Music of 2017

2016 was a strange year for me musically. I kind of stopped listening to music and then restarted in the autumn only to almost drown myself in a range of delights. 2017 – by contrast – felt much more planned and controlled in terms of music. Strangely the consequence is that I seem to have less music to be excited about now, and keep liking the more obvious tracks. But hey ho, maybe it’ll make for more relatable content…

Jane Weaver – Slow Motion

Lots of layered synths and a cold sounding voice? Well, obviously this is the kind of thing I’m going to go for. I loved the album it comes from (Modern Kosmology) and if I was to pick out a less obvious track it’s probably I Wish where Weaver’s voice is paired with some acoustic guitar for a really haunting track.

ONUKA – Eurovision Interval Medley

The Space Lesbians! Well, that was how one conversation on text referred to them anyway. Eurovision interval acts are quite often a bit rubbish and sometimes as bad as the full Riverdance. So kudos to ONUKA and Estonia for putting on an act with a pretty political outlook, and an interesting take on electronica. I was so taken with this that I pretty rapidly found myself heading for Google to try some more and dissect the medley. Of the medley, the best track is definitely VIDLIK which comes from an EP of the same name themed around the Chernobyl meltdown.

My principal recommendation actually isn’t that you go and grab any of the tracks but listen (and ideally watch) the whole concert ONUKA did with the Naoni Orchestra in May – it’s an expensive and glorious show.

Pet Shop Boys – Live at Bestival

I’d been pondering two things in my head for a while – firstly, if I’d ever go to a music festival of any decent size and secondly if I’d ever see Pet Shop Boys live. So when I idly browsed the Oxfam volunteers page in May and realised I could do both late in the summer at a pretty minimal cost I was pretty keen. The festival was – delightfully – a mud bath but with an added wind which destroyed several tents. The gig was a tad late and perhaps re-rigged due to high winds but was everything I’d wanted. And then I got to sit in a marquee on an exposed hill in case anyone needed a hand. (They didn’t, thankfully)

Graceland – Live at Bestival

It was the day of my second shift and I was stationed on the main gate into Bestival from the campsite trying to get drunken/hungover/tired/wet/scared/etc people to show me their wristbands in the course of a series of huge downpours. So it was nice to move on to a marquee and watch a band from Norfolk overcome some pretty irritating sound problems to play an interesting set. I don’t think their current recordings actually capture their full quality, but I made a note to go to a proper gig sometime.

Jon Brooks – Autres Directions

Since Shapwick I’ve had a real delight in Jon Brooks more conceptual works, so even from just the cover of Autres Directions, I knew I would be keen. This and Shapwick are based on drives in enchanting lands so to me they’re about nostalgia for 80s holidays. I would tell you that Lanverec and Autres Directions are highlights but frankly, it’s the complete work from the opening hiss and bongs of Se Reveiller to the ferry grind of Sortie that really makes it shine.

Jens Lekman – Life Will See You Now

In 2015 I delighted in Jens Lekman’s song a week project Postcards and now after some reworking, sample clearance and a hearty cull he landed with an album of just ten new songs including just two from that project. But the flurry of creativity has worked wonders on his songs, which are now that little bit more honed. Postcard #17 on the absurdity of anxiety.

St Vincent – New York

I’m trying not to go full hipster and say that I liked St Vincent more in her early work, but I definitely felt that after the David Byrne collaboration it just never quite worked for me. But the new album was much more in the space in my head that worked. And it convinced me that if I want to make better music all I need to do is date Cara Delvigne.

Pye Corner Audio – Faten Kanaan – The Darkest Wave / Mirror Lake

Pye Corner Audio with lyrics! Faten Kanaan collaborates with Martin Jencks’ continuingly prolific and yet doom-laden persona.

Pye Corner Audio – The Spiral

Look, I just really like Pye Corner Audio. You should. You must. Honest. Chillwave, synthwave, whatever it might or might not be it is good. I want a show based on Pye Corner Audio rather than some music based on how allegedly awesome Stranger Things is.

ToiToiToi – A Travel Agent’s Dream

It’s a song with a dot matrix printer sampled in it. Of course, I like it. And it’s on Ghost Box so I get plenty of other chin-stroking joyous moments elsewhere on the album. But you can listen to it because it’s The Printer Song.

Mythologen – Ily

Well, isn’t this just very much my kind of modern electronica? A series of patterns floating over each other. If I was still making mix-tapes for general consumption this would be at the end.

And of course, there are some one-line Honourable Mentions…

Frankie Rose – Cage Tropical: Back on form but it does feel a bit like a pleasant reminder of how good Interstellar was.

Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Over Everything: A dream pairing.

Future Islands – Shadows: A duet with Debbie Harry. I think I actually want a full album of Future Islands duets.

Orbital – Copenhagen: A relief to know the brothers Hartnoll can continue.

The Emperor Machine – Cheddar Deli: A delight to know Dean Meredith retains access to a wide range of analogue synths and is as gloriously creative as ever.

Moon Duo – Creepin’: Psychedelic rock side project of a psychedelic rock band.

Phoenix – J-Boy: Phoenix doing that Phoenix thing, robustly.

Spoon – Can I Sit Next To You: Spoon doing that Spoon thing, robustly.

Grandmaster Gareth – The Turbulent Thoughts of Gorp: a shining symphony of bleeps from Gareth of Misty’s Big Adventure as he soundtracks the game Loot Rascals. And at Christmas, I found out he also does a good line in writing musicals.

Chris M – Strong Stable Clouds: The inevitable Theresa May / The Orb mashup we were all waiting for. Sadly, lost in a copyright claim.

Young Fathers (featuring Leith Congregational Choir) – Only God Knows: Such a perfect moment in Trainspotting 2, but also probably their best track.