Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Sixteen

Is red wine good for you or bad? Does an apple a day really keep the doctor away? Or does reading too many tabloid health studies cause anxiety? We don't know, but Pranam is hear to tell us that hip hop is good for mental health. That, and the rest of our panel's No. 9 albums of the year, is all you really need to know about. 

Andy Welch
Gruff Rhys – American Interior (Turnstile)

There's been a million words written about the story behind American Interior and John Evans' search across America for a Welsh speaking tribe of native Americans. But in spite of the dense back story it's still Rhys' songwriting and unparalleled ear for a melody that steal the show. The Super Furry Animals' absence from popular music is more keenly felt as each year goes by but while Rhys is making solo music as good as this the pain is a little easier to take.

Rory Dollard
Larkin Poe - Kin (RH Music)

A first album proper from two of the most hardworking girls on the Americana circuit and a realisation in full of their previous promise. Having already released numerous EPs and collaborations, not to mention touring as Elvis Costello's backing band, this is a debut that swaggers with confidence from the off. At times it feels like a whistle-stop tour of their party tricks - a tear-jerker here, a romper-stomper glam-rocker there - but the sheer star power Rebecca and Megan Lovell offers a tangible throughline. They played the beer garden of a local pub in Cumbria once and God bless them for that.

Matt Collins
Beck - Morning Phase (EMI)

It was one of 2014’s best pieces of news that Beck is up to recording and playing music again. And he’s back in Sea Change-esque mood. Morning Phase is a reflective piece, all gently strummed slow acoustic guitars and wistful soundscapes. And being Beck, great songs start to finish. 

Dom Farrell
Amazing Snakeheads - Amphetamine Ballads (Domino)

Looking over this list as a whole, my rundown feels a touch lightweight this year. Thankfully, here's some much-needed blood and gristle courtesy of Amazing Snakeheads. The Birthday Party fixation is pretty clear but getting an indication of what a young Nick Cave might have come up with if he'd been from inner-city Scotland and developed a liking for Tennants Super as opposed to the ol' heroin makes for a compelling listen, driven by rampant, menacing energy.

Andrew Gwilym
Wilko Johnson & Roger Daltrey – Going Back Home (Chess)

When former Dr Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson accepted The Who singer Roger Daltrey’s invitation to make an album he was convinced it would be the last thing he would do. Johnson had been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and had months to live. The album was completed in a week and that sense of urgency leaps out of the speakers. Johnson’s distinctive percussive guitar lines hammer out this collection of Feelgood classics, a Dylan cover and Johnson originals. The title track is tremendous gritty British rhythm and blues, punctuated with thrilling blasts of electrified harmonica and the groove never lets up. Daltrey has not sounded this invigorated in quite some time and this would have served as a wonderful epitaph for Johnson. But, the best start of this story is that shortly after the album’s release Johnson underwent a radical surgery which has cured him and hopefully means we might have another of these collaborations to look forward to.

John Skilbeck
Remember Remember - Forgetting The Present (Rock Action Records)

A twinkling wonder from start to finish from the Glaswegian instrumentalists. Taste the notes of jazz and the disco flavours, and breathe in the essence of fantasia. Then wonder how this went widely unnoticed this year, with its title proving so very prophetic. An overlooked true gem.

Pranam Mavahalli
Shabazz Palaces - Lese Majesty (Sub Pop)

In October I spent an 8-hour round trip from Manchester to Plymouth for work. It was painful. And in my rush to leave the house in the morning, I’d left my reading material at home, so all I had for company was my phone and the latest Shabazz Palaces’ album. If it weren’t for the latter, I’m sure the combined effect of confined space, no air condition and zero stimulation for hours on end would have broken me. There’s some fantastically original beats on here, and a fair degree of swing to keep your head nodding too. Research suggests that hip hop’s good for mental health, and on the evidence of this album’s effect on me on that day, I’d wholeheartedly agree.

Ian Parker
The Black Keys - Turn Blue (Nonesuch)

After writing their pensions with the stadium-filling El Camino, the Black Keys have followed it up with a far better record which was always destined to be less successful. Gone are the radio-friendly choruses in favour of churning psychedelia and heavy rhythms. Dan Auerbach's recent divorce explains a shift in lyrical tone, but don't confuse this for any kind of break-up album. It’s the latest chapter in the fascinating story of a band who never stand still. 

Guy Atkinson
Prawn - Kingfisher (Topshelf Records)

Like many of the bands I enjoyed most this year, Prawn excel at the more robust end of the emo spectrum. Musically, it pays homage to 80s college rock but it's the overwrought lyrics that ensure its emo credentials aren't going to be questioned by anyone with thick-rimmed glasses any time soon.

Steve Pill
Hundred Waters – The Moon Rang Like a Bell (OWSLA)

At times it can feel as if new musical genres are solely explored to fuck even further with the odd, restrictive categories of iTunes ("Surely not EVERY album I own is 'Alternative & Punk'?!"). Nevertheless, even if Apple covered every genre combination possible, The Moon Rang Like A Bell might still turn out to be the world's first album of post-dubstep, alt-country-tinged gothic folk pop (at least until the new Bieber album drops, obvs). There are days when the sublime intro to 'Show Me Love' has kicked in that I've been convinced this should be my album of the year and other times when the endless vocal loops have irritated the shit out of me. That it made an impression either way is probably a good thing though so number 9 it is.

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