GOOD ALBUMS RELEASED IN 2017

Arriving in the shadows of a year that took away too much of what was good, and traded it in for a nightmare on Earth street, 2017 had a lot to fix. We knew that we’d finally seen all of Bowie’s alter egos, and that George Michael wouldn’t get the chance to leave one Last Christmas gift in the form of a comeback studio album he was worthy of, but ignoring the bile that spills out of politicians’ face-sphincters either side of the Atlantic, the music has been good from both. Huzzah. So much so in fact, that below this un-ordered list of what we’ve been listening to in 2017, you’ll find a quick list of what we didn’t get time to. Here’s hoping that 2018’s terrible so we can use it to fill in the gaps.

The XX – I See You (13 January 2017, Young Turks)
Kicking off the year with a bang, or more specifically, a blast of brass, swiftly followed by four more, Dangerous opened I See You and a message was swiftly delivered. The new, neo XX splashed colour across the more sombre sound they’d become known for, clearly taking influence from Jamie XX’s solo album (quite suitably titled In Colour, and potentially In Color in the States, although actually after researching – it wasn’t).

Temples – Volcano (3 March 2017, Fat Possum Records)
Bringing Bolan to the 80s, TemplesT Rex influenced sound added electronics and synths on Volcano, while still retaining sounds of the 60s and 70s, and sounding like something of this decade we have no cringeless name for (categorically not calling it the “Teenies”…). As with their debut, the LP housed a variety of tempos and styles, in this case the shiny arms-in-the-air Born Into The Sunset, to the weary, almost Benny & Bjorn stage-show like How Would You Like To Go?

Depeche Mode – Spirit (17 March 2017, Columbia Records)
Where the bloody hell is The Revolution? asked The Mode (sort of) on the lead single from their 14th album, in one of their most direct, but characteristically 1-part rock, 2-parts electronics anthems. Spirit marks their first, and hopefully not last, collection with producer James Ford, with the space-epic outro to Cover Me providing the perfect collaboration to keep their industrial revolution marching.

Tei Shi – Crawl Space (31 March 2017, Interscope Records)
Three years after releasing the hypnotic Bassically, Tei Shi bequeathed her debut full-length album upon the world in 2017. While Bassically is basically 2 minutes of subtlety building up to the sort of crescendo you don’t ever want to end, Crawl Space almost breaks apart the 100/10 track, offering bite-size pieces of Tei Shi goodness. Lead single Keep Running remains the highlight, with airy verses making way for a slow-but-stomping chorus.

Goldfrapp – Silver Eye (31 March 2017, Mute Records)
Continuing a tradition of soft one/hard one, Silver Eye was one for the Goldfrapp hard one list. Take away the synthesizers and keyboards, and you can almost image tracks like Systematic working with woodland, acoustic backdrops. Elsewhere, Anymore – minimal lyrics, maximum beeps – was made to be huge, and provided one of the highlights of a euphoric Glastonbury performance.

Future Islands – The Far Field (7 April 2017, 4AD)
For the many, The Far Field was Future Islands’ first impression as an actual band, rather than a viral sensation. For the few (soz Jezza) that used that first introduction to dramatically side-step into their back catalogue, it was clear that with four albums already in their arsenal, this trio knew how to write a bouncing, heartfelt, danceable, poetic, bass-heavy, synth-sprinkled song. And still, there was variety, with the dark shadows of Cave, the Lion King-like soar of North Star and soaring lead-single Run.

Joe Goddard – Electric Lines (21 April 2017, Domino Recording Company)
As one of many elements that make up Hot Chip, Joe Goddard is well equipped in the art of sing-a-longable dance, dance-a-longable pop/rock and rock-a-longable dance/pop. Electric Lines is not all of these things, but it is almost a tour through his troves of samples and records in much more focus that you’d hear them on a Hot Chip record. There’s much more funk and soul than you might have realised.

Gorillaz – Humanz (28 April 2017, Parlaphone)
The cartoon band that continues to evolve returned following a 7-year break, during which time actual frontman Damon Albarn went solo for the first time, before returning to Blur again for some time. As well as those, and various other projects, it’s clear that this time was used to collect as many collaborators as possible, with just one track featuring Albarn alone. Where previous material blended hip-hop influences with his indie past, Humanz is almost as urban as it gets, with old indie pal Noel Gallagher ensuring that it isn’t completely so.

Blondie – Pollinator (5 May 2017, BMG)
Now five albums in to their second coming (following a break from 82-99), Blondie asked others to write the tracks from Pollinator. A strange decision, considering that Debbie, Chris et al have contributed more than enough self-penned tracks to the history of pop music forever, but a great decision nonetheless. Singles Fun – contributed by Tv On The Radio’s David Sitek – and Long Time – from Dev Hynes – are the best success stories from the project, with Charli XCX’s adding some spunk to the album with Gravity.

Geowulf – Relapse (2 June 2017, 37 Adventures)
Not an album exactly, but the debut EP from Australian-born (and anywhere and everywhere else based) duo Geowulf. The four-tracks on Relapse are the ideal entré to the sort of sunshine-soaked, heartfelt numbers that Star and Toma create. It’s 50% classic male/female band influences (Fleetwood Mac, Mamas & Papas), and 50% made up-sounding genres (shoegaze/dream pop), but it’s truly stunning – and the great news is that their full length album is released next month.

London Grammar – Truth Is A Beautiful Thing (9 June 2017, Ministry Of Sound Recordings)
Truth Is A Beautiful Thing truly is one of the most beautiful things to have been available to pop on a record player or play on your iPhone this year. Continuing a stunning concoction of ethereal vocals, subtle electronics and epic production first heard on their debut, If You Wait, Truth… tugs even further at the heartstrings. Rooting For You is so sparse you could be forgiven for thinking that angels are calling you (and if they sounded like that you’d be fine with it), while Hell To The Liars will open the floodgates of your eyes, bringing back emotions you forgot you were capable of.

Declan McKenna – What Do You Think About The Car? (21 July 2017, Sony Music)
Dubbed the voice of his generation to an unnerving degree (including by myself after seeing him live back in October), Declan McKenna unleashed his debut album following a few years of EPs and stand-alone tracks, including Brazil – the song that catapulted him to the NME mainstream, during a year which saw him win Glastonbury Festival’s emerging talent contest. What Do You Think About The Car? combines millennial views with classically influenced indie-rock, resulting in a voice that already sounds like a musical legend, singing about subjects that already make him a political one.

Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott – Crooked Calypso (21 July 2017, EMI)
On their third collection since reuniting, Northern royalty Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott offer more of the same, which is surely no bad thing to the legions of fans who continue to sell out their tours across the UK. The difference with Crooked Calypso is the new genres thrown in – He Wants To and People Like Us add a little disco to the mix, while Blackwater Banks is a Gaelic-tinged ballad, and The Lord Is A White Con and I Gotta Praise sing in some gospel. Hullelujah!

Everything Everything – A Fever Dream (18 August 2017, RCA Records)
Sounding like no one else and still very much like 2017, Everything Everything’s fourth album was business as usual, except that when you’ve been experimenting with every element of your output since day dot, business is evolving with each album. A Fever Dream is bigger and bolder than anything the four-piece have put out before, held up by the dance/rock/anthem/banger Can’t Do and the explosive chorus repetition of Desire.

The National – Sleep Well Beast (8 September 2017, 4AD)
With a second on the bill slot on the Pyramid at this year’s Glastonbury, The National’s doom-laden lyrics and often rhythmically unorthodox sound has become somewhat mainstream, this theory cemented with a #1 spot for seventh studio LP, Sleep Well Beast. While there’s no hyper-space jump to a brand new style, there’s more of a focus on the spaces in the songs, and the small effects that can be heard between them. Single The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness successfully provides them with an anthemic sound that would be equally at home playing from small pick-up truck speakers, ensuring that this two-sets-of-brothers based band keep their feet on the ground, even when playing on some of the world’s most iconic stages.

The Horrors – V (22 September 2017, Caroline Distribution)
And so, their journey from caricature garage goths to electronic wizards is complete. Five (that’s V) albums in, and The Horrors are a world away from Jack The Ripper, switching the quick-as-a-flash raw rock for endless space-age sound projections. Sure there are hints of Depeche Mode in krautrock-esq Machine, and New Order in the machine-like cycles of Something To Remember Me By, but those legendary goth and dance bands aside, these goth/dance legends are carving out a sound of their own.

The Killers – Wonderful Wonderful (22 September 2017, Islands Records)
Made my four Killers but only toured by two, Wonderful Wonderful arrived half a decade after Battle Born, the least well received album by the critics and later the band. Thankfully everyone, the band included, thought this one was worthy of its title, featuring their Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain one (the title track), their Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus one (The Calling); and with U2 collaborators Jackknife Lee and Erol Alkan working on first taster, The Man, it was always going to be a stadium sized banger.

a-ha – MTV Unplugged — Summer Soltice (8 October 2017, Island Records)
a-ha’s New Year’s (and on-going) resolution needs to be to stop splitting up. Five years after calling it a day (there was also a seven year hiatus in the 90s) the band regrouped for a two year project to celebrate an anniversary of some sort, which has resulted in a studio album and tour, this acoustic album and a tour, and now a new electric tour for next year. Oh, and this album is a fine example of why they’re one of pop’s most underrated acts in history, despite doing rather well. With Take On Me and I’ve Been Losing You getting stripped back makeovers (a bit like Snog Marry Avoid, except they were never “too much”), their greatest hits have been given a new lease of life.

Morrissey – Low In High School (17 November 2017, BMG)
The critics (pricks, the lot of ‘em – present company excluded) weren’t overly keen on Mozza’s latest one, seemingly taking offence at the amount of crotch references throughout Low In High School. Which is a shame, because it’s a strong collection with a striking hat-trick at the top: My Love, I’d Do Anything For You opens and is as gritty as it is horny (…because there are a lot of horns being played), I Wish You Lonely is a treat to the ears, where poetic repetition meets experimental instrumentation, and Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s On The Stage is biographical opera in kitchen-sink style.

Sia – Everyday Is Christmas (17 November 2017, RCA Records)
Having written songs for everyone else, Sia turned her hand at creating a ten-track collection for Santa Claus, Baby Jesus and the rest of the cast of Christmas. With no covers in site, Everyday Is Christmas is a rare thing; a contemporary Christmas collection by a hugely successful artist that sounds timeless. The tracks are also undeniably Sia, from the jerky, calypso-tinged Santa’s Coming For Us to the minimal, cracked voice-exposing Underneath The Christmas Lights. Is there anything she can’t write? Fingers are already crossed here for her Easter EP…

Tom Chaplin – Twelve Tales Of Christmas (17 November 2017, Universal Music)
And on the other end of the festive scale, Keane frontman Tom Chaplin issued his take on December 25th and the surrounding weeks. As admitted on his Royal Festival Hall date, it’s a pretty sad set of songs, but as Sir Elton said himself, sad songs say so much. The chorus to Under A Million Lights glows, while Midnight Mass is a choral masterpiece, and of the four covers, Walking In The Air is recycled from Snowman song to ice-cool acoustic ballad.

U2 – Songs Of Experience (1 December 2017, Interscope Records)
For one of the biggest bands in the world, U2 don’t half have a lot of haters. Less Marmite, in likability terms U2 are more like the yeasty stuff mixed with blue cheese and mushrooms. As it goes, there are stadiums full of fans who are into that sort of thing, and so they go on. Songs Of Experience arrives 3 years after freebie Songs Of Innocence, and returns the band a little more to their experimental earthy, rock roots (think Achtung Baby meets How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb). Admittedly it’s not quite as strong as either, but the band who gave the world One and With Or Without You continue to produce quality rock n roll.

DIDN’T GET ROUND TO LISTENING TO:

Lorde – Melodrama (16 June 2017, Republic Records)
Bowie loved Lorde. I loved Bowie. I also loved Yellow Flicker Beat and Green Light (and therefore, potentially any other colours she’ll sing about). She even did a Gary Jules and made a Tears For Fears song completely her own. So I’m not quite sure why I didn’t put this on.

Arcade Fire – Everything Now (28 July 2017, Columbia)
Reflektor was an album highlight the year it was released, and the title track to Everything Now was pure joy, so why didn’t I delve deeper into Everything…? Must listen before next year’s tour.

The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding (25 August 2017, Atlantic Records)
Red Eyes is one of those songs I have to play at least twice in a row, and having been recommended these by fellow Future Islands fans, it’s about time I did something about it.

LCD Soundsystem – American Dream (1 September 2017, Columbia)
P’raps I didn’t have the energy for this one. It arrived post Summer. Next year though, in time for their All Points East slot.

Beck – Colours (13 October 2017, Capitol Records)
Possibly the thing with Beck is, once you get into an album you’ve got to go back and get into the rest of his albums. And there are a lot of Beck albums to get in to.

Taylor Swift – Reputation (10 November 2017, Big Machine Records)
Y’know, partly to see what the hype’s about, partly because Shake It Off is a banger, and partly because if she’s sampling Right Said Fred what the hell else is she doing?

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Who Built The Moon? (24 November 2017, Sour Mash)
Just in the hope that it wipes the floor with LG’s tinny, Oasis-tribute sound.

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