Well, it’s about that time (or quite a bit overdue) for a round-up of some of the best albums of 2017.
Despite the predictions that all the heinous events of 2016 (deaths of many iconic people, and the death of hope as Trump was elected) might cause an upswelling of creativity, it actually didn’t seem that way. If anything 2017 was a quieter year for stunning music releases, not a bad year by any stretch, but not as stunning as the best of 2016.
The good stuff as far as I’m concerned is getting a playlist of music that was the business this year. So as Spotify still seems to be most people’s platform of choice, here’s the best of 2017 long list of about 70 tracks, and this is the top ten(ish) of 2017, and a version in case you prefer YouTube.
1. Kevin Morby – City Music (Dead Oceans)
Since 2013’s Harlem River, Kevin Morby’s star has been rising fast. A couple of notable uses of his tracks in pop culture mainstays like Master Of None seems to have considerably broadened his reach. One of his former groups Woods (the other being The Babies) put out a new album this year which was good, but safe territory. City Music is anything but. It’s confessional and epic at the same time. Even more excitingly, all of his releases are even more electrifying live – easily one of the best gigs I caught in 2017.
If you’re not already a fan of Kevin, Get Aboard My Train.
In a similar vein to Kevin Morby, the Ryan Adams album Prisoner this year was also very good.
2. Pictish Trail – Future Echoes (Lost Map Records)
Johnny Lynch used to run Fence Records, and now runs Lost Map Records from the Inner Hebrides. As with Kevin (above), Johnny may be better live than on record, but as the record absolutely smashes it, that’s just an excellent reason to catch him live!
3. Kamasi Washington – Harmony of Difference (Young Turks)
There aren’t many tracks that almost force you to sit down and listen. Last year I heard a couple and Kamasi Washington’s Harmony of Difference EP hosted 30 minutes of genius, and rounded off with Truth which is stunning. As with first album Epic which was like a ‘kindly elder’ walking you through the entirety of jazz history and then cheekily showing you the future at the same time, Truth is one of those tracks. Part be-bop, part universal appeal, part sturm und drang.
4. Richard Edwards – Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset (Joyful Noise Recordings)
Richard Edwards had a rough year, diagnosed with a serious illness requiring surgery, and then separating from his wife. He threw out the music he had been working on, and disposed of his former moniker, Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s, and released this extremely personal response to what life was throwing at him. Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset is beautiful, harking back to Bowie’s Berlin years (in particular the free jazz piano on Disappeared Planets, reminiscent of Aladdin Sane in a good way), but always earnest and simple to the core.
5. Joon Moon – Moonshine Corner (Kwaidan Records)
No idea where Joon Moon came from, or why they sound this good, but they, and the album is littered with catchy immediate classics.
6. Spiral Stairs – Doris & The Daggers (Domino)
Ever since Scott Kanberg (Spiral Stairs) and Stephen Malkmus fell out and Pavement ended, I’ve followed their careers with equal interest, jicks and schools of industry both.
There’s a fascinating maturity to this record that I don’t think Stephen Malkmus has managed yet. Some of the finest moments on this record sound like what seventies Bowie might be releasing nowadays if Ziggy’d managed to keep it together and not been so change-y. I can think of few higher compliments than that!
7. Tall Tall Trees – Freedays (Joyful Noise Recordings)
Let’s be honest, this is pop music. It’s lush, deceptively simple, melodic and transportative. But it’s pop music in the sense of The Beach Boys, rather than the sub-par R&B-with-two-lyrics-on-constant-repeat-desperate-to-get-lodged-in-your-brain of the current chart. It sounds like Phil Spector would be proud to have made this, in fact, it’d be fascinating to see what he’d have changed in the production…\
8. The Rural Alberta Advantage – The Wild (Paper Bag Records)
I don’t follow much music press, but it would still seem that ‘RAA’ are surprisingly undersold. They’re consistently releasing high quality ‘folk-punk’ as it was termed, although with this album moving slightly closer to rough around the edges home-grown folk. I think every album they’ve released has made it to the top ten albums of the year in my book, and this one is another classic of energy and urgency.
9. DJ Vadim – Brapp Beat Tape, Vol 1 (Brapp Records)
The whole album has been mixed into one here, and my personal favourite track is Cappo. It’s not groundbreaking, but it bounces just like it should.
10. Tricky – Ununiform (False Idols)
Not quite a return to the Maxinquaye days that many people still hark back to, but certainly capturing some of the Pre Millennium Tension piano beauty mixed with tracks with a rougher sound that matches the lyrics.
The Bonus Round
11. PJ Harvey and Ramy Essam – The Camp single
One of my favourite tracks of the year, but sadly no album was forthcoming.
12. Four Tet – New Energy (Text Records)
Two Thousand and Seventeen is an absolute beauty of a track but the rest of the album doesn’t quite deliver on the usual innovative fun Kieran Hebden can deliver when he’s at his best (annoyingly I still listen to his output from the Fridge days with Adem Ilhan, also successful in his own right now).
Albums for 2018?
Given PJ Harvey’s obviously been working on material, I’m optimistic there may be a new album in 2018, or an EP… or another single… please?
Yo La Tengo seem likely to drop another beauty, hopefully of original material following their covers album last time.
A Hawk And A Handsaw will be releasing their Japanese influenced forest bathing album, which can only be a good thing.