Friday, December 13, 2013

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Thirteen

It's Friday the 13th so we were expecting something to go wrong. What we weren't expecting was for Ali to reduce this whole sorry exercise to a complete guessing game, his selections apparently picked out of the air at random. We also weren't expecting Dollard to put his favoured artist in the dock for murder. We were, however, braced for Guy to pick some late-90s style grunge-lite, and for Pranam to celebrate discordant wonkazoid guitar shredfuckery. And so we bring you our No. 12 albums of the year.

Andy Welch

Hookworms - Pearl Mystic (Gringo Records)

Aside from the fact Leeds band Hookworms shy away from interviews and each member is only known by their initials, their awkwardness endearing them to me immediately, their music is pretty brilliant too. Their debut takes elements of Krautrock, shoegaze (sort of), psych and drone-rock – basically it sounds they’ve listened to a lot of Spacemen 3, Loop, Can and Neu! – and make something that’s equally as good as anything they’ve been inspired by. Whether they can match it again is another thing, but this is a stunning debut.

Matt Collins

The Besnard Lakes - Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO (Jagjaguwar)

If one was being unkind, they'd call this chill out music. It's a much more complex affair than that though, with swirling riffs, brilliant melodies and dreamy boy/girl vocals all the way through. Gorgeous.

Pranam Mavahalli

Anna Calvi - One Breath (Domino)

Guitar music hasn't really done it for me this year. Yes, Parquet Courts released an album that effortlessly synthesises all the coolest guitar bands from the last four decades, and to great effect. But dude, what's with all this nostalgia? Let's kill our idols, celebrate change, and get with the now, right? Anna Calvi might not be ripping up the rule book but she does make guitars sound interesting and relevant. The dynamic range on this album is awe-inspiring. While there's some beautiful balladry on here, there's also the kind of six-string nastiness that I'm a sucker for. Please play 'Love of my Life' much louder than you really should. It features the kind of discordant wonkazoid guitar shredfuckery that makes me grin like a bloody idiot. More guitar like this please people. Thank you.

Ali Mason

Arcade Fire – Reflektor (Sonovox)

I haven’t actually listened to this album yet, but I figure it’ll definitely be in my top 24 albums of the year so I’ve put it halfway. Here’s that cool video with three tracks and an arseload of celebrities in it, in case you haven’t seen it.

Guy Atkinson

Turnover - Magnolia (Run for Cover Records)

Not the first or last band on my list this year to proudly wear their 90s alt-rock influences on their flannel sleeves. This collection of dreamy, effortlessly laid back grunge-lite is right up my alley.

Dom Farrell

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II (Jagjaguwar)

Such is the commitment to lo-fi production values on II that it sounds like Ruban Nielson has garbled some his vocal takes into a dictaphone that was a little worse for wear having been used to mic up the snare drum. This isn't a criticism - it works as a means to keep up the woozy psychedelic pretense, beneath which lurk rock-solid song structures and tight playing interwoven with deft melodies and some virtuoso guitar work from the frontman. A raft of Sixties influences, from Arthur Lee to Otis Redding, are worn on the sleeve throughout. Can I call this garage soul? I probably shouldn't because that sounds rubbish.

Ian Parker

The National - Trouble Will Find Me (4AD)

It’s hard to think of the truly stand-out moments on Trouble Will Find Me - anything like the oh-my-god brilliant moments such as ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ or ‘Mr November’. But nor can you find a weakness. Such is the classy ease of this record, the effortless grace and sureness of touch that, while it does not quite reach the heights of their best work, it still beats most things released this year (all but 11 of them, in fact).

Rory Dollard

Anna Calvi - One Breath (Domino)
I imagine an evening on the town with Anna Calvi would be a trial. Slightly inclement weather would surely send her hair flying in every direction, make-up streaming down her cheeks and end in a full-force King Lear breakdown in the woods. The offer of a dance would probably lead her to clear the floor, crack out her flamenco frock and cut some serious rug until every eye in the place was trained on her wide eyes and heaving bosom. I'm nearly certain she's killed. All of which is to say, she is 100% bonkers. As a result every song's a wonderful melodrama - the impassioned singing, the emotive string sections, the unfettered horns. Thrilling, really.

Steve Pill

Josephine Foster - I'm A Dreamer (Fire Records)

By rights, I'm A Dreamer should be playable on 78rpm, such is the combination of old-timey waltzes, mournful pedal steel and back porch wisdom. Despite the Dorothea Lange-esque cover photo, this is no stylised museum piece though. Foster has mastered the art of the deceptively simple lyric and her voice is a beautifully high and lonesome sound that packs all the emotional honesty of Gillian Welch and the off-the-ruffled-cuff elegance of Katharine Hepburn. "Maybe it's true, maybe it's sad, but no one's calling your name," she sings at one point. Six solo albums in, the same could be said of Foster, but after this she deserves a wider audience and endless curtain calls.

John Skilbeck

Throwing Muses - Purgatory/Paradise (The Friday Project)

Kristin Hersh's Throwing Muses have been an on-off concern since the mid 1980s, and after a so-so self-titled album a decade ago it seemed wise to peg expectations for Purgatory/Paradise, the band's first release since then. Yet this long-in-the-making album was not far off flawless, its 32 tracks - some ready-formed songs, others parts that came together in a jigsaw fashion - proving hook-laden and formed in an intricate tapestry that rewarded repeated listens. The book in which the album was presented, featuring full lyrics and Hersh's song-by-song commentary, scrutinising the often otherwise inscrutable, was almost as essential as the music.


  1. I feel incredibly hollow today. In future I'm only going to pick albums I've listened to.

  2. I've not listened to most albums you music gurus pick until after the event. But I have listened to The National's, and I must take issue with Ian. Pink Rabbits is one of my songs of the year. But you are a music guru, I am a mere nobody who copies your picks. (That's how I found out about The National)

  3. i agree about Pink Rabbits...i reckon that is the head and shoulders standout on this album

  4. Guy's Track of the Day goes to Hookworms.

    The standings, thus far:

    Pranam - 3
    Andy - 3
    Rory - 2
    Steve - 2
    Dom - 1
    John - 1
    Matt - 1