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Top 50 Albums of 2017

Lists! They're back.

Marvel at my narrow taste in music with my top 50 albums of 2017. In reverse order of course:

50 Angel Olsen - Phases
49 Lydia Ainsworth - Darling of the Afterglow
48 Jane Weaver - Modern Kosmology
47 Torres - Three Futures
46 Jay-Z - 4:44
45 The Charlatans - Different Days
44 Little Dragon - Season High
43 Widowspeak - Expect the Best
42 Diet Cig - Swear I’m Good At This
41 Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.
40 Menace Beach - Lemon Memory
39 Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott - Crooked Calypso
38 Tired Lion - Dumb Days
37 Denai Moore - We Used To Bloom
36 The Hayman Kupa Band - The Hayman Kupa Band
35 Gary Numan - Savage (Songs from a Broken World)
34 Stormzy - Gang Signs & Prayer
33 Lana Del Rey - Lust for Life
32 Bully - Losing
31 The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - The Echo Of Pleasure
30 Juanita Stein - America
29 This Is The Kit - Moonshine Freeze
28 Public Service Broadcasting - Every Valley
27 Aimee Mann - Mental Illness
26 J Hus - Common Sense
25 Pale Honey - Devotion
24 Sarah Slean - Metaphysics
23 Halsey - hopeless fountain kingdom
22 Miley Cyrus - Younger Now
21 Blondie - Pollinator

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20 Kesha - Rainbow

Given the horrific background, what a comeback song Praying was.


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19 Kalela - Take Me Apart

Taking R&B in an electronic direction will never be wrong. A stunning debut.


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18 Waxahatchee - Out in the Storm

Consistent songwriting here. 10 songs at just over 30 minutes. Like all albums should be.


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17 The Blue Aeroplanes - Welcome, Stranger!

I wrote a review of this back in January for the final edition of Norwegian e-zine Luna Kafé:

...an album full of big noise, big guitars and a new set of songs that are perfect for Wojtek, the band’s legendary dancer, to excel at. 10 songs that will reward multiple listens with magnificent lyrics, outstanding production and musicianship.

A career highlight, Welcome, Stranger! is easily the most enjoyable Blue Aeroplanes record for over 20 years.


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16 Ride - Weather Diaries

Lovely to have them back.


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15 Stars - There Is No Love In Fluorescent Light

Saturdays are lonely
And Sundays you're alone
Still checking for the signal
For the bars on the phone, phone, phone

You can travel for a thousand miles
You can spend a thousand nights alone
You can lose your way so easily and never ever make it home

so come out with me tonight
out with me tonight
no-one falls in love under fluorescent light


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14 Sylvan Esso - What Now

It's taken me a while to get into Sylvan Esso, but this is the one that's drawn me in. Loved their live set at Latitude this year.


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13 Charlotte Gainsbourg - Rest

Her best album yet, by far. Luscious.

I'll forgive her for making Deadly Valentine twice as long as it needs to be. When you hit a sound like this, you've got to milk it I guess.


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12 Wolf Alice - Visions of a Life

In the hands of many other bands, such a wide range of different styles would make for a bit of a mess of an album. Wolf Alice are no ordinary band though. They shine with everything they take on here - from punk to dreampop, taking in some shoegaze (!) too.


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11 Nadine Shah - Holiday Destination

Political yet uplifiting, Nadine Shah restores humanity to the dehumanised.


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10 Marika Hackman - I’m Not Your Man

Moving away from the stripped back folk sound of the her earlier work, this is an album I've been returning to a lot.


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9 Daughter - Music from Before the Storm

A score from a game, mostly instrumentals, with no physical release and little or no publicity might not count officially as Daughter’s 3rd studio album but it should do.

It’s an atmospheric soundtrack based around a 16-year old character in a game - and is a work of beauty.


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8 The Big Moon - Love in the 4th Dimension

Joyful indie guitar pop, reminiscent of Sleeper era Britpop. Marvellous.

Also, this is sort of their second entry in this list - they feature as the band on Marika Hackman’s album.


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7 Japandroids - Near To The Wild Heart of Life

8 tracks. 8 anthemic bangers.

I love the noise these two generate. So exciting live.


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6 MUNA - About U

“I Know A Place” is the standout track. One of many that speak of overcoming pain and fear set to the most joyful of melodies. Defiant and hopeful.

Given added poignance after Manchester and California, this song - oh god this song. Music is everything.

After the album’s release this year, it’s become even more of an LGBTQ anthem, now with added lyrics:

Even if our skin or our gods look different
I believe all human life is significant
I throw my arms open wide in resistance
He’s not my leader even if he’s my president

Watch Katie Gavin sing these extra lines, starting 3:50 in here. It gets to me every time.

There are songs of relationship trauma and other personal pain - yet when they're all delivered through big pop escapism and empowerment, there's such joy to it.

I love this.


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5 Kelly Lee Owens - Kelly Lee Owens

Electronic and dreamy, this is the album that has grown on me most this year. Given another month or two I wonder if I'd have placed this even higher up.


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4 Juliana Hatfield - Pussycat

My favourite musician of all time™ released a remarkable album in 2017.

In April I wrote a track-by-track review describing "Pussycat" as "the most exciting music Juliana has made since 2008's exceptional How To Walk Away" and "her most political since 2005's Made In China".

An outlet for anger unambigously "inspired" by the US Presidential election of 2016, and touching on all related issues of male privilege and abuse of power, the themes would become ever more relevant towards the end of the year as a soundtrack to the #metoo stories of mysogyny, assault, and harassment.


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3 Slowdive - Slowdive

The shoegazer's shoegazers back even better than before. I still can't believe they reformed.


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2 Lorde - Melodrama

Inevitably, all the (brilliant) songs on Melodrama are overshadowed by Green Light. 10 months on, whenever I play this track I still have an urge to play it again immediately.

Oh yeah, Juliana Hatfield loves it too. She wrote a whole article about Green Light for Talkhouse:

I always want music to be a tangible thing that I can wrap my actual arms around (I have hugged my boom box before), but it isn’t. I want what I can’t have. I want to sink my teeth into the sound of that rich, strong, honest voice. I want to drink and drink and gulp it down; that is the magic of a well-built and -performed and -recorded pop song. You get filled up, and sometimes you overflow with cleansing tears and cathartic shouting-along — if only temporarily — until the song is over, and then you play it again. It’s like a drug or a sugar rush. “Green Light” is ear candy.

By some distance my favourite song of the year.


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1 Phoebe Bridgers - Stranger in The Alps

'Smoke Signals' and 'Motion Sickness' draw you in to this album from the start.

These opening two songs highlight the compelling storytelling and beautiful songwriting that continues throughout this record. Then it hits you. Track 3. 'Funeral'

The most perfectly sequenced track on an exceptional album. No other moment in 2017 hit me quite like the first time I heard it.

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The 405 meets Nadine Shah: "These are some of the most vulnerable people in society, and they have been lied to."

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The 405 meets Nadine Shah: "These are some of the most vulnerable people in society, and they have been lied to."

Nadine Shah, interviewed at The 405:

What I intended to do was to humanise the dehumanised. There are a lot of figures and numbers bandied about over the refugee crisis; so I did my research into first-time testimonies, into both economic migrants and refugees. My brother is a documentary maker, so he helped provide some of the material for me. I thought it was important to focus on the really harrowing subjects to write about. I love Billy Bragg, but I don't want to be Billy Bragg political, I didn't want to preach. I think it's also because most people agree about the crisis, so I just wanted to tell stories in a way that's relatable and I didn't want the music to be downbeat or dour, I wanted it to be energetic. So, oddly even though it's the hardest thing I've written about, it's also musically and sonically the most energetic and vibrant.

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Luna Kafé e-zine - The Blue Aeroplanes: Welcome, Stranger!

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Luna Kafé e-zine - The Blue Aeroplanes: Welcome, Stranger!

In the mid 90s, when the internet was all dialup, Pentium desktops, and Lycos search engines (marvellous days), I occasionally wrote music reviews for Norwegian “e-zine” Luna Kafé.

It was a buzz to see my name appear on a website at a time when not everyone I knew had access to the internet. It was all so new and exciting.

It also offered my first experience of angryinternetman. I wrote a largely positive review of the first Hurricane #1 album (don’t judge me - it was a long time ago), but this didn’t stop an extraordinary email exchange with a fan of the band, who was disgusted that I didn’t like all of the songs. I wish I’d kept it, as it was a precursor of Twitter egg rage.

Work and my personal life got in the way and I had to stop writing after a couple of years.

Luna Kafė has continued to publish a new “menu” of music review “dishes” from global contributors, on the evening of every full moon since.

Although the site will proceed on an ad hoc basis, last night it published it’s 250th and final menu.

19 years since my last review appeared there, I was honoured to be asked by the editor, Håvard Oppøyen, to contribute one last time.

I chose to write about the fabulous new album by The Blue Aeroplanes - Welcome, Stranger!

You can read it here:

http://lunakafe.com/moon250/en250.php

Congratulations to Håvard and all involved with Luna Kafé.

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Top 50 Albums of 2016

2016, despite being 2016, was a pretty good year for music.

In reverse order, my fave 50 albums:

50 Savages - Adore Life
49 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree
48 Weaves - Weaves
47 Wye Oak - Tween
46 Invisible Boy - Invisible Boy
45 AlunaGeorge - I Remember
44 The Joy Formidable - Hitch
43 All Saints - Red Flag
42 Blood Orange - Freetown Sound
41 Boys Noize - Mayday
40 Eliot Sumner - Information
39 Thee Oh Sees - A Weird Exits
38 Honeyblood - Babes Never Die
37 Katy B - Honey
36 Nice As Fuck - Nice as Fuck
35 Solange - A Seat at the Table
34 Sleigh Bells - Jessica Rabbit
33 Still Corners - Dead Blue
32 Warpaint - Heads Up
31 David Bowie - Blackstar
30 Banks - The Altar
29 Emma Pollock - In Search of Harperfield
28 Emma Ruth Rundle - Marked for Death
27 Frank Ocean - Blonde
26 Leonard Cohen - You Want It Darker
25 Dinosaur Jr. - Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not
24 Jimmy Eat World - Integrity Blues
23 Bat For Lashes - The Bride
22 Tegan and Sara - Love You To Death
21 Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers - The Way It Is 2016
20 Carly Rae Jepsen - Emotion Side B
19 The Frank And Walters - Songs For The Walking Wounded
18 Haley Bonar - Impossible Dream
17 Kate Tempest - Let Them Eat Chaos
16 The Anchoress - Confessions Of A Romance Novelist
15 Bob Mould - Patch The Sky
14 Bon Iver - 22, A Million
13 Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
12 Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers - Rehab Reunion
11 Minor Victories - Minor Victories

10 Mitski - Puberty 2

Your Best American Girl is already an indie classic but there’s much more than that here.

9 Beyoncé - Lemonade

Another remarkable achievement.

8 Angel Olsen - My Woman

Her most absorbing album yet.

7 Daughter - Not To Disappear

Initial disappointment that this didn’t move on much from the (albeit excellent) sound of their debut now more than compensated by repeat listening. A grower.

6 Låpsley - Long Way Home

Everything about this album made sense when I saw Låpsley live this year. What a talent.

5 School of Seven Bells - SVIIB

The perfect, bittersweet farewell.

4 Shura - Nothing’s Real

Every single track’s a banger.

3 Poliça - United Crushers

Three albums in from my favourite band and I’m yet to hear a song I don’t love to bits. I saw them 4 times this year and wished it had been more.

2 Rihanna - ANTI

Intriguing on first listen and still revealing gems nearly a year on. In years to come ANTI is going to be revered as a masterpiece. People hating on Work could not be more wrong either.

1 The Wedding Present - Going, Going…

I’d fallen a bit out of love with The Wedding Present over the last decade. 2008’s El Rey and 2012’s Valentina had their moments but were disappointing. The subsequent “Cinerama” reworking of Valentina into an atrocious lounge jazz / easy listening / big band thing was so awful it was the first album I’ve thrown away and deleted from my library for years.

My expectations for Going Going… were therefore pretty low. The idea of 20 tracks at 1 hour and 20 minutes starting with 4 (FOUR!) lyric free moody instrumentals was going to be horrendous. A conceptual piece, based on a US road trip with videos for each song just made it sound worse.

Yet. Here we are.

Despite including the most diabolical song The Wedding Present have ever recorded (Secretary) it’s my album of the year.

It’s gorgeous. The production sounds like the Wedding Present again.

There are so many moments in an album that showcases Gedge’s talent for storytelling, melody and emotion but I’ll just comment on the last two songs, which are my favourites.

Gedge’s love of the pop song and knack for classic songwriting was honed in the (proper) Cinerama years, and reached a peak for me in the gorgeous Perfect Blue from 2004’s return of the Wedding Present. I didn’t think he could match those moments again. He has. Rachel is melodic, sentimental, and just utterly joyous.

You might not top Rachel as an the album’s indie pop banger but you can follow it with the perfect album closer.

Santa Monica is magnificent. It is the most affecting song David Gedge has ever recorded.

The sense of finality is unavoidable:

It’s the last track of an album titled “Going, Going…”. It feels so much like he’s revisiting the last song (Octopussy) from his best album (1991’s Seamonsters). In the lyrics he also references a song from George Best, the first album.

Then there’s the last line. Oh boy, that last line.

I hope this doesn’t mark the end of The Wedding Present but if it is what a way to go out.

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