Gosh, another year gone. Time seems to be speeding up the older I get. It’s not helped by a lack of sleep and living in the age of always being incessantly connected to digital mediums as the main form of communicating with others and consuming culture.
Somehow, despite all of this, and the difficulties that arts face thanks to a combination of the government cutting funding, the laissez-faireness of the internet and mainstream tastes in utter vacuous rubbish still prevailing, there’s still an endless supply of interesting music and other creative endeavours appearing every year. If any old fart tells you that music used to better in [insert era here], tell them to get fucked, it’s never been harder to create something meaningful or genuinely unique.
That’s a big statement, but musicians and listeners are trapped by the same conceit – every year our knowledge of music expands. It cannot shrink, no matter how many albums you take to the charity shop or how many mp3’s you delete. What new music you experience might only be a drip in the ocean thanks to scope of choice offered by digitalism, but its awareness nonetheless.
It’s posited that by your thirties you’ve established what your taste in music is, and isn’t. I’m trying to transcend this analysis by fighting against my expanding knowledge and the sense that I should discard genres I tend to be less enthusiastic about so that I can maximise time for things I know I’ll probably enjoy. Example – it’s hard to find the motivation to listen to Memphis rap mixtapes when I could be listening to John Coltrane reissues.
The only solution to this is not to be so deliberate. Be random, spontaneous, avoid my usual browsing patterns, don’t discriminate based on genre or reviews, try something that looks odd, or intriguing. Now, I’ll confess I’m being disingenuous here, as haven’t approached music with this realisation or intent throughout this entire year.
As it is, one exception aside, the albums that made my list were all by folks who I’ve either heard of or owned previous works by. Maybe I’m being too pretentious, too try hard, perhaps I’m already doing it right, that my tastes are fine and refined (but who cares if they aren’t?) and that I’m entering into a completely unnecessary measure, but, you know what, just like most of the musicians out there who don’t get paid (much), and know they probably won’t, what is there to lose? What’s the point in life without a bit of experimentation?
Conversely, the structure of this blog post remains completely unchanged from last year. The eleven best albums I listened to this year, and it was painful to pare it down to that number, follow in alphabetical order. It seems hypocritical to pick a top eleven but then not put them in a ranking order, but it seems silly when the genres are so disparate.
I’ll post my favourite songs of 2017 in-between Christmas and New Year. Hope you all enjoy the time off, and, while we’re at it, in the spirit of being random, RIP Keith Chegwin.
Alice Coltrane – World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda
Simple jokes are usually the best – what’s the difference between chopping up an onion and a banjo? Nobody cries when you chop up a banjo. See? How about the joke decrying the cynically populist hijacking of Hare Krisna’s spiritualism (as well as Maharishism and Transcendental Meditation) during the late 60’s and early 70’s:
Hare, Hare, Hare. Krishna, Krishna, Krishna.
Hare, Bollocks, Hare. Krishna, Bollocks, Krishna.
Hare, Hare, Hare.
Bollocks, Bollocks, Bollocks.
So it gave me cause for pause when I heard that a reissue of private Hare Krishna influenced devotional music recorded by Alice Coltrane in the 80’s & 90’s had been released. But then I listened to it. What a gem.
Another point – this album made me realise that I hadn’t heard Alice Coltrane sing before. Thankfully the singing sits seamlessly alongside this latter work, which shares many compositional similarities with “Universal Consciousness”. ‘Om Rama’ and ‘Rama Guru’ are the highlights, and there’s an almost total reimagining of Journey In Satchidananda using an austere church organ.
B12 – Electro-Soma I+II Anthology [compilation/reissue]
A reissue/compilation of select singles and EP’s released under the moniker. It’s a sci-fi and mind-space inflected exploration and part of the escapist counter-cultural vogue that the burgeoning rave and club scenes, and genres of rave, acid, techno and ambient, and many video games for that matter, lent upon for inspiration in the late 80’s to early 90’s.
Call Super – Arpo
Traditional Jazz and Arabic sounds are gratifyingly fractured through a prism of rave sequencing. It just sounds immaculate.
Gnod – Just Say No To The Psycho Right-Wing Capitalist Fascist Industrial Death Machine
Test Dept with normal gear. The austereness of its industrial estate aesthetic is epic and expansive, a soundscape that evokes imagery of declines; the recent industrial past, the inanity of the currently prevailing economic and geological policy, and, as the title suggests, offers a forbidding aspect of the forces driving Britain to Brexit.
Kendrick Lamar – Damn
Still as pissed off and cutting as ever, but it makes sense. Life just gets more complex for him. Instead of just inequality, cultural apathy, and his upbringing, he now gets to rail with incredulity against the hype surrounding him and his work and the temptations of success corrupting his sense of self. More than anything he’s under immense pressure to deliver with each album, but deliver he does. People forget that the fight against going stale and becoming repetitive is one of the hardest to overcome.
Laurel Halo – Dust
Those melodies, man. There’s sarcasm, cynicism, contempt, odd humour, voice distortion, Jazz sampling, bleeps, movie sound effects and ebullient strings, all fragmented and woven back together coherently in an electronic (piss?)take on modernity though a sixties psychedelia sensibility. Move over ‘Get Lucky’ by Daft Punk. ‘Moontalk’ really is the sound of the summer. Check it out if you get the chance.
LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
You can understand why Murphy wanted to stop at ‘Is This Happening’. Any future album would be pre-occupied with trying to make sense of aging in an age where things age in a nanosecond, while maintaining the sanctity of a sound that’s become distinctively timeless and his, is hard going. Still, when you listen, it just makes sense. He’s living the dream through this project, so why should it end? Why would anyone want it to?
Lee Gamble – Mnestic Pressure
Gamble’s work has always approached highfalutin concepts, but this is accessible due to its generous sourcing of all contemporary electronic genres. The opening track of the album sets the tone – distortion intermingles with a jungle sample before clearing out into a convoluted ambience that sounds smooth as silk. This one would’ve made it on the list for its flawless production alone, but that every track’s a winner elevates it to album of the year contender (if that wasn’t an arbitrary measure too far).
Overlook – Smoke Signals
When it comes to drum and base I’m very particular about it, I set the bar high, too high so that most offerings fail to clear it. But this one did, and how. It even offers an ode to ‘Logical Progression’, and continues the genres ties with nostalgia, by wielding relatively famous and obscure quotes from movies and other sources. Most of its offerings approach the genre’s darker end, a mid-90’s score for the atmospheric, bucolic, gothic autumnal imagery of Stranger Things, before it explodes into a rave sensibility with horns grunting and wailing ferociously on ‘Rogue Soul’.
St Vincent – Masseduction
Her past works have piqued my interest, but I haven’t returned to any of it. This one will be different. The added depth comes through its self-reflection, a therapeutic gamut of emotions that arrives when receding from life’s volatility, from black humour; ‘Pills’ and ‘Savior’, ennui ‘Young Lover’, to forlorn and desolate laments of dissolved relationships and loneliness on ‘Smoking Section’ and ‘Happy Birthday, Johnny’. As good as a pop music album can be.
Various – N.E.E.T (Not in Education, Employment or Training)
Some folks (named ‘The Green Door’) had the brilliant idea of taking a bunch of young out of work Glaswegians, the type that are routinely derided and demonised as scroungers and no-hopers by politicians (many of whom actually are a waste of skin) for political capital, and actually gave them a chance to do something more interesting than standing in the dole queue. Its intent is completely validated, proving that good things happen when people are given a creative outlet. It’s a collection of sparse electronicky, psych, and post-punk covers from famous albums. The highlights are a squalidly sultry all-girl duet of ‘Warm Leatherette’, ‘Pythagoras’ Hammer’ sounds as though it’s been conceived on a spaceship organ and ‘1969’ features a mangled vocal that’s delivered with the ferocity of a Ned’s pathos crossed with Shane MacGowan sporting a migraine after a forty hour bender.