There's really no contest for me. So I'll get this out right now, straight away - the Album of the Year is Paul Buchanan's Mid Air.
Regular readers will perhaps be unsurprised by my naming this as my choice for the best album of 2012, as earlier in the year I interviewed Buchanan and wrote about the LP as part of my Vinyl Countdown blog-post series.
Lists arrive at this time of the year and are increasingly hard to take. Rolling Stone magazine named Bruce Springsteen's Wrecking Ball as its No 1 album. That is lunacy. Some other goons chose Jack White's Blunderbuss as the number one album. You have to assume they are joking.
I did not choose Jack White's Blunderbuss album because even if it was good - and it was not - it says nothing, it means nothing. And those are my criteria, that's how I like to think about the Album of the Year; a record that moved me, that was almost emotionally overwhelming (in the best possible way).
I say no contest, regarding Paul Buchanan's Mid Air, but obviously there was competition.
I wrote about Bill Fay's return - certainly a contender. A beautiful album.
Dead Can Dance's return was also something very special, one of the albums I've listened to the most this year - that's always a crucial element in deciding which record takes the top spot: did I listen to it more than any other record? Or did I just think it seemed like the right album to name?
That's why these lists from people are getting hard to take - it just feels as though the cool, hip, smart, right choices are named because they feel as though they are the cool, hip, smart - and therefore right - choices to make.
I doubt many people will name ZZ Top's La Futura in their Top 10 albums of the year but I'm certainly considering it. It's a kick-ass record and Billy Gibbons sounds as good as ever. Jack White would be wise to listen to some Billy Gibbons. And wish and hope. That's about all he could do in terms of coming close to the tone and feel and sound that Gibbons conjures so effortlessly. In fact it might be best for Jack White to sit on his hands for a bit.
I don't see why Bob Dylan's Tempest is making Top 10 lists. You'll remember I wrote about the album. And I don't entirely dislike it - but it's just nothing special. And with so many great albums released this year the best albums should be special. Leonard Cohen's 2012 album was far better than Bob's. Neil Young's second album of 2012 is better than Bob's effort. And though you'll probably see Neil Young's record in a few lists you probably won't see Lenny's in all that many.
Later this week I will give you my list of best albums - for what it's worth.
But I thought I'd kill any anticipation and tell you the No 1 album straight up. Nothing came close to Mid Air for me this year, in terms of the overall feeling it offered to me. There was expectation and excitement pre-release; most certainly anticipation. And then it delivered. It sounded lovely and wise and weary and worldly and charming and beautiful all at once and right away. And from there it only got better.
The sparseness, the space, the language, the tension, the charm, the voice, the writing, the playing, the production - all the elements, all perfect.
The album quickly came to feel like an old friend. And I haven't tired of it. We still catch up regularly. We're still very good friends. And I'm thankful for that; grateful too for the chat with Buchanan, obviously.
This record also sent me back to some of my favourite Blue Nile moments. And that's always a good thing.
Perhaps what I love most about Mid Air is how it exists in a space, lingering like a curl of smoke, suggesting as you examine it that it might always have been there. And then it's gone. And you're left with the memory of it; you've caught yourself staring off into that space. I carry on hearing the album after it's finished. I carry this album with me (and I don't just mean on my iPod).
Put another way, put more simply, Mid Air could have been released in 2002 or 2011 or at any stage after the first Blue Nile album. It just happened to make its way into the world (eventually) in 2012. I like that feeling about the album - the timelessness. That and the fact that it stays with you after you hear it; there's an emotional weight to it. There's no vacuity - take the Twin Shadow album, for example. I don't dislike that album, it's been a slow-burner for me, in fact, I'm really just warming to it now. In recent weeks. I shelved it earlier in the year and was sure I would not return. But even now, freshly hooked, I find the album forgettable as soon as it has run its course. Mid Air is different.
Other lists of best albums will reflect fads; will fawn over albums that are actually horrific (I'd cancel my subscription to any magazine that named that Bobby Womack record in its Top 50).
I will tell you more of my albums of the year later in the week. But I thought this year I'd try something different and tell you my number one album of the year first. Now.
Now are you prepared to do the same? What's your number one album of 2012? What's the album you listened to the most, loved the most; the album - if you had to name one - that stands head and shoulders above all other? This is a Highlander moment - there can be only one. So what's your one album of the year? (We'll compare full lists later in the week).