It’s been one of those years where it’s become increasingly difficult to keep up with all the new releases that zoom past my tired, wonky eyes on a weekly basis while surfing the web or scouring the backs of music magazines. Work commitments are one reason for this (oh, how I’d love to be a student again), but the other is that I’ve been attending many more live shows over the past 12 months than I did the previous year. Balancing these two things with listening to dozens of new albums each week has been a bit of a challenge so there’s probably some absolute gems missing from my top ten releases for 2017. I promise I’ll try harder next year. Anyway, I’ve bent the rules slightly by including a live album and an EP in there, and if you asked me to do this again next week the order of some albums would likely change, so don’t take their placings too seriously as they’re all great in their own way. Thanks and all the best for 2018.
10 Portico Quartet ‘Art in the Age of Automation’
After a largely disastrous mis-step into electro-pop territory as a trio under the name Portico in 2015 (easily among the biggest disappointments in recent memory), fans who thought they’d lost another great band were relieved to discover that they were returning to what they do best as a jazz-based qaurtet (hang drum included). Their previous releases as Portico Quartet were widely praised for their marriage of mellow jazz and electronica, with ‘Art in the Age of Automation’ picking up right where they left off featuring an abundance of laidack grooves and an even more seamless blend of electronics and organic instrumentation.
‘Art in the Age of Automation’ is available via Gondwana Records
9 Sleater-Kinney ‘Live in Paris’
Their first official live album, ‘Live in Paris’ was recorded while touring their eighth studio album ‘No Cities to Love’ around Europe during 2015. The 13-track set, clocking in at the 50-minute mark, captures Sleater-Kinney at close to their very best with a energetic and passionate performance. It also offers a great overview of their career thus far, with 2005’s ‘The Woods’ and ‘No Cities to Love’ dominating proceedings with four songs each. There’s even room for a couple of tracks from their classic sophomore ‘Dig Me Out’, with the only albums not represented being their 1995 self-titled debut and 2000’s ‘All Hands on the Bad One’.
Melbourne-born, London-via-Berlin singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Carla dal Forno is among the most interesting artists on the DIY/underground scene right now. Stylistically, ‘The Garden’ isn’t too far removed from her debut ‘You Know What It’s Like’. The sparse, slow-paced, dark pop sound remains, but this time it’s much more refined. There’s also a greater emphasis placed on her understated vocals, adding more volume, and by extension, warmth. Clocking in at just under 17-minutes, ‘The Garden’ is undoubtedly a step forward and contains her best work thus far. It’s pretty much the perfect EP and leaves with a feel of great anticipation for what she may come up with on her next full-length release.
‘The Garden’ is available now via Blackest Ever Black
7 Algiers ‘The Underside of Power’
The follow-up to their well received debut, ‘The Underside of Power’ is more focused and finds them really upping their songwriting game, while also retaining the smorgasbord of influences we heard from them in 2015 (post punk, industrial, blues, gospel, soul). Examining political disenfranchisement and systems of oppression in the context of recent events and recent history, it’s the sort of album that our modern times needs more than ever. And in the title-track lead single they arguably released one of the years finest pop moments with its Northern Soul-inspired style featuring a Sam Cooke-echoing chorus. If they can tighten up their live show then these guys can go very far indeed.
‘The Underside of Power’ is available now via Matador Records
6 The Caretaker ‘Everywhere at the End of Time (Stages 1-3)’
The final collection of music to be released by Leyland Kirby under his moniker The Caretaker, a project he began during the late 1990s after being inspired by the haunted ballroom scene in the 1980 movie The Shining, ‘Everywhere at the End of Time’ is among the most fascinating conceptual projects you’re ever likely to hear. A 38-track, triple CD set compiling the first three stages of his series (with another three forthcoming), it takes a close look at dementia and its effects on the human mind. Equally heartbreaking and beautiful, the first in the series contains pieces that are the most playful and nostalgic, with the second and third in the series shifting further down to road to complete memory loss.
‘Everywhere at the End of Time (Stages 1-3)’ is available now via History Always Favours The Winner
Experimenting with tape loops since the late 1970s, New York-based minimalist composer William Basinski only released his first album in 1998, but has been nothing short of prolific ever since. Best known for his widely acclaimed four-volume 9/11 lament ‘The Disintegration Loops’, his latest release ‘A Shadow In Time’ is arguably his finest work to date. Containing two contrasting, 20-plus-minute pieces which were re-assembled from damaged and decaying fragments of tape that an old roommate’s cat has partially chewed, his David Bowie eulogy ‘For David Robert Jones’ is one of the most beautiful and haunting pieces of music released this year.
‘A Shadow In Time’ is available via Temporary Residence
4 Max Richter ‘Three Worlds: Music From Woolf Works’
German-British pianist and composer Max Richter, known primarily for creating film scores until 2015’s ‘SLEEP’ came to wider attention, is one of the leading lights in the so called modern classical movement (alongside the likes of Nils Frahm and A Winged Victory for the Sullen). Abridged from a ballet written around the life and works of novelist Virginia Woolf, ‘Three World: Music From Woolf Works’ is almost the complete opposite to his excellent 2015 crossover release in that it’s utterly exhilarating. Each of the three sections contain spoken word introductions (one featuring Virginia Woolf herself, the other two read by actresses, including Gillian Anderson who recites Woolf’s suicide note) and are titled after three of her novels Mrs Dalloway, Orlando, and The Waves. It may be classical but it’s also very accessible.
‘Three Worlds: Music From Woolf Works’ via Deutsche Grammophon
One of the most sonically adventurous and unpredictable acts in the world, with past albums incorporating almost everything including ambient, drone, orchestral arrangements and various forms of rock, still managed to spring another suprise with ‘The Assassination of Julius Caesar’. By far the Kristoffer Rygg-led Norwegian collective’s most accessible work to date, it takes inspiration from a host of 1980’s synth pop groups, most notably Depeche Mode. But even with this new style, they manage to remain distinctively Ulver. With lyrical themes which blend events of the modern world and those of the past, featuring frequent references to the Roman Empire, the embrace of synth pop also allows the diverse voice of Kristoffer Rygg to take centre-stage.
While much of the hype surrounding alternative R&B artists in recent years has revolved around the likes of Kelela and FKA Twigs, Dutch-Iranian born former basketball player Sevdaliza caught almost everyone off guard when she released ‘ISON’ for free on YouTube at the end of April (with a physical release following in July). Making a name for herself with a series of eye-catching musicvideos she’d been releasing since 2014, as well as a couple of well received EPs, Sevdaliza’s much anticipated full-length debut offers up a near perfect blend of industrial-flavoured electronics, trip hop-style beats, orchestral arrangements, subtle keys, stunningly agile vocals and deeply reflective lyrics, all woven together into a rich and detailed tapestry.
‘ISON’ is available via Twisted Elegance
1 Gnod ‘Just Say No to the Psycho Right-Wing Capitalist Fascist Industrial Death Machine’
Inspired by the recent socio-political shit show, Salford-based experimental krautrock collective created their most direct and aggressive record since they formed just over a decade ago on the somewhat verbosely titled ‘Just Say No to the Psycho Right-Wing Capitalist Fascist Industrial Death Machine’. With their more psychedelic influences toned down, it’s an album largely driven anger and brute force. The thunderously abrasive opener ‘Bodies For Money’ is capable of starting a riot, and besides the ambient-style second half to close ‘Stick In The Wheel’ that’s pretty much how it continues for much of its 40-minutes. Gnod as quite possibly the best thing happening in Britain’s underground music scene today and are an absolute must-see live too.
‘Just Say No to the Psycho Right-Wing Capitalist Fascist Industrial Death Machine’ is available via Rocket Recordings
Ghostpoet – ‘Dark Days + Canapés’ Godspeed You! Black Emperor – ‘Luciferian Towers’
Jehst – ‘Billy Green Is Dead’
Kelly Lee Owens – ‘Kelly Lee Owens’
Liars – ‘TFCF’
Tyler, the Creator – ‘Flower Boy’
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