Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Musical Advent Calendar - The Overall Top 10

Merry Christmas everybody!

Welcome to the final door of the 2012 Musical Advent Calendar...the overall top 10. Using our patented, multi-layered and highly sophisticated rating system (one point for a No. 24 nomination, 24 for a No. 1, and everything else in between), we've calculated what the panel rated as the best 10 albums of the year. You can see just how many points each one got under the album name.

Some facts and figures of note: This year, all told, we nominated a total of 173 albums, three shy of the record set last year. This year was billed as a straight fight between Advent Calendar favourites Laura Marling and The National for the top spot, and so it proved, but only to an extent as it swung fairly decisively one way behind Door 23. Such was the fervour for Once I Was An Eagle on Monday that a record points haul was predicted but in the end Ms Marling fell 14 shy of the mark set when we all lost it over The National's High Violet in 2010. That said, Once I Was An Eagle claimed 56 points more than Richard Hawley got to win it last year, and 54 points more than Laura herself won with in 2011. The National piled in with enough points to have comfortably won either of the past two years, and yet are left trailing in her wake. 

Further down, a late change to Dom's mid-table standings cost Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds fourth place, while Matthew E. White missed out on a top 10 placing by just three points, highlighting the significance of Andy Welch missing the outstanding Big Inner from his list. Valerie June would waltz off with the Best Newcomer award, if such a thing existed.

Enough rambling. 

1. Laura Marling - Once I Was An Eagle (Virgin)

136 points

"This is Marling’s most adventurous, challenging record, lyrically brilliant and musically ambitious. There are singer songwriters, and then there’s Laura Marling" - Andy Welch 

"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" - Dom Farrell

"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 inThere 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" - Rory Dollard 

"On first listen, 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" - Ian Parker

"Ethan Johns does a masterful, Ryan Adams-esque production job and the first four-song suite has the beating of anything on my list" - Steve Pill

"This record is delightfully low key, almost a tapestry of stripped back riffs and motifs, thoughts and experiences. The melodies are subtle but infectious, hanging together in a great album" - Matt Collins

"Marling’s status as the queen of the British folk scene perhaps allows her space to be indulgent that other artists wouldn’t get – but then maybe other artists wouldn’t be able to use it to such effect anyway" - Ali Mason

2. The National - Trouble Will Find Me (4AD)
101 points

"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" - Matt Collins

"The greatest songs are peerless, from the haunting peels of feedback in I Need My Girl to the way that Sea of Love builds like a wave of horses in that old Guinness advert" - Steve Pill

"Trouble Will Find Me is a particular triumph because it doesn’t feature any of the truly skyscraping highs of its predecessor, but the sum of the parts is marvellous" - Dom Farrell

"It took a while for me to shake off the feeling that this album was more of the same from indie rock's perennial grumps, but once I did the quietly addictive songs crept under my skin like a flesh-eating virus and refused to leave" - Guy Atkinson

"Most people I spoke to offered a variation on "It's really great and everything….but is that it?". Such is the peril of setting an impossibly high bar. Part of the problem seems to be these guys make it all sound so easy, like they could knock off stuff like this every couple of weeks if really pressed. But when you sit back and listen to something as fragile and wounded as Pink Rabbits, that's really quite remarkable" - Rory Dollard

"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" - Ian Parker

3. Arctic Monkeys - AM (Domino)

71 points

"Turner and company’s thirst for reinvention might be their greatest quality of all. It will be thrilling to see where they go next" - Dom Farrell

"Alex Turner has finally found himself as a frontman – I won’t have a word said against the quiff, mid-Atlantic accent or spangly jackets. While always sharp as a tack lyrically, AM sees them bring back the sense of fun and danceability that has been lacking since Favourite Worst Nightmare, and bring in big beats and a newfound sexiness. What a cocktail" - Andy Welch 

"To me, it's seemed like they were striking around for an identity ever since their debut, and without success. But while, as Steve succinctly noted earlier in the calendar, they seemed to have finally found it a long, long way from Rotherham, I'm going to take the Arsene Wenger approach here - you don't look at the passport, just the quality" - Ian Parker

"While not quite as mature-sounding as one might expect, this is a brlliantly sleazy sort of record. 'Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High' is a particularly down dirty falsetto funk highlight" - Matt Collins

4. Anna Calvi - One Breath (Domino)

67 points

"The album was inspired by the death of a family member, as well as the breakdown of a relationship. Calvi wrote her way out of the blackness, and listening to her do so is mesmerising. The ethereal Sing To Me is the best track" - Andy Welch

"Where the brilliance of ‘Blackout’ teased among the more brooding sound of her first album, One Breathdoes not hold back, an entirely more urgent, aggressive and dramatic record. And it's glorious" - Ian Parker

"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" - Pranam Mavahalli

"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" - Rory Dollard

5. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds - Push The Sky Away (Bad Seed Ltd)

66 points

"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" - Rory Dollard

"Cave has described his 15th album with the Bad Seeds as a “ghost baby in the incubator”, a vulnerable child fighting for life, and while there is something delicate about this record on the surface, there is a power too in its brooding intensity" - Ian Parker

"Putting Grinderman's glorious smut back in its box, wandering around the Brighton sea front, recording an often gorgeous and delicate album in a 19th-century French mansion and sticking his wife on the cover - meet Nick Cave, renaissance man, moving gracefully into late middle age" - Dom Farrell

"Push The Sky Away is his band's most subtle and disquieting album since The Boatman's Call, but by now the Seeds have become the equivalents of master painters, being more economical with each stroke, choosing them so carefully as to create a deceptively simple composition that only really reveals its full impact when you step back and take in the bigger picture" - Steve Pill

"While it might not be as loud – some tracks are almost naked in their arrangements – it’s no less powerful. Fifteen albums in, still being able to surprise like this is nothing short of incredible" - Andy Welch

6. Valerie June - Pushin' Against A Stone (Sunday Best)

57 points

"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" - Ali Mason 

"Opener ‘Workin’ Woman Blues’ is one of the finest songs you’ll hear on any record released this year and it doesn't end there. There are the ghosts of the Carter Family in ‘Trials, Troubles, Tribulations’, there’s something moving about the gospel-inflected ‘The Hour’, while the country-blues of closer ‘On My Way’ is just plain delicious" - Ian Parker

"As far as inventing your own genre name goes, Valerie June’s description of her music as “organic moonshine roots music” is a pretty decent punt. Unmistakably a product of her native Tennessee, folk, country, blues and soul ferment into a potent mix on Pushin’ Against a Stone" - Dom Farrell

7. Kurt Vile - Wakin' On A Pretty Daze (Matador)

45 points

"Vile’s latest, hazy, sprawling outing was a perfect soundtrack for long, scorched days. It also works well as a musical bridge from the previous night’s hangover to that afternoon’s two-for-one cocktail offer, you know, if you ever have need for such a thing" - Dom Farrell 

"Gone is the more hectic fuzzy pop of old, in favour of a warm and unhurried mood throughout. Songs stretch out like lazy cats in the sunshine. Even the quickstep of Was All Talk has a weird inertia to it. In 2013, listening to Wakin' On A Pretty Daze was the quickest way to make time standstill" - Steve Pill

"Granted, this isn't my usual bag but the woozy, sun-drenched and presumably weed-fuelled Americana on show sound tracked a lot of my summer and proved a welcome antidote from the sound of grown men vomiting down a microphone, which is what I spent the rest of my year listening to. Also, I really like his name" - Guy Atkinson

8 = Phosphorescent - Muchacho (Dead Oceans)

44 points

"Brilliantly written, wonderfully played songs are a staple and enough to waltz into a top 10 spot on their own. But everybody’s number one pick (apart from that year Ali didn’t like his) needs something more; something magical. Muchacho has ‘Song For Zula' - Dom Farrell

"Locking yourself away in a remote Mexican farming community and channelling ‘Oh Mercy’-era Dylan wouldn’t necessarily strike you as a sensible career path for a young singer-songwriter, but Matthew Houck followed it to great effect on album number six" - Steve Pill

= Daughter - If You Leave (4AD)

44 points

"Picking up for me where Sharon van Etten left off, Daughter have produced what’s called (but isn’t) an experimental folk album. In fact, it’s a beautiful record, with endlessly heartbreaking lyrics, shimmering electric guitars and twitchy rhythms throughout. I still play it at least once a day. Just brilliant" - Matt Collins

"It’s amazing how many times this year I’ve heard a song on the radio and thought “wow, that’s great, I wonder what that is” and it’s turned out to be a song off If You Leave. This says two things: one, If You Leave has got lots of great songs on it; two, my memory is abysmal because I bought the album when it came out and have listened to it regularly" Ali Mason

10. Foals - Holy Fire (Warner Bros)

40 points

"There's no sag in the middle of the record, although the opening five tracks are particularly good, My Number being one of the best songs of the year. Live, they sound even better. The drumming too, my god the drumming, so much more than a beat or even another instrument, it's almost the star of the show" - Andy Welch

"As epic an album as its name suggests. Foals have finally added some excellent songwriting and strong hooks to their now gargantuan sound. Big at festivals" - Matt Collins

"Holy Fire? Wholly unexpected, more like. After a debut of intricate math rock and a follow-up overflowing with raw emotion, Foals could have gone almost anywhere on album number 3. "Enlisting the producers of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and writing the catchiest indie pop song of the year" was not exactly odds-on favourite (and let's imagine, for a minute, a world in which we could walk into your local Ladbrokes and place a bet on the contents of the next Foals album without being murdered by drunks or laughed out the door)" - Steve Pill

1 comment:

  1. (Note content) FFS. Nick Cave. Another artist I'd heard of but never listened to. And now? Back catalogue required. Cheers! However guessed the top three, and even seen live one of them this year! Guru status? No chance!