Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Twenty

A sexy set of tunes has Andy ready to hop into bed with his pick (which could well lead to a follow-up record...let's stop this here....), Pranam claims to be organised, and Skillers adopts a scorch-earthed policy. Door number 20 of the Musical Advent Calendar means we're onto our No. 5 albums of the year. Those bigger pictures, it seems, are here to stay, so let's embrace it and bathe in the wonders of artwork.

Andy Welch
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love (Jagjaguwar)

A remarkable backstory accompanies this album – read about it here if you're interested – but more impressive than anything else is the quality of the music. It's not a completely inexorable change in style, Multi-Love brings out the sort of groove that was on the first two albums, but it's still incredible to think a band that started off with an album of excellent but pretty straightforward indie psych could end up with this sophisticated, dare I say it sexy batch of songs. A brilliant, brilliant record.

Rory Dollard
Guy Garvey - Courting the Squall (Polydor)

For the 3mins 44secs of 'Angela's Eyes', it sounds like this solo outing is going to directly address the Elbow haters - it's slinky and funky and angular and not at all fit for a sunset festival singalong. In fact, you could drop a Tom Waits vocal on top and not change a note - which you probably couldn't say for 'One Day Like This'.  Largely, that's a red herring because things take a turn for the familiar as Garvey's brooding humanist poetry takes hold. There's a stillness to his writing here, with the ebbs and flows less obvious than in his day job, but delicacy brings its own delights.

Matt Collins
Adem - Seconds are Acorns (Caroline)

Finally! A new album by Adem. This one doesn't exactly pick up where he left off about eight years ago, more takes it to a much noisier, chaotic level. The beautiful lyrics and soaring falsetto are still there, he's just set the delicately picked acoustic guitar and picked up an axe guitar and an effects board. A beautiful, noisy collection of songs.

Dom Farrell
Guy Garvey - Courting the Squall (Polydor)

Rampaging percussion an ear-splitting synth line on 'Angela’s Eyes' gets Guy Garvey’s maiden solo offering off to a surprisingly raucous start. The title track sees the Elbow frontman return to familiar ground in sensational form. He does hand-on-the-shoulder romance, packed with delicate imagery, better than anyone else I can think of. Blasts of brass throughout and the shuffling, jazzy interlude of 'Electricity' see Garvey continually hit the spot as he deftly picks apart loves old and new - probably no closer to sussing out what it all means but finding richness in the journey. It’s one we should all be happy to join him on.

Andrew Gwilym
Wilco – Star Wars (

Wilco cleverly lulled us into thinking they were enjoying a long break. With Jeff Tweedy making the excellent Sukierae last year and the rest of the gang spread out in various other projects, it was probably going to be a while until we heard from them. Then they released this for free on their website, as you do these days but at least they didn’t just drop it into your iTunes account. Not that I would have minded. This may not be Wilco’s best album, but let’s face it, any Wilco album is better than a lot of other records.

John Skilbeck
Joanna Gruesome - Peanut Butter (Fortuna Pop)

Taking music as a conduit for rage, Joanna Gruesome have said they were formed in anger management classes. Peanut Butter is infernal, a rapid burst of eruptions over the course of its 22-minute duration, the quintet aiming to leave behind scorched earth where previously they endured macho maleficence. Behind a wall of wailing guitars, frontwoman Alanna McArdle (who has since left the band) presents vocals that swing unpredictably between gently soothing, an echo almost of Allo Darlin’s Elizabeth Morris, to seething angst. Produced by MJ of Hookworms, this is the second album from the band that formed in Cardiff, and a step up from its predecessor Weird Sister. 'Honestly Do Yr Worst' dances from dissonance to indie-disco and is a beef-settling riot, and 'Psykick Espionage' is incandescent. And in a flash it’s over, but this album’s strength lies in its brevity: a flurry of punches, each hitting the target, make Peanut Butter a knock-out success.

Pranam Mavahalli
Andy Stott – Faith in Strangers (Modern Love)

Andy Stott's Luxury Problems was one of my favourite albums of 2014. So it's absence was conspicuous when it was left off my list last year. I'm an idiot, I had a lot on. So to try and get things right this year, I was unusually well organised, and started putting together my 2015 list at the start of the year. Andy Stott's album was at the top and it hasn't strayed much further since. Like all great innovators he's taken a well-known genre (in this case techno) and given it a spin that's uniquely his own. The use of piano teacher's vocals is as haunting as they were on his previous release, and while the beats might not be quite as distorted, the atmospheres are just dark and muggy (this is definitely a good thing).

Ian Parker
Natalie Prass - Natalie Prass (Spacebomb)

More Spacebomb magic! This time from Mr White's buddy Natalie Prass, who was made to wait three years to release this because of White's success but may, in the end, have outdone her label chief and producer. Operating somewhere in a tradition that stretches from Laurel Canyon to another of her former bosses, Jenny Lewis (Prass was in her touring band), Prass has put together a wonderful collection of soulful tunes, all given extra pizazz by that Spacebomb touch. 

Guy Atkinson
Deafheaven – New Bermuda (ANTI-)

By some distance, the most abrasive album on my list this year. Black metal has never particularly been my bag, but for large parts this veers more towards the post-hardcore of Envy and post-rock of Explosions in the Sky. A heady combination. 

Steve Pill
D'Angelo and the Vanguard – Black Messiah (RCA)

Out last December, Black Messiah arrived too late for our 2014 list but hung around long enough to still hit the top five now. Not so much a collection of songs as a 56-minute mood piece, Black Messiah is a throwback to the ambitious, urgent, politically-motivated soul albums of the early 1970s. Prompted out of a 14-year hiatus by the Ferguson shootings, D’Angelo corralled a series of slow jams, scats, sketches and psych soul stomps into something cohesive, unpredictable and utterly thrilling.

(As a weird aside, it was the inclusion of 'Devil’s Pie' on Paul Weller’s 2004 Under The Influence comp that first switched me on to D’Angelo. That comp is insanely good, a mix of spiritual jazz, cult R&B, deep soul cuts, reggae classics and The Kinks. I owe it my love of Mingus and D’Angelo too. Worth a look if you can find it in a secondhand shop/on eBay/Spotify/Tidal – delete according to age).

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