Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Eighteen

You could be forgiven for expecting Day 18 of the Musical Advent Calendar to be focused entirely on our No. 7 albums of the year, and yet here we find Pranam prattling on about a record he forgot to include entirely, Steve wandering off into the territory of random film soundtracks, and Andrew planning his 2015 list.

Andy Welch

Slow Club – Complete Surrender (Caroline International)

With each album, Slow Club have made steps toward bigger, bolder, more ambitious music. 'Complete Surrender' is the sound of them realising many of the ideas they've hinted at in the past, as well as bringing in a few new tricks along the way. Rebecca's transition from indie belle to soul siren is complete, coming over like a broken-hearted Stax star on 'The Queen's Nose', and Britain's answer to Jenny Lewis on 'Not Mine To Love', while 'Charles' Number One' is as beautiful an ode to a girlfriend as you're likely to hear this year. As their individual songwriting styles get further apart, the areas where they either complement each other or reign in certain tendencies become even more enjoyable.

Rory Dollard
The War on Drugs - Lost In the Dream (Secretly Canadian)

When the last War on Drugs album landed I compared it to Spiritualized front by Tim Burgess. And if they don't feel the need to tinker with the formula, I certainly don't need to think of a new lazy comparison. They meander better than any band I know at the moment, Adam Granduciel's acid-fuzz grooves forming and reforming like a blissed out kaleidoscope. It's mostly a triumph of sound over songwriting but a triumph all the same.

Matt Collins
Elbow - The Take Off and Landing of Everything (Fiction)

It might feel like Elbow are repeatedly chasing the success of 'One Day Like This' with their insistence on releasing new albums, but the content of the records really doesn’t support that theory. 'Charge' in particular is a proggy affair that wouldn’t have been out of place on their long ago debut. Not their best ever but the glorious dark edge remains with the pop leanings.

Dom Farrell
Real Estate - Atlas (Domino)

The year's most jangly album? Gloriously so. These guitar lines weave an irresistible, shimmering pattern throughout. The sound of a hazy, lazy, cocktail-soaked beach party far from home, accompanied by lyrical reminders that you've lost your wallet, phone and keys and probably should have headed home back ago.

Andrew Gwilym
Sun Kil Moon – Benji (Caldo Verde)

Mark Kozolek first appeared on my radar with his brilliant 2001 covers album What’s Next to the Moon, which saw him strip 10 Bon Scott-era AC/DC tracks down to his gentle fingerpicked guitar and voice. It was a real eye-opener, but superbly executed. Kozolek’s original work has always been worthy of fanfare in its own right, and Benji marks a career high point. Sixty-one minutes of a middle-aged man’s musing on family and death may not be everyone’s idea of a fun listen but from the opening notes of ‘Carissa’ to the closer ‘Ben’s My Friend’, which might be the best song here, it’s a gripping record. By the way, that AC/DC mention should serve as an alert that Rock or Bust will be on my list next year. I’ll just give you a full 12 months to digest that information. It feels like the right thing to do.

John Skilbeck
Childbirth - It's A Girl (Help Yourself)

Just the job if you’re after 10 tracks in 17 minutes, on imported cassette tape, of some fabulously funny and righteously riotous feminist venting. Childbirth hail from Seattle, are obsessed with Sheryl Crow (though you wouldn’t know it), and don’t appear to give a damn what you, I or anyone make of them. All the same, by my reckoning they’re damn-near perfect.

Pranam Mavahalli
Cate Le Bon - Mug Museum (Turnstile)

A wonderful exercise in minimalism that is all the more effective for being so restrained. There are a number of fine crafted songs here, with the kind of uncluttered arrangements that recall The Strokes' debut and Television's Marquee Moon. There were a bunch of great guitar records this year, but this one nabs my top slot. PS – apologies are due to Stephen Malkmus. I always forget at least one record each year, and this time it was the turn of Mr Malkmus. Certainly a top-ten player, yet conspicuously absent from my list.

Ian Parker
Melanie De Biasio - No Deal (PIAS)

As already noted in nominating GoGo Penguin, I've taken the process of building a jazz collection to another level in 2014. I'm still an amateur in such circles, so I'm not going to pretend to bring a seasoned ear to my analysis of Melanie De Biasio's second long-player. But it seems to me like a record of pure class. It's sultry and smooth, and while the notion of her being the 'Belgian Billie Holiday' might be stretching things a little far, it's a joy to listen to. The fact that it is genuinely 33 and one-third minutes long makes it all the better.

Guy Atkinson
Gates - Bloom and Breathe (Pure Noise Records)

This would likely have been my album of the year had we been doing the calendar back in the halcyon days of post-hardcore in the early 00s. As it is, it's seventh and evidence that my music taste hasn't changed that much since I was 14.

Steve Pill
Brian Reitzell – Auto Music (Smalltown Supersound)

A debut solo album from the drummer of 1980s cartoon punkers Redd Kross is not something I thought I’d be pitching in my top 10, but a more telling fact about Brian Reitzell is that he was also the musical supervisor on the pitch-perfect soundtrack to Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, which joined the dots between shoegaze, Squarepusher and J-Pop. While Auto Music undeniably has a DIY punk spirit, it is his carefully-curated, stylistically diverse soundtrack work that really informs the album. From pulsing Mogwai-indebted post rock and sprawling indie electronica to motoric grooves and Spirit of Eden-style song deconstructions, this is a revelation every bit as startling as finding out that Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan were soundtracked by that guy from Pop Will Eat Itself.  

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