The 10 Best Records & Wrok’s Best of 2017 Side B

Side-B

When I joked (badly) in January that this Chinese year of the Rooster is really just the Year of The Cock, I had no idea. There were so many great songs for the last part of the year, and not even from all the big bands or artists that you’d expect. In-between all the political, economic and climatic mayhem there was some sensible music being made.

Trends for the year include hearing amazing female vocals everywhere I listened and a return to “solos” in pop songs (guitar solos for sure, but other instruments too). Trumpety-trump proved to be a strong influence, adding a whole new chapter to the history protest songs. Everyone from Arcade Fire & Mavis Staples to Billy Bragg took a stab from across the pond, not to mention all the angry music (see Best Of Albums list). On the Side B playlist, the orange man gets a cameo on “House Cat,” and is summarily dismissed by a nonchalant Mark Kozelek (as a cat). But that’s just one of the 2.5 hours of my favourite tracks from July-December 2017. Let’s all hit shuffle and go on holiday.

national

1. The National – Sleep Well Beast

The National really are at the top of their game, and this album seems so effortless and smooth, I’d like to inhale it. They struggle though, and the intensity with which they wrestle their creative beasts are so pleasing and intoxicating. There’s absolute harmony and discordancy at work here, as well as really intimate lyrics. The record features the band’s first real guitar solos (there are two and they’re glorious).

LCD_Soundsystem

2. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream

The most brilliant record released this year to be met with equal and opposite amounts of scepticism. It’s one of their best to date and is overshadowed by their previous work. I only discovered LCD Soundsystem late anyway, but to me, this record sounds like prime LCD Soundsystem: the same themes but darker and the same sharp wit but with more bite. I don’t know why everyone calls it a comeback album when it’s clear that James Murphy never left the room.

Courtney_Barnett_Kurt_Vile

3. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice

This record is my go-to album for 2017. It always matches the mood. With lots of happy, sad, rocking and laid back bits of quirky wisdom it makes sense that an honest, down to earth record would be the outcome from these slacker-rock indie darlings.

war on drugs

4. The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

This album builds on the high standards set by Lost In A Dream, with the same wash of sound that transports you somewhere else. The mood is higher and the sound bolder, as if to resolve the two records in a celebration of victorious, dirty guitars.

Richard Dawson

5. Richard Dawson – Peasant

An exciting and strange British freak-folk album from this dude who came out of nowhere. Dawson shows incredible bravery on this medieval Celtic off-key album. It’s dirty with beautiful melodies scattered haphazardly, and the record sticks and stays with you. The weirdest and most groundbreaking album that has chosen me for a while.

weather station

6. The Weather Station – The Weather Station

Oh, my kingdom for beautiful Canadian singer-songwriters! This record is classic Folk Gold in the vein of Joni Mitchell, but at the same time is Tamara Lindeman’s confident own voice. With mint production, engaging lyrics and a rolling musical urgency, this is definitely both a vinyl/headphone and crowd-pleaser record.

protomartyr

7. Protomartyr – Relatives in Descent

Finally, a band has risen to take the flame from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Protomartyr are pissed-off and mysterious like a good Goth-inspired Post-Punk band should be. They have great rhythm and pace, with a surprising lulling quality for minor chords and dramatic badassery. Definitely music to watch Trump speeches or have existential crises to.

GSYBE

8. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers

A very simplified GY!BE record that hits home and feels very true to now. The album fits in well with their body of work, although it’s by no means an extensive movement of beautiful music. Rather it presents a well-organized progression of rage as grandiose tracks bombard your ears for just under an hour. A cathartic listen.

rostam

9. Rostam – Half-Light

An eclectic debut from one half of vampire weekend. The album turns pop song structure around while echoing traditional pop melodies. An inspiring sweet, detailed album from Batmanglij that doesn’t really go anywhere, but that’s entirely ok.

 

bongeziwe mabandla

10. Bongeziwe Mabandla – Mangaliso

A record that masterfully balances the traditional and new. South African Xhosa music has never sounded this modern or hypnotic, and this album turns sweet world music turned on its head.

That’s it. Special mentions to Bjork, Sza, Josh Ritter and Sylvan Esso. As Vicky would say, “soz lol.”

The Best Music of 2015

Like last year, my year has been framed more by songs than full albums. Lyrically it was a magnificent year, and one where so many established greats quietly released new records (Decembrists, My Morning Jacket, Wilco, Low). It was also a rocking year for female vocalists and bands, and my Top 30 Best Songs Playlist reflects that.

1. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

sufjan

Sufjan Stevens released the most moving record of the year, a devastatingly sad and beautiful return to his singer/songwriter roots. Stevens unpacks issues surrounding mental illness and the reasons his mother abandoned him with ice cold honesty. Becoming a parent opens up all sorts of emotional vulnerabilities and at least for me, seeing this record performed live was a life-changing experience. For further reading you can’t do better than this Pitchfork interview.

2. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think And Sometimes I Just Sit

courtney barnett

Courtney Barnett released the best debut album of 2015, a confident and casual authentic celebration of rock. The raw guitars and basic progressions are the best thing to happen to Garage Rock in a long time. Barnett’s thick Australian accent and direct lyrics encourage the most unlikely singable moments (and my favourite lyric of the year) “I think you’re a joke but I don’t find you very funny.”

3. Ryan Adams – 1989

1989

Ryan Adams’ cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989 is the best guilty pleasure of 2015. When he sings “That’s How You Get The Girl,” he’s really saying how he lost the girl, and much of the album is this kind of antithesis/call and response that plays with Swift’s original. It’s basically the best pop record turned into the best breakup record.

4. Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m going down

b'lieve

Kurt Vile is the most sophisticated slacker on this list. He ditched his electric guitar for a more mellow sound incorporating piano and banjos. It’s a perfect alluring record that balances fun and soothing in a lazy acoustic fashion.

5. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
6. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
7. Olafur Arnalds & Alice Sarah Ott – The Chopin Project

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Father John Misty’s cheeky and wry record was constant positive highlight of the year, filled with love and a healthy dose of cynicism. Alabama Shakes’ second record turned out to be a ballsy swamp-Rock statement that they’re edgy and soulful and ready to experiment. Olafur Arnalds and Alice Sarah Ott released the most inviting Classical Pop album of the year. The simplicity in their approach to Chopin come across as effortless and familiar while the acoustic detail they capture with their instruments is an audio feast.

8. Sleater-Kinney – No City To Love
9. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress
10. Torres – Sprinter

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Sleater-Kinney reformed this year to release a tight collection of hooks and melodies. I don’t know their back catalogue but this record starts, goes determinedly forth and conquers in just over 30 badass minutes. The new Godspeed album is the most succinct record of their sound to date, immediately recognisable but more refined. It’s beauty lies in the band favouring a more subtle classical approach rather than their familiar Noise Rock style. Torres released an impressive debut album filled with honest songwriting and raw emotional delivery. She keeps it mature though and along with her minimalist band she created the best Grunge song ever (see playlist).

There are still many of this year’s releases that I’m listening to. I’m not quite into the Wilco yet but I’m a big fan and I’m trying. I’ve just discovered Youth Lagoon and Rhiannon Giddens, both of whom may have made the Top 10. Finally it’s long overdue but I’m also getting into these artist’s records: Natalie Prass, Shamir, Fred Thomas, Joan Shelley, Julia Holter.

Below are the Spotify, Apple Music and iTunes playlist versions of my top 30 Best Songs of 2015. I did sequence them but feel free to hit shuffle if that’s how you roll. Some are from my best albums, most are songs that consistently had me turning up the volume.

Here’s the Apple Music playlist, I’ve just noticed that “Harrison Ford” by Darlingside isn’t available on Apple Music or iTunes but you can listen to it here on YouTube. I’ll add a Youtube playlist next year when all of the songs are available or have videos.

Update: Here’s the Soundsgood player with all the tracks across various platforms.