12 plays of Christmas – Mura Masa

12. Mura Masa – Someday Somewhere

And so to the fun. You’re 19 years old, from Guersney and you know how to produce a tune. Your future is either:

A) Spent in fruitless frustration hamstrung by your distance from the musical epicentre and the apathy of industry insiders.

B) Turn the world upside down with tunes that bring people twice your age out in a cold sweat of envy and joyousness.

To achieve B, you need talent, dedication, more talent, and an Internet connection. Mura Masa clearly has all of this in spades. That my final pick is a 20 minute EP should distract from its excellence it’s the best 20 minutes I’ve heard all year. It’s smart, modern and guaranteed to fill a dance floor. I’ll leave the man himself to lead the way:


Have a riotous evening wherever you are.


12 plays of Christmas – Sufjan Stevens

11. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

New Year is a time of great sadness and great joy, of fear and hope. A collective construct, a chosen moment, that allows us to reflect and to dream. There is the sadness of times we will not live again and the fear that we cannot return to such dizzy heights. There are the people lost.There is the joy of memories, those seconds etched immemorial and incorporeal in our minds. And there is the hope of things to come. Places and people that have not yet touched our lives, shadows cast behind us as we are reborn.

In these final two plays, I shall deal with both. Firstly to the sadness which, by the by, doesn’t have to be depressing. It can also be beautiful and elegiac, it can be the warmth of shared human experience, it can be a companion in our loneliness.

Carrie & Lowell is a sad record. It is also a rich tapestry, recording the complexity of family relations, of love and loss and of healing and rebirth. It’s a man coming to terms with a difficult relationship with a difficul person, his mother. It’s also my favourite Sufjan record since Seven Swans. 

Having spent a decade consuming other people’s lives and cultures and tenderly recreating them in song, Sufjan has produced something so personal and intimate that it almost feels as if you shouldn’t be listening. Should have known better is a fragile memory, a hand grasping for the confused assurance of childhood:

Given that she abandoned him Stevens could hate his mother, but never seems to. Instead, to a sweeping, haunting, yet almost orchestral background he explores her life, his own and their relationship. On the peerless Fourth of July we are privy to an inagined conversation, it’s awkwardness leaving us shattered and edgy:

Well you do enough talk

My little hawk, why do you cry?

Tell me what did you learn from the Tillamook burn?

Or the Fourth of July?

We’re all gonna die

There is blood on the studio floor, anger and resentment war with love and forgiveness. There can be only one winner. The final track My Blue Bucket Of Gold is the sound of someone looking forward, their mother beside them but not dominating, just an important piece of the past, looking down and smiling wryly:

Carrie & Lowell is the most rewarding album of the year. It’s not always an easy listen because it constantly challenges you emotionally and intellectually. It is a brave and inspiring piece of art. You can grab this amazing record from Asthmatic Kitty.

12 plays of Christmas – Lace Curtains

10. Lace Curtains – A Signed Piece Of Paper

I can’t tell you much about Lace Curtains. They’ve been around for a few years now on a little label called Female Fantasy and Michael Coomers (the only member of the band who seemingly exists in press circles) was vaguely famous before this for being in a quite good band out of Austin, Texas – called, confusingly Harlem. 

What makes his/their new album great is it’s refusal to tie itself to one specific approach. While the reference points are clear – a deadpan delivery somewhere between Lou Reed and Dave Dave Berman; and a solid grasp of 70’s alt pop, 80’s funk and 90’s slacker rock – this album pivots and turns, each track showing a different shade. There’s top quality songwriting here and while there’s some way to go to meet the standards of say, Silver Jews, there’s enough promise in this album to send it strolling nonchantly -it’s far too cool to run- into my 12 plays.

It opens with the one of my favourite tracks of the year. With its elegant organ opening, sardonic wit and shuffle beat, The Fly is a pop song that itches at your brain, refusing to be forgotten, nudging for replay after replay:

While it still aches with pop sentiment Wilshere and Fairfax is a different speed. It’s a unlikely, and lovely, lament to Biggie Smalls that made me smile at its unexpectedness:


Lastly, there should always be room for Be Good in your life. It’s a story of a long-distance friendship, of nostalgia for what once was, of remembering to be good:


If I were you, I’d grab this album from the ever brilliant bandcamp.

12 plays of Christmas – Jim O’Rourke

9. Jim O’Rourke – Simple Songs

Jim O’Rourke likes a joke. 14 years ago, on the peerless Insignificance, he offered up an the following humorous insight into, possibly, his home life:

 Is it hot in here, or do I feel a little draft

From these pants that you brought for me to wear

The ones that have no back

Not that he was ever anything but lyrically oblique. There was self-deprecation, joy and sadness and the occasional glimpse of honesty but you could never be quite sure how seriously he took himself, which is not a bad thing.

14 years later we’re none the wiser. His only solo-offering in the interim was a pretty 35 minutes of noisy, instrumental introspection. Not that he doesn’t keep busy. As well as a long stint in Sonic Youth he’s continued to produce and appear on a whole bevy of brilliant records leaving him with a credits roll that should result in the kind of adulation more usually reserved for a Sainsbury’s Christmas advert. Red Apple Falls by Smog; Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco; and Sounddust by Sterolab to name a few.

And so with the usual lack of fanfare Simple Songs was released. Obviously, it’s anything but simple. These 8 tracks sound exactly like and nothing like anything he’s done before. The innate ability for arrangement remains but finds a new level. Hardly heard guitar gives way to swooning strings that are drowned by a stampeding piano. Each play of the record reveals a little more in this cornucopia of sonic delight.

His music remains undefinable and indefatigable. It’s lost somewhere in 70s prog but refuses to become self-indulgent. In less skilled hands it could be a mess, a midlife musical crisis, a car crash unfolding in front of your ears like a badly constructed reality TV programme about poverty. In his it’s a triumph. Some bits and bobs:

You can grab it here.

12 plays of Christmas – Protomartyr

8. Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect

Every family has one: The refuser. The angry, articulate misanthrope. Mostly, they’re silent but when they do speak its with a churning, machine gun violence.  If you don’t know who it is in your family, it’s probably you.

Angry music is great. It lifts you, screeching and screaming, it drains and revitalises. You just need the right person in charge. Well, Joe Casey is that person and Protomartyr is his transportation. An angry, baleful dirge providing the backdrop to his hoarse, poetic yelp. He starts, as you do, by humanising satan:

The Agent Intellect drags you, tumbling backwards through time. It belongs to a fraternity of post-punk, growling at the universe, all sharpened hooks and sniping baritone. Pontiac ’87 is the brutal, ugliness bubbling around us:

And then they turns inward, directing the ire at themselves, at the fragility of mortality, at self-awareness, at our too obvious limitations.

If you’re looking for happiness, then drop back a couple of blogs for The Social Experiment. If you want glorious, invigorating anger grab The Agent Intellect here.

12 plays of Christmas – Ibeyi

7. Ibeyi – Ibeyi

There’s no reason why twins shouldn’t be successful musicians. Some would argue that the psychological umbilical cord that seems to exist between them aids the shared creative process. This doesn’t explain Jedward but then not much explains Jedward.

Fortunately the universe seems to like a bit of balance between light and dark and for every god awful piece of pop poisoning something magical exists to save your ears and your soul.

From France, via Havana and Canada come the barely describable Ibeyi, two sisters who fuse indie, electronica and (sort of) tribal chanting into something that, in an age where most music sounds like a tribute to the tunes of my childhood, is borderline original.

Ghostly, ethereal, sparse, yet joyous and nourishing, this is an album which talks about death but celebrates life. It is redemptive and cleansing:

Carry away my dead leaves

Let me baptize my soul with the help of your waters

Sink my pains and complains

Let the river take them, river drown them

My ego and my blame

Let me baptize my soul with the help of your waters

Those all means are so ashamed

Let the river take them, river drown them

Constantly, it falls back on hope, on faith, on growth through experience. This day is never your last:

So when it bemoans our loneliness, that even while surrounded we are all still searching for someone for something, it finds beauty. There is something religious in their belief but it’s more than ritual, than empty habit, it’s true faith:

You can grab the record from those lovely people at XL Recordings. You’ll hear nothin quite like it this year.

12 plays of Christmas – Dave Rawlings Machine

6. Dave Rawlings Machine – Nashville Obselete

The presents have been opened, the wine finished and dinner is a heavy echo in your memory. You’ve escaped the formalities and are hiding away, dreaming of an empty field, the wheat sheafs swaying in the breeze, the sun drying the sweat as quickly as it forms on your face. You’re dreaming of open spaces.

This is what this music is to me. For the better part of forever Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch have owned Appalachian  Mountain’s country-folk. Their records are a testament to the delicate patience with which they have honed their craft. There is infinite inspiration here but also infinite perspiration. Within its field, it’s as close to perfection as is possible.

A few tastes, then, for the unbelievers:

You can buy it here or stream it here. You should also buy the complete Gillian Welch back catalogue or at least Time (The Revelator). It’s the least you deserve.

12 plays of Christmas – Alabama Shakes


5. Alabama Shakes – Sound And Color

Given that this album debuted at Number One in the States and the title track is the Apple marketing team’s current background music of choice, Alabama Shakes are hardly an unknown quantity. In 6 years they’ve gone from obscurity to helping hawk the biggest brand in the world. 

And it’s not as is their success is undeserved. Over that time they’ve refined a sound which blends old-fashioned rhythm and blues, 60s soul and 70s funk into a thrilling cohesive, 90% proof shot of nostalgia. They sound like they escaped from a different time but make music which is so much more than hackneyed tribute.

We’ll start with Don’t Wanna Fight No More. As always it’s Britney Howard’s smokey, muscular vocal that stands out but there’s something in the beautifully understated chorus that just works:

Better still is Gimme All Your Love, a quiet, loud stomp of a song with an almost Zeppelinesque organ riff. Turn up your stereo, this is a song that demand to played fucking loud:

Let’s finish with something a little more tender. Guess Who is the album’s most personal moment. A light, soulful baring of he heart:

It’s been so hard for a girl like me, it’s true

People say I look just like my daddy, cause I do

All I really want is peace of mind

Why is everything so complicated?

Why is everyone so infatuated?


You can grab the record or stream it here

12 Plays Of Christmas – The Social Experiment


4. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – Surf

The best things in life are free. A terrible song and a crass and too easily-accepted sentiment. After all, just because you think the best things are free it doesn’t mean that the next man does, or that you no longer want that PS4 poised tantalisingly under the Christmas tree, right?

So, lets try and be accurate here: Surf is the best souljazzhip-hop hybrid record of 2015. It’s also free but this isn’t what makes it the best. That’s down to a barrel-load of hooks, some definitively weird-ass instrument combos (is that jazz trumpet with synth keyboards, phased vocals and some indie rock guitars? Shit, it really is), and an army of great contributors.

At the heart of this little work of wonder sit Chance The Rapper and Donnie Trumpet. Except they don’t seem like they’re sitting. They’re laughing, they’re screaming. They’re frolicking for fuck sake.  They’re dancing, they’re slip-sliding but still standing on their own two feet:

This is a 21st century dance-floor filler by way of Prince and Outkast. Oh, and Busta Rhymes sounds great.

At the other extreme lies the gorgeous Nothing Came To Me. A piercing volley of hard, harsh trumpet gives way to a bittersweet melancholy that wouldn’t sound out of place on Classic FM:

Yet this isn’t a record that’s all over the place. It’s real beauty lies in it’s flows. It’s the attention to detail that gives it an extra edge. It ebbs and flows. It attacks and hesitates. It waits, knowing it always has a surprise up it’s sleeve. Something soulful, something holy:

It’s at this point that I have to remind myself, and all of you, that this record is FREE. You can download it from itunes now. The only cost is a little patience and a little trust. I’d never lie to you about music.

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