Album

No.27 – U2, ‘The Joshua Tree’

What is it?: One of the most popular albums from Irish band U2, fronted by local utter knob Bono.

What’s it like?: Considering the whole idea of listening to U2 made me inwardly groan, and considering I think Bono should just go away… ‘The Joshua Tree’ is pretty darn good. I put off listening to it for about four days, but damn if I was proven wrong.

It kicks in with ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ and you think okay, it’s starting strong, but then, holy crap, it just keeps going. It doesn’t slow down. ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ is obviously a killer track, ‘With Or Without You’ rocks – it’s a continuous stream of enjoyable music.

What the hell is going on?

Verdict: I’ve been put in my place here. If we just take the music on its own, it’s a solid 8/10, but Bono is such a knob that I’ve had to knock a point off.

7/10

 

Album

No.26 – Fleetwood Mac, ‘Rumours’

What is it?: ‘Rumours’, the music-savant-slash-magical-woodland-being’s record of choice, and the Mac at their finest.

What’s it like?: I’ve listened to Rumours casually before and enjoyed it, but sitting down and paying attention to the whole of it really drove home how good it is. What a beautifully crafted album. What excellent musicianship. What gorgeous, thoughtful songwriting.

I could not be more into this. I’m ready to give up London and go live in a treehouse in a forest somewhere and just play this all day until I become one with the trees.

When to listen to it: Whilst frolicking.

Verdict: I am absolutely in love with ‘Rumours’. More please.

9/10

Album

No.25 – James Brown, ‘Live at the Apollo’

What is it?: A standup routine presented by Michael McIntyre Our first live album so far, from none other than the Godfather of Soul himself.

What’s it like?: I mean… I do enjoy James Brown but this isn’t really what I expected of the highest-ranked album of his on the list. This was an excellent live album, I’ll give it that, but I didn’t particularly feel like it let me get to know his music at all.

I guess if you really, really like live albums, like if live albums are your thing, this is one of the best you can get. But if you just fancy a bit of James Brown right now, this ain’t the one.

It didn’t even have ‘I Feel Good’ on it.

When to listen to it: The Apollo Theater, Harlem, in 1962 is probably a good shout.

Verdict: A good live album, a mediocre entry to the list, a bad choice for Baby’s First James Brown Record.

5/10

Interludes

Interlude: Every publication’s 2017 Album Of The Year list was wrong so I’ve made my own

Hey kids, it’s January, and you know what that means: every single publication has put out its end-of-year listicles, including their best albums. Sadly, I’ve perused some and deemed them to be extremely wrong, and as always it’s fallen to me to be the true voice of reason for the corner of the music world that caters to my extremely specific taste. Without further ado, here are my top 10 albums of 2017.

10. Mount Eerie, ‘A Crow Looked At Me’

A crow looked at me

Full disclosure: I’ve only listened to this album once, but that was all I needed because good lord. Good lord. I would like to listen to it again, and have considered doing so many times, but I don’t think I can emotionally handle it.

Phil Elverum, aka Mount Eerie himself, wrote and recorded this album after his wife Geneviève passed away and… yeah. Though it’s composed of twee acoustic guitar and raw vocals on the surface, they belie something much deeper and much sadder, and it’s kinda beautiful. If you think your Mountain Goats could be improved with just that little bit more death, I’d recommend ‘A Crow Looked At Me’. But, like, only when you’re in a place where it’s okay to start sobbing.

Standout track: ‘Real Death’

When to listen to it: During your designated Crying Hour™.

9. Jens Lekman, ‘Life Will See You Now’

Jens Lekman

For his latest record, Jens Lekman has taken a break from wedding singing (book him for your Gothenburg wedding!) to tell the tales of the people he sees and talks to and hears about every day. Each track on ‘Life Will See You Now’ feels more like a short story than a song, a quick snippet of life as told by our benevolent narrator Jens.

It’s incredibly saccharine, and that will put a lot of listeners off – but if you just want something nice for a goddamn change, this is probably the prettiest album that 2017 had to offer.

Standout track: ‘What’s That Perfume That You Wear?’

When to listen to it: It’s great for a long train journey. Unfortunately, it’s also a summer-friendly album, so you may have to wait a few months.

8. Bryce Dessner, James McAllister, Nico Muhly, Sufjan Stevens, ‘Planetarium’

Planetarium

Here’s a collaboration that obviously makes sense: delicate fae singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens, The National’s Bryce Dessner, classical composer Nico Muhly, and some drummer I’ve literally never heard of in my life all came together to create ‘Planetarium’: a cycle of songs about the celestial bodies in our solar system.

I could sit here all day and talk about how bizarre the premise is, but it’d just be me flailing my hands around for a bit and saying, ‘But it’s good??????? It somehow works????????????’ with a look of wide-eyed wonder about me.

Standout track: ‘Jupiter’

When to listen to it: When you’re chilling out but don’t want to be too under-stimulated. I imagine it’s also a great listen when you have taken some sort of drug.

7. Will Joseph Cook, ‘Sweet Dreamer’

Sweet dreamer

I didn’t expect to put this one quite so high up on this list, but you know what? You know what? It’s a good album. Solid bit of pop music.

Cook’s an up-and-coming young lad in the music biz, and this, his debut, is chock full of potential. The vast majority of tracks are catchy, fun, and show that he’s pretty damn talented. I wouldn’t be shocked if he was a household name by his third album. We’re talking flawless vocals, electronic influences, a little guitar here and there, and melodies that make you think finally, some real pop music.

Standout track: ‘Take Me Dancing’

When to listen to it: When you need to sing along to something. In the shower, I guess?

6. Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, ‘Zombies on Broadway’

Zombies on broadway

So, I’ve been an Andrew McMahon fan since I was 13. I’ve been following his career for a long time, and at one point was that bitch considering getting part of the ‘Everything In Transit‘ album art tattooed on my arm. The thing is, he always puts out exactly the right album, and in 2017 he’s done it again.

‘Zombies on Broadway’ has him at his best, throwing out pop tunes that both feel contemporary and quintessentially McMahon, with influences from Billy Joel, Beach Boys, and the whole rock canon shining through.

Also I just noticed the shirt he’s wearing in the album art, which is [fingers doing the okay symbol emoji].

Standout track: ‘So Close’

When to listen to it: It’s fun, it’s full of bops, and it’s kind enough to include some bangers. Give it a spin while you’re out walking somewhere.

5. Perfume Genius, ‘No Shape’

No shape

In a difficult year, Mike Hadreas has gifted us this – an album of love that grows defiantly in the face of a hateful world.

‘No Shape’ is an immaculately produced work of art, with tightly-written songs that, ironically, lead us on a musical journey full of shapes. Tracks like ‘Otherside’ and ‘Wreath’ ebb like ribbons in a breeze; ‘Go Ahead’ and ‘Die For You’ feel stalactic; and ‘Slip Away’ just straight up slaps. It’s not just an album, it’s an experience, ya know?

Standout track: ‘Slip Away’

When to listen to it: Frolicking through a forest is a good bet.

4. Methyl Ethel, ‘Everything Is Forgotten’

Everything is forgotten

It genuinely surprises me that I’ve only seen ‘Everything Is Forgotten’ pop up on one AOTY list, and it came from NME which had one of the wrongest lists of all.

I love this album. Funky basslines meet swirling, psychedelic guitars and frontman Jake Webb’s inner diva that happens to come out as his vocals. We get party tunes (‘Drink Wine’), mournful almost-ballads (‘Femme Maison’), and an out-and-out banger (‘Ubu’). It peters out around the middle, but still, I’m already excited about their next album and it doesn’t even exist yet.

Standout track: ‘Ubu’

When to listen to it: If you ever find yourself locked in a massive spooky warehouse overnight, this would be the perfect soundtrack. If not, I guess just listen to it on the tube or whatever.

3. Lorde, ‘Melodrama’

Melodrama

A lot of publications are putting Lorde’s latest at their number one AOTY spot, and honestly? Fair play. If we aren’t talking about my precise taste in music, ‘Melodrama’ is almost certainly the best album to come out in 2017.

Lorde teamed up with producer Jack Antonoff – because who didn’t team up with producer Jack Antonoff in 2017? – to create her second album, a concept record about youth, parties, and the end of a relationship. And man, it is impeccably composed. Every beat, every sample, every lyric is tight as hell – which is remarkable as it also sounds like Ella crooned it all out in a single, perfect burst.

Standout track: ‘Green Light’

When to listen to it: At a party. Just stick it on all the way through from start to finish. ‘Melodrama’ is the party.

2. Rostam, ‘Half-Light’

Half light

Rostam blew me away this year. The former Vampire Weekend member brought out his first solo album, and it’s the softest, gentlest tour de force you’ll ever hear. There’s so much going on in ‘Half-Light’, so many bits and pieces to listen out for. Sound builds in waves and layers and all you can do is let them wash over you, let them cast all the bad feelings away, let them carefully plant one (1) kiss on your forehead.

Drawing influences from everything from traditional Iranian music to solid electro, ‘Half-Light’ spans genres but still feels neat thanks to Rostam’s impressive songwriting skills. Each track sounds like he’s spent a lifetime perfecting it, and honestly, it’d be sacrilege if you only listen to this album once.

Standout track: ‘Bike Dream’

When to listen to it: When you need a hug and Rostam’s kind eyes gazing upon you.

1. St Vincent, ‘MASSEDUCTION’

Masseduction

You know when you break up with someone, and you get to that post-relationship point where it’s fine, you know that you don’t ever want to be with them again and you’re cool with that, but god you feel fucking awful? And the depression of being suddenly very alone is colliding head-on with the restless anxiety of just wanting to be done with all this shit, thanks? Annie Clark has captured that feeling to an absolute T. ‘MASSEDUCTION’ is at once one of the saddest and sexiest pieces of music I’ve ever heard.

But it’s not just that. That would impress me enough. The fact is, this album slaps. Like, bloody hell. It goes hard. Flawless production (yes, hello again, Jack Antonoff), teamed with Annie’s lavish voice and detached-yet-somehow-ultra-personal songwriting style, make for a hell of an album. Electronic beats dance with delicate piano and stripped-down minimalism in precisely the right places. It’s gorgeous. I can’t believe this album even exists.

Standout track: ‘Los Ageless’

When to listen to it: You don’t need an excuse, just listen to it, for god’s sake.

Honourable mentions that didn’t quite make the cut: Baths, ‘Romaplasm’; Grizzly Bear, ‘Painted Ruins’; Kesha, ‘Rainbow’; The National, ‘Sleep Well Beast’; Toothless, ‘The Pace of the Passing’; Xiu Xiu, ‘Forget’

Hey! Like my taste in music? You fool! You complete moron! But also, you might like my playlist of all the best 2017 tracks, on Apple Music and Spotify

Album

No.24 – Stevie Wonder, ‘Innervisions’

What is it?: A “landmark recording of [Wonder’s] classical period”, according to Wikipedia, and his sixteenth album. Dude was prolific, I’ll give him that.

What’s it like?: It’s official, folks: the list has finally shifted away from dad music and into mom music territory.

I loved this, actually. It isn’t just a collection of songs that somehow fit together, it’s an album, you know? ‘Innervisions’ is entirely cohesive, with the themes and music blending perfectly, and barely faulting on its way. Almost every song is worthy of a listen in its own right, but as an album it works juuuuust nice.

When to listen to it: When it’s late at night, you’re in the flat on your own, and you just feel like doing something special for yourself. Pour a glass of wine, run a bubble bath, and stick ‘Innervisions’ on.

Verdict: Enjoyable.

7.5/10

Album

No.23 – John Lennon, ‘Plastic Ono Band’

What is it?: A solo album from one member of a band who may look a bit familiar by now.

What’s it like?: Just when I was starting to think, hey, we haven’t had a Beatles record in a while, the list cheats and throws us this.

I’ll be honest, I really don’t like Lennon enough to even bother with this one. This was the first album on the list that I saw and thought ugh, no, and went ahead and skipped. There’s really only so much of the unbearable shiteness of Lennon a gal can take, and we’ve reached my limit.

When to listen to it: Whenever you like, just don’t use my speakers.

Verdict: I have no idea.

??/10

Interludes

Interlude: So what’s a 10/10?

Right. Something you may have noticed about this blog is that, so far, I haven’t given any of the albums a 10/10 rating. I’ve no doubt that many are worthy of the accolade – I mean, heck, they’re in Rolling Stone’s top 25 albums of all time, ever – but honestly? I can’t bring myself to give a record 10/10 unless it’s truly up there as one of my absolute favourites.

And as you’re about to find out, I have terrible taste in music. So let’s not count on it happening any time soon.

Anyway, I’ve had a look at my music collection, and narrowed it down to what I reckon are my five favourite albums – all of which get a firm 10/10 from me. Here we go.

 

5. Car Seat Headrest, ‘Twin Fantasy’

twin fantasyWhat is it?: Lo-fi (like, literally recorded in a car) indie rock about being young and depressed and in love.

What’s it like?: This is a very new entry on my favourite albums list – I’m currently obsessed with it – but listen to me. It deserves to be here. It was recorded using GarageBand with semi-terrible equipment and it’s a beautiful exploration of young love, and please don’t try and talk to me at a social gathering in the next ~year because all I will say is ‘have you heard of Car Seat Headrest’ and then I will clutch both your hands in mine, stare unblinking into your eyes, and say, ‘Will Toledo is a genius and “Beach Life-in-Death” is his masterpiece.’

The definitive text on this album (and possibly the greatest piece of music journalism I’ve ever read) has actually already been written over on The Niche, so I urge you to give that a gander if you want to understand why I love ‘Twin Fantasy’ so much.

Standout tracks: ‘Bodys’, ‘Beach Life-in-Death’

When to listen to it: When you’re young and heartbroken, or simply going through a quarter-life crisis like I am.

4. Neutral Milk Hotel, ‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea’

in the aeroplane over the seaWhat is it?: It’s that album that that guy you met at that party wouldn’t stop going on about, and then you went home and listened to it and were like, ‘okay? I guess??’

What’s it like?: No ‘best albums’ list would be complete without ‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea’ (coughs in Rolling Stone’s direction), and it’s managed to hit number four on my personal list. It’s iconique, it’s a classique, it’s the alternative music fan’s meme of choice.

Anyway, obviously it’s an indie/folk/acoustic concept album about being bisexual, traumatised, and possibly the reincarnation of Anne Frank somehow, and beloved by anyone who has even the faintest whisper of hipsterdom about them. Despite all that, it’s a fantastic album.

Standout tracks: ‘Two-Headed Boy’, ‘Holland 1945’

When to listen to it: When you want to impress that cute guy with the floppy hair and glasses and shirt buttoned all the way to the top who likes craft ales and frowning at art at the weekends. (Full disclosure: I, too, have floppy hair and glasses and button my shirts to the top and drink craft ale and like to frown at art. There’s no shame in this, fellas. Own your /r/indieheads basicness.)

3. Parenthetical Girls, ‘Entanglements’

entanglementsWhat is it?: The third (? I can’t be bothered to check) album from Portland experimental pop (? how do we classify this) band Parenthetical Girls.

What’s it like?: Zac Pennington’s cheekbones collide with Jherek Bischoff’s composition prowess and the rest of the band’s uninhibited artsiness to create ‘Entanglements’: an orchestral, experimental album. And oh, hey, it’s another concept album.

Lyrical analysis states that it’s about a relationship between a teenager and someone in their twenties, and musically, it’s unsettling. Think discordant notes, whining strings, and melodies that drop off suddenly as if they’ve been pushed down a well. I realise I’m not selling it here. I realise you’d rather listen to ‘Sgt Pepper‘ or ‘Pet Sounds‘, and that’s fair enough. But if you feel like shuddering, or getting lost in Pennington’s gorgeous voice, consider giving ‘Entanglements’ a shot.

Standout tracks: ‘Song for Ellie Greenwich’, ‘Young Eucharists’, ‘Windmills of Your Mind’

When to listen to it: Honestly, don’t. I mean, at least wait until daylight to give it a go? You probably don’t want to go straight to sleep after listening to this one.

2. Owen Pallett, ‘Heartland’

heartland

What is it?: A concept album about a sexy farmer getting seduced by a demon.

What’s it like?: It’s another orchestral-slash-experimental-pop concept album! Folks, I think we’ve solved the mystery of why I haven’t given any of Rolling Stone’s faves a 10-star rating yet.

Right, real talk: ‘Heartland’ is a blast. Sure, the main instruments are violins, cellos, and the occasional synth, but this is a pop album through and through, with juuust enough hooks and singalong melodies to get you tapping your foot in seven-eight timing. Along with that, it’s just beautiful. Pallett’s composition is astounding and this record will whisk you off your feet.

Standout tracks: ‘Lewis Takes Off His Shirt’, ‘Tryst With Mephistopheles’

When to listen to it: It’s an all-purpose album. Works for a commute, works for getting pumped, probably works for meditation, though I wouldn’t know about the last one because the word ‘mindfulness’ brings me out in hives.

1. Patrick Wolf, ‘The Magic Position’

the magic positionWhat is it?: Artboy poseur Patrick Wolf’s most surprisingly heterosexual album.

What’s it like?: It sounds exactly the way the album art looks.

By which I mean, it’s fun, it’s jaunty, and it just sounds brightly coloured. The genre here is solidly pop, but we’ve got a nice bit of experimentation going on – it doesn’t quite sound like most pop music, even though the melodies are all there. Instead it sounds richer: layers and layers of instruments, noises, and harmonies that pile on together in a dense wall of pure tunage. If ‘Heartland’ is a Renaissance painting, ‘The Magic Position’ is a mixed media piece.

Also, we got this video out of it.

There’s a reason why this is my number one favourite album. To put it simply, it just makes you feel nice. It’s warm. It has happiness, and it has sadness and longing, but it knows that things will loop right back around to being okay again. It’s that mate who knocks on your door when you were resigning yourself to a Friday night in front of the TV, and he’s dressed in sweatpants and asking if you want to share this massive bottle of red he found himself in possession of. It’s a friend.

(For what it’s worth, I also consider Wolf’s other albums ‘The Bachelor’ and ‘Wind in the Wires’ to be 10/10 too, but I committed to just one album per artist on this list. Furthermore, his ‘Brumalia’ is the only record I know that deserves a solid 11/10 – but sadly it’s an EP rather than an album so it doesn’t really count.)

Standout tracks: ‘Overture’, ‘The Magic Position’, ‘Augustine’

When to listen to it: In the autumn. It’s got an autumnal feel to it. So, right now. Go listen right now.

A few other 10/10 albums that didn’t quite make the cut: Ben Folds, ‘Way to Normal’; Bjork, ‘Homogenic’; Fiona Apple, ‘When the Pawn…’; Jack’s Mannequin, ‘Everything In Transit’ (don’t @ me, I was one of those teenagers); Lorde, ‘Pure Heroine’; The Real Tuesday Weld, ‘I, Lucifer’; Sufjan Stevens, ‘Carrie and Lowell’