Friday, December 25, 2015

The Musical Advent Calendar - Overall Top 10

So, here it is. The final post of the final Musical Advent Calendar. Here you'll find the overall top 10 - u
sing our patented, mutli-layered and highly sophisticated rating system (one point for a No. 24 nomination, 24 for a No. 1 and everything else in between), we've calculated what the panel rated as the best 10 albums of the year. You can see just how many points each one got below.

This year our panel picked between them 164 different albums, one shy of last year's tally. There was a remarkable convergence of picks in the last few days, as Sufjan Stevens, Laura Marling and Father John Misty picked up nominations in bunches. However, only so many of us ended up the same page - o
ur winner took 111 points, the lowest tally yet (a record, I suppose, which can no longer be broken). 

Anyway, enough minutiae. This year we've made the decision that this should be the last Musical Advent Calendar. Since I had the ridiculous idea, sat outside a Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson gig in Leeds in 2007, we've had a blast doing this. The enthusiasm everyone brought to it was something I never expected, so a huge, huge thank you has to go to all those who contributed, and all those who read it and commented on it. 

Why is it coming to an end then? It's not that we've stopped loving it, but each year I know it gets harder and harder for some of the panel to take part in this project, and I was determined it would never be a burden for anyone. I figured it was better to stop it while we're all still having fun than to wait for that to change. A great philosophy in life is to always ask yourself, 'What would Neil Young do?' He told us this:

"It's better to burn out than to fade away..."

Thank you again. It's been an absolute pleasure.

1. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty) - 111 points

What they said: Dom Farrell: The candour with which he looks back on the happy respite of his childhood summers in Eugene in delicate, sepia tones is almost too much to bear at times. Carrie and Lowell is an unflinching, soul-bearing experience.

Matt Collins: Carrie and Lowell is a stripped back affair compared to his previous efforts, and this really allows the strength of the songwriting to shine right through. To say this is a breathtaking collection of indie folk songs with lush instrumentation would be an understatement. It is an unbelievable pleasure from start to finish.

Steve Pill: To me this is the sound of a man coming to terms with his past and working it all out, stepping forward with hope and clarity. More to the point, while I admire the project, I've also played it endlessly too. So number one it is.

Andrew Gwilym: It is so nakedly emotional it can bring you close to tears, but you cannot turn it off. It’s too good, too gripping, too essential.

Rory Dollard: 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.

2. Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear (Bella Union) - 97 points

Steve Pill: 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.

Andrew Gwilym: This is easily the loopiest album of the year. Part yearning and lovelorn, sometimes cruel, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes downright bonkers, but all brilliant.

Ian Parker: 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.

Dom Farrell: Given Josh Tillman’s stated ambition of writing “about love without bullshitting”, I Love You, Honeybear fulfils its brief in sparkling fashion. Befitting of a record that contains suggested listening settings for each song, complete with recommended hallucinogenics, it’s a bit crackers at times but this attention to detail extends to a magnificent collection of lyrics - touching and poignant one minute, scathing and hilarious the next. Love without the bullshit, indeed.

Andy Welch: To think this guy was once 'just' the drummer in Fleet Foxes… The lyrics, the sumptuous arrangements, the humorous live shows, he's a master of it all.

3. Laura Marling - Short Movie (Virgin/EMI) - 95 points

Andy Welch: This record seems like the culmination of everything she's been moving toward since her debut. There's a coldness and cryptic nature to the lyrics that I love, and musically, it's great to hear all those electric guitars being plugged in.

Ian Parker: This won’t be everyone’s favourite Laura Marling album (given the harsher edge it might take many fans time to get their ears around it) but it seems to most neatly explain her own story – that of a restless spirit who keeps pushing herself in new directions, even if the results might not always be comfortable. It’s what makes her the most interesting, most vital artist in her field.

Andrew Gwilym: 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. 

Dom Farrell: Sonically, Short Movie is Laura going electric and wearing a US jaunt of self-discovery on her sleeve. Beneath an altogether louder approach musically is her most vulnerable lyrical persona to date - not quite as strident, touches of regret and acceptance. Another fascinating and rewarding chapter in a truly marvellous career.

Rory Dollard: I have no doubt now that she's on track to be our Joni Mitchell, and someone many of us will be talking about in 20 years. But Joni had her off days and this, by her own standards, seems like Marling's first in a while. It's good, but she's so often great. I had a quick check of the Advent Calendar's by-laws just to check you were allowed to vote her as low as 18. You are.

4. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit And Think, Sometimes I Just Sit (Marathon) - 91 points

Dom Farrell: Barnett’s wit is jagged enough to slice through an under-ripe lemon and every bit as sharp as the juice within. It’s all carried by spiky new wave pop that slaps you across the face ('Pedestrian At Best', 'Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party') and gives you a sardonic nudge ('Depreston', 'Dead Fox') to equally great effect. The songwriting is exceptional and rarely misses a beat after the delayed chorus to Attractions-esque opener 'Elevator Operator' sends the record soaring. Like all essential albums, it’s devilishly hard to think of anything else you’d rather be doing that when you’re listening to Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

Rory Dollard: There's rawness and playfulness, knowingness and vulnerability and a stack of easy-on-the-ear episodic gems. I can't wait to hear more.

Ian Parker: Just when I wondered if I'd kind of grown out of indie, a time when I figured I only bought such records as reissues to remember a time that had past, Sometimes I Sit... came along to remind how bloody brilliant this sort of thing sounds when it's done right. Thank you, Courtney. 

Steve Pill: To my mind, this is pure stoner Britpop though - a slacker Sleeper or loose Elastica, if you will. Listen to the bored female vocals, melodic bass lines and skronky chords of 'Pedestrian At Best' or 'Elevator Operator' and you can half imagine it's being played live on Big Breakfast circa 1995. What elevates this is Barnett's Sahara dry, self-deprecating wit in lines like "Put me on a pedestal and I'll only disappoint you" or the topical ennui of 'Depreston''s tale of house price woes: "We don't need to be around all those coffee shops... I'm saving $23 a week". While Wener, Frischmann and co. were often flirty and sex-obsessed, Barnett has a matey charm that is clever, winning and just a little shambolic.

Andy Welch: Like her early EPs, Courtney Barnett's debut is full of nods to Pavement and Mudhoney, but I was amazed to hear the likes of Sleeper and Elastica as influences. And being a big fan of Sleeper and Elastica, very pleased. Brilliant lyrics too.

5. Guy Garvey - Courting The Squall (Polydor) - 72 points

Matt Collins: 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.

Steve Pill: 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.

Rory Dollard: 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.

Dom Farrell: 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.

6. Bjork - Vulnicura (One Little Indian) - 61 points

Pranam Mavahalli: Right at the heart of the record is 'Family'. A song so incredibly staggering that six months on I'm still blown away it every time I hear it. Over the course of its eight minutes, it acts as a microcosm of the album as a whole – mirroring the way the tracks (and I suppose broken relationships in general) move from sorrow and darkness, to acceptance and finally optimism. Starting with dissonant, inchoate, droning strings, the music gradually rises and rises, before reaching a summit of intensity - and collapsing into a scattershot confusion of broken arpeggios that seek resolution yet never quite reach it. Then, as if from nowhere, things coalesce. The key switches from minor to major, the melody rises, and waves of synths gently lap over each other as Bjork sings “I raise a monument of love/There is a swarm of sound/Around our heads/And we can hear it/And we can get healed by it/It will relieve us from the pain”. Goddammit, I think it's incredible. It's about as good as music gets. If you've not heard it, listen to it. If you have heard it, listen to it again. It's perfection.

Rory Dollard: This is, quite simply, the best break-up space opera you'll ever hear. 

Ian Parker: 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. 

7. Sleater-Kinney - No Cities To Love (Sub Pop) - 54 points

Steve Pill: No Cities To Love is superb rock'n'roll music: loud, brash, rousing, fun and just a bit cleverer than it initially seems.

Guy Atkinson: I’ve rarely seen such widespread fawning over a band as when Sleater-Kinney made their return earlier this year. Thankfully, no-one was left with egg on their face with the trio delivering a meaty and layered rock album that would, frankly, be beyond many bands going into their third decade.

John Skilbeck: After almost 10 years away, they returned with a record teeming with electrifying force and conviction: a set of instant Sleater-Kinney classics. After going on “indefinite hiatus” in 2006, a step that Brownstein’s book reveals was more agonising than many realised, it was a joy to welcome them back.

Andrew Gwilym: Their first album in a decade won rave reviews and it’s easy to see why. Angular, taught, edgy and fiery. As bracing and brilliant as any rock record this year.

8. My Morning Jacket - The Waterfall (ATO) - 49 points

Andy Welch: The Waterfall comes close, but this features so high on my list because of 'Thin Line', one of the most beautiful songs I've heard all year. Sublime. 

Ian Parker: Their constant reworking and reinvention of their sound has kept them vital, and while The Waterfall doesn't quite top the likes of Z or Circuital, it reminds you why you can still believe that after 16 years, their best record might still be to come. 

Dom Farrell: 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: For a band who sound remarkable when cutting loose on stage, MMJ almost sounded clinical. Here, the warmth is evident again. Opener 'Believe' and 'In Its Infancy' stretch out, while 'Get the Point' includes wonderful tender vocals from Jim James, who is on superb form throughout. It’s the sound of a great band getting back on track and stepping up the quality control

9. Four Tet - Morning/Evening (Text) - 41 points

Pranam Mavahalli: The samples of Indian playback singer Lata Mangeshkar provide an emotional and spiritual counterpoint to the clubby throb of the techno that lies beneath. It's another great release from one of this country's true innovators.

Steve Pill: I'm in danger of talking out of my arse a little here, but the music has that effect - you want to match Hebden's ambition and vision with a worthy response. With Morning/Evening, he has crafted two delicate, immersive and unpredictable suites of music here that sound at first like background music yet demand your attention, front and centre.

10. Tame Impala - Currents (Fiction) - 40 points

Steve Pill: Currents is a step up again, taking those retro elements and adding moogs, falsetto vocals, wooshy noises and all those other things that people in 1968 thought the future sounded like.

Andy Welch: Tame Impala has always been about the vision of one man, Kevin Parker, and his seemingly limitless imagination. Tame Impala's second album perfected what he'd started on the debut, but this is something genuinely exciting and new, moving forwards, like all the best psychedelic music does, rather than endlessly gazing backwards.


  1. Laura Marling in not number one shocker. Clearly it is time to wrap this up...

  2. Great list this - feels like a thoroughly Ragged Glories top 10. Well done all. (I would have chosen Courtney Barnett)

  3. Ah, Christmases will never be the same again. Thanks lads, especially Ian. God bless the Musical Advent Calendar.

  4. Ah, Christmases will never be the same again. Thanks lads, especially Ian. God bless the Musical Advent Calendar.

  5. i was sure you were all saving Joanna Newsom for number one. whayt happened?

  6. You'll be back. They always come back.

  7. You are all wonderful people, and I shall miss this blog! Thank you for making my Christmases so bright!