By The Landlord
Welcome back, dear Song Bar visitors, on this final day of the year, to the second of two roundups of a total of 50 favourite albums of 2017 as nominated by our readers. The first part was published yesterday.
In our first part, as here were some emerging themes – political commentary and dark humour, as well as so much else. As before, this isn’t a countdown to leading to the so-called best album, or anything as subjective or as flawed as that, but each one offers something different, and again the list, which can only ever be a cross-section, will touch on the mainstream and more obscure. The order is not significant but simply listed in alphabetical order by title, and most album tracks are chosen at random. Feel free to point out different ones. This is the second 25 of our annual list of 50, with some more bubbling under.
Again these are readers’ suggestions emailed to the Song Bar, including by many who don’t usually comment. The list reflects not only numbers of votes, but also passion and enthusiasm. As a result, number of big names don’t make the final lists, just got ‘also enjoyed’ remarks, so they get honourable mentions, along some lesser known artists below.
Think something is missing and want to suggest it? Then please add it in comments.
Cigarettes After Sex – Cigarettes After Sex
Putting aside the fact that the Texas band are best known now for their 2012 song Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby because it was used in the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, the debut album, finally released in June, perhaps would have catapulted their profile anyway, wouldn’t it? Dreamy pop, slow and hypnotic, their style seems fully formed from the start, comfortable in its own time and space. Singer Greg Gonzales sounds a little bit like Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch, or Athlete’s Joel Pott, but with his own voice.
Colors – Beck
After the sun-bleached melancholy of 2014’s Morning Phase, Beck aimed for a much poppier record of pace and changing moods. He certainly succeeded, though while some of his experimentation went a bit wrong (cod-reggae style on No Distraction), other songs were fantastically strange and innovative, such as Dear Life and Wow.
Crack-Up – Fleet Foxes
After a six-year hiatus when Josh Tillman, aka Father John Misty, overshadowed his former bandmates with his own success as a solo artist, frontman Robin Pecknold, lead guitarist Skyler Skjelset and co made a triumphant return, retaining their trademark close harmonies, and here with songs about lost and regained friendships, as well as the horrors of war, focused around the Goya painting Third of May.
Damn – Kendrick Lamar
The follow-up to 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly was undoubtedly surrounded by hype and hyperbole, but this doesn’t take anything away from the fact that he continues to experiment with the hip hop genre. His intricate rapping, oddball sampling and offbeat rhythms comes with questioning established values and confounding the listener with an avalanche of ideas.
Flat Worms – Flat Worms
Blistering post-punk came together in the collaboration between Will Ivy (Dream Boys, Wet Illustrated, Bridez), Justin Sullivan (Kevin Morby, The Babies) and Tim Hellman (Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, Sic Alps), with buzz-saw feedback, Ramones-style lyrics and catchy melodies, with one of the most exciting live acts around.
Gang Signs & Prayer – Stormzy
The first grime artist to have a no 1 album in the UK charts, Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr. has seen his profile rise enormously in 2017. The album is full of experimentation, ranging from hip hop to gospel, and is not without its flaws, but addressing a variety of issues from relationships to gang violence to bullying, with a short film to accompany it, the south Londoner’s voice is important for a whole new generation.
Goths - The Mountain Goats
A melancholy yet humorous concept album from John Darnielle, exploring tongue-in-cheek goth parody with such aplomb and affection it leave the irony sitting on the fence. Rain in Soho for example is aimed amiably at Sisters of Mercy's Andrew Eldritch and there's even another song about him returning to Leeds. The album is full of humorously doom-laden lyrics, literary, biblical, and popular culture references (Batman and a 1971 Boeing hijacker), and a chorus backed by Nashville Symphony Chorus.
Harmony of Difference – Kamasi Washington
Not only a superb collaborator with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Ryan Adams, Thundercat, Run The Jewels and also St Vincent, the tenor saxophonist, composer and arranger is also that rare jazz musician who manages to be groundbreaking without alienating a wider audience. His follow-up to the hugely ambitious Epic is a six-part suite that explores the philosophical possibilities of counterpoint from classical pieces, balancing similarity and difference to create harmony between separate melodies. Supremely clever, but not overly abstract, instead wonderfully inventive and engaging.
Hippopotamus – Sparks
As brilliantly eccentric and funny as ever, after a collaboration the previous year with Franz Ferdinand (FFS), Ron and Russell Mael released one of their own very finest albums, packed with dry, witty lyrics, alongside a triumphant tour which even included the normally dead still Russell doing a little dance. Wonderful in every way.
I Tell A Fly – Benjamin Clementine
Buoyed by the success of his Mercury winning At Least For Now in 2015, Clementine didn’t set about mainstream singer-songwriter stardom, but admirably did something completely alternative, in part inspired by reading a strange, but legal term found in his American visa: "an alien of extraordinary abilities”. His album, with interweaving instruments rather than the more conventional accompaniment of his previous work, contains songs such as Phantom of Aleppoville – inspired by the writing of pioneering British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, who wrote extensively about children who have experienced bullying in the home and at school. And for Clementine, Aleppo of cause being the most bullied city in the world, you might say. Soulful, strange and stirring.
Interplanetary Class Classics – The Moonlandingz
After a couple of EPs and many brilliantly anarchic gigs, Eccentronic Research Council’s Adrian Flanagan and Dean Honer, along with Fat White Family’s Saul Adamczewski and Lias Kaci Saoudi (in the persona of meat- and bread-adorned Johnny Rocket), not forgetting the wonderfully sensible looking and long-suffering guitarist Mairead O’Connor, conjured up, with hangovers no doubt, this extraordinary fusion of electronica, psychedelia and punk.
I’m Not Your Man – Marika Hackman
A great title matches a great record from the Londoner whose first album of folk was followed by this far more direct album addressing her sexuality with emotional, clever lyrics and a gender ambiguous video on Boyfriend. The result, seemingly gentle, catchy indie with a very sharp, cutting edge.
Life Will See You Now – Jens Lekman
Wonderfully witty, upbeat pop from the Swedish musician that was released in February, echoing the wistful style and delivery of Belle & Sebastian, Stephin Merritt from Magnetic Fields and Jonathan Richman, but has a warm quality all of his own.
Low In High School – Morrissey
He’s attracted, and causes controversy, sometimes through distorted media, and at others by being deliberately provocative and certainly not helping himself. But Moz’s latest album, much of which is back to feelings of disaffected youth, contain some of the funniest and catchiest songs of his solo career. Brutally honest, Spent the Day in Bed contains the line “I’m not my type, but I love my bed.” Sums him up.
Lotta Sea Lice – Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile
It’s not often that two artists brought together to collaborate don’t end up seeming like a cynical commercial label move, but this pair seem musically made for each other. Vile’s alt-country, lazy delivery and Barnett’s dry, mischievous wit seem to merge with a perfect fit.
Masseduction – St Vincent
A very popular choice this year, alongside Father John Misty, and what’s not to like about Annie Clark? A true innovator and guitar heroine for all girls wanting to be in a band. This funny and profoundly ironic album has made her even cooler, and after her own unwanted brush with fame and objectification by the tabloids, she has reaffirmed her control with a terrific album and a fetishistic exploration of body politics. She also has great collection of collaborators too, including Jenny Lewis and Kamasi Washington.
Orc – Oh Sees
Frenetic indie-punk-prog at its finest, with John Dwyer and co, complete with two drummers who work in perfect sync, utterly astonishing in a live setting, but this album captures their energy very effectively.
Process – Sampha
Another south Londoner, Sampha Sisay was not only a pretty worthy Mercury prize winner, but also earns his place on the 2017 Song Bar list for being hard to define – soul, hip hop, trip hop, electronica. It’s innovative work and instilled with a mature melancholy that comes from his emotional themes and a voice honed by working with Kanye, Drake and Frank Ocean, and for this album, Kwes.
Rock N Roll Consciousness - Thurston Moore
This fifth solo album from the former Sonic Youth guitarist is certainly one of his best – experimental, bold, and not afraid to explore full psychedelic territory with a band of stellar performers – guitarist James Sedwards, My Bloody Valentine bassist Deb Googe, Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, with production by Paul Epworth.
Room 29 – Chilly Gonzales and Jarvis Cocker
“A comfortable venue for a nervous breakdown” says Jarvis. “Is there anything sadder than a hotel room that hasn’t been fucked in?”. Such is the ethereal and earthy mixture of piano and words in this usual collaboration between the Canadian composer and the dryly delivering Sheffield Pulp frontman, all about the Chateau Marmont hotel in Hollywood, a place of celebrity excess, sex and drug overdose. Beautiful, funny, sad, and if you haven’t been there musically, certainly worth booking in for.
Salutations – Conor Oberst
Bright Eyes’s American singer-songwriter had an excellent previous solo album, Ruminations, which was originally intended to be fleshed out with a band arrangement. So instead, this is what happened on Salutations. Many great musicians joining him including the Felice Brothers with Jim Keltner on drums. A timelessly emotional folk-rock classic is the result.
Semper Femina - Laura Marling
With its double-edge title, taken from Virgil (“a woman is ever a fickle and changeable thing”) a supremely intelligent, witty and sensual sixth studio album from the folk-rock singer-songwriter that is a concept album on the nature of femininity.
Sky Is Mine – The Duke Spirit
One of Britain’s finest independent bands, Leila Moss and co’s follow-up to 2016 Kin didn’t get the critical attention is deserved, but it’s getting it here, and features guest vocals by Josh T Pearson and Duke Garwood. Powerful, emotional work again, with Moss’s love of PJ Harvey shining through.
The Surfing Magazines – The Surfing Magazines
A real treat of fans of The Wave Pictures. Inspired by Go-Betweens song title for their name, David Tattersall and Franic Rozycki from that band join with Slow Club's Charles Watson, in a garage, blues, southern rock fusion with a big dash of Lou Reed and Jonathan Richman. Witty, wistful and wonderful, standout tracks include Lines and Shadows and the supremely catchy New Day. Brilliant British indie songwriting.
Villains – Queens of the Stone Age
As we said back in August, Josh Homme's collaboration with producer Mark Ronson may have raised a few eyebrows and suggested a change of direction but the decision paid off. The album is laden with hooks and pop sensibility, shifting from the glam-tinged ZZ Top sounding of No One Knows to the catchy riffing of The Evil Has Landed. It’s almost danceable.
Baxter Dury – Prince Of Tears, Lost Horizons – Ojalá, Shed Seven – Instant Pleasures, Ian Svenonius/Escape-ism – Introduction To Escape-ism, Bdy_Prts - Fly Invisible Hero, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – Soul of a Woman, DJ Format & Abdominal – Still Hungry, Miraculous Mule – Two Tone Testimony, Noel Gallagher & The High Flying Birds - Who Built The Moon, Mammut – Kinder Versions, Slowdive - Slowdive, Solveig Heilo – Skinhorse Playground, United Bottles - The Spirit and the Legacy, The Whiskey Rebellion - Funeral Songs, London Grammar - Truth is a Beautiful Thing, 2. Jason Isabell and the 400 Unit - The Nashville Sound, Hunter and the Bear - Paper Heart, The Weeks - Easy, Martin Harley and Daniel Kimbro - Static in the Wires, Chris Stapleton - From a Room: Volume 1, Samantha Fish - Belle of the West, Bad Sam - Bring Me The Head Of … , Not Waving - Good Luck, Rag’n’Bone Man - Human, Gorillaz – Humanz, Bedouine - Bedouine, Arcade Fire – Everything Now.
Missing an album you loved? Please comment and add yours, and also have a look at the first part launched yesterday.
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This is only a selection, not a catalogue of releases. Feel free to recommend more and comment below.