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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

Late Again: The Best Albums of 2013

I’ll never live it down if I don’t document the best albums of the year that my son was born in, so here goes…

1. David Bowie – The Next Day

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2. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away

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3. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

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4. Queens Of The Stone Age – …Like Clockwork

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Low – The Invisible Way

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6. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

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7. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

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8. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

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9. Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

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10. Dawes – Stories Don’t End

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Special mention to Haim and 65daysofstatic for great albums that just didn’t make the top 10.Haim+65

Best Albums of 2010

1. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

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They can’t set a foot wrong, and their third full studio album is full of surprises that continue to set them apart as a serious creative force in music. The Suburbs kicks against the boredom and mediocrity that is middle class whilst experiencing the realisation that the kids in Funeral have become those having kids in The Suburbs. An entire story about where we were and where we’re going is played out in ups and downs of triumphant orchestral arrangements and pumping rhythms. To create such a monumental album (at 16 tracks and 64.07 minutes), Arcade Fire rocket directly to the #1 spot.

2. Broken Bells – Broken Bells

Broken Bells - Broken Bells

Danger Mouse and James Mercer from The Shins teamed up on a project that resulted in so much more than the sum of its parts. Broken Bells is a sublime, sorrowful, graceful and victorious album. Both changed their approach when working on this album: Danger Mouse laid off the heavy sampling and kept it simple, and James Mercer extended his vocals far beyond what he’d previously done with The Shins. It’s not often that you find brilliant music that everyone from your friends to your mom loves, but at the same time has immense depth and subtlety when you listen to it alone.

3. The Black Keys – Brothers

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Brothers is an instant hit album, grabbing your rock ‘n roll heart and exposing it to a bleeding blues guitar, drumming that shakes your bones, restrained vocals that pull at your nerves and so much soul it hurts. Most of the original tracks and the cover of the Motown classic “Never Gonna Give You Up” cry like pure, undiscovered gold. Brothers is a squarely a roots album that’s so loose, dirty and crafted, it turns out to be the coolest listening pleasure possible.

4. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz

Sufjan Stevens

The Age of Adz departs from the gentle settings of Steven’s previous albums, diving headlong into a Radiohead-esque sea of electronic sounds. It’s a far cry from everything else he’s done, and that’s precisely what makes this album remarkable. Instead of weaving stories on the strength of his lyrics, this album basks in the liberation of crashing drums and humming synths, woven together with his hallmark gift of melodic arrangement. The Age of Adz will take many listens for you to get in to and wouldn’t sound out of place as a sci-fi soundtrack, but may be Sufjan Stevens’ best work yet. Given more listening time on my behalf (I just got the album the other day) this weird and exceptional album may have climbed further up on this list.

5. Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More

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This British indie-folk group have made an album that sounds like heartache with syrup on an overcast day. Banjos and big acoustic moments lead up to sweet harmonies and down-to-earth impassioned pleas, with the odd a cappella thrown in there with wonderous colour. All in all a perfect blend of British and American folk that rises up to slay the dragon of pretentious grey indie British music.

6. MGMT – Congratulations

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What impresses me most about this band is that they’re so committed to their sound, it seems like they’re oblivious to what people think of their music. That’s a good thing for cred, but not always for an album. Congratulations follows in the synth-pop psychedelic vein of Oracular Spectacular, but morphs into whole clouds of other songs within songs, making it not quite as accessible as their previous album, but a brilliant and hazy musical journey worth tripping to on a regular basis.

7. Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse – Dark Night Of The Soul

Dark Night

This side project between Danger Mouse and Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) is the most underrated album of the year. Dark Night Of The Soul features an all-star list of guest artists, and the album is as beautiful and twisted as the story surrounding it’s release. To cut it short, Danger Mouse’s record company weren’t happy with the royalty split so the album was shelved. After leaking online and both Mark Linkous and Vic Chesnutt committing suicide, it was finally released. Even with so many different voices on the album (Wayne Coyne of Flaming Lips, Jason Lytle of Grandaddy, Frank Black of The Pixies, Suzanne Vega, Nina Person of The Cardigans) the sound is homogeneous and beautifully elegant.

8. Best Coast – Crazy For You

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Lead singer Bethany Cosentino’s voice has the same rich, honey-like quality as Neko Case’s singing, but instead of Americana or Country influences pulling the music together, Best Coast put out carefree surf-rock tunes with a touch of indie charm. This is the sound of a lazy summer afternoon at the beach, young infatuated love and ice cream. It’s a short album, but the songs are so stripped down, simple and sunny that this album is instantly likable.

9. The Dead Weather – Sea Of Cowards

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This should have been The Dead Weather’s debut album instead of their second studio album, since it completely sets the band apart from Jack White’s other projects. Alison Mosshart and Jack White compete on vocals to the extent that you can’t always tell who is singing, turning Sea Of Cowards into a balls-to-the-wall revenge Rock album with careless swagger and discordant guitars. It’s the picture of booze and dirty sex in a graphic novel: utterly extravagant, enticing and an overindulgent ‘fuck you’ that leaves you wanting to join in on the fun.

10. The National – High Violet

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High Violet is a difficult album to write about, and I know that everything I write will come out sounding wrong. It defies being categorised. It’s melancholic, but not sad. It’s introspective, but not paranoid. It’s serious, but not grandiose. Mostly, this album is a friend and companion, like someone who has your back and understands how you feel. When I was busy doing other things this year, The National quietly made an album that crept into my heart and stayed there.

In other news, Kanye West made a few #1 spots, but I’ve listened to his album it’s okay. The man is a great producer and his lyrics are clever, but he shouldn’t rap. He’s probably gotten all this attention because of the wide range of songs he’s sampled that lie outside the normal pool where hip-hop draws inspiration from (everyone from King Chrimson to Gene Clarke & Rodger McGuinn from The Byrds) as well as the variety of people who appear on the album (Justin Vernon from Bon Iver, La Roux, Elton John, and the usual hot-at-the-moment hip-hop crowd that always collaborate on each other’s albums). With that being said, Danger Mouse features twice on the list above, and can probably kick Kanye’s ass in a studio.

Unfortunately I didn’t get around to the new full albums of Deer Tick, Neil Young, Grinderman, Rogue Wave and a few others, but I will, and if they rock I’ll write about them. But for now, this top 10 is a list of albums you really, really should be listening to. It’s been a great year for music.