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Top 20 Albums of 2017 – Part Two

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Top 20 Albums of 2017 – Part Two

Posted on 20 December 2017 by Joe

Welcome to the second part of our end of year round up of the best albums 2017. This latest instalment reveals who has earned a coveted place in our top ten. The first part (20-11) can be found here

10. The Magnetic Fields – 50 Song Memoir

Magnetic Fields 50 Song Memoir

In which Stephin Merritt celebrates his 50th birthday by writing an auto-biographical song for each year since his birth. The results are pretty great and it is his best hit-rate since 69 Love Songs in 1999. Sprawling concept albums clearly suit him.

9. Guided By Voices – August By Cake

Guided By Voices

This 32 track double album is the 100th album that GBV frontman Robert Pollard has released. It is also the first album released with the latest Guided By Voices line-up, which brings Doug Gillard’s guitar skills back to the fold. Every band member gets some songs on this one, and the results are typically uneven in excellent GBV fashion.

8. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Polygondwanaland

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Perhaps the only act that can compete with Robert Pollard’s production rate is Australian psychedelic rock outfit King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. They set themselves the ambitious task of releasing five albums this year, with a fifth due to be released “very very late in the year” according to frontman Stu Mackenzie.

Of the four released so far this is our favourite for our best albums 2017 list – full of prog rock/jazz treats like 10 minute opener Crumbing Castle and psyche pop gems such as Deserted Dunes Welcome Weary Feet. And what’s more it is available as a free download.

7. Mile Me Deaf – Alien Age

MMD1400

Sound the breakthough album klaxon. Wolfgang Möstl’s Mile Me Deaf act  has always been experimental but they are on the cusp of the big time on the basis of this Best album 2017 release

On previous album’s he’s been looking to push the boundaries of indie rock and guitar pop. Here he’s pushed, then smashed his way past them, veering off into trip hop, dub, jazz, and ambient. Above all, as XTC once proudly sang, This is Pop. Lead single Blowout is a great jumping in point for this entry into our Best albums 2017 list . Read our full review here.

6. The Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody

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This is best Lips release since they unleashed Yoshimi on those evil bastard pink robots during their last pop phase. After the mildly entertaining albums Terror and the awful Embyronic, Wayne Coyne and co have gone accessible again, with new classics such as How?? and There Should Be Unicorns among their best ever. Read our full review here.

5. Girl Ray – Earl Grey

Girl Ray - Earl Grey

We are delighted to include this impressive debut from Girl Ray, a quirky lo-fi pop trio from North London. This will particularly appeal to fans for Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci with Don’t Go Back at Ten among our favorites. Read our full review here.

4. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream

LCD Soundsystem

The LCD Soundsystem split didn’t last too long, and this album is a high-quality return by the band to recording. The sound is unmistakably LCD Soundsystem (even down to the usual influences) and there are a few playful tracks among some slightly sombre numbers. This is a welcome entry into our best albums 2017 top ten.

3. Robyn Hitchcock – Robyn Hitchcock

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It’s taken 21 albums but Robyn Hitchcock has finally gone down the self-titled route for a release, which by happy coincidence just happens to be one of his best in years.

From its purple, cat stroking, cover to its backwards guitars, it is a psychedelic explosion of awesomeness, with oodles of noodles of nods to the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The twinkling, shiny pop of Mad Shelley’s Letterbox is a particular highlight. Read our full review here.

2. Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder

Hug-Of-Thunder

Just like the Flaming Lips, the almighty Canadian collective of Broken Social Scene also saw a return to form in 2017. The return of Leslie Feist to the line up takes them back to their early hey-day, especially with her jaw droppingly awesome vocals on the title track.

New member Ariel Engle, who takes lead vocal duties on Stay Happy, is another impressive addition. While Halfway Home is A fantastic alternative rock anthem that shows just how good this album is within their already prolific two decade spanning back catalogue.

1. Eyelids – OR

Eyelids Or

Featuring members of the Decemberists, Guided by Voices and Stephen Malkmus’ Jicks, Eyelids have leapt to the top of our list thanks to their sweet, jangly melodies on tracks such as Falling Eyes.

This second release from the band also adds ex-REM man Peter Buck into the mix as producer to give it extra class and a 1980s alternative rock feel. A triumph and deserved number one album in our best albums 2017 list. Read our full review here.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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Girl Ray – Earl Grey

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Girl Ray – Earl Grey

Posted on 19 August 2017 by Dorian

One of my favourite records is Vampire Can Mating Oven by Camper Van Beethoven. Other than great songs it also has a title that looks like an anagram of the band’s name, but clearly isn’t. Earl Grey by Girl Ray does the same thing, and that appeals to me (probably more than it should). Thankfully this debut release is a fantastic album, one of the best I’ve heard this year, and I don’t need to appreciate it on the strength of the title alone.

Girl Ray - Earl Grey

‘Just Like That’ is one of those great album openers. It starts pleasantly enough before drilling itself into your brain with every melodic twist and turn. On the first few listens to the album I skipped back to this track multiple times before continuing, putting a full listen in jeopardy.

As a regular 6 Music listener I’d heard a number of the tracks before, but in the context of the album they sound even better. There is a real subtlety to the music, and that makes the quirks of the arrangements and the musical flourishes that much more surprising and pleasing. The vocals, in particular, are deceptive. On first listen they are distinctive, despite their lack of showiness, but the more you listen the more the harmonies and inflexions impress.

The most obvious counter-point musically is Gorkys, and that almost-pastoral edge is a cornerstone of the sound here. There is much more on show though, with the (welcome in this case) spectre of prog rearing its head. On the wonderful ‘Cutting Shapes’ we get Pink Floyd drums, Brian Auger keyboards and even some squealing guitar making an appearance. Other unexpected musical influences unfold on the album, a direct musical reference to Todd Rundgren’s ‘I Saw The Light’ (on the intro to ‘Stupid Things’)  being my personal favourite.

One of the things I love about this band is that they are producing quiet, subtle songs and through this low-key approach they have the room to demonstrate a real dynamic range. This is best demonstrated on the title track ‘Earl Grey (Stuck In A Groove)’ which  builds, grows and moves across 13 minutes of playing time. A gorgeous vocal central section giving way to increasing instrumentation that builds to (what can only be called) a free jazz odyssey before drawing back to the vocals again.

My one (small) criticism of the album is the song sequence, something that seems a quaint concern on the age of the playlist. The aforementioned title track is such an epic song that it makes the following songs (as good as they are) seem a bit ordinary in comparison. I’d have personally preferred this track as the album closer, it is so good that it should be the last thing in the listener’s memory. It makes more sense on vinyl, however, with this song opening side 2, and on that basis I’ve already talked myself out of this (already small) criticism.

I’d be surprised if I’ve heard many (or any) better debuts before the year is out, and it would be an exceptionally good year if this didn’t make my personal top 10. So it is still to be decided where this will figure in the best of 2017 chart, but it is a dead cert for the album title of the year award at least.

9/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Sixteen of the Best Songs of 2016

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Sixteen of the Best Songs of 2016

Posted on 29 December 2016 by Dorian

We recently published our Top 20 Albums of 2016, but this only reflected a section of the amazing songs that came out this year.  There were great albums we missed, albums that just missed out and songs that came out on single this year. So, as a bit of an end of year bonus, here are the best songs of 2016 that didn’t feature in our end of year album list.

16. ESP Ohio – Royal Cyclopean

It wouldn’t be Neon Filler without a Robert Pollard track, and this horn driven gem from his latest collaboration with Doug Gillard is one of his best this year.

15. The Wedding Present – Rachel

There are rumours that this year’s Wedding Present album may be there last, if that is the case then they are finishing on something of a high.

14. Childish Bambino – Me and Your Mama

Donald Glover is a successful comic actor, the face of the young Lando Calrissian and a Grammy award-winning singer, sickeningly talented.

13. The Shins – Dead Alive

The Shins releasing a song that sounds like they could have recorded 15 years ago may not seem that exciting, unless you think early Shins is about as good as music gets. Which I do.

12. Allo Darlin’ – Hymn on the 45

Allo Darlin’ sadly called in at day in 2016, but just as they played their final shows they released one last single. A final document, if nothing else, of why they’ll be missed.

11. Car Seat Headrest – Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales

Car Seat Headrest is the work of Will Toledo, this year’s bespectacled indie geek de jour. The album justifies the hype this time around.

10. The Avalanches – Subways

The new Avalanches album may not be much of a step forward given the huge gap between this and their debut recording, but there were enough good songs to make it worth a listen.

9. Parquet Courts – Human Performance

The New York band have been releasing consistently great music since they broke through with Light Up Gold in 2012. The title track from their latest album shows them in almost subdued mode.

8. Angel Olsen – Shut Up and Kiss Me

2016 was a bit of a breakthrough year for Angel Olsen, her 4th LP getting a lot of attention and radio play. This track showcases as much fuzz-pop as folk and is a bit of a break from the softer country vibe she’s associated with.

7. Case/Lang/Veirs – Best Kept Secret

Three of the best vocalists in country-pop come together and, unsurprisingly, the results are great.

6. Okkervil River – Judy on the Street

Every two or three years Will Sheff’s band release an album and they all range from good to excellent. This track from Away is no exception to the rule.

5. Teenage Fanclub – Thin Air

More than a quarter if a century in and Teenage Fanclub can still produce some of the best melodic guitar pop around.

4. Girl Ray – Trouble

One of the best bands that we saw at Indietracks this year and one of the bands to watch out for in 2017.

3. Field Music – Disappointed

Due to its release at a busy time we sadly didn’t get round to reviewing Field Music’s excellent 2016 album Commontime. We still loved it though and can assure you it was a typically excellent release from the Brewis brothers. This was a single and one of the best tracks.

2. Luke Haines – Smash The System

Smash The System saw Haines revisit some of his previous themes, with a number of nods to his Baader Meinhof album. The Monkees references in this song are confusing but welcome.

1. Eyelids – Slow It Goes

Eyelids didn’t have a new album out in 2016, that is coming next year, but they did release this song and showcased what we can look forward to. Excellent video as well.

Compiled by Dorian Rogers

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