Friday, December 14, 2012

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Fourteen

As we get to the cusp of our top 10 albums of the year, Dollard goes for the hard sell in his review, Pranam unleashes a 'monstrous ditty' upon the page, and Ali gets a little wet. 

Andy Welch

Graham Coxon – A+E (Parlophone) 

Graham Coxon always seemed like Blur’s secret weapon. Around their Parklife breakthrough, while Damon was there to give it the big one in his Kappa trackie top and big deer eyes, it was Graham that provided the most exciting moments. Later, when the band almost reached a halt, it was again Graham’s love of American college rock that rejuvenated them. As a solo artist, he’s been overshadowed by Albarn’s restless and varied output, although seeing them back together in Hyde Park over the summer – seeing being the operative word as no one could hear what was happening – proved how much Albarn misses Coxon’s input when he’s not around. Two of Coxon’s albums, The Spinning Top and Happiness In Magazines, are classics, and A+E is no different, fusing all his influences together into one big off-kilter gem. He sounds like he’s stepping out here, more confident than ever, and finally his songwriting and singing are a match for his idiosyncratic guitar style.  

Matt Collins

Beach House - Bloom (Bella Union)

Dreampop dabblers Beach House delighted us all with their breakthrough album, Teen Dream, just two years ago. It rightly topped a lot of album of the year charts then, and while Bloom may not top quite so many lists in 2012, this really is a gem. The guitars and synths both cut through delightfully, particularly in the excellent second track 'Wild'. Victoria Legrand's dreamy yet punchy voice simply floats over the whole record. Excellent songs, each with a little dark heart. A true delight. 

Pranam Mavahalli

Actress – R.I.P. (Honest Jon's)

On paper, Actress’ R.I.P. is a perfect sequel to his previous two records. It’s ambitious, in ways more subtle and boasts a more expensive sonic palette. But herein lies my problem – I feel the innocent experimentation of the previous records is lost here a little. The record doesn’t try hard to win your affections, and so I found it a little hard to love. It’s obtuse, often beatless and oddly based around Milton’s Paradise Lost. I do however applaud the scope and reach of the record, and the monstrous ditty below does much to make up for some of my misgivings.

Ali Mason

The Magnetic North – Orkney: Symphony of the Magnetic North (Full Time Hobby)

Erland and the Carnival never did much for me, so it was the involvement of Hannah Peel rather than that of Erland Cooper which drew me to this – and I’m glad he got her on board because she contributes to a really special project. It’s possibly best to ignore the back story Cooper has provided/created for the album’s raison d’etre, just accept it’s a suite of orchestral folk songs about the Orkney Islands where he grew up. Close your eyes, feel the sea spray on your face and get lost in the desolation.

Guy Atkinson

You Blew It! - Grow Up, Dude (Topshelf Records)

Long live the 90s emo revival! This band evidently isn't shy about its influences and nor should they be considering The Promise Ring, Jimmy Eat World and American Football were responsible for some of the finest emo anthems ever committed to tape. This album is crammed with twinkly guitars and killer lines that tug on my crooked little emo heart, none more so than "The only place I want to be is listening to Elvis in the front seat, thinking of life in the fifties." Swoon.

Dom Farrell

School of Seven Bells – Ghostory (Full Time Hobby)

When Alejandra Deheza repeats the refrain “devour me” during 'The Night' – the barstorming first track on Ghostory - it stands as an inviting instruction from an album that draws you into its icy euphoria. Whirring synths wash over driving beats that are tastefully splattered with Benjamin Curtis’ six-string shoegaze bursts. On 'Love Play', the head-shredding bottom end is a timely reminded of Curtis’ noisier days in The Secret Machines. Closer 'When You Sing' wears the My Bloody Valentine influence on its sleeve and prances around in a Kevin Shields mask while doing so, but by this point, School of Seven Bells have more than earned the right to a highly enjoyable indulgence.

Ian Parker

Bhi Bhiman - Bhiman (Tummy Touch) 

I guess it’s a sign of a good album that grabbed you right away when you can still vividly remember the first time you ever heard it. Bhi Bhiman’s self-titled sophomore had me snared pretty much as soon as it went in the car stereo on the drive to York, and it’s opening track ‘Guttersnipe’ is one of my favourite songs of the year. The Sri Lankan-American combines quality songwriting with a playful touch that works wonderfully. So many of this songs have, in that best tradition, got the original tags hanging off as he explores the classics of his folk and blues record collection, but Bhiman also a little fun along the line. A keen wit shows up in his lyrics, not least on ‘Ballerina’, a country-blues lament that pays homage to your local Walmart (do click on the link for a fine rendition delivered out the back of a Maryland bar). 

PS - Is there an award for best record label name? Tummy Touch must be a candidate.

Rory Dollard

Easy Star All-Stars - Thrillah (Easy Star)

I don’t suppose there’s any easy way to say this, but honesty is always the best policy. My 11th most favourite album of the year is a bunch of reggae covers of Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. I’m not sure there’s more I can add to this and I assume I’ve probably lost you already. But there’s no getting around the fact I’ve had stacks of fun listening to these guys (who are also a stunning live band) do their thing all over some established pop classics.

Steve Pill

Efterklang – Piramida (4AD)

I ended up with a gigantic list of sound-alike albums on my draft top 24 list this year but Efterklang remained for its sheer oddness. Apparently the band recorded the basic tracks first and then promptly departed for an abandoned Russian mining town on a remote Arctic island to collect field recordings that could help colour the songs. That palette is defiantly cool and muted but the dense layers of sound effects, hypnotic percussion and Kings-of-Convenience style harmonies build to a gorgeous effect. Like an early REM album, I hadn't got the foggiest what they were on about at times but the rhythms and the textures more than compensated, while the concise ten-song, 45-minute set kept what could have been an indulgent experiment down to a more addictive size.

John Skilbeck

Laura Gibson - La Grande (City Slang)

Some years ago there was a Swedish band, Buckaneers, that delivered a folky ballad of colossal beauty. Theirs was a sweet old magical sound, rather more like a discovered band from generations ago than the product of a group of musicians in a modern studio. I briefly wondered if they were a hoax, the song that brought them fleeting attention perhaps a repackaged relic from a 1960s session. Portland’s Laura Gibson also sounds lost in her own time. La Grande showcases sad and intimate songwriting, fortified by strings yet frequently bleak as a harsh winter, that would resonate in any age.


  1. I'm with Pranam on that Actress album but Parky wins my track of the day - not come across Bhiman before but that is right lovely that.

  2. I don't get Beach House - they just make me feel depressed, and not in a good way.

  3. What's the best way of feeling depressed, Ali?

    Meanwhile, I'm really enjoying Guy's pick. Is that wrong?

  4. The best way is a, "wow, this song really gets to the bleakness at the heart of the human condition" way, not a "this is such a dirge it makes me want to not listen to this song or any song ever again" way. See also: Fanfarlo.

  5. By the way, Guy told me my choice today made him "feel physically sick".

  6. The Bhi Bhiman chap proved a sweet surprise today, great find from Ian. Really dug that track and also Thrillah today.
    Fortunately nothing made me feel physically sick, not Ali's choice or even Guy's track. I think we can all tolerate a 90s emo revival if it's that laid-back. In fact, the You Blew It song was rather lovely.

  7. I guess Guy just had a nasty reaction to all that sea spray.

  8. In other news, I've just been tidying up the draft of Sunday's post. If The Magnetic North made Guy "feel physically sick", I can't wait for his reaction to Ali's selection on Sunday...