Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Fifteen

Gwilym reveals why maths is not his strong point, and Pranam explains why he's a little screwed up inside. But enough of such piffling nonsense. Today is the turning point. Today is the day we enter our top 10s. It gets serious from now on.

Andy Welch
Tobias Jesso Jr – Goon (True Panther)

If Tobias Jesso Jr stays true to his word, it'll be a horrific shame. He's said in several interviews that Goon is going to be his only album as an artist, and from now on he's going to concentrate on writing songs for other artists. Nevertheless, we'll always have this, his ever-so-slightly shonky collection of Nilsson-esque heartbreak ballads detailing his girlfriend leaving him, his ex-girlfriend not loving him any more, and not being able to get over his ex. It might be one note in theme, and musically quite basic, but there's something very special about this album, one new fans will likely carry on discovering until he's forced out of retirement in 2046.

Rory Dollard
Mountain Goats - Beat the Champ (Merge)

Having not entirely disenfranchised fans with a 2011 album featuring songs based on verses of the Bible, John Darnielle's penchant for the concept album touched even more outre heights here with a 13-song set about professional wrestling. When Bruce Springsteen was asked for a title track to The Wrestler, he played safe with allegory, metaphor, double speak. Here Darnielle writes about stipulation matches, masks, marketing gimmicks, travel commitments between shows, storylines, fan reaction. Everything but Hulk Hogan, essentially. But there's no escape, it's not about suplexes - it's about life, death, relationships, loneliness, desperation, hope. Like all the best music.

Matt Collins
Django Django - Born Under Saturn (Because)

You’ve never seen a crowd bop up and down satisfyingly till you’ve seen Django Django play to them. Their second album, Born Under Saturn, isn’t quite as instant as their debut, but who cares? It’s not like anyone else is going to churn out a record that sounds just like them. Tracks like 'Shake Tremble' show they still know to deliver their trademark sound better than anyone.

Dom Farrell
The Charlatans - Modern Nature (BMG)

Understandably, the untimely death of powerhouse drummer Jon Brookes in 2013 felt like the end for The Charlatans. Without a creditable album to their name for at least a decade (I love 2004’s Up At The Lake; I’m pretty sure the band themselves aren’t actually too keen on it), robbed of their beating heart and again contemplating death having been hit with bankruptcy, depression and drug addiction along the way, why would the great survivors of Baggy and Britpop bother dusting themselves down again? Modern Nature gave them a beautiful reason to do so. If opener 'Talking in Tones' - which would not be out of place on debut Some Friendly - suggests a retreat towards the comforts of the past, soulful songs of love, hope, joy and companionships unfold with emotional heft throughout the opening two thirds to paint a wholly different picture. You’ll go a long way this year to hear such a purely life-affirming song as 'Let the Good Times Be Never Ending'. The closing stretch is understandably more introspective as Brookes’ brothers in song pitch their sun-kissed eulogy to near perfection.

Andrew Gwilym
Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear (Bella Union)

For a long time I was convinced this was nailed on to be in my top three, so I find myself positively perplexed as to how it has ended up as low as number 10. That’s the magic and madness of the Advent Calendar I suppose. This is easily the loopiest album of the year. Part yearning and lovelorn, sometimes cruel, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes downright bonkers, but all brilliant. The sudden changes in tone can be unsettling, no more so than on the incredible ‘Bored of the USA’.

John Skilbeck
Tove Lo - Queen Of The Clouds (Island)

Tove Lo spat out slogans, retorts, cusses, confessions and teases - often all within the same song - on her astonishing debut album. She’s Swedish, from the same bricks-and-mortar music school as Robyn, and after several years writing songs for others Queen of the Clouds marked her coming out as an artist in her own right. Vulgar, violent, sometimes even very funny, it burst at the seams with irresistible hooks.

Pranam Mavahalli
Jamie xx – In Colour (Young Turks)

Back in 2013 I saw Jamie xx DJ during the Manchester International Festival. The crowd was a gloriously mixed ragtag of music lovers, hipsters, Guardianistas and old school ravers. At one point he played his stunning remix of Four Tet's Lion. The bass rearranged my internal organs ever so slightly and from that point on I was hooked. There are tracks in this album that I can't help but love. 'SeeSaw' is a perfect collaboration between Jamie xx, Romy and Four Tet, showcasing all three's unique talents. Tracks like 'Just Saying', and 'Hold Tight', while mere vignettes, sound fantastic and to me capture the liminal magic outside nightclubs where night morphs into day... And I love 'Sleep Sound' so much I've heard it a truly embarrassing number of times. But - and there is a but - there are other tracks on here I care very little about and would have been happier if they'd been left off altogether. It's not quite the masterpiece some were expecting then, and it's perhaps a little too diverse to cohere as an album, but it's still a fantastic offering from a one of this generation's best producers.

Ian Parker
Blur - The Magic Whip (Parlophone)

There was a part of me was determined to hate the new Blur album. The will they-won’t they tease of whether or not the four of them could be arsed to gather together in a studio and actually record an album was so tedious that I long ago decided that whatever the results might be, I wasn’t interested. But maybe because the eventual recording of The Magic Whip was largely accidental - the result of the band being bored in Hong Kong after a cancelled festival - is what gives it some spontaneous joy. Where comeback records can be staid and, well, dull, The Magic Whip oozes with ideas, delivered with the assurance of a band who now only have to do what they want to, not what they need to. 

Guy Atkinson
Beach Slang – The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us (Big Scary Monsters)

Throaty, melodic vocals over scuzzy pop-punk hooks? Sign me up.

Steve Pill
Floating Points – Elaenia (Pluto)

I kinda wanted this to be number one. Despite releasing some of the most supple, exploratory and satisfying dance music of the last five years in a series of collectable 12”s, Manchester’s Sam Shepherd has been holding out on releasing a debut album for so long it had driven most online commentators a little wild in anticipation. The hope was that he would condense the thrill of his seven-, eight-minute workouts into a tighter, CD-friendly package but, as you might expect from a guy who took time out from a DJ and producing career for which most would kill to instead study a PhD in neuroscience, he was never about to take the obvious route. In fact, Elaenia is an album that falls somewhere between spiritual jazz, ambient classical and a Charles Stepney-produced orchestral soul epic, while at the same time giving us the slightly unnecessary answer to what Radiohead might have sounded like if their sole post-Kid A ambition was to headline the Big Chill festival. Okay, I’m being harsh. Floating Points is destined to have a brilliant and critically-lauded career in the mould of Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden and Caribou’s Dan Snaith, if he wants it of course. Elaenia is a remarkable achievement for a debut, but you still sense the best is yet to come.


  1. Guy's Track of the Day goes to Jamie xx.

  2. Your American fan is back, and enjoying every moment! Thoroughly loving many of these (new to me) sounds.