10. Big Thief – Capacity [Saddle Creek]
We must admit we were late to the Big Thief party. As our fellow bloggers clamoured to declare their album, Capacity, a masterpiece, we got a bit stuck on the challenging opening track, Pretty Things, by far the albums least accessible moment. Thankfully, Capacity is a record comfortable in revealing its charms at any pace the listener wants. Perhaps this slow reveal is down to the intimacy of frontwoman, Adrianne Lenker’s words; these are dense dissections of the human condition, compelling studies of the women who have shaped the songwriter we see before us. Love letters to vulnerability, surviving difficult times and coming out the other side of them a stronger person.
If the single, Shark Smile, is the track that caught the world’s attention, receiving huge support on 6Music, Capacity is a record where every listener will probably find their own personal highlight. Many have highlighted the poetic and beautiful Mary, quite possibly the most lyrically voluminous single we heard all year, the playful almost sing-song vocal the perfect accompaniment to these reminiscences on youth and loss. Our own personal highlight though is another track, the utterly stunning Mythological Beauty; a perfect, quietly brutal conversation between a mother and a daughter. What really makes the track shine is the contrast between Adrianne’s beautiful vocal melody and the stunning chiming guitar line; both swell and dip in unison, a thing of gentle chilling beauty. This is just one of the many intriguing tales on the record, each slowly sinking into your conscious, revealing their charms over multiple listens. Capacity is a record that many months after its release, still keeps bringing new thrills every time you press play.
9. Peter Oren – Anthropocene [Western Vinyl]
The anthropocene is the looming, possibly already passed, moment when man’s impact on the environment becomes permanent. A landmark moment that we should all be terrified of, and one that’s clearly playing on the mind of 25-year-old, Indiana-born artist Peter Oren. Anthropocene was the title of Peter’s second album, a record that questioned something greater than personal trouble or political unrest, it questioned whether there was even any future for the planet we live on; as he sings on the title track, “soon there’ll be nowhere left to hide, the soil is cleaner than money, we need bees for more than their honey”.
Amidst all the political and personal records released in 2017, Anthropocene stood tall, a pillar of strength in the face of a looming environmental collapse. Peter, often alone just his rich Bill Callahan-like baritone and steadily strummed acoustic guitar, asked uncomfortable questions throughout. This wasn’t a preachy record though, Peter didn’t simply proclaim we’re doomed; take New Gardens, a bright, upbeat folk song, it offers a socialist solution to our problems, “when new gardens need growing, we all should be a’knowing, nobody need be a’hoeing alone”. Elsewhere on the record though, Peter’s anger can’t be contained, never more so than on the stunning Throw Down, a track that faces up to the apocalypse and comes out swinging: “fuck the law if I ain’t got a say in it, politics is just staking your side on either side of a rift, while the continents are drifting away and jump ship, I don’t know what it’ll take, I only know it can’t wait, despite power, money and lies, the truth it don’t hide”. This is a visceral call to arms, a goose-bump inducing plea that we can’t continue to let the world collapse in front of our eyes. The record finally comes to some sort of conclusion with the closing gambit, Welcome/Goodbye, a gently winding guitar line, accompanies Peter’s slightly broken vocal, “wouldn’t mind to be proven wrong, but damn it’s been so long since I’ve heard of anything hopeful going on, so welcome to this record, goodbye to this world, may a new one soon be unfurled”. It’s quite possibly the sweetest, most beautiful way of saying that we’re all doomed you’ll ever hear, and a fitting conclusion to quite possibly the year’s most lyrically important record. Anthropocene might not offer us any sugar-coated hope, but perhaps that’s less a reason to give up, and more a reason to fight on twice as hard as ever.
8. Lomelda – Thx [Double Double Whammy]
On her latest album, Thx, Lomelda, aka Hannah Read, took on a role that was less story-teller and more emotional explorer. Thx is a deeply personal record, that in many ways is the result of Lomelda trying to make some sense of herself and her own life. At times it seemed to almost collapse, exhausted and exasperated at the confusing and challenging nature of just getting through life.
Musically, Thx is a brilliant exploration of space and texture; in places it sounds almost untouched by production, you can hear every detail, as if, to quote an old cliché, you’re right in the room with the musicians. As piano notes ring out, you can hear the pedals clunking in and out of place, as fingers run down guitar frets you can hear every buzz and crackle; it sounds stunning without ever feeling like you’re getting anything but the raw ingredients of the songs. This production is particularly brilliant on Hannah’s vocal; a stunning instrument in its own right, with playful melodies and a gorgeous natural tone. Hannah’s words seem to always be fighting for meaning, they’re full of sadness, hope and perhaps more than anything, questions. On Out There, she seems to be genuinely clambering for answers as she sings, “do I sit in darkness, waiting for what’s out there?” Bam Sha Klam charts an unravelling relationship in all its unflinching details, as Hannah sings, “sometimes there’s romance, sometimes we’re useless”. While it’s arguably the title track Thx, that comes closest to some sort of resolution, as it pleads for anything but sympathy, “please don’t be mad at me there’s no need to be sad for me, I’ve got lots of love left”. A beautiful and understated piece of work, Thx is a record that subtly demands your attention and has you hanging on Hannah’s every crafted word.
7. Tugboat Captain – Everybody Seems To Think That I’m A Raincloud [Self-Release]
What comes after the heartbreak? When the soul crushing blow beings to fade, and the light emerges at the end of the tunnel, what does it leave behind? These were the questions posed by Tugboat Captain’s second album, Everybody Seems To Think That I’m A Raincloud. The band’s minimal, self-titled debut album was a classic tale of heartbreak; the girl had done lead-singer Captain wrong, and the world was going to be told about it, in beautiful, painful precision. On this second album though, Captain, and his merry band of loosely boating themed comrades, were moving on. Through the heart of Everybody Seems To Think That I’m A Raincloud runs a thread of gentle emotional progress; they’re not instantly leaping for joy, there’s still moments of quiet contemplation and difficulty, but there’s a glint of optimism that only swells as the album flows past.
The progress wasn’t all emotional either. Musically, Everybody Seems To Think That I’m A Raincloud is a far more ambitious record than its predecessor. Taking influences from acts like Guided By Voices and Galaxie 500, the band created a home crafted record that was full of ambitious ideas. It might have been recorded on a clunky, ageing laptop in the front room of a terraced house, but that doesn’t stop the band wanting to make it sound like an entire chamber orchestra are present. Perhaps this musical ambition is never more obvious than on the band’s break-out single, Don’t Want To Wake Up On My Own; a lush, wistful pop song, all heavily processed guitars, twinkling keyboards, dreamy harmonies, and steady, lackadaisical drums: it simply sounded beautiful. Elsewhere Artifically saw Honeyglaze’s effortlessly beautiful vocals to the fore with easy guitar jangle, and the cutting kiss off of a lyric, “love is a construct that’s built on devotion, clearly you’re not that devoted to me, and if you want to feel natural emotion, maybe try taking your eyes off the screen”. Everybody Seems To Think That I’m A Raincloud is a sprawling sixteen tracks long, yet never drags, is never short of ideas, and never sounds anything less than sublime, put simply, it is a triumph.
6. Imaginary Tricks – Skommel [Friendship Fever]
We often talk here about records as part of a wider picture, albums that feel current and relate in some way to life in the year that was 2017. Every now and then a record comes along that seems entirely atypical to the time they were created in, Skommel by Mike Visser, aka Imaginary Tricks, is one of those. The record exists as a beautiful oasis of calm, untouched by musical trends or societal issues. Take the stand out moment, Bird; a slice of hazy, upbeat dream-pop, all sun-dripped, meandering guitar lines, easy drum flourishes and Mike Visser’s easy vocal style, it sounds more like 1977 than 2017 – perhaps that’s exactly what is so wonderful about Skommel.
In many ways Skommel is a record that not only begins in Mike Visser’s head, but seems to remain there. There are recognisable themes and equally there’s a mysterious quality, the feeling you’re being shown parts of a puzzle, where some pieces remain currently unclear. Mike suggests it’s a record about,“traversing fear, self-realization, and what feeling truly alone was all about”, yet where those feelings come from is much more difficult to pin down. The music on Skommel is equally hard to pigeon-hole; it’s a record that flitters rapidly between genres, picking out ideas from all over the place and then drawing them into a hugely engaging whole. Night Owl is a blast of sun-drenched pop inspired by, “the universal feeling of staying up at night, worrying yourself to bits”, Snakes is a masterclass in reverb-drenched guitar-shuffling, while Lights Out recalls the energetic, electronica of Tom Vek. The most personal offering here, No Ordinary Guy, is also one of the most intriguing, recalling his father’s brave decision to leave behind his home in South Africa to give his family a fresh start in America. With a musical backing of staccato guitar lines and almost Barbershop-like shooby-doo-wops, you can almost picture his father’s boat sailing up to the statue of liberty, even if in reality he probably took the plane. Formerly a member of cult-Sacramento trio Frank Jordan, Imaginary Tricks marked Mike Visser’s return to music, for what is, as he puts it, “one more turn, one more journey into the abyss”, if the aim was fame, fortune and international acclaim, well it has probably slipped past him again, if it was just making one of the year’s most sparkling, brilliant and fascinating records, well its a good job done incredibly well.
Click HERE to read the concluding part of our run down of our favourite records of 2017.