Sunday, December 06, 2015

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Six

Today Dom offers a plan for world peace while Pranam transports himself inside an episode of Family Guy - it's day six of the Musical Advent Calendar, and our No. 19 albums of the year.

Andy Welch
Alabama Shakes - Sound And Color (Rough Trade)

I enjoyed Alabama Shakes' debut album, but after living with the album for a while I think I was perhaps more in thrall to the idea of them, and their record collections, than the actual band themselves. Maybe that's just the snob in me, annoyed by how quickly they moved from buzz band to Radio 2 playlist staple. This second album is still in homage territory, but they channel a wider, more eclectic range of influences, spreading out beyond the standard Muscle Shoals origins to Curtis Mayfield, Prince, Led Zeppelin and even Erykah Badu. And it really suits them. 

Rory Dollard
Sun Kil Moon - Universal Themes (Rough Trade)

He can be a morose little bastard, Mark Kozelek, but there's got to be a rich sense of humour in anyone who can call their album Universal Themes then include a nine-minute song about playing themselves in an Italian film set in a remote Swiss resort. I mean, with all the will in the world, that really doesn't strike me as a universal theme, though I await your corrections. I suppose Andy W might have been there, done that. It's not as focused, or as laid-back, as last year's Benji and his trademark tangents wilfully stretch the point at times. But it's always engaging and always fiercely - uncomfortably - honest. At his best Kozelek hits some very deep nerves with blunt force.

Matt Collins
Blur - The Magic Whip (Parlophone)

The long-awaited comeback album from Blur doesn't make it near my top ten I’m afraid, simply not being a patch on their earlier work. But tracks like the comeback single 'Go Out' are more than good enough to warrant a place in the top 24 - I could listen to the mental guitar chaos and skeletal bass of it all day.

Dom Farrell
Pinkshinyultrablast - Everything Else Matters (Club AC30)

Shimmering, luscious shoegaze from Russia - quite the blast, indeed. The towering walls of reverb mean vocalist Lyubov rarely makes a great deal of sense. Perhaps if she did, they’d be thrown into jail a la Pussy Riot. Or maybe Putin just bloody loves shoegaze? That’ll be it! Get the big oaf out for a beer with Kevin Shields before heading down to a Slowdive gig. We’d have a fair number of global problems on the mend by that stage. There’s every chance.

Andrew Gwilym
Idlewild – Everything Ever Written (Empty Words)

Idlewild’s return after a five-year absence was like clapping eyes on an old friend. It had been too long and in a sense this record reflects a group of guys who spent a long time working on their own projects before heading back to what they know best. There is nothing particularly, daring or innovative here but it burns with passion and its widescreen sweep recalled sections of American English. A welcome return for an under-rated band.

John Skilbeck
The Apartments - No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal (Microcultures)

Robert Forster made a very fine solo album this year, but his former Go-Betweens bandmate Peter Milton Walsh shook out a superior one. Walsh, who once had a short-lived spell in Forster’s rather more storied band, made the first Apartments LP since 1997 worth the wait, cramming it with stylishly dark, lavishly orchestrated pop songs.

Pranam Mavahalli
Glenn Astro – Throwback (Republic of Music)

Do you have a soundtrack song? The kind of song you imagine playing in the background as you walk down the street? A couple of years ago, my soundtrack song was 'Airglow Fires' by Lone. An improbably groovy piece of music that's gloriously upbeat. This year that song might get usurped by Glenn Astro's 'Computer Killer', which takes jazz samples, mixes some hip-hop grit, layers sub bass and adds a not-quite 4/4 kick drum underneath. Fantastic. There's plenty more on this record with a similar vibe if you're into that kind of thing (which I very much am). Overlooked album of the year.

Ian Parker
Neil Young & The Promise of the Real - The Monsanto Years (Reprise)

If the wonderful Psychedelic Pill proved that Neil still had it in him to belt out that glorious noise that only he seems to hold the key to, it also proved that his increasingly clunky lyrics don't need to be an impediment to a fine record. Which is a good thing, because clunky lyrics are absolutely all over The Monsanto Years. Neil loves a good protest record, as fans of Living With War will know, but while that raged against George W. Bush's foreign policy, now we've got a very different target in GMO giant Monsanto. All Neil wants to do, it seems, is have a cup of coffee without feeding the corporate machine. But in between rants about Starbucks and Citizens United there is a magnificent noise, aided by Willie Nelson's boys doing their best impression of Crazy Horse. 

Guy Atkinson
Caspian – Dust and Disquiet (Big Scary Monsters)
Certainly not my favourite record of theirs – put that down to an irritatingly wonky guitar effect on the first few songs – but there’s enough evidence on display here to prove that they’re one of the standard-bearers for modern post-rock.

Steve Pill
Yo La Tengo – Stuff Like That There (Matador)

As I think I've previously mentioned on Ragged Glories, Yo La Tengo remain a relatively new discovery for me and the excitement is fresh. This is a second collection of covers, originals and reworkings of their own back catalogue, following on from 1990's Fakebook. Highlights include a beautifully twee shuffle through Darlene McCrea's 1964 soul single 'My Heart's Not In It' and a fond acoustic version of The Cure's 'Friday I'm In Love'. There’s a touch of REM's Dead Letter Office compilation to the knockabout atmosphere, though leavened by a little more humour and country pedal steel. Occasionally the songs are so lackadaisical or drowsy that they feel as if they might just fall apart in the middle (a whispery reading of Hank Williams' 'I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry' in particular is so sparse as to barely exist), yet this simply adds to the charm. Stuff Like That There may not be hugely original or groundbreaking, but there are few albums I have reached for as often this year - think of it as a balm for a sore head or a little light on a rainy, grey day. 


  1. Still can't get on with that Alabama Shakes album. Every review I've ever read of it bangs on about it being a great musical leap forward, so why does it feel so half-arsed? What am I missing? I got much more out of the Thunderbitch record - but it seems kind of sad that Brittany already needs an alter-ego to sing a song called 'I Just Want To Rock n Roll'.

  2. I don't really like it either, pity the first one was great.

  3. Guy's Track of the Day goes to Pinkshinyultrablast.