I was over the Uncut website and I came across John Mulvey’s list of his favourite albums of the first six months of 2017. I like John Mulvey and his writing. This time, though, I was struck by the fact that the list included 60 albums, now increased to 66. With 26 weeks in the first six months of the year or just over 180 days, he has included on average about 2.5 favourite albums per week or one about every three days. Now, let’s assume that he has left the same number of albums off his list. This means he has devoted quality listening time to about five albums a week, or one for every day and a bit. In fact, this figure is a little generous, because there aren’t very many releases in the first couple of weeks of January. Now, John Mulvey is a professional music journalist. He listens to music for a living. It’s his job to spot good music quickly and he’s good at it. All the same, my guess is that he has devoted at most about a day’s listening to the albums he’s calling his favourites of the first half of 2017. That’s not very much.

Here are my top five albums of the year so far. They are all cherished listens. And quite some time has been spent with them. What’s more, last weekend saw the release of three albums – Fleet Foxes, Jason Isbell, and Kevin Morby – that are all candidates for a top five spot. But I’m still getting to know them. So, I’m not going to include them here. Maybe they’ll feature in December’s end-of-year list? In the meantime, here’s my summer solstice favourites.

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Conor Oberst – Salutation

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Ryan Adams – The Prisoner

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Holy Holy – Paint

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Frontier Ruckus – Enter The Kingdom

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Jesu & Sun Kil Moon – 30 Seconds to the Decline of Planet Earth

The waiting is over. My favourite albums of 2016. All instant classics.

Angel Olsen – MY WOMAN

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An album of two halves, both of them exceptional. Not a single bad track and all of them delivered with real emotion. But why can’t I stop calling her ‘Angle’?

Marissa Nadler – Strangers

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If you like your indie artists communing with black metal merchants, then Strangers is for you. Marissa Nadler has come a long way since Songs III: Bird on the Water.

Damien Jurado – Visions Of Us On The Land

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I literally lost the plot a couple of albums ago. But Damien Jurado rounds off an epic trilogy with his very best offering to date. What’s next? A prequel? Yes, please.

Richmond Fontaine – You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To

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On their valedictory album, Richmond Fontaine add another essential release to their catalogue. If you don’t feel sorry for Little Joe on ‘Wake Up Ray’, then you’ve no heart.

Jim James – Eternally Even

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MMJ’s It Still Moves was already one of the standout re-releases of the year. But the Yim’s second solo album exceeded all expectations. And they were already very high.

David Bowie – Blackstar

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It’s difficult to separate the music from the loss, but what a way to bow out. It’s worth adding ‘No Plan’ from the Lazarus soundtrack to the playlist.

Bat For Lashes – The Bride

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The Bride is an exhausting but exhilarating journey into the restless imagination of Natasha Khan. The songs may be full of elemental imagery, but the tone is quiet.

Wye Oak – Tween

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Outtakes from their last two albums presented as a new offering. It’s not the most promising start, but this collection shines nonetheless.

Kevin Morby – Singing Saw

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When the actual singing saw kicks in, you start to run for cover. It seems like it’s really out to get you.

Band of Horses – Why Are You OK

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Deceptively casual. Behind the seemingly good-time songs, demons were lurking. It wasn’t a confessional album, but it was more than just the soundtrack to a house party.

Here’s a selection of vaguely Americana-themed albums that made the grade this year.

Miranda Lee Richards – Echoes of the Dreamtime

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If you like your Americana to take you on a trip, then Miranda Lee Richards is for you. Echoes of the Dreamtime was a sublime mix of moods, styles, and continents.

Bob Weir – Blue Mountain

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Talking of taking a trip, Bob Weir released a beautiful album this year. Largely written with or by Josh Ritter, the songs were wistful and the voice was wonderfully earthy.

Hard Working Americans – Rest in Chaos

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The Todd Snider-led supergroup released their second album. This time, the songs were mainly self-penned. Good choice. These guys work hard and play loud.

Hiss Golden Messenger – Heart Like A Levee

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HGM just get better and better. Perhaps it’s because MC Taylor writes from such a personal place. But then the songs sound gorgeous too. Good combination.

Treetop Flyers – Palomino

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Treetop Flyers wear plenty of influences on their sleeve, but Palomino weaved them together in a very satisfying way. And the lyrics were striking too. Looking forward to more.

It seems to come around annually. It’s time to report the best music of the year. Here’s the first part of my 20 favourite albums of 2016. More to follow.

Dan Michaelson and The Coastguards – Memory

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With so many great musicians leaving us and with all sorts of political nightmares coming true, Dan captured the mood perfectly. Truly one of my most cherished artists.

Conor Oberst – Ruminations

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If you’ve just listened to the Dan Michaelson album and feel like you need a little musical pick-me-up, then don’t play Conor Oberst’s 2016 offering. It’s sparse. And good.

Andrew Bird – Are You Serious

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Andrew Bird answers his own question on this album. He is very serious. In fact, I passed by him on a very narrow corridor at a gig earlier this year. He was indeed very serious.

Devendra Banhart – Ape In Pink Marble

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By contrast, Devendra Banhart sounds like someone who’d liven up any party. Ape In Pink Marble was quiet, but a real hoot.

The Colorist and Emiliana Torrini

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The Colorist play all sorts of organic, recycled, authentic instruments. Emiliana Torrini sings a selection of her best songs. It’s a match made in heaven.

Over the next four days, I am revealing my top 20 albums of the year. It’s in something approaching reverse order. Here’s part 1.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away

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In some utopian community somewhere, small children are being taught Nick Cave. They will emerge as highly erudite, yet slightly worrying human beings. They will talk to you in a language you understand, but which has so many words to read in between that your head soon starts to spin and won’t stop. The magnificent ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ is on the exam paper this year.

Villagers – {Awayland}

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Meanwhile the B stream are studying Villagers. It’s no easy module. Far more words. And just as many abstruse allusions. But plenty of great songs to keep you going. Fair play to Conor O’Brien, {Awayland} was no ‘Becoming A Jackal’ part 2. Something special was lost, but much was gained in return. The difficult third album will be a true test.

Ducktails – The Flower Lane

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A Real Estate side project, Ducktails exceeded expectations. Whereas so many of the year’s bands aped the worst of mid-1980s, pre-Smiths, syntho-pop, Ducktails succeeded in persuading you that there was some good music in that era. There wasn’t, but Ducktails will do just fine, thanks. ‘Under Cover’ promised to be one of the best songs of the year and it didn’t disappoint.

Foxygen – We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic

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It was a difficult year for Foxygen. But if this ends up being their one and only album together, then it will still have been worth it. Derivative? Check. Inspirational lyrics? Hardly. Good fun? Unquestionably. And great tunes? In abundance. Solo efforts from band members later in the year were underwhelming. So, let’s hope the guys kiss and make up and deliver another equally memorable album sometime soon.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II

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Great shuffly, yet psychy sounds from one of New Zealand’s finest exports. (Oh, and Portland OR’s too). They pulled off the same trick as Foxygen, by producing an album that sounded ultra-retro, but that was full of contemporary hooks. Most of the album was mid-tempo, but they showed they could rock out when they wanted to. More power to UMO.

Here are my top 5 favourite releases of 2012, in no particular order:

Lana Del Rey – Born To Die

She can’t sing. The lyrics were phoned in by a bunch of hacks. There are a couple of really dire sub-X Factor numbers. And yet. This is a great album. ‘Off To The Races’ is utterly compelling throughout. The way the song swoops to a close for more than a minute is just sublime. There are moments on the title track, on ‘Carmen’, ‘Blue Jeans’ that transcend the usual pop schlock. They create a world. A humid, slightly seedy world. It’s not Lana’s world. Or mine. But, so what? It’s about the power of imagination. A total fabrication, but a wonderful example of where music can take you.

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John Murry – The Graceless Age

John Murry was the total antithesis of Lana Del Rey. This was the most real album of the year. Many of the songs come straight from Murry’s own experiences. They weren’t pretty. He nearly died of an overdose and he recounts the events in some detail. The results ought to be morbid, but they’re not. They’re magnificent. Flawless. Life-affirming. The sound was full. The pace often brisk. And it was clever. “What keeps me alive will kill me in the end”, he sings on ‘¿No te da ganas de reir, Sènor Malverde?’.

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Lambchop – Mr M

‘The strings sound good, Maybe add some flute”. Mr M had the lushness of It’s A Woman. The songs were slow. And there was room in them to let them utterly envelop you. But they were all tinged with sadness. Scrap that. They were thoroughly marinaded in it. The album was dedicated to the late Vic Chesnutt. Maybe it took such a loss to produce one final great Lambchop record. If that was his last act, then he can surely rest in peace.

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Giant Giant Sand – Tucson

This album should not work. Apart from the fact that after nearly 30 years of writing songs, and at a furious pace, there should be nothing left in the tank, this was officially billed as a country rock opera. Well, maybe it did work precisely because Howe Gelb is such an experienced songwriter and also because it sounded nothing like what you might imagine a country rock opera would sound like. Eclectic. Individual. Simply unique.

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Field Report

Field Report are a serious proposition. It’s hard to imagine them having much fun, or even smiling. But, if that’s the price of such a wonderful listen, then so be it. The songs on this album lingered. They were given plenty of space in which to develop, evolve. Nothing was hurried. Sure, the lyrics were a little pretentious at times. But these were genuine, organic, hand-crafted songs.