Monday, December 17, 2012

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Seventeen

In between telling us about their number eight albums of the year, Dollard recalls Sir Cliff Richard's vice days, Ali goes bendy at the knees, and Matt indulges in some shameless self-promotion.

Andy Welch

Colorama – Good Music (AED Records)

Colorama is singer and multi-instrumentalist Carwyn Ellis, and Good Music is his sixth album. It’s also his first entirely in English. Now, I enjoy hearing the Welsh language as much as the next exiled Gog, but it was probably a barrier to wider success – and that’s something Colorama thoroughly deserve. There’s such variation on Good Music – the lush opener 'Old Fashioned Girl', 'Do The Pump' with its 'Lust For Life'-style groove, summer whimsy on 'Why Is She?', psych-tinged paranoia on 'Delaware' and finally, the gentle plea for love 'Anytime'. The moment when the piano chimes in at 0.59 is one of the most enjoyable things I’ve heard all year. Good Music? Brilliant, more like.

Matt Collins

Evans the Death (self released)

Not just chosen because my own band shared a stage with indie darlings Evans the Death in October this year, but because they've done a rare thing - created an indie rock album with a distinctive voice and quality songs. Plenty of ooh ooh ooh vocals hooks are to be found, along with tales of regretted nights out and of course heartbreak. Big guitars, big songs, big album.

Pranam Mavahalli

The Weeknd – Trilogy (XO, Universal Republic)

I was banking on the referee (Ian) having his eyes off the game when I submitted this one. I think the Trilogy was out as a free download at the end of last year, so it's perhaps not technically allowed in the list, but as it only came out in physical form this year, I guess it's a grey area. There's a surface gloss to this which doesn't really hide the fact that the songs are about the seediness and ugliness of nightlife. Great storytelling, fantastic production (particularly on the first part) and the novelty of originally releasing the record as a free mixtape, are reasons why this record makes my list.

Ali Mason

Me and My Friends – Beneath A Level Head (Split Shift)

Ian and I first came across Me and My Friends supporting Hannah Peel in Leeds. We were transfixed as much by the bendy-kneed clarinet player as the sweet, sweet music. A couple of EPs and an album down the road, I cannot attest to bendiness of the knees but the music is lovelier and more complex than ever. The quality is all the more striking given the range. We’re not talking hip-hop to death metal, but there’s an impressive sweep of influences that makes for a richly textured and constantly surprising album. That clarinet, the skittish drums and tricksy guitar solos create an overarching jazzy feel, but there are languid reggae inflections here, Graceland-style Afrobeat influences there, slapped guitars to the left of me, cello to the right… and all pulled in together as a coherent whole.

Guy Atkinson

Daytrader - Twelve Years (Rise Records)

After a gut-bustingly brilliant EP, the pressure was always going to be on Daytrader to deliver an album that would stand them apart from the crowded post-hardcore scene and thankfully they didn't disappoint. While it does lack the urgency of their stunning EP, it does a great job of capturing the band's more sensitive side. A spiky sensitivity that ultimately led to the band's break-up in acrimonious circumstances just six months after the album's release. Balls.

Dom Farrell

Richard Hawley – Standing at the Sky’s Edge (Parlophone)

"Have you heard the new Richard Hawley single??!!!" I was asked by more than one fellow panelist with that look of shocked excitement that suggests your mouth has gone a little bit dry. I listened to 'Leave Your Body Behind You', duly had my ears pinned to the wall and started pestering loads of people with the question, "Have you heard the new Richard Hawley single??!!!" There really is nothing like the thrill of an artist you've already grown to love exhilarating you all over again. Standing At The Sky's Edge does that. And amid the blistering, brilliant psychedelic wig-outs, Sheffield's favourite crooner still finds time to melt your heart with 'Seek it' and the gorgeous 'Don't Stare at the Sun'. An unrelenting triumph.

Ian Parker

Smoke Fairies - Blood Speaks (V2)

If there’s been one constant in the Smoke Fairies’ story to date, it has been their refusal to stand still. From leaving their Sussex roots to spend time living in America and Canada before returning to London, to their frantic rate of production that has seen them produce two other album-length records besides 2010′s official debut Through Low Light And Trees and now follow-up Blood Speaks, movement and progress have gone together. And with this second album they’ve moved on again. Low Light‘s pastoral themes have been replaced by urban tones and a punchier sound, the recording process switched from deepest, darkest Cornwall to Ladbroke Grove. A desire to broaden their musical pallette that is clearly apparent. Where their debt to traditional forms of folk and blues was previously so strong, here they branch out into fresh approaches and styles, while their immaculate guitar sound keeps everything firmly stamped with the Smoke Fairies brand. It comes at a cost, of course, with the album having less coherence than its etheral predecessor, but this marks the next step of the Smoke Fairies’ journey as a band.

Rory Dollard

Richard Hawley - Standing at Sky's Edge (Parlophone)

Remember that time when Cliff Richard released a Christmas single that was all about his love for transgender hookers and sex dungeons?* Or when Rihanna gave that famous interview where she pledged to save herself for her wedding night?** Well, Richard Hawley’s sea change this year wasn’t quite that drastic but to hear him largely abandon the croonsome sepia ballads he had made his own in favour of a rockier, jam-heavy set was a welcome surprise. Hawley clearly enjoys unleashing his full armoury of effects pedals but the songwriting underneath is as strong as ever.

*never happened
** definitely never happened

Steve Pill

Cold Specks – I Predict A Graceful Expulsion (Mute)

If Al Spx came from England, not Etobicoke, Ontario, this might have been a safe bet on the 2012 Mercury Prize, such is the kind of clean cut, spookiness of it all. The 24-year-old has a phenomenally soulful and world-weary voice for someone so young, and it is complimented here by carefully crafted songs that swell slowly, like the National at their most poised. Props must go to Jim Anderson’s sympathetic production, too.

John Skilbeck

Twin Shadow – Confess (4AD)

George Lewis Jr, who to all intents and purposes is Twin Shadow, grew up singing in a church choir and latterly played in a friend’s punk band in Boston. He was born to a Dominican mother and a Jewish father. None of which really explains how he came to play the kind of high-tempo synth-funk that has become his signature sound. The production was so 80s glossy that Confess was not to everyone’s taste. But for a short, sharp shock of dreamy pop it was my go-to record this year.


  1. I make that our first duplicate this year. In which case, happy Richard Hawley Day everybody!

  2. boom. i'm back from NY and back in the game. i have a lot of backlog advent to listen to tomorrow.
    initial impressions are that Hawley has made a strong push this year, ay? i can't be arsed with the maths but he must be doing okay on accumulation. same with Cold Specks. glad to see her popping up a few times here.

  3. Hello Gents! I'm loving the blog this year, as always. My vote this time around goes to Guy - just can't get enough of those vocals! Ali, your selection was too much fun. Catchy and full of sunshine. Much needed in these dreary days.
    Aside from the music, your collective snarkiness is a rare treat.
    Carry on!