Tuesday, December 02, 2014

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Two

On day two of the Advent Calendar, we're starting to hit our stride as the panel outline their No. 23 albums of the year. How else to explain Dom pondering a future record about paddleboarding, Matt booking himself in for a bowl haircut and Guy declaring himself a sucker (possibly a better self-declaration than Pranam's yesterday...)?

Andy Welch
The Lost Brothers – New Songs Of Dawn And Dust (Lojinx)

I've been a fan of The Lost Brothers, Oisin and Mark, for a good few years. Their album So Long John Fante is an underrated gem, hopefully to be rediscovered one day to get the credit it deserves. Their live shows, so full of energy and fun, have often varied from their more restrained, precise recorded work. On this fourth album, recorded in Liverpool with producer Bill Ryder Jones and a little help from his old Coral bandmate Nick Power – it’s the first of their records not made in the States – they've managed to blend their more two sides, the serious and the fun.

Rory Dollard
Curtis Harding - Soul Power (Burger Records)

You know when you're a few quid short of free delivery on an order and you add something to the basket purely because it's got a nice front cover? That. That kind of decision making has landed with several duds over the years but this isn't one of them. A nice mix of old school soul and some rockier tear-ups, but apparently widely unavailable when Ian tried to land a copy. Worth another try, boss.

Matt Collins
Let’s Wrestle - Let’s Wrestle (Fortuna Pop)

Just as cheeky a set of chappies as the name suggests, this is all delightful indie tunes, and undoubtedly bowl haircuts. Fun times down the indie club.

Dom Farrell
Neil Young - Storytone (Reprise)

Divorce wife of 35-years; shack up with a younger movie actress and partner with her in rampant environmental activism and paddleboarding; release a crowdfunded, high-end music player shaped like a Toblerone; publish an autobiography based around a lifetime of car ownership; follow an album recorded in Jack White’s enchanted photobooth with a record accompanied by some sort of behemoth Disney score orchestra. All in the year he turns 69. Neil Young remains a quite marvellous lunatic. Given his recent recorded output, an album dedicated to the joys of paddleboarding feels grimly inevitable. But Storytone focuses on love, loss and a desire to solve ecological problems almost as complex as Young’s character. There are a couple of complete turkeys on here and the orchestral schmaltz is laid on too thick in places, but when Young starkly muses on his own failings and burning passions we are treated to beautiful, heartbreaking brilliance.

Andrew Gwilym
Elbow – The Take Off and Landing of Everything (Fiction)

This album will carry a particular resonance for me for its role in helping me cope with turning 30. For whatever reason, moving into my fourth decade bothered me immensely, I felt a real anxiety about it. Call it an existential crisis, a realisation of my own mortality or me just being a miserable bugger (almost certainly the latter), but I found myself dreading my birthday no matter the plans girlfriend, family and friends had made for me. That’s where Guy Garvey and pals helped out. On the night of my birthday Gemma had booked us tickets to see Elbow at the 02 Arena and, during a set heavily built around this album, Garvey’s soothing voice and ruminations, amidst Elbow’s widescreen backing, set my mind at ease. Getting older will be just fine, don’t you worry about that. A few beers followed and I ended the day in a more celebratory mood than I had started it in. Guy and co, I thank you for ending my 20s on the right note.

John Skilbeck
Jennifer Castle - Pink City (No Quarter)

Toronto’s Jennifer Castle has been likened, at least for the quirks in her voice, to Joni Mitchell. Castle's second album under her own name was slow to grab yours truly's attention but since hooking on in late summer rarely a couple of days has slid by without Pink City demanding a play. I’m reminded on the piano-led tracks more of Natalie Merchant than Mitchell, but Castle’s voice is versatile, one moment sober on the piano-led Nature and the next channelling Joni on the country carousing of 'Down River', a stand-out track that comes tagged with a masterful closing harmonica solo from Kath Bloom.

Plank – Hivemind (Akoustik Anarky)

Good news is hard to come by, so let's all rejoice in the fact that sales of vinyl are increasing. And Plank's second album strikes me as an album that the vinyl format is made of. It's structured very distinctly into two halves - side A picks up from their debut: taut, crisp, krautrock influenced grooves with added heaviness and funk for good measure. But Side B is where it's at for me; an ambitious suite of songs that segue beautifully into each other, much like Pink Floyd's Echoes. It's a surprising but wholly welcome turn, and I look forward to seeing where their next chapter takes them.

Ian Parker
Elbow - The Take Off And Landing of Everything (Fiction)

I can't remember the last time I got excited about an Elbow album - but then that's never been the point of them. This is a band whose worth lies in their surety of touch; their understated qualities. They get better and better with age, so it makes perfect sense that on an album where Guy Garvey tells us all that it's okay to be feeling a little older, they've hit the sweet spot once again.

Whirr - Sway (Graveface)

I'm still not sure whether this is any good or if it's just landed in the midst of the woozy, fuzzy shoegaze revival, which I've fallen for in a big way. Sucker.

Steve Pill
Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes (self-released)

Is this the point where the Radiohead frontman finally settles into a corner? There are certainly no alarms and no surprises on Tomorrow's Modern Boxes, from the typically unusual release method to the glitchy electronica backing that has become Yorke’s default setting for many years now. Not only that, but it lacks the Beatles-y melodies that made the curiously unloved King of Limbs my favourite post-Kid A album.
And yet, and yet... It is still a willfully brilliant and comfortingly morose dispatch from one of the finest musical artists of his generation and, perversely, the disappointments only serve as a measure of his genius. This may not be the great leap forward we’ve come to expect, but it is still an atmospheric, engaging and multi-layered album that rewards repeat listens.


  1. Double Elbow and me picking Neil Young at his most flaccid and grandma. This is starting to feel like some sort of post-Ali conspiracy to piss Guy off.

  2. Guy, you said you always tried to make it through about 10 seconds of one of Ali's picks. Please let us know how far into the Neil track you make it...

  3. Jennifer Castle is a big winner for me, may cost me my first purchase of the ragged glories window.
    Liked Guy's pick plenty as a heavy grind but could have done without the vocals entirely

  4. Blimey. Dom's right - this has pissed me off. My thoughts on the insipid Elbow have been well documented, but that Lost Brothers song really is quite something. It makes Ali's picks sound like Cannibal Corpse. Sorry Andy.

    I made it 57 seconds into the Neil Young song before the urge to cut off my own ears with a rusty knife overwhelmed me.

    For what it's worth, Guy's Track of the Day goes to Dollard.

    I can't wait for the abuse my picks are going to get from hereon in.

  5. very glad to have hoovered up a GAOTD (guy's album of the day....come on) particularly given I suspect tomorrow's selection has NOOOOOOOOOOO chance

  6. I take it the selected Neil Young song is the acceptable face of that album, rather than one of the turkeys. In any case it gets my vote today, and in fact it reminds me of Mercury Rev circa Deserter's Songs. So bravo NY, and well done Rory for the GAOTD. I'm way out of contention for another Guy gong for quite a few days.