Monday, December 21, 2015

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Twenty-One

Dollard has his deerstalker ready and is braced to reach for the HP Sauce but we have a feeling he won't need it as we reveal our No. 4 albums of the year behind Door 21 of the Musical Advent Calendar. 

Andy Welch
The Maccabees – Marks To Prove It (Fiction)

Looking at my list this year, it seems to be about bands who started out as one thing and have come good a few albums into their career. Few have matured quite as well as The Maccabees. I didn't care for their debut but have increasingly enjoyed their records since. None have hit the spot like Marks To Prove It, though, which shows they've become brilliant songwriters, but also fantastic producers too, making a huge-sounding, dense record without throwing the kitchen sink at it.

Rory Dollard
Girlpool - Before the World Was Big (Wichita)

A wonderful, unexpected gatecrasher here in the upper echelons of the blog. The kind of gatecrasher who looks like they're going to get wasted on unbranded vodka and vomit on the cat, before charming everyone and leaving at just the right moment. The shrieky high-school darts of their debut EP reappear only occasionally - and are perfectly welcome when they do - but despite being teenagers when this was recorded there is maturity here too. There is a restraint here - both in the sparse arrangements and the brevity of the songs - but what remains is vividly rendered. If Skillers doesn’t like this I'll eat my hat.

Matt Collins
Beach House - Thank Your Lucky Stars (Bella Union)

What else would you expect from the new Beach House album but a collection of beautifully concocted songs, laid against a dreamy backdrop? Good job you don't expect anything else, because that's exactly what the new Beach House album actually is. Dive in.

Dom Farrell
Public Service Broadcasting - The Race For Space (Test Card Recordings)

A bunch of blokes playing music behind clips of the news? I think I was within my rights to be highly sceptical of Public Service Broadcasting but after repeated, glowing recommendations I took the plunge. The Race For Space is a colossal record. As big, brash and ambitious as its subject matter and probably a good deal more fun than floating around weightless eating Smash. That’s what they do up there right?

Andrew Gwilym 
Laura Marling – Short Movie (Virgin/EMI)

I know a few people were sceptical about Short Movie, but this just adds further evidence, not that any were needed, that Marling is a bonafide great who will come to be our generation’s greatest artists. The decision to weave in some electric guitar results in a more open album than Once I Was an Eagle, and it is true it lacks some of the bite of its predecessor. But, tracks like ‘False Hope’ and ‘Don’t Let Me Bring You Down’ are among her best work and this is another wonderful album.

John Skilbeck
Marina and the Diamonds - FROOT (Neon Gold/Atlantic)

Meet an absurdly brilliant pop record. Marina Diamandis has always had a strong voice, but until FROOT she had played characters in her songs. This time it was personal: from an awakening on the opening cards-on-the-table piano ballad 'Happy' (“I believe in possibility, I believe someone’s watching over me”), through the love-split heartache of 'I’m A Ruin', a track built on thumping drums, to the new-wave throb of 'Forget', and hitting a climax on 'Savages' where she signals the warning, “Underneath it all we’re just savages, hidden behind shirts, ties and marriages”. FROOT was sometimes sobering but rarely short of sublime.

Pranam Mavahalli
Floating Points – Elaenia (Pluto)

London's Plastic People is a club that gave birth to a generation of UK talent. In the time that it was open, Four Tet, Caribou, Jamie xx, Floating Points, James Blake and Mount Kimbie passed through its doors inspiring one another to produce music with one foot in the past, the other in the other future, but yet sounding uniquely British. Then earlier this year it closed its doors for the final time, and in doing so, sealed its reputation in club history… My sister lived mere spitting distance from this club for about five years. Yet in that time I only managed to go there once. Such is the fate of those who cling to the coattails of the trailblazers. But if I missed out on its greatness, at least the music lives on. Floating Points's debut expands on his wondrous run of 12”s with an album that while rooted in club music, is very much aimed more at the head and the headphones. Jazz, synths, and classical strains coalesce beautifully in a wonderfully structured, elegantly produced debut. I can't to see where this preternaturally talented musician turns to next.

Ian Parker
Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear (Bella Union)

The first Father John Misty, 2012's Fear Fun, sneaked into my top 24 after that year's Advent Calendar had actually started (you get to do that sort of thing if you have the keys to the website), not because I'd not heard it until the start of December, but because it had been such a slow burner that I'd failed to fully appreciate it until it was almost too late. No doubt Josh Tillman got the message and that was his prime motivation in releasing this in February. The same as happened - if you'd asked me in April, May or even June for the best albums of the year to date, this might have earned a passing mention. Roll on December, it has found its way into the top five. 

Guy Atkinson
Defeater – Abandoned (Epitaph)

Now four albums into their career, Defeater sit alongside Touché Amore as the shining beacons of modern hardcore. This one’s another concept album continuing the story of their first three. Whether or not you’re here for the story doesn’t matter when the songs are this crushing.

Steve Pill
Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear (Bella Union)

What a hero. Josh Tillman settles rather lasciviously into his Father John Misty persona on album number two, a collection of baroque love songs for our self-obsessed age. Lyrically it's full of arch, barbed put-downs that divide the audience as expertly as Stewart Lee into those who are in on the joke and those who are the butt of it. Things all get a bit meta on 'The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt.' but the words are so tightly crafted that they'll be compiling them in an anthology in 20 years' time. Musically I wasn't sure at first - strings are too often a cover for unimaginative chord changes - but a raunchy, theatrical show at Bexhill's De La Warr Pavilion convinced me otherwise. This was a performance that confirmed he is the illegitimate musical love child of Jarvis Cocker (those lyrics, those hand gestures) and Nick Cave (that dark, quasi-religious lust). Listening to the album since has revealed new layers every time.

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