I tried and failed to limit this list to 10. Even fifteen was difficult because, as far as I’m concerned, it’s been a very good year for music: fine new songs by old favourites and bands entirely new to me. And I’m aware that there are some I know I’m going to love but haven’t yet properly heard.
I’ve made a Spotify playlist which you can find here, so that you can listen to this selection if you’re so inclined and tell me your thoughts.
15. Cults: Abducted
A Big Sound from these latecomers to my listening. The whole album is like this: Spector-ish spacey indie-pop. One for the new year.
14. Cowboy Junkies: Wrong Piano
Why have I never paid these any attention before? Well they finally made it into my consciousness with Demons – their album of Vic Chesnutt covers which defies categorisation and every prejudice I ever held about them. This was the song that got me hooked: fuzzy guitars and swirling organ. What’s not to like?
13. Okkervil River: Hanging from a Hit
An off-kilter epic which finds Will Scheff sounding increasingly like a young Scott Walker. One reviewer said that ‘Hanging from a Hit sounds like someone took a big lighters-aloft ballad and allowed it to unravel: the piano jangles out of tune, so does the bass’ which is as good a summary as any I can manage.
12. Chailo Sim: Latch
Pembrokeshire’s Chailo Sim started getting some high-level attention this year. Replete is a beautiful collection of lush songs. This one latched onto me at the beginning of the year and is still in my head at the end.
11. Lanterns on the Lake: Lungs Quicken
Gorgeous. That’s all you need to know. And that they’re from Newcastle. Have a listen:
Strictly speaking an old song but this new version appeared on their first full album and remains their best live and on record.
Free Swim are utterly bonkers and brilliant and make me smile every time I hear any of their songs. They have two eps of eccentric songs which you can download free here. You really should. One is about a man who grafts an extra pair of hands onto his chest as an efficiency move. The other is about a panda called Yolanda who yearns to be a mountaineer. This song hurries that story along so swiftly that the guest narrator pads wonderfully: ‘Bit of time to fill here. Diddly doo. Job’s a good ‘un. Hope your mother’s well.’ The two eps contain some of the daftest, most joyous indie-rock you’ll have ever heard.
8. I Break Horses: Hearts
With artwork by Vaughan Oliver, released by a label run by a former Cocteau Twin, and with vocals you can barely hear which are drowned out in a euphoric haze of effects, I was always going to love this. Some are calling it Shoegaze. I’m not sure about that; if there ever was such a genre, then this is far better than that description suggests.
7. Eleanor Friedberger: I Won’t Fall Apart On You Tonight
I have long been a fan of the Fiery Furnaces, particularly Eleanor Friedberger’s unusual, naive lyrics and singing style so I expected a lot from her first solo album Last Summer. I wasn’t disappointed. The same quirky strangeness but the tunes and lyrics are simpler and lodge in your brain permanently. There are loads of great songs but this and ‘Roosevelt Island’ are by far the best.
6. TV On the Radio: You
Like all the best art-rock bands, TV On the Radio can concentrate on the art side of things at the expense of the rock or at least the melody. This year they’ve combined all their best elements to produce a collection of pop songs that you can sing along to as well as admire, like this one.
What a swansong Collapse Into Now turned out to be. Sure, it didn’t change the world and revisited their best moments, but it’s a fine farewell and this song features some of the things which REM do best, particularly blending Michael Stipe’s mumble and Patti Smith’s wail.
4. Gruff Rhys: If We Were Words (We Would Rhyme)
This is nothing like the other songs on Only In Dreams which at least sound upbeat and a bit like spacey rockabilly. A closer listen to the lyrics though reveals that the album is filled with loss and grief and this is its broken heart. A slow, epic descent into sadness. Glorious. It was nearly my song of the year, but then there was …
2. papercranes: Sea Red
Rain Phoenix’s voice is a versatile thing and can range from cherubic and clear to gravelly garage with a host of different tones in between. On this song she’s in full growl. It was nearly my song of the year, but then there was …
1. PJ Harvey: The Colour of the Earth
Simple, haunting, heartbreaking. This has been with me all year as if it were a traditional folk song rather than a 21st century. In the film by Seamus Murphy, which you can see below, before the full version begins, Polly and her band sing it unaccompanied and outdoors which I think shows just how timeless it is.