The Dirty Dozen - December, 2008
December isn't all about Cliff Richard and the X Factor. There's some damn fine music out there too, Nick Mitchell finds
First to shake yer mother’s finest china this month are Belgian rockers dEUS, flaunting their filmic tastes with The Vanishing of Maria Schneider (1 Dec, ***), which proves that bare-cheeked arthouse cinema, brooding post-rock and Elbow’s Guy Garvey (guest vocals) are easy bedfellows.
Teenage indie hopefuls The Wireless can’t thank their PR for describing them as “barely pubescent”, but in musical terms that’s exactly what Been Here Before (1 Dec, **) is: a bit chirpy and a bit superficial. The same can’t be said for Joan Wasser, who, 'As Police Woman', has roped in old pal Rufus Wainwright on her latest, To America (1 Dec, ****), an evocative ballad that treads the lesser-trod path between Vaudeville and 70s rock. Equally individual but utterly different, The Streets’ Mike Skinner comes over all thirty-something (well, just turned 30) and comfortable on Heaven For The Weather (1 Dec, 3stars). As per usual, the lyricism is a cut above the ordinary; as a song it’s a non-event.
Stirling band Jack Butler return from an apparent hiatus this month with Are You a Hustler? (15 Dec, ***). And by the sound of it they’ve been at funky/indie/disco training camp, because this is a catchy rump-shaker, if not a life-changer. James Yorkston, on the other hand, crafts the kind of intelligent, sonorous balladry that might just alter your life should you let it. Tortoise Regrets Hare (8 Dec, ****) comes backed with King Creosote’s fuzzier rendition of the same song. That brings us neatly on to Fence Collective associates Pumajaw, who kickstart the annual Christmas singles round-up with the double A-side Spangler/The Holly King (8 Dec, ***).
More ‘haunting Winter Solstice’ than ‘cosy Crimbo’, Louis Barabbas & the Black Velvet Band also dwell on the dark side of the deep midwinter with Writing My List (Out Now, ***). Imagine, if you will, a Santa-suited Nick Cave stalking your living room with a sack full of rootsy country. Yuletide optimism finally arrives in the form of Frightened Rabbit. It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop (15 Dec, ***) has been given the choir-and-strings treatment since last year’s release, and its exhortation to stop bickering for one day is as cockle-warming as it was last Christmas. Leaving the festively inclined aside, it’s a three-way race for single of the month.
October’s Skinny cover stars Neon Neon bombard us with more elemental electronica and automotive allure on Dream Cars (8 Dec, ****). Don’t be put off by the concept: Gruff Rhys’ pop sensibilities have never been so sharp. Like Rhys, M83’s Anthony Gonzalez has learned to love the synth-smothered sound of his youth. An exquisite song from an exquisite album, We Own the Sky (1 Dec, ****) piles on the giddy romanticism, cranks up the Moog and somehow sounds completely fresh in 2008. It was a photo finish, but German stalwarts The Notwist claim single of the month for Boneless (1 Dec, ****). The track itself is about as simplistically flawless as indie-folk gets, and you get a typically dreamy remix from Animal Collective’s Panda Bear for your dosh.