It is that time of year again where everybody does their albums of the year, even though the year isn’t over yet. Do any of these list makers include December 2016 releases in their year, or maybe they discount it as it is filled with Christmas releases. So here are the 30 albums that I think are the best of the year, and every one of them is on my record shelf, if I don’t own it then I can’t really think it the best can I? I don’t think so.
30 Gary Numan – Savage: Songs From A Broken World
I saw Gary Numan this year, between the release of the first single taken from this album and the album release. I was also part of the Pledge Music campaign thing so I saw a lot of it being made and heard the songs develop. I thought they were great live and good on the album, but that is most likely because I heard everything the wrong way around. It’s a dark album, but a very good album.
29 Poliça and Stargaze – c: Re imagining Steve Reich’s Music For Pieces Of Wood
On record store day I picked up the LSO version of Steve Reichs Music for Pieces of Wood, and then this came out. It is really very good and is a completely different version with instruments being used and it has some vocals. It is only about 20 minutes long so some may not agree that it is an album, but they don’t make the rules here. It is well worth a good listen.
28 Arca – Arca
This album came as a complete surprise to me as it is nothing like the last release, it has vocals from Arc, they are semi-operatic perhaps? Probably much of it is in Portuguese, I don’t know, it’s difficult to describe so have a listen and decide for yourself. It has some really nice textures and effects and despite hating it on first listen it quickly grew on me and I rate it very highly now.
27 William Basinski – A Shadow In Time
A two track album, one side each, is quite short for Basinski after his Disintegration Tapes that were spread out over several volumes, but the comparative brevity is not a problem, the loops carry you off and only on a couple of occasions do they snap you out of your ponderings. The first track is a twenty minute tribute to David Bowie complete with underlying saxophone and, for both tracks, the way the music fills space makes it almost tactile.
26 Richard Pinhas – Reverse
Described as guitar drones but this album delivers much more than that. The live drumming is fantastic and really fills out the sound of the great guitar work from Pinhas. It runs to four tracks totalling just under 50 minutes and spending that time listening to this is time well spent.
25 Tinariwen – Elwan
This is the seventh full-length release for the Tuareg blues-rock band and features guest appearances from Alain Johannes, Mark Lanegan, Matt Sweeney, and Kurt Vile. It is a great listen from start to finish and has often kept me company on the long drive to work as it is quite uplifting rhythmically and not knowing what all the words mean matters not at all.
24 Mondkopf – They Fall, But You Don’t
On the evening of November 13th, 2015, Paul Régimbeau began making music in his Paris studio as Mondkopf for the first time in over a year. It was the night of the coordinated suicide bombings and shootings that killed 130 people across Paris and the nearby suburb of Saint-Denis. What resulted was the opening track of the album, setting the tone for the tracks to come. Each of the tracks is prefixed with ‘Vivere’, which is Italian for ‘To Live’ . This album took repeated listening, but it really pays off.
23 Brian Eno – Reflection
Brian Eno released Reflection, the latest in a series of ambient albums that started with 1975’s Discreet Music, on Sunday, January 1, 2017. The title and conspicuous release date seem to suggest his intentions for the 54-minute recording. Reflection doesn’t unfurl so much as ripple and resonate with a measured pace, keeping its pensive tenor constant. Eno calls it “thinking music”—or, more specifically, “provocative spaces for thinking”—and says he initially hadn’t intended for it to be released. Perhaps after a year that he described as “pretty rough,” he thought the world could use something made for self-reflection. https://www.residentadvisor.net/reviews/20298
22 Sampha – Process
An album that is probably in many best of lists for 2017, and rightly so. It is a quite beautiful series of songs whose genesis was surely in the years building up to its release after 10 years in the music industry and the passing of his mother after a long illness. It is heartfelt and real, which may be why it was the worthy winner of the Mercury Prize for Music, the panel chose right.
21 Jlin – Black Origami
The second album from Jlin, Black Origami” is driven by a deep creative thirst which she describes as “this driving feeling that I wanted to do something different, something that challenged me to my core. Black Origami for me, comes from letting go creatively, creating with no boundaries. The simple definition of origami is the art of folding and constructing paper into a beautiful, yet complex design. Composing music for me is like origami, only I’m replacing paper with sound. I chose to title the album “Black Origami” because like “Dark Energy” I still create from the beauty of darkness and blackness. The willingness to go into the hardest places within myself to create for me means that I can touch the Infinity.” Fair enough.
20 Sufjan Stevens • Nico Muhly • Bryce Dessner • James McAlister –Planetarium
I have been listening to Sufjan Stevens for a lot of years now and always find his releases to be interesting. Planetarium is an album co-composed with Bryce Dessner (The National), James McAlister ( Ester Drang, Aqueduct) and Nico Muhly (Composer). Flanked by a string quartet and a consort of seven trombones, this collaborative ensemble has assembled an expansive song cycle that explores the Sun, the Moon, the planets and other celestial bodies of our solar system (and beyond) through soundscape, song, science and myth.
19 Actress – AZD
This is the fifth full-length studio release for electronic artist Darren Cunningham and was inspired by such things as Blade Runner, Rammellzee, and Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem. I bought it on a whim and have liked it since the first play. It’s not the easiest of albums but I like lots of albums that aren’t easy listens, which is often the appeal. The album has been described as retro-futuristic, which is a bloody stupid label. A better guide would be sort of left field garage, electro and house, probably.
18 Public Service Broadcasting – Every Valley
The first I remember hearing of Public Service Broadcasting was the single taken form this album, They Gave Me A Lamp, on Radio 6 while in the car. I absolutely loved it from the first listen, and not just because the subject matter was very dear to me relating as it does to the coal mines of South Wales, but because it felt to me like a lot of the post-rock I listen to but with interesting vocal samples over the top for a different texture. A great album in my opinion .
17 Hidden Orchestra – Dawn Chorus
Odd one this as I bought a previous release, Archipelago, and didn’t like it all that much at the time but since listening to this current release I’ve revised and am happy to admit that I was wrong, first impressions are not always right. As the current album unfolds you’re drawn into the world it creates through its atmospheres and textures, complete with birdsong, and it is a lovely thing to experience.
16 Oneohtrix Point Never – Good Time (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Another album that first came to my attention via Radio 6, this time from the non-representitve of the rest of the album single featuring Iggy Pop, which I think is so good it warrants the album purchase on its own. What you get as well though is all the context leading up to this final track, through samples, rather unsettling echo chamber ambience, Vangelis and Moroder influenced synth sounds and a rather tense atmosphere. It’s intense and brilliant.
15 The Future Sound Of London –
I love FSOL, which is all I need to say really, but I’ll add more anyway. This is a triple vinyl with each record specific to a series. The Archived section pulls 8 previously released tracks from the series (which are mostly only available digitally) but in some cases new mixes of these tracks have been created specially for this release. The other 9 tracks are unreleased Archive. Then there is the Environmental series, this time with 16 new tracks and finally , Views which brings together much of the piano work FSOL have done over the years and also includes 2 new cover versions of tracks by Brian Eno and his brother Roger Eno. It’s a winner.
14 Mogwai – Every Country’s Sun
13 David Rawlings – Poor David’s Almanack
I really do believe that Dave Rawlings is a master craftsman, it’s not just the harmonising he does so well with Gillian Welch, or the wonderful guitar playing, not even the wonderful song writing, but also the sound and tone of the tracks as they swell off the record and fill the room like a bloody big hug. I’ve seen them both live and their spellbinding live performances are inform how I listen to this album, but regardless, this is Americana, it’s damn near perfect and it’s timeless.
12 Tricky – ununiform
I think this is the most consistent release from Tricky for a little while now and the return of Martina Topley-Bird, even if only for one track, is a welcome one any the end of the album, after several other guest appearances from Francesca Belmonte, Asia Argento, Scriptonite and more. There’s a really good consistent feel to the tracks and the production which makes for a really good listen from an album that seems Maxinqyuae-esque, and that was a masterpiece.
11 Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers
I’ve read some negative reviews of this album, but everybody is entitled to their opinion, even if it’s wrong. I had it on pre-order and was delighted to hear it in full when it arrived. Admittedly, this is far from a reinvention, but sometimes you have to give the people what they want, and I feel they’ve done that and it is strangely uplifting in places, which is not a usual thing for GYBE.
10 Death And Vanilla – To Where The Wild Things Are…..
I am rather obsessed by Death and Vanilla and now have everything they’ve released on vinyl including a pre-order for their second live improvised film soundtrack. This release is probably the best song related of the two so far, with California Owls being a bonifide single that in an alternate reality where my musical tastes are what passes for pop would have been a hit. Broadcast and Stereolab are the touching points if you need them, and for me they are on a par. I love everything about them.
9 Kelly Lee Owens – ‘Kelly Lee Owens’
I bought this because I liked the cover, I’d never heard of Kelly Lee Owens before but to me she seems extremely accomplished on this debut album of layered, atmospheric tracks blending minimal techno, dream-pop, Krautrock and ambient drone into an incredibly listenable and interesting album. Quite the find based on nothing more than liking the look of it.
8 Björk – Utopia
Do I like Vulnicurna? I didn’t at first, but I think I possibly do now. So do I like Utopia, well I like it more than Vulnicurna, I’m pretty sure about that. It is more of a collaboration with Arca than a solo album, and I do really like everything that is going on behind the voice. The album requires listening to differently I think, not in expectation of anything like the tracks from her first four releases. Do that and it is really very rewarding.
7 Four Tet – New Energy
Kieran Hebdan is a firm favourite of mine so there was absolutely no doubt that I would be getting this latest release which is as consistently good as ever. For a composer who always seems to be looking forward, Hebden unexpectedly revisits previous sounds with a touch of Rounds, a bit of the free jazz of Everything Ecstatic, a drop of Pink and the sprawl of Morning/Evening. it is a very accessible listen and highly recommended by me.
6 Gorillaz – ‘Humanz’
The return of Gorillaz after a seven year gap with a host of guest appearances from from Jehnny Beth, Danny Brown, Benjamin Clementine, D.R.A.M., Del La Soul, Peven Everett, Anthony Hamilton, Grace Jones, Zebra Katz, Kelela, Popcaan, Jamie Principle, Pusha T, Mavis Staples, Vince Staples, and Kali Uchis, blimey! It is an album of the now, rallying as it does, indirectly at times, against the current world political situation while still managing to have some top tunes.
5 Forest Swords – Compassion
Bought on a whim and loved in a moment. I was absolutely delighted with what I was listening to when this first went on the turntable. I knew roughly what I was getting as I’d heard a track online but had no idea that the album as a whole would be as good as it is. This is the second full-length release for the electronic project of Matthew Barnes and for most it is a slow burner but, haunting as it is, it pays off hugely. The Highest Flood is a stunning track that is almost religious in its grip on heart and mind.
4 Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Well it’s Kendrick Lamar, who rarely seems to put a foot wrong. It isn’t the best album he’s ever released, but the quality of his previous output was so high that achieving brilliance with DAMN. isn’t quite enough to be at the top of the output pile. It is an hour of Lamar playing with a varied sonic palette and impressionistic melodies that still somehow to spawn perfectly evolved ear-worms.
3 Slowdive – Slowdive
Completley ignored by me until 2017, Slowdive are a band I should have been into 25 years ago but for reasons I am unable to explain I never took the time to listen to anything, until this year when I heard, once again, on Radio 6. I bought the album at the record store and have worn out the grooves (I haven’t, it’s just an expression, stop taking everything literally). I love the sound of everything they’ve done, and I now have all their albums, and though I sort of regret missing out, it has been like discovering a new favourite band with 4 albums just waiting for me to listen to them.
2 Mew – Visuals
There is something about Mew that I just don’t hear from other bands that I really like and I was really rather excited about this new release, it didn’t let me down. It’s perhaps more pop oriented than previous releases, evidenced by hearing a track being played in some women clothes shop I was dragged into for my opinions on blouses (the track was 85 Videos in case you were wondering, no blouse was bought). This album is not going to be high up on any other chart of the year, or even included, but these are all my opinion and I love it.
1 Max Richter – Three Worlds: Music From Woolf Works
Max Richter’s score for a narrative dance piece, Woolf Works, is a masterpiece of minimalist storytelling. The score opens with “Word”, inspired by Mrs. Dalloway. The second act is based on ‘Orlando’, considered Woolf’s most personal work and concludes with the sounds of waves lapping in the middle of the ocean. It is a stunningly beautiful work that is tinged with melancholy, particularly when Gillian Anderson’s voice drifts in to read Woolf’s suicide letter to her husband, Leonard. An unexpected choice for my number 1 album of the year perhaps but is just too good to be anywhere but at number 1. It doesn’t figure anywhere in other lists of the year that I know of, which is a terrible omission but speaks at least for the ridiculous number of music genres that I like, hoorah for me.
Outside the top 30:
A couple of mentions of albums that. on another day, could have been in my top 30, but not today, maybe tomorrow:
Bonobo – Migration: I just haven’t listened to it enough, my fault.
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, Gustavo Santaolalla, Mogwai – Before The Flood: Same reason, I think I’ve played it all the way through once, needs more time from me.
There are, of course, many more records out there that were released in 2017 that deserve to be in somebody’s list of the year, but if they aren’t on my record shelf I haven’t included them. The new Baxter Dury would be one of these, I’ve ordered it but it hasn’t arrived yet, which is a shame as it definitely would be in the top 30.
So that’s me, what would be in your best of 2017?