Ah it's that time of year again. The arrival of the end of the calendar year, and with it a driving desire to categorise the happenings of the past twelve months into convenient list form.
As with the past few Decembers, I begin my annual review convinced that the past year has been a distinctly average one for music. But as the list grows, and albums that struck a chord nine months ago resurface, I discover that 2015 has been another good musical year. In fact, save for some sort of global catastrophe or ignorance on the part of the listener, I can't foresee music having a 'bad year'. Anyway, here are this year's picks.
10. Low - Ones and Sixes
Given the 20 years they've spent making music together, it may be fair to expect husband and wife duo Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker to slip into a sort of musical comfort zone. But, with their voices combining and contrasting amid dissonant instrumentation, Ones and Sixes is one of their most intense and thrilling records to date.
9. Elvis Depressedly - New Alhambra
Clocking in at around 20 minutes, Mat Cothran's most recent release is a brief but beautiful collection of lo-fi pop songs. Optimistic and celebratory lyrics materialise through weary, jaded vocals, making for an album that is at once uplifting and disheartening.
8. Kurt Vile -B'lieve I'm Goin Down
After the spacey psychedelic pop of 2013's Walkin On a Pretty Daze, Kurt Vile returns to the stripped back sound of his earlier albums. Moving from diary-like ramblings to free-flowing reflections on life, his lyrics sit perfectly alongside the fret-scratching acoustic guitar lines and minimalist percussion.
7. Jim O' Rourke - Simple Songs
From straightforward singer-songwriter to avant-garde arranger, Jim O'Rourke's many talents are present in some form or other on Simple Songs. The tracks move from self-conscious dad rock to instrumental experiments, highlighting the diverse range of genres channelled into O' Rourke's work.
6. Liam Hayes - Slurrup
Credited solely to himself, rather than the 'Plush' or 'Liam Hayes & Plush' of previous releases, Slurrup is another satisfying dose of off-kilter lyrics, experimental sounds and luscious power-pop from the somewhat elusive Liam Hayes.
5. Matthew E White - Fresh Blood
Soaked in gospel harmonies and 70s soul, White's follow up to 2012's Big Inner is both an ode to a bygone musical era and a collection of songs that discuss such sensitive and relevant themes as sex abuse, high-profile deaths and the current state of rock 'n' roll.
4. Natalie Prass - Natalie Prass
These nine tracks speak of breakup, heartache and loss. But rather than slipping into sorrow and self-pity, the themes are characterised amid upbeat horns and rosy orchestrations. Recorded at Matthew E White's Spacebomb Studios, this is a debut album of glorious, soulful pop.
3. Ralegh Long - Hoverance
With rich orchestral arrangements and a sweeping pedal steel guitar accompanying Ralegh Long's nature-infused lyrcis, Hoverance is a debut displaying great promise, and an album worthy of more attention than it harboured.
2. Bill Ryder-Jones - West Kirby County Primary
From Pavement-esque romps to reflective storytelling, West Kirby County Primary sees Bill Ryder-Jones return to a guitar-based approach after the piano-lead balladry of 2013's A Bad Wind Blows in My Heart.
1. Andy Shauf - The Bearer of Bad News
Delivered in a delicate voice which sounds as if it might fall apart at any moment, Andy Shauf's deeply introspective sophomore album tells intimate tales of loves, struggles and dreams in small-town America.