Happy New Year. Surely, 2017 can only be better than 2016. But who knows at the moment? What’s for sure is that music will always be a comfort. In that spirit, highly anticipated 2017 releases include confirmed albums from Elbow, Fleet Foxes, Foxygen, Grandaddy, Grizzly Bear, Horse Thief, Nadia Reid, Nikki Lane, Real Estate, Ryan Adams, The Shins, Son Volt, Strand of Oaks, and Sun Kil Moon. And then there’s always the H-LM wish list. This year, it includes Adrian Crowley, Alela Diane, Anaïs Mitchell, Bill Callahan, David Vandervelde, Feist, Field Report, Fionn Regan, First Aid Kit, Israel Nash, Jason Isbell, Jim White, Laura Veirs, Lewis & Clarke, Noah Gunderson, and Phosphorescent. Mind you, some of these artists were on my wish list this time last year. So, fingers are tightly crossed. Whatever happens, let’s start the new year with some good news. Word is in that Kramies is recording new demos. I can’t wait to hear the end result. In the meantime, here’s Kramies (feat. Jason Lytle) with ‘Clocks Were All Broken’.

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.

Elbow – The Takeoff And Landing Of Everything

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Elbow have done their level best to alienate their core demographic. Lads. Blokes. Laddish blokes. Happy married couples who once swapped vows to the strains of ‘One Day Like This’. Recently divorced couples who once swapped vows to the strains of ‘One Day Like This’. Unmarried early thirty-somethings who still sing-along to the life-affirming, but ever-so-slightly-ironic anthems of The Seldom Seen Kid. They’re all gone. The previous outing, Build a Rocket Boys!, was enough to put off most of them. It was just so slow. The latest offering will do for the rest. And, like its predecessor, what a great album it is. There’s a point on the first track, ‘This Blue World’, and at about 3.40 to be precise, where they could have changed gear and burst into yet one more life-affirming, but ever-so-slightly-ironic anthem. And, gloriously, they resist the temptation. In fact, they resist it so utterly and completely that there’s nary a one throughout the whole album. Admittedly, there are times when it makes things just a little dull. A little one-paced. ‘Honey Sun’ and ‘My Sad Captain’ are the equivalent of a Sunday afternoon nap in front of the TV. But most of the album is full of great, yet beautifully understated hooks. ‘Charge’ and ‘Fly Boy Blue/Lunette’ both contain wonderfully hummable choruses. The title track picks up the pace and gets into a great, almost stoner-like groove. And there are so many internal rhymes in ‘Real Life (Angel)’ that you can only sit back and wonder. And yet, for the lads, the blokes, the couples, ex-couples, and single-bed singletons who bought The Seldom Seen Kid in their droves it still won’t be enough. This is not the Elbow of a certain age. This a new Elbow. A different Elbow. And more power to them.

The Guardian review

Irish Times review

Music OMH review

This Is Fake DIY review

Drowned In Sound review

The Line of Best Fit review