life.

Pranam Mavahalli

Kendrick Lamaar – good kid, m.A.A.d. City (Top Dawg, Aftermath, Interscope)

I knew nothing about Kendrick Lamaar until about a couple of months ago, so I'm as surprised as anyone that this made my top 24. Especially given the stuff I've left off that at the start of the year I was sure would make the final cut (the xx, cough). Mr Lamaar was introduced to me by a friend, who sent me a link bearing the words 'LISTEN TO THIS'. I'm glad I followed through. It's diverse, ambitious, and features the kind of original and vivid storytelling that’s worthy of hip hop classics such as Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.

Ali Mason

Julia Stone – By The Horns (Picture Show Records) 

I think this could be the first Musical Advent Calendar album choice which features a cover of a song from a previous entry. It seems mildly odd to put a cover of a track – 'Bloodbuzz Ohio' by The National – which is only two years old, especially when Stone writes such wonderful songs of her own, but it’s a great version of a great song, so it’s all okay. Speaking of which, 'It’s All Okay', with its skittering piano riff and its desperate need for empty reassurance, is one of my favourite songs of the year.

Guy Atkinson

Xerxes - Our Home is a Deathbed (No Sleep Records)

Okay, I get it. I'm 28 and I shouldn't be getting the same kicks from angry hardcore punk as I did when I was a teenager, but as long as thrilling new bands like Xerxes keep turning out slabs of primal, yet utterly tuneful, punk as seen on this album, I'm destined to be rooted in my teenage angst phase for a few more years yet. Sorry mum.

Dom Farrell

Lambchop – Mr M (Merge)

As the evocative, swooning strings sweep into view at the start of Mr M, images of Hollywood’s golden age – all classical elegance – are summoned up.  If you were to suggest an opening lyric amid this opulence, it’s safe to say you would not come up with “Don’t know what the fuck they talk about,” but this is what Kurt Wagner leers into the microphone, sounding for all the world as if he’s taken on generous lashings of liquor in preparation.  A cursory look at the sleeve reveals the song is called “If Not I’ll Just Die”. This contrast of embittered regret set to lush orchestration continues throughout and the results are glorious. Imagine Bacharach and David having a drunken brawl in a Nashville bar and writing an album about it that Dionne Warwick rejects because Hal’s become a miserable bugger.

Ian Parker

Beth Orton - Sugaring Season (Anti-)

Conversations between the Musical Advent Calendar panelists about what might or might not make their lists in the coming December usually start up no later than the preceding March, and continue all the way until the final door is opened on Christmas Eve. By that point we’ve all started scouring the news to see who might have a new record coming next year, and who we’re probably going to need to reserve a spot for. With some artists you already know whatever they’ve got up their sleeve, it’s going to make the top 24, but in truth that list is probably quite short. No matter how much you love a particular artist, there’s always a risk they might have dropped the ball - heck, I’ve even left Neil Young albums off previous lists, and if the Greatest Musician In The History of Ever isn’t guaranteed a slot, who is? The answer to that question is Beth Orton. Weeks before Sugaring Season arrived, Dollard and I were talking about the upcoming record, and the fact that while we had no idea where between 1 and 24 it would land, it would land on the list. And so it has, pretty much slap bang in the middle. Orton doesn’t always wow you, but she brings an unquestionable quality to everything she touches.

Rory Dollard

Larkin Poe - Thick as Thieves (DefPig Records)

When you go to a micro-festival based in an extended beer garden in Cumbria there are several things you expect to find: rain, Scampi Fries and variable sound quality among them. What you don’t expect to find are a little known band, all the way from Georgia, churning out some of the most delightful country-rock and bluegrass music ever heard in the grounds of an outlying Carlisle pub. Sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell are cute as a button and all their charm comes out in this gorgeous single.

Steve Pill

Chromatics – “Kill For Love” (Italians Do It Better)

Like most people, I ended up here via the soundtrack to Drive which was about a gazillion times better than the one-dimensional Gay-for-Gosling car advertisement that was the film itself. So I was quite surprised to hit play (yes, I bought all of these albums on tape cassette) and be met not with a dreamy electro pop album for driving around Willesden Green car park at nighttime, but a largely faithful cover of Neil Young's fourth greatest song, 'Into the Black'. Second track 'Kill for Love' reverts to expectations of sorts but the album never truly fails to surprise from here on in - from the Cyndi Lauper-esque piano riffs, to the catchy vocoder vocals and weightless vintage drum machines. Melancholy yet uplifting at the same time, I wouldn't exactly kill for love after listening to this, but I'd probably give it a good old Chinese burn and a kick on the shins for good measure.  

John Skilbeck

Shrag – Canines

Wait, what? Only 12th for Shrag? I have, as Andy quite reasonably noted on day two of the calendar, been "going on about them forever" (or since 2006 anyway). And it was great to see a little Shrag love from Matt - always reassuring to know you're not by yourself. But Canines, much as I enjoy it and return to it, didn't quite bite with me as the self-titled debut and its follow-up Life! Death! Prizes! had. There are magical moments, potent lyrics that lift the band among their cutesy indiepop associates, lashings of thinly-disguised smut, and for the first time some rather buffed-up production. Some canny picks as singles too, including 'Tendons In The Night' here. A particular treat arrives two minutes into 'On The Spines Of Old Cathedrals', when the track takes a sudden lurch into vintage New Order territory. Worth investigating for that detour alone.


  1. RVD, I see what you did here. Track of the day to Call Me The Breeze. Love the way it rolls along.

  2. I want to know, SP, if you can be as specific as to name Into The Black as Neil's fourth best song, which are the top five?

  3. Easy...

    1. Ohio (obviously)
    2. Southern Man (for Merry Clayton)
    3. Cortez the Killer (those guitars)
    4. My My Hey Hey (rawk!)
    5. Alabama (first one I really got in to)

    A top 10 would add Rockin' in the Free World, Heart of Gold, Walk On, Don't Let it Bring You Down and Like A Hurricane. Anyone else care to share?!

  4. This is a tremendous list, SP. I think I'd need Helpless in there though, perhaps losing Heart of Gold.