Sunday, December 01, 2013

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number One

We're back! Whoever thought this ridiculous project, dreamed up while we were waiting to have our ears blown off by Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson in Leeds in 2009, would reach a fifth year? 

But somehow the notion of using an advent calendar to countdown our favourite 24 albums of the year, one a day, between now and Christmas Eve, caught on - and caught on big. Those unfortunate enough to have been roped in way back at the start now find themselves somehow addicted to this process. 

Who are these people? One day, I will get around to rewriting a now hopelessly out of date introduction first written for that inaugural calendar, but not now, so here it is again

But enough distractions, there are albums to list, opinions to declare and to mock. 

The first door reveals our No. 24 albums of the year, and if there's one thing we now know about the Musical Advent Calendar, it's that these final picks matter just as much as the top five. 

Andy Welch

CHRVCHES – The Bones Of What You Believe (Virgin)

CHVRCHES seemed to have been around for ages before they released this debut. The cycle’s all-too familiar – a bit of hype, a promising EP, some great remixes and even more hype, then a disappointing album. CHVRCHES swerved the last stage of that and delivered a great album, an elusive fusion of indie-pop and dance. Lauren Mayberry’s vocal is a brilliant mixture of icy and sweet, but never overly so, and completely bolstered by the laser-like precision and steeliness of the music.

Matt Collins

Bell X1 - Chop Chop (Bellyup)

A lovely slice of uplifting scuzzy indie rock that stays on the right line of cheesy.

Pranam Mavahalli

Omar Souleyman - Wenu Wenu (Ribbon Music)

Music. With so much out there, so easily available, how do you sift through the rubbish to get to the good stuff? By brutally dismissing stuff unlikely to appeal such as albums by Syria wedding singers, right? Wrong. Make time for Mr Souleyman, because this is music unlike anything out there. It's a clash between Middle Eastern melodies and beat-up Western electronica that shouldn't work, but very much does. Souleyman has a laid-back vocal delivery that's bolstered by blistering pitch-bent keyboard runs, and peppered with rapid artillery fire percussion. I hope some of the Syrian dance moves seen here soon migrate to UK shores.

Ali Mason

She and Him – Volume 3 (Double Six Records)

Good lord, I love Zooey Deschanel’s voice. It’s more of the same from pop’s finest mismatch as Deschanel and M. Ward team up once more for another expansion of their retro songbook. Whether the She and Him shtick is starting to wear a little thin or there just aren’t as many great songs this time around – I think the latter given the way my heart soars when highlights like single ‘I Could've Been Your Girl’ kick in – Volume 3 doesn’t quite hit home like the first two instalments. But good lord, I love Zooey Deschanel’s voice.

Guy Atkinson

Toxic Holocaust - Chemistry of Consciousness (Relapse Records)

The 24th spot is a statement making one so I'm plumping for an album that sets my stall out as the wildcard of the panel. Toxic Holocaust, however, are deserving of their spot in my list for more than just their Ali Mason-baiting name, with their spectacularly unoriginal crossover thrash still bringing enough crushing riffs to the party to remind me of why I got into heavy music all those years ago.

Dom Farrell

Youth Lagoon – Wondrous Bughouse (Fat Possum)

Happy Musical Advent Calendar Day, everybody! I don’t know about you guys, but I’m not sure there’s a better way to get into the seasonal spirit than with a bit of good old psychedelic introspection, as provided here by Idaho’s Trevor Powers and the second outing of his Youth Lagoon project. Given the thrust of the whole thing, Animal Collective producer Ben H Allen is a wise choice to man the controls, with the fuzzed-up Mercury-Rev-cover-Flaming-Lips vibe best realised on ‘Mute’ and the wonderfully sprawling ‘Raspberry Cane’ – the latter somewhat audaciously pinching a line or two of melody from Elvis standard ‘I Can’t Help Falling In Love’.

Ian Parker

Devon Sproule and Mike O'Neill - Colours (Tin Angel Recordings)

Devon Sproule, rarely short of of a nifty melody, teams up with Mike O'Neill of the Inbreds to flesh out her folk sound with a few flavours of jazz and indie-pop, and the resulting album has an assured ease as it sucks you in with a series of addictive sounds. As the 24th album on my provisional list as well as the final version, it appeared vulnerable to a series of latecomers, but proved a worthy survivor as something else suffered the chop every time.

Rory Dollard

Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City (XL)

Crumbs, where to start. This was going to be Billy Bragg's Tooth and Nail for most of the year. I had that pegged for number 24 for ages but there just wasn't room. And so it's Vampire Weekend. They're a funny bunch - 'Step' is one of my favourite songs of the year, woozy little wonky, catchy bugger that it is - but when I recommended it to a friend he said 'I thought they were a novelty band'. He meant it and I can sort of see why at times.

Steve Pill

Arcade Fire - Reflektor (Sonovox)

While a few of 2013's over-hyped comeback albums have left me cold (Vampire Weekend's third for starters), Reflektor kicks off my top 24 partly to give it the benefit of the doubt (having only had it a week, I need to give it more listens) and partly through the sheer exuberance of the couple of songs debuted online prior to its release. If at times it feels like more time was spent on the marketing (Papier-mâché heads! Shiny album sleeves! A barely audible David Bowie!) rather than editing down a few of the longer jams, the Haiti influence gives it a carnivalesque atmosphere and the presence of James "LCD Soundsystem" Murphy makes the best few tracks sound like a hybrid of both bands.

John Skilbeck

Janet Weiss, Matt Cameron and Zach Hill - Drumgasm (Jackpot Records)

Between the drum intro and the drum outro on Drumgasm, there's a whole lot of drumming. In fact, that's pretty much all there is, for its 39-minutes-and-10-seconds duration. So a vanity project is what this unmistakably is: a preposterous record; drummer's itch getting one hell of a scratching. And yet it's quite the thrill provider too because Weiss (Sleater-Kinney, Wild Flag, Quasi), Cameron (Soundgarden, Pearl Jam) and Hill (Death Grips, Hella Marnie Stern) are masters of the craft. As Weiss says, once the punishing thunder-cracking subsides and before the tapes stops: "My goodness - that was smokin'."

(Given the album is a one-track 39-minute, uhm, drumgasm, we've posted just this brief trailer, but in truth none of it is what appears on the album. If you're feeling adventurous - this is not going to be for everyone - you can listen to the real thing, in full, here)


  1. Word up fellas, great choices here. It's particularly good to see Drumgasm, and while Toxic Holocaust might not be my usual choice for a Sunday morning, I thoroughly enjoyed it nevertheless. Spot on assessment of Reflektor too.

    I've gone and linked to the same Omar Souleyman vid twice up there, so here's a bonus one for those interested:

  2. Sorry Pranam - your links are now fixed. It wouldn't be the first day of the advent calendar if I didn't jigger something up...

  3. Toxic Holocaust and Drumgasm. It's good to be back.

  4. Congratulations to Andy, Ali and Rory for all picking records that almost made my list but didn't, thus making me think I've got the whole thing completely wrong already. That doesn't normally happen until the second week.

    Like Pranam, I also found Toxic Holocaust to be jolly good fun. We await Ali's assessment...

  5. Ah, it's good to be back. I'm pleased to see that Toxic Holocaust has received a warm far.

    We all know how coveted the 'Guy's track of the day' award is, so I'll once again be dishing out the honour and hope that there isn't a repeat of last year when there was a few days where I truly couldn't pick one...ouch.

    Today's winner is the Chvrches track, which is quite something as I'm not even remotely a fan of 'synthy' shit.