Friday, December 12, 2014

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Twelve

As we reach the unlucky No. 13 albums of the year, Andy eats his meat and potatoes but, note to his mum, completely forgets his greens, while Dollard wolfs down his dinner and smothering it in a healthy serving of scuzz.

Andy Welch
Johnny Marr – Playland (New Voodoo)

Admittedly this record is a little meat-and-potatoes in places. But, aside from the fact I've always been a fan of reliable music you can set a watch by, there's more than enough going on to elevate Johnny Marr's second solo record out of that mire to become genuinely interesting and enjoyable. There's a real energy to the likes of 'Back In The Box', 'Dynamo' and 'Candidate', shades of Electronic on 'Speak Out, Reach Out' and on 'Little King', proper anger directed at, of all people, greedy property developers buying up the green belt. Go on Johnny, show those guys. Best of all is 'Easy Money', which proves hints Marr's best singles might not be behind him.

Rory Dollard
The Wytches - Annabel Dream Reader (Heavenly)

The Wytches' lead singer Kristian Bell claims to have started the band because "there was nothing going on in Peterborough". He cheerily admits the album is "75% average break-up stuff". He coined the genre "surf-doom" then disowned it at the first possible opportunity, instead settling for "songs played in a disgusting. hard, loud and unlistenable." I don't know about you, but I warm to this bloke every time he opens his mouth. At its best, Annabel Dream Reader is a thrilling listen - raw kinetic energy overtaking basic musicianship and subtle songwriting smothered liberally in scuzz.

Matt Collins
alt-J - This Is All Yours (Infectious)

How to follow up a global smash like An Awesome Wave? For alt-J, the answer is retreat to exceptionally uncommercial Brixton studio, dial up the prog settings and remove most traces of pop hits. This Is All Yours has the familiar brooding monastic feel to their debut without the immediate accessibility. Bears more listening as a result.

Dom Farrell
Benjamin Booker - Benjamin Booker (Rough Trade)

A string of gushing reviews and him looking effortlessly cool meant I was probably going to buy Benjamin Booker's eponymous debut. An interview with a guitar website where he came over as a certifiable lunatic sealed the deal - there's no way a guy can be this funny and not be alright musically. And sure enough, this is an absolute riot of superbly written, riotous garage blues.

Andrew Gwilym
Mary Gauthier – Trouble and Love (Razor & Tie)

All credit to Ian Parker for this one. He sent this my way to review for For Folk’s Sake and I was quickly gripped by it. Mary Gauthier did not begin her music career until she was 35 and her life experiences give her lyrics a real depth and perspective on an album soaked in heartbreak. The moody, bluesy opener ‘When a Woman Goes Cold’ sets the scene perfectly and leads on to seven more brutal depictions of love and loss. It is hard going but the perfect album to sit back with a drink of an evening and just get lost in.

John Skilbeck
Virginia Wing - Measures Of Joy (Fire)

Dear the New Pornographers, I’m sorry. You were at No. 13 until I decided I needed to fit this excellent Virginia Wings album into the list. And you weren’t relegated a place but hurriedly scrubbed from the 24 entirely. You see, I didn’t rate your videos. You didn’t make the standout 'Born With A Sound' a single. And with their ice-cool Ladytron-meets-Broadcast groove, Virginia Wing were enticing from the first note and didn't put a foot wrong.

Pranam Mavahalli
Aphex Twin – Syro (Warp)

So Boards of Canada released an album last year, and Aphex Twin releases one this year. Two massively unexpected, and wholly welcome events for those like me who care deeply about such things. Also surprising is the appearance online of tunes by Aphex’s 5 year old son that he made using Renoise. It took me a year to master that bloody piece of software, and I’m now being usurped by someone barely out of nappies. I guess that sums up Aphex to me – inspiring, occasionally infuriating, yet frequently brilliant.

Ian Parker
Steve Gunn - Way Out Weather (Paradise of Bachelors)

The War on Drugs get everywhere. They've already had their fair share of attention on this year's Calendar, not just in early nominations but also muscling into the Sun Kil Moon review as they infiltrate every corner. Spoiler alert: we’re not done yet. Their influence spreads wide, and this year's repeated references is nothing new. Previously it's been former member Kurt Vile making the odd cameo appearance, and now we're going to extend the family tree a little further with Vile's former guitarist Steve Gunn. But while I'd not heard of him until lately, it turns out we're doing Gunn a disservice by introducing him as such, because his CV is a long one, and his time with the Violators merely a footnote. If, like me, you make Way Out Weather your first entry point you'll enjoy a record based in the same sort of swirling psychedelia as those we've already mentioned, but with a lighter, more folky touch. That is, at least, for the first seven tracks. Closer 'Tommy's Congo' (do click the link - it's more than worth a listen after the more representative 'Milly's Garden' below) is a full-on assault of mind-blowing trance-enducing rhythms. Approach with enthusiasm.

Guy Atkinson
You Blew It! - Keep Doing What You're Doing (Topshelf Records)

A meatier follow up to their American Football-inspired debut, which cements their position as one of modern emo's brightest lights.

Steve Pill
Melanie de Biasio – No Deal (PIAS)

No Deal is so perilously close to descending into full-blown cliche. De Biasio is like an alpha version of a French chanteuse, all gamine looks, sultry vocals and world-weary outlook, caught in the spotlight of this mini album like a forgotten nouvelle vague starlet. The backing is full-on St Germain supper club too, albeit with hints of Portishead's debut. But there is something quite pure and genuine about the delivery that lifts it above pastiche. It's as if, like Gregory Porter before her, it's just a mere coincidence that she is in possession of all the classic jazz touchstones, so she can inhabit her songs with real truth rather than simply trying on the stylings for fun like an awkward X Factor contestant during big band week. It's there in the way she sings the phrase "ill wind" as "eeeeeeeel wind", the way she often rides the feather light drums with a soft hum rather than a forced scat, the way she sounds genuinely defiant by the title promise of 'I'm Gonna Leave You'. Let her go at your peril.

1 comment:

  1. Dollard wins Guy's Track of the Day, which marks quite the turnaround from yesterday after he chose what might be the worst piece of music ever to infiltrate my ears.