Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Seventeen

Day 17 brings our panel's No. 8 albums of the year to the Musical Advent Calendar, and if you're beginning to feel the pace after reading 170+ album reviews so far, Dollard has brought along a palate cleanser. 

Andy Welch
Warpaint – Warpaint (Rough Trade)

Like most of the Advent panel, I was a big fan of Warpaint's first EP and debut album. This second album continues the undulating, subdued mood of Exquisite Corpse and The Fool and strips back the instrumentation even more, which serves to amplify the ethereal aesthetic even more. It's dense, and admittedly took me a while to get into, but once it got under my skin, it stayed there.

Rory Dollard
Nothing - Guilty of Everything (Relapse)

Sometimes a man needs a palate-cleanser. At posh restaurants they might offer you some kind of sorbet to do the trick (or so I understand). At Chez Dollard, I get you back on an even keel after an advent calendar full of relatively gentle offerings with the densest slab of music I've heard this year. It's not shouty-screamy or overly showy but man it's a glorious grind. Of all the shoegaze bands who've picked up the My Bloody Valentine baton in recent years I don't think any of them have quite grasped Kevin Shields' brute-force beligerence as clearly as Nothing.

Matt Collins
Baxter Drury - It's A Pleasure (PIAS)

More than just Ian’s son now, Baxter Drury has carved out the most unique of sounds. His lazy cockney vocals are deceptively melodic and insanely catchy, his backing singer’s voice is beautifully layered and the bass carries the laid back indie electro vibe along beautifully.

Dom Farrell
Antlers - Familiars (Transgressive)

Does this count as an upbeat Antlers album? Okay, its hardly Surfin' USA but general considerations of aging, life and death are decidedly more chipper compared to what's come before. No family pets being "put to sleep" - in what has become one of alt-rock's more unlikely encore set pieces - here. What we do have are beautiful, ethereal soundscapes where intricately arranged songs are still allowed room to breath, slowly burn their way into your consciousness and soar majestically. Wonderful stuff.

Andrew Gwilym
The Black Keys – Turn Blue (Nonesuch)

Imagine it. You’ve grafted and grafted for over a decade, refined your sound and become one of the biggest bands in the world. Surely all you do now is go back to the same well of inspiration from where your multi-million selling award-winning stellar global smash album came from? Right? Right? Wrong, if you’re The Black Keys. After the rampaging blues/soul of El Camino, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney went for something more spacious and hazy. There is nothing here to rival the immediacy of ‘Lonely Boy’ or ‘Gold on the Ceiling’, but a bit of patience and Turn Blue reveals itself to be up there with their best work. ‘The Weight of Love’ is a stunning opener, building from a Pink Floydesque strummed intro to an almost Led Zeppelin like blow-out with guitar solos veering all over the place. There’s barely a let up from there. ‘Fever’ is infectious, ‘Bullet in the Brain’ is irresistible and ‘It’s Up to You Now’ are further standouts. It’s heavy going, and closing track ‘Gotta Get Away’ almost feels like an acknowledgement of that, finishing a great album on a lightweight but satisfying note.

John Skilbeck
Protomartyr - Under Color Of Official Right (Hardly Art)

Eagulls, a Leeds band who curiously found themselves on David Letterman’s US TV show early in the year, put out a similar record to this snarling, influenced-by-post-punk LP. Protomartyr hail from Detroit, and in 2014 at least they outmuscled the Eagulls-headed UK new wave of new rage assault on the senses. Opener 'Maidenhead' delves down a dark alley of despair as serpentine guitar lines lock in the listener, while 'Scum, Rise!' transforms a complicated tangle of melody and rancour into something approaching a pop song.

Pranam Mavahalli
Deerhoof - La Isla Bonita (Upset The Rhythm)

Deerhoof cram more ideas into their albums than other bands seem to fit in their entire careers. Taking the familiar guitar/bass/drums format but applying it through a cubist lens, I’ve enjoyed pretty much every album they’ve done. And this stripped-back record is up there with my favourites. Recorded live, it showcases how a little can go a long way. Huge on imagination, chops, 90 degree tonal shifts, and balls to the floor rockingness, it ticks a lot of very different boxes - often at the same time.

Ian Parker
Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires - Dereconstructed (Sub Pop)

"Four Birmingham boys have made what might be the most important rock record about the South ever released". So read the standfirst on a lengthy feature on The Bitter Southerner - a blog which, from its name, needs no further explanation. As someone who counts the Drive-By Truckers' The Dirty South as one of the few (and highest-placed) non-Neil Young albums in my all-time top 10, I couldn't read a sentence like that and move on as though nothing had happened. So instead I dove straight in. Dereconstructed is an unapologetic rip through what the aforementioned Truckers affectionately call the "duality of the Southern thang", that complicated history which describes a land at once portrayed both as the most hospitable and the most bigoted corner of those United States. Dereconstructed does not have the same literary approach to telling the stories as the Truckers did on The Dirty South and Southern Rock Opera - this is a rawer, more direct, well, dereconstruction of the South's history. The Glory Fires are here to blow up the myths and misunderstandings about their homeland, and the results are duly explosive.  

Guy Atkinson
Makthaverskan - Makthaverskan II (Run for Cover Records)

Despite their name evoking images of Scandinavian black metal, this album in fact serves up a masterclass of distorted and melodic post-punk, or dream pop, or shoegaze, or indie, or whatever.

Steve Pill
Paul White – Shaker Notes (R&S)

In the last few years, R&S Records has increasingly become one of those ever-consistent labels you can trust to turn up something worthwhile or interesting with almost every new release, from James Blake, Pariah, Lone and more. Paul White was new to me when I saw him recommended on the Sounds of the Universe website, but his fourth album, Shaker Notes is yet another stellar release. Rhythmic, experimental, downbeat and enigmatic, it is a tricky thing to pin down – I’ve seen reviews spotting references as diverse as Fela Kuti, the Cramps and the Mighty Boosh. While it is admirably odd and unpredictable in places, there are proper songs in among the soundscapes too – from the melancholy 'Running on a Rainy Day' to the dreamlike 'Where You Gonna Go?'

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