Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Twenty-Two

As we reach the medal positions of the 2013 Musical Advent Calendar, Dollard is losing himself in some x-rated folk, and Skillers reveals his true identity: Veruca Salt.

Andy Welch
Summer Camp – Summer Camp (Moshi Moshi)

I really liked the first Summer Camp album, although perhaps I didn't love it. Maybe the synthetic backstory stopped me falling for it completely? Whatever the reason, I didn't have the same problem with the duo's second album. On it, Summer Camp make the decision to stop pretending they're from a fictional neighbourhood and admit to being husband and wife in real life. It might seem symbolic, but it seems to make a sizeable difference to their music, brighter and more confident than it had been before, emboldened by stronger songs and the production sheen given them by Stephen Street. Two Chords is one of my favourite songs of the year.

Matt Collins

The National - Trouble Will Find Me (4AD)

Not as classic a National album as previous booming bassy voiced efforts, but that's still better than most records this year. Graceless in particular is irresistible.

Pranam Mavahalli

Clark – Feast/Beast (Warp)

Remix albums tend to be patchy affairs, yet this is a remarkably cohesive record. Spread over two discs, and ranging from avant electronica to wonky hip hop, the tracks never seem to dip in quality. Among the many highlights is the Nils Frahm remix below, which takes the restrained beauty of the original and transforms it into something staggeringly epic.

Ali Mason

Volcano Choir – Repave (Jagjaguwar)

I’ve handed out ‘lyric of the year’ and ‘track of the year’, so now to Volcano Choir I award the title of ‘delightful surprise of the year’. Having been something of Bon Iver-sceptic in the past, I almost didn’t even bother hitting play when a track from his latest project arrived in my inbox. But with a rock band behind him, suddenly Justin Vernon seemed to make sense to me. Always dramatic, occasionally overblown and all the better for it, Repave is exhilarating from the start to the finish of its assuredly brief eight-track existence.

Guy Atkinson

Balance and Composure - The Things We Think We’re Missing (No Sleep Records)

One of a whole host of bands on my list this year dealing in the currency of grungy 90s alt-rock and these guys are doing it better than anyone. Despite this only being their second album, they've firmly staked their claim as the natural successors to Brand New's crown.

Dom Farrell

Arctic Monkeys – A.M. (Domino)

If 2009’s Humbug was Arctic Monkeys’ Californian desert album, then A.M moves them right into the middle of the sleaze and smut of the L.A. strip. The record almost plays as an utterly debauched night out from the irresistible opening swagger of ‘Do I Wanna Know’. ‘Arabella’ more or less invites Black Sabbath to the party and we hurtle downhill until someone switches the lights on for ‘Number One Party Anthem’ to find the song’s protagonist “on the prowl” – Alex Turner’s wry observation vignettes are rarely of the kitchen sink variety anymore but remain razor sharp. A change of pace, amid booty calls, regret and further leering, follows as this remarkable band showcase their impeccable and varied arsenal. Even those who aren’t keen on the Arctics must admire them for not being on ‘Mardy Bum Pt VI’ by now. Turner and company’s thirst for reinvention might be their greatest quality of all. It will be thrilling to see where they go next.

Ian Parker

Jimi Hendrix - People, Hell and Angels (Sony)

There might have been some question as to whether People, Hell and Angels should actually be eligible for the Advent Calendar, having been recorded more than 40 years ago and with alternative versions of just about everything on here released elsewhere in the meantime. But once we'd decided that it fit the criteria - unreleased material in album form - chances are it actually deserved to be No. 1 on my list. It would feel slightly bad form to put something largely recorded in 1970 at the top of the list of albums from 2013, but nothing else really blew my mind like the first time I played this record. I was feeling light-headed before the opening triple whammy of 'Earth Blues', 'Somewhere' and 'Hear My Train A Comin'' was done, and was pretty much a mess by the time I'd made it all the way through. It might even be my favourite Hendrix album - which considering the competition would be pretty good going.

Rory Dollard

Laura Marling - Once I was an Eagle (Virgin)

I think by now we all know the Ragged Glories panel is cleaved asunder in two distinct groups - Marlings and non-Marlings and ne'er the twain shall meet. With apologies to those in the latter group, this really is another great installment in what is becoming a formidable canon. In particular, the suite of songs that kicks the album off, bleeding imperceptibly into one another, is an act of outrageous showboating. It's John Barnes at the Maracana; it's Malcolm Tucker's best rant; it’s Daniel Day Lewis doing his "I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE" schtick in There Will Be Blood. It's sensational. It is also proper X-rated, hardcore guitar porn for those of us who like to hear fingers brushing against strings.

Steve Pill

Mount Kimbie – Cold Spring Fault Less Youth (Warp)

For a long while, I thought this would top my list and it remains the one record I’ve listened to more than any other this year. Warp Records duo Dominic Maker and Kai Campos use a lot of “field recordings” in their music, making samples of everyday life that they distort and play around with until they find a beat within it. If you or I tried that, it would sound like shit. Not so here. On second album Cold Spring… they’ve coupled this technique to more live percussion and a better understanding of melody to best their own debut, Crooks And LoversEach listen reveals new highlights: the vocal hook in Made to Stray; the high-fretted bassline running through Meter, Pale, Tone; the way in which Break Well picks up pace a minute from the end in a low-key yet euphoric fashion.

John Skilbeck

Speedy Ortiz - Major Arcana (Carpark Records)

Speedy Ortiz driving force Sadie Dupuis definitely reminds me of that 90s singer, and her band, well… if their sound isn't a 20-year echo of an edition of MTV's Alternative Nation, I'm Veruca Salt and Seether is my golden ticket. Yet against the odds Major Arcana was a glorious triumph in 2013, an album from a band who acknowledge their influences but are not restrained by them and bring their own particular personality into play. Dupuis, a current poetry Masters student in her home state of Massachusetts, possesses weapons-grade and wickedly sardonic phraseology; musically, she and her band frequently follow a route where being assertive and obnoxiously discordant complements those words, but satisfyingly they can hit the chorus freeway too.


  1. I never mastered all that commenting from an ipad.iphone stuff so i've been unable to have my say of late. My recent conclusions are thus:
    1) I should have given Kurt Vile more of my time
    2) Somebody did a real good funny in one of their reviews in the last week. i cannot remember who or when,
    3) Justin Vernon sounds like Chris Martin on this track (not a good thing).

    over and out.

  2. In five years of slagging off my choices - from Kate Nash to Eliza Doolittle to Les Miserables - that is the most insulting thing you've said so far. Ouch.

  3. Guy's Track of the Day goes to John, once again.

    John - 5
    Pranam - 3
    Andy - 3
    Steve - 3
    Dom - 3
    Rory - 2
    Matt - 2