Ok. Let’s start with a summary. 2017 has seen a lot of incredible new music across all genres. I’ll say upfront picking a Top any number was a struggle. 10? That leaves out so many I want to list. 20? Maybe….
So i made a longlist of 60+ …but don’t worry they didn’t all make the cut. Some were just EPs or single tracks, despite their ear catching greatness these are relegated to despatches.
Very early in the year a one off track called ‘Semitones’ by Lucinda Chua set a benchmark for the year. It set me on a spree of listening to great, often instrumental, semi electronic pieces full of the ineffable.
Of course i was already a massive fan of two very distinctive sax players who put out EPs this year Shabaka Hutchings space funk jazz as part of The Comet Is Coming and the gorgeous West Coast melodic explorations of Kamasi Washington.
More folky but soaringly psychedelic too are Trembling Bells who pumped great life into ‘The Auld Triangle’ of all things.
Then just last week Mica Levi put out Delete Beach on Demdike Stare’s label. A disturbing, dystopian SF piece with more ideas in a track than most artists’ careers. Finally Maalie by Orcadian musician Erland Cooper is a soaring taste of hopefully a full album next year.
So those were EPs and single tracks, what of the full albums?
20. Ifriqiyya Electrique — Rûwâhîne One of several albums in the last couple of years that I can justly call unique. North African sufi chants & industrial electronics & loops combine hypnotically and spaciously.
19 Clark — Death Peak Who knew I liked electronic music so much? But Clark, on this record at least, manages both warmth and frigidity that works for me.
18 Princess Nokia — 1992 Deluxe ask me again in a year, I suspect this will rank higher. Multi community radical queer feminist hip hop for the real world. And it’s fun.
17 Pill Fangs — PF1 Sometimes bands don’t do things that are dramatically new but they do the old stuff better. Cueing off Velvets & Voidoids with a garage passion & a surreal wit makes for a great ride. The cover of Tower of Song ain’t half bad either.
16. Jane Weaver — Modern Near perfect modern electronic psych pop. As bright and bold as anything on here.
15. Bedouine — Bedouine And near perfect Laurel Canyon country folk pop, with a disarming protest element from Azniv Korkeijan’s birthplace in Aleppo. I’ve seen fair comparison to Bobby Gentry & Leonard Cohen too.
14. Tamikrest — Kidal probably my favourite of the various so-called desert blues bands around, and perhaps the one whose sound has evolved more seamlessly into a global sound.
13. Floating Points — Reflections Mojave A more band-oriented outing this time, Sam Shepherd’s FP recorded electronics & guitars in the desert to produce a spacious space rock that is updated rather than nostalgic prog.
12. Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express — Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins Great title, great record. This time out Chuck’s been listening to that Bolan boogie, Ronson riffs etc but still distinctly himself. And a cracking rock protest song to finish in Alex Nieto.
11. Thundercat — Drunk Took me a while to appreciate how good this is. Not that I didn’t see the skill but the soul seeped through later.
Before the top 10 a few near misses. Albums i enjoy but perhaps don’t come back to as much as those on this list. Afghan Whigs, Songhoy Blues, Ibibio Sound Machine, Wilhelm Otto, Black Country Communion, TootArd, Andrea Belfi, Snowdrops, Ghostpoet, Mogwai all came soooo close to the top 20.
10. Avital Raz — The Fallen Angel’s Unravelling Descent Avital’s twisted love stories are the musical equivalent of fairytales reinvented by Paula Rego. She sings in soaring swoops and near spoken word of explicit sex and broken angels.
9. Kendrick Lamar — Damn is this as good as TPAB? In places yes, but overall the jury is out. Occasionally Kendrick’s voice isn’t to my taste but the words, flow & beats overcome all that.
8. Aiden Baker & Claire Brentnall –Delirious Things Brentnall is half of last year’s number 1 Shield Patterns but here she adds her delicate but rich Kate Bush vocals to prolific multi instrumentalist Aiden Baker’s ambient dark wave beautifully.
7. Ex Eye — Ex Eye Brutal but subtle. Colin Stetson’s bass saxophone led Black Metal Jazz combo are as heavy as it gets whilst keeping melodic narrative explorations central.
6. Astrïd & Rachel Grimes — Through the Sparkle In a year of instrumental virtuosity the return of the wonderful pianist Rachel Grimes with French avant gardist group Astrïd is a highlight. Each track here highlights different members of the group but working together like jazz soloists. Cyril Secq’s heavily tremolo’d guitar makes for an expansive cinematic feel.
5. Slowdive — Slowdive whisper it but i always preferred Slowdive over the likes of Ride or even MBV. This return is a creative triumph in remaining true to the Slowdive of 25 years ago and stepping into the future too. Nice to note that you can hear exactly who they influenced along the way. The Karma Police will be happy.
4. Kojey Radical — In God’s Body For one thing i love Kojey’s deep resonant growl that adds a gravitas that isn’t needed but deserved. His poetic, theatrical style helps too. And increasingly he seems confident to share with his collaborators without ego.
3. Mary Epworth — Elytral Five years wait for this, a reputed change of direction for Mary. This second album was both immediate and a slow burn. Distinctively Mary, even as she treated and warped her powerful vocals, it only seemed different at first. On listening, getting past hints of Goldfrapp and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, it’s a step onwards rather than away.
And so we come to the toughest choice on the list. The top two wrote themselves.
I’ve known for most of the year what was going to top the list. I’ve also known for almost as long that the other one was too. Incredible instrumental virtuosity, musical narrative, an imaginative approach and a soulful intensity characterises both.
1= Colin Stetson–All This I Do For Glory
1= Hannah Peel–Mary Casio Journey to Cassiopeia
One man, a huge instrument, the sound of a full band. Visceral romantic sounds like an oxymoron but it seems right to me. Stetson is outstanding even amongst a year of instrumental virtuosity from the likes of Andrea Belfi, Matthew Bourne and Martin Heyne.On the other hand a full 30 piece traditional northern style brass band and analogue synths make Hannah Peel’s epic space sounds glorious and poignant. Hearing lead track ‘Sunrise Through The Dusty Nebula’ I realised I was seeing Chesley Bonestell paintings in the music.
I had the thrill of seeing a lot of great music played live in 2017 including a number of artists on this list. Back in July I got to see both Hannah Peel and Colin Stetson live within a week. Those great performances didn’t help me separate their albums either.
One last thing, in best Columbo style, one thing that should be said. Many of us discovered a lot of this new music (and so much more) through MaryAnne Hobbs shows on BBC 6music. There’s a remarkable community arising around this, via twitter, and then meeting, for real, at a gig. A bunch of us went to see Colin Stetson in the series of shows curated by MaryAnne as part of Manchester International Festival. As we waited for Colin, MaryAnne did a DJ set. Towards the end of it she dropped Hannah Peel’s aforementioned Sunrise Through The Dusty Nebula and the crowd applauded the dj booth. A special moment in a year of special moments.
My friends, thank you for sharing in the music.
2018 you have been challenged to surpass this year.