Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Nineteen

On day 19 of the Musical Advent Calendar, the panel's No. 6 albums of the year are interrupted by Skillers talking up favourably the relationship between his pick and Cher's 'Believe', Pranam reclaiming hip hop for the common man, and Ali introducing us to the term "Leodensian" - which I've decided means someone from Leeds.

Andy Welch

Jessie Ware – Devotion (Island) 

In a world where pop artists have to go to increasingly outlandish lengths to be noticed, Jessie Ware and her debut album stand out like beacons of dignified sophistication. Everything is just right – there's no over-singing, no gimmicks or pointless quirks, while none of the songs, densely arranged and orchestrated as they are, are subservient to the production. Even cleverer than that, despite the tasteful sound, it steers clear of ever being bland too. Just as Katy B restored my faith in British pop music in 2011, Jessie Ware proved that modern popstars don't have to shout the loudest to stand out from the crowd. 

Matt Collins

Sigur Ros - Valtari (Parlophone) 

Another band whose future we feared for after lead singer Jonsi's successful solo efforts, bleak yet uplifting maestros Sigur Ros are back. They've done serious, stripped back and pop - so what next? Dial it back, put the guitars on the back burner, and go back to six minute epics that begin with a a single tiny rumble or mumbled 'ooh', and build imperceptibly through massive strings and noise. At just eight songs long, Valtari is a welcome return to formlessness.

Pranam Mavahalli

Frank Ocean – Channel Orange (Def Jam)

Frank Ocean, like The Weeknd and Kendrick Lamaar, is doing things with R'n'B and hip hop that are making me approach those genres with renewed enthusiasm. I know this presupposes that 'genres' actually exist, and are not a cynical marketing ploy dreamt up by media executives, but roll with me here. There's something almost Dylanesque in the way Ocean's songs are approached from multiple angles, and go on for longer than is polite (more than nine minutes in the case of Pyramids). And where guest spots can appear superfluous on certain bloated hip hop releases (erm, Kanye?), they're put to good effect here. Addictive grooves, and inspired storytelling mean I keep returning to this one.

Ali Mason

Ellen and the Escapades – All The Crooked Scenes (Branch Out Records) 

To a certain type of Leodensian, liking the Kaiser Chiefs is a civic duty. Perhaps there’s a little of that to my love of Ellen & the Escapades. There is no doubting what makes the band stand out: Ellen Smith’s frankly astonishing vocals. Subtle, smoky, dusky, rich – her voice is malt whisky, it’s vintage wine. It’s a thing to savour, and it brings out a glow of pride in me that it should come from a local girl. If the tunes occasionally stray towards the Radio 2 daytime, Ellen’s unique vocals stop them being ordinary. Highlights include single ‘Coming Back Home’ and the brooding ‘Yours To Keep’. It’s certainly the album fans had hoped for, though they remain a band at their absolute best in a live setting.

Guy Atkinson

Japandroids - Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl Record Co.) 

Bookended by the popping of fireworks, this album is every bit the celebration its title suggests it will be. It's not exactly a dramatic departure from their stunning debut, but when you've nailed a sound as gloriously scuzzy and tuneful as this why try and deviate? Some suggested that putting 'Younger Us' on here was a cop out after it was released on an earlier EP, but I would argue that a song as perfect as that should be on every album by every band ever.

Dom Farrell

The Black Keys – El Camino (Nonesuch)

The set of stringent deadlines Ian puts in place for the Ragged Glories Musical Advent Calendar (all of which we diligently meet, of course), means our musical year technically runs from mid-November to mid-November. This usually works out fine because in December the shelves tend to be stacked with Daniel O'Donnell Sings the Hits for Your Nan and other such piffle. But pesky blues-rock duo The Black Keys had to go and blow a bloody great hole in our system by releasing El Camino last December. Following their breakthrough sixth record, Brothers, an uninspiring effort by their own high standards, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney decided to up the tempo, up the volume, pile on the guitar fuzz, go a bit glam and take over the world. Sure, El Camino lacks the homespun charm of Rubber Factory and Magic Potion, but if you're thinking even that much about this monster of a record you simply aren't playing it loud enough.

Ian Parker

Grizzly Bear - Shields (Warp)

Having made their breakthrough from the experimental backwaters to top 10 placings on the Billboard charts and a rush of calls to appear on US network television, Grizzly Bear went away and tore up the playbook that created Veckatimest three years ago. In its place comes an all together tougher beast. Opener ‘Sleeping Ute’ announces the fourth full-length Grizzly Bear album to be spiky, more aggressive than its forerunners. Of course, given the thick, thick layer of polish coating Veckatimest, that was not necessarily going to be hard but it seems like a goal in itself here. ‘Yet Again’ veers towards the epic pop song at times, but underneath the stomping rhythm and cascades of choruses, there’s a buzzsaw sound of guitars bubbling underneath until they boil over at the climax. The soaring harmonies that marked so much of Grizzly Bear’s work to date are also noticeable if not for their absence then for their greatly reduced role. The result is an album that sounds like the battered and bruised cousin of its immaculate forerunner, raw and immediate. 

Rory Dollard

Anais Mitchell - Young Man In America (Wilderland Records)

The wonderful Ms Mitchell topped my 2010 list by a country mile with the elaborate and immersive Hadestown. Her follow-up is, gladly, not an attempt to recreate that cast-of-thousands, literary folk opera vibe - for that was surely a once in a lifetime undertaking. What it is, though, is beautiful in its own right. Lyrically, she is something of a genius - playful, piercing, pointed all at once - and her voice is an immediate and distinctive attraction. There's real depth here and plenty to uncover on repeat listens.

Steve Pill

Tanlines – Mixed Emotions (True Panther Sounds)

Tanlines' Volume On compilation of early singles and EPs was a highlight of 2010 that I don't think I ever got around to picking for the advent calendar, but the best song from it - the bouncy percussive ace-ness of 'Real Life' - reappears here. While such recycling two years on might suggest a spot of writer's block, the rest of the album more than makes up for this with the sort of eloquent new wave pop that Vampire Weekend are famed for (albeit without the swallowed-a-dictionary lyrics that spoiled that band's second album).

John Skilbeck

Purity Ring – Shrines (4AD)

Modern technology is killing pop music: discuss. On one side of the argument is the curious notion that anyone can be a singer in an Auto-Tune era; that talent is superfluous. On the other side, the theory that in careful hands any advancement in studio sophistication can move an art form forward. Purity Ring’s Megan James has no trouble hitting the right notes but the tweaking and twiddling that sees her vocal treated and corrupted on large parts of Shrines makes an instrument of that voice and proves integral to the album’s success. Glistening synth flourishes formed the foundation on which Shrines was built, and an air of late-night shadowy menace hung over the entire project. Just like Cher’s 'Believe', in other words.

1 comment:

  1. looking around at all the end of year lists i feel a bit of a simpleton for not looking further at Frank Ocean. i suppose i should really, but this song doesn't quite rock my world.
    also failed to get amongst Purity Ring despite liking some of their stuff on 6 Music.