As promised, here are my 20 favourite albums of the year. The order isn’t precise. Any of the top six could have been number one on the list.
1. Bon Iver, For Emma Forever Ago I was underwhelmed by this album at first but for some reason it suddenly clicked into place during one listen. There’s an endearing frailty about this melancholic, folky album. It’s in Justin Vernon’s voice, the material and even the recording itself. It’s a beautiful record.
2. The Roots, Rising Down The Roots are not just one of the best hip hop bands working today, they’re one of the best bands of any genre. Their latest album proves the point. It’s a dark record, opening with a recording of the band arguing and closing with a track about their arguments. In between are some of the best songs they’ve written, all recorded with their usual drive and sonic flair.
3. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend This is such an instantly likeable record and one so unchallenging that it’s tempting to downplay it. However, this mixture of afro-pop and college rock has provided several of my favourite songs of the year.
4. Roots Manuva, Slime and Reason Roots Manuva has such an amazing voice that it’s easy to overlook everything else he does well. This album is much lighter than its predecessor, Awfully Deep, and, for the first half at least, Roots sounds like he’s having fun again.
5. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Dig Lazarus Dig It’s astonishing that Nick Cave can still make records this good after almost 30 years (and makes it doubly sad that REM, for example, can’t). As always, this is packed with literate, catchy and frequently very funny songs.
6. TV on the Radio, Dear Science Not as good as Return to Cookie Mountain, in my view, but this is still a very good album. This is less bluesy, less rocky than what’s gone before. Instead TVoTR have produced a funkier record with a notable Prince influence. It’s still restlessly experimental though, as the jumbled structure of opener Halfway Home demonstrates.
7. Wale, The Mixtape About Nothing Released as a free download on Wale’s website, this is a rap concept album about, unlikely though it sounds, Seinfeld. It works brilliantly. As you’d expect it’s often funny but Wale doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, such as Michael ‘Kramer’ Richards’ racist outburst from a couple of years ago.
8. The Cool Kids, The Bake Sale More quirky hip hop. It’s unashamedly in love with the golden age of rap and the whole thing is a delight.
9. Okkervil River, The Stand Ins Last year’s The Stage Names was originally planned as a double album and this would have been the second half. The themes - stardom, being in a band, being a fan - and the overall sound - Springsteen-influenced indie rock - are common to both records. Though The Stage Names has better songs, this year’s release is still well worth picking up.
10. Skyphone, Avellaneda I don’t know much about Skyphone except that they’re Danish and this is their second album. It’s a wonderful collection of melodic electronica with a few acoustic embellishments. Almost hypnotic in places, it’s a very addictive record.
11. Fleet Foxes, Sun Giant EP The album has been getting all the attention but, while the album is very good, I prefer the EP that preceded it. It contains five perfectly-formed examples of folky Americana.
12. Adam Green, Sixes and Sevens I hated the Moldy Peaches so I’ve no idea why I’ve gave this a go. I’m glad I did. Green whisks through a remarkable range of styles in just over 45 minutes. The songs are whimsical and some are almost like nursery rhymes, but all are highly enjoyable.
13. Mr Scruff, Ninja Tuna The fourth album of electronica from Mr Scruff is a typically excellent blend of jazz, soul and hip hop influences.
14. The Advisory Circle, Other Channels I really like Jon Brooks’ work as King of Woolworths and this album from his new outfit is every bit as good. Using samples from public information films, Brooks has created a disturbing and fascinating electronic record.
15. Erykah Badu, New Amerykah, Part One A brilliant album. It’s sonically inventive, brilliantly performed and utterly insane. It may be Erykah Badu’s best record.
16. Shearwater, Rook Begun as an Okkervil River side project, Shearwater are now fully developed as a stand-alone band. I’m not familiar with their earlier albums but on the strength of this, a wide-ranging and gentle indie album with real emotional weight, I plan to investigate.
17. Girl Talk, Feed The Animals A dizzying array of samples from almost 300 songs have been put together to create this album. It’s without doubt a technical masterpiece and it works amazingly well as a listening experience.
18. Devotchka, A Mad and Faithful Telling Balkan influences have been all over the place for the last few years but DeVotchKa have been doing it longer than most. This album is recommended if you like Beirut, Balkan Beat Box or Hazmat Modine and worth a listen even if you don’t.
19. 3 Na Massa, 3 Na Massa Apparently, this is a concept album based around female entertainers singing about sex. I don’t speak Portuguese so I can’t confirm the lyrics but I can tell you that the music is Latin electro-pop with strong hints of dub and jazz and is very good indeed.
20. El Perro Del Mar, From The Valley to the Stars Wikipedia describes El Perro Del Mar as “melancholic lo-fi twee pop”, which is as good a definition as any I can come up with. It’s been criticised for lacking variety but I think it works as a whole. It’s not an album for dipping into though.