There was a top 20 and then @danmumbleson released an album on 8 December. So, 20 became 21.

St Vincent – Masseduction


The promo campaign did nothing for me, neither did the outfits, nor a couple of the über-pop tunes, but, fundamentally, behind all the post-modern irony and the major-label production values, this was an old-fashioned St Vincent album in all its glory.

Lana Del Rey – Lust For Life


Lana Del Rey is one of my favourite artists. A woman who has beaten corporate musicality and has been able to make the music she wants. Respect. Don’t tell anyone, though, but without the collaborations this would have been an even better album.

Ryan Adams – The Prisoner


Maybe it was the Flying V, but from the very first chords Prisoner hit the spot.

Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound


My gig of the year. But Jason Isbell didn’t just deliver a fantastic show in 2017. He also delivered a top-class album with songs about beating alcohol, managing anxiety, and living in Trump’s America. All the more remarkable when you think that you’d need the first to manage the second caused by the third.

Manchester Orchestra – A Black Mile To The Surface


Truly a mad-cap project. But an album that at a certain point of the year I simply could not stop playing. And it had the effect that all great albums have. It made me reacquaint myself with the back catalogue. Revisiting Simple Math was an almost equal pleasure.

Holy Holy – Paint


Holy Holy delivered their ‘difficult’ sophomore album with great panache. Better even than their debut, Paint was full of good old fashioned rock songs (but for a modern age).

Well, here we are. The culmination of yet another musical year. And the great thing? Next year’s only just around the corner. Can’t wait.

Lucinda Williams – Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone


Released on her own record label, Lucinda Williams returned with a new-found freedom. The songs were strong. The lyrics were stark. The band was tight. And there was a great JJ Cale cover at the end.

Jenny Lewis – The Voyager


After a period of musical self-doubt, Jenny Lewis returned with her first release in six years. And it was well worth the wait. Voyager was chock-a-block with foot-tapping melodies and grown-up lyrics.

Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence


Ultraviolence has been largely overlooked in end-of-year, best-of lists. Perhaps it’s unsurprising. Slowing things right down, LDR managed to alienate most of the people who loved the dance-floor anthems of the last album. What a relief! Let’s hope she’s got the strength to explore the altogether darker nooks and crannies of her current musical space.

The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream


By contrast, TWOD are a seemingly obligatory inclusion in everybody’s end-of-year list. But it’s a no-brainer as to why. This was an old-fashioned sort of album. Full of great build ups, long wind downs, and thrilling middle sections. (Don’t tell anyone, though, but it ran out of steam a little bit towards the end of side 2).

The Antlers – Familiars


Familiars was full of slow but irresistibly funky songs, most of them led by a trumpet or two. It was the sort of party you’d have if you were stuck in a funeral procession. Against your better nature, you’d be really enjoying yourself.

Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence


Ultraviolence is the Lana Del Rey album that should never have been. Imagine the meeting in UMG HQ. “These demos are, ahem, very interesting, Ms Del Rey”, says the Deputy Vice President of Music Marketing and Artistic Management. “However, we were thinking that the songs might benefit from being, well, speeded up a little”. “Speeded up?” “Yes. You know. More BPM. Erm. Much [sic] more”. To her eternal credit, Ms Del Rey pouted one her biggest pouts (and that’s a big pout), upped sticks, turned her back on the meeting, and left the room. And then, to the eternal credit of the corporate heads at UMG, they gave in. Like totally. Proving, if proof were needed, that it’s just so difficult to resist Ms Del Rey. If this scenario even faintly resembles any real-life scenario, then it was the most inspired musical about turn of recent times. Born To Die was a great album, but it was uneven. For every masterpiece like ‘Off To The Races’, there was a pseudo-dancefloor stinker like ‘Diet Mountain Dew’. And to big musical corporations, pseudo-dance floor stinkers are where the spondoolicks are usually thought to lie. On Ultraviolence, by contrast, the dance floor is a million miles away. And every song is a gem. True, there’s a formula. The songs all start slow, build up to a big but not overstated chorus, revert back to the slow theme, and then end all moodily. Sure, the message may be a little confused at times. It’s an album that exudes girl power. But it’s like watching an episode of Buffy. The protagonist has real agency, but her tops do seem to be a little more closely cropped than the other women on screen. And, yes, there’s the full range of sometimes slightly strange Lana vocals. The one where she coochy-coos like she’s talking to a new-born baby is a particular favourite. Yet nothing should take away from the sheer magnificence of this album. There are some stupendously good songs. ‘Brooklyn Baby’ and ‘West Coast’ stand out. There are also some utterly sublime moments. Try 1.21 on ‘Shades of Cool’. This is a wonderful album. Ms Del Rey, we are forever in your debt for pouting that pout and walking out of that room.

Consequence of Sound review

Spin review

Drowned in Sound review

Pitchfork review

Pretty Much Amazing review

Pop Matters review

Music OMH review

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.

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?’.

EHL - 3 months
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.

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.

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.

Lana Del Rey – Born To Die

Vic Chesnutt’s ‘Grim Augury’ opens with the tolling of a southern bell. It welcomes in a world where a baby is being cut out with an antler-handled carving knife, where catfish are wriggling in blood and gore in the kitchen sink. It’s humid. If you can sleep, then the dreams are bad. But the family living there thinks it’s normal. Lana Del Rey’s ‘Video Games’ also opens with the tolling of a bell. Sounds southern. At this point, Lana could be the youngest daughter of the Chesnutt family. Scarlett. She has a way with words. She’s got a tar-black soul, but she knows a man who’s as sweet as blood-red jam. She’s got a friend who eats soft ice cream, but whose liquor’s top shelf. There’s a glasshouse and I bet it’s unbearably hot in the summer. But Lana Del Rey’s world suddenly changes. She heads to New York. She finds the northerners beaux and she learns a new way of talking. Cooler, but utterly vacuous. You can still hear a certain southern sound, but behind it the bass is bigger, the beat is blander, the hook is familiar. Too familiar. The folks back home miss her. But in ‘This Is What Makes Us Girls’ she says that she’s never going back. That’s a shame. When she was there she really made a mark.

Lana Del Rey official site