An Amalgamated Albums A-Z of 2017 (From Binker And Moses to Roger Waters)

As we approach another year’s end reflecting on what wares touched us the most on the aural plane, it’s clear once more that there have just been too many things released to boil it all down here into a fully comprehensive, easily portable or competitive clickbait compendium.

Instead, below is an independently-selected clutch of albums and one cheekily-appearing EP – from DOA writers and previously featured artists in no-fuss alphabetical order – which arrived in 2017 that we felt should be documented and recognised for their services to our ears.

Binker And Moses – Journey To The Mountain Of Forever (Gearbox Records)

Binker And Moses – Journey To The Mountain Of Forever

I didn’t expect my album of the year to be a jazz record. A lot of my listening of late has been split between black metal and its inscrutable cousin ‘dungeon synth’, and perhaps it is through the latter that I came upon this stunner. The sleeve grabbed me as something from the glossier end of the dungeon spectrum, and it was only through chatting to the Gearbox folks at London’s Independent Label Market that it was revealed as a shimmering slice of contemporary jazz.

The first disc here presents wonderful one-take drum ‘n’ sax bangers, tightly composed in places, with enough room for the players to wander when they see fit. I hear Rashied Ali’s skittering beats in Moses Boyd’s protean drumming (although there’s plenty of Led Zep stomp in there too), while sax-wise the spirit of Coltrane himself is present in Binker Golding’s lines, equally capable of rendering punchy melodies or sonorous reflections. The duo are ably joined by additional players on the second disc, including the legendary Evan Parker, but it is the first two sides of cosmic confluence that I have been returning to again and again. Those DS tapes might get a little dustier…

Owen Tromans (Candles, solo artist)

Oliver ChererThe Myth Of Violet Meek (Wayside And Woodland)

Oliver Cherer – The Myth Of Violet Meek

Musical polymath Oliver Cherer has, this year, released not one but two albums of considerable note. The Green Line under his Gilroy Mere incarnation, released by the brilliantly aesthetically informed (check out the sleeve art) cottage industry that is Clay Pipe and The Myth Of Violet Meek, courtesy of the ever intriguing Wayside And Woodland imprint. A suitably large number of plaudits have been presented to both opuses, The Green Line somewhat shading things in the attention-stakes.

I would contend, however, that Cherer’s true long suit is his ability as a storyteller and consequently my best love is given to Violet Meek. In a work of serious musical and lyrical ambition Cherer has succeeded in creating what is virtually a folk-rock rival to Lou Reed’s classic album Berlin. Meek‘s historically set tales of hard lives, hardly lived, misogyny and abuse rivals Reed’s bleak account of mid-’70s ill-starred romantic decadence, equally matching its conceit of setting sharply jagged lyrical gems within beautifully evocative music. It is a work that best rewards deep delving but The Myth Of Violet Meek is a truly big album and vital listening.

Keiron Phelan (DOA writer, littlebow, Smile Down Upon Us et al.)

Charlie Coxedge – Cloisters (Bella Union)

Charlie Coxedge – Cloisters

Even if Charlie Coxedge is relatively new to the compositional school of one-man wonder bands making melancholic musical meditations by skillfully looping and layering guitar parts, he is nevertheless one of its most artful practitioners. Using a less-is-more compositional approach, Coxedge’s collection of spacious, slow-developing instrumentals—much like his sonic predecessors The Durutti Column or Steve Reich—seem intentionally designed to provide listeners with just enough emotional latitude to remember what life was like when they weren’t interrupted every other minute with trivial text messages or insipid Facebook status updates. Civil discourse, objective truth, and any semblance of a cohesive societal narrative may have been irrevocably shattered by our collective addiction to social media, but Cloisters functions as a restorative metaphysical antidote for those willing to set aside 36 minutes from their bustling—but spiritually deadening—lives to listen to it from beginning to end.

That said, as emotionally capacious as these protracted pieces are, the album’s most poignant moments are experienced during its two shortest tracks: the pensive “Pentreath” and the wistful solo piano closer “Holly.” And that fact might be the album’s principal selling point for the time-crunched consumer. After all, in this stifling screen-staring era, merely taking the time to listen to a record in its entirety is a revolutionary act.

Joel Hanson (Memory Drawings et al.)

James ElkingtonWintres Woma (Paradise Of Bachelors)

James Elkington – Wintres Woma

I first heard songs from this record on day one of the new year, Elkington performing solo, amid friends, fireplace crackling, a vista of rolling farmland blanketed with snow. The scene couldn’t have been more apt, considering the translation of the title; ‘the sound of winter.’

When I heard the recording some weeks later, the monochromatic snowscape had turned technicolor. Elkington’s guitar conjures Thompson and Jansch, creates a harmonic swirl, and on Wintres Woma, the cello, pedal steel, Nick Macri’s bass and Elkington’s rich vocals, as well as something distinctly ‘Chicago’ move this record beyond simple comparisons to Brit-folk (despite the “cygnet’s wings” lyric!) to something harder to categorize. And although there are songs like “Wading The Vapors” and “Grief Is Not Coming” that make this a marvelous Sunday morning, coffee-in-hand listen, songs like “The Hermit Census” conjure more of a Sunday morning viewed from the other end, after a bitter Saturday night (“Close that accordion mouth/Stop crying fat wedding band tears/Patch the holes in your encrusted denim (or is it urine crusted?)/Light up like chandeliers”). This is a record to last more than a winter.

Rick Rizzo (Eleventh Dream Day)

Roe EnneyGlare (Root Strata)

Roe Enney – Glare

My favourite album of 2017 year was recorded sometime between 1982 and 1984 in some English backwater town – at least if I didn’t know differently.  For one, Roe Enney’s Glare has a bedroom recording quality to it, specifically one pre-laptop/pre-software, recorded to tape, which immediately sets it aside from 99% of most contemporary music. What you get (from this, actually, Brooklyn, NY artist) is luxuriant tape hiss, sizzling analogue drum machine hi-hats, churchy Moog, ponderous bass, foggy reverb, somnambulant vocals – everything I loved in the early-‘80s. There’s an honourable and endearing lack of perfection or urgency throughout and little, if any reference, to the present day.  Anyone, like me, still maintaining a flame for the likes of Pink Industry and/or Cocteau Twins’ Garlands or more recently Grouper, may enjoy getting lost in this mystical fog.

Glen Johnson (Piano Magic et al.)

Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up (Nonesuch)

Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up

As someone whose music listening more often than not consists of relatively unknown bands and musicians, I wondered if it was the actual popularity of Fleet Foxes that had kept them away from my playlists. Formed in 2002, one of the more prominent bands of the alt. folk scene (and counting Father John Misty as a sometime member) had seemed superfluous to my review in-tray, where I never had to look far to find an at least listenable folk-rock album.

Then “Fool’s Errand”, released as a single from Crack-Up appeared, and it sounded like everything that a great folk song should be, ambitious, elegiac and harmonious. And as I listened to Crack-Up in its totality it seemed as if that song was only one part of an orchestrated, much longer work of music. Turning an album into a concept piece doesn’t always work but when it does, and when the musicians behind it are as definably committed as Fleet Foxes are, then the results are inevitably spectacular.

In a year that had no shortage of great albums to be listened to, Crack-Up stands apart as an actual classic whose instrumentation and lyricism, songwriting and production, and whose spirited soaring ballads are the sound of a band at or very near the peak of their creative output.

Jon (DOA writer)

Hampshire And Foat – Galaxies Like Grains Of Sand (Athens Of The North)

Hampshire And Foat – Galaxies Like Grains Of Sand

I first came across Greg Foat when I picked up the Jazzman-released reissue of The Greg Foat Group’s Dark Is The Sun LP back in 2015. Its almost ambient jazz textures totally won me over and Mr. Foat’s debut LP has been a mainstay on the household turntables ever since. It was therefore with more than just ordinary interest, that I placed an order for Hampshire And Foat’s Galaxies Like Grains Of Sand LP, released on the Edinburgh based-Athens Of The North label earlier this year. While I knew nothing about Warren Hampshire, I have been a fan of AOTN for many years, having picked up a vast amount of their always tasty soul/disco/funk 7″ reissues, with which they have been blessing music lovers for the past few years. Intrigued by the idea of a Greg Foat collaboration on a predominantly soul and funk reissue label, didn’t exactly lower my expectations. And I wasn’t let down when I first took the record for a spin. With this beauty of an album, AOTN has proved that their never less that brilliant A&R ears are as firmly tuned in on contemporary and cinematic sounds, as they are on obscure OOP soul gems. With Foat handling keys and Hampshire looking after guitar and auto harp, the pair has crafted a most delicate album for late nights and moments dedicated contemplation.

The opening title-track confidently sets the scene with a metronomic backdrop reminiscent of Dutch label Music For Memory’s ‘super group’ Gaussian Curve, over which Foat and Hampshire let loose their obvious talents for melody and melancholy. Track two, “Lullaby” comes across like a long lost track from Eno and Lanois’ Apollo soundtrack, while “The Solar Winds (And Cadenza)” starts out as a smoky jazz jam of the sort you’d expect from UK jazzsters Ruby Rushton in one of their more chilled moments. And so the album progresses with one stellar track after the other. Galaxies Like Grains Of Sand isn’t trying to show off or break any new ground, and the thing is, it doesn’t have to. Foat and Hampshire are a couple of extremely accomplished musicians and this, their debut collaboration stands testament to just how emotionally charged timeless craftsmanship can sound. A quiet and indeed soulful triumph.

Martin Jensen (The Home Current)

Robert Aiki Aubrey LoweTwo Orb Reel (More Than Human)

Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe – Two Orb Reel

This album really is something else. Although it’s intended to be a set of soundtrack pieces to science fiction stories set in Africa (Ballard’s haunting The Crystal World for example), there are none of the usual sci-fi soundtrack tropes here. Instead Lowe creates an immersive, slowly shifting landscape, which manages to sound like the future at the same time as sounding ancient and primal. Close your eyes and you can hear Ballard’s jungle turning into beautiful and frightening crystal sculptures. Hidden melodies make themselves apparent before sloping off beneath a warm morass of bubbling texture.

This is a record that makes fantastic use of modular synthesis and proves that it doesn’t have to be all bleeps and bloops (as many critics will claim). Lowe manages to make music that sounds like nothing else you’ve heard, that is somehow eerily familiar. I’ve listened to it constantly since I got it. It was a tough choice as I’ve loved a lot of records this year, but this is the one.

Stephen James Buckley (Polypores)

Vic Mars – The Consumer Programme (Polytechnic Youth)

Vic Mars – The Consumer Programme

For this writer at least, 2017 was a year where sonic pleasures were dispersed widely across geographically-scattered record label and artist operations.  Hence, Melbourne’s latest folk-rock redeemers Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever delivered the earworm-stuffed melodic grooves of The French Press mini-album for Seattle’s Sub Pop; nomadic English ex-pat James Elkington brought us the beguiling Wintres Woma through North Carolina’s Paradise Of Batchelors (as profiled by Rick Rizzo above); and the reliably ubiquitous Hastings-based Oliver Cherer ushered in his Gilroy Mere alias with the sublime shape-shifting journeying of The Green Line on London’s cherished Clay Pipe Music.

Yet throughout the year, the most consistent curatorial hub continued to be the Crouch End kitchen HQ of sibling imprints Polytechnic Youth and Deep Distance, which slipped-out remarkably rewarding records with an almost embarrassing shelf-filling frequency. Hence, two enthralling LPs of divergent dark-electronica from Polypores, a lauguid expansive debut showcase from Free/Slope, a psych-rock epic from Electric Moon and a gripping motorik road-trip from Australian Testing Labs Inc. appeared amidst the bevy of top-drawer turntable-hoggers. Just on top of this towering pile of first-rate audio artefacts was The Consumer Programme from Vic Mars.  Although relatively brief in duration, the wordless long-player unpacked itself as a joyously eclectic yet cohesive collection of playful DIY synth-pop burbling, retro-futuristic imaginary film soundtracking, elegiac questing kosmische and balmy ambient moodscaping.

Cleverly and seamlessly stitching itself between the overlapping philosophies and schticks of innumerable Polytechnic Youth/Deep Distance labelmates (and beyond), whilst weaving out bespoke attire for its own charming creativity, The Consumer Programme is an intrepidly inventive as well as invitingly warm curiosity.

Adrian (DOA writer)

Mise en SceneStill Life On Fire (Light Organ Records)

Mise en Scene – Still Life On Fire

Winnipeg, Canada-based garage-rockers Mise en Scene commanded the stage with an emotively involving and vibrantly dynamic second album, Still Life On Fire, which came out this past summer.  Co-founders Stefanie Blondal Johnson (songwriter, vocals, guitar) and Jodi Dunlop (drums) form the core of the band and are joined by bassist Corey Hykawy and Dave Gagnon on lead guitar.  Like its film-sparked name, Mise en Scene draws the listener in with widescreen grittiness and melodicism, attaining dramatic, punk-inspired highs (the rip-roaring “Closer”), bittersweet, reflective lows (the gently glowing “Guts/Glory”), and a mix of both (the fervent longing of “Light In The Night”).  At turns melancholically wistful and joyously romping, as well as filled with captivating, expressive vocals and personal, insightful lyrics, Still Life On Fire is one of the bright lights of 2017 and a statement of what this band is all about.

Jen Dan (DOA writer)

Pages From Ceefax – GBH 8th February 1987 (self-released)

Pages From Ceefax – GBH 8th February 1987

For several years now, Allan Murphy, the man behind Midwich Youth Club, Polymer Cities, and the excellent Kehrschliefe, has been releasing a series of downloads of found tapes from a derelict Birmingham house under the moniker Pages From Ceefax. The last in the series, entitled GBH 8th February 1987, continues in the vein of radio static-drenched audio collage and sound experimentalism that has pervaded these mysterious recordings, beginning with Found Tape Number 1 (2013). “Side 1”, the more sinister of the two sides, is a densely evolving cascade of shifting short-wave radio sound surfaces, punctuated by the emergence of ring modulated pads and morse code-like tone rows. From this unheimliche static emerges a vision of a journey through industrial midlands and crumbling Mitteleuropean/Bauhaus-lined streets and boulevards; perhaps a Joe en route to a dead letter box, or a sandbagger out to lift a potential defector. “Side 2” breaks out promptly into a set of minimal cosmic pre-perestroika grooves, each gradually submerging again beneath waves of modulated warbling static. Who knows what immanent message lay within these frequencies, and for whom were they intended?

David Mason (Listening Center)

Laetitia Sadier Source Ensemble – Find Me Finding You  (Drag City)

Laetitia Sadier Source Ensemble – Find Me Finding You

As a singer staring down the approach of mid-life, it’s heartening to hear an influential and much-loved voice growing only more beautiful with the passage of time. In this case, the voice is that of the one and only Laetitia Sadier, whose recent album Find Me Finding You (under new moniker Laetitia Sadier Source Ensemble) was a favourite of 2017.

There’s much to love about the LP, namely beautifully crafted songs with a real sense of space and movement, and heaps of stylistic versatility both within the tunes themselves, and throughout the album as a whole. It’s an intriguing blend of sophisticated pop, percolating tropicalia, lush soft-psych and warm electronics – all hallmarks of the Sadier sound, but truly, in this instance, more than the sum of their parts. At no time does it feel like a back catalogue retread, but exquisitely fresh and unique, demonstrating Sadier’s ability to shape familiar sonic elements into continuously varied expressions that surprise and delight.

As for the vocals, all I can say is that she’s never sounded better – Sadier’s voice has always been a magical thing, but in its maturity has developed in ways only hinted at in her earlier, Stereolab-era recordings. And as always, she delivers a powerful revolutionary message, which after a year as such we’ve witnessed, desperately needs to be heard and heeded.

Allison Brice (Lake Ruth)

SufyvnAscension EP (self-released)

Sufyvn – Ascension EP

I first heard Sufyvn during one of those Bandcamp recommendation chains that you find yourself on of an otherwise dreary Sunday afternoon.  His Pseudarhythm Vol. 2 captured my heart with its Prefuse 73-esque disjointed beats complete with a rawness to it that just gave it a nice little edge.

Now, DOA rules dictate that I must choose an album of the year, not any EPs or singles, but Sufyvn’s Ascension EP has lived up to expectations and is one of very few releases that have got me truly excited this year so I’m hoping my cheekiness will be forgiven.  It’s a rare beast that manages to retain an essence of place with sampled acoustic instruments, especially of the dreaded ‘world music’ variety, and yet come up with something at once accessible and dancey yet authentic.  Sufyvn manages to do this time and again with his Sudanese-infused hip-hop by twisting samples to create awkward rhythms and stop-start melodies.

I was going to pick a stand out track but, to be honest the whole EP only lasts about 15 minutes.  That’s the only downside, it’s over too soon!

Katie English (Isnaj Dui, littlebow et al.) 

Ryuichi Sakamoto async (Milan)

Ryuichi Sakamoto – async

Having been diagnosed with cancer of the throat in 2014, we almost didn’t get to hear again from Ryuichi Sakamoto, the erstwhile Yellow Magic Orchestra pop star turned Oscar-winning film composer and ambient éminence grise. That we did, should be a source of joy to anyone who has appreciated the classically trained Japanese keyboardist’s melodic and textural gifts, whether with YMO, on a tranche of stylistically disparate solo outings, in collaboration with the likes of David Sylvian and Iggy Pop or on the soundtracks to movies by Bernardo Bertolucci, Brian De Palmer or Oliver Stone.

Sakamoto’s sixteenth solo album is, perhaps unsurprisingly, both an emotionally charged meditation on mortality and an ascetic exercise in cinematic mood casting. Indeed, while he admits to conceiving it as the soundtrack to an imaginary Andrei Tarkovsky movie, an unavoidably intimate, personal quality is palpable in essays like “andata”, its Bach-like piano refrain becoming inexorably subsumed in layers of gothic organ and synthesiser scree before finding hymnal resolution, or the gorgeous ambient etude “solari”, which, while it may nod to Tarkovsky’s Solaris, is equally an ostentatious expression of heart-soaring optimism. Later, vocal pieces, like “fullmoon”, which marries a reading by author Paul Bowles with a dense vocal collage, and “Life, Life”, featuring David Sylvain intoning lines by Andrei’s poet father, Arseny Tarkovsy, address existential fragility more directly, but no less movingly, and everywhere a wonderful sense of carpe diem expediency pervades.

David Sheppard (Snow Palms, solo artist et al.)

Roger Waters – Is This The Life We Really Want? (Columbia Records)

Roger Waters – Is This the Life We Really Want?

In 2017, former Pink Floyd bass player and frontman Roger Waters released Is This the Life We Really Want?, his fourth solo effort (not counting his three-act opera, Ça Ira). This album resembles late-Waters-era Floyd. And it is fantastic. Passages and arrangements echo The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, The Wall, and The Final Cut. But this is not a nostalgia project. Waters’ own impossibly catchy, simple refrains over acoustic guitar-driven tunes provide a framework around which the album employs Pink Floydian atmospherics. That the result does not sound like a Floyd knockoff should be credited in large part to the careful, deft production of Nigel Godrich. Waters’ vocal retains its edge, but he sounds less emotionally-charged than before. The lyrics – in a style consistent with the rest of his solo career – are overtly political and much less introspective than Pink Floyd’s; the rhetorical question posed in the album’s title is Waters’ springboard. And, finally, any description of the album would be incomplete if it neglected to mention that the bass guitar parts sound brilliant.

Damon (DOA writer)