The waiting is over. My favourite albums of 2016. All instant classics.

Angel Olsen – MY WOMAN

angel-olsen-my-woman

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

marissa art

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

damien

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

YouCantGoBack_web-1024x1024

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

homepage_large-c6f87d76

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

damien

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.

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

94206

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

Wooden Wand - Farmers Corner

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

homepage_large.11a357a9

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

Elbow-Take-Off-Landing-Everything

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

Mfff

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

94206

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