Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Nine

The ninth door of our Musical Advent Calendar brings us the panel's No. 16 albums of the year. Along the way, Gwilym fails to spot the irony in suggesting that he'd like to become a grumpy old git, while disappointing sales bring a once hip artist back down to Skillers' level. 

Andy Welch
The Black Keys – Turn Blue (Nonesuch)

El Camino suffered on the Musical Advent Calendar for its December release, no doubt dropping off a few radars when it was eligible the following year. Turn Blue might suffer just as much for not being quite as memorable – and it's unlikely this will win anywhere near as many new fans as it predecessor did. Nevertheless, spend a little time with this record and while it might not have anything as showy as the likes of 'Lonely Boy' and 'Gold On The Ceiling', it's no less rewarding. I especially love the opener 'Weight Of Love', with its face-melting guitar soloing, the slow burn of 'Bullet In The Brain' and 'Waiting On Words', and '10 Lovers', which even on first listen sounds like you've known it forever. I love the swirling sleeve, too.

Rory Dollard
Neneh Cherry - Blank Project (Smalltown Supersound)

If you're a heritage music star launching a big comeback you can either head down the Johnny Cash route - strip it back to basics and let the nuts and bolts of your talent do the heavy lifting - or follow the Gil Scott-Heron/Bobby Womack model of enthusiastic soundclash with contemporary bells and whistles. Neneh Cherry is, remarkably, now 50 and when she dropped her last solo album the Millenium Bug was still a major societal concern. Blank Project sees her nail the big reboot by combining the above methods. Collaborators Rocketnumbernine provide a steely modernity to the instrumentation but Four Tet's Kieran Hebden, producing, largely keeps things simple - with Cherry's refreshingly militant delivery front and centre.  

Matt Collins
Martin Carr - The Breaks (Tapete)

I think it’s just me and a few really diehard Boo Radleys fans who still find chief songsmith Martin Carr’s solo material compelling. Obviously this is far from a career high, but some excellent indie pop songwriter (if not really singer) fare throughout The Breaks.

Dom Farrell
Eels - The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett (Vagrant)

It's easy to feel like you've heard Mr E's cautionary tales many times before. This parred-down album plays out, in some respects, as a summary of the misdeed, mis-steps and regrets touched upon throughout Eels' wonderfully scattergun career and the singer's searing autobiography. It all builds to a stirring conclusion on 'Mistakes of My Youth'. When Everett gruffly mumbles "In the final moments I, hope that I know that I tried" you're helplessly, completely rooting for him.

Andrew Gwilym
Neil Young – A Letter Home (Third Man Records)

Neil Young is a contrary old git. Having spent much of his autobiography Waging Heavy Peace as well as any number of media interviews promoting his Pono music player and preaching about how music is being ruined by sub-standard fidelity, he goes and records and album in a phone box. Well, it’s not strictly a phone box, in fact it was a refurbished 1947 Voice-O-Graph booth at Jack White’s Third Man Studios, but clearly you are not going to get high quality sound from such a contraption. Yet, mysteriously, the crackly, broken sound is what gives A Letter Home its resonance. It makes Young sound like what he is, a man from another time. It adds intimacy to the stunning rendition of Bert Jansch’s ‘Needle of Death’, complete with chord fumble halfway through, and Tim Hardin’s ‘Reason to Believe’. White himself joins in on vocals and piano on a couple of tracks, something only possible by using the piano to wedge the door of the booth open, and both men sound like they had a blast making the album. It may not be a Neil Young classic but you cannot help to admire a man who steadfastly refuses to tread the same land for too long. Maybe I’d like to be a contrary old git when I get to his age.

John Skilbeck
La Roux - Trouble In Paradise (Polydor)

I completely missed out on La Roux first time around. Typically, some might scoff, I didn’t buy in when she was selling records by the million. It seems Trouble In Paradise has been a hard sell, and Elly Jackson has accused her record label of not giving it sufficient promotion. Considering its enormo-pop chops are on the table from opener 'Uptight Downtown', you wonder exactly what it was the suits were looking for. 'Cruel Sexuality' analyses the politics of the personal via the prism of dancefloor delirium, 'Paradise Is You' teems with poise and passion, and 'Sexotheque' - yes indeed, 'Sexotheque' - bears the sass of early-80s New York proto pop queen Cristina.

Pranam Mavahalli
Martyn – The Air Between Words (Ninja Tune)

I’ve heard Martyn being interviewed enough times to know that he comes across as a thoroughly likeable man. Which makes me wonder – where does his dark music come from? Some of the tracks on this record are irresistibly banging, ominous, and wholly at odds with how Martyn comes across in person. Maybe the more likable he gets, the darker his music turns? For purely for selfish reasons then, I hope he gets more cheerful and affable as the years progress.

Ian Parker
Lucinda Williams - Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone (Highway 20)

Dom has a theory that no double album ever made wouldn't be better as a single record. And, if we ignore the fact that his own favourite album London Calling spread itself over four sides of vinyl, it's usually a pretty sound idea. It's rare that an album holds up for long enough to justify that second disc, but in the case of Lucinda Williams' 11th studio album - a double CD or triple vinyl - there's little sense of drift. Williams' music is never rushed, her brand of country blues belongs in a land where time is always stood still, so perhaps its little wonder that you'll not feel that this is dragging on one second too long.

Guy Atkinson
Somos - Temple of Plenty (Tiny Engines)

Reasonably lightweight emo-pop, but still carries enough melody to help it punch above its weight.

Steve Pill
Taylor McFerrin – Early Riser (Brainfeeder)

Now we have you all gathered together here, let's take a moment to give thanks. Thanks to the fact that Taylor McFerrin wasn't permanently scarred by his dad Bobby's trite acapella anthem 'Don't Worry, Be Happy'. Imagine growing up with that insufferable multi-platinum ditty on a near endless loop in the family house? Every time you fell over and scuffed your knee or dropped your ice cream face down, you'd be met by old Bobster pulling out that inane slice of psychopath's wisdom. It would be reason enough to end it all before you made it to big school. So today I want to give thanks that Taylor was made of tougher stuff. Instead of packing Early Riser with meaningless platitudes, he instead drew on his father's love for vocal gymnastics and jazzy interludes to craft a soporific, downbeat masterpiece that wisely left the lion's share of the vocals to a roster of future stars - check out RYAT's Björk-ish turn on 'Place in my Heart' for just one of many glorious examples.
Taylor McFerrin feat. Ryat - Place in My Heart from Simon Benjamin on Vimeo.

1 comment:

  1. I can't decide whether the La Roux song is the worst thing I've heard in my life or pure pop perfection. For that reason alone it wins Guy's Track of the Day.