The top 10 albums of 2017
Our resident music reviewer Mark Perkins gives the verdict on 2017’s album offerings…
Time for the annual round up of what I reckon are the best albums of the year. They are in no particular order, and I’ll leave it to you to guess my favourite. So, Santa hats on, holly stuffed inside the turkey, and everyone wondering where that bottle of sherry went that you accidentally drank before preparing the food; it’s time to see what ended on top of the heap this year.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard: Flying Microtonal Banana
This was the first of what may well be five album releases from this Australian band in 2017, such is their dedication to music. This particular slice of their psychedelic cannon originated when the Gizzard King himself, Stu McKenzie, acquired a guitar with microtonal tunings i.e one that was not limited to the semi-tones we’re used to in western music, but utilising the notes in between them. Cue an excuse to get the rest of the band to adapt their gear to play these notes and lo! The Microtonal Banana was set to fly. If all this sounds a little curious and odd, then so it should. There’s no-one with the dedication to experimenting with musical psychedelia like these antipodean rockers, so if you like you music to sound unusual, buckle up and fly right.
Hannah Peel, Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopia
As her alter ego, Mary Casio, it was a real privilege to see her perform this album in its entirety, at a recent concert at Barnsley Civic. She had the Tubular Brass Band there with her. They were performing Tubular Bells in the second half, but the Mike Oldfield fans in the audience were completely won over by this fantastic album. It’s a dazzling mix of electronic sounds and brass band instruments, in a proper old-school, concept album style. Synth tunes worthy of Tangerine Dream echoed round the room, as the unlikely pairing of two unique musical genres worked together perfectly. And where better to hear it than in Barnsley?
Ghostpoet: Dark Days and Canapés
I predicted this would be a contender for the best album of the year when I reviewed it back in the day, and here it is. Bold, brassy and just as impressive as it ever was. The track ‘Live>Leave’ still sounds like the opening to a movie you never really want to see. It’s all about the modern world and its effect on us all. Another highlight is the compelling, dark and tragic tale, Immigrant Boogie, which is anything but a dance track, with its narrative inspired by drowning refugees. We see it, but we feel unable to stop the situation that creates them.
Blanck Mass: World Eater
Their Dumb Flesh album from 2015 never grew old, and this looks like following it to become permanent fixture on any playlist I put together for the foreseeable future. This is dance and club music gone ballistic. Benjamin John Power seems to have moved on from his work with the F*** Buttons, and this is where he seems happiest at the moment. I know people so obsessed with him they’re happy to fly to Iceland to see him at the end of December; and we’re not talking retail freezer outlets here.
This is her third release, following on from EP’s called S and Z, so I was a little disappointed she didn’t call it A, but as this was her first full length album, she went for Ctrl instead. Not for the faint-hearted, every track on here comes with an ‘explicit content’ warning but hey, this is 2017, and why shouldn’t she sing about sex. I don’t think I’m the first to describe this as ‘alt RnB’, with its stripping away of the vocals, slicing them up, reversing them, adding echo and generally making her sound like no-one else releasing music on the US scene today. She’s been an in-demand writer for several other major league singers such as Beyonce and Rihanna, so solo success was only a matter of time. If you’re in the habit of listening with your granny around, you might want to skip her Kendrick Lamar collaboration, Doves In The Wind. In fact, granny might well want to skip the entire album, so wait until she’s passed out from drinking too much egg-nog before giving it a spin.
St Vincent: Mass Education
If anyone tells you modern music has lost its edge and all sounds the same these days, push them in the direction of this superb and perfect pop album from St Vincent. It’s easy to see it as her most personal album, seemingly influenced by her very public romance and subsequent spilt with fashion icon Cara Devingne. The song ‘New York’ has a lyric about the end of a relationship with ‘the only motherf***er who can handle me’, so it’s not really much of a stretch. You will see this album on just about everyone’s top albums of the year, often at the very top of the pile, so I think you’d be safe in giving it a listen and not worrying you might be bored.
In The Nursery were born in 1961. Or rather Klive and Nigel were, who comprise the core of the band, and who most of their audience will know, have been around since the early eighties. This is a step away from the ambient works into the realm of something approaching a collection of more conventional songs. They still create electronic landscapes and evoke dark moods, but their decision to record tracks live, rather than create them on a computer has given this album a real character all of its own. The inspiration for the music all emanates from 1961, with Yuri Gagarin, Amnesty International and recordings of a Ford Consul all contributing in their own way to the final track list. Brave, and always out there at the front of new music, ITN are a Sheffield institution we should all invest time in.
Taylor Swift: Reputation
We are never one to shy away from the popular acts up here at the top of the narrow stairs, and let’s give credit where it’s due. Taylor Swift sells music like almost no-one else, and must be one of the world’s bestselling artists, but the quality of her work has never been in any doubt – a fact that the album, Reputation, will just carry forward. It’s not ground-breaking, but is no less worthy for that. If you’ve never really known what all the fuss was about, this is a quality pop album the equal of anything else released this year. Dance, electronic and eighties synth pop are the hooks that this album hangs itself from, and the production faultlessly sets Taylor Swift’s songs to their groove.
This is the one on the list that ‘doesn’t sound like anything else’ on the list. There’s always one. Landscapes of music, genre-hopping and with vocals just when you thought there’d be none. Simon Green has moved on from his early days of more tranquil electronic music to a much more distinct and individual sound. He has moved away somewhat from entirely electronic sound, preferring to use acoustic sources for his samples and beats. He even toured this year with a live band of musicians, playing live renditions of his studio creations
Cigarettes After Sex: Cigarettes After Sex
If nothing else, they had me at the title, I just had to listen to what they had to say, There cannot be a review of this record that doesn’t describe the vocals as hypnotic, as they slowly seep into your mind, so that by the end of the album, you find yourself speaking in a slow drawl just like Greg Gionzalez. It’s a modern treatise on the today’s world of love, sex and apps, all done with an almost obsessive mission statement to create an echoing, space-filled sound that fills the room with sumptuous, arrangement and distant drums.
OK, another year over, and a new one just begun. See you in 2018