GIGsoup Writers’ Best Albums of 2017 : Michael Sumsion

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 Michael Sumsion to wow us with his selection…

10 Jane Weaver ‘Modern Kosmology’ (Fire)

In which the Manchester-based singer-songwriter usurped 2014’s brilliant ‘The Silver Globe’ and concocted a pristine modern psychedelia propelled by prog, folk and Krautrock to devastating effect; even at its prettiest (‘Slow Motion’, ‘Did You See Butteflfies?’) these songs bore a tinge of menace as well as wide-eyed awe.

9 Vermont ‘II’ (Kompakt)

Danilo Plessow and Marcus Worgull’s sophomore effort under the Vermont moniker exuded the warm, melodic breeze of the finest Kosmische; here measured, stately tempos, woozy synths and plucked guitars conspired to fashion a carefully-shaped ‘ambient electronica’ that writhed and flickered with its own sense of tactile space. Stand-out cut ‘Gebirge’ had ‘Stranger Things’ stamped all over it. 

8 Bedouine ‘Bedouine’ (Spacebomb)

A crystalline release by Azniv Korkejian aka Spacebomb’s latest psych-folk sensation Bedouine, this vivid, gorgeously sculpted record was bursting with deft imagery, a conversational intimacy and the gossamer-like delicacy of numerous 60’s/70’s forebears; rarely has world-weary loneliness felt so infectious and consuming.  

7 The Heliocentrics ‘The Sunshine Makers’ (Soundway)

The steadily prolific psych-funk groove merchants known as The Heliocentrics made a new album, ‘A World of Masks’, in their own right with vocalist Barbora Patkova this year, but this gauzy score for a movie about the chemical adventures of Nicholas Sand and Tim Scully, doyens of the American counter-culture, dripped with languid rhythms and a poetic intensity. Not many outfits can mine Sun Ra, Can and DJ Shadow without sacrificing some sense of individuality, yet this crew floated elegantly in their own orbit, equally unnerving and invigorating.  

6 Baxter Dury ‘Prince of Tears’ (Heavenly)

‘Prince of Tears’ represented a gargantuan leap forward for a songwriter whom I’d previously dismissed as a one-trick pony trading off his pater; on dazzling cuts like ‘Miami’, ‘Porcelain’ and the title track the whimsical, picaresque quality of Dury’s vignettes were given sumptuous orchestral backdrops and rubbery bass grooves that invoked Serge Gainsbourg’s mighty ‘Histoire de Melody Nelson’ album. 

5 Mariam The Believer ‘Love Everything’ (Repeat Until Death)

On her follow-up to 2013’s entrancing ‘Blood Donation’, erstwhile Fire! Orchestra composer and founding member Mariam Wallentin marshalled a stellar cast of collaborators including Mats Gustavsson and Oren Ambarchi to produce a shimmering opus of twisted, organic pop; ‘Darkening’ was its brooding, sepulchral centrepiece.

4 Peter Oren ‘Anthropocene’ (Western Vinyl)

The much feted, well-travelled, Indiana-born troubadour is a young man with a lived-in, weathered drawl that’s drawn comparisons with Bill Callahan, Leonard Cohen, Willy Mason and Jonathan Jeremiah. He composes exquisite country-folk ballads draped in natural, rustic imagery and pensive narratives, a synthesis that reached an apogee on this year’s stunning ‘Anthropocene’, a record that mournfully peered into the stinking abyss of contemporary society and the foibles of humanity. Adroitly addressing ecological disaster, relationship breakdown and revolutionary fervour, Oren’s highway blues croon wielded an immense power and even radiated tenderness amidst the grizzled melancholy and disquiet.

3 Charles Howl ‘My Idol Family’ (Oh Many).

By turns endearing and luminous, the second album by Proper Ornaments bass player Charles Howl aka Daniel Nellis was crammed with black humour, orchestral flourishes and a magpie grasp of ear-worm pop melody. The likes of ‘Goodbye Sleep’, ‘The Dinner Party’, ‘American Boy’ and ‘Red Girls’ gleefully dipped into such influences as Real Estate, John Lennon, Foxygen and Blur whilst captivating the listener with insouciance and charm.  

2 Dirty Projectors ‘Dirty Projectors’ (Domino)

The demise of David Longstreth and Amber Coffman’s relationship was dissected with a heady combination of caustic lyricism and musical hyper-modernity by the former on his nine-song suite of dizzying digitals; rarely has heartache and discomfort sounded both so pungent and cathartic. Effortlessly straddling the edges of hipster r’n’b, glitchy electronica and Auto-Tune psych, this was sleek cyber-soul par excellence.

1 BJORK ‘Utopia’ (One Little Indian)

Bjork’s ‘Utopia’ sounded romantic and upbeat, flecked with the joy of possibilities, after the emotional scars of 2015’s sombre ‘Vulnicura’. Co-produced with bleeding-edge sound sorcerer Arca, this record juxtaposed bird song and harps with dreamy synthesisers and swooning strings to dramatic and thrilling effect. The album’s lack of obvious bangers proved no obstacle to luxuriating in its wide-screen, opulent production and gestures of sincerity and happiness.