Best Albums Of 2017
Busy year again. A lot happened. A lot. The world took a few steps closer to nuclear annihilation, Britain took a few more steps towards a cliff and Rodney Bewes died. Some amazing albums came out too and I've listed CrackleFeedback's favourite 30 here. Merry Xmas!
Warm Digits - Wireless World (Memphis Industries)
A blistering third album from Newcastle's Warm Digits, and one which flits between metal, prog, pop and electro in a curiously satisfying way. It's almost as if they are positioning themselves as some kind of modern-day KLF. "End Times" - their collaboration with Peter Brewis from Field Music - is probably the highlight on an album full of top notch, solid gold bangers.
H. Hawkline - I Romanticize (Heavenly)
What we said: "this is another collection of tunes which would be well and truly bothering the charts if we lived in a world of musical justice. Well, some of them would be, maybe not 'Television' or 'Cold Cuts' which include elements of discordant madness and a certain monotonous repetition (respectively) and might just push things just a bit too far for the casual listener"
The Caretaker - Everywhere At The End Of Time - Stage 3 (History Always Favours The Winners)
James Leyland Kirby's ambitious six album cycle is intended as a (fictional) journey into early onset dementia for his alterego The Caretaker. Here we are, now three albums in and Kirby is distorting and re-inventing a series of 78s to form something that is at once familiar and confused, popular and properly disorientating. It will leave you in eager anticipation of stage six, which seems like an odd thing to say.
Nadine Shah - Holiday Destination (1965 Records)
Nadine Shah abandons all forms of subtlety on this ode to the modern world. It's a dark and angry critique of the current political landscape (nationalism, the refugee crisis, civil war are all covered) and her own identity (she's from South Shields in case you were wondering). But despite the troubling subject matter Holiday Destination is an inspiring listen, even if it's just for the fact that somebody is talking about these issues (other than Morrissey). And similarly to PJ Harvey's Let England Shake or a Ken Loach film, Shah manages to find brief glimpses positivity amongst all of the darkness.
Beaches - Second Of Spring (Chapter Music)
The music in this double LP is mostly swirling psychedelic Rock 'n' Roll and there's very little let up in the energy levels. You could call it sped up Shoegaze, or pick out some of their more jingly-jangly C86 stuff ("Be"), you could even liken their sound to some of Oasis' more engaging moments. The only thing that really matters is that they do all of these things very well indeed. Essentially this is an album chock full of attitude and energy and - surprisingly for a mammoth double album with 17 tracks - there are very few low points at all.
Menace Beach - Lemon Memory (Memphis Industries)
What we said "Apparently this is "Liza's record", whereas Ratworld was Ryan's. And whilst there is clearly a huge amount of input from both key members, it's an interesting approach to recording and makes you wonder if this shared-but-separate approach to creativity is something that will continue as they progress. It certainly seems to be working for them."
Baker Island - Restless Legs (Philophobia Music)
What we said: "Baker Island [are] a difficult band to pin down to a particular scene or genre (for more than a couple of minutes anyway). The production is dense, with vocals and occasional blasts of keys battling to be heard amongst the walls of guitar, but that all adds to the feel of the record, and what is becoming Baker Island's hallmark sound."
CHUCK - Frankenstein Songs for the Grocery Store (Audio Antihero)
What we said: "...an album that skips between blissed out west coast pop ("Kiss [For Janne]"), wonky, Galaxie 500 inspired rock ("Teenage TV") and more standard lo-fi bedroom numbers like "Cherry Tree"...Despite this range of style's and influences and its happy/sad mood swings (mostly happy) the album holds together remarkably well. Frankenstein Songs for the Grocery Store seems like an apt title anyway."
Girl Ray - Earl Grey (Moshi Moshi)
An album which is as warm as it is mellow. Girl Ray are young but they certainly know how to put together a timeless pop tune. But that's not all they offer here, as can be witnessed on the 13 minute title track which gradually develops to include some smooth electric piano and jazz brass before descending into absolute mayhem. It would seem they've got it all!
Sacred Paws - Strike A Match (Rock Action)
Almost certainly the most devil-may-care and danceable entry on this list. Sacred Paws took absolutely ages to make this record after whetting our appetites with the raw and exhilarating Six Songs EP back in March 2015. What they came back with has all the worldly groove of its predecessor, but with a beefed up production and a few extra brassy flourishes.
The Surfing Magazines - The Surfing Magazines (Moshi Moshi)
Comprised of members of The Wave Pictures and Slow Club, The Surfing Magazines' debut album was billed as some sort of detour into 60 surf pop and garage territory. Truth is it sounds a lot like a Wave Pictures record, with a few daft nods to 60s kitsch thrown in, and it worked out pretty well. Opening track "Sawdust In My Eyes" is right up there with the best of any of Surfing Magazines' parent bands anyway.
Do Make Say Think - Stubborn Persistent Illusions (Constellation)
Do Make Say Think's 7th album came after an eight year break, and it's a sprawling hour of soaring post-rock (see "Bound"), cinematic pieces (see "Return, Return Again"), semi-industrial experimentation (see "And Boundless") and floating, mellow trips (see "A Murder of Thoughts"). It's nice to have them back.
break_fold - 07_07_15 - 13_04_16 (Reject and Fade)
What we said: "...six glistening slices of ambient rhythm and drone. Clocking in at around 30 minutes in total, this 6 track set perhaps isn't what you'd expect from something in the ambient genre. The tracks come, get the job done, and leave without a fuss. But that's not to say there isn't a lot going on here."
Sweet Baboo - Wild Imagination (Moshi Moshi)
What we said: "the childlike innocence and playful creativity on show are the keys to the album's success. Whether it be the cheerful lyrics (on "Hold On", Black sings "it's a wonderful time to be alive" without a whiff of irony), or the bedroom nature of the recordings (the self described "cheap drum machine" was a conscious decision), or the Sledgehammer-like artwork, it's an album that eschews darkness and sticks to the sunny side of the street."
Moon Diagrams - Lifetime of Love (Sonic Cathedral)
What we said: "put together over a ten year period. It's been an eventful ten years in the real world and that really shows on this record which, in stylistic terms, has its ups and downs (mainly downs)...Whereas most of this record is spaced out and weirdly relaxing, there are some monsters hiding in the closet, such as "The Ghost And The Host" which is hypnotic yet slightly chaotic and induces an air of mild panic to proceedings."
Irma Vep - No Handshake Blues (Faux Discx)
What we said: "No Handshake Blues manages to capture the fiery, focused nature of his full band live performances whilst also including some introspective moments that are more suited to the studio format...The interesting thing about some of these changes in direction is that they rarely break the four minute mark. It's as if Steven's struggles to focus on one idea, preferring instead to experiment. This may be detrimental to the album in terms of flow, but it's compensated for in unshackled passion and unpredictability."
The Courtneys - The Courtneys II (Flying Nun Records)
What we said: "The album has a raw, dense and fuzzy feel to the entire thing, it's not the minimal production that you might expect from a three-piece with a drummer that doubles up as a vocalist. There is literally NOWHERE to breathe on these songs. They are almost universally breathless and piled up with tuneful distortion and vocals that feel like rallying chants."
Mogwai - Every Country's Sun (Rock Action)
Over their past few records the kings of British post-rock have been gradually moving away from the genre that they helped define. This album continues that progression whilst also massively nodding back to their formative years. Tracks like "Coolverine" and "Don't Believe The Fife" (they are still the kings of song titles) are a perfect fan-pleasing mix of classic and contemporary Mogwai.
Charlotte Gainsbourg - Rest (Because Music)
After swapping music making for movie making for the best part of a decade, Charlotte Gainsbourg returned with an album that steps back to the dark-electro territory of her 2006 album 5:55, as opposed to the dirtier rock 'n' roll of her previous record IRM. It's also an album that partly deals with Gainsbourg's grief after the death of her half sister Kate Barry. Sung in both French and English, its highlights include the simple but stunningly effective "Dans Vos Airs" and the John Barry/Cold War Spy-esque "I'm a Lie".
Bodies of Water - Spear In The City (Thousand Tongues)
What we said: "With Spear In The City, Bodies of Water have returned, slightly jaded but with a degree of optimism and - all importantly - a set of songs which lives up to their impressive back catalogue. It's not as instantly gratifying as some of their previous records but stick with it and the rewards will come rolling in."
Mary Epworth - Eletryl (Sunday Best)
What we said: "The Mary Epworth of 2017 has ditched most of the scuzzy guitar and folk-psychedelic elements of her debut album in favour of purer electronic sound...Eletryl is an album of sidesteps and sharp turns, each song can offer up a jarring stylistic departure from the one that came before it. Sometimes this is the case within a single track"
Bill Botting & The Two Drink Minimums - Better Friends (Fika Recordings)
What we said: "it's a bit if a indie pop triumph. These are happy/sad songs - Botting's wry and sensitive take on life's lower-key moments - told in his own laid back vocal style. Long drunken nights out, long distance travel and long term relationships are some of the themes here, providing a nice antidote to the more depressing issues of living in the year 2017. That's not to say that all the lyrics are buzzing with positivity, there's plenty of downers in there but it's all still hopeful and its all very danceable."
Bitchin Bajas - Bajas Fresh (Drag City)
What we said: "This seems to be music inspired by the light rather than the dark. On these seven tracks which range in duration from a snappy 6:18 to a more contemplative 23:04, Bitchin Bajas create some beautiful melodies via a combination of synths, field recordings, a little percussion and even some quite startling brass. It's the sort of album that just drifts through you and is over with before you know it, more's the pity."
Grandaddy - Last Place (Columbia)
How many "comeback" albums live up to the standards that their band previously set? Well, there's actually been a fair few contenders this year (although admittedly I haven't heard Shed Seven yet), but Grandaddy's Last Place must be the comeback king of 2017. Chock full of warming, Californian vibes ("The Boat Is In The Barn" could rival any number of their classic tracks) this album does Grandaddy's legacy no harm at all, and is a fitting farewell to their much missed bassist and co-founder Kevin Garcia, who passed away shortly after its release.
Year Of Birds - White Death To Power Alan (Odd Box Records)
What we said: "Anyone who's familiar with Year of Bird's previous output may be surprised by the contents of White Death To Power Alan, for this is less noisy and more welcoming than anything that's gone before...The old influences are there (most obviously The Fall), but the band have clearly cleaned themselves up and left some silence between the distorted notes...Year of Birds have probably moved on from this album already, such is their creative restlessness, but White Death To Power Alan is an album that should be savoured for a long time. A confident new era for the band awaits."
Aldous Harding - Party (4AD)
Party is an unassuming beast of a record. Ultra pared down and minimalist, much of the album features just Harding's distinctive voice plus piano or guitar, but nearly all of the tracks do something extraordinary and surprising (e.g. the occasional cheer-leading shouts of "hey" on "Imagining My Man", or the vocal harmonies on "Horizon" which get gradually more deranged). It's an album that nods to Scott Walker and PJ Harvey, but doesn't overly rely on anyone else's influence. It's a beauty.
Richard Dawson - Peasant (Weird World)
Richard Dawson pushes himself into bigger and more adventurous areas on his latest album. Utilising a full band for the first time, this is a record which continuously builds up the tension/sadness/joy and puts Dawson into previously uncharted territories. I feel like some of these tracks border on "anthemic", although maybe not for traditional mainstream tastes as I found out when I played Peasant in a car full of unprepared work colleagues.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Luciferian Towers (Constellation Records)
This is the third Godspeed You! Black Emperor album in the space of five years, and the band are showing no signs of creative fatigue. In fact, this is the best of their post-hiatus albums, full of bombast and dread and all squashed up into a neat little single vinyl package (also the case on their previous record Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress so maybe this is their new strategy). Hopefully this renewed creativity will keep momentum for another five years... and then another.
Spectres - Condition (Sonic Cathedral)
What we said: "this album contains many songs that best anything from Dying, or even their excellent remix album Dead in terms of sheer sonic barrage. It's pretty amazing then that this is such a pleasurable listen. The songs on Condition seem to have a deeper clarity, so that even when you're faced with masses and masses of feedback and unsettling guitar noises (see "Dissolve" for perhaps the most potent example), nothing sounds jarring, the response from the listener should never be anything short of 'wow'"
Circuit des Yeux - Reaching For Indigo (Drag City)
What we said: "it's staunchly weird, but Fohr has a neat trick up her sleeve, in that she knows exactly how to craft a pop song too. There are elements here from Gospel and Blues, to early electronica, to trip-hop and jazz amongst others. Reaching for Indigo collates all of these reference points and does it remarkably well, without muddying the waters or diluting. Everything sounds beautifully coherent and classic...Reaching for Indigo is a record that may give you renewed hope that music can be both joyfully accessible and thoroughly original at the same time. Let's face it, this is probably going to be the best album of the year isn't it?"