Albums of the Year 2017: 21-17
The time has come again for my annual cap-doffing to the albums that kept me sane, satiated, and surprised during the past twelve months. It’s a five-a-day countdown until Friday 5th January, on which I’ll indulgently yak about my favourite album of the year and why I adore it beyond all reason. Until then, dig out your headphones, check your coat pockets for Jaffa Cakes, and join me in saluting favourites of 2017 before we draw a line under that bizarre year and crack on.
Queens of the Stone Age
Until his ill-advised kick at Chelsea Lauren, Joshua Homme had enjoyed a banner year with his Queens, racking up a series of triumphant highs even without considering the coveted appearance on CBeebies’ Bedtime Stories. It’s a shame that his recent onstage behaviour (while not to be condoned) has soured the aftertaste of Villains’ success, because on its own terms it’s a crackerjack of a record: breezy, kinetic, and both rigid and loose in all the right places. Sporting a beat-centric strut throughout its runtime, Villains is a notable entry not just for Mark Ronson’s oft-discussed hand in production duties, but also for the plausibility of the glam-era Bowie fixation the record flaunts, with cuts like ‘Domesticated Animals’ and ‘Un-Reborn Again’ bringing some playful glee to the group’s muscular riff-rock.
“Going on a living spree / Any wanna come with me?”
The Far Field
In the wake of the world-beating Singles and its end-to-end reserves of gold, The Far Field was one of my most-anticipated releases of 2017, but on the first couple of listens, I came away feeling ambivalent towards Future Islands’ latest. But over the course of the year, and having been blessed enough to see the group twice this year, I’ve returned to their fifth record again and again, and with each fresh spin, it has worn down my defences. The time-honoured formula the trio work now sounds sturdy rather than spectacular, lacking the novel value it possessed in the time of In Evening Air, but the emotional undertow remains a force to be reckoned with, and on the likes of ‘Cave’, ‘Black Rose’ and ‘Time on Her Side’, the sweeping drama Future Islands are capable of conjuring is unparalleled by many of their peers. Backed by his bandmate’s trusty prowess in propulsive melodrama, Samuel T. Herring firmly holds on to his status as one of the most magnetic and convincingly earnest presences in the business.
“The sea was large today, just as any other day.”
Dealing with the platforms and channels of contemporary romance is an unending trial; one of facing the overwhelming obstacles in the way of emotional connections, and how in the process, our identities can be tested and distorted in our own eyes as well as those gazing back. It’s a rocky road that Solána Rowe navigates with swagger and self-effacement in Ctrl, whether she’s taking sexual revenge against partners, plumbing insecurities about her own image (and how it can be weaponised for or against her), or revelling in the efficiency and mundanity of technology’s role in the romantic fray. Over two self-released EPs and a third on Top Dawg Entertainment, SZA’s gravitational pull has steadily intensified, and although Ctrl’s bounties were swiped from under SZA’s nose by her label in the wake of a frustrated gestation process, it’s a joy to hear that the result gels as wonderfully as it does. Ctrl is a smooth, slow plume of a collection that digs into its themes with startling frankness, and articulates their complexities with style and concision.
“I get so lonely, I forget what I’m worth.”
Out in the Storm
Between her band’s bristly assault and her own charismatic snarl, Katie Crutchfield has a knack for churning out tunes that insistently rattle around the mind from early listens. Out in the Storm is the most streamlined Waxahatchee record to date, on which Crutchfield and pals churn out some of their fieriest hooks and most compassionate feats of songwriting in a career already studded with gems. True to its title, there’s an electricity in the fibres of Out in the Storm, crackling through the moody kiss-offs of Crutchfield’s emotional revelations (the sour end of a long-term relationship looms heavy over ‘8 Ball’ and ‘No Question’) as well as some of her most arresting balladry (‘Sparks Fly’, ‘Fade’). Listening to her exorcise the maelstroms within through cathartic bedroom punk is an experience of painful empathy, as well as an impressive further development of the talents in the Waxahatchee camp.
“I was waiting for permission to take off.”
There’s not a great deal of happiness to be heard on Sampha Sisay’s Mercury-scooper, but the delicate earnestness of his fluttery delivery bears Process aloft as a gorgeous highlight of 2017. It’s an album pockmarked by uncertainty, fear, and grief, Sisay’s lyrics often hinging on dislocating experiences that send the world irrevocably sliding out of place, and how painstaking it can be to adjust and accept life’s ruthless curveballs. Sisay’s personal health, artistic coming-of-age, and the death of his mother are the major sources informing his songwriting, but his musical chops are so well-honed that the upsetting circumstances that inform his work are rendered into things of beauty. Process is suffused with sonic wonder, and the sound of Sisay coming to terms with disparate issues through his beloved medium of sound is remarkably heartening.
“We don’t have to talk / I just need you here.”
Posted on January 1, 2018, in The Music World and tagged 2017, Albums of the Year, Ctrl, Future Islands, Out in the Storm, Process, Queens of the Stone Age, Sampha, SZA, Villains, Waxahatchee. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.