Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Twenty-Two

As we reach what we might call the Musical Advent Calendar podium, our No. 3 albums of the year, Dom explains how a band from deepest Alabama can rock the NHS look while having an Eddie Stobart driver steering the rhythm section, Dollard shows his poetic side, and Ali gets slightly cross.

Andy Welch

The Maccabees – Given To The Wild (Fiction)

I actively disliked The Maccabees' first album, couldn't believe the same band had made their great second album and, well, think Given To The Wild is the third-best album of the year. Apparently the label were worried when they visited the band in the studio, concerned about the direction they were taking and what might result from the hours and hours of recording they'd done. Whatever advice the people at Fiction offered, it was clearly right. It's a beautiful-sounding album, textured and warm, meticulously honed but not overworked. When there are bands around as good as this, the modern idea that guitar music might die out seems even more ludicrous.

Matt Collins

Alt-J - An Awesome Wave (Infectious) 

Making an appearance on many an album of the year list in 2012 are Mercury Prize winning Alt-J. And rightly so - very few bands in the last few years have managed to effortlessly blend genres they way they do. Sort of a Gregorian chant, hip hop-inspired Radiohead, this is a gently brooding yet delightfully wistful debut, all swirling guitars, soundscapes and singalongs, not to mention one of the few Mercury Prize winners most people could agree on. The only question is quite how they top it... 

Pranam Mavahalli

Flying Lotus – Until the Quiet Comes (Warp)

I have no objectivity when it comes to Flying Lotus. I can't pin down what he does that grabs me so, but it has a lot to do with the fact that no one else can replicate his sound. I've enjoyed his off-kilter, psychedelic jazz-inflected hip hop grooves since his second album Los Angeles, and always look forward to each of his new releases. This record takes his sound in a softer, less immediate direction, which I very much welcome. But as it's slighter and subtler than expected, it's left me wanting more. That could be due more to my insatiable appetite for Flylo material than anything else.

Ali Mason

Rachel Sermanni – Under Mountains (Townsend Music)

Rachel Sermanni is from the Highlands and is young enough to make a music-lover in their early 30s slightly cross. These are the two things I know about her. The first of those two facts is perhaps evident in her sparsely beautiful folk pop, brimming with atmosphere and bracing as a mountain breeze. The second of those two facts is perhaps evident in the fact that one of her songs is called 'Marshmallow Unicorn', but nowhere else. It’s an album of maturity and polish, from the fairytale-tinged unease of 'Bones' and 'The Fog' to the simplicity of 'Sleep', she even at times – whisper it quietly on this blog – outshines Laura Marling even as she soaks up her influence.

Guy Atkinson

White Lung - Sorry (Deranged)

This album delivers ten unbridled blasts of frenetic, visceral and tuneful punk with, my achilles heel, female vocals. The guitar playing here is outstanding and never 'showy', while the drums provide a relentless drive that carries the songs along at a frightening pace. For fans of 'Pretty Girls Make Graves' and people who like treating their ears once in a while.

Dom Farrell

Alabama Shakes – Boys and Girls (Rough Trade)

Alabama Shakes have the heart-warming but upsetting appearance of folks who might have had a rough time of things at school. I'm ginger, so well versed here. Vocalist Brittany Howard is a big old lass, rocking the national health specs look, guitarist Heath Fogg must contend with both a ridiculous name and the fact he appears to be about 11, while bassist Zac Cockrell could pass himself off as an Eddie Stobbart driver. Steve Johnson has model good looks but they've decided to hide him behind a drum kit. On stage they look like a bunch of strangers recently lobbed together. But then they play the most wonderful, sizzling and down right awesome rock'n'soul you've heard in ages. Sure there's pain and anguish in Howard's sensational vocals but the righteous commitment to overcome and prevail is what shines through. This is the sound of the geeks inheriting the earth.

Ian Parker

Jack White - Blunderbuss (XL)

A Jack White solo album became inevitable early last year when it was announced the White Stripes were, four years after their final album, officially splitting up. Through all his myriad of side projects, the Raconteurs, the Dead Weather and his endless collaborations and producing credits, White had always said the White Stripes were his priority, and now he was going to need something to need the void. Blunderbuss is not the eighth White Stripes album under a different name, but it somehow feels closer to that idea than anything he's done in the meantime. Nobody could accuse the two stellar bands White assembled to record and tour the album of lacking musicianship in the same way Meg took endless criticism, but in the return to a more raw, often raucous blues, White is returning to his roots - and the territory that got us all hooked in the first place.

Rory Dollard

Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (Columbia)

Inspired by Fiona Apple's tendency to name her records after elongated lines of verse, I decided to write a little poem by way of review of the brilliant Idler Wheel. It was going to express how much I loved her ripe way with words. It was going to sum up the bristling passive-aggressive, she-loves-me-she-loves-me-not-shit-why-is-she-wielding-that-knife thing she does with aplomb. And, all being well, it was going to act as an ode to the sparse, thudding dignity of her new arrangements. But all I could manage was this:

"There was a young singer called Fiona
Of long album titles she was the owner
But lord help you, my friend
If you bring to an end
The relationship after you bone her."

Steve Pill

Alt-J – An Awesome Wave (Infectious)

Okay, this might be the moment where I show my age or lack of inclination to listen to the radio and/or pervading blogger wisdom, but I think I missed the point when the Alt-J backlash began. If anyone can take Radiohead's rhythmic mentalness and craft a song as deliciously catchy and downright perverse as 'Tesselate', they're alright in my book. I've a feeling it might be one of those clever, commercial indie albums I play to death and then look back several years and wonder what I ever saw in it (like Bloc Party's second album) but until that point comes, it's going to be on repeat for a while longer yet.

John Skilbeck

Jens Lekman - I Know What Love Isn't (Secretly Canadian)

I listened to little else throughout August. Jens Lekman’s third has divided opinion among admirers of the Gothenburg troubadour, but to my ears it’s comfortably his finest album. Lekman makes wonderful use of language, prone to a lyrical flourish where many with English as a first language might cough up a sneer, a grunt or a cliché. He delivers the telling line of this heartbreak album on 'The World Moves On', crooning: "You don’t get over a broken heart, you just learn to carry it gracefully." On the crushing 'I Want A Pair Of Cowboy Boots' ("The kind that walks the straightest and most narrow routes/…anywhere but back to you") he practically serves up an echo of Gordon Lightfoot's 'If You Could Read My Mind'.


  1. I can only imagine these last couple of days are killing Rory. Two Alt-Js, two Maccabees and a Rufus Wainwright.

  2. I don't think I'd heard the Maccabees before this week. I knew the name of course, and convinced myself they'd sound like a second-rate Futureheads. But they don't at all do they, today's song is great, really sussed pop and a pleasant surprise to me. It rivals Flylo (such a good album, just missed my 24) as track of the day for me, with White Lung (sounds like Be Your Own Pet to me, a definite good thing) perhaps third.
    As a signed-up member of #teammeg, I can't get too excited about Jack White's post-White Stripes output, there just seems to be something ex-wife-shaped sorely lacking. But in fairness today's track is as strong as I've heard from his solo stuff. It's going to be him or alt-j for the overall no1 isn't it?