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’.

Welcome to part 2 of the best albums of 2013, AKA the miserable 5.

Dan Michaelson & The Coastguards – Blindspot

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The gravel-voiced Gollum of gloom returns with an album so downer-sounding it’s positively uplifting. After all, at least you get to realise that someone out there is worse off than you. While poor old Dan and his Coastguards give the impression they’re about to hit the rocks any day soon, they tell their stories with such a delicate beauty that you can’t help but want to throw them a lifeline. Sure, they’d probably drop it anyway.

Mark Kozelek & Desertshore

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Just when you’ve managed to come to terms with the ultra-miserabilist themes of the new Mark Kozelek album, doesn’t he go and release a second one. Kick a man when he’s down, why don’t you? If it wasn’t so freaking affecting. If it didn’t sound so darn beautiful. Well, you’d have reason to be resentful. Instead, you put ‘Brothers’ on repeat and wonder how anyone write a song quite so emotional.

Alela Diane – About Farewell

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Alela Diane writes about the pain of breaking up. The anger of having wasted part of a life. And the excitement of starting afresh. Well, two out of three ain’t bad. There’s plenty of unfinished business at the end of this particular journey. It’s tough to listen to a first-hand account of the break-up of a marriage. But hopefully the process of writing was cathartic and with luck we might yet get to hear the part about starting afresh.

Jason Isbell – Southeastern

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Jason Isbell is an interloper. He’s got over his troubles. Kicked his destructive habits. But, thankfully for the rest of us, he can remember just enough of his dark days to tell some great stories. And he recounts them with tremendous verve and panache. This is a songwriter at the absolute top of his game. An album full of great songs with wonderful hooks and lovely arrangements.

Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

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There are times on this album when Neko sounds really angry. She’s had a difficult time recently and sometimes it shows. When she sings about murdering a man by shooting him through his jelly eye, you start to smile politely and back away. But don’t go too far. There’s plenty here to keep you amused and entertained.

Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

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Neko Case has been away for quite a while. In the meantime she’s experienced parental loss and some dark times personally. It’s easy to find evidence of them on her new album. At the end of the first song, ‘Wild Creatures’, she tells us painfully that “There’s no mother’s hands to quiet me”. On ‘Bracing For Sunday’ the protagonist is staring at the ceiling waiting for her “purpose to deliver and reveal itself”. It doesn’t. And there’s a definite sense that the events in her life have left some unresolved issues. This is an angry Neko Case at times. There’s some cussing. And on the same ‘Bracing For Sunday’ her character tells us how she murders a particularly nasty guy. And she doesn’t just murder him, she shoots him through his “jelly eye”. We’re a long way here from the eco-friendly themes of Middle Cyclone. All the same, this is still recognisably a Neko Case album. There are the up tempo guitar-led songs, and the quieter, more wistful numbers. And above it all, soaring as usual, is the voice, sounding just as wonderful as ever. There is one misstep. ‘Nearly Midnight, Honolulu’ tries too hard to get across its point and becomes a little preachy. But the rest is a case of Neko perfection. While perhaps nothing stands out as much as ‘This Tornado Loves You’ from the previous album, almost every song has something special to say. The stories. The phrasing. And, even in the dark times, the self-assurance. Like all great works of art, there’s something to learn from this album. How to make it through the tough times and how to come out the other side an even stronger person. Good lessons.

The Guardian review

Consequence of Sound review

The Line of Best Fit review

Pretty Much Amazing review

Boston Globe review