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.

Damien Jurado – Visions of Us on the Land

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When the first chords of Maraqopa tumbled out of the speakers back in 2012, it wasn’t entirely obvious that Damien Jurado was embarking upon an trilogy of albums. More than that, even though there was always an intensely reflective aspect to his music and lyrics, it wasn’t immediately apparent that the three albums would be linked by a story that reflected upon the themes of inner consciousness and self-revelation. Instead, at the time what was to be celebrated was the ongoing collaboration with Richard Swift that seemed to be wresting a fuller and more confident sound from the artist and one that boded well for the future. With the album cycle now complete, the spiritual quest has reached a certain conclusion. Handily, Secretly Canadian have provided a brief synopsis of the plot for those of us who got lost quite a while back. While the narrative is as deep as the album cover is naive, what is perfectly plain from Visions of Us on the Land is that the musical journey has been fully realised. With Richard Swift at the helm across all three releases, Damien Jurado has emerged as one of the great artists of his generation. Whereas Maraqopa merely dipped its toe into the swirly waters of contemporary psychedelia on tracks like ‘Nothing Is The News’, with Visions we are fully immersed in the fast-moving currents and counter-currents of the genre. Yet, Swift and Jurado never pull us under. The songs are relatively brief, with only one clocking in at anywhere near four minutes. There are also some very welcome eddies. Both ‘Prisms’ and ‘On The Land Blues’ slow things down at a point when we might otherwise be overwhelmed. And the album closes with a trio of acoustic-based songs that wrap up the story with a sense of peace and fulfilment. It’s difficult to do justice to such an immense and highly personal project that comprises the Maraqopa, Brothers and Sisters, and Visions trilogy. Perhaps the best advice is just to listen to the music. Let all the wondrous hooks wash over you and self-revelation will surely follow.

This is always a really exciting time. A whole year of new releases to be anticipated. We know there’s material forthcoming from Villagers, Eleanor Friedberger, Andrew Bird, Dylan Leblanc, Shearwater, Tindersticks, Lucinda Williams, Sun Kil Moon, and Damien Jurado. There are also rumours of albums from Band of Horses, My Morning Jacket, Robert Ellis, and PJ Harvey. That’s a good start. But there’s much more to hope for. Last year, I was really lucky. Right at the top of my 2015 list was music from Elvis Perkins and Sufjan Stevens and both were kind enough to oblige. So, artists, if you are listening, here’s my wish list for 2016 – Bill Callahan, Phosphorescent, Richmond Fontaine, Anais Mitchell, John Vanderslice, Bon Iver, Kathleen Edwards, Kate Bush, Grizzly Bear and/or Department of Eagles, David Vandervelde, Neko Case, Emmy The Great, Ryan Adams, Feist, Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s, Fionn Regan, Fleet Foxes, and, of course, Kramies. Do please oblige. In the meantime, here is the great one with his classic ‘Sea Otter Cottage’.

So, the musical year has drawn to an end. True, Cracker have just put out Berkeley To Bakersfield, which is well worth a listen (though don’t try to find it on Spotify), but this is the time to reflect on the musical year that was. Or wasn’t. Still no word from Elvis Perkins, after all. Anyway, here are my top 20 albums of the year in a reverse sort of order. Here we go.

Damien Jurado – Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son

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For an album that promised the uncomfortably weird, this was Damien Jurado‘s most mainstream offering to date. It was difficult to know which track to like best, ‘Silver Timothy’, ‘Silver Donna’, ‘Silver Malcolm’, ‘Silver Katherine’, or ‘Silver Joy’. But in the end the award went to ‘Suns In Our Mind’, which contained the most tuneful snoring of the year.

Wooden Wand – Farmer’s Corner

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This was James Jackson Toth at his most melodic and most rewarding. Filled with great songs, but ‘Dambuilding’ and ‘When The Trail Goes Cold’ stood out. Oh, and ‘Sinking Feelings’ sounded awfully like ‘Pocahontas’.

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billie – Singer’s Grave – A Sea of Tongues

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Will Oldham is a frustrating artist. Sometimes sublime – The Letting Go. Other times unlistenable – Trembling Bells anyone? Here, he was already half-way there by reprising a bunch of songs that had appeared on the wonderful Wolfroy Goes To Town album. Singer’s Grave etc filled in the gaps and sounded almost welcoming, which can’t be said about every B’P’B album.

Elbow – The Take Off And Landing Of Everything

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What’s good about Elbow is that they’re willing to think about their music, and quite a lot. After ‘One Day Like This’, it’d be easy to make music purely for the lad on the Ramsbottom omnibus. But there’s a cosmopolitanism to this album. Well, a New York-centric cosmopolitanism at least. But that’ll do nicely, ta very much.

Damien Rice – My Favourite Faded Fantasy

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There were three great songs on this album – the title track, ‘Long Long Way’, and the utterly mind-blowing, ‘It Takes A Lot To Know A Man’. Otherwise, it’s pretty much a case of ho-hum. But if it takes eight years to make three such good tracks, then let’s hope there’s a follow up album in 2038. It’ll be an all-time classic.

Damien Jurado – Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son

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What was once a stream is now a river. On earlier albums, Damien Jurado was content with minimal arrangements. It generated some great songs, like ‘Gillian Was A Horse’, but they were always built on just a basic band sound. On Saint Bartlett he teamed up with Richard Swift for the first time. The change was noticeable, but only barely. ‘Cloudy Shoes’ swathed a typical Jurado melody in strings and echo, but little else was different. On Maraqopa the current became stronger. It was still recognisably a Damien Jurado album, but some of the songs began to swirl. Now, three albums in with Richard Swift, the flow is unstoppable. Damien Jurado’s ‘difficult’ 12th album marks a radical departure for him and a revelation for us all. Full of lovely, liquid sounds, Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son is the work of an artist with a new-found confidence. ‘Silver Timothy’ is based on a simple latin rhythm, but it’s filled out with the funkiest of bass lines and interspersed with spangly synths. ‘Jericho Road’ covers the vocals in effects, but the melody is still given the space in which to lilt and lift. ‘Return To Maraqopa’ simply bubbles with sounds. ‘Silver Katherine’ and ‘Silver Joy’ hark back to quieter times, featuring just Jurado and an acoustic guitar. But they’re really just setting the scene for the closer, ‘Suns In Our Mind’, which is a Penny Lane-era gem and which includes the best snoring you’ll hear on any track this year. For some time now, Damien Jurado has been on a journey. Musically, that journey has now come to a certain end. With careful and expert guidance, his sound has been reborn. The trick is not to give in to the temptation to go backwards.

Pitchfork review

Drowned in Sound review

KEXP review

The Line Of Best Fit review

Music OMH review

Here are my 11th-15th favourite releases of 2012, in no particular order:

Jack White – Blunderbuss

The best way to enjoy Jack White’s album was to forget what it was about. Was it about Meg? Was it about Karen? Was it about both? Did she – whoever it was – really do those things to him? Did he ever really say those things to her? Who knows? Who cares? In Jack’s head it’s probably about all of these things, none of them, and many others as well. Like the impenetrable cover, which must mean something but who knows what, the trick was to sit back and listen to the song craft. There’s great playing, great tunes, great drama. It’s more enjoyable than most White Stripes albums.

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Adrian Crowley – I See Three Birds Flying

Ah, this was the album with the lyric: “And I tried to write, The Saddest Song In The World”. Well, good news, Dr Crowley, you’ve won first prize. Sure, I have a soft spot for the miserabilists, a penchant for the self-pityers, an attraction to the artists of anomie, but Adrian Crowley can out do them all. He makes Leonard Cohen seem virtually jolly. But it’s not all melancholy madness. “I see three birds flying”, he sings, “One will steal your rings and, One will make you sing, And one will lead you home”. Full of wonderful imagery and poetic lyrics. This is a fine album.

Chase the Dark Away
Jim White – Where It Hits You

A great thing about most of Jim White’s songs is that when they get going they often move along at a decent pace. There’s usually a good rhythm underpinning the subtle orchestration. And when he does slow it right down, then there’s always something going on in the music. Some sound. Some texture. All of which means that the songs never get boring. Plus, there’s a real sense of the south. Of chairs swinging on the porch. Of someone who’s been through quite a bit and wants to reflect on it. And, for once, not in a way that’s achingly sad, but with the sense that, hmm, that was really something.

Damien Jurado – Maraqopa

This was the latest of a string of fine albums by Damien Jurado over the last few years. He’s never going to make the big time. He’s never going to sell out big theatres. Commercially, probably the best he can hope for is to get a song played on an episode of a top US TV programme. But this doesn’t diminish the fact that he’s a wonderful songwriter. On this album, he added just a touch of psychedelia on a couple of the tracks and it sounded really good. That’s right. Just a touch. Richard Hawley please take note.

Simone Felice

Simone Felice told some of the best stories of the year. Some of them were even true. Homicidal Native Americans. Perverts from Jersey. Michael Jackson. Characters you’d cross the road to avoid. Simone Felice brought these and host of others to life in gentle-sounding songs, but ones with a hint of menace nonetheless. His retelling of the story of Charles Manson and Sharon Tate is particularly chilling. But it’s when he dreams of taking a chance and running away with Courtney Love that the shivers really kick in.

Damien Jurado – Maraqopa

Ah, the ‘difficult’ second album. You’ve been writing songs since you were teenager, perfecting them. They get released and suddenly you’ve got a hit on your hands. It’s so popular that the public and, more importantly, the record company are clamouring for more and quickly. You deliver. Frantically writing an album’s worth of new songs in a fraction of the time the previous one took. But it’s a dud, and for the next 40 years you end up playing the songs you wrote as a teenager to small groups of fans in the back rooms of pubs. For Damien Jurado, it’s the ‘difficult’ eleventh album. Moving away from the standard singer-songwriter format, the sound has slowly got fuller, the palette broader, the ambition bigger. On Maraqopa, the development is clear. ‘Nothing Is The News’ kicks things off with a total wig out. ‘Life Away From The Garden’ follows with echoing female harmonies. ‘Reel To Reel’ swirls. These are new sounds. They’re courtesy of a continuing collaboration with singer-turned producer, Richard Swift. They really work. There are songs that hark back to the two previous albums, ‘Caught In The Trees’ and ‘Saint Bartlett’, but Swift manages to build on them, keeping the vulnerability of Jurado’s voice and lyrics while adding a new dimension, a new orchestration. It works because it’s done subtly. Even the wig out. In the end, there’s a certain anti-climax. The final song ‘Mountains Still Asleep’ finishes the album quietly, even abruptly. But it’s a trick. It just leaves you waiting all the more impatiently for that ‘difficult’ twelfth album.

Damien Jurado official site