6th January 2018 // Review // Top Ten // 2017
Whatever flicks your switch, we’ve had a fantastic playlist to soundtrack our year in the limelight. It’s like everyone upped their game to give Hull a fitting musical landscape in which to party like its 2017.
Complete and utter nonsense of course. It’s just that the tour-album-tour-album cycle was in coincidental synchronicity, and a lot of big-hitters were due an album. There were also some notable comebacks too. Artists coming from out of the wilderness to deliver monsters of albums.
There were so many banging records out this year, that it’s near impossible to narrow it down to just ten. This list will no doubt be different tomorrow. And the day after. And the…you catch my drift. I’m basing it on my most-played LPs this year (Yeah I calculate plays -well Last.fm does, I’m not that much of a freak) and one’s that have not had as many plays, but have come to my attention in the latter part of the year.
There’ll be a proliferation of white guitar music, but that’s no conscious decision, it’s just what I listen to. It’s not, as has been suggested, too white by design. I grew up an indie kid, and nothing much has changed, so here goes: My toppermost of the poppermost...
I welcome criticism and ‘you’re wrong’ with no follow-up…
The Wilco frontman revisits his back catalogue armed with nothing much more than an acoustic guitar and his unmistakably rich voice. There’s Wilco cuts and some from various side projects, and the results are outstanding. Wilco have been described as ‘the American Radiohead,’ albeit a little less experimental, but shorn of whistles and bells and studio trickery, it’s testament to his fine songwriting that the songs stand up just as well naked.
The Horrors are making a claim to be Britain’s best indie-flirts-with-mainstream band. Certainly, in terms of no-compromise integrity and consistently brilliant output, there’s only really Arctic Monkeys that can touch them on these shores. They become more sophisticated with each release, but that doesn’t mean they water their sound down, if anything, there are even more layers to their increasingly expansive sound. It’s taken all the strengths of their previous three albums and come up with something more widescreen. It’s gloomy but it’s anthemic. And I’m totally having that.
It’s singer-songwriter fare set to a tech-house sonic template on the Welsh singer’s debut album. And the results are exhilarating as she flits between electronic styles. She’s clearly in thrall to Björk and Goldfrapp in terms of style and substance, them two never standing still; we get dream-pop, ambient, minimal techno and out and out tech-house as she confidently sets out her stall on this aesthetically and emotionally pleasing first Long-Player.
I saw Annie Clark in Beijing seven years ago and she was simply mesmerising. It was just her and another guitarist making a quite abrasive sound. On subsequent released she’s become more polished and slick, without losing any of her edginess. She incorporates more electronics these days, but she’s still as intelligent and eccentric as ever so it suits this freak down to the ground. It’s dressed up as edgy pop music, but it masks the dark melancholy of her lyrics as she tries to make sense of the world we live in. She’s in the realm of the greats.
Their first self-titled album was an instant classic. It didn’t reinvent the wheel; the Canadian band mix jangle-indie-pop with a hint of shoegaze, with vocals drenched in reverb. Their sophomore effort manages to top it. It’s impossibly infectious, and in winter months it can transport you back to the summer if you put the heating on. Ok, we don’t have a summer, just imagine you’re in L.A. or summat. It’s good old-fashioned C-86 stuff that defies you not to raise a smile. Well, I don’t smile, but it lessens my scowl.
Noel Gallagher famously joked to Alan Mcgee that he’d only sign for Creation if he dropped Slowdive. He’s allegedly made an ‘experimental’ album this year, and in some bizarre twist of fate, Slowdive’s 4th album, their first in 22 years, sounds more futuristic and out there than David Holmes’ protégé. I saw them live on my birthday this year and they blew me away, it’s a combination of muscular and ethereal that’s disarming. I’d put it up there with the very best shoegaze albums ever. After 20-odd years, besting themselves, always in the top 5 of their genre, is no mean feat. A record of infinite beauty.
Well, I didn’t expect to be raving about this quite so much. It’s the best pop album of the year, but it transcends the word. There’s an array of styles on show here, from piano-heavy dance floor bangers, to intelligent art-pop to alternative baroque arrangements. She has a singular voice, it’s familiar, you think she sounds like someone else, but it’s unmistakably Lorde; the girl has a huge range from low down ‘n’ dirty to Gibb falsetto. She sounds like Kate Bush in places which is obviously a massive complimentary. Some of the arrangements smack of the aforementioned too. I can see her following a similar career trajectory. If her last album introduced her as a star in the making, this album is the one to send the likes of Taylor Swift and Florence Welch scurrying back to the drawing board.
The world’s a strange place. Michael Head has always received critical acclaim, but due to bad timing and good heroin, has never really got the dues he deserves. With The Pale Fountains in the 80s, and Shack in the 90s/00s, he crafted some of the finest pop songs known to man. He was famously put on the cover of the NME in 1998 with the headline, ‘This man is our greatest songwriter. Recognise him.? Not many did, and Shack soldiered on with a moderate, but rabid fan base regardless. His fondness for the smack and bad luck derailed his career repeatedly. Now cleaned-up and with a renewed vigour, he’s delivered his most cohesive set since 1988’s HMS Fable, one of the greatest records ever. Now, finally, people are starting to realise NME’s ’98 claim. Stunning.
James Murphy was never going to just retire and fade into obscurity. When they announced their retirement, there seemed to be an air of finality, but you sensed it wasn’t going to be the last we saw of them. Or him. Their comeback was rumoured in late-2015, then the gig announcements, slowly building up to the release of new music this year. A double A-side, then another song, the finally the album dropped in September. And it was biblical. Like they’d never been away. If anything the new record expands on the dance-punk template they practically invented and hits the listener in the knackers with a darker, denser, more sonically diverse sound. A triumphant return from a true genius.
It always irks me when music critics pronounce albums as a ‘return to form’ or ‘his best since blahblahblah.’ Same critics said that about his last couple of albums of his own material. What they probably mean is ‘ace! He’s made another break-up album, but it’s more radio-friendly.’ People weren’t so kind about his reworking of Taylor Swift’s 1989, but I thought that was genius. It obviously got him through a tough time, so let him have his time to work through his very real break-up. It’s true that Prisoner is more cohesive than some of his recent efforts, but he’s consistently excellent to my ears. Maybe I’m biased, he’s probably my most-listened to artist this side of the millennium, but he just resonates, and it’s simply another superlative record to add to his vast catalogue.
Here he comes, just as The Roses disappear up their own backsides, compounding the fears of even the most optimistic die-hards. Here he comes over the horizon. In an orange parka. Back to do what he does best with that voice. I love how this angers keyboard critics, armed with cans of Skol and even narrower musical tastes. I also love how he’s turned public opinion of himself on its head. His charm offensive and great tunes have won people over this year. Most of the armchair know-it-alls won’t have listened to it anyway, so their opinion’s void. He’s back, and with a renewed sense of purpose. His live shows have been received like the messiah is back in town, and that is nothing short of remarkable, and his arsenal of new tuns, both ferocious and tender, showcase his vocal talent better than anything he’s touched for over ten years. And he’s been hilarious as opposed to his vindictive older brother. Watch him make a cup of tea. Genius.
This is simply a towering record. Most songs lope over the six-minute mark, but never outstay their welcome. Adam Granduciel’s last album Lost in The Dream was also a masterpiece, but this just about trumps it. It’s sonically thrilling, effects shimmer and fizz away in the background, making the songs soar. It’s the work of an obsessive perfectionist, every note, every sound counts and you just lose yourself in its brilliance. It’s epic in scope, and I’m not a fan of the term ‘driving music’ mainly because I don’t drive anymore, but you can imagine belting down Route 66 with this blasting out your Chevy with the top down. It’s panoramic in scope, but addresses the listener in a more personal way, which is a tricky thing to achieve. Any other year, it’s album of the year for me, but one Just pips it.
The National’s albums are always slow burners. But ever since Alligator, I’ve been awaiting each release with ecstatic fervour. In these days of instant gratification or bust, it’s rare that persistence pays. The National’s albums are never an instant smash to the cerebral cortex. Like all your favourite albums, the melodies unfurl with repeated listens. It’s rare that listeners are arsed to get past the initial listen in these short attention -span times, but patience is always rewarded with these boys. Their sonic palette has expanded and if anyone’s deserved of the ‘American Radiohead’ tag, it’s these lads. Their evolution is palpable as they layer their signature sound more densely, and their post-millennial angst is pushed to the fore. When you finally get the album, it’s like an old mate you’ve not seen for years. S(he)’s changed a bit, but still the same, just a bit wiser and more sophisticated. They never fail to thrill, and capture the feeling of our times perfectly, it’s as if Matt Berninger is reaching out of the speakers and putting his arms around you, assuring you that, yeah, these times are hard, but we’ll get through it together. The albums that demand repeated listens are always the most rewarding. And this is the best album of 2017.
Cheating I know, but I’ve got to mention Aldous Harding, Jay Som, Lana Del Rey and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. All came close.
Now. Argument please!