A Year In The Ear: 2017
by Thomas Blake
A record for every week of the year – here is a list of my favourite new albums of 2017.
52. Dutch Uncles – Big Balloon
Sure it’s essentially derivative – Oh Yeah is basically a camp XTC – and the lyrics are silly, but musically this is some high quality product, lovingly crafted, knowing and at times uplifting.
51. Hans P. og Rasmus Kjorstad – Pusinshi Ulla
The most startling, original album of experimental Norwegian folk you’re likely to hear all year. You can read my review here.
50. Tisso Lake -Paths to the Foss
Edinburgh-based Ian Humberstone’s site-specific homage to a Scandinavian waterfall. Here’s a review.
49. Offa Rex – The Queen Of Hearts
If you were playing Fantasy Folk-Rock you’d want Olivia Chaney up front and the Decemberists in midfield. Together, they sound like Steeleye Span for the twenty-first century.
48. Aquaserge – Laisse ca Etre
Former Stereolab members sounding a bit like Stereolab, which is nice.
47. Cape Snow – The Last of the Light
Inspired collaboration, which I was lucky enough to review, between singer Bree Scanlon and slowcore old-timers Tiger Saw. For fans of Low or Mazzy Star.
46. House and Land – House and Land
Minimal Appalachian drone-folk, anyone?
45. Ajani Jones – Eternal Bliss
Cool, intelligent rap from Chicago.
44. Lisa Knapp – Till April Is Dead: A Garland of May
Innovative take on English traditional music. Reviewed here.
43. The Hayman Kupa Band – The Hayman Kupa Band
Darren Hayman returns to the themes he explored with Hefner, with help from the vocal talents of songwriter Emma Kupa.
42. Allred & Broderick – Find the Ways
Superb collaborative effort, bridging the gap between timeless folk music and minimal modern composition. I gushed about it back in April.
41. Fred Thomas – Changer
An indie-rock album about finding maturity, but delivered with carefree abandon.
40. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Best Troubadour
Affectionate and beautifully rendered tribute album of Merle Haggard songs. Another one that I got to review.
39. Emma Gatrill – Cocoon
Brighton-based harpist partially filling the Joanna Newsom-shaped hole in this year’s music.
38. Stef Chura – Messes
Chura created some of the year’s catchiest guitar-pop.
37. Karla Kane – King’s Daughters Home for Incurables
Another collection of unbelievably catchy tunes, with a darkly witty heart.
36. Julien Marchal – Insight III
More Chopin-esque loveliness from the prolific composer and pianist.
35. Big Thief – Capacity
Mary might just be the best song of the year, and the rest of the record isn’t bad either.
34. Jonwayne – Rap Album 2
One of the most erudite and distinctive talents in rap.
33. Sun Riah – Sitting With Sounds and Listening For Ghosts
Delicate and devastating in equal measure.
32. Toby Hay – The Gathering
One of the best instrumental guitar albums I’ve heard in a very long time. File alongside Fahey, Jansch, William Tyler. I had great fun reviewing this one.
31. Lomelda – Thx
Wise, life-affirming sad-pop from one of America’s most honest, endearing songwriters.
30. Jane Weaver – Modern Kosmology
Does what it says on the tin. Kraut-pop and psychy synths. A career highlight.
29. Alasdair Roberts – Pangs
Another year, another superb Roberts album for me to review.
28. Hauschka – What If
The year’s second best album of prepared piano music.
27. Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness
Byrne is the closest thing we’ve got to a new Joni Mitchell. I reviewed her album for Folk Radio UK.
26. Colin Stetson – All This I Do For Glory
Stetson is still pushing the boundaries of the relationship between man and sax (and inviting bad sex/sax puns).
25. The Gist – Holding Pattern
Young Marble Giant Stuart Moxham is back and still bonkers (the new record has a DIY dub take on the old magpie rhyme).
24. (Sandy) Alex G – Rocket
Wide-ranging, maybe a bit patchy, but always lovable (and it contained two of the year’s finest songs, the folk-pop belter Bobby and the Big Star-channelling Proud).
23. Richard Dawson – Peasant
I described this record as ‘astonishing’ when it was released, and it’s lost none of its power to amaze. One of the strangest and most ambitious of the year’s albums.
22. Laura Cannell – Hunter Huntress Hawker
Violin compositions blurring the boundaries between modern and ancient. Mesmerising.
21. The Caretaker – Everywhere At The End Of Time
38 tracks (so far), the first half of an epic exploration of dementia. It’s not set to be completed until March 2019, which means there’s a chance the same album will appear on this list three years in a row.
20. The Inward Circles – And Right Lines Limit And Close All Bodies
Lovely, sometimes disturbing, drone-laden site-specific sound art from composer Richard Skelton. Experimental music at its most vital.
19. King Ayisoba – 1000 Can Die
Bang full of energy and ideas, fiercely Ghanaian but impressively international in scope.
18. Saagara – Saagara 2
Polish composer Waclaw Zimpel and his Indian orchestra create a sound that is hypnotic, minimalistic and highly original.
17. SZA – Ctrl
Confessional, catchy and cutting in equal measure. The pains pleasures of being a young woman in America, brilliantly presented.
16. Phillinois – Stale Green Light
Bristol label Liquid Library is putting out some great stuff, and this release from over the Atlantic is one of the year’s best. Lo-fi indie with heart.
15. Joanne Robertson and Dean Blunt – Wahalla
This was actually recorded in 2014 but only got an official release this year, and it’s absolutely brilliant. Robertson provides typically detached vocals and distorted, psychy guitar, Blunt’s weird guiding hand is ever-present, but never obvious.
14. Laurel Halo – Dust
One of the best ‘electronic’ albums of the year, but so much more soulful than that genre would have you believe.
13. Alex Rex – Vermillion
It’s been a good year for folk-rock acts with ‘Rex’ in their name. Trembling Bells drummer and songwriter Alex Neilson serves up a swirling stew neo-psychedelia.
12. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – The Kid
Another triumph of exploratory electronica from last year’s poll-topper.
11. Bulldog Eyes – Seeya
Technically from last year, but released right at the end of December, so I’m including it in this year’s list. Woozy, wonky lo-fi bedroom pop at its finest.
10. Linda Catlin Smith – Drifter
Double album of immense scope and beauty, charting the composer and pianist’s chamber works over the last decade or so.
9. Colleen – A Flame My Love, A Frequency
Cecile Schott is one of our most consistent (and consistently underrated) artists. Here she sets aside her viola da gamba in favour of pocket piano and synths. The results are captivating, and the artwork by Iker Spozio is worth the price of the vinyl alone.
8. Amelia Devoid – Hypogeum
Inspired by native American heritage and the writing of Umberto Eco and Phillip Pullman, Devoid (her real name, apparently) has created something which is both ambient and immediate.
7. Harriet Brown – Contact
Funk, electronica, hip-hop and a load of weird shit, all thrown into a millennial pot and stirred with a spoon made from Prince’s shin bone.
6. Ellen Arkbro – For Organ And Brass
Ultra-modern Swedish drone, filtered through the musical systems of Renaissance Europe.
5. Kelly Moran – Bloodroot
Minimalist prepared piano pieces, on a botanical theme, inspired by but not in thrall to John Cage.
4. Zimpel/Ziolek – Zimpel/Ziolek
Waclaw Zimpel’s second appearance on this list, this time accompanied by guitarist Kuba Ziolek. The result is something like a cross between Roy Harper and Terry Riley.
3. Helena Celle – If I Can’t Handle Me At My Best, Then You Don’t Deserve You At Your Worst
It actually came out last year, but only got a full vinyl release on Night School in 2017. Melodic, experimental techno, I suppose, but such distinctions don’t really do it justice.
2. Soley – Endless Summer
A sparkling Icelandic chamber-pop masterpiece. The musical equivalent of freeze-thaw erosion, but much prettier.
1. Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked At Me
One of the saddest, rawest collections of songs ever released. Some have questioned whether Phil Elverum’s extended lament for his recently dead wife even qualifies as art at all. I don’t think that’s the right question to be asking. Just take it for what it is: pure human emotion, recorded as it happened.