Monday, December 01, 2014

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number One

Here we go again. For a sixth straight year the Musical Advent Calendar is here as the 10 of us countdown our top 24 albums of the year as a way of reminding you all how little time left you have to do your Christmas shopping.

But before we dive right in, we have some positional changes to announce. Ali Mason, who over the years nominated actual cups of tea, mountains of folk records and Eliza Doolittle, has left us. While we will mourn the loss of his attempts to convert Guy to folk, we used his departure as an opportunity and swiftly reached out to Andrew Gwilym. We can now expect the Manic Street Preachers to receive at least double their previous tally of nominations for each new album (so two, then?) as Dom looks forward to Dollard having a new target for his resulting wrath.

Speaking of wrath, imagine that which awaits Pranam, who has the gall to open up this year's Advent Calendar by nominating a record by a band THAT HE IS IN. And then he declares himself God for good measure. Sure, he didn't actually join said band until after the album was recorded, but does that matter?

But enough of this. We have hundreds of albums - 165 to be precise - to get through. Starting with these...

Andy Welch
Real Estate – Atlas (Domino)

I loved Real Estate's first two albums, Days in particular, but for all the sun-kissed nostalgia and memories of high school, their songs do tend to wash over rather than really get under your skin. It's more like the music was setting a scene, a beautiful soundtrack to the main event of Martin Courtney's past, than rather than providing the main entertainment. Atlas is different, though, the band sounding more confident and comfortable than ever, their songs bolder than before. And while the nostalgia is mildly heartbreaking – Courtney longs for the suburban safety of his youth but knows he can never get back there – it at least feels real, and not the rosy version of the endless summer we’re sold so often. It's a great record.  

(Please forgive a video with a man rambling for too long at the start. For the music, skip to the 2:30 mark...)

Rory Dollard
Tim Wheeler - Lost Domain (Red UK)

I was always a bit of a floating voter when it came to Ash (yes to 'Shining Light' and 'Girl From Mars', no to the bonus track vomiting on 1977), but Tim Wheeler has always seemed like one of the good guys. This first solo outing is a to-the-bone raw account of his father's descent into dementia and it's brutally emotive at times. I've only listened to it three times and I'll need a strong moment to make it four because the effectiveness with which he portrays the situation makes it a hard listen, in the best possible sense.

Matt Collins
Lykke Li - I Never Learn (Atlantic)

Apparently brilliant live, Lykke Li does the whole kooky female singer schtick quite well all told. Some delightful alt-pop textures on this album all the way through.

Dom Farrell
Broken Bells - After The Disco (Columbia)

Good morning Ian, good morning everybody. This second outing for James Mercer and Danger Mouse’s high-profile side project brings exactly what you’d expect in terms of effortless melodic excellence and droll bittersweet lyrics from the Shins front-man and slinky production cool courtesy of his knob-twiddling colleague. The unexpected comes in the form of some bizarre and entertaining Bee Gees vocal stylings, while a mid-album slump is arrested when 'No Matter What You’re Told' sends us swaggering towards the finish.

Andrew Gwilym
Billie Joe and Norah – Foreverly (Reprise)

This proved a daunting selection. My first for the advent calendar. “You need to make a statement” I was counselled by one established member of this gathering, so I briefly pondered creating a playlist of a song from each of my 24 albums and inserting it into the iTunes libraries of around 500 million people. You may have noticed an increasingly redundant Irish band beat me to it. So instead I decided to follow the example of the man whose place I have taken on the advent calendar, Mr Ali Mason. A man whose attitude was ‘I don’t care what anyone else thinks, if I like a record it goes on the list’. It meant he picked albums such as the Les Miserables soundtrack and faced accusations of promoting “flaccid grandma music”. Did he care? He did not. So I pick this loving recreation of the Everly Brothers 1958 album Songs our Daddy Taught Us. It does not reinvent the wheel, it is not a brave album but I absolutely adore it. It could also pass for “flaccid grandma music”. I hope that’s alright with you, Ali. It means the likes of Ought, Conor Oberst, First Aid Kit and Smoke Fairies narrowly miss out, although the Inside Llewyn Davies soundtrack would have made it had it not been released just three days too early for consideration.

John Skilbeck
White Lung - Deep Fantasy (Domino)

Before she dated Kurt Cobain, penned Hole's totemic Live Through This, lost Kurt and found Hollywood, Courtney Love made a brilliant and brutal record titled Pretty On The Inside. Twenty-three years on, White Lung's splenetic new album, Deep Fantasy, could be Pretty On The Inside's (younger) sister record, a hardcore punk monument to unbridled fury that grabs at the throat and keeps grabbing. Frontwoman Mish Way heads an aural assault that spans 10 songs and 22 minutes and leaves the listener breathless yet panting for more. Deep Fantasy is a filthy beast of a record, a guttural blast that takes in deep anxiety, desire and anger. Courtney Love is still touring old Hole songs in 2014, so fill your boots with a taste of the past there. But this is punk's violent present, a rancorous, snarling triumph.

Pranam Mavahalli
Douga – The Silent Well (Do Make Merge)

Douga's debut, is a rich mix of ethereal melodies, ambient soundscapes, drones and drum machines. Equal parts folky and experime...***************************...
Okay here's the deal, I joined Douga shortly after the band finished recording the album. So while, I'm not on it, I can see why people might accuse me of being self-serving by putting it on my list. I'd totally disagree with those dissenters of course, and urge you to listen to it nevertheless (did I say, I don't play on it?). But have I squandered my integrity by including this record? Can you trust anything I say from hereon in? Have I made a mockery of this whole exercise before it even begins? Am I an egotist? Kanye West wouldn't worry with such matters would he? He'd say “I AM A GOD” and leave it at that. Maybe I'll do the same.

Ian Parker
St Paul and The Broken Bones - Half The City (Single Lock)

More than any previous year, this year I couldn’t get my top 24 in any kind of order. Nothing stood out as an obvious number one, nothing quite felt like it had only just snuck onto the list. In the end I wrote out each album’s name on a piece of paper and moved them up and down until there was some semblance of a ranking. I’m still not sure if it was the right one or if I’d have been better picking names out of a hat. Either way, St. Paul and The Broken Bones ended up last. This seven-piece out of Birmingham, Alabama endured all manner of Alabama Shakes comparisons before they’d even had a chance to establish themselves, and that perhaps explains why they’ve not had the impact that was predicted. The problem is that they don’t quite have the tunes, and they don’t quite have the technical assuredness of their neighbours from Muscle Shoals. What they do have is bags of soul and the quite incredible pipes of front man Paul Janeway, and that seems more than enough. It’s good, but not perfect. In at number 24. Perhaps my system works after all.

Guy Atkinson
The Lawrence Arms - Metropole (Epitaph Records)

Rousing, melodic punk rock from Chicago stalwarts. Snuck in thanks to a rippin' show in Manchester in October.

Steve Pill
Mac DeMarco – Salad Days (Captured Tracks)

Each year, I always resolve to start my advent calendar of musical goodness with a fanfare, yet every time I get around to writing review number 24, it can feel like an apology or a damp squib. Well, never let it be said I learn from my mistakes. As ever, I screwed it up in 2013 and managed to omit plenty of decent albums from the list that I only subsequently discovered earlier this year. Sam Amidon’s Bright Sunny South, Agnes Obel’s Aventine and Ezra Furman’s Day of the Dog surely deserved a top 10 placing if I’d have been switched on sooner. That Arctic Monkeys’ album grew on me big time as well, unlike the Arcade Fire fourth, which I placed at 24 and now just makes me sad when I hear it. Apologies over, let’s have a minor fanfare for Mac DeMarco. Like a hipster Syd Barrett or stoner Marc Bolan, he has made a woozily wonderful acoustic record that I will no hate within 12 months. Toot toot, indeed.


  1. Woof, we're back baby. And how. Richie Benaud reference from Dom, U2 abuse from the newbie chap, self-deifying from Pranam. This augurs very well indeed.
    Farewell and good tidings Ali Mason, we hardly knew ye. Tit.

  2. We're back, which means Guy's Track of the Day is back - an award designed solely to force me into listening to all 10 songs (or at least the first 10 seconds of Ali's picks). Today's winner, by an absolute landslide, is Mr Skilbeck. But you all already knew that, right?