Monday, December 22, 2014

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Twenty-Two

Door Twenty-Two of the Musical Advent Calendar brings us our No. 3 albums of the year, and an array of musical genres. We find out what would happen if Bruce Springsteen discovered yacht rock, learn about something called phantom funk but, perhaps most importantly of all, rescue jazz fusion from the bargain bin. Off we go...

Andy Welch
The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream (Secretly Canadian)

Often you get albums that sound great on first listen and don't stand up to much scrutiny. Others benefit repeated plays, offering up new elements with each listen until they really get under your skin. Rarely do you get an album like Lost In The Dream that pulled me in from the first play and kept me interested all year. It sounds like Springsteen if he got into yacht rock, Billy Joel if he was slightly less middle-of-the-road and a thousand other comparisons that almost nail what's so brilliant about The War On Drugs' latest album. I can't think of an album I've listened to more this year, and I love it. 

Rory Dollard
Glass Animals - Zaba (Wolf Tone)

A few years ago Daddy G of Massive Attack hailed a new direction for his band and dubbed it "phantom funk". Asked about it when in a, ahem, clearer frame of mind he denied all knowledge, mocked the very idea and moved swiftly along. Glass Animals apparently did the opposite, because Zaba is the first great phantom funk album. L Ron Hubbard made something up out of thin air and it became a religion, surely a genre can be born the same way? For a debut its box of tricks is quite remarkable, one moment sensual and serpentine, the next menacing and mysterious, and the whole thing is weirdly slo-mo car-crash danceable.

Matt Collins
Sharon Van Etten - Are We There (Jagjaguwar)

Sharon van Etten is the darkest singer songwriter around, mostly eschewing the acoustic for electric guitar (and on this album, increasingly electronic textures). And Are We There is a typical SvE outing, full of bitterness, regret and super clever harmonies. Not her best, but still up there with the best of the year.

Dom Farrell
Elbow - The Take Off And Landing Of Everything (Fiction)

After 'One Day Like This' from 2008’s sensational The Seldom Seen Kid took Elbow overground, Bury’s favourite sons arguably strained a little too hard for further festival singalong moments on follow-up Build A Rocket Boys. Not that there wasn’t plenty to recommend from Guy Garvey’s musing on his childhood and growing up in north Greater Manchester, and The Take Off And Landing Of Everything picks up many of those delicately woven lyrical threads in the present day - gruff but perpetually hopeful middle age.  The result is some of Elbow’s most beautifully evocative music, with Garvey operating as a master of his craft. The coda to 'Fly Boy Blue/Lunette' might be the finest thing they’ve ever committed to record. It’s preposterously good. When 'My Sad Captains' references “the corner boys” from “Lippy Kids” - the previous album’s high point - Garvey uses the old Springsteen trick of reflecting mistily on romantic ideals that agonisingly and inevitably fall short. Much like a lot of his work on Elbow’s sixth record, he absolutely nails it.

Andrew Gwilym
Jack White – Lazaretto (Third Man Records)

God bless Jack White. God bless dear old brilliantly bonkers Jack White. We need to find ways to cryogenically freeze or clone this man, the world needs him. No matter the band or the project, he delivers and second solo album Lazaretto is no different. White has always been a man who can turn his hand to any genre, and he surfs through plenty with aplomb. Blues, country, soul, rock, even hip-hop and funk. It’s all here. The title track is magnificently crazed, White almost raps the lyrics before a brief stop and an unstoppable almost metal-like rush towards the finish. ‘High Ball Stepper’ is that rare gem of an instrumental that keeps full grip of your attention. But the high watermark is ‘That Black Bat Licorice’. It contains the best use of the word “avuncular” ever put to record, and a brilliant section where White bemoans his baby making his fingers histrionic, which is followed by two unhinged guitar lines. Live it is unforgettable. What a guy.

John Skilbeck
Sharon Van Etten - Are We There (Jagjaguwar)

Many of Sharon Van Etten’s songs start slowly and build through moments that take away the breath to giant climaxes, and her career is heading in a similar direction judging by Are We There. There was little to catch the seasoned Van Etten listener off guard on album number four from the New York resident: familiar themes of heartbreak, oppression, regret and desire streaked through pared-back musical arrangements. Yet there was plenty to exalt, from an increasingly remarkable artist. Did I mention I’m seeing her play the Brudenell in April? Bit giddy about that one.

Pranam Mavahalli
Flying Lotus - You're Dead (Warp)

Ah jazz fusion, the musical genre that hipness forgot. Weather Report had the chops, and Steely Dan had the hits, yet neither had the records that you'd use to impress or friends or a potential mate with. Which makes Flying Lotus' latest all the bolder for taking this much maligned genre and turning it on its head by injecting some much needed coolness. You're Dead splices jazz fusion with Flylo's hallmarks (hip-hop, electronica, 8-bit chiptunage) and to thrilling effect. It references Miles Davis, features cameos from stars such as Snoop Dogg, and yet Flylo's unique artistry and vision suffuses it all. Given my expectations, this album could have really disappointed, but if anything it's made my admiration for him grow.

Ian Parker
Temples - Sun Structures (Heavenly)

Beatles-esque melodies? Check. Byrds-style rhythms? Check. Swirling psychedelic sounds beamed in straight from 1967. You're covered here. Does it sound like an album 44 years after it's time? Actually, no, it's got more than enough modern touches, but even if it didn't, who cares? We've already wasted enough words on here debating whether or not it matters if a record has a retro tinge. Stuff this good is timeless.

Guy Atkinson
White Lung - Deep Fantasy (Domino)

Angular, snotty punk with one of my favourite guitar sounds in recent years.

Steve Pill
Jolie Holland – Wine Dark Sea (Anti-)

Some 13 years after Parky and I first DJed together, is 2014 finally the time when our musical tastes wholly overlap like some fantastical Venn diagram that just contains a big circle filled with every great album ever? Given that he has spent half the year hoovering up Blue Note reissues and dropped GoGo Penguin in the Ragged Glories countdown, while I've chosen to put two old-timey gals in my own top 24, the signs were looking positive. But alas, no. It won't come as too much of a spoiler for me to reveal that my top two albums aren't both by Neil Young. And while this is the second ex-member of the Be Good Tanya's to make a truly beautiful solo album this year, both have charmed me by dint of not sounding too country-ish after all. While Frazey Ford went old school soul, Jolie Holland has added a swampy atmosphere and bluesy guitar licks more in keeping with her Anti- label mates like Chuck E Weiss and Tom Waits. Lovely stuff.

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