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Written to an imaginary child about what it is to be a woman in this society, the singers seventh album is alternately intimate, sneering and sad, and lavished with gorgeous melodies

Laura Marling has described her seventh solo album as a kind of conceptual work. Song for Our Daughter, she says, is about trauma and an enduring quest to understand what it is to be a woman in this society. The songs are written to an imaginary child, offering her all the confidences and affirmations I found so difficult to provide myself. It has also turned up months earlier than expected. Scheduled for release in August the beginning of the annual three-month season when albums by major artists traditionally appear it has been brought forward. In light of the change to all our circumstances, Marling wrote on Instagram, I saw no reason to hold back on something that, at the very least, might entertain, and, at its best, provide some union.

The artwork for Song for Our Daughter. Photograph: Publicity image

However altruistic her intention, its quite a canny move: a lot of people have a lot of time on their hands right now, which may cause them to focus more intently on a singers work. Yet there is always the chance the opposite may happen. These are, as you can hardly have failed to notice, extraordinary, unprecedented times. There is no escape from whats going on in the outside world: to release an album now, an artist would have to be pretty confident theyd made something capable of cutting through the constant roar of news about the terrifying global crisis; something capable of subverting our natural inclination to react by turning to stuff we already know and love and find comforting. But a lack of confidence has never been Laura Marlings undoing: as so-called sensitive singer-songwriters go, she always cuts a remarkably robust figure. I have not a fuck to give, she snaps on opener Alexandra, and all the contents of Song for Our Daughter are distinctly less gooey and self-absorbed than an album offering advice to an imaginary unborn child might be in less assured hands.

Marling is still wont to change her accent with the frequency that some singer-songwriters change plectrums. Indeed, she sometimes changes accent in the middle of a song, as on Hope We Meet Again, where she keeps dipping out of the mid-Atlantic twang thats presumably necessary if youre going to write songs with words such as highway and momma in them, into the kind of cut-glass RP you might expect from someone who comes from Berkshire. The first song that lyrically fits with the advice-to-an-imaginary-child concept, Strange Girl, finds Marling singing in the Dylan-derived sneer she deployed on Master Hunter, from her album Once I Was an Eagle, with what appears to be a little of mid-70s Lou Reeds patent brand of bored contempt stirred in. Which is certainly a bracing way of delivering maternal counsel.

Laura Marling: Held Down video

In fact, it doesnt sound much like maternal counsel at all, more like Marling talking about her own past with an appealing roll of the eyes: Build yourself a garden and have something to attend / Cut off all relations because you couldnt stand your friends / Oh girl, please dont bullshit me. Certainly, its more successful than the title track, where the emotions she summons when imagining her daughter in some pretty grim situations blood on the floor, with your clothes on the floor, taking your advice from an old, balding bore tend to nothing sharper than sighing, well-I-tried-to-warn-you sadness. Its a song written by someone trying to picture what its like being a parent, and not quite pulling said picture into focus.

That said, the title track is extraordinarily beautiful, a quality it shares with the rest of Song for Our Daughter. One of the albums musical touchstones was apparently Paul McCartneys 70s albums, and whatever else you think about post-Beatles Macca, youd have a hard time arguing he was stingy with the tunes. And so it is here. The piano-led Blow By Blow, the gentle strum of For You, and the feedback-flecked Held Down are all lavished with gorgeous, effortless-seeming melodies.

The effect is heightened by the production. Its a highly polished piece of work, big on rich string arrangements and intricate harmony vocals. Theres a particularly striking moment when a swirl of voices all Marlings, multi-tracked to infinity rises up to underpin the line I love you, goodbye, on The End of the Affair. But its recorded in a way that creates a live feel, the lack of echo giving the illusion that Marling and her band are in close proximity to the listener. The effect is impressively punchy on Strange Girl, but on the songs that fill the albums second half, which are largely reliant on vocals and fingerpicked guitar, the production conjures a warm, fresh intimacy that feels welcome in a world of Zoom meetings and FaceTime catch-ups. Perhaps now is the perfect moment to release it after all.

This week Alexis listened to

Jon Brooks – Fonn
Electronic auteur Jon Brookss new album How to Get Spring is pastoral and wistful: sonic lushness spiked with an aching hint of melancholy.

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Billie Eilish and Lizzo are competing for a string of the top prizes, but could the likes of Ariana Grande, Lana Del Rey and Rosala cause upsets?

Noise threatens to drown out the music at the 2020 Grammy awards. A line had been drawn under the tone-deaf leadership of Neil Portnow, who had presided over the ceremony since 2002 between 2013 and 2018, Grammy winners were 91% male, but, after a 2018 ceremony where men swept the board again, Portnow said it was on women to step up and create opportunities for themselves.

A woman, Deborah Dugan, replaced him; a taskforce was appointed, and in December they published their report, calling for greater diversity in the Academy voters. Any hopes that they had moved on, though, were scotched last week by Dugan being suspended for alleged misconduct; Dugan countered by saying she had been sexually harassed, that the Academy had covered up an alleged rape by Portnow, and that the voting was corrupt.

So we go into this years ceremony more jaded than ever, but the irony is that, no matter how poisonous the Academy is and regardless of whether it is rigged or not, we ended up with a much more diverse range of nominees this year. Leading the pack are Lizzo with eight noms and Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X with six each a vibrantly youthful and non-conformist trio. But will the Academy members shake off the past and vote for the future?

Record of the year

Bon Iver Hey, Ma
Billie Eilish Bad Guy
Ariana Grande 7 Rings
HER Hard Place
Khalid Talk
Lil Nas X ft Billy Ray Cyrus Old Town Road
Lizzo Truth Hurts
Post Malone & Swae Lee Sunflower

Aside from the merely pleasant HER and Khalid tracks, this is a strong field. While lots of eyes are on Lizzo and Eilish, this could perhaps be Ariana Grandes year. Its her first time with nominations in the big four categories rather than being patronised in the pop awards and, with its My Favourite Things melody, doddering Academy voters might listen to 7 Rings and say: Hey, its one I know! Triumphant earworm Old Town Road is the longest-running No 1 in US history; Bad Guy is a showcase of the kind of fiendish genius usually employed by Hollywood horror movies to construct elaborate ways for teenagers to get killed. But an Academy eager to telegraph its modernity might go for Lizzo: Truth Hurts is a great underdog story, reaching No 1 two years after release, and her charisma is near universally infectious.

Will win: Lizzo Truth Hurts
Should win: Billie Eilish Bad Guy

Album of the year

Bon Iver i, i
Lana Del Rey Norman Fucking Rockwell!
Billie Eilish When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Ariana Grande Thank U, Next
HER I Used to Know Her
Lil Nas X 7
Lizzo Cuz I Love You (Deluxe)
Vampire Weekend Father of the Bride

This is Grandes best chance of a big win. Thank U, Next is a superbly realised almost-concept album about heartache, grief and moving on that can be witty, even caustic, but never cruel it sealed her as one of the three or four definitive pop stars of our time. Lizzo, HER and Lil Nas X are hampered with too much 6/10 material across their albums; Lana Del Rey was the critical hit of the year and will certainly beat out fellow Pitchfork darlings Bon Iver and Vampire Weekend, but may not cut through to the more august and mainstream Academy members. Eilish was the inescapable pop-cultural breakthrough of the year, and her album has such terrific range and invention. She will, hopefully, squeak this.

Will win: Billie Eilish
Should win: Billie Eilish

Song of the year

Lady Gaga Always Remember Us This Way
Billie Eilish Bad Guy
Tanya Tucker Bring My Flowers Now
HER Hard Place
Taylor Swift Lover
Lana Del Rey Norman Fucking Rockwell
Lewis Capaldi Someone You Loved
Lizzo Truth Hurts

Piano-driven ballads dominate the songwriting category, including Taylor Swifts only big nomination. Lover is such classic American songcraft, though Lewis Capaldis powerful Someone Like You is the best of these ballads and it would be a British win to remember. Eilish is streets ahead in terms of songwriting innovation and should win for that Duh! alone. But, while Truth Hurts most famous lyric (I just took a DNA test, turns out Im 100% that bitch) may have been plagiarised and its British author later added to the credits, Lizzo has this sewn up. The lyrics are hilarious, and it is a massively successful example of that new school of songwriting where a single melody is repeated over and over until the brainwashed public is involuntarily chanting it and then clawing hopelessly at their faces.

Will win: Lizzo Truth Hurts
Should win: Billie Eilish Bad Guy

New artist

Black Pumas
Billie Eilish
Lil Nas X
Maggie Rogers
Tank and the Bangas

Nice to see some country-soul curveballs here in the excellent Black Pumas and Yola, though the less said the better about the tune-free Tank and the Bangas at any rate, theyre all making up the numbers. Maggie Rogers didnt really break beyond her fanbase with her underrated debut album, and Im sure the Academy will see Lil Nas X merely as a two-hit wonder. Lizzos debut album came out in 2013, whereas Eilish has only just turned 18 and feels like the rightful owner of this award. But you can bet than every Latinx voter is going to be going for the astoundingly talented Rosala, who won big at the Latin Grammys and could cause an upset here.

Will win: Billie Eilish
Should win: Billie Eilish

Pop solo performance

Beyonc Spirit
Billie Eilish Bad Guy
Ariana Grande 7 Rings
Lizzo Truth Hurts
Taylor Swift You Need to Calm Down

Just as performances where you cry, shout and climb inside the carcass of a bear win you Oscars, the leading pop award rather behoves you to give it some welly not for nothing has Adele won it three times. Eilish and Grandes variously murmured and chatted performances will appear to the Academy like weirdo arthouse choices here, and even Swift is in a relatively conversational mode. Beyoncs ponderous Spirit was the lame old wildebeest eaten by the younger jackals on the Lion King soundtrack, so this is Lizzos to lose.

Will win: Lizzo
Should win: Billie Eilish

Rock performance

Bones UK Pretty Waste
Gary Clark Jr This Land
Brittany Howard History Repeats
Karen O & Danger Mouse Woman
Rival Sons Too Bad

Anyone looking for evidence of backroom dealing in the Academy might well make Bones UK their exhibit A: Pretty Waste is the kind of creative vacuum beloved only of nihilistically cocaine-addicted LA music industry execs looking for something to soundtrack rock bottom. The rest is pretty good. Rival Sons riffs and hollering make them the most tangibly rock thing here Karen O essays 60s pop, and Brittany Howards History Repeats is a kind of bluesy funk tune, but with mainstream rock stranded out on a sandbar while rappers and pop stars taunt it on jetskis, they need to blur the genre lines. Gary Clark Jr could edge this with his politically charged This Land, half-rapped over a heavily skanking backing.

Will win: Gary Clark Jr
Should win: Rival Sons

Rap performance

J Cole Middle Child
DaBaby Suge
Dreamville feat JID, Bas, J Cole, Earthgang & Young Nudy Down Bad
Nipsey Hussle feat Roddy Ricch & Hit-Boy Racks in the Middle
Offset feat Cardi B Clout

Many voters hearts will go with Nipsey Hussle, whose murder last year robbed the world of a skilful, soulful MC who united backpacker hip-hoppers and mainstream rap fans. Racks in the Middle also features Roddy Rich, who has broken through spectacularly over the last year. But the track pales next to two others here: DaBabys Suge is a slowly prowling piece of minimalism that makes Offset sound fussily overworked in comparison; its ridiculous that DaBaby isnt up for best new artist. He is rather damaged goods after a series of run-ins with the law, however. That could hand Middle Child the win, on which J Cole raps as if hes high-stepping across the surface of a lake, his triplet time full of balletic grace.

Will win: J Cole
Should win: DaBaby

Country solo performance

Tyler Childers All Yourn
Ashley McBryde Girl Goin Nowhere
Willie Nelson Ride Me Back Home
Blake Shelton Gods Country
Tanya Tucker Bring My Flowers Now

If you scoff at country, youll probably always scoff at country, but this spread of songs shows off the admirable breadth of the genre and may pique your interest yet. Willie Nelsons song is a bit something-and-nothing; Tanya Tuckers Bring My Flowers Now is nominated in the song of the year category, and its live-for-today message and simple piano backing will appeal across the Academy, but its rather workmanlike. Ashley McBryde outdoes her in the ballad stakes, but its Tyler Childers and Blake Shelton both strongly channelling the gospel and soul music that not so secretly underpins country who are the strongest here. Childers song would make for a classy first wedding dance, while Sheltons stirring ode to proud Christian labour, while deeply unfashionable, will have you gazing soulfully across a cornfield.

Will win: Tanya Tucker
Should win: Tyler Childers

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From John Fahey, the Sonics and the Waitresses to Slade, Wizzard and Mariah Carey, we count down the best festive numbers

50. John Fahey

The First Noel

Tiring of the fact that no one wanted to buy albums of experimental American primitive guitar music, but they bought White Christmas every year, John Fahey recorded an album of Christmas instrumentals. It was, by a margin, his bestselling record. Atypical of his work, but beautiful.

49. The Sonics

Dont Believe in Christmas

The Sonics believed some folks liked the taste of straight strychnine, so of course they didnt believe in Christmas. What happened when they stayed up late to try to catch a glimpse of Santa? Well, sure enough, dont ya know / The fat boy didnt show. Cheeky so-and-sos.

48. Emmy the Great & Tim Wheeler

Christmas Day (I Wish I Was Surfing)

Sounding much more like Ash than Emmy the Great and the loudest, most raucous thing on their 2011 Christmas album this is a song that sounds joyous, but is really about the desire to escape, to anywhere that isnt cold. So long as its not alone.

47. Little Joey Farr

RocknRoll Christmas

Rocknroll and rockabilly are a treasure trove of Christmas novelty numbers (try Marlene Paulas I Want To Spend Xmas with Elvis), but weve only got room for one. So, given Christmas is all about the kids, bless their souls, lets have a song by an actual kid who promptly disappeared from the pop world.

46. Lou Rawls

Santa Claus Is Comin to Town

One imagines this would be the soundtrack to Don Drapers Christmas as creamy as eggnog, with a supple swing thats nagging but not unobtrusive, its exactly the sound of an idealised Christmas from the 60s. Rawls made a ton of Christmas albums, but his first from 1967 is the best.

45. Ronnie James Dio, Tony Iommi, Rudy Sarzo & Simon Wright

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

How would Christmas sound reimagined by Black Sabbath? Almost exactly as you would imagine, to be honest. The most oddly foreboding of all the big Christmas songs suits the grinding and roaring. And it helps, naturally, that it contains a reference to Satans power.

44. Saint Etienne

I Was Born on Christmas Day

From fire and brimstone to prosecco and chocolate, bursting with optimism for the winter: Getting groovy after Halloween / Mid-November, got back on the scene / Im so glad that I just got my pay / I was born on Christmas Day! A song as sweet as a selection box.

43. The Free Design

Close Your Mouth (Its Christmas)

Probably the song that goes on in Don Drapers apartment after Lou Rawls, when the hip young kids have arrived. Get to know the people in your house, they sing. You might like them. Draper knocks back a whisky, raises an eyebrow and shakes his head.

42. Sally Shapiro

Anorak Christmas

A gorgeous bauble from the mid-00s wave of Scandinavian music that crossed electropop with the feyest indie. Sally falls in love on a Tuesday before Christmas, at a gig with a band that we both liked. But will she end up by herself or in the perfect kiss?

41. Solomon Burke

Presents for Christmas

The king of rocknsoul pitches himself somewhere between a revivalist preacher and Santa Claus: We want to give out a present to everybody this Christmas! All around the world for every man, woman, boy and girl! he exclaims in the intro. One of the few artists whose spoken sections routinely rival the songs (track down a copy of Soul Alive! if you dont believe me).

40. Joy Zipper

Christmas Song

Blank-faced and affectless, heres Christmas for the shoegazers from the duo briefly toasted at the start of the last decade. Kevin Shields and David Holmes produced, and you can bet Beach House were listening.

39. Neil Halstead

The Man in the Santa Suit

Truthfully, this version is only here because the Fountains of Wayne original an homage to the Kinks Father Christmas isnt on Spotify. But what a perfect, sad song: And hes a big red cherry / But its hard to be merry / When the kids are all laughing / Saying: Hey, its Jerry Garcia.

38. The Everly Brothers

Christmas Eve Can Kill You

The Man in the Santa Suit is a laughfest compared to this Everly Brothers number from 1972, about a hitcher alone the night before Christmas. Organ and pedal steel sound like the wind whistling through the trees as our hero trudges on: The sound of one man walkin through the snow can break your heart.

37. Santo & Johnny

Twistin Bells

Do we need cheering up? I think we do. Thank goodness, then, for the twangy guitars of Brooklyn duo Santo & Johnny, the gaudy, overlit shop window that contrasts with the stark loneliness of the Everly Brothers.

36. Run-DMC

Christmas in Hollis

Hip-hop hasnt been a huge source of Christmas songs, but Run-DMC were on top of it back in the first golden age. What would you do if you found Santas wallet on Hollis Avenue? Its a perennial question. Run decides its best to post it back; he is rewarded for his honesty.

35. Shirley & Dolly Collins

The Gower Wassail

Two of the greatest British folk voices combine for a drinking song that, if were honest, is unlikely to be ringing out in pubs this Christmas. The asceticism of the British folk tradition can be a useful astringent amid the sleigh bells and tinsel.

34. Tracey Thorn

Snow in Sun

Originally from Scritti Polittis sublime 2006 album White Bread, Black Beer and reworked by Thorn on her gorgeous album Tinsel and Lights which is enough to qualify it as a Christmas song here is a featherlight breath of winter to freshen your face.

33. Mahalia Jackson

Go Tell It on the Mountain

You cant really have Christmas without acknowledging that someone significant was born on 25 December and not just Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne. The queen of gospel wants you to spread the news far and wide, and she imparts her message with due gravitas.

32. Big Star

Jesus Christ

Big Stars Third is the least likely album to contain a Christmas song, but amid the desperation and despair was this huge burst of fervour. Did Alex Chilton mean it? Was it a joke? Its effect is magnified by the music that surrounds it on the rest of the album.

31. Calexico

Green Grows the Holly

Gorgeous and stern, and undoubtedly the best adaptation by an Americana band of any poem written by Henry VIII. The horns bloom, like the flowers of the song, turning something indisputably English into a desert lament.

30. Jimmy McGriff

Winter Wonderland

McGriff opens with a squall of organ that doesnt lead you to believe Christmas is coming anytime soon, then takes Winter Wonderland at such a leisurely pace that it takes a moment to recognise it. (If you like this, try Jimmy Smiths Christmas 64 as well.)

29. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings

Aint No Chimneys in the Projects

When you live in poverty, certain logistical problems come to mind. Namely, if youre in a big public housing block, how does Santa get the presents underneath the tree? A fabulous addition to the long line of socially conscious soul and funk Christmas music.

28. Sons of Heaven

When Was Jesus Born?

We all know the answer, but when its posed this beautifully, in such impeccable close harmony, the obviousness of the question can be forgiven. There are many versions of this, but its a hard song to do anything but beautifully.

27. Thea Gilmore

Listen, the Snow Is Falling

Yoko Onos is the original version and Galaxie 500s rendition is more celebrated, but Thea Gilmore gets the perfect ratio of iciness to wonder it sounds like a Christmas tree, if such a thing were possible. The 2009 album Strange Communion is highly recommended.

26. The Temptations

Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

Oh, wrap yourself in the blanket of those glorious voices! Motown took Christmas seriously, with the result that you could probably do this list entirely from Motown tracks. This one gets selected because what is really a fairly dismal song is transformed by a perfect arrangement.

25. Clarence Carter

Back Door Santa

Pure Christmas filth. Back Door Santa can make all the little girls happy / While the boys are out to play. But dont mistake him for Father Christmas: I aint like old Saint Nick / He dont come but once a year. I dare you not to dance, though.

24. Ramones

Danny Says

Merry Christmas (I Dont Want to Fight Tonight) is better known as a Ramones Christmas song, but the sublime Danny Says gets the nod, qualifying on the grounds that the desperate, lonely band are stuck on the road deep in winter and it aint Christmas if there aint no snow.

23. Cristina

Things Fall Apart

No matter how bad your Christmas is, its not as bad as Cristinas. Mind you, given its the early 80s New York art underground, she was probably forbidden from liking something so bourgeois. Even a party cant cheer her: I caught a cab back to my flat / And wept a bit and fed the cat.

22. Joni Mitchell


Joni Mitchell is bereft, too, on this gorgeous piano ballad, when Christmas just makes her mourn her relationship and flee Laurel Canyon for her home in Canada, where there might be a frozen river she could skate away on, away from everything.

21. David Banner

The Christmas Song

Completing the mini-run of joyless Christmases, heres the most joyless of all when the only way to pay for Christmas is to rob and deal and kill. The climactic jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way is not intended as cause for celebration.

20. Lindstrm

Little Drummer Boy

Hans-Peter Lindstrm takes almost 43 minutes to assemble a Christmas song from electronic squiggles, through the martial drumbeat, to the melody coming in at eight minutes. It then spends a further 25 minutes warping and mutating, picking up and discarding musical phrases, before exploding orgasmically in its final 10 minutes or so.

19. William Bell

Every Day Will Be a Holiday

It doesnt actually mention Christmas, but gets counted and not just by me as a Christmas song because of the little horn lift from Jingle Bells, for it being about being lonely waiting for his baby to come home (presumably for Christmas), and because its B-side was Please Come Home For Christmas. Its also a fabulous piece of Stax soul.

18. Belle and Sebastian

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

On the 2000 charity album Its a Cool Cool Christmas which was pretty strong Belle and Sebastian took on the most beautiful of all the Christmas hymns. Something so delicate suited them. Also recommended: El Vez merging Feliz Navidad and Public Image.

17. The Staple Singers

Who Took the Merry Out of Christmas?

The Staple Singers are worried: too many wars, too much space exploration means people are searching for light and cant seem to find the right star. Jesus isnt just another baby boy, they warn. So show some respect. Glorious.

16. The Watersons

Sound, Sound Your Instruments of Joy

Just listen to the voices: this is Christmas as it must have sounded when it was a religious festival in the depths of winter, rather than an excuse to rack up debt. Make your own fun! Maybe weave an Action Man out of three pieces of straw! And yet its so beautiful.

15. Eartha Kitt

Santa Baby

Were into the start of the big songs now, and Eartha Kitts contribution is the precise opposite of the Watersons vision of Christmas. She wants a sable, a convertible, a yacht, a platinum mine She wants every sensation. And whats Jesus got to do with anything?

14. Otis Redding

White Christmas

Who knew the most famous Christmas hit of all could be so emotionally wrought? Where Bing Crosby sounded as if he was fondly pondering his Christmas, Otis sounds like hes breaking into a sweat trying to will it into existence through sheer force of desire.

13. The Pretenders

2000 Miles

Sometimes simple is best: Robbie McIntoshs guitar playing on the Pretenders 1984 hit is a model of folk-rock restraint, taking from the Byrds, and offsetting Chrissie Hyndes voice and lyric with a sense that everything, somehow, is going to be OK.

12. Bob Seger and the Last Heard

Sock It to Me Santa

Santas got a brand new bag! hollers Bob Seger, who was a Detroit R&B shouter years before he became a heartland American beard rocker. Sock It to Me Santa is a fabulous explosion garage rock and soul brought together into something made for the best bar in the city on Christmas Eve.

11. Wham!

Last Christmas

A big Christmas hit that was unlike previous UK seasonal singles it wasnt wrapped in sleigh bells, there was nothing consciously novelty about it. Perhaps George Michael had been paying close attention to some of the great US Christmas soul singles, because this was a heartbreak song that just happened to be set in December.

10. Darlene Love

Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

A Christmas Gift to You from Phil Spector codified the sound of Christmas: maximal, filled with signifiers of the season (there is nowhere sleigh bells cant be draped). Darlene Loves Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) was the standout on a record on which the quality didnt drop from start to finish.

9. Wizzard

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday

Roy Woods enduring contribution to the season owed a huge debt to Phil Spector theres almost certainly a kitchen sink section at work somewhere in the mix but it transcends imitation by its sheer verve. It was recorded in summer, with the studio air conditioning turned down to make everyone feel wintry. Attention to detail, right there.

8. Slade

Merry Xmas Everybody

Christmas 1973 brought not just Wizzard but the most enduring of all British Christmas singles. Forty-six years later, people still bellow Its CHRISTMAS! in Noddy Holders face, which, apparently, gets a little wearisome. The whole thing was Jim Leas mums idea why didnt Slade have a song they could release every year? She got her wish.

7. Donny Hathaway

This Christmas

It wasnt a hit at the time, but took off when it was included on a 1991 reissue of the 1968 Atco compilation Soul Christmas. To which you can only say: why did it take the world so long to notice? Its a Christmas song that stands up regardless of the season. And according to the publishing body Ascap, its now the 30th most performed Christmas song of all time in the US.

6. Tom Waits

Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis

Probably not one to play when youre unwrapping the presents. A character study that begins grimly, then offers hope, as the narrator says things are getting better before ripping the rug away without ceremony. Do you want to know the truth of it, she asks: Charley, hey, Ill be eligible for parole come Valentines day.

5. Marvin Gaye

Purple Snowflakes

A song so beautiful its almost otherworldly Marvin Gayes flawless falsetto, the unexpected chord changes, the sense of mystery. Yet its wrapped up in the most comforting of Christmas imagery chestnuts roasting, blankets of white without ever explaining why the snowflakes are purple.

4. The Waitresses

Christmas Wrapping

Like Cristinas Things Fall Apart, Christmas Wrapping was originally written for the Z labels 1981 compilation the most punching-above-its-weight Christmas comp ever. Its a fabulous stream of consciousness, during which Patty Donahue talks herself from wanting to miss Christmas to knowing she cant miss Christmas, that bursts into joy at its horn refrain.

3. Low

Just Like Christmas

Lows 1999 Christmas EP released as a gift to fans was one of the most unexpected seasonal delights: ascetic indie band embracing the season without irony. Its lead track was a joy, the discomfort of touring reminding them of when they were young, and it feeling just like Christmas. Just two verses, and a repeated refrain perfect.

2. The Pogues

Fairytale of New York

Theres almost nothing left to be said about Fairytale of New York, a song that has been impossible to avoid for more than 30 years. Such is the strength of the songwriting and the grace of the performance that, despite the overexposure, it feels fresh every single time. That a scrappy folk-punk band produced something that will endure as long as Christmas itself is a real Christmas miracle.

1. Mariah Carey

All I Want for Christmas Is You


The best Christmas songs should only work at Christmas. They should make you feel festive, in the same way that the 174th repeat of The Snowman does. They should work anywhere in shopping centres, in bars, pumping out of PAs in gig venues after the band has gone off, on the radio in a cafe, in your home or on your headphones. All I Want for Christmas Is You is all of those things. Its a shameless pastiche of Phil Spector thats so brazen and joyful and simple it took Carey and Walter Afanasieff only 15 minutes to write that it transcends its lack of originality. Its the rare modern Christmas song that has become a standard, and deservedly so.

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Lizzo scores eight nominations with Eilish and Lil Nas X on seven, but British artists largely snubbed in major categories

The 17-year-old pop sensation Billie Eilish has become the youngest artist to be nominated in all four of the most prestigious Grammy award categories: record, album and song of the year, and best new artist.

Her gothic, innovative single Bad Guy, which topped the US charts, is nominated in the song and record categories, while her similarly chart-topping album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is nominated for the album prize. She completed a sweep of the top categories with a best new artist nomination, and has six nominations in all. Her album engineers got a nod in the best engineered album category, including her brother and collaborator Finneas, who received three nominations.

The most nominations were for Lizzo, who received eight, including in the top four categories. The powerhouse Minneapolis singer, known for her vociferous support of body positivity as well as her showboating flute solos, has been a slow-burn success, first releasing music in 2013 but scoring breakthrough hits this year with Juice, Tempo and US No 1 hit Truth Hurts.

Lil Nas X received six nominations, including three in the top categories, predominantly for his song Old Town Road. It is indisputably one of the most successful songs of the year, breaking a US chart record with its 19 consecutive weeks at No 1 Mariah Carey and Boyz II Mens duet One Sweet Day had held the honour since 1996. All three of Eilish, Lizzo and Lil Nas X have never received a Grammy nomination before.

Ariana Grande, who receives five nominations. Photograph: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

R&B singer HER scored five nominations, including record, album and song of the year, with Ariana Grande also earning five, including record and album of the year her first appearances in the major categories. Wisconsin singer-songwriter Bon Iver was nominated four times, including record and album of the year, while Beyonc in a relatively minor year with no solo album release still managed to secure four nominations, for her Lion King soundtrack work as well as her Coachella concert film, Homecoming.

While recent years have seen Grammy success for the likes of Ed Sheeran and Adele, British artists were mostly shut out of the top four categories. Lewis Capaldi received a nomination for song of the year for his ballad Someone Like You, which has topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. Bristol country-soul singer Yola was nominated for best new artist, and received three further nominations in American roots categories.

Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke earned three nominations in specialist categories, with Chemical Brothers scoring three, and two for R&B singer Ella Mai. Other nominated Brits include the 1975, Bring Me the Horizon, James Blake and Elvis Costello. A surprise inclusion was Bones UK, a Camden rock band who, despite their low profile, secured a nomination for best rock performance with their song Pretty Waste.

Lil Nas X also crops up in the rap categories, this time with his single Panini in the running for rap/sung performance. The genres biggest prize, best rap performance, features a posthumous nomination for Nipsey Hussle, the LA star who was shot dead in April.

Snubs include to Taylor Swift, who might have expected more than just one nomination in major categories song of the year for Lover, the only song in the category to feature a single songwriter and Ed Sheeran, whose collaborative album No 6 Collaborations Project only generated one nomination, for pop vocal album. Sam Smith received no nominations for their major US hit Dancing With a Stranger, nor did Halsey, whose single Without Me spent 29 weeks in the US Top 10 and went five times platinum.

The total lack of nominations for Solanges acclaimed album When I Get Home, or Bruce Springsteens Western Stars, is also surprising the Guardian has asked their record labels if their albums were put forward for nomination.

A British success story … Yola. Photograph: Alysse Gafkjen

Grammy nominations 2020: the major categories

Album of the year
Bon Iver
i, i
Lana Del Rey Norman Fucking Rockwell!
Billie Eilish When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Ariana Grande Thank U, Next
HER I Used to Know Her
Lil Nas X 7
Lizzo Cuz I Love You (Deluxe)
Vampire Weekend Father of the Bride

Record of the year
Bon Iver Hey, Ma
Billie Eilish Bad Guy
Ariana Grande 7 Rings
HER Hard Place
Khalid Talk
Lil Nas X ft Billy Ray Cyrus Old Town Road
Lizzo Truth Hurts
Post Malone & Swae Lee Sunflower

Song of the year
Natalie Hemby, Lady Gaga, Hillary Lindsey & Lori McKenna, songwriters (Lady Gaga) Always Remember Us This Way
Billie Eilish OConnell & Finneas OConnell, songwriters (Billie Eilish) Bad Guy
Brandi Carlile, Phil Hanseroth, Tim Hanseroth & Tanya Tucker, songwriters (Tanya Tucker) Bring My Flowers Now
Ruby Amanfu, Sam Ashworth, D. Arcelious Harris. H.E.R. & Rodney Jerkins, songwriters (HER) Hard Place
Taylor Swift, songwriter (Taylor Swift) Lover
Jack Antonoff & Lana Del Rey, songwriters (Lana Del Rey) Norman Fucking Rockwell
Tom Barnes, Lewis Capaldi, Pere Kelleher, Benjamin Kohn & Sam Roman, songwriters (Lewis Capaldi) Someone You Loved
Steven Cheung, Eric Frederic, Melissa Jefferson & Jesse Saint John, songwriters (Lizzo) Truth Hurts

Best new artist
Black Pumas
Billie Eilish
Lil Nas X
Maggie Rogers
Tank and the Bangas

Best pop album
Beyonc The Lion King: The Gift
Billie Eilish When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Ariana Grande Thank U, Next
Ed Sheeran No 6 Collaborations Project
Taylor Swift Lover

Best rock album
Bring Me the Horizon Amo
Cage the Elephant Social Cues
The Cranberries In the End
I Prevail Trauma
Rival Sons Feral Roots

Bon Iver. Photograph: Publicity Image

Best alternative music album
Big Thief
James Blake Assume Form
Bon Iver i, i
Vampire Weekend Father of the Bride
Thom Yorke Anima

Best urban contemporary album
Steve Lacy Apollo XXI
Lizzo Cuz I Love You (Deluxe)
Georgia Anne Muldrow Overload
Nao Saturn
Jessie Reyez Being Human In Public

Best rap album
Dreamville Revenge of the Dreamers III
Meek Mill Championships
21 Savage I Am > I Was
Tyler, the Creator Igor
YBN Cordae The Lost Boy

Best R&B album
BJ the Chicago Kid 1123
Lucky Daye Painted
Ella Mai Ella Mai
PJ Morton Paul
Anderson .Paak Ventura

Best dance/electronic album
Apparat LP5
Chemical Brothers No Geography
Flume Hi This Is Flume (Mixtape)
Rfs Du Sol Solace
Tycho Weather

Best country album
Eric Church Desperate Man
Reba McEntire Stronger Than the Truth
Pistol Annies Interstate Gospel
Thomas Rhett Center Point Road
Tanya Tucker While Im Livin

Best Americana album
Calexico and Iron & Wine Years to Burn
Madison Cunningham Who Are You Now
Keb Mo Oklahoma
JS Ondara Tales of America
Yola Walk Through Fire

Best Latin pop album
Luis Fonsi Vida
Maluma 11:11
Ricardo Montaner Montaner
Alejandro Sanz #ELDISCO
Sebastian Yatra Fantasa

Best gospel album
Kirk Franklin Long Live Love
Donald Lawrence Presents the Tri-City Singers Goshen
Gene Moore Tunnel Vision
William Murphy Settle Here
CeCe Winans Somethings Happening! A Christmas Album

Best pop solo performance
Beyonc Spirit
Billie Eilish Bad Guy
Ariana Grande 7 Rings
Lizzo Truth Hurts
Taylor Swift You Need to Calm Down

Best pop duo/group performance
Ariana Grande and Social House Boyfriend
Jonas Brothers Sucker
Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus Old Town Road
Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello Seorita

Best traditional pop vocal album
Andrea Bocelli S
Michael Bubl Love (Deluxe Edition)
Elvis Costello and the Imposters Look Now
John Legend A Legendary Christmas
Barbra Streisand Walls

DaBaby. Photograph: Earl Gibson III/REX/Shutterstock

Best rap performance
J Cole Middle Child
DaBaby Suge
Dreamville ft JID, Bas, J.Cole, Earthgang and& Young Nudy Down Bad
Nipsey Hussle ft Roddy Ricch and Hit-boy Racks in the Middle
Offset ft Cardi B Clout

Best traditional R&B performance
BJ the Chicago Kid Time Today
India.Arie Steady Love
Jerome Lizzo
Real Games Lucky Daye
Built For Love PJ Morton & Jazmine Sullivan

Best rap/sung performance
DJ Khaled ft Nipsey Hussle & John Legend Higher
Lil Baby and Funna Drip Too Hard
Lil Nas X Panini
Mustard ft Roddy Ricch Ballin
Young Thug ft J Cole & Travis Scott The London

Best rap song
Chancelor Bennett, Cordae Dunston, Uforo Ebong and Daniel Hackett, songwriters (Ybn Cordae ft Chance the Rapper) Bad Idea
Noel Cadastre, Aubrey Graham, Anderson Hernandez, Khristopher Riddick-tynes, William Leonard Roberts Ii, Joshua Quinton Scruggs, Leon Thomas Iii and Ozan Yildirim, songwriters (Rick Ross ft Drake) Gold Roses
Jermaine Cole, Dacoury Natche, 21 Savage & Anthony White, songwriters (21 Savage ft J Cole) A Lot
Ermias Asghedom, Dustin James Corbett, Greg Allen Davis, Chauncey Hollis Jr and Rodrick Moore, songwriters (Nipsey Hussle ft. Roddy Ricch and Hit-boy) Racks in the Middle
DaBaby, Jetsonmade and Pooh Beatz, songwriters (DaBaby) Suge

Best R&B song
Dernst Emile Ii, David Swagg Rcelious Harris, HER and Hue Soundzfire Strother, Songwriters (H.E.R. Ft. Bryson Tiller) Couldve Been
Emily King and Jeremy Most, Songwriters (Emily King) Look at Me Now
Chris Brown, Tyler James Bryant, Nija Charles, Aubrey Graham, Anderson Hernandez, Michee Patrick Lebrun, Joshua Lewis, Noah Shebib and Teddy Walton, songwriters (Chris Brown ft Drake) No Guidance
David Brown, Dernst Emile Ii & Peter Lee Johnson, Songwriters (Lucky Daye) Roll Some Mo
PJ Morton, Songwriter (PJ Morton ft Jojo) Say So

Best rock performance
Bones UK Pretty Waste
Gary Clark Jr This Land
Brittany Howard History Repeats
Karen O and Danger Mouse Woman
Rival Sons Too Bad

Best metal performance
Candlemass ft. Tony Iommi Astorolus: The Great Octopus
Death Angel Humanicide
I Prevail Bow Down
Killswitch Engage Unleashed
Tool 7empest

Best country solo performance
Tyler Childers All Yourn
Ashley McBryde Girl Goin Nowhere
Willie Nelson Ride Me Back Home
Blake Shelton Gods Country
Tanya Tucker Bring My Flowers Now

Best country duo/group performance
Brooks and Dunn with Luke Combs Brand New Man
Brothers Osborne I Dont Remember Me (Before You)
Dan and Shay Speechless
Little Big Town The Daughters
Maren Morris ft Brandi Carlile Common

Brandi Carlile. Photograph: Brandi Carlile/Alysse Gafkjen

Best country song
Brandi Carlile, Phil Hanseroth, Tim Hanseroth and Tanya Tucker, songwriters (Tanya Tucker) Bring My Flowers Now
Jeremy Bussey & Ashley Mcbryde, songwriters (Ashley McBryde) Girl Goin Nowhere
Miranda Lambert, Hillary Lindsey, Lori Mckenna and Liz Rose, Songwriters (Miranda Lambert) It All Comes Out in the Wash
Eric Church, Clint Daniels, Jeff Hyde & Bobby Pinson, Songwriters (Eric Church) Some of It
Shay Mooney, Jordan Reynolds, Dan Smyers and Laura Veltz, songwriters (Dan and Shay) Speechless

Best rock song
Danny Carey, Justin Chancellor, Adam Jones and Maynard James Keenan, songwriters (Tool) Fear Inoculum
George Daniel, Adam Hann, Matthew Healy & Ross MacDonald, songwriters (The 1975) Give Yourself a Try
Ezra Koenig, songwriter (Vampire Weekend) Harmony Hall
Brittany Howard, Songwriter (Brittany Howard) History Repeats
Gary Clark Jr., Songwriter (Gary Clark Jr) This Land

Producer of the year, non-classical
Jack Antonoff
Dan Auerbach
John Hill
Ricky Reed

Best compilation soundtrack for visual media
Various artists The Lion King: The Songs
Various artists Quentin Tarantinos Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Taron Egerton Rocketman
Various artists Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper A Star Is Born

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The singer, who identifies as transmasculine, talks about his politically risky new album and the difficulties behind his transition

In November of 2005, Jana Hunter released a collection of songs recorded almost entirely alone over a decade, titled Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom. It was Hunters first solo album after years of collaborating with the 2000s freak-folk mainstay Devendra Banhart. The album contained short songs (mostly hovering around the two-minute mark) that were haunting and wistful, with muddled vocals and warped instrumentation, and earned Hunter glowing reviews and a proper spot in the then blossoming world of blog-approved indie music.

Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom ends with an exclamation point, a surprising stylistic shift in the form of a pop song called K, which is based around a video game-like electronic loop, interwoven with ghostly vocal ahs and twangs of guitar. The lyrics are a blend of mundane lightness and hints at darkness: Id love to see you Saturday afternoon / Id spin you out and show you what youre worth / Id love to hold your backbone in my hands / Id be your favorite cartoon. The song now feels prescient, a glimpse of the themes and sounds that permeate The Competition, the fourth album from Lower Dens, Hunters band with drummer Nate Nelson, which formed in 2009.

While on the surface, Hunters early songs may appear to be more intimate and confessional by nature of their genres styling, he says the pop songs on The Competition are his most honest yet. I spent most of my life hiding from myself, said Hunter, on the phone from Los Angeles, where he moved from Baltimore on Thanksgiving day in 2018 (though he still spends a lot of time there). Ive tried to limit myself with past albums, Hunter said. I wanted to push myself to write songs that felt a little less restrictive.

Hunter is more nervous about releasing this album than he ever has been with anything before. I wanted to risk more vulnerability. I feel like I got to that place.

Hunter in the video for the song I Drive. Photograph: Torso

Hunter was assigned female at birth. In a 2015 essay for Cosmopolitan, he described telling his parents he was a boy when he was three or four years old, the fifth child in a family of eight kids, and their dismissal of it: It wasnt until I was an adult that I realized there was more to that conversation than my childish fancy. He identifies as transmasculine, which he explains as identifying more as a man on some days and more as a woman on others. Its not more toward one side of the binary or the other.

The Competition was mostly written over a period of three years, in bursts of inspiration and creativity that were bordered by difficult periods that necessitated breaks from music to cope with mental health issues. For him, transitioning was bound up in those issues. When I was a kid I did express my gender identity and it didnt go over very well, Hunter said. That stuff has colored my whole life.

The album also interweaves his personal experiences with politics. (The press release calls it a pop album that is politically urgent.) Hunter says writing the first single, Young Republicans, felt politically risky. In the video for the song, directed by Raul Gonzo, Hunter acts as a narrator, singing in a glittering black bomber jacket as a bleak, Twin Peaks-esque montage plays out. A blond woman suns herself while glaring at detectives investigating a crime. A man in a white tennis outfit glares at a woman repairing his television. The whole thing ends with a group of preppy people in red suits pledging to the American flag before feasting on Hunter, who is lying face-up on a dining table with his torso sliced open. He used to follow the news closely but had to take a break in the Trump era, so he follows journalists he respects instead: And I worry that theyre just losing their minds.

The video for Young Republicans, a song Hunter said felt politically risky.

The song sounds like a crisp 80s dance pop hit, with all the requisite electronic synths, bleeps and bloops, but with an eeriness thats unsettling, lyrics about people who just dont fit in and a world thats burning. Stylistically, the whole album is a giant leap away from the Heirs of Doom era (with the exception of K), and from the first Lower Dens album, 2010s Twin-Hand Movement (NPR described Lower Dens at the time as a blissful swarm of feedback). As a child, Hunter listened to mini-cassettes via headphones with a Fisher-Price Pocket Rocker, escaping into pop songs and a world where he imagined anything was possible. For this album, he says, he wanted to recreate that feeling: I wanted to write songs that might have the potential to do that. He says the ideal way to listen to it would be with headphones, to get the feeling of not being in a physical space (whereas his older, more lo-fi recordings could be described as all about physical space, with the echoes and reverb of wherever they were recorded ingrained in the songs).

Hunter has experimented with a progression of musical styles over the last 14 years, and The Competition is the latest iteration of that, but thankfully the core elements of his singular songwriting are still always present the unusual chord shifts, the serene vocals, the way Hunter invites listeners to settle into a song and become transfixed by it (the best example of this might be the gorgeous song Brains, from their 2012 album Nootropics), the sense of hopefulness thats always present, even if its nearly imperceptible.

I love the textures they use in their production and the songwriting is always heartfelt, said :3LON (Elon Battle), a Baltimore electronic musician who appears on four songs on The Competition. I love working with artists that push the boundaries of societal norms. :3LON lends a vocal complexity to I Drive, a song Hunter says is about feeling rejected by his family, leaving behind obligations to people who dont love or care about you, being with and about people who do. Its a feeling so strong its driving me. Thats the driving Im doing.

While Hunter views The Competition as an escape, at the same time he hopes its deeply confessional nature might serve as a beacon for others struggling with their own realities: Anguish is how we start looking for other people to connect to.

  • The Competition is out now

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Manager confirms Johnston, whose naive songwriting was beloved of Kurt Cobain, died of a heart attack

Daniel Johnston, an eccentric, enduring and much beloved figure in the US indie rock scene, has died aged 58 following a heart attack. The news was confirmed by his manager Jeff Tartakov.

Numerous cultural figures have paid tribute to the cult songwriter once a favourite of Kurt Cobain including Beck, Judd Apatow and Ezra Furman, who described him as one of my best teachers. Actor Elijah Wood wrote: What a gentle, beautiful treasure. So sad to hear youve left us.

Born in California in 1961 and raised in West Virginia, Johnston became known as a songwriter after moving to Austin, Texas. His popularity grew in the city after he started handing out tapes of his affectingly naive songwriting to people in the street, and began recording numerous albums. Cobains patronage prompted a bidding war to sign him, and he eventually signed to major label Atlantic in 1994, though mainstream success eluded him.

In the early 1990s, he suffered a manic psychotic episode during a plane flight, when, believing he was the cartoon character Casper the Friendly Ghost, he threw the ignition keys for the plane out of its window he and his father escaped with minor injuries following the subsequent crash. It prompted one of many spells in psychiatric institutions, and he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Over the years he also suffered from diabetes, kidney infections and hydrocephalus; last year he was hospitalised following a fall.

His eccentricity was legendary he refused to sign with Elektra because they also employed Metallica, whom Johnston regarded as satanic; he ran away from home as a teenager on a moped to join a travelling carnival; he was arrested for graffiti-ing the Statue of Liberty with hundreds of Christian fish symbols. But as another admirer, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, said in 2017: Daniel has managed to create in spite of his mental illness, not because of it. Hes been honest in his portrayal of what hes been struggling with without overtly drawing attention to it.

His health issues contributed to a long break from album releases beginning in the mid-1990s, but he returned in 2001 with Rejected Unknown and maintained a steady release schedule since. 2004 saw the release of an album of cover versions of his work by performers including Tom Waits, Beck, Bright Eyes and TV On the Radio. His most recent album was 2012s Space Ducks.

A documentary film, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, was released in 2006 and won the Directors Award at the Sundance film festival; a biopic starring Johnston as himself was released in 2015, entitled Hi, How Are You Daniel Johnston?

Johnston was also known as an artist and comic-book writer, with his image of a happy frog under the words Hi, How Are You? used on the cover of his 1983 album of the same name turned into a popular mural in Austin; the city also named 22 January, Hi, How Are You? Day. In 2006, his artwork was featured in a major exhibition at New Yorks Whitney Museum of American Art.

Johnston recorded 17 albums in all, and last year said he had been recording material for a new LP for years.

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No cause of death has been announced for songwriter and poet known for his projects Silver Jews and Purple Mountains, and his wry, witty lyrics

David Berman, who was regarded as one of the most poetic voices in US indie rock, has died aged 52. His record label, Drag City, confirmed the news, but hasnt confirmed the cause of death.

Berman was best known for his project Silver Jews, and his wry lyrics. The band formed in 1989 in New Jersey, when Berman was living and working with Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich, who would go on to form the successful band Pavement. Malkmus has paid tribute to Berman, writing on Twitter: His death is fucking dark depression is crippling he was a one of a kinder [sic] the songs he wrote were his main passion esp at the end. Hope death equals peace cuz he could sure use it.

Though not reaching the same level of success as Pavement, Silver Jews became a cult group in the US indie rock scene. Berman long refused to tour, but changed his mind for fifth album Tanglewood Numbers (2005), and toured with the band which included his then wife Cassie Berman until their dissolution in 2009. He also published a book of poetry, Actual Air (1999), and another of cartoons, The Portable February (2009).

One of the reasons Berman gave for breaking up the band was the work of his father, lobbyist Richard Berman, known in Washington political circles as Dr Evil for his advocacy work on behalf of industries including tobacco and fossil fuels. Previously I thought, through songs and poems and drawings, I could find and build a refuge away from his world, Berman wrote shortly after the end of Silver Jews. But there is the matter of Justice There needs to be something more. Ill see what that might be. He began developing a TV show based on his father, and said he was in discussions with HBO to make it, but it was never filmed.

Berman disappeared from the public eye for a decade, but returned this year with a new project, Purple Mountains, featuring him backed by the folk-rock band Woods. The album was hugely acclaimed, with a five-star Guardian review describing it as having likely the best lyric sheet of the year. He was due to begin a US tour with the group this week.

He fought mental health and substance misuse issues. In 2005, he described a long, suitcase-battering journey of sub-aqueous intoxication when he used crack cocaine, alcohol and painkillers; he said he took every drug in every way from 15 on.

Drag City paid tribute to him, writing: A great friend and one of the most inspiring individuals weve ever known is gone. Nastanovich wrote: I was amazed by David as a person, a humorist and a writer.

Other musicians have paid tribute. Berman collaborated with the Australian group the Avalanches for their 2016 album Wildflower they wrote on Instagram that he provided much guidance, solace and humor reflecting on our shared struggles and described his work as sublime. US indie-rock band the Mountain Goats wrote: Of, loosely, my generation of songwriters, the best of us. This loss is devastating, while Kurt Vile wrote: Davids music always hit on a basic human gut level just in the power of his lyrics and voice alone … in a way no other modern artist of my generation has been able to. The Nationals Aaron Dessner called Berman a massive talent and a huge influence on us.

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I was on the phone to lawyers and labels in New York while still living in a council flat and unable to afford the bus fare to rehearsals

Norman Blake, vocals, guitar

What was our life like back in 1991? Impoverished! But when youre young thats fine. Wed take the mattress out of my bedroom, stick it in the back of a rental van and off wed go on tour.

Bandwagonesque captures that spirit. There werent many people at the time making melodic pop records that were kind of sloppy too. The vocals arent brilliant, the playings all right its not been tidied up like a lot of records are these days. It captures young people trying to find their feet. Thats what I think people pick up on.

Our producer Don Fleming advised us to drink Jack Daniels in the studio. He said: Its good for singing, guitaring and playing the drums. Words of wisdom! He was a cheerleader for making the recording process an event rather than a dry session. Don was very encouraging musically too. He was the first person to get us working on harmonies because he said not many people were doing that at the time. We were slacker and noisier back then but Don got us hitting some really high notes as weve gotten older theyve gone out of our range.

The album opens with The Concept, which has the lyrics: She wears denim wherever she goes / Says shes gonna buy some records by the Status Quo. I liked the idea of referencing them because if you wanted to be cool you never would. I could have referenced the Moving Sidewalks instead and people would have thought: What a wanker. Ive not seen the film Young Adult, but I know that Charlize Theron sings The Concept in it. Thats pretty crazy to think she knows the song.

Wed just signed to Creation, which could be quite wild. I remember us going to the offices just to say hello to everyone and Alan [McGee, founder] was like Lets get a couple of cans of beer. The next thing you know hes on the intercom system saying OK everyone, phones off and a full scale party ensues. Bobby Gillespie came down and before you knew it the pills were flying around.

We had to play the entire album live recently. Has it stood the test of time? I suppose the best you can say as a musician is, if you dont cringe too much when you listen back to it, then youve kind of done OK.

Geffen hated it the band in 1992 with the offending artwork. Photograph: Brian Rasic/Getty Images

Raymond McGinley, vocals, lead guitar

I was still living with my mum and dad in a multistorey council flat, and yet Id be on the phone to New York lawyers and labels in North America trying to sort out record deals. Wed be talking about all this money but I still didnt have enough to get the bus down to the rehearsal room in Motherwell.

We didnt have a manager at the time and I was so tied up doing that kind of thing that I only wrote one song on the record, but I still felt I contributed in lots of other ways. It was a good collective experience. Me and Norman had spent a few years in the wilderness waiting to get to a place where we had time in a studio with a band, so we enjoyed focusing on ourselves.

We hadnt actually signed to Creation at the time and I remember having heated discussions with Alan McGee who was worried he was going to pay all our recording bills and then get shafted. Alan and Dick Green [Creation records founders] had put their houses up against the label succeeding, but because they had so much going on at the time they left us alone to get on with it.

Bandwagonesque has a certain idiosyncratic sound. After we finished I thought Oh God, I dont know if this is the best thing we could do here. But as time goes on, you realise thats all part of the creative process. It has its flaws, but so do all our records.

I did the sleeve with my girlfriend at the time. She gets a credit but really its my fault. When bands sign to a bigger label, they end up with an art department record sleeve, where everything looks a bit slick and airbrushed. I had the idea to do the exact opposite and make the cheapest sleeve ever configured. I used a free-to-use Microsoft clipart image. Geffen, our American label, hated it. I dont think the other guys in the band liked it either. And we ended up getting sued by Gene Simmons who claimed to have trademarked bags of money. So Im trying to produce the cheapest sleeve possible as some kind of comment on the music business and we end up getting sued by Gene Simmons. I said to our lawyer: Can we just tell him to fuck off? He said no, so we gave him $500 and a credit.

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From Behemoths satanic metal to a triumphant return from Lana Del Rey, here are the tracks you need this month read about our ten favourites, and subscribe to all 50 in our playlists


Noname Ace

One of 2017s most sensual and heady albums has dropped in the form of Nonames Room 25. Imagine Erykah Badus cosmic knowledge exchange delivered in Chance the Rappers frank chatter and youre close, but Noname has an unruffled confidence and wry worldview that is all her own. The boom-bap backings may be pretty but they belie a savage edge, as the Chicago rapper goes in on Uncle Toms and beta males (The way I lullaby your brokenness, believe me Im Ripley). Its hard to pick a highlight but Ace is an absolute gem, and not just because it shouts out the UK. Two midwest MCs, Smino and Saba, drop by, with the latter almost stealing the show with a domino rally of a verse, words tipping over in an impressively unbroken stream.

In a Norman Rockwell mood Lana Del Rey.

Lana Del Rey Venice Bitch

Let us give thanks as LDR goes into the DGAF phase of her career. Not only is her forthcoming album called Norman Fucking Rockwell but the second single to be taken from it is called Venice Bitch and is nearly 10 minutes long. Her schtick has long involved a love-hate relationship with American iconography, and now she seems to be falling on the side of love she longs for that Norman-Rockwell-painting life for her and her partner, with the lovely image on the stoop with the neighbourhood kids / callin out bang bang kiss kiss perhaps the first inkling of their nuclear family. The song earns its length, stretching out into the warm evening in a haze of fuzz guitar and wandering analogue synth tones.

Kiran Leonard Unreflective Life

The time signature hopscotch of math-rock powers this truly magnificent song, but where that genre often gets bogged down in technicality and bad jeans, Kiran Leonard elevates it to powerful, elegant heights. The prolific songwriter from Saddleworth Moor is only 23 but operating at a seriously mature level, here dissecting the narcissism of internet culture. You can almost feel the weather systems passing across the song, soft breezes in the verses whipping into choppy squalls for the choruses and, with the tearjerkingly powerful guitar solo, an electrical storm of emotion.

Behemoth Wolves Ov Siberia

One of the most anticipated metal releases of the year is I Loved You at Your Darkest by Polish satanists Behemoth, which, if Wolves Ov Siberia and previous single God = Dog are anything to go by, will be symphonically heavy. Where God = Dog used pulverising blast beats and had a video that epically inverted Christs crucifixion, Wolves Ov Siberia is more of a rollicking romp. Frontman Nergal roars things like We hail the flame, we hail the ice / Beyond bosom, beyond materia / We reject! We fucking deny! while riffs stride confidently across the battlefield.

Symphonically heavy Behemoth. Photograph: Grzegorz Golebiowski

Robyn Honey

Returning with her first completely solo material since 2010 is pops patron saint of heartbreak, with Metronomys Joe Mount co-producing. But while Honey is sung in a trademark melancholy minor key, shes clearly fed up of being in the corner / watching you kiss her, and so on. Instead, Honey drips with sex: At the heart of some kind of flower / Stuck in glitter, strands of saliva / Wont you get me right where the hurt is? Suffice to say, the title doesnt refer to something youd spread on toast, unless thats what youre into. Be sure to check out our long read on Robyn from last week, too.

Psychedelic fur Lil Uzi Vert. Photograph: Record Company Handout

Lil Uzi Vert New Patek

The best rap of this year has been marked by a willingness to get psychedelic. Travis Scotts Astroworld, A$AP Rockys Testing, Swae Lees Swaecation, Playboi Cartis Die Lit, basically anything involving Young Thug all have their heads in the clouds, possibly elevated there by some substance. Lil Uzi Verts new track is up there with them, hoisted aloft by the remarkable production by Dolan Beats, with a floaty harp melody sampled from anime series Death Parade. Uzis lyrics may cleave to cliches about clothes, jewellery and round bottoms but his flow tumbling forward in a permanent high register is addictive enough to run towards the six-minute mark.

Julia Holter I Shall Love 2

Aviary, the new album from highbrow dream-popper Julia Holter, is nearly 90 minutes long, and sees her head back to the slightly more conceptual, suite-like approach of albums like Tragedy and Loud City Song. But, moth-like, she always circles back to the bright filament of pop. I Shall Love 2 is a big-hearted psych symphony: a trilling, wordless vocal line invites in a whole orchestra, who eventually fill the song to bursting it pops, and dies away instantly.

Jimothy Lacoste Fashion

If you want proof that irony, in the hands of the internet and social media, has modulated into something infinitely complex, just take a look at Jimothy Lacoste. His persona posh nerd rapper and possible fuckboi is extremely silly, and yet created with so much deadpan flair that it totally works. It helps that his songs gently slap: following the likes of Getting Busy!, Drugs and Future Bae, Fashion is his best track yet, an ode to his snazzy dressing (Tucked in shirt, lovely cords) backed by dreamy G-funk. Is he serious? Best not to ponder it too hard.

Westerman Albatross

London songwriter Will Westerman has been knocking around for a couple of years now, leaving swoons and sighs in his wake. The acoustic Mother Song was a breathtakingly sad yet sexy calling card, but, with producer Bullion, he has since added subtle drum machines to create 80s-facing pop balladry. With a doleful voice somewhere between Arthur Russell and Car Seat Headrests Will Toledo, on Albatross the first track from his new EP Westerman sketches out a series of lazy afternoons, with possible romances hovering around the edges.

Finding a new space Objekt. Photograph: Kasia Zacharko

Objekt Secret Snake

Along with fellow travellers such as Laurel Halo, Call Super and Minor Science, TJ Hertz, AKA Objekt, has carved out a new space for techno. His music keeps the jaw-slackening (or, depending on what youre on, tightening) power of 4/4 beats, but takes in lessons from dub, jazz and psychedelia. The result is a dizzying, intelligent but rambunctious kind of dance music. In the wake of his most commercial moment to date, Theme from Q, comes Secret Snake, another supremely confident and original track. A swaying dancehall-adjacent beat and some subtly kooky vocal samples power the dub techno of the first half, before it explodes into a burst of giant melody.

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The Japanese American songwriters new album has received rave reviews, but she is wary of being put on a pedestal

Mitski Miyawaki is deeply suspicious of her own success. Ever since her third album the riff-heavy, emotionally charged Bury Me at Makeout Creek put her on the map in 2014, the buzz around her has hardly let up. In 2016, the albums critically adored follow-up, Puberty 2, bolstered her already ardent fanbase, and she was invited on tour with alt-rock band Pixies and pop aesthete Lorde. A month ago, Iggy Pop described Mitski as maybe the most advanced American songwriter that I know. And throughout all this, she has been waiting for the tide to turn and everyone to just decide to hate me.

When youre happy for too long, she explains, sitting in her labels east London office, youre kind of waiting for something bad to happen. People decided they wanted to hate Anne Hathaway after she was so popular. For no reason. Thats a cycle that repeats itself everywhere. As a pre-emptive strike, she decided to treat her new album, Be the Cowboy, which has received rapturous reviews from critics, as an act of self-sabotage. Whenever she veered too close to the sound that gained her praise in the past, she stuck a foot out and tripped herself up. I fucked with the form, almost in ways that make me uncomfortable, she says. Its almost like: Well, before this goes to shit and you stop liking me, Im going to do something that I know you wont like, so that Im the one whos rejecting you.

But judging by the two singles she has released so far Geyser, an eerie rumble with no repeated melodies that escalates into something manic and overwhelming, and Nobody, a disco-inflected ode to loneliness that doesnt seem to have happened. Not yet! In fact, people seem to have enthusiastically come along for the ride. Mmhmm. Right. Just you wait.

I find it hard to believe that the brilliant Be the Cowboy will spark Mitskis Anne Hathaway moment. It flits between soft and brash, smooth and corrosive, insisting that you hear the gears grinding as it does so a technique her fans are familiar with by now but this time around, there is a deliberately unsettling sheen. The distorted guitars for which she has become known have been swapped out for bright, bold synths, electric organs or show-tune piano motifs. These arent straightforward pop songs they are too weird and glitchy for that, and the melodies feel like they have been transposed half a note up or down but they are just close enough that it all starts to feel a little Uncanny Valley. Theres something subtly unhinged about it, she says. Theres something always a little bit off in the music.

The same could be said of the lyrics. Through the guise of a fictional character a neglected, repressed wife desperately seeking affection one moment, rejecting it the next she addresses themes of isolation and self-destruction. I just need someone to kiss, she sings on Nobody. Give me one good honest kiss / And Ill be alright. On A Pearl, she rescinds the request: Sorry I cant take your touch / Its just that I fell in love with a war. The character represents various aspects of Mitskis own identity. The album, she says, is inherently feminine. When I say feminine album, immediately the perception is that it must be soft and lovely, but I mean feminine in the violent sense. Desiring, but not being able to define your desire, wanting power but being powerless and blaming it on yourself, or just hurting yourself as a way to let out the aggression in you. Its a lot of pent-up anger or desire without a socially acceptable outlet.

Many people, young women in particular, will relate to this. Despite her self-defensive inclination towards burning bridges, Mitskis ability and desire to write songs that people connect with has won out. Everyone has a different reason for making music, mine is I want to feel connected to other people, she says. She is Japanese American, and has spoken of feeling out of place in both cultures. Ive always grown up feeling lonely or other, but through my music, I can be like: Look, were the same, weve felt the same thing, so were not so different. I belong here. Its almost like a hungry monster thats just a constant need to feel connection.

Mitski People want to take something of me to keep with them

Sometimes, though, Mitski is so good at connecting with people that it backfires. Her fans feel they know her more intimately than they actually do and occasionally act as though they are entitled to her time and attention. She recalls walking off stage after a recent concert, when fans grabbed her and shouted at her to take selfies with them. Thats valid, I really appreciate it, but I was saying, No, please stop, please let me go, and everyones eyes were glazed over. I realised I wasnt actually a fellow person; I was an idea. Thats what Im uncomfortable with. People want to take something of me to keep with them, and I dont want to be owned like that. I want to be a fellow person standing on the same ground, I dont want to be someones little treasure in their pocket.

Nor does she want to be put on a pedestal, and asked to represent something bigger than herself though as an Asian American woman in an industry historically dominated by white men, she often finds herself painted as a figurehead. The US is in political turmoil so people want change. Theyre unsatisfied with their life, understandably, and then they see my face all the time and they put it together and think, This person should fix it for me. But I took like, maybe one American history course. I dont know anything about politics or law, Im just a dumb musician. Im just as mystified as the person looking at my face. I dont think its wise to turn to me for revolution, because Im not equipped for that.

But when it comes to her artistic worth, Mitski is self-assured. Though reviews of her work are usually glowing, she finds it galling when they imply the music must just flow out of me, as if she has no agency. People cannot fathom the fact that maybe a woman created something from nothing, and that she has control over what she makes, Mitksi says. People have worked so hard to try to make me seem like I dont know what Im doing. But I know exactly what Im doing.

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