Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Eighteen

It's day 18 of the Musical Advent Calendar, and although Ali is made to face up to the reality of his hipster lifestyle and Guy is battling a right royal tingle in his underpants, there is still a mood of celebration around out No. 7 albums of the year as Matt bounces about on a pogo stick.

Andy Welch

Beth Orton – Sugaring Season (Heavenly)

I’ve always liked Beth Orton’s music, especially Trailer Park, although never felt particularly connected to her songs, perhaps due to her voice being buried in the mix, overtaken by production. I interviewed her before Sugaring Season came out and she talked at great length about how she’d always wished to hide like that, but now she’s married with two children and feeling settled, she doesn’t feel the need to obscure herself from view anymore. She sums it up best on 'Last Leaves Of Autumn' when she sings “I’m hanging on like the last leaves of autumn, but coming through like the first shoots of spring.” It’s a refreshing change in her music, and even though I love the songs and arrangements on this fifth album – 'Call Me The Breeze' and 'Something More Beautiful' in particular – it’s the sound of someone finally achieving happiness that fascinates me most. 

Matt Collins

Django Django - Django Django (Because)

It's no suprise to learn that Django Django and The Beta Band are connected by blood (drummer and driving force, David Maclean, is the younger brother of The Beta Band’s programmer and art director John Maclean). The almost mournful vocals, the distant harmonies and twangy guitars are shared, but the approach is totally different. Django Django want to make you dance, not think. Stand out track 'Default' is head nodding to po-going brilliant, and the songwriting throughout matches the passion behind the party approach. A brilliant album.

Pranam Mavahalli

Liars – WIXIW (Mute)

My love for Liars is definitely not fading. The first time I saw them on their debut tour supporting Sonic Youth, I'd never heard of them before, and I found them absolutely thrilling. Ten years later I saw them promoting their new electronic sound, which doesn't quite have the same vigour, and so they were less batshizzle bonkers, but my love for Liars is definitely not fading. Once they made inimitable, wholly original records such as concept albums about witches, and others recorded completely through processed drums. Now their sound is being pinned down more easily and compared to Radiohead, but my love for Liars is not fading. I don't think they can shock me like they used to, but my love for Liars isn't fading is it. Is it?

Ali Mason

Alt-J – An Awesome Wave (Infectious)

Now that I live in London’s fashionable east end, I’m used to too-cool-for-school hipsters abandoning things they hold dear at the merest whiff of mainstream success. But the about-turn performed by a certain section of music lovers when Alt-J won the Mercury Music Prize was something to behold. An album previously described with words like “enthralling”, “utterly compelling”, “vibrant”, “exciting” and “mature” was all of a sudden dismissed as bland rubbish. Well, everyone, get a grip. It’s clearly a triumphant album. The Mercury judges did good work. Deal with it.

Guy Atkinson

Joyce Manor - Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired (Asian Man) 

After releasing one of my favourite albums in 2011, it's fair to say there was a right royal tingle in my underpants when I heard Joyce Manor's second album would follow hot on its heels. Despite it clocking in at under 13 minutes and only having nine songs (one of which is a cover of 'Video Killed the Radio Star'), it boasts more ideas and hooks than many bands manage in their entire careers. Also, in 'Violent Inside' they have created a pop-punk anthem for the ages.

Dom Farrell

Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball (Columbia)

People of planet earth, the world is giving many of you a kicking - rising unemployment, rising debt, rising poverty and rising woe. But fear not, Bruce Springsteen is here with the E Street Band to batter some sense into it. He probably won't manage to but, by Lord, he will try. I love it when Bruce is angry, he's just better that way. 'We Take Care Of Our Own' is the classic E Street call to arms and works like a charm, but Wrecking Ball is given its backbone and muscle by what follows when 'Easy Money', 'Shackled and Drawn' and 'Death To My Hometown' brilliantly come over as the E Street Band doing the Seeger Sessions. A multi-millionaire rock star presenting himself as a credible voice of the downtrodden is no easy trick, but it's one Springsteen has pulled off many times before and he nails it here. His well-worn "broken/trampled American Dream" template is aired on 'We Take Care of Our Own' and 'Land of Hope and Dreams'. It was, therefore, perhaps a ballsy call for Barack Obama to soundtrack much of his re-election campaign with the former. But, ultimately, he knew Bruce had his back. He has all our backs.

Ian Parker

Black Keys - El Camino (Nonesuch)

It's always good to see a band finally get the success they deserve after years of plugging away at it. And few bands deserve it more than the Black Keys. Dan Auerbach is a workaholic along the lines of Jack White (the parallels, of course, don't end there given their mutual love the blues and the fact the Black Keys are a garage two-piece a la the White Stripes) but between his litany of side-projects (see the Dr John album earlier on this list for a recent highlight) he and Patrick Carney have found time to make their eighth album their most accessible, a record to propel them to the top. After toying with their sound since working on 2008's Attack & Release with Danger Mouse, they now seem to have settled on the perfect formula, a more rounded version of the original garage blues they made their name with, and another set of kick-ass tunes.

Rory Dollard

Mynabirds - Generals (Saddle Creek)

Politically literate pop music is a bit like the perfect New Year’s Eve. In theory it should be perfectly achievable but in practice the search is a fruitless one and the results endlessly disappointing. Chief Mynabird Laura Burhenn is clearly unaware of this, because across Generals she tackles plenty of big issues – war, feminism, poverty, civil disobedience – without a hint of preachiness or hectoring. A musical cousin of St Vincent and Rilo Kiley, there are big choruses, up-tempo stompers and plenty of depth to the arrangements to furnish what are refreshingly literate musings.

Steve Pill

Dan Deacon – America (Domino)

This is my seventh favourite album of the year. It is literally three times as good as the album I picked on December 4th, but not actually as enjoyable as six whole other albums released in 2012. This album was created by a man who goes by the name of Dan Deacon. Dan is not related to John Deacon from the rock group Queen, nor is he Blue. The album is called America and it contains nine songs, four of which begin with the acronym "USA". This is a record in the history of recorded sound. The previous holder of this record was Bruce Springsteen*.

* I cannot prove this.

John Skilbeck

Cribs - In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull (Wichita)

After the Johnny Marr experiment fizzled out, The Cribs bounced back with their best album since the 2004 debut. They bagged a Q award too in 2012, for something or other, possibly turning up. In The Belly… was an album that came out of turmoil within the Jarman clan, Ryan breaking up from Kate Nash and suffering from “self-loathing issues”. Sure, haters might insert a joke there, but the Wakefield band’s fifth LP was a grown-up alt.rock album, carried by some irresistible hooks, a growing obsession with Queen, and with the four-song mini pop opera that brought it to a close it showed they retained the capacity to surprise. If it proves to be their last album for a while – supposedly they are to take a hiatus this year – it was a fine way to bow out.


  1. Can't believe I haven't got the Beth Orton album yet. Everything I've heard from it I've loved. Thinking she could be in the Christmas Day shake-up as she's appeared a fair bit of late.

    Very strong door today. All over Liars and Mynabirds. Both very much on the shopping list.

  2. This is where a previous incarnation of me would get stuck in about Alt-J.

    I think I'm a better man these days and more willing to let opinion exist alongside fact.

  3. Rory, you cheeky scamp. I'm sure you'll have more opportunity in the coming days if you change your mind.

  4. Small confession time... I probably would have picked Black Keys quite highly too, but I forgot it came out in 2012. In my defence, I saw them play in London last December and so kinda merged that with the album and discounted it.

  5. The Black Keys came out on December 15, 2011 (see Dom's review), but we make it eligible under the Novemeber 15 cut-off date. Dollard has established his own 'by-laws' to rule it ineligible, but I may or may not have overruled him and subbed it into his top five regardless.

  6. Dollard By-law 1.1: No album shall be picked if it was released in the previous year, regardless of the actual rules.

    See also: Kanye West's My Beatiful Dark Twisted Fantasy last year.

    It is an opt-in by-law.

  7. BIG SCORE for Guy Akko's pick today too. It sounds like Velocity Girl. Which is a super good thing.

  8. So delighted to see that Dan Deacon video again. I love it. I'd quite like him to win so I have an excuse to watch it again every day until Christmas.