Monday, December 23, 2013

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Twenty-Three

It was coming. It was always going to come. This year's Musical Advent Calendar was billed as a battle between Laura Marling and The National for our overall number one slot. And with one day left to go, one of them has made a decisive move.

Andy Welch

Laura Marling - Once I Was An Eagle (Virgin)

It’s almost a cliché among the Ragged Glories panel to say you like Laura Marling. In fact, saying ‘it’s almost a cliché among the Ragged Glories panel to say you like Laura Marling’ is a cliché in itself. Nevertheless, there’s a reason for that. She’s pretty amazing, and Once I Was An Eagle is her best album yet. That’s not to say it’s my favourite – that’s still I Speak Because I Can – but this is Marling’s most adventurous, challenging record, lyrically brilliant and musically ambitious. There are singer songwriters, and then there’s Laura Marling.

Matt Collins

Sigur Ros - Kveikur (XL)

The low key return of Sigur Ros heard on Valtari was just a red herring. Iceland's finest soundscapers have found the amp that goes up to 11, plugged in a fuzz bass, and made as big a noise as possible.

Pranam Mavahalli

My Bloody Valentine – MBV (Pickpocket Records)

There are moments on this album that are among My Bloody Valentines' best. Who Sees You takes the sensual, foggy, wooziness perfected in Loveless to new heights. The chords seem to slip, slide and collide with each other. It should be disconcerting, but in fact it's sublime. I love the last three tracks too, insistently pounding, and like nothing else they've done. Not every track works for me (New You being one example) but given the wait between albums I'm still genuinely surprised at how well this record turned out.

Ali Mason

Valerie June – Pushin’ Against A Stone (Sunday Best)

When most of your record collection is made of indie and folk music ranging from twee to depressing and back again, it can be difficult to know what to play when entertaining people whose musical tastes don’t intersect. Valerie June has become my failsafe option because it’s just so damn good, who could object? With a touch of blues here, a splash of country there, as engaging a vocal as you could hope for and a particular type of intensity that demands your attention, I’ve yet to play it for anyone who didn’t love it.

Guy Atkinson

The Appleseed Cast - Illumination Ritual (Graveface Records)

Sometimes it takes seeing a band live for an album to truly cement itself in your heart and that's exactly what happened with The Appleseed Cast's eighth full length after seeing them at the Brudenell earlier this year. The record beautifully melds the band's signature sounds of twinkly emo and cinematic post-rock to stunning effect. Also, a shout out for their drummer who blew my mind to pieces with one of the greatest displays of drumming I've ever seen.

Dom Farrell

Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle (Virgin)

The opening four-track suite on Once I Was An Eagle is a simply staggering songwriting achievement. I literally stopped in my tracks the first time I listened to it, although given I was standing on one of those airport escalator-walkway thingies at the time this wasn’t as dramatic a moment as it might have been. But on repeat listens, Laura Marling’s fourth album still takes the breath away. Her acid tongue is at its most eviscerating during the first half, and the first person in the songs often comes off worst. Mistakes are openly confessed to but apologies don’t arrive. Marling has often suggested her lyrics are not of a personal nature but there is a sense of powerful, autobiographical honest at play. A visceral set comes up for air towards the end, with producer Ethan Johns’ well-judged instrumentation a vital ingredient alongside Marling’s increasingly fantastic guitar work, as the musical and lyrical threads link spectacularly together. Saying Laura Marling is the best British singer songwriter of her generation almost feels like a waste of breath by now. She stands comparisons with the all-time greats.

Ian Parker

Laura Marling - Once I Was An Eagle (Virgin)

It wasn't love at first listen. With Alas I Cannot Swim, I Speak Because I Can and, perhaps to a lesser extent, A Creature I Don't Know, it was love at first listen, but Marling's fourth took a bit of effort for me. It struck me as technically brilliant but somehow a little cold. Of course, it's well established I can be an idiot, because on further reflection, Once I Was An Eagle is her best yet.

Rory Dollard

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Push the Sky Away (Bad Seed Ltd)

If you could choose a single image to sum up Nick Cave's unique appeal better than any other, it would come from his unhinged Glastonbury performance this summer - there he was gangly of limb, foul of mouth and malicious of intent as he lurched across to hold the hand of a rapt young girl dressed all in white. He was Stagger Lee and she was surely Eliza Day.That he was also literally trampling on the heads of some perplexed Mumford fans in the process just made it all the sweeter. Push the Sky Away tells a very similar tale. It’s full of theatrical imagery, lusty scenery-chewing and broiling intensity, but it's also got levity, archness and visions of Miley Cyrus' untimely end (no, really). A pleasure, as always.

Steve Pill

Thundercat – Apocalypse (Brainfeeder)

Blurred Lines and Get Lucky may have dominated the headlines and YouTube play counts, but two of 2013's most surprising and far less misogynistic floorfillers both came courtesy of the same album. Oh Sheit It's X and Heartbreaks + Setbacks make me dizzily happy whenever I hear them. Like all the greatest pop-dance tunes, they are undercut with melancholy but still have a twitchy beat and gliding synths that beg for a bit of bad dancing or car stealing (Oh Sheit… featured on Grand Theft Auto V’s radio). Elsewhere, Thundercat flexes his bass playing skills around some goofy, glitchy beats courtesy of Flying Lotus.

John Skilbeck

California X - California X (Don Giovanni)

J Mascis and Frank Black share a home town in Amherst, Massachusetts, and chances are that fellow residents California X have been inspired by both Dinosaur Jr and Pixies. The influence of the former is unmistakeable, Dinosaur's cacophonic squall of guitar noise being a trademark sound California X are appropriating into their own splenetic work. Formed only last year, they became the latest in an impressive line of bands to appear from the Don Giovanni label's conveyor belt of bands who could save your life.


  1. I might get Guy's track of the day by default here simply for not having picked Laura Marling.

    Incidentally, Dom, that's the second time this year I've literally lolled out loud reading one of your reviews. I hereby declare you my reviewer of the year.

  2. That's very kind Ali. Not to mention wildly inaccurate.

  3. is Marling gonna break Ragged Glories points records here? surely she will. it also appears she will do so by being in about five top fives but no number ones - unless Akko is going to really pull a fast one on us.

  4. Sorry gang, but I can safely say that I'd rather eat my own faeces than listen to an entire Laura Marling record. John has really come into his own these last few days and takes an unassailable lead at the summit.

    John - 6
    Pranam - 3
    Andy - 3
    Steve - 3
    Dom - 3
    Rory - 2
    Matt - 2