Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Ten

By the unstoppable internal logic of the Musical Advent Calendar, door ten means our No. 15 albums of the year. To mark the occasion, Andy is returning to his childhood while Dollard is returning to the weird randomly generated muso-hipster parallelosphere from which he unquestionably hails. And those are merely the first two entries. Away we go...

Andy Welch
Ben Watt – Hendra (Unmade Road)

Ben Watt's first solo album North Marine Drive is among my favourite albums. I read about it in a magazine when I was about 14 and my parents said they'd get it for me one Christmas. Little did they know it had been deleted and they'd have to trek around the North West's finest record shops trying to find a copy. But they did. Anyway, 31 years after its release, comes Watt's second album. His return to guitar-based songwriting was inspired by the death of his sister, and while the record is tinged in that sadness and much soul-searching, Watt asking Big Questions throughout, Hendra provides just as many answers with its songs of resilience and people's uncanny ability to bounce back from some of the really shitty things that happen to us. Perhaps even more than all that, I love Watt's jazz-inflected guitar playing, and Bernard Butler's fuzzy, tone-rolled-off Richard Thompson impression.

Rory Dollard
Sun Kil Moon - Benji (Calde Verde)

Mark Kozalek has been involved in a spat with The War On Drugs this year; the song posted below is about his friendship with Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard and references a Postal Service concert; the album features contributions from Will Oldham and Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley. Basically, the entire Sun Kil Moon project exists in some weird randomly generated muso-hipster parallelosphere made to garner plaudits from niche corner-of-the-internet, if-you-write-a-list-and-nobody-reads-it-does-it-even-exist blogs such as this one. Bullseye, you did it buddy.

Matt Collins
Lily & Madeleine - Fumes (Asthmatic Kitty)

Just as folkily twee as their name suggests. Lily & Madeleine have honey-like voices, an ear for a harmony and a knack for a tune. A Sunday album if ever there was one. This track 'Ride Away' definitely the ooo oo oo-tastic highlight.

Dom Farrell
Jack White - Lazaretto (Third Man Records)

The blistering, paint-stripping, brain rattling guitar that Jack White splatters across the first half of Lazaretto is the sort of music that can make the heart pound and the pulse race. Fitting, really, as I was interrupted from starting this review by having my name read out as a last call over the Malta airport tannoy. So off I ran, bags all over the shop - heart pounding, pulse racing...

Andrew Gwilym
Tweedy – Sukierae (dBpm Records)

Whatever left turns Wilco have taken during their 20 years of existence, Jeff Tweedy's gift for melody has always shone through. Such wilfully experimental creative high points as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born would have fallen flat on their faces without his weaving of words through tracks like 'Heavy Metal Drummer' and 'Handshake Drugs'. So the one thing guaranteed about Sukierae, a solo album made by Tweedy and his 18-year-old son Spencer, were some beautiful tunes. Obviously it’s impossible not to compare Sukierae to Tweedy's work with his full-time band, but there is something almost refreshing in hearing Tweedy as relaxed as this, bringing Wilco’s dense, widescreen arrangements down to something simpler. Sukierae is too long and would probably have made an even better single disc, but this will do nicely until the next Wilco album.

John Skilbeck
Snowbird - Moon (Bella Union)

Late November, and I’m utterly obsessed with this record. Nothing else is getting the slightest look-in. This week it is my runaway album of the year, yet this list is weeks old and favour is so transient, so here in mid-table it lingers. For nine months I practically ignored Moon, dismissing it as flimsy and featherweight in January. By October it struck me that every time I checked the iPod to find out what this or that strange and beautiful song was, it was a Snowbird track. The time had arrived to embrace it. Duly it transpired that Snowbird's American singer Stephanie Dosen and her accompanying pianist and composer, the former Cocteau Twin Simon Raymonde, had created not a dainty but easily dismissed record but a spellbindingly gorgeous confection of songs.

Pranam Mavahalli
Leon Vynehall – Music for the Uninvited (3024)

Leon Vynehall strikes me as the nerdy guy who's somehow lucked out and found himself at the cool kids' party. He's a house producer and DJ, but neither looks nor comes across as one. Following the promise of his early singles and EPs, this album twists house into new directions, partly by bringing some hip-hop roughness and sonic grit to the table. It also, rather unexpectedly for a house record, opens with a beatless piece played on strings. If this is what Music For The Uninvited sounds like, I'm be happiest hanging with the dweebs.

Ian Parker
Jack White - Lazaretto (Third Man Records)

Lazaretto was a difficult sell on me at first - and kind of still is - No. 15 is a pretty lowly slot for a Jack White record by my standards. But an album that at one stage looked like missing out entirely gradually worked its way up and up. I still say it's kind of a strange record, one in which White seem to be trying to hang out on the side of his own solo stage and cede more ground to what is no doubt a brilliant band ('Temporary Ground' is one of my favourite songs on the album, but heard in isolation you could easily believe White was collaborating with someone else rather than playing on his own record). The result is certainly a less coherent entity than its predecessor Blunderbuss, but it has too many good songs to be ignored for long.

Guy Atkinson
Cheatahs - Cheatahs (Wichita)

Amidst a huge swathe of My Bloody Valentine copycats this year, this record stood head and shoulders above the pack. Nothing overly original on show, but when the tunes are this good, who cares?

Steve Pill
Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness (Jagjaguwar)

The chorus of track three is the kicker here. “Are you lonely too? High five! So am I...” With it, Olsen recalls that particularly teenage blend of fist-pumping enthusiasm and crushing insecurity. (On a complete tangent, did you know the Japanese have a word for this particular kind of social withdrawal among young men? Try Googling “Hikikomori”). Like the rest of the album, 'High 5' is life-affirming and nostalgic, slacker-ish yet purposeful. At times you can hear touches of Cat Power, Mazzy Star, Leonard Cohen and Juliana Hatfield in her quavering Missouri voice, but in the main she has truly begun to find a very powerful voice all of her own.


  1. Steve wins Guy's Track of the Day, but only because I can't pick my own bangin' tune.

  2. I didn't realise Stephanie Dosen was back in the game, her debut album was very lovely indeed.

  3. Might need to have another dart at this Olsen character too.