GIGsoup Writers Best Albums of 2017 : David Bentley

As the yearly accolades are bestowed for the various ‘Albums of 2017’ GIGsoup have handed over the presenting duties to their top writers. Keen to give artists of various, and sometimes more obscure, genres more of a mention each writer has listed 10 albums that have impressed them and in some cases changed the way they’ve listened to music over the previous 12 months.

Today is the turn of David Bentley to wow us with his selection…

10 Ida Long – Rainbows & Tears

Just edging out Meadowlark and Courtney Marie Andrews from this list is an album that technically shouldn’t be here. ‘Rainbows and Tears’ isn’t released in the UK until 1st January 2018 but has been available in Europe since early 2017. Ida Long, from northern Sweden though she’s half English, isn’t known here yet, but will be. You cannot really compare her to anyone, though the Swedish press has (including Kate Bush and Abba). She has a style that could almost be described as “indie-cabaret” (which I just made up). The Kate Bush comparison is evident in the fact she is an accomplished dancer, as is revealed on the You Tube versions of some of her songs and fitting dance routines are an established part of her live show. In the absence of the full album yet on Spotify in the UK, the link below is to her take on Tears for Fears’ ‘Mad World’, the song that helped her to attract early attention in her homeland.

9 The Deer Tracks – Undersvik

‘Undersvik’ is a long-anticipated return from Sweden’s David Lehnberg and Elin Skeppstedt, both of whom have been following their own path for the last few years. The two of them, and especially Lehnberg, have engaged in electronic experimentation latterly and it is evident on Undersvik. There’s a lot of fast-paced electronic music, a departure from the electro-pop that is usually associated with the Deer Tracks, with the complex percussion we’ve come to expect from this band and all held together by the omnipresent shrill and utterly distinctive voice of Elin Skeppstedt. If you enjoy British or British-based performers like Eno and John Metcalfe, The Deer Tracks are right up your, er, track. With this album they remind us that they remain very much at the cutting edge of electronic music in Scandinavia and beyond.

8 Siv Jakobsen – The Nordic Mellow

Another Norwegian artist who has been working in the UK, because she feels it is more conducive to singer-songwriters like her; Siv Jakobsen is an exponent of melancholia and soulful frustration, right up there with the best of them and with a hauntingly fragile quality to her voice. Her lyrics portray the disharmony in her private life – notably on the songs ‘Berry & Whythe’, about her time as a lost soul in Brooklyn’s trendy but isolating Williamsburg district, and ‘Like I Used To’  – but there is no disharmony whatsoever in her music.

7 Susanne Sundfør – Music for People in Trouble

Back in Norwegian territory again for this one (and the next) – I know I’m not alone in thinking that some of the best music in the world is coming out of that place just now. Susanne Sundfør is far longer established as a solo artist than any of her Nordic peers mentioned above but that generates its own expectations of course. ‘Music for People in Trouble’ is her fifth album, and each of the previous three had gone straight to #1 in Norway but there had been concerns that the fourth, ‘Ten Love Songs’, had gone too far along a path of electronic grandiosity for someone who began as a folk singer-songwriter. Written in East London, Music for People in Trouble yet again provides the vehicle for Sundfør’s exquisite voice and what she is capable of is best summed up in one track, ‘The Sound of War’, which starts life as a sort of medieval ballad and ends with the hardcore electronic drone experimentation that you’d associate with Anna von Hausswolff. As is often the case with Sundfør on this album you get tracks that are actually two or more songs fused into one, but she does it brilliantly.

6 Torres – Three Futures

St Vincent’s alter ago Mackenzie Scott has some of the Future Cult Leader’s eccentric personality but in manageable quantities. She has the ability to meld guitar and synth sounds in a way that many can only aspire to while her style, bringing together electro-pop, Krautrock, and gothic modes, and enhanced by heavy industrial guitar chords such as on ‘Concrete Ganesha’ together with a committed and commanding vocal presence, is inimitable. She also gets into this list for having the nerve – as a southern USA resident with a world of recording studio choices – to lay down Three Futures in Stockport, a town which was once singled out by Oxfam in Pakistan as a potential recipient of international food parcels.

5 Sløtface – Try Not to Freak Out

If you like your punk to have a good slice of pop in it, in fact if pop-punk is really your thing, then you can’t go wrong with Sløtface. The young Norwegians from Stavanger have contrived to put together a joyful , melodious (not malodorous)and marauding punk bash and without cutting any corners. “Patti Smith would never put up with this shit” intones Texan lead vocalist Haley Shea on opening track ‘Magazine’; a woman who has the attitude of a giant fjord or an oil rig sat proudly in the North Sea. The likes of Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer and The Ramones (all of them) wouldn’t recognise this as punk for sure, but then they probably couldn’t have written great tunes like ‘Galaxies’, ‘Pools’ or ‘Try’ either.

4 Cattle & Cane – Mirrors

Possibly the most under-rated band in the UK, the Tees-siders Joe and Helen Hammill and their assorted relatives and friends have, with their second album, delivered what is at the same time easy to listen to, and demanding, folk/pop with a 1970’s flavour and perfect harmonies.  At one extreme is the almost Eurovision-like ‘Fool for You’ and at the other the anthemicly ending ’Dealing with the Devil’ while ‘Tonight we Dance (Cleveland Hills)’ is a stirring finale that could be an anthem of its own for their locality. As I said in the original review Mirrors is what Car Share’s John and Kayleigh will be listening to on Forever FM as they drive home from work.

3 Gordi – Reservoir

This album might have made it to #2 on the list if it was not for irritating over-engineering on some tracks. The Australian Sophie Payten doesn’t need it; her rich contralto voice (the female equivalent of the male baritone) can carry her though any of her powerful songs without artificial manipulation. She’s  a master of the unusual beat (check ‘Can We Work it Out’), smart lyrics and of the unexpected, suddenly springing into life from a standing start or taking a sharp change in direction.  And her live performances are quite staggering. Unfortunately you just missed her but she’ll be back. Next time, don’t!

2 Soffía Björg – Soffía Björg

Another artist to escape much attention in the UK to date, though she hasn’t yet toured here but that might hopefully change early in 2018. Icelander Soffía Björg (Óðinsdóttir) has been compared (inevitably) to Björk and less predictably to Norah Jones but Jones wouldn’t tack on the delightful Beatles-esque ‘I Lie’ to an album that manages to marry some of the ethereal beauty of her homeland with the power of  its baser, rawer elements. Backed by some of the most virtuoso musicians in Iceland (a country in which just about everyone is a musician), a live performance of commanding songs like ‘Silence the Voices’ is awaited with great anticipation.

1 Sol Heilo – Skinhorse Playground

The first time I heard the opening bars of ‘America’, the first single from Sol Heilo’s debut album ‘Skinhorse Playground’, I was hooked. Solveig Heilo has years of experience with energetic Norwegian country-rock band Katzenjammer but went off in an introspectively different direction on this album, written over the 12-year existence of that band. Ranging across subjects that include the good, the bad and the ugly in America, band break-ups, bad relationships, the death of a relative and Norway’s disturbing recent history, Heilo finds a memorable tune in every song, manages to conjure up melodies within melodies, creates innumerable goose bump moments and lays down here the most beautiful ballad (‘Walk a Little Further’) that I’ve heard in years. She played just about every one of the many instruments on the album herself and even generated her own 50-voice gospel choir. Heilo has that all-too-rare quality of being able to sing melancholic songs in an uplifting fashion yet is strangely devoid, so far, of much UK radio airplay. British DJs – listen up in euphoria! – as she sings on America.