2017 Top Albums – Numbers 10 to 1

Now we get to our top ten albums of 2017. You can see previous instalments of our countdown here, here and here.

10.  Laura Marling -  Sempa Femina 
Marling is a genius and the greatest British female singer-songwriter of all time, we think. At just 27, this is her sixth excellent studio album, as good as any of her previous works, with strong songs that really are hard to categorise – much of it is not really “folk” in any traditional manner, just excellent “popular songs” in a classic sense. It is apparently a “concept album about femininity and female relationships” but you wouldn’t really know it. The songs are about women, but written from a male perspective, by a woman ... confusing, but great anyway!


9.  Neck Deep – The Peace and the Panic
This was a revelation for me. Pop-punk from Wrexham, very much in the style of classic period Green Day or Blink 182, with occasional seriously “heavy” moments, but also with tunes and vocal harmonies that can at times recall McFly or Busted. Two band members lost their fathers recently, and there are also reflective and quite moving tracks that show another side both lyrically and musically – it is not all 100-mph jollity.  A very pleasant surprise.


8.  Toothless – The Pace of the Passing
This was one of those albums that got less coverage than it deserved and proved to be a real grower. Ed Nash, the man behind Toothless, was / is the bassist in Bombay Bicycle Club, and this isn’t miles away from the BBC indie vibe, but a little more varied perhaps. It features a mix of acoustic, conventional guitar-based songs and some more electronica tracks, always with strong tunes, and some female vocals as well, making this a lovely and interesting album that sounds fresh even after repeated listening.


7.  Declan McKenna – What Do You Think About the Car?
McKenna is a good looking 18 year old, who won the Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent award aged 16. So we approached this with some degree of both jealousy and cynicism, but as soon as the opener Humungous gets into its swing, with a gorgeous tune and soaring Beach Boys-like multitracked vocal harmonies, that turned to admiration for a real talent. An hour later I’m wondering whether he might just be a new Weller, (Ray) Davies, Tilbrook/Difford or Costello – the next serious but popular, commercial but intelligent and socially-aware British singer-songwriter. A few spoken interludes are irritating, but a very impressive debut.


6.  James Vincent McMorrow – True Care
We Move (number 18 in our list of top 2016 albums) came out just last September, so no-one was expecting a new album so soon from Irish singer-songwriter McMorrow.  But True Care is simply brilliant. He combines a soul and modern RnB feel (Frank Ocean being perhaps the best comparison) with a Bon Iver / James Blake folk / electronica approach. So there are quite strange musical interludes and touches that enliven what would otherwise be quite traditional rock / folk / soul songs; yet McMorrow never forgets the need for hooks, tunes and emotion.


5.  Hippo Campus – The Halocline
A controversial choice in that this wasn’t a “real” album. Rather, it was the band’s first two “EPs” put together into a single CD and sold mainly at their gigs. Now their first formal debut album was at number 16 in our chart, which tells you that we actually prefer this. But the real shame is that if they had taken the best four or five tracks from this, combined with the same from the “real” album, then Hippo Campus might have had a genuinely great indie-pop album. Instead, the debut did not get much attention and probably suffered by comparison to their earlier songs. This one contains the atmospheric The Halocline, the emotionally resonant Home, perhaps their very best track to date, and other great, bouncy and tuneful pop songs. You can get this on Amazon and both albums are worth checking out, but I do wish I’d been their manager to advise them. They’re still very young so there is time… just hope they don’t become one of the many great bands who don’t make it past their first album.


4.  Wolf Alice – Visions of a Life
Their debut (My Love is Cool) topped our end of year charts in 2015 and this came close. It is a more mature album, maybe just lacking a little in the exuberance of the debut, (nothing quite as manic and thrilling as Fluffy) but it combines indie energy with a more laid back shoegaze grungy air at times, once or twice getting close to “prog” even we felt! Ellie Rowsell’s voice has improved and this is more varied than the debut, and in Don’t Delete the Kisses, they have one of THE songs of the year - I love the acoustic versions they did like this one.


3.  Sundara Karma - Youth Is Only Fun In Retrospect
A young (21-ish) indie band from Reading, home of the annual best rock festival in the world, but not many great bands, ironically. Might this debut indicate a band who could go on to top the festival bill one day? Well, maybe. In fact, quite probably, yes, if they stick together.  Indie is very unfashionable today but this is a brilliant debut which will appeal to the devastated fans of the Maccabees (split up) and Bombay Bicycle Club (on a break). Lively, great tunes, more sophisticated than Catfish, but just as good from a tunes point of view – and they can cut it live too.


2.  Lorde - Melodrama
The Kiwi prodigy’s second album, and we can now say that yes, she is outstanding songwriter and performer – her debut was not a fluke.  Absolutely to be enjoyed by anyone who likes clever, tuneful, thoughtful and emotionally involving pop music. Her lyrics are literate, and she has the ability to be present in the story but observe herself objectively at the same time.  The musos amongst you should listen to this with headphones, there is some real creativity here, and actually some quite weird musical touches, but she can also write great dancefloor pop tunes, and the Giorgio Moroder influenced Supercut. And if you still are in doubt, listen to The Louvre; one of those rare songs that I had to go back to immediately and listen again (three times actually). A brilliant album from (yes, we will use the word again), a young genius.


1.  Hurray For The Riff Raff – The Navigator
HFTRR is really Alynda Segarra, a 30-year old born in the Bronx of Puerto Rican origins, who left home at 17 and drifted through the American south, writing and singing. Her previous two albums were very much in an Appalachian folk/country “Americana” style and very good they were too. But here she moves onwards and upwards, reflecting her Latino heritage in much more varied styles and through what is in effect a concept album. We won’t try and describe the story but it is political, based around the immigrant experience, yet doesn’t get in the way of the music which is just a brilliant mix of ballads, Americana, Latin, rock, folk … this would work as a stage musical too, we suspect.  It has been reviewed well generally, but there may be a little bit of ageism / sexism here in that we also suspect that if Neil Young or Springsteen had come up with this, it would be hailed as a work of timeless genius.

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  1. Andy Spriggs:

    Wow. Loving HFTRR after 5 minutes! On the Christmas list. Slightly disappointed that Sundara Karma didn’t make it to the top: YIOFIR (are we doing this for album names too?!) is fabulous – not a dud tune amongst the dozen tracks; good, tight pop and really mature performances for a young up-and-coming band.

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