Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Musical Advent Calendar - The Overall Top 10

Merry Christmas!

And welcome to the final door of the 2012 Musical Advent Calendar...the overall top 10. Using our patented, multi-layered and highly sophisticated rating system (one point for a No. 24 nomination, 24 for a No. 1, and everything else in between), we've calculated what the panel rated as the best 10 albums of the year. You can see just how many points each one got under the album name.

Before we dive in, some facts and figures of note. This, the fourth Musical Advent Calendar, has set another new record for the total number of different albums nominated with 176. Given that the maximum possible number is 240, we're not sure how much further this can realistically go...Last year, Laura Marling claimed the overall number one with 82 points, barely half the 150 The National needed in 2010, but still (slightly) more than this year's winner. However, the numbers might have been very different were it not for the special case of the Black Keys. El Camino came out in December last year, making it eligible for this year's Advent Calendar (our cut off date is November 15th). However, Steve admitted he forgot, while Dollard declared it ineligible under his own mysterious by-laws. If those two had put it roughly where we might imagine they would have in their lists, it may very well have taken top spot. 

Anyway, enough hypotheticals. Here are the results: 

1. Richard Hawley - Standing At The Sky's Edge (Parlaphone)

80 points

If Laura Marling won last year by common consensus, hoovering up points from seven nominations, Hawley has taken the fast track. All four of his selections came at the upper end, and two second-place picks catapulted him to the top. 

"If Hawley's music had been sepia-tinged in the past – and it had, in almost every review – …Sky's Edge is every bit as bright and colourful as its sleeve" - Andy Welch

"Hawley clearly enjoys unleashing his full armoury of effects pedals but the songwriting underneath is as strong as ever" - Rory Dollard

"There really is nothing like the thrill of an artist you've already grown to love exhilarating you all over again" - Dom Farrell

"Sheffield’s humble workaholic is no longer happy to stand back in the shadows – he sounds angry and he wants you to know it" - Ian Parker

2. Grizzly Bear - Shields (Warp)

64 points

Following the Hawley model, Grizzly Bear got only three selections, but all three were in the top six, and one was a No. 1.

"Everything that made 2009’s Veckatimest so wonderful is still largely in place – intricate arrangements played with a vivid and precise beauty. However, there is a sense of urgency and toughness about Shields that drips down from the fractured, modulated guitar riff that kicks off ‘Sleeping Ute’ and infuses everything thereafter" - Dom Farrell 

"Harmonies – check. Gorgeous melodies – check. Jazz-influenced rhythms and chord voicings - check. Interesting arrangements, dynamic song structures, and meticulous production – check, check and check again" - Pranam Mahavalli

"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" - Ian Parker 

3. Alt-J - An Awesome Wave (Infectious)

63 points

"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" - Ali Mason

"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" - Matt Collins

"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" - Steve Pill

4. Jack White - Blunderbuss (XL)

61 points

"Having operated diligently under the self-imposed aesthetic constraints of the White Stripes, we find an artist liberated – seemingly trying to pile elements of all the records he’s ever loved into 13 tracks" - Dom Farrell

"It’s like he dialled down the Whiteisms – only slightly, mind – and let the wonderful assembled musicians and guest vocalists share the spotlight. It’s unmistakeably Jack White, but subtlety suits him" - Andy Welch

"There are all kinds of physiological pressure points being pushed and prodded to manipulate you and make you feel a certain way. But, man, does it hit the spot. What a thrill. Can we go again please???" - Rory Dollard

"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" - Ian Parker

5. Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light (Domino)

60 points

"Continuing his run of poor health, Sweet Heart Sweet Light was written and recorded while he underwent intense treatment for Hepatitis C. Hoping he could offset the misery of the medication, he set out to write a pop album. Pierce has since admitted it didn't work for him, and feels removed from the album because of the gruelling time he was having during its making, but whether he realises it or not, it's Spiritualized's most focused-sounding album since Ladies And Gentlemen, with a new groove underneath it all" - Andy Welch

"I’m a fully paid up member of the Jason Pierce fan club, willing to pursue him to the very ends of whatever free-jazz, psychedelic, droner, stoner, white-noise, space-rock journey he deems fit at the time. But on SHSL, he’s more open than ever to the casual listener. His lyrical pre-occupations with drugs, deities and death remain in place but there’s a more poppy, melodic vibe than ever before" - Rory Dollard

"Spirtualized have spent much of the last decade fulfilling the prophecy of their almost forgotten classic album, Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating in Space. But this right here is a return to form. Like all bands who go back to what they do they best after a few years poncing about with new directions, you will find little new but plenty to delight" - Matt Collins

"Pierce has assumed the familiar role of the strung-out last survivor being soothingly carried by a choir of angels to meet a maker his doesn’t believe in but can’t stop singing about. As always, you’re with him all the way" - Dom Farrell

6. The Black Keys - El Camino (Nonesuch)

58 points

"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" - Dom Farrell

"I love El Camino. It’s the sound of a band who started off rough and raucous gradually refining their sound over six albums to come up with a distilled version of themselves" - Andy Welch

"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" - Ian Parker

7. Beth Orton - Sugaring Season (Anti-)

55 points

"She's dropped the 'tronica' from her the 'folktronica' of her previous albums, a canny move for an album that I've enjoyed listening to both attentively and also while doing the chores" - Pranam Mahavalli

"Still wrongly viewed in some quarters through the prism of her early collaborations with William Orbit, Orton has for some time been an authentically wonderful folk voice. Six years since her last album have nudged her ever more towards a traditional sound to match her distinctive vocal and fans of Laura Marling or Alela Diane should appreciate her craft and easy touch" - Rory Dollard

"Sugaring Season is one of her best records yet. Rarely has she sounded so passionate, so full of life, so capable of writing delicate folk classics like 'Call Me The Breeze' or 'Magpie'. She's still got it" - Matt Collins

"Orton doesn’t always wow you, but she brings an unquestionable quality to everything she touches" - Ian Parker

"It’s the sound of someone finally achieving happiness that fascinates me most" - Andy Welch

8. Cold Specks - I Predict A Graceful Explosion (Mute)

54 points

"One of 2012's outstanding debuts and, in Al Spx, one of the year's outstanding voices. I Predict A Graceful Expulsion is funeral-march soul that reveals further battered and bruised beauty on each listen" - Dom Farrell

"There are few set-piece fireworks or unforgettable choruses here, with the emphasis instead on a slow build of mood and tone. But once that is under your skin it is hard not to fall pretty hard for it" - Rory Dollard

"Etobicoke, Canada is a long way from the Deep South but it is clear that is where native Al Spx, now a resident of the even more distant London, finds her inspiration. Her homespun blues are built on the old slave songs of the region, but lifted out of the cotton fields and on to grander plains by her quite wonderful voice" - Ian Parker

"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" - Steve Pill

9. Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan (Domino)

48 points

"I spent the whole year looking for music that would make feel like this and finding it is the reason I'll do the same in 2013" - Rory Dollard

"The band have always been original, but their wilful abstraction has been replaced by warmth here, which makes these songs easy to embrace and despite moving and turning in surprising directions. Beautiful songs, beautifully recorded, and expressing a range of sounds and emotions, I've liked a lot of records this year, but Swing Lo Magellan is the only album I can say I've loved" - Pranam Mahavalli

10. Bobby Womack - The Bravest Man In The Universe (XL)

44 points

"Bobby Womack worked successfully with Damon Albarn on the last Gorillaz album and, with the latter manning the controls alongside Richard Russell, the great man sounds on fine form here. Clipped, minimal production provides the best resting place for Womack’s brilliantly bruised soul. Some more intrusive electronics see the album fade down the stretch but, frankly, I’d happily listen to this bloke recite the Yellow Pages" - Dom Farrell

"It’d be easy to be cynical about this now almost formulaic kind of record, but it’s just too good for that. Womack manages to pack in all that wisdom and experience on the album, it’s more a lesson from an old uncle than a collection of songs, which mostly lets his voice and some well-chosen duets to take centre stage rather than swamping with big arrangements. His story is fascinating, but his voice will always be the star" - Andy Welch

"It is undoubtedly a 21st century Albarn album (stellar guests, piano ballads, futuristic production squelches) but the burnished mahogany voice and irrepressible funk undoubtedly belongs to Womack" - Steve Pill

"Damon Albarn can be a dry and dislikeable old stick at times but his feel for unlikely musical fusions serves his latest collaborator unfathomably well" - Rory Dollard


  1. Interesting top choice. Admiral, probably not to most peoples tastes I imagen, but then that is the point of music right. That album is certainly something interesting.

    Grizzly bears new album was far more trouble to my ears than the last one which just made me want to go slap the lead singer for been so bloody wet. Although they do sound quite like coldplay now.

  2. Phew. Cheers music gurus. Just finished your lists. Time for a break. When's the next lot start?