Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Sixteen

Today Dollard reveals he's too cool to like his own pick, Dom didn't realise he was supposed to like this, while I'm not really sure I can handle loving mine. But at least Pranam has come up with a healthy alternative to caffeine as we reveal our No. 9 albums of the year. 

Andy Welch
The Staves – If I Was (Atlantic)

The Staves' debut could've used a bit of the grit of their live performances. It was a beautiful album, but perhaps a little clean. The follow-up is more ragged around the edges and gets far more of their personality over. Justin Vernon's production is excellent, and the trio's harmonies are obviously brilliant, but the songs stand out, 'Black And White', 'No Me, No You, No More' and 'Steady' particularly. Above all else, it sounds like three supreme talents doing exactly what they want.

Rory Dollard
Sufjan Stevens - Carrie and Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty)

I'm man enough to say Sufjan is a bit of a blindspot for me. I realise his back catalogue is almost certainly brilliant and all-encompassing and demanding of my time and emotional investment. I just haven't been able to give him what he needs from me. I was belligerently set to steer clear of this until I heard No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross on NPR. Clearly it's beautiful, dead cert top-10 stuff. I'm not giving any more than that and I still got a little bit bored midway through Illinoise last time I tried. So there.

Matt Collins
Guy Garvey - Courting the Squall (Polydor)

Definitely pretty weird to hear Guy Garvey’s voice over anything but Elbow’s radio friendly prog stylings. Apparently he’s now all about the Afrobeat after checking out recommendations from his 6Music listeners. That might be stretching it a bit - Elbow were always a fairly experimental lot, and the title track in particular is an Elbow ballad in all but name. All in all though, a delightfully sparse, synthy, Afrobeat-lite collection of tunes.

Dom Farrell
My Morning Jacket - The Waterfall (ATO)

Inexplicably, I’d always though My Morning Jacket were some ill-advised metal band. I’m still trying to work out who exactly I thought they were (suggestions welcome). Thankfully, Ian set me straight and I found this collection of sweeping, widescreen Americana to be right up my street. In the post-Musical Advent Calendar age, where I will revert to my previous habits of buying loads of back catalogues en masse, I reckon Jim James and the boys will have a few of my pennies rolling their way now I’ve worked out they’re not Slipknot’s long-time tour support buddies.

Andrew Gwilym
Heartless Bastards - Restless Ones (Partisan)

My first encounter with Heartless Bastards came in the company of Messrs Parker and Farrell when they supported Drive-By Truckers in Manchester last year. Erika Wennerstrom’s wonderful voice and the muscular rhythm section wormed their way into my head and they are still in there. This is the most accomplished work yet from a band you feel have still to reach their peak.

John Skilbeck
Kodiak Deathbeds - Kodiak Deathbeds (self-released)

Kodiak what now? Amber Webber, of Lightning Dust and Black Mountain, paired with Cave Singers’ Derek Fudesco - at Fudesco’s instigation - for this initially most promising of side projects. The result this summer was a set of gorgeous fireside folk, Webber’s familiar elegant vibrato playing off against the plotted, rustic guitar patterns woven by Fudesco.

Pranam Mavahalli
Percussions – 2011 until 2014 (Text Records)

It's fair to say I travel a good amount for my job. And when that involves getting up early, and my old noggin isn't quite in gear, I need something instant, warm, and to-the-point to kickstart my brain and body into gear. Coffee gives me terrible indigestion, so the Percussions album has proved a more than able substitute. Its four-to-the-floor kick drums, synths and samples get my feet moving while letting my brain idle away in abstract thoughts in my semi-awake morning state.

Ian Parker
Bjork - Vulnicura (One Little Indian)

Of all the albums to ever make it into a top 10 of mine, I must have listened to Vulnicura the least. Not because it isn't brilliant - maybe in fact because it is. This is such a personal record, such a raw one - as the cover art suggests - from such a wonderfully complex, demanding artist that it requires a good deal of emotional energy to really do it justice. On those rare occasions you find it in you, the rewards are amazing. 

Guy Atkinson
Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle (6131 Records)

By some distance, the most stripped back album in my list (in truth, it doesn’t really have any competition). What it lacks in instrumental power, it makes up with emotional heft. A powerful listen.

Steve Pill
Guy Garvey – Courting the Squall (Polydor)

Absence makes the heart grow fonder and Garvey's best lyrics have always come when he’s been missing something, usually his hometown, his girlfriend or his drinking buddies. This solo album finds him in an odd position, then, with a new girlfriend in another city, his drinking buddies turned into his makeshift band and the world at his feet after Elbow’s first number one album. Perhaps the oddest part of it all, however, is that for all his Meltdown-curating and eclectic 6Music playlists, Garvey didn’t push the boundaries further. The urgent Beefheart-meets-Black Books skronk of 'Angela's Eyes' is a thrilling beginning, but much of the rest could easily have drunkenly snuggled its way onto any of Elbow's earlier albums. However, given that the Bury boys topped my chart last year and Garvey’s duetting partner Jolie Holland came third, you’ll realise why more of the same is no bad thing in my book.


  1. My Vitriol, Dom? They were pretty rubbish.

  2. MCR? Anyway, for me Pranam wins today hands down. That track's a godsend for the rest of my week of night shifts.

  3. Errr, I think I might have quite liked My Vitriol. Although it's entirely possible I've also confused them with another band.

  4. I will not have a bad word said about My Vitriol. The first band I ever saw live and that debut (only) album still rules hard. But then again, I do have the music taste of a 14-year-old.