Only four? Blimey...
I've been blessed. 2013 has been a veritable cornucopia of musical brilliance; everything from the sublime David Bowie album to the very unsubtle Amplifier, something or someone has come along to fill this year with delights, and to think it started so badly...
2013 began with me really looking forward to the new Steven Wilson album and being so unbelievably underwhelmed by what, in my humbled opinion, turned out to be some shite jazz rock homage to King Crimson done really badly, I thought the year was unlikely to get any better. I mean if I get so disappointed by the god-like Steven Wilson, what hope have Amplifier got, especially after that meh last album? And what's that? There's a new David Bowie album coming out? Oh, for the love of God, the universe and everything else...
There have been about a dozen quite stunning albums this year - albums to leave you wondering how music like this has never been done before - each of them vying for potential album of the year; the position that Steven Wilson might have been a shoo-in for had it not been for his album's utter awfulness. Looking across all the CDs I've bought - actually purchased with hard cash - which usually are the contenders for album of the year, it was still pretty much a fight between Bowie and Amplifier. If you'd have said four weeks ago that Sam Healy would become odds on favourite to win that personal honour, I'd have said, "Sam Healy? Where do I know that name from? He's in a band I like, I'm sure of it?"
I believe my album of 2012 was the almost perfect collection of ditties called Fog Electric by that Scottish band with the catchy name - North Atlantic Oscillation. If you'd prodded me, I would have remembered that's where I've heard the name before. He wrote Mirador possibly the most beautiful song of the 21st century so far.
Sand (by Sand) is quite ... breathtaking. It is also mind-numbingly beautiful. Fantastically inventive and some wondrous thing that can remind you of everything ever. If I told you there was hints of Elbow, Simon & Garfunkle, Genesis, David Holmes, Sugar, Phil Spector, Adam and the Ants, Bob Dylan, the Moody Blues, Fatboy Slim and so many more I just can't put my finger on; yet complimenting all the influences is this utter perfection of an individual's record, would you be impressed? I think it is only spoiled by its 43 minute duration; it needs to be a couple of hours longer. Yet for all of the 10 stunning songs on this album and my desire for it to be never ending, the best song is less than a minute and a half and has the longest title.
Sam Healy is a bit of a sea man. NAO's albums are called Grappling Hooks and Fog Electric - both have songs about the sea and sailors and things nautical and you can see his fascination with the sea sneaking through in this; even the title/band name - Sand - is something you associate with the coast and frankly he could have a fascination with it for as long as he likes if he continues to produce music like this.
Let's also get one thing straight - there is prog in this album, a fair bit of it; there's also theatrical pomp rock and a fair bit of electronic wizardry, but if I had to put a label on it, I'd probably call it 'Almost Pop' because just about every song on it has you singing along to bits of it; tapping your foot to some weirdly 1970s mellotron or thinking someone unleashed Brian Eno on the Brady Bunch.
That's the other thing about this album - bonkers schizophrenic; it doesn't know where it is from one moment to the next, except Sam... Sam knows exactly where it is and where its going and that is why it works so well. Musical genius? I wouldn't say he wasn't.
This is the album I began this year expecting; this is the album Steven Wilson wishes he could make. This could be the album of the decade so far, because I can't think of another album I've reviewed in recent times that has got