2017 Albums of the Year – Numbers 30 to 21

As we start our countdown of the top 30 (ish) albums of the year, today till Saturday so you have time to go and buy those last-minute Xmas presents, I should emphasise that I do understand how narrow my taste is. I don’t like jazz, rarely listen to classical, or “hardcore” folk or country, although where those two genres overlap with pop/rock then I can really enjoy the best examples. Perhaps most seriously these days, I’m not really into the whole R‘nB / urban / grime thing or indeed serious dance music.

That’s a shame because I can absolutely appreciate that Kendrick Lamar is a genius, and see why the work of Jay-Z, Stormzy, and their peers is well regarded. But there’s a difference between appreciating and enjoying, and while Kanye’s Runaway is one of my favourite tracks of the last 20 years, I don’t really enjoy much of that type of music.

So with the caveat that you should check out Lamar, Stormzy, Jay-Z, Drake, Vince Staples and more who all had critically acclaimed albums out this year, here is my personal view of the best albums of 2017 – with a big focus on that rock/indie/pop sector of the wider market.  And I’m cheating as usual with three joint number 30s as I found I’d missed a couple of albums after publishing our “next 25” run down last weekend!

30  The  Horrors  - V
Their fifth album and another very good one for the band that have developed from unpromising  cartoon punk beginnings. More synths this time but also a bit more “rock” than the last couple of albums, this is a very professional, intelligent and mature rock record – not words we ever thought we would use about the band ten years ago!

30  Courtney Marie Andrews – Honest Life
Andrews is only 26 but has been on the road as a struggling musician and backing vocalist (and occasional bar-tender)  for ten years, but Honest Life looks like it will take her into a more comfortable life as a successful musician. The music is reflective country-folk-pop, with pretty, generally simple arrangements, using piano, violins, pedal steel and guitar, and the songs are strong and emotionally powerful.

30  Pixx – The Age Of Anxiety
Hannah Rodgers (Pixx) has been to “Brit school” but does not fit the image of a commercial, somewhat predictable artists that is perhaps the usual view of that nursery for talent. Her debut album is very contemporary but does not fit easily into a single category.  It is very listenable (not “difficult” in any sense) as she puts rock, dance, and electronic influences together into a rather beguiling mix, with a strong voice that can carry different styles very successfully.

29 The Amazons - The Amazons
The debut eponymous album from the Reading band is straight down the middle rock and none the worse for it. Somewhere between Catfish, Oasis and the Foo Fighters, a bit heavier than most “indie” and more tuneful than most “heavy rock”, these guys can straddle Reading and Download festivals comfortably.

28 Phoebe Bridgers - Stranger in the Alps
Another very good debut – Bridgers is a 23 year-old folk-indie-pop singer songwriter from California. Her music is generally quite gentle, with tuneful often acoustic songs, given a frisson by the lyrics, which are very personal and at times certainly don’t fit the innocent folk singer image.

27 Jane Weaver - Cosmology
She’s apparently been around quite a while, but this is big step forward for the British artist. The music is quite electronic, with pulsating hypnotic beats, quite “motoric” or krautrock at times but with her almost folky voice and very strong tunes in the foreground. It is an unusual mix but absolutely works here.

26 Alt J – Relaxer
As they headline major festivals now, it is hard to remember just what a weird band Alt-J are and how odd they sounded initially. More weirdness here, it won’t convert new fans but existing fans will enjoy some beautiful moments and some simply very odd ones too.

25 Blaenavon - That’s Your Lot
And another debut, showing a young band still working out exactly what their sound should be. They are excellent musicians, and some songs here are very indie in style, think Bombay Bicycle Club or Wild Beasts, melodic, and interesting rhythmically. But live, and on some tracks here, they are more in the Smashing Pumpkins / Nirvana grunge genre. Good stuff anyway.

24 Tall Ships - Impressions
This is the second album from the Devon / Brighton band.  There are elements of Sigur Ros in the stately pace and atmosphere of some tracks, and effective use of quiet / loud or slow / fast contrasts.  We might also make comparisons at times with the soaring choruses and strong tunes of bands like Coldplay and Dry The River, and there are touches of more electronic influences too; but it all gels very successfully.

23 InHeaven – In Heaven
Another promising debut, yes there is a trend here!  Tuneful rock – pretty basic at times but with hidden depths. Think a somewhat more sophisticated Vaccines but with both male and female vocalists and a little more variation – big tunes and indie riffs as well.

22 War on Drugs - A Deeper Understanding
The brilliant, detailed production and writing of Adam Granduciel creates an immersive, almost claustrophobic soundscape for the somewhat retro, 80s AOR style songs here (think Springsteen, Bob Seger, even Dire Straits).  It’s quite an achievement and for me to like an 11-minute song is a first (“Thinking of a Place) – but I’m not sure it is quite as good as his previous album (Lost in a Dream). Some best of the year lists have this right at the top – and I can see why some would think that.

21 Elbow – Little Fictions 
The usually lugubrious Guy Garvey sounds content, almost cheerful here – I wonder why? Could it be his marriage to the clever, talented and beautiful Rachael Sterling? And a first child as well? In any case, this features more of the usual excellent, tuneful Elbow songs, with an extra helping of joy.

 

The countdown continues tomorrow!

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