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GIGsoup Writers Best Albums of 2017 : Tadgh Shiels

As the yearly accolades are bestowed, GIGsoup have handed over presenting duties to us, the writers, to give a broader scope of artists, genres and labels the recognition they deserve.

For all the albums I heard in 2017, the year was ruled by moments. Flashes of brilliance seemed to occupy my musical consciousness rather than full records to hold up and call classics. That said, here’s my unconventional selection of ten phenomenal full-lengths released over the past eleven months. The studio album takes a step back as I include one recently discovered compilation and two extraordinary live releases. With choices hailing from Athens to Argentina, Mali to Melbourne, it’s a pretty eclectic collection which I hope will go some way in reflecting a greater diversity among the general “albums of the year” scramble.

10 Shakey Graves – Shakey Graves And The Horse He Rode In On (Dualtone Records)

Shakey Graves is the stage handle of Austin born and bred Alejandro Rose-Garcia, who offers up one of the most intriguing records of 2017 in unexpected fashion. Compiling two rare releases, which had customarily been passed around by a few aficionados as online bootlegs, this official collection showcases the Texan’s bluesy lo-fi folk style, soul-infused vocal turns and raw approach to recording. Shakey’s characteristic acoustic guitar technique, which delights in rhythmical chugging, vigorously bent notes and occasional dissonance, is the driving force of a record which offers little in the way of percussion save for seemingly makeshift tapping on whatever objects were closest at hand during the sessions. Cuts from ‘The Donor Blues EP’, which make up the first half of the album, toe the line between wry anti-folk sketches and subtle melancholic tunes with mesmerizing vocal harmonies, while being on the cruder side of production qualities. The sound gets a bit more polished in the second half, though, with even a string section arrangement appearing alongside Shakey’s dexterous guitar plucking and dynamic vocal performance on the track ‘Wolfman Agenda’.

09 Wand – Plum (Drag City Records)

The guy who backed Ty Segall and shredded with together PANGEA has also been working his twisted psychedelic magic with his own prolific contributions to California’s burgeoning garage scene. Following up his recent debut solo album, last year’s ‘The Unborn Capitalist From Limbo’, Cory Hanson now returns with his ensemble of rock wizards for a more concentrated effort than Wand’s previous rapid-fire releases. Fusing the eerie acoustics of his solo recordings with the band’s heavy psych-rock tendencies ‘Bee Karma’ goes from dreamy falsetto melodies to razor-sharp riffing without warning. The monorhythmic piano and slow build of the title track coalesces into brooding vocals and warped guitar notes resembling ‘The Bends’-era Radiohead, while ‘White Cat’ sounds like something fellow west coast luminaries Thee Oh Sees could’ve churned out on a good day. Lazy comparisons aside, Plum is the sleekest alt-rock record this year you haven’t heard of.

08 Kill West – Gush (Stolen Body Records)

This masterclass in psyched-out garage-rock’n’roll is akin to the sound of Iggy and The Stooges beating the hell out of Status Quo, heard through the noxious haze of whatever the band were smoking at the time. Fran Beceiro’s casually snarled, reverb-laden vocals are almost lost beneath the punchy guitar riffs and pummelled drum beats, while a zinger of squealing guitar notes sometimes breaks through the mix for a knockout blow. For all its proto-punk grit, though, tracks like ‘Faces’ and ‘Gush’ are surprisingly fluid and catchy, while ‘Garden of Eden’ and ‘Skull and Bones Blues’ are slow-burners that jam on a handful of power chords without apologising. Hailing from Argentina, these Buenos Aires bad-boys defy their South American coordinates on their second full-length.

07 Bill MacKay & Ryley Walker –SpiderBeetleBee (Drag City Records)

Taking a step back from his ascendant solo career Ryley Walker teams up with fellow windy city folkster Bill MacKay for a second set of instrumental collaborations, following up their 2014 record ‘Land of Plenty’. Adorning intricate fingerstyle compositions with slide guitar, cello, and tenderly plucked improvisations the duo evoke a dreamy pastoral wonderland full of innocence and beauty, while drawing on the traditions of British folk and American primitivism. The baroque stylings of ‘The Grand Old Trout’ and ‘Lower Chestnut’ recall later period Bert Jansch instrumental works such as ‘Avocet’, while ‘I Heard Them Singing’ experiments with some almost banjo-like requinto guitar and elastic tabla percussion ending up somewhere between the indies and the deep south.

06 King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Flying Microtonal Banana (Heavenly Recordings)

It’s hardly surprising that King Gizzard’s first offering of 2017 was their most focused and conceptually sound, given that they promised a total of five albums over the course of the year. In the meantime we’ve had the sprawling sci-fi odyssey of ‘Murder of the Universe’, the quirky laid-back jazz-fusion of ‘Sketches of Brunswick East’ and most recently the otherworldly prog-fest ‘Polygondwanaland’, released free of charge via the band’s website. The Aussie psych wizards we’re at their best on ‘Flying Microtonal Banana’, though, ingeniously combining their custom guitars with detuned pianos and Eastern wind instrumentation to explore the realms of microtonal music, creating some startlingly original effects over their usual bizarro-rock anthems.

05 Awa Poulo – Poulo Warali (Awesome Tapes from Africa)

Hailing from a remote region in south-western Mali, Awa Poulo was rarely heard outside her home country until this international release. The Ngoni, a traditional West African stringed instrument, combines with calabash hand percussion, flute and lightly distorted electric guitar to create a distinctive backdrop for the singer’s commanding vocals. Poulo’s conscious lyrics are delivered in the Peulh language and speak to community concerns among her local villages, conjuring images of grazing grounds and central markets in this unique evocation of rural Africa.

04 Goat – Fuzzed In Europe (Rocket Recordings)

Compiled from recordings from their late 2016 tour, the masked Swedish collective’s energetic and exuberant live performances are now available in all their tribalistic glory. Blending fuzzed-out psych-rock with world music influences, the album offers a heavily jammed take on tracks from their three studio albums. Originally an edgy two-minute rocker, ‘Run to Your Mama’ gets an epic ten-minute makeover with wah-wah driven freak-outs reverberating over an entrancing rhythm section. ‘Talk To God’ is another highlight with its distinctive riff, beat and chanted vocals giving way to swelling onslaughts of guitar noise, while the more muted and melodic ‘I Sing In Silence’ proves these mysterious music makers have a gentler side behind their extravagant masks and robes.

03 Shobaleader One – Elektrac (Warp Records)

Typically appearing in robes and what look like flashing welding masks, Shobaleader One not only look as if they’ve been transported from another dimension but also seem to possess extraterrestrial musical powers. The fact that ‘Elektrac’ is a live album is testament to the insane degree of skill and precision that Squarepusher’s live band is drilled to. Over 64 minutes of dub, jazz, drum’n’bass, funk and downbeat fusion there’s never a duff note or beat missed while the group revisit the acclaimed bassist and producer’s back catalogue. From its more laid-back and melodic moments like ‘Iambic 5 Poetry’ to the speed-of-light slap bass and hyperactive jungle drums of ‘Squarepusher Theme’, the album is an opus for old fans and a mind-melting introduction for new.

02 Acid Baby Jesus – Lilac Days (Fuzz Club Records)

Greece’s finest psych-rock outfit recreate the sound of ’67 refracted through a kaleidoscope of mythology, floral imagery and obscure poetic references on their latest full-length. The heavy drones, instrumentals and lo-fi freakouts of their previous album ‘Selected Recordings’ are largely dropped in favour of a more structured and melodic approach, yet the general feeling is still more ‘Piper at the Gates’ than ‘Sgt Pepper’s’. ‘Faces of Janus’ is a beautiful combination of gentle percussion, echo-chamber vocals and see-sawing guitar lines, while ‘Me & Panormita’ and ‘Guide Us In’ provide the more raucous garage-punk infused moments.

01 Tinariwen – Elwan (Anti- Records)

There’s been something of a desert blues golden age over the past few years. Bombino has achieved international fame through his work with Dan Auerbach among others, while Mdou Moctar’s majestic soundtrack to the recent re-make of ‘Purple Rain’ set in the Saharan desert shows the genre has an enduring cult appeal. The undisputed masters of Tuareg guitar music, Tinariwen, show no sign of giving up their mantle on their most recent album, though. The hypnotic percussion, warm drones and ethereal call and response melodies of ‘TénéréTàqqàl’ are one of the group’s finest moments, while the more upbeat tracks like ‘Sastanàqqàm’ show they can still whip up a sandstorm of guitar noise when they want to. These musical rebels have been through decades of upheaval in North Africa, but they are still an unstoppable force on ‘Elwan’ living to tell their tale of resistance.