40. Sons of Kemet – Your Queen is a Reptile
The rarest of beasts: a Mercury-nominated album that is actually rather good.
39. Toby Hay – The Longest Day
Sumptuous acoustic guitar solos in the tradition of Jansch and Fahey.
38. Jessica Risker – I See You Among the Stars
Gently weird folkiness for fans of Sibylle Baier, Jessica Pratt or Julie Byrne
37. øjeRum – Selected Organ Works
Dronesome ambient stuff from Denmark.
36. Ezra Furman – Transangelic Exodus
A concept album with a heart; a story of change, escape and love told with some truly excellent songs.
35. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Sparkle Hard
This will do until David Berman (allegedly) releases a new album next year.
34. Cunning Folk – Constant Companion
George Hoyle made the best version of Matty Groves this century, and tonnes more great folk music. I reviewed this one for Folk Radio, and you can read my ramblings here.
33. Paula Rae Gibson and Kit Downes – Emotion Machine
For anyone who thinks contemporary vocal jazz is dull or emotionally stifled, this will utterly destroy you. Another one I reviewed.
32. Frog – Whatever We Probably Already Had It
Short but sweet – barely even an EP – but its best tracks deliver on the promise of their excellent debut.
31. Crisman – Crisman Tape
Crisman made a tape and tapes are good. Of the millions of under-the-radar lo-fi bedroom-pop releases this year, this one stayed with me more than most.
30. Accü – Echo The Red
Accü had an umlaut. Simultaneously very krauty and very Welsh.
29. Furrow Collective – Fathoms
Another end of year list, another album featuring Alasdair Roberts.
29. Go-Kart Mozart – Mozart’s Mini-Mart
Quite possibly the best thing Lawrence has done since the demise of Felt.
28. Xylouris White – Mother
In which one of the finest drummers in the world teamed up with a startlingly innovative Cretan laouto player and did some weird shit.
27. Dizzy Fae – Free Form (mixtape)
The freshest, most interesting R&B release of the year.
26. Mount Eerie – Now Only
Phil Elverum did it again. Pretty much everything I said about his last record (which topped my end of year list last time round) still stands.
25. SLEEPARCHIVE – Spring Flowers
Danish producer catalogued some flowers, minimal piano/ambient techno style.
24. Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids – An Angel Fell
Idris Ackamoor is saving the planet with wild jazz. Who knows why? Maybe he’s preparing us all for the return of Sun Ra.
23. Gabby’s World – Beast On Beast
Gabby’s World is much more fun than yours. The starlet of the bedroom pop scene hits her songwriting stride here.
22. Little Kid – Might As Well With My Soul
Folky, lo-fi Canadian sad-pop that somehow made a sort of musical Venn diagram outta Sparklehorse and Radiohead.
21. Jenny Hval – The Long Sleep EP
An EP rather than an album, but as it’s considerably longer than the Tierra Whack record i couldn’t leave it out. Here Hval got visceral and droney. Even more so than usual.
20. Tuomo Väänänen – A Small Flood
Third and final Nordic minimal techno album on the list. Chilly and hugely evocative, as you’d expect.
19. Grouper – Grid of Points
Liz Harris doing what she does best. Miniature, intimate internal landscapes. Often eerie, always beautiful.
18. SOPHIE – Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides
The record on which SOPHIE finally emerged from the vocal anonymity of her earlier work and transcended the PC Music blueprint she helped create.
17. Tirzah – Devotion
This is pop at its most minimal, R&B at its most stripped-back, electronic music at its most heartfelt. Tirzah is well on her way to reinventing the whole notion of singing pop songs.
16. The Internet – Hive Mind
In a year when many of the best albums held a bit back, The Internet were refreshingly maximalist. Hive Mind is buzzing with ideas.
15. Frankie Cosmos – Vessel
Greta Kline squeezes a lot in. The doyen of the second generation of New York’s anti-folk scene has something like fifty releases under her belt, and keeps up a hectic touring schedule (she stole the show at this year’s Green Man with a set that included a joyous cover of Abba’s Mamma Mia), and Vessel is her strongest album yet.
14. Christina Vantzou – No. 4
I’ve done a lot of writing this year, and Brussels-based composer/producer Vantzou provided the soundtrack to a great deal of it. The individual tracks are like the musical equivalent of Calvino’s imagined cities or the strange, tiny, infinite worlds of Borges.
13. Hen Ogledd – Mogic
A thrilling, unexpected offering from an unlikely avant-folk supergroup that had my son dancing around the kitchen on Christmas Eve.
12. Kelly Moran – Ultraviolet
Another intense, experimental collection of prepared piano pieces, building on last year’s excellent Bloodroot and occasionally adding synths courtesy of Daniel ‘OPN’ Lopatin.
11. Sales – Forever & Ever
Sales preserved their instantly recognisable sound and retained their DIY status: the Florida duo continue to self-release and self-promote. How do they manage to sound so relaxed?
10. Triathalon – Online
Triathalon sound even more relaxed than Sales. A small miracle in itself, considering they’ve recently relocated to NYC. Online is the slickest, most soulful pop album you’ll here all year.
9. Bas Jan – Yes We Jan
Serafina Steer’s latest project is a shapeshifting, dadaist punk-folk riot that sounds like the Slits crashing into the Incredible String Band’s tour bus and finding a stash of Dennis Wheatley novels and Ken Loach films.
8. Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy
Not strictly a new album but a re-recording, this manages to get on to the list by sounding both new and definitive. Will Toledo has an enviable talent and this album makes his best work even better.
7. Tierra Whack – Whack World
Fifteen songs, fifteen minutes, fifteen linked videos. More ideas than most artists have in an entire career. A lot has been written about Whack World. Maybe just listen to it. It won’t take long, but it does become addictive.
6. Oly Ralfe – Notes From Another Sea
The best piano music of the year. Initially comes across like the ghost of Satie, but Ralfe’s innate grasp of melody is all his own.
5. Eric Chenaux – Slowly Paradise
Soaring, wobbly, entirely original balladic guitar-and-voice compositions. Calling Chenaux a singer-songwriter doesn’t do him any kind of justice.
4. Low – Double Negative
Low somehow keep getting better. This time it’s a full-on reinvention: some very impressive songs stuffed beneath a double duvet of muffling electronic distortion. The result is a challenging, new type of music.
3. Princess Chelsea – The Loneliest Girl
That rare thing – an unabashedly pop album that is unabashedly full of intelligent songwriting. The New Zealand singer explores gender and age roles, the difficulties of being a musician in the twenty-first century, the brilliance of the E Street Band and the importance of manual labourers. All the while her musical palate ranges from Madonna at her mid-80s pomp to grungy distortion to twinkling chamber-pop.
=1. Julia Holter – Aviary
This album more than any other embodies the spirit of our times – a chaotic, sprawling double LP, fringes with dissonant borders and impossible to pin down into any category. But while it reflects a cynical world, listening to it is far from a cynical experience. Melody laps gently at its dark edges. There are frequent pools of calm and explosions of raucous wit. Aviary stares wide-eyed at its own musical power, and at the power of art in the world. Holter is perhaps the most important musical artist we have right now.
=1. Wished Bone – Cellar Belly
I couldn’t split my two favourite albums this year, mainly because they are two entirely different art forms. It would be like comparing Raymond Carver to Robert Musil, or Gwen John to Cy Twombly. Cellar Belly is an intensely personal, entirely lo-fi listening experience. There seems to be nothing to it, but you can lose whole afternoons to its charms. It passes by in seconds, a bright fuzz, half-awake. Melodies sneak in and energise your listening brain like vivid hypnic jerks. And it’s all achieved with a couple of chords and Ashley Bone’s voice.