Is it just me, or has 2017 been a great year for music?
I don’t pretend to have my finger on the pulse anymore. Most years now I struggle to come up with a credible top five albums before the end of December (though I often discover great things through the Festive Spill and other end-of-year lists). This year, I’m struggling to whittle it down to a top 10.
Partly, that’s down to several old favourites releasing new records. And I’ve also made more of an effort to listen to new releases on Spotify.
Anyway, here’s a playlist of songs from 2017. I’m not claiming this is any sort of definitive or comprehensive list of the year’s best records. But I hope you’ll find things in here you enjoy.
Nobody complained too much when Sampha won the Mercury Music Prize – largely because the opening track is an undeniable instant classic.
St Vincent’s knowingly poppy return didn’t disappoint. “Pills” is the work of an artist who knows she can do whatever she likes, and will ace it.
Those of us still mourning for Katzenjammer could take solace in Sol Heilo’s debut. It’s absolutely no surprise to discover that she can make superb widescreen pop. “America” has a stunning homemade video too.
Father John Misty decided to write an album about the human condition, and carried it off with insight, wit and panache in a way that few else could. “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution” imagines a world where climate catastrophe has brought about the collapse of capitalist civilisation. I saw him live a couple of nights ago – one of the finest showmen it’s been my privilege to witness.
The new album from The National was their best since Boxer. More focused and more experimental, they sounded like a band with a new lease of life.
Peasant by Richard Dawson is an album that really needs to be listened to with full attention and preferably a lyric sheet. It’s definitely the best concept album about life in the medieval kingdom northern kingdom of Bryneich (no relation) that I’ve heard this year. But songs like “Shapeshifter” are surprisingly enjoyable to listen to even out of context.
The news this year has for the most part been pretty terrifyingly depressing, but at least there was a new Jens Lekman album to remind us of the good in people. Life Will See You Now is full of touching stories and characters, and catchy choruses.
St Etienne’s paean to the Home Counties was lovely too. “Whyteleafe” makes Crawley and rail replacement buses sound romantic.
I saw The Moonlandingz at Bluedot festival in the summer, and they were every bit as entertainingly anarchic as a fictional cartoon rock’n’roll band should be. “The Strangle of Anna” is all the better for having Rebecca from Slow Club on backing vocals.
I first heard Big Thief earlier this week, and have already listened to their sophomore album Capacity half a dozen times. Singer Adrienne Lenker has seen some shit and has channelled it into intense songwriting that seeps under your skin. “Mythological Beauty” is about her young mother, and an accident that nearly killed Adrienne when she was five years old.
Loyle Carner and his mum Jean have a much less traumatic relationship. Her poem to him at the end of “Son of Jean” is a delight. I can’t imagine many hip-hop artists are happy for their mum to guest on their records, but that’s part of what makes him special.
Staying with mothers and sons: The Unthanks’ excavation of The Songs and Poems of Molly Drake is a priceless piece of musical archaeology, bringing Nick Drake’s mum’s exquisite songs to life.
Anna-Lynne Williams, aka Lotte Kestner, is one of my favourite covers artists (listen to her take on Beyoncé’s Halo if you’ve never heard it). But her own songs are gorgeous too. That voice…
Elbow recorded a duet with John Grant. Kindling (Fickle Flame) doesn’t really need any further comment.
Guy Garvey’s mate Jesca Hoop generally releases solid albums with a couple of stunning standouts: “Pegasi” was the highlight of Memories Are Now for me.
Belle and Sebastian are planning to release a series of three EPs – 20 years after they first did (20 years!). Looking forward to 2037 already…
First Aid Kit can hardly have been born when Belle and Sebastian wrote “Mayfly”, but they’ve half-inched its melody for “It’s A Shame”. Which is no bad thing. Their album is out in January.
I’ve probably listened to Susanne Sundfør more than any other artist this year – delving into her back catalogue and wallowing in 2017’s Music for People in Trouble. She can turn her hand to gentle folk, electronic anthems, avant-garde orchestral compositions, and massive pop ballads like “Undercover”. Between her and Sol, the award for Best Norwegian Female Genius is a close call.
Every year should bring a favourite new indie-pop album. Alvvays delivered.
I also saw alt-J at Bluedot this year, and it was perhaps telling that most of the songs they played were from their debut album, rather than the two that followed. But there’s some lovely pastoral stuff on RELAXER, especially this closing track.
Over to you then: what have I missed?