This is a time of looking forward. To the familiar artists that will return. To the new artists that will be discovered. This year, like any other, comes with a wish list. Some albums will never materialise. Others will slightly disappoint. A few will remain life-long friends. Fingers crossed for the latter. In no particular order, apart from alphabetical, my 2018 wish list includes new releases by Alela Diane, Anäis Mitchell, Bill Callahan, Caitlin Harnett, Cat Power, East River Pipe, Field Report, First Aid Kit, Jacob Golden, Jenny Lewis, Jessica Pratt, Jim White, Jonathan Wilson, Laura Veirs, Lewis & Clarke, Pearl Charles, Phosphorescent, Pinegrove, Richard Edwards, The Delines, Vetiver, Wooden Shjips, Wye Oak and the artist formerly known as Young Man.

And yet, there is a special place in the 2018 wish list for a new album by Kramies (pronunciation to be determined). With rumours going back at least a couple of decades, there are unconfirmed reports that an album is finally on its way and that Ireland had some part to play in it. We wait with fingers crossed, though we have learned not to hold our breath. The hard way. In the meantime, here’s a wonderful feature by Shon Cobbs and his Behind The Scenes colleagues from Denver. It features Kramies answering questions and sometimes asking them too. Plus a lot of laughing.

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’.

Day of the Dead

day-of-the-dead-the-national-grateful-dead-compilation-tribute-perfume-genius-sharon-van-etten-unknown-mortal-orchestra-compressed

This is the second all-star indie charity album produced by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National. Both have benefited the Red Hot Organisation, which is an HIV/AIDS not-for-profit. The first, Dark Was The Night, appeared in 2009 and featured some great tracks, including ‘Brackett, WI’ by Bon Iver and a lovely version of ‘Lua’ by Conor Oberst and Gillian Welch. This time the format is different. Clocking in at approximately three-and-a-half weeks long (only a slight exaggeration), Day of the Dead is a 59-track collection of Grateful Dead covers. The performers comprise a who’s who of contemporary indie royalty. There’s Courtney Barnett, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Kurt Vile, Local Natives, and many, many more. With such a stellar cast of characters, it’s difficult to know how to parse the contributions, not least because the running order varies as a function of whether you’re listening to it as a download or CD. There’s some slightly wearying experimental work on the second half of CD 4, but there are also some real revelations, ‘Black Muddy River’ by Bruce Hornsby and DeYarmond Edison being one, and, hard though it is to believe, ‘Friend of the Devil’ by Mumford and Sons. What’s really nice, though, is that the vast majority of the tracks sound just like you’d want them to. Whether it’s The War on Drugs, Phosphorescent, Bill Callahan, or The National themselves, they inhabit their respective covers really well. Some people will bemoan a certain lack of noodling, choogling, and general guitar boogying. And others will be dismissive of the fact that there isn’t more experimental excess, though there’s always The Flaming Lips. But by generally paring back the potential for unbridled extravagance, the Dessner brothers and Josh Kaufman have produced a much more cohesive album than might be expected. So, support Day of the Dead. It not only helps a worthy cause, it’s also, whisper it, a really good listen.

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’.

Phosphorescent – Live at the Music Hall

Phosphorescent

Matthew Houck’s Muchacho tour has already generated one tremendous live album. Muchacho De Lujo came out in October 2013 and contained a full concert recorded at St Pancras’ Church in London. Now there’s a new live album recorded over four nights at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in New York. This time, the result is eight tracks from the record of interest, plus three from Here’s To Taking It Easy, and two from both Pride and Aw Come Aw Wry. Maybe because the tracks have been cherry-picked from the different sets, this is an even better collection. There’s a great mood. The playing is tight. And there’s a never a sense of just playing studio songs live. These are versions that poke around in the dusty old corners of the originals, usually coming up with something of interest. So, here, sung solo on keyboards ‘Muchacho’s Tune’ undergoes a remarkable transformation emerging as an almost jaunty, audience-participation sing-along. And the previously almost painfully fragile deep cut, ‘Dead Heart’, now swaggers out of the speakers. And perhaps it’s no coincidence. In his earliest incarnations as Phosphorescent, Matthew Houck seemed like an artist racked with self-doubt. The sound was gloriously angstful and always on the edge of a musical breakdown. Now, he exudes confidence. He knows that his career has been on an upward trajectory and he also knows that Muchacho is a truly great album. He’s right on both counts. And with these two live releases, it’s as if he wants to capture this moment of his musical life so that he’ll never forget the difference between then and now. And he’s right to do that too. After all, who knows what will follow Muchacho? Maybe it’ll end up being the pinnacle of his career. If so, then there’s a record of it for posterity. But if Matthew Houck has shown us one thing, it’s that he’s a really clever guy. He’s a learner. So, Live at the Music Hall might be just a place marker, and a throughly enjoyable one at that, but it might also end up signalling the end of one period in his career and the start of another even better one. Now that’s a really nice thought.

The Line of Best Fit review

All Music review

No Depression review

Here’s the final instalment of my favourite albums of 2013.

Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle – Perils from the Sea

perils

This album was full of characters. Gustavo, the illegal immigrant. J H Park, the flight attendant. His dad. His sister. There was death. Break ups. Touring. The usual. But through it all, magnificently, “the wonder of life prevailed”.

Bill Callahan – Dream River

homepage_large.a1d5ea65

This was Bill Callahan’s happy album. At times he seemed almost contented. It’s all relative, of course. “You looked like world-wide Armageddon while you slept” is his form of a compliment. And sitting on a barstool uttering only the words “Beer … Thank you … Beer … Thank you” is about as close as you’re likely to come to a conversation. Few could get away with it, but Bill Callahan certainly can.

Kurt Vile – Wakin On A Pretty Daze

Kurt-Vile-Wakin-On-A-Pretty-Daze

Song after song with the same tone. The same mood. The same sound. Chilled out. Laid back. Confident. Kurt Vile pulled off a great trick of turning in a really disciplined and coherent album that still totally relaxed and spontaneous. It was an album that you wanted to go on for hours and hours. And with the arrival of the deluxe edition, it did.

Phosphorescent – Muchacho

doc050.11298v2

Much was made of Matthew Houck’s new-found love of electronica. But he blended it beautifully with Phosphorescent’s signature-style, slightly off-kilter americana. There were the usual yips. Raggedy guitars. Head-scratching song titles. But most of all there were great melodies and an extra dimension to the sound.

Arctic Monkeys – AM

Unknown

There were no frills, no flourishes to this version of the Arctic Monkeys. The sound was slinky, sexy, groovy. The themes were late night. Lonely. But then up popped Arabella with her “interstellar-gator skin boots” and “Barbarella silver swimsuit”. Oh, being a rock superstar is such hell.

Phosphorescent – Muchacho

doc050.11298v2

The beauty of a Phosphorescent album is its essential raggedyness. Matthew Houck’s wavering voice, the slightly rough-edged songs, the odd whoop here and a yelp there. At the core it’s a country, rocky, americana, but it’s not a sound that going to get played on a Nashville FM station anytime soon. So, what happens when the pre-release hype about a new Phosphorescent album is all about the electronic textures that Matthew Houck has discovered? And, now it’s arrived, how does a new electronic Phosphorescent album compare to John Grant’s recent electronic-heavy offering? Well, first, Matthew Houck probably didn’t have as many Depeche Mode albums in his collection as John Grant. There’s some electronica, but it’s not omnipresent. There are still plenty of largely electronic-free instant Phosphorescent classics. ‘The Quotidian Beasts’, ‘A Charm/A Blade’, ‘A New Anhedonia’. Second, and here’s the big difference between Muchacho and Pale Green Ghosts, when there is an electronic backdrop, it still sounds like a Matthew Houck album. The opening track. ‘Sun, Arise!’, is perfect. The texture is indeed electronic, but as soon as the reassuringly imperfect multi-tracked harmonies appear, it can be the work of only one artist. Elsewhere, the electronica is used to complement the standard Phosphorescent sound. It increases the palette. It doesn’t wash it away, replacing it with something new. So, ‘Song For Zula’ sounds more than fine. Whatever the speculation, then, this is a true Phosphorescent album. At times, it’s a new, evolving Phosphorescent album for sure. And that can only be a good thing. But this is still the same artist as before. A mature, more confident artist even.

Pitchfork review

Line Of Best Fit review

American Songwriter review

Neon Filler review