Through the medium of our panel's No. 16 albums of the year we're told, not for the first time in this advent calendar, how the frustrations of watching Manchester City - still a valid currency even in these wild days of oil riches - can have a strong influence on the Advent Calendar. Meanwhile, Skillers mixes up his usual formula by going with an all-female guitar band.
HAIM - DAYS ARE GONE (POLYDOR)
Having first seen HAIM perform in May 2012, this release felt like it was a long, long time coming. The idea of an 18-month gap between debut gig and album release wouldn't have been a big deal 10 years ago, but this is 2013, the time of everybody wanting everything yesterday. HAIM, then, were in danger of being written off before they'd been given a chance, the notion they were taking their time with their first album somehow translating to them not having the talent to deliver on their initial promise. The ever-shifting release date didn't help - early 2013, then May, then June- but when Days Are Gone, a love letter to from the three sisters to their childhood, finally did appear, it was both worth the wait, and good enough to silence doubters. More impressive is that the tracks are so breezy, not at all what you'd expect from a record that involved so much time in the studio polishing and re-recording the tracks with different producers.
Laura Marling - Once I Was An Eagle (Virgin)
I've got to say, I'm not normally a Laura Marling kind of guy. As brilliant as 'Ghosts' was, that was a while ago now, and she seems to be more old-before-her-time folky who drifts from singing into talking lyrics at the end of lines. But this record is delightfully low key, almost a tapestry of stripped back riffs and motifs, thoughts and experiences. The melodies are subtle but infectious, hanging together in a great album.
LAUREL HALO - CHANCE OF RAIN (HYPERDUB)
Like Goat's World Music and Andy Stott's Luxury Problems, Laurel Halo's Quarantine was one of my favourite albums of 2012. And yet it somehow failed to appear on my picks of last year. I'm an idiot. Fortunately, Halo's got a new album out that's every bit as good as her previous one, despite sounding nothing like it. Where Quarantine was light and ambient, Chance of Rain hits hard from the off and has a more aggressive feel. Its use of battered analogue electronics reminds of me LFO, and the occasional stabs of electronic piano bring to mind Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis. I can think of no higher praise.
SILVER SEAS - ALASKA (EMI)
To describe something as easy-listening music in the company of a small army of sophisticated modern musos might seem like a misstep, but Alaska fits this description in the purest possible sense: it's just so damn easy to listen to. Silver Seas have largely passed me by up to this point but in 'Alaska' and 'Lights Out' they have produced two of my favourite pop tunes of 2013. Pure listening pleasure.
DEFEATER - LETTERS HOME (BRIDGE NINE RECORDS)
Sure, they've digested a few Modern Life is War records in their time (what modern hardcore band hasn't?) but there's a lot more to Defeater than meets the eye. Beneath the visceral and uncompromising music on this album lies the conclusion of a complex concept story that has been played out over their previous two releases, firmly cementing Defeater's position as one of the most progressive bands in 'the scene'.
BLACK ANGELS - INDIGO MEADOW (BLUE HORIZON)
Tub-thumping drums, check; fuzz-bass, check; cranked Rickenbackers, check; whirling psych-Hammond organ, check. Indigo Meadow demonstrates Black Angels deciding it ain't broke and there's frankly no point at all trying to fix it. And why on earth should they?
KURT VILE - WAKIN' ON A PRETTY DAZE (MATADOR)
If recent weeks have taught me anything, it's that this is a fine album to ease the anger and frustration of another away defeat. And it seems that could be an important attribute for any record for the forseeable future.
from on .
RORY DOLLARD TYPHOON - WHITE LIGHTER I was all lathered up and leery over Typhoon's last EP, so I arranged for their debut album to be shipped direct from the US to consumate the relationship. I'm still not sure if it's been released over here, but it should be. The key selling points are Kyle Morton's ever-so-fragile voice, the joyous blast of horns on nearly every track and the Bright Eyesy ramshackle production. As a new daddy man myself this year this song 'Young Fathers', which warns the world "is populated with weirdos to kill them and break their hearts" really hits the spot.
STEVE PILL Foals - Holy Fire (Warner Bros)
Holy Fire? Wholly unexpected, more like. After a debut of intricate math rock and a follow-up overflowing with raw emotion, Foals could have gone almost anywhere on album number 3. "Enlisting the producers of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and writing the catchiest indie pop song of the year" was not exactly odds-on favourite (and let's imagine, for a minute, a world in which we could walk into your local Ladbrokes and place a bet on the contents of the next Foals album without being murdered by drunks or laughed out the door). Aside from that song ('My Number') and the ferocious 'Inhaler', much of the album is forgettable. By the end of track three however, they'd already done enough.
CHASTITY BELT - NO REGERTS (HELP YOURSELF)
Seattle. Now there's a city crying out for some musical heritage. From the coffee houses and dive venues sprang Chastity Belt, a band that caused a fair rabble this year, their deliberately misspelt album title symptomatic of a band that had scant interest in convention. The all-female four-piece performed obtuse guitar-pop that hinted at quite some future.