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No ‘Spaceman Came Travelling’ or warbling Mariah for our TuneSmith: Rob Wood picks his alternative Christmas soundtrack…

ALBUM OF THE MONTH

Box of Secrets by Zarif

When? You’re stuck in the snow and need perking up
Why?
Winehouse and Allen have competition

It’s a shame that this box of songs has slipped past many people’s radars since it was released in the summer. Parts of it may have been tainted by a slight major-label frothing, but there are enough crackers here to keep most pop fans busy for weeks. Rooted in a vintage soul sound, this young singer’s voice and feisty attitude have marked her out as a new performer whose time has yet to come. She’s already caught the finely tuned ears of Groove Armada and the Nextmen and has wowed at Glastonbury and Bestival. The fact that Beyoncé asked Zarif to support her in 2009 and John Legend is a fan, shows the pop power punch this girl has the potential to pack. She excels most brilliantly on zippy proto-swing numbers such as title track ‘Box of Secrets’, which demos her as a Lily Allen in waiting. This shouldn’t be a secret at all.

Download Box of Secrets

THE SMITH CLASSIC

Speaking in Tongues by Talking Heads

When? You want to know where Friendly Fires got their groove
Why? The original art-school gang shows how it’s done

It’s by no means Talking Heads ‘most respected album, but Speaking In Tongues is still a master class in fusing rock, pop, funk and dance to incredible effect. Brian Eno has pointed out that many of today’s new bands appear to have a Talking Heads influence, and this is where they found it (although it’s actually one of the band’s few records he didn’t produce). It slams down the gauntlet with the attention-grabbingly urgent ‘Burning Down the House’. Here is the sound of the nerdy art school band finding its pop legs. ‘Making Flip Floppy’ makes you smile with Byrne’s inimitable and evocative lyrics, but ‘Girlfriend is Better’ quickly kicks that in to touch with its raucous undeniable, twisted groove. ‘This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)’ found a regular place on ’80s New York’s underground dance floors and it’s easy to hear why. This was a band that spoke to both the mind and feet. Speaking In Tongues is where both lyrics and grooves came together to be joined at the hip.

Download Speaking in Tongues now

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