Japanese Breakfast – Soft Sounds from Another Planet

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I couldn’t stop listening to the Soft Sounds of Japanese Breakfast over the summer. Expecting some wonderfully Proustian moments in years to come.

Dan Michaelson – First Light

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Dan Michaelson’s first solo album was built around a plaintive piano. His second features a string section. Plaintively, of course. With the sound perfectly complementing the sentiment, “Don’t dwell on old kisses you’ll always regret”, First Light is scarcely a blast of Christmas cheer. But released only a few days ago, it proves there really is a Sanity Clause.

Frontier Ruckus – Enter The Kingdom

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Sounding like songs of innocence, these were more like songs of a certain type of suburban experience. “Everyone’s home in sweatpants for the series finale of their discontinued fall prime time”. For sure, the neighbours may be slightly passive-aggressive, “And if I am not mistaken, You still owe me, 27 dollars”, but the air is thick with tender melodies and exotic instrumentation.

Widowspeak – Expect The Best

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There’s a density to the sound of Widowspeak, but there’s also a sensitivity to melody that keeps the tunes in your head long after the record has stopped.

Robyn Hitchcock

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Sparky riffs. Erudite lyrics. Robyn Hitchcock rolled back the years and delivered one of his finest albums in years. Meanwhile, therapists are still pouring over the lyrics. “I’m naked in the water, In the amniotic sea, Inside my real mother, She opens up for me”. Oh boy.

It seems to come around annually. It’s time to report the best music of the year. Here’s the first part of my 20 favourite albums of 2016. More to follow.

Dan Michaelson and The Coastguards – Memory

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With so many great musicians leaving us and with all sorts of political nightmares coming true, Dan captured the mood perfectly. Truly one of my most cherished artists.

Conor Oberst – Ruminations

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If you’ve just listened to the Dan Michaelson album and feel like you need a little musical pick-me-up, then don’t play Conor Oberst’s 2016 offering. It’s sparse. And good.

Andrew Bird – Are You Serious

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Andrew Bird answers his own question on this album. He is very serious. In fact, I passed by him on a very narrow corridor at a gig earlier this year. He was indeed very serious.

Devendra Banhart – Ape In Pink Marble

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By contrast, Devendra Banhart sounds like someone who’d liven up any party. Ape In Pink Marble was quiet, but a real hoot.

The Colorist and Emiliana Torrini

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The Colorist play all sorts of organic, recycled, authentic instruments. Emiliana Torrini sings a selection of her best songs. It’s a match made in heaven.

Dan Michaelson and The Coastguards – Distance

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The pace of a Dan Michaelson song is usually so slow that if it were to walk behind a hearse it would probably still end up being late for the funeral. Imagine, then, the surprise when out of nowhere The Coastguards break into a jaunty beat on track three of their new album. The guitars are jangly. The drums uptempo. And then it happens. The gravel-voiced Gollum of gloom himself breaks full into song. It would be an exaggeration to say that he harmonises like Carl Wilson, but it’s certainly a revelation for long-time fans who are used to Dan’s daily growl. And yet it’s only an interlude. For the rest, this is another beautifully miserable offering. “I count every footstep that takes me away, I promise a thousand till I turn and say, that I miss you every step of the way”. It could be so depressing, but it never is. In part, that’s down to the arrangement and to The Coastguards themselves. The songs swell at just the right moment, lifting you up when you’re at the your lowest ebb. It’s also down to the lyrics. This is a very dark-sounding album, but it’s not as black as it might seem. On the wonderful opener, Evergreen, there’s “A shaft of burning light that melts the coldest moon”. On another track he tells us that he “walked through the night to find morning light”. But it’s on the magnificent ‘Your Beauty Still Rules’ that things are clearest. “There’s a hole where the light shines through, shows the dust in your room, draws a line that we can walk through, gently keeps me with you”. But that’s not all. “I hold the light in my hands”, he continues, “And warm every bone that I can, When I hold the light in my hands, We know no end”. On a Dan Michaelson album the pace is slow. But then what’s the rush?

The Line of Best Fit review

NME review

For Folk’s Sake review

The Guardian review

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.