Friday, December 19, 2014

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Nineteen

Some of the panel are getting a little nostalgic today. Matt recalls the days when Embrace were poised to take over the world, Andy thinks back to a sunny spring morning, and Pranam continues to celebrate his achievement in completing the Panini World Cup sticker album. Somewhere in between are our No. 6 albums of the year.

Andy Welch
Beck - Morning Phase (EMI)

I remember sitting at the back of an empty bus early one spring morning as it passed over Waterloo bridge. As I looked around and saw the sun bouncing off the buildings along the Thames, Beck's 'Morning' started up, and it sounded so unspeakably perfect I don't think I'll ever chance upon such a brilliant match of music and setting again. Maybe that slightly clich├ęd description of hearing a song at the right time clouds my judgement of the rest of the album, but that's why it's up here. I became slightly obsessed with how slow the album is; it sounds as if it's about to stall on several occasions but just manages to keep it together, plodding, dependable, and in certain places, perfect.

Rory Dollard
Beck - Morning Phase (EMI)

Modern art is, of course, a load of old shit. But I feel a little guilty of the same breed of claptrap when I say that the magic of Morning Phase is as much what it isn't as what it is. Sonically, Beck can do virtually anything, a musical polymath with experimental leanings verging on the ADD spectrum. He's basically a walking Ipod shuffle of styles and sounds. Yet this album is resolutely coherent, a series of statements made in one voice and demands to be heard start-to-finish.

Matt Collins
Embrace - Embrace (Cooking Vinyl)

Genuinely thought I’d be an old man by the time Embrace got round to releasing a new album, and they say it’s their best ever (they did say that the last four times too). A slightly new direction on this record (translation: a bit rockier, a few more synths) but still the classic Embrace formula of arms in the air choruses, can’t-we-skip-this-one ballads and drifty last few tunes. Overall, great stuff.

Dom Farrell
Wild Beasts - Present Tense (Domino)

On their first album recorded without long-time producer Chris Talbot, Wild Beasts return with a pulsing electro sound packing considerably more bulk than the dreamy soundscapes of predecessor Smother. Contemporary R&B and pop influences are evident but, at the same time, this couldn’t possibly be anyone else. Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming’s duelling vocals remain a delight and the former has turned out his most vivid and engaging batch of lyrics to date - spinning class politics and sex into a heady mix that Jarvis Cocker would have been proud of in his pomp.

Andrew Gwilym
Leonard Cohen – Popular Problems (Columbia)

Remember when earlier in the advent calendar when I said when I grow up I wanted to be a contrary old git like Neil Young? Well, I’ve decided I might like to be Leonard Cohen instead. Should I ever get to the age of 80 I struggle to see myself being much good for anything to be perfectly honest, yet Cohen has entered his ninth decade with one of his best albums. Perhaps even more remarkable is how effortless it feels. His wry sense of humour remains intact - opener ‘Slow’ claims the restrained tempo is nothing to do with his advancing age, it’s just a slow song – whilst melding in mentions of genocide and civil war, as you do. It’s a perfect smoky, late-night listen that will leave songwriters of half, or even a quarter, of his age filled with envy. Eighty might be the new 40 based on this.

John Skilbeck
Katy B - Little Red (Columbia)

Keep your Tay-Tay, this was my pop record of the year by a street.

Pranam Mavahalli
Todd Terje - It's Album Time (Olsen)

Ah the warm, heady, stupid days of the summer. There was a World Cup - England were atrocious, there were Panini sticker albums – I completed mine - and there was Todd Terje’s It’s Album Time. Unashamedly entertaining, relentlessly upbeat and totally unseasonal, when I hear this record I’m back in the long days and short nights of May, June and July again.

Ian Parker
Frazey Ford - Indian Ocean (Nettwerk)

I suppose, before we start, that I should credit Steve Pill for this. We've officially entered some kind of alternative realm if I'm needing Steve to flag up great records by country folk types rather than the other way around, but that's where we ended up with the second solo album from ex-Be Good Tanya Frazey Ford (in my defence I was away when it came out…). But enough of such inside baseball - we need to talk about a great record. After her first solo album picked up where the Be Good Tanyas left off, all quaint and quirky Americana, Indian Ocean is a bit of a departure. Ford returned to her first loves - a bunch of old Al Green records - during the writing process, and before she really understood what had happened, ended up in Memphis recording the resulting songs with Al Green's actual band, the Hi Rhythm section. This resulting country soul crossover is a real gem, lent a poignant postscript by the death of guitarist Teenie Hodges after it was recorded.

Guy Atkinson
Pianos Become the Teeth - Keep You (Epitaph)

A significant departure from the pulsating screamo of their first two albums, this effort delivers far more introspective vocals and brooding music, with stunning results.  

Steve Pill
Plaid – Reachy Prints (Warp)

Aphex Twin got all the media attention for his long-awaited and typically idiosyncratic comeback in 2014 but it was another 1990s electronica act that crafted the more inventive, unexpected and ultimately satisfying album. Each of the nine tracks on Reachy Prints is pleasingly distinctive. Matin Luminaire has a Gallic flavour, Hawkmoth builds in layers of melody, and on more than one occasion it sounds as if they are trying to rewrite the theme to Chariots of Fire on vintage synths. Yet despite all these tangents, there's a sort of overarching mood of wonderfully dreamy, proggy electronic pop, which doesn't need frustrating track titles or dark web launches to make it more interesting.

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