Friday, December 22, 2017
Little Indie's Best Of 2017
The highs and lows of the past 12 months as seen by some of Little Indie's contributors.
Looking back over 2017, I think that the thing which stands out most for me is that there have been so very few standout moments. On the plus side, this means that we have been spared the loss of major artists such as Bowie and Prince, although the death of Husker Du founder Grant Hart is still a huge loss to music.
On the other hand, though, I’ve been rather disappointed with a lot of what I’ve seen and heard this year. In particular, there’s been a distinct lack of ‘wow’ factor in a lot of the live acts that I have seen. Far too many bands seem to forget that they are there to entertain and not to produce a note-perfect rendition of their last single. Frankly, if you spend more than thirty seconds getting that tuning right, I’ve written you off. Honourable exceptions to this would be Our Propaganda and Rumble Fish, both of whom know how to put on a show, together with the always-excellent Emp!re (who get an extra mark for actually coming on stage early for their recent show at the Crowndale).
In the long playing format, the new Wolf Alice LP was streets ahead of most things that came out this year, whilst The War On Drugs’ ‘A Deeper Understanding’ had some truly beautiful moments. Bubbling under and deserving of more airplay, La Bete Blooms’ ‘I Know It’s Nothing’ and JC Fenton’s (terribly titled) ‘Ya Face’ both showed a lot of promise. Also promising was the first EP from Londoners Secret Cameras, whilst we were treated to a surprisingly good one from Thousand Yard Stare, which contained two bona fide gems in ‘Action Stations’ and ‘Heimlich Mnvr’. Track of the year, though, has to go to Artificial Pleasure's ‘Wound Up Tight’. If it’s possible to play a Soundcloud track to death, I have done so.
Personally, this has been one of the best years of music and my first foray into the new music scene and I’ve not looked back once. I’ve been to some of the best gigs ever and been blown away on multiple occasions particularly at my favourite gig by The Blinders, in February which was a night yet to be topped by any band and one that will live with me forever. 2018 is going to be a massive year The Blinders without a doubt! Another band who provided a memorable night were The K’s who blew the roof off Jimmy’s back in July. More recently, seeing White Room was truly an experience with their brand of dirty psychedelic indie as well as any of the countless occasions I’ve watched Sheafs this year. All bands with a big future ahead.
As for albums, after hearing 'Brutalism' by Idles and having that on repeat for weeks, I thought nothing could top that for album of the year but then Trampolene trumped that massively with 'Swansea to Hornsey', an album full of emotion and truly unique in concept. Looking back to the very start of the year seeing Sundara Karma who provided one of the sweatiest gigs of the year from my point of view and a top album to go with it. 2018 is going to be such a big year for music and I cannot wait, bring it on!
What a great year for music, particularly live music of which I have been very fortunate to see lots, from tiny venues to large festivals and arenas. For me there were two downers. Firstly, the disastrous Hope and Glory Festival which should never had been given a licence by Liverpool City Council, leaving a slight dent in the excellent reputation the city has for organising festivals. Also the sexual assault allegations against Lee Broadbent of Cabbage cast a huge shadow an otherwise full on year for the band. A topic which should not be swept under the carpet by the music industry, the one positive coming from this incident was that there are issues at live venues and it highlighted the great work undertaken by Girls Against to make music venues a safe place for everyone.
As to the live music highlights, well there were so many. The Blinders played a blinding set at Sound City and at new festival Cotton Clouds and got themselves signed up by Modern Sky UK in the process who also signed up No Hot Ashes who I also predict will get bigger and bigger. Over at Wirral Live in Prenton Park, Jon McClure from Reverend and the Makers introduced Jeremy Corbyn and the birth of the Seven Nation Army/ White Stripes inspired anthem “Oh Jeremy Corbyn”. A standout gig of 2017 with the Libertines headlining and The Coral travelling the shortest distance on record to a stadium gig.
As for albums, 2017 produced a fine vintage. The best of the harvest were The Amazons with their originally titled album ‘The Amazons’ who I tip for bigger things. Reverend and the Makers lamented the ‘Death of the King’, with rag time blues, psychedelia and sultry vocals from Mrs McClure all recorded in paradise in Thailand, the country whose said king they mourned.
The Killers' ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ showed them back and as big, bassy and brash as ever with ‘The Man’, coupled with some love songs that had an 80s feel reminiscent of Toto and Reo Speedwagon. ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ commanded one hell of a show on tour complete with Las Vegas neon lights, ticker tape and confetti cannons.
My 2017 highlights started in May by becoming a Little Indie contributor and being part of the team at The Great Escape Festival. Highlights there were the German groups, Giant Rooks and Fuck Art Let’s Dance. The La Fontaines from Glasgow also put on a blinding show and their CD has been in my car stereo ever since.
From that baptism of fire, it was on to Camden Rocks in June and was very impressed with the band Moses playing at the gorgeous Koko venue and taking the ‘money shot’ picture of a young Victor astride a speaker box looking very cool; was equally blown away by the raw energy of female duo Rews at the infamous Hawley Arms. FREAK in July, again in Brighton, was another highlight with vocalist Connar Ridd totally smashing the night with such passion and energy with some top punk rap tunes. The Shimmer Band in October was awesome, showing other bands that you can put on an stadium show in the confines of a small venue and loved their Madchester vibe.
My top show of 2017 was also in October with HMLTD in Brighton. Everything I love about music is contained in this group. From the synths to the guitars, to the outrageous and decadent showmanship from the whole group let alone the frontman who looked like joker from the Suicide Squad film. The fans were mental and every song was a hit. I’m completely obsessed with seeing them again.
When compiling my favourite songs and albums, I’ve tried to avoid the majority of the lists I see popping up all over the web as these either annoy me, make me question whether or not I should be putting so and so in the list-which doesn’t reflect an honest list, and mainly because I thought Kendrick Lamar’s album was shit and no amount of peer pressure could even so much as roll it in glitter it for me, let alone polish it.
Song of the year: The Horrors' 'Something to Remember Me By.' This being the stand out track from this year’s album ‘V’ it’s epic. The beauty of it is that is somehow manages to effortlessly toe the line between 90’s dance music, indie rock and a pop song, without falling down a mythical nu-rave shaped rabbit hole- that many bands managed to write their career off in. The bass and synth work amazingly well together to create a dream like element to the song and when the vocals kick in, it forms the basis of one of the most euphoric fist pumping songs of the year.
Other highlights include Baby Strange ('Young Team'), Morrissey ('Spent the Day in Bed'), Maggie Rogers 'On + Off'), The Orwells ('Double Feature'), Shambolics ('Love Collides').
Album of the year goes to The National's 'Sleep Well Beast'. Unassuming guitarist and multi-tasking brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner are the brains behind the fresh but familiar sound of The National’s album as they co-produced it alongside frontman Matt Berninger. It’s definitely one of those albums that you need to immerse yourself in with the right setting. It’s rare now that an album manages to both captivate and guide you away from the ‘skip track’ temptation of this generation, but this album manages it, and it offers so much more with every listen.
Other highlights include Ryan Adams ('Prisoner'), Catholic Action ('In Memory Of'), WHITE ('One Night Stand Forever'), Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile ('Lotta Sea Lice').
One of the very obvious highlights of 2017 for me has been the continuing emergence of Australia and New Zealand as prime players in the music arena. It has been very hard not to turn this into Little Aussie Blogs when virtually on a daily basis you have new artists and tracks coming up which are just such cracking talent. In fact, one of the reasons for introducing our weekly Australia/New Zealand new music feature was to be able to devote more space to their vibrant music scene.
And it is from that same continent that my album of the year comes. Never have I been quite so sure on first hearing an album early in the year that it would still be my favourite at the end of it. Kardajala Kirridarra are the downtempo, electro-pop band who sing in their Mudburra language about Aboriginal women. The purity of the voices which can be heard on this self-titled album conjure up the heat of the Australian Outback and generations of indigenous Aboriginal women gathered together to hand down stories and songs of their culture, juxtaposed with a very modern electronic musical ambience that dips into rap and dubstep. They offer something profound and refreshing to ears not used to their culture, and how they are shaping that same culture for future generations. A work of importance; vital, absolutely outstanding.
The Great Escape and Camden Rocks both excelled themselves this year. Paris Youth Foundation were so good at their first Escape show, that I went back for more just a few hours later! They have the looks, the tunes, and a disarming frontman in Kev Potter, so I am expecting big things of them in 2018. Likewise, Weirds blew the show at the Escape and taught me a valuable lesson in never to be so engrossed in tweeting and writing review notes that you are completely unaware the vox has left the stage and is standing at your side, glowering at you! (Thanks, Aidan!) Avalanches were an unexpected live hit during the year, and they already are being touted by live gig supremos This Feeling as a band to be 'Big In '18'.
Ending this year was a late inclusion of Sad Boys Club. Their debut single 'Know' was a bit of an epic entrance. They're still 'under the radar', and only just played their first gig, but I am putting a few pounds on them to be The 1975 Mark 2 within 18 months.
London duo IDER, Megan Markwick and Lily Somerville, came up through the ranks this year and were particularly pleasing, before closing out with end year single Liverpool's jangly dreampop homeboys SPINN kept the infectious grooves going with summer's 'Notice Me', though 'She Takes Her Time' was the real cracker.
It's been a big year for albums with Phoebe Bridgers’ producing a top debut record in her emotional relationships inspired work, 'Stranger In The Alps'. Sampha Sisay's 'Process' was written as he dealt with the grief from his mother's death, it therefore is both affecting and accomplished and seductive. Stormzy has the edge on the grime/rap/R&B fusion, and 'Gang Signs and Prayer' showcased it expertly.