Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Fourteen

Behind Door Number 14 of the Musical Advent Calendar we find not only our No. 11 albums of the year, but also Skillers paying homage to someone who worships at the church of first gen riot grrrl bands. And no, he wasn't looking in the mirror as he did it. Here they are, the 10 albums that just missed out on a place in the top 10...

Andy Welch
Sharon van Etten – Are We There? (Jagjaguwar)

To my mind, there are few records released this year that start quite as strongly as Sharon Van Etten's. For emotional intensity, the 1-2-3 of 'Afraid Of Nothing', 'Taking Chances' and 'Your Love Is Killing Me' are unparalleled. I said yesterday I didn't really understand where St Vincent got her songs from. With SVE, I feel like I really do, although she finds such new ways to express her particular feelings of doom and darkness she makes you think she's the first person to ever have a broken heart.

Rory Dollard
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Wigout at Jagbags (Domino)
If you fancy a mildly depressing barometer to measure the rapidity of the ageing process then try this on for size: Stephen Malkmus has been making music with his 'new' band The Jicks longer than he was in Pavement. Pavement were edgy, innovative, influential and painfully relevant. A 48-year-old Malkmus is, with the very best will in the world, pretty much none of those things. But he is a ton of fun. Lyrically he's settled nicely into his skin, as likely to toss out a cheesy rhyming couplet as break the fourth wall, and those Jicks may not be as spiky as their predecessors but they sure know how to lay down a groove. A January release probably earned this a lower profile than it deserved, but fans have had a full 12 months of pleasure out of it already.

Matt Collins
Jesca Hoop - Undress (Republic of Music)

Undress is the kind of understated, stripped back album that so many overblown rock acts claim they’ll produce at some point in their careers but never get round to. Hoop’s smooth yet haunting voice more than holds its own over a single electric guitar on most tracks, complemented by a host of collaborators, like Elbow’s Guy Garvey, Iron & Wine's Sam Beam and Willy Mason. Another Sunday morning classic.

Dom Farrell
Black Keys - Turn Blue (Nonesuch)

Yeah, so we all hate Black Keys now, right? Bloody arena rock sell-outs - it was better when they travelled from toilet to toilet in a battered van. Booooooooo! No, of course not, that would be idiotic. Easy as it might have been for Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney to toss off another El Camino, the influence of established production buddy Danger Mouse is writ large across their most sonically ambitious record to date. Auerbach's guitar flys majestically off the leash on opener 'The Weight Of Love', while a cinematic feel recalling Danger Mouse's Rome project lifts an largely introspective effort elsewhere.

Andrew Gwilym
Lucinda Williams - Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone (Highway 20 Records)

Let’s be honest, you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of Lucinda Williams, she’d probably hunt you down with everything she’s got like Liam Neeson in whatever incarnation of Taken happens to be in the cinemas at any given time. There has always been a seething anger lurking just below the surface of Williams’ work and, as her voice has grown increasingly worn, so it has seeped out with increasing venom. The high points of this 20-track double album and when she is taking verbal revenge on those who have slighted her, in particular 'Protection', 'Cold Day in Hell' and 'Foolishness'. But Williams’ lighter touch is also evidenced by the lovely 'Walk On' and the title track’s elegant take on a poem written by her father Mitch. A high point in her considerable catalogue.

John Skilbeck
Hurray For The Riff Raff - Small Town Heroes (ATO)
Alynda Lee Segarra, the Bronx-bred driving force behind HFTRR, grew up quickly listening to Lower East Side punk bands and worshipping at the church of first-gen riot grrrl bands, before leaving home after her 17th birthday as “a wandering kid who was really confused". It has taken a long and life-altering journey to find herself fronting a country-folk trio in New Orleans, but while the heavy guitars may be absent and the honky-tonk nudged to the fore, the queer-identifying Segarra has kept her moral compass pointing towards social justice and equality. And with her songwriting carrying an emboldened edge that points to a young life lived to the full, Small Town Heroes offered not only skilled songwriting but masses of accrued wisdom.

Pranam Mavahalli
Steve Gunn - Way Out Weather (Paradise of Bachelors)

Introduced to me by a friend in the autumn, I’ve found much to admire here. Beautifully fluid guitar playing, fine melodic songwriting, and all recorded with a warmth that begs to be heard on vinyl. A lovely record, with an off kilter West-African banger of a track being a particular highlight.

Ian Parker
The War on Drugs - Lost In The Dream (Secretly Canadian)

I'm getting all my hipster picks out of the way before the top 10. Well, some of them anyway. After Angel Olsen yesterday, here come the great Philadelphian heroes themselves - my guess to be the overall No. 1 when this year's Calendar wraps up on Christmas Day (though we'll have to wait and see). And why not? Lost In The Dream is their best work yet, echoing Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen and other greats of American blue collar rock. Its hooks are subtle but sink deep. FM radio rock has rarely sounded so good. 

Guy Atkinson
The Hotelier - Home, Like Noplace Is There (Tiny Engines)

A significantly more mature effort than their pop-punk influenced debut, this powerful record proves there's more to emo than crying yourself to sleep.

Steve Pill
Ian William Craig – A Turn of Breath (Recital)

I like to think that Ian William Craig's plan was to record one of the world's greatest operatic rock albums but the engineer forgot to plug in any of the mics apart from one out in the corridor. A Turn of Breath is barely audible after all, a series of vocal echoes and swathes of subtle, misty feedback that entice the listener to lean in further. Played on vinyl, with all the attendant pops and crackles, it is one of the most haunting yet strangely rewarding albums of the year.

1 comment:

  1. The host of this fine blog, Ian, wins Guy's Track of the Day today.