5. Onsind – We Wilt, We Bloom [Specialist Subject]
“Some are Holy, some profane, cuts that kill us slowly, while we heat up the blade”, so chimes the chorus of Heat Up The Blade, the quiet highlight of We Wilt, We Bloom. Ten years of political turmoil and tragedy have passed since Durham DIY heroes, Onsind formed, and growing up seems to have only sharpened their anger at an unfair system and renewed their hope that things could be better. Whether lamenting a friend lost to mainstream society by an abusive father, and thrust into the racist arms of the EDL on the chilling Loyalty Festers, or challenging those who suggest millennials are lazy, not cheated and choked by unfair inter-generational injustice on Immature, Onsind have never focused their rage better.
Musically, We Wilt, We Bloom is a huge and bold change of direction, while the band have previously dabbled in acoustic guitars and little else, here they brought in a band, and went for broke. From the huge, emo-infused guitars of Claimant to the almost bar room piano of Grieving Kind; We Wilt, We Bloom is Onsind’s most expansive and collaborative record to date, and all the more exciting as a result. As ever the band infuse their political anger with deeply personal tales: take the closing track Sectioned; built around a ludicrously bombastic guitar riff, it is laced with personal doubts, troubled friendships and a beautiful personal honesty. An album ultimately about the passing of time, We Wilt, We Bloom, says it is okay to be overwhelmed, okay to step back from the difficulty of modern living; like the magnolia tree that inspired them, ten years since they formed, Onsind bloomed more beautifully than ever.
4. Siobhan Wilson – There Are No Saints [Song, By Today Records]
When discussing music a concept that doesn’t often leap to mind is bravery; lyrics can be brave, it can be brave to share a troubling story, but rarely does music actually sound brave. There’s always an exception to the rule though and on her debut album, There Are No Saints, Siobhan Wilson’s music sounds brave. Take the opening salvo of the title track, just a minute and a half long, it features little more than layer upon layer of Siobhan’s stunning vocal, accompanied by the most minimal meander of piano. Throughout the record Siobhan makes bold decisions, never falling into anything resembling safe; there are tracks sung in French, a five-minute blast of near instrumental anti-music, and in Paris Est Blanche, even a track written by an ex-boyfriend presented for the whole world to probe and question.
There Are No Saints is a record born on either side of the channel, inspired in equal measrues by an upbringing in Elgin and time spent in Pairs, where by immersing herself in French musical tradition, Siobhan truly developed her skills as a songwriter. The resultant record is one that explores an array of different emotions and themes, songs full of heartache, art and questioning one’s religious faith. Musically, it was something of a musical hybrid; a musician with a classical background, and heavily influenced by more alternative acts, the result is an album that is always musically impressive, yet equally knows when to dial it back to beautiful simplicity. It is an album dotted with highlights, Dear God’s plea for a sign that someone is actually looking down in our hour of need, Whatever Helps’ fuzzy guitar majesty, Make You Mine’s brilliantly flirty lyricism, that felt as if the song itself had maybe had one too many glasses of wine. Perhaps the best is saved until last, emerging from the expansive and disorienting Dystopian Bach, It Must Have Been The Moon is surely the year’s most beautiful finale. Siobhan accompanied by a reverberating, lone guitar, slowly waltzing in the moonlight as she attempts to deny her heart from some mysterious suitor, her vocal, beautiful, almost whispering, “no drinking was involved, so I have to blame the moon, it must have been the moon ’cause it couldn’t have been you”. At the song’s conclusion, There Are No Saints fittingly drifts away; stunningly performed and fabulously crafted, Siobhan Wilson emerges from it a ready-made star in the making.
3. Crumbs – Mind Yr Manners [Everything Sucks Music]
“A record about coping with not coping”, that is how Leeds-quartet Crumbs describe their brilliant debut album Mind Yr Manners. It is a record that arrives with little pomp and ceremony, with gently comical song titles and little hype, you could be forgiven for expecting something considerably less thrilling than the album that is delivered. Whether it is the, “party song about being the one crying at the party”, that is Weasels Can Wait, or the bass-driven brilliance of Cha Cha Feels, Mind Yr Manners is a record that burrows its way into your brain and refuses to let you leave not singing along.
Mind Yr Manners is music distilled down to something pure; beautifully produced with no studio trickery, Crumbs’ world is one of bouncing bass lines, jangling post-punk guitars, yelped call and response vocals and driving steady drum beats. It bristles with a fizzing energy throughout, take the brilliant Ciggy Stardust, all rhythmic snare hits and ludicrously rapid-fire guitar riffing, it’s the sort of track that, despite its downbeat plea for greater commitment, has us strutting through the streets with more rhythm than we ever knew we had. It is this fusion of angry and danceable that underpins so much of what is so great about Mind Yr Manners and this is never more obvious than in the closing track, Hankie Herbcock; the lyrics are furiously spat at an almost impossible speed, the anger pouring from Ruth’s words as she sings, “what you’re saying is her life doesn’t matter, what you’re saying, you don’t see abuse of power”, the whole thing is delivered atop a ferociously catchy slice of tense post-punk, all jagged guitars and crushing snare hits. Throughout, Mind Yr Manners is a record that catered for both your brain and your body, a tangled mass of powerful lyrical messages and dancefloor fillers: Crumbs make the bad times sound like the good times, in a way few others could.
2. Ed Dowie – The Uncle Sold [Lost Map]
Described by his label, Lost Map Records, as a, “maestro of kaleidoscopic odd-pop”, Ed Dowie’s debut album, The Uncle Sold, is one that sounds out of step with musical trends, and all the better for it. Perhaps it is his unusual musical background, Ed learned the piano and the organ as a child before becoming a chorister and organist in his native Dorset, which makes his take on pop music so unusual and compelling. Even the album’s title, The Uncle Sold, was intriguing; part inspired by a Kazuo Ishiguro novel, The Unconsoled, a book that reads like a dream-like journey around a constantly evolving non-specified city, and part a rather excellent pun. This fusion of the playful and the hi-brow is present throughout the record, it’s an album that fluctuates through emotions; sometime wistful, sometimes uplifting, sometimes sad and constantly intriguing.
The Uncle Sold is a record of textures and atmosphere’s rather than more traditional song structures; opening track Verbarhemiopia sets the scene, all wobbling, distant synths, Ed’s soaring, choral vocal, and the crackling of distant fireworks. The track pulses and swells to gentle peaks before swooping down to almost nothing, only to return again. There’s more traditional song-like moments: the Scott Walker-like Why Do You Live In France or the electro-oompah of David is Unwell, but even they are permeated with a rich, thick sound, so far removed from anything else you’ll have heard all year. It’s perhaps the closing number, Richard, that is the finest moment, six and a half minutes of Beta Band-like genius; all muted electronic beats, reverberating guitar notes and Ed’s subtly mesmerising vocal. The Uncle Sold is a fabulous record, a fine reminder that no matter how much music you listen to you can still be captivated, surprised and made to feel once more like that teenager who was first blown away by a record they loved.
1. Hurray For The Riff Raff – The Navigator [ATO Records]
How do you make sense of your identity and heritage when all around you people are attempting to marginalise or appropriate it? That is the question at the heart of The Navigator, the stunning new album from Hurray For The Riff Raff. The album was, loosely speaking a concept album, following the journey of a street kid, Navita, described by front-woman Alynda Segarra as, “a wandering soul at a crossroads of identity and ancestral weight”. Through this character Alynda attempts to dissect her own identity, looking back on her own journey from growing up in the South Bronx, discovering the downtown punk scene and relocating to New Orleans.
This lyrical journey was matched in Hurray For The Riff Raff’s musical journey. While previous records have largely focused on the Americana sounds of their adopted home city, The Navigator was a far more eclectic offering. It drifted from the straight-up indie rock of Hungry Ghost, to Entrance’s deeply New York-sound of doo-wop and the bristling Latin Rhythms of the anti-gentrification anthem Rican Beach, with its memorable repeated final line, “I’ll keep fighting ’til the end”. The whole record feels like a journey, with the ultimate destination the penultimate track Pa’lante; its a track with more twists and turns than most albums, starting life as a muted McCartney-esque piano ballad, gradually building in intensity as Alynda’s anger swells, “colonised and hypnotised, be something, sterilised dehumanised, be something, take your pay and stay out the way, be something”. Suddenly after two minutes it picks up it into a steady, bright pulse of piano chords and dramatic drums, then collapses into a flurry of noise before, a sample of poet Pedro Pieti, reading from his classic poem, The Puerto Rican Obituary, his tribute to the revolutionary Latino youth group the Young Lords Party, replaces the music. Then the piano swells out of the mix once more into a huge spine-chilling finale, Alynda’s vocal, crackling with intensity as she pays tribute to the people who came before her, “to all who had to hide I say pa’lante, to all who lost their pride I say pa’lante, to all who had to survive I say pa’lante, to my brothers and my sisters I say pa’lante”. It’s an overwhelmingly emotional end to easily the song of the year.
A rich, eclectic and ambitious album, The Navigator is the sound of history, politics, identity and anger colliding, coalescing into a hugely accomplished whole; a record that makes us not only reconsider what Hurray For The Riff Raff’s music is all about, but ultimately questions what music is for in 2017. The Navigator more than any other record released this year, reminded us all of the power of music to change the world, it was nothing short of a triumph.
With that we conclude our end of year run down. 2017 has been another fine year for music characterised by eclecticism, politics and fittingly topped by a hugely inspiring female voice.
All that remains is a huge thank you to all the artists, labels and PR people, who all work so stupidly hard to share this wonderful music with you all. Thanks to everyone who has taken time this year to make us mixtape or answer our questions, the site would be just one man spouting his own personal opinion without you. Also a huge thanks to the photographers and proof reader who help us make this place look as pretty and accurate as possible.
We’ve actually got a few more things to share before the year is out, but for now one final thanks to all of you for reading (and that’s more than twice as many thank yous as the year before!). I remain completely overwhelmed by your support and numbers, which consistently far exceed any expectations I had when I started writing this site.
Thanks now and always for reading,
Sam / For The Rabbits