(MPT note – As ever with Andy’s pieces, there’s plenty to read below so rather than, as in previous years, put the videos he’s suggested up, I’ve created a Spotify playlist with (most of the songs instead). Which you can listen to as you read! There are a couple of videos later on though.)
If 2016 was the year that got the blame for bumping off people then 2017 seems to be the year that the world seemed to get a bit batshit crazy. And yet it still keeps turning.
Another year, another attempt to put into words my favourite records of the year that was. This is the third year I have undertaken this and it doesn’t get any easier. I’m slightly intimidated by the fact that Mike has published his 50 albums of the year on this esteemed site. I’m not even sure if I’ve listened to fifty newly released albums this year.
I tend to get quite obsessed by certain records and miss out on other stuff but I’ve always dug the fact that you can lose yourself in certain records and that, for me, is what makes them all the more special. It may be in years to come I stumble across other records released in previous years that make me think, wow, how come I missed that one?
However, having looked back at my previous annual reviews I think I pretty much agree with my thoughts then. So anyway, enough preamble. On to the list. Which again, I think highlights the fact that 2017 was again a pretty good vintage. It’s in no particular order, initially there was an order of sorts but it kept shifting around so basically it was composed on the wing as I pulled out records and stuff kept coming back to me.
Wozniak Courage Reels (Morningside Young Team Records)
Some 20 odd years after meeting Sarah and Simon Cuthbert-Kerr and seeing their then band, Ffitch, they finally released their debut album. It isn’t like I didn’t see it coming after a great run of fantastic singles, E.P.’s and brilliant live shows as Wozniak but I wasn’t prepared for how much I dug Courage Reels. Featuring 9 new songs it has a wonderful sense of cohesiveness and a great sense of shade and light, shifting from utterly bruising to lighter, spacier moments. It’s a punch to the face, a caress, a kiss and is a pretty overwhelming record of great beauty.
You can read my review of Courage Reels here.
Princess Nokia 1992 Deluxe (Rough Trade)
Destiny Nicole Frasqueri aka Princess Nokia has been performing and recording for a while but 1992 Deluxe is her first ‘mainstream’ album released through Rough Trade. It’s an utterly strange and beguiling record. There are no party bangers on this record but some absolutely brilliant writing and production. The album is a personal narrative about growing up in New York and as well as being one of my favourite albums of the year it is also one of my favourite Hip Hop records in years. It’s a very personal record tied into the wider socio-cultural history of the Big Apple but it’s not a worthy record, simply an amazing one. Fierce and reflective, erudite and potty mouthed.
Bdy_Prts Fly Invisible Hero (Aggrocat Records)
I was pretty late to the party for Bdy_Prts but was immediately seduced by them after seeing them soundcheck at a Dundee show in November. Since then, Fly Invisible Hero has been a constant soundtrack to my life. As with Princess Nokia, Bdy_Prts sound like they have created a world of their own with their songs and music. Both Jill O’Sullivan and Jenny Reeve have strong, distinctive voices and a great ear for melody. The songs combine electronica with guitars but in a way that sounds natural and can be both uplifting and eerie. Fly Invisible Hero is such a joyful record, seductive and enchanting but also packed full of great pop moments.
The Jesus and Mary Chain Damage and Joy (Artificial Plastic Records)
There were a number of musical big beasts releasing great albums in 2017 but the one I was most excited about was this one. Damage and Joy was The Jesus and Mary Chain’s first studio album since 1998’s Munki. While a lot of the songs had been released in different combinations over the years (Sister Vanilla, Freeheat and solo) it sounds pretty cohesive as a band recording. It’s full of great songs and sits well with the previous albums. I’ve always been a huge fan and this album doesn’t disappoint in any way. ‘The Two Of Us’ was the best single that wasn’t released as a single this yet but the rest of the album is pretty damn special.
Sacred Paws Strike A Match (Rock Action)
The sound of Sacred Paws is so effervescent. There’s a lightness to their sound but a depth to it despite the fact that, basically, they are a duo of Eilidh Rodgers and Rachel Aggs who share vocals and play guitar and drums. For the album Sacred Paws are joined by the judicious use of brass and synths over several of the songs. At a time when a number of bands draw upon elements of post-punk sounds Sacred Paws take the idea of another strand, incorporating different sounds into their song writing. The ten songs on Strike A Match are masterclasses in brevity, short and catchy but full of ideas and gorgeous melodies. There isn’t a single note or word more than necessary and it sticks in my head long after playing.
Andrew Wasylk Themes For Buildings And Spaces (Tape Cub Records)
An album about architecture, spaces and memory made by a Dundonian. And missed by me until it was recommended to me in Monorail, Glasgow by Stephen Pastel. It’s funny how things travel. I’m not a huge fan of Andrew’s previous music but this record is a thing of rare beauty. The packaging of the 10” LP alone is almost worth the admission fee alone but the actual music is so sumptuous. It moves subtly from evocative to beautiful, to eerie and stark and creates a wonderful atmosphere across the instrumental tracks. The arrangements are very sparse, often just piano, cornet, percussion and guitar with little, gentle electronics. Although it is an album about Dundee it also has a very European feel musically and is enchanting and beguiling.
Saint Etienne Home Counties (Heavenly Records)
Another group that write a lot about spaces, places and memories. Saint Etienne have been producing lovely records for so long now it seems to me that they get a little bit overlooked. Home Counties is probably my favourite Saint Etienne album in a while despite the rather hideous cover artwork. Lyrically and aesthetically, Saint Etienne almost seem nostalgic for a past that never quite happened but equally sound modern and fresh. It is an interesting set of contradictions that make for a charming and joyful record that moves between outright pop and more experimental moments. A very curious and wonderful record that I keep needing to hear over and over again.
Four Tet New Energy (Text Records)
If ever a title summed up an album it was this one. Four Tet’s first full album since 2013’s Pink (2015’s Morning/Evening consisted of two long pieces of music) seems to feel somewhat revitalised. It’s still recognisably the work of Kieran Hebden but seems to be bustling with new ideas and is a gentle but occasionally unsettling listen, very euphoric in places and incredibly chilled in others.
Protomartyr Relatives In Descent (Domino)
Protomartyr appear to have been around for a good while but this is basically my introduction to them. It’s a curious sounding record, very dark but almost structurally rambling as though it is barely holding on against collapsing into a dark hole. The half-spoken, half-sung lyrics are very effective and it is a stunning record, dense at times, spartan and spacious at others. Despite finding it a bit odd at first Relatives In Descent has slowly worked its way into my psyche.
Spare Snare Unicorn (Chute Records)
Unicorn is another album that looks at current times and stares into an abyss. However, it has a lighter mood to the music in places and the Snare still can’t resist providing some excellent pop hooks. It was magical to see them live again with Billordo earlier in the year as well.
You can check out my review of Unicorn here.
Brix and The Extricated Part 2 (Blang)
The return of Brix Smith Start to playing live and recording would have been pretty unlikely after a long absence. However, The Extricated have developed on their enthralling live sets to produce an very fine debut album that sweeps you on a wondrous journey as they move further from the shadow of their former bandmate.
You can read my review of Part 2 here.
The Fall New Facts Emerge (Cherry Red)
Talking of whom. It’s pretty routine for me to give new albums by The Fall a couple of listens and then never go back to them. However, while by no means a classic Fall album, New Facts Emerge is pretty much the most fun I’ve had with a Fall record in a long time. It sounds both fairly cohesive and completely off-the wall rather than the simple workman-like garage thrash of some of its predecessors. A genuinely good album from The Fall that is swathed in moments of utter madness.
Spinning Coin Permo (Geographic)
I first saw Spinning Coin at the behest of David ‘Brogues’ Brogan a few years ago and was utterly enthralled despite the fairly ramshackle nature of their live performance at the time. Having followed them through their initial releases I was very excited by the release of their debut album and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s a fantastic collection of songs and, while there is a feel of that exuberant energy of Postcard records they are very much their own band with a pretty distinct sound and great ears for a melody.
Wire Silver/Lead (Pink Flag)
The current phase of Wire has probably been their most productive and seen them achieve a sense of longevity which hasn’t come at the cost of creativity or relevance as they continue to amaze and thrill. Silver/Lead is an utterly wonderful record, taut and tense with brilliant twists and turns and fabulous songs throughout. Putting them on and meeting with the band was one of the highlights of my year. A band that never rest on their laurels but keep moving forward.
Nadine Shah Holiday Destination (1965 Records)
I’m not sure how I managed to miss Nadine Shah’s first two albums and only came to this through the recommendation of Mike Manic Pop Thrills. This is a slow-burn classic that reveals itself over repeated listens and I’ve been diving into it a lot in recent months. There’s a great mix of pop, electronica and post-punk on this album with some absolute earworms and smart lyrics.
The Dream Syndicate How Did I Find Myself Here? (Anti-Records)
The first album by The Dream Syndicate in three decades is pretty aptly titled as they seem to have emerged from a lengthy hiatus with the same energy as their youthful selves as though emerging out of a refreshing hibernation. The Dream Syndicate have a pretty distinctive sound and develop a real mood in a series of guitar driven songs. It’s an intense and invigorating record, reflective and driven.
Peter Perrett How The West Was Won (Domino)
I last saw Peter Perrett perform sometime around 1996 and, to be honest, I’d long given up on hope of any more recordings or songs from him. How The West Was One however is an amazing return with that distinct voice sounding in fine fettle throughout the ten songs on his first solo album. Perrett has been around since the early 70s but sounds a world-weary and fresh as he did on that first classic album by The Only Ones. The title track is a re-write of ‘Sweet Jane’ but no less charming for that and it’s brilliant to have him back. Again.
Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile Lotta Sea Lice (Matador)
This collaboration is a sweet, country tinged record. The single ‘Over Everything’ is pretty addictive with its lazy charm and hooks and the rest of the album is pretty damn charming with its beautifully combined vocals. It sounds like it was fun to record and it’s a joy to listen to as well.
Wolf Alice Visions Of A Life (Dirty Hit)
This is a pretty strong and varied album and has been a constant presence around the house since it came out. There are a great range of moods and sounds on the album, from the all encompassing swathes of guitars to gentler moments of pastoral-psyche. I saw Wolf Alice twice last year and thoroughly enjoyed them on both occasions and this is a rather fine second album.
Delinquents About Last Night (Violated Records)
Dundee trio, Deinquents, are loud, snotty and fun. They managed to translate their fine live set onto a debut album that is good, dumb/smart fun. They may not be quite juvenile but they are full of angst and rage.
You can read my review of the album here.
Reissues of the year
Bark Psychosis Hex (Fire)
Hex scarily sounds even more radical than it did upon its original release in 1994. This re-issue is a no-frills affair, just the album – no remixes, additional tracks or even sleeve notes, but it is an essential record. It achieves the feat of being sublimely beautiful and ethereal with a sense of unease and brutality. The seven songs create an all enveloping narrative and mood without a single unnecessary note played or word sung. Along with their peers Disco Inferno, Bark Psychosis are a band you may not have heard of but should. Now. Bruised, elegiac poetry as essential now as it was 23 years ago.
Basement 5 1965-1980 (Pias)
The post-punk era has been pored over, excavated and archived and yet Basement 5 rarely seem to feature in lavish magazine retrospectives or lists of influences. So it’s fantastic that Pias have re-issued their one and only album along with the In Dub E.P. Produced by Martin Hannett the sound is claustrophobic and crushingly intense, the vocals raw and full of righteous anger. Metallic compressed guitars, spacey dub inspired rhythms and whipsmart lyrics make this a pretty heavy but energizing listen. Vital stuff.
Compilation albums of 2017
Gillian Hills Zou Bisou Bisou. The ye-ye years 1960-1965 (Ace)
Gillian Hills may be better known in Britain (if she’s remembered at all) as an actress for the roles that she played in Beat Girl and The Owl Service but, as this fantastic Ace compilation highlights, she also had a rather fine voice and found some fame in France. The twenty-two songs on this album are very varied but united in their brilliance. I’m a sucker for this lusciously produced and arranged era of French pop. The album comes with the usual fantastic sleeve notes which reveal Gillian Hills to be worthy of a rather interesting book.
Various Artists C88 (Cherry Red)
I could probably write a whole article on this three CD compilation. Featuring 71 singles by a wide range of independent bands all released in 1988, the year I turned 18, there are a wide array of bands I promoted, interviewed, played with and, in one case, released an E.P. by (The Wilderness Children). Sadly, although I get a namecheck of sorts and referred to as ‘scenester’ in Neil Taylor’s extensive sleeve notes I appear to have became Alan Wood. Written out of history again. The story of my life. Or not. Anyway there are some fairly brilliant moments on this CD, a few forgettable ones and some brilliant memories. The quality of the recordings are pretty low budget by the level of songwriting and energy is at times amazing. There are a few big hitters on this record but the majority of the bands largely existed out with the mainstream. Pretty much drawn from guitar bands there is still a good deal of variety here from the exuberant psychedelia of The Bachelor Pad to the more off the wall Thrilled Skinny and The Great Leap Forward. Well worth dipping in and out of and it’s great to have some of these songs on CD rather than well worn and long unavailable vinyl.
The record from 2016 that I didn’t get to properly until 2017
Hifi Sean Ft. (Plastique Recordings)
This is an album I’ve played a lot throughout 2017. Former Soup Dragon/The Hi-fidelity Sean Dickson not only appears to have an amazing musical address book but also an incredible ability to craft together wondrous songs. The album has an dizzying array of sounds and moods over its 13 tracks, from uplifting pop to the dark and eerie. This is highlighted in the up-tempo opener ‘Testify’ featuring Crystal Waters to the final track, the last recording of the much missed Alan Vega ‘A Kiss Before Dying’ but there’s no filler in between. A very wonderful record that made me want to dance and cry.