Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Fifteen

We're on the home stretch, which means I really should start Christmas shopping. As we reach our top 10 albums of the year, Dom delivers right on schedule.

Andy Welch

Gambles - Trust (Gmbls)

I heard Trust by Gambles last year and listened to it over and over. I wanted to find out more about him but there wasn't much more beside a few grainy YouTube videos. I've since found out Gambles is New York singer-songwriter Matthew Siskin, and there is the saddest of stories behind each of his songs on the album. Guy meets girl, they marry when she falls pregnant, they lose the child, divorce and Siskin slips into booze and drugs to numb the pain. The album's essentially an exercise in seeking a way out of the hole tinged with sorrow, remorse and bitterness, but there are enough glimmers of hope in here to counter the gut-wrenching blackness. His show at Bush Hall this year, where he unplugged his guitar after half a song, stepped down into the audience and performed  is one of the most incredible things I've ever seen.

Matt Collins

Sky Larkin - Motto (Wichita)

The latest in a recent line of female fronted indie rock acts. Top angular rock guitar tunes and passionately delivered vocals starts to finish.

Pranam Mavahalli

Jessica Pratt – Jessica Pratt (Birth Records)

The second very late entry onto my list. It sounds to me much like early Devendra Banhart and Vashti Bunyan, but it has an oddball charm that's uniquely its own. There's a lot of finger-picking folksters out there, but Jessica Pratt stands out for making a record that's both effortless, and timeless.

Ali Mason

Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer – Child Ballads (Wilderland Records)

We all love folk music on this blog (shut up Guy) so it’s nice occasionally to be reminded of the genre’s traditional roots. This album of trad folk gems from Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer certainly does that, with its name coming from the collection of songs amassed by scholar Francis James Child in the late 19th century. It’s unnecessary to point out how good the songs, which have survived through the centuries, are, but the arrangements are just delightful. Mitchell commendably demonstrated her commitment to the project by having a child of her own earlier this year.

Guy Atkinson

Lights and Motion - Reanimation (Deep Elm Records)

Lights and Motion is the moniker for Christoffer Franzen, a sickeningly talented 25-year-old from Sweden, who recorded this album of cinematic and serene post-rock beauty in his own home studio during late night insomnia sessions. If you're a fan of Friday Night Lights, you'll 'get' this.

Dom Farrell

Manic Street Preachers – Rewind the Film (Columbia)

Oh look, Rory, the Manics have scraped into my top 10! I'm half tempted not to write a review at all and just let you go apeshit in the comments section. But in the interests of balance, this is a wonderful, poignant album reflecting upon the place that shaped the Manics. A far cry from the days of Richey Edwards (come on Dollard, I'm chipping them up for you here) and his infamous quip that if their home town of Blackwood "was a museum it would be full of rubble and shit", this is the Manics' most unashamedly Welsh album. Nicky Wire is in Dylan Thomas mode for the most part and James Dean Bradfield's lilting arrangements give his lyrics a bleak and beautiful resting place. Richard Hawley rocks up for a show-stopping turn on the title track, one of three singles accompanied by videos evocatively depicting Wales' industrial decline from the Thatcher years onwards. In case that was all too subtle, Wire unloads both barrels towards the establishment on closer '30-Year War'. It's a ham-fisted track but the fact this band still care and rage so much is truly admirable. They've made great and terrible records and I feel this falls into the former category. 'Legacy desecration' never sounded so good.

Ian Parker

Charles Bradley - Victim of Love (Daptone)

After debut No Time For Dreaming documented the turmoil of Bradley’s extraordinary but often gloomy life story to date - a life of menial jobs and family hardship brightened only by his side-gig as a James Brown impersonator  - follow-up Victim of Love finds him in much better shape. Such was the reaction to that record that Bradley became the topic of a compelling documentary, sold a boat-load of records and toured the world. No surprise then that this is a happier record, but the songwriting has lost little of its edge, and the performances - both from Bradley and the supporting Menahan Street Band - are exemplary.

Rory Dollard

Jenny Hval - Innocence Is Kinky (Rune Grammofon)
Sometimes I can't tell if this is an album or an extended, gratuitious provocation. I guess both are designed to create a reaction, so maybe it's a bit of each. You certainly know you're not in Kansas anymore when the album opens with Hval whispering "That night I watched people fucking on my computer" and it only gets weirder from there. If she hadn't won me over I'd be tempted to see this as an art project gone wrong - Tracey Emin does electro - but she has, so I'm seeing it more as Bjork soundtracking Fifty Shades of Grey. Musically, it's challenging and unpredictable but also a real buzz.

Steve Pill

Boards of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest (Warp)

Prior to the launch of Tomorrow's Harvest, Warp arranged a live playback of the album that nearly crashed the Boards of Canada website. It was an odd experience to be simultaneously listening to a new record with thousands of other fans: exciting, strange, inclusive but disconnected, part 1970s hippie listening party, part 21st-century simulcast. The record itself lived up to the hype, introducing new textures (horror films, 1980s synths) while still satisfying hardcore BoC fans pining for a return to the calculated weirdness of 1998’s Music Has the Right to Children.

John Skilbeck

Las Kellies - Total Exposure (Fire Records)

Argentinians you'd give up an archipelago for, Las Kellies brought a little glamour and a whole world of fun to the dance party this year.


  1. Guy and Andy are joint winners of Steve's track of the day (it's a newly inaugurated award, go with it) but John gets serious props for the line "Argentinians you'd give up an archipelago for".

  2. I'm not about to join in with another track of the day nomination, but I have another kind of award to hand out - if we can pop back to door seven just momentarily, Dollard's pick Bombino has become the first album I've bought on the back of this year's Advent Calendar.

  3. Ian. Welcome to my world. It's not cheap.

  4. Guy's Track of the Day goes to Sky Larkin. Updated 'Order of Merit' below:

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