My book of quotations tells me W.H. Auden said “music is the best means we have of digesting time”, so what better to do than chew over some of the releases of the last twelve months. As usual, every C60 during December is filled with sounds from the year that’s soon to end. You can listen back to the shows on the links below and check out the inventively titled ‘Seventeen from Seventeen’ list, containing my own personal favourites.
Amid all the ongoing talk of digital delivery or the rebirth of the record shop, one thing is certain: However you chose to listen, there’s an amazing number of people making amazing sounds. Buy albums. Support them. Join in.
C60 – Best of 2017 – Tape 1 – Side A (2 December) Featuring music from Grandaddy, Peter Perrett, Loner Deluxe, LCD Soundsystem, The Shins, Ride, Strand Of Oaks, Public Service Broadcasting and more…
Seventeen from Seventeen…Albums of the Year
Seamus Fogarty – The Curious Hand : A great leap forward from the 2012 debut ‘God Damn You Mountain’, this lp delivered on the promise shown on the stopgap ‘Ducks and Drakes’ ep. A short, sharp journey around the world of the Mayo exile. Along the way, building sites, trains, artist ears and churches in Carlow. I love this album. Full of glitchy standout singalongs, laced with humour and soul.
Poor David’s Almanack – David Rawlings : It’s a toss-up between this and the Seamus Fogarty lp for my favourite album of the year. Coming relatively quickly on the back of ‘Nashville Obsolete’, this was an instant joy. Every single track hits the sweet spot. The companion essay on the communal nature of this kind of music sums it up much better than a few sentences here can. An album that winds its way into your head immediately, stays familiar and never disappoints.
Diversions Vol. 4 : The Songs and Poems of Molly Drake – The Unthanks : Proof positive that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I’m amazed that this hasn’t featured more prominently in the end of year lists, that list junkies love to look at. The album features songs and poems written by Molly Drake, mother of Nick. On their own they stand tall; Majestic words, detailing the ebb and flow of life and love. But with the harmonious voices and simple accompaniments of The Unthanks, this material soars. Add in the stately voice of Gabrielle Drake for spoken word content and you’ve got a collection that will stop you in your tracks.
Back To Harbour – The Harvest Ministers : Consistency in a world gone mad. A new Harvest Ministers lp is always worth a listen and ‘Back To Harbour’ repaid the compliment in spades. Perfect songs, none outstaying their welcome, making a collection that reveals itself as a thing of beauty straight off the bat. The pinnacle for me is closer ‘Black Elsie’ … but any of the other ten tracks could stake a similar claim. You should have this record.
Stranger in the Alps – Phoebe Bridgers : The Mark Kozalek cover ‘You Missed My Heart’ was my entry point to this passage of time lp, full of universal truths. It’s a beautifully rendered version of a great tune, in keeping with the rest of the offerings here. An album packed with songs that resonate, with pristine production and soaring, heartfelt vocals. Don’t be a stranger to this.
Sleep Well Beast – The National : More of the same only stronger. A stately set, that builds and builds. The sound of the band nudged subtly forward throughout, so by the time you reach the final quarter, the stage is set for a perfect passage of songs to round off the proceedings.
Antisocialites – Alvvays : I’ve a soft spot for this band’s jangle and the involvement of Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake on glockenspiel was certain to seal the deal. There was plenty more to like on the second outing from the Canadian band. While it didn’t quite pack the punch of their eponymous debut, all things considered, it’s a definite for inclusion on a list like this at the end of the year.
Between the Earth and the Sky – Lankum : Not sure that this is the second coming of Irish folk that some folk would have you believe but there’s definitely merit in the traction this album is getting. As with all the best tunes, the trick is in the telling. Repeated listens reveal a record that relishes the narrative. Mention too of the striking cover by Glyn Smyth, laying the ground for what unfurls behind the packing.
Out in the Storm – Waxahatchee : Baffled by the lack of attention given to this in the last few months. The follow up to one of the best lps of 2015, ‘Out in the Storm’ echoes the best of mid 90s Belly or Veruca Salt in places, all the while driving on the Waxahatchee sound from that on the aforementioned ‘Ivy Trip’ lp. In ‘Sparks Fly’ we had one of the songs of the year and there were a few other contenders over the course of this short, half hour outing.
Lotta Sea Lice – Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile : A 2017 slacker pop masterpiece. All the more appealing, given the spontaneous nature of the proceedings. A collection that was rattled off over a few sessions, Lotta Sea Lice bore witness to the lyrics in one of its best tracks ‘Fear is Like a Forest’: “If you just let it go, it will come back to you”. An unexpected attention grabber.
Honest Life – Courtney Marie Andrews : The Loose Music label never fails to satisfy. To the point that when you take a blind shot on the label’s roster, you’ll usually find a heavy rotation gem. That’s what happened with this ten track affair. I liked this from the off and can’t shake a comparison with Joni Mitchell’s ‘Song to a Seagull’ from almost 50 years ago. It’s got a lovely flow, with heavenly vocals over its 36 minutes. Just a perfectly pitched collection of songs.
All American Made – Margo Price : As with Dave Rawlings’ release, this is a record of stories, shared experiences. Proper shit kickin’ country. There’s no doubt that the cache of being on Jack White’s record label gives this a wider than normal base. But like last year’s ‘Midwest Farmer’s Daughter’, this is an album full of pure, catchy, stomping selections. And in the duet with Willie Nelson ‘Learning to Lose’, we got one of the year’s jaw droppers.
A Deeper Understanding – The War On Drugs : More of the same on the follow up to Lost In The Dream. In many respects this year’s releases from The National and The War on Drugs fell into the same bucket for me. No grand deviation. No reinventing the wheel. No bad thing. From the strains of opener ‘Up All Night’ the scene was set. Comparisons are easy… but Adam Granduciel’s 21st century take on booming guitar music sets its own standard.
50 Song Memoir – The Magnetic Fields : Stephin Merrit is no stranger to the concept album. This one, clearly guided by his opus ‘69 Love Songs’, was an attempt to pull off the same feat in a different context. An autobiographical 50 song lp had a bit of everything, all with the trademark Magnetic Fields take on things. Beautifully presented and beautifully packaged… with sentiment and style.
Harmony of Difference – Kamasi Washington : Strictly speaking this is probably classified as an extended player but what a release. A staging post between 2015’s ‘Epic’ and whatever comes next, this was apparently an exercise in some technique called counterpoint. Different compositions that are separate but also linked… I think. Anyway, there are five tunes on Side A, each title making a manifesto of sorts: ‘Desire’, ‘Humility’, ‘Knowledge’, ‘Perspective’, ‘Integrity’. Then there’s a thirteen minute track, ‘Truth’ on Side B, which has elements of the music on Side A on it. It’s amazing.
Forever – BMX Bandits : Speaking of manifestos, how’s this for one? “We believe in the power of music and the power of love. These things can transform your world into a beautiful and magical place.” BMX Bandits have been off my radar since 1995, when they brought out the de facto classic ‘Gettin’ Dirty’… but they’ve been tipping away all the while. This 2017 record wore its influences on its sleeve, from the Beach Boys cover that donated the title, to the pop sensibilities of a simpler time. It zips along across 16 tracks and succeeds in its stated aim.
Hard Love – Strand of Oaks : There’s been an interesting evolution in the music made by Timothy Showalter over the last decade or so. 2009’s ‘Leave Ruin’ was a stripped back, considered acoustic affair. Fast forward to 2017 and this early year banger. Paeans to taping songs of the radio, layered guitars and a sound that makes you want to crank the volume every single time. ‘Hard Love’ continued the journey of this underrated musician.