Thursday, December 03, 2015

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Three

Today's theme seems to be drunken conversations in or out of bars, with people who may turn out to be folks from Milwaukee, or may turn out to be folk musicians. Meanwhile, Pranam goes for something reassuringly's day three of the Musical Advent Calendar, and our No. 22 albums of the year. 

Andy Welch
Will Butler – Policy (Merge)

I might be committing some sort of heresy here, but I really don't like Arcade Fire. I've listened to them, and just don't get what the fuss is about. I did, however, really enjoy Richard Reed Parry's solo album Music For Heart And Breath, and continuing my enjoyment of the solo works of Arcade Fire members comes Will Butler's Policy. I love the Talking Heads-style pop of 'Anna', and the way it doesn't really sound like anything else on the record, or indeed Arcade Fire. Policy bounces around between genres and Butler sounds like he's having a blast.

Rory Dollard
The Unthanks - Mount the Air (Rabble Rouser Music)

I met Becky Unthank once. Outside a boozer in Manchester, friend of a friend type situation. Spent the entire 15 minutes talking with her about baking (I can't, she can..from memory). Anyway, he only told me who I’d been talking to after she left. In retrospect I might have done better with that time. It's great that these guys exists, and do well, and put this deliciously broody Northumbrian folk music into a world that didn't even know it wanted it. I don't listen to it as often as I should but it never fails to hit the spot when the time comes.

Matt Collins
FFS - FFS (Domino)

The collaboration between Franz Ferdinand and Sparks and how good an idea it even is is addressed immediately on the track 'Collaborations Don’t Work'. The fact that such a thing has even happened is great. FFS definitely sounds a lot more FF than S but it's just as bouncy and fun an album as you would expect to hear from these two bands. 

Dom Farrell
Natalie Prass - Natalie Prass (Spacebomb)

The Spacebomb project is one of the most endearing musical tales of our time. The feted Muscle Shoals model re-imagined by a group of chaps who look like they’ve rolled over from Richmond, Virginia’s most recent comic book convention. Their records showcase discerning, retro-tinged wonder - never more so than in the case of 'My Baby Don’t Understand Me', the show-stopping and devastatingly beautiful opener on Natalie Prass’ eponymous debut LP. The easy swagger of 'Bird of Prey' then shimmers into view and, although there are peaks and troughs thereafter, the highs are dizzying.

Andrew Gwilym
Ryan Adams - 1989 (Pax-Am)

This had the potential to be a musical nightmare. Covers albums are often hit and miss, but actually recording a faithful reimagining of someone else's work is fraught with danger. The fact that Adams makes a success of his take on Taylor Swift's multi-million seller speaks volumes of his talent, which he has not always made full use of. Adams understands the tenderness and heartache lurking beneath the pop sheen these tunes have been drenched in. His take on songs like 'Bad Blood' and 'Blank Space' are wonderful. It does the job of highlighting not just Adams, but the quality of Swift herself.

John Skilbeck
Prinzhorn Dance School - Home Economics (DFA)

Heard this for the first time while rummaging at Drift record shop in Totnes in June. It’s a great shop, pretty much worth the trek to Devon, and this was a surprisingly whipsmart, if very short, record.

Pranam Mavahalli
Paradise Bangok Molam International Band - 21st Century Molam (Studio Lam)

A couple of years ago a friend showed me a Youtube of a wedding band from South East Asia playing wild groove laden, psychedelic-sounding music that was as thrilling as it was unexpected. Much later I realised that they were playing morlam music – a genre that I think is unique to the north-eastern part of the country. This record's as rocking and energetic as any other psych album I've heard this hear, and when it veers into disco it grooves in a way that turns me into a grinning idiot.

Ian Parker
Saun & Starr - Look Closer (Daptone)

Daptone just don't seem to put out bad records - sticking to a traditional recipe but making sure the retro flavours never become overpowering. Saun & Starr cut their teeth singing backing vocals for the label's star act Sharon Jones, but prove here they are more than capable of shining in their own right. 

Guy Atkinson
Menace Beach – Ratworld (Memphis Industries)

The ongoing trend for stealing inspiration from scuzzy 90s alt-rock is one crime I’m willing to let pass if the pop gems crafted from those ideas are as tuneful as this.

Steve Pill
Blur – Magic Whip (Parlophone)

I recently had a drunken conversation about music with a guy from Milwaukee in which I suggested that bands never release better albums once eight years have passed since their debut. They still make good, even great albums, but only ever variations on what has gone before. The theory was, like myself at the time, hardly watertight, loosely based on the Rolling Stones and Radiohead, but once he tried to disprove this with a slew of his favourite bands (Wilco, The Replacements), it seemed to stand up. (For the record, we extended the timescale to 13 years for solo acts, to take into account the lack of interband friction and Blood On The Tracks). Now, while I'd welcome anyone to come up with an exception to our pointless rule, it brings me nicely to Blur. As much as Graham Coxon seemed intent on willing The Magic Whip into being in a nostalgic attempt to lull Damon Albarn out of the dull grey funk that descended on him in recent years and manifest itself in the hideous cover art and inert atmosphere of his really-not-very-good solo debut, the result is still somewhat of a pastiche of the bands glory days (which, theory fans will note, ended with 1999's 13, eight years after debut album Leisure).  Nevertheless, from the bovver boot stomp of 'Go Out' to the spectral sashay of 'Ghost Ship', I can't help but feel that, as with many of my teenage favourite bands, a half-decent Blur album is still a million miles more appealing than all but 21 of the year's other releases.


  1. Yeeeaaah boy! Some big tunes today (Prinzhorn, Saun & Starr and Menace Beach to name three). The calendar's picking up pace already!

  2. Menace Beach is a winner for me today. Nice.
    As for Steve's puzzler...I want to answer it with Blur themselves. I'm of the opinion that Think Tank is their best album by a distance (but I appreciate even the band think it's bad).

  3. Guy's Track of the Day goes to Ryan Adams.