Our albums of the year revealed!
A Crow Looked At Me
PW ELVERUM & SUN
An introspective and productive musician, who worked as Microphones before renaming himself Mount Eerie, Phil Elverum’s art was given a tragic new imperative when his wife Geneviève died from pancreatic cancer in 2016. He responded with this devastated, cathartic album, recorded in the room where she died, mostly using her instruments. An unflinching document of love and grief, comparable in some ways to Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell.
Keen students of record label small print would already have been familiar with Alejandro ‘Arca’ Ghersi, a Venezuelan producer who’s worked with Björk, Kanye West, and FKA Twigs. But for his third solo album, the baroque digital abstractions were augmented, for the first time, by Arca’s sensual vocals: raw incantations, in Spanish, that navigated a path between the industrial and the sepulchral, and at the same time between genders.
“Nashville’s a very good place to make a psychedelic rock album,” the irrepressible Hitchcock told Uncut this year, and his current home – along with producer Brendan Benson, from The Raconteurs – inspired him to make one of his loudest sets in decades. Recent acoustic preferences were downplayed, replaced by a fried sound much closer in spirit to his classic ‘70s band, The Soft Boys. There was less surrealist whimsy, too – save the odd reference to telepathy, and an Earth ruled by cats…
A clutch of vintage shoegazers and buzzpoppers might have worked the reunion circuit for the past few years, but 2017 was the year they reasserted themselves artistically. Alongside strong new sets by the Jesus And Mary Chain and Slowdive, then, came the first album in 20 years from the Oxford quartet: a discreet upgrade of the band’s patented dreampop sound, seemingly unaffected by Andy Bell’s staunch shifts in Oasis and Beady Eye.
2017 turned out to be a strong year for the brainy, eclectic, often psychedelic subset of electronica spearheaded by Kieran ‘Four Tet’ Hebden. While James Holden and Floating Points stretched out on full band jams, and Caribou (in his Daphni guise) focused on the dancefloor, Hebden’s own ninth album played to his long-nurtured strengths, stitching global acoustic samples into the gorgeous undulating soundscapes. Folktronica, it seemed, was back on the agenda.
KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD
Flying Microtonal Banana
Having promised five albums in the year, the sprawling Aussie garage-psych collective have only managed three at time of writing. Hardly a failure, not least because this first of them was a match for 2016’s terrific Nonagon Infinity. Spacerock overdrive, deft Middle Eastern flavourings and the odd moment of melodic calm all suggested that the Gizzard’s profligacy was down to a generosity of creative spirit, rather than a tendency to spread themselves too thin.
A pop band with a keen eye for emotional geography, the longstanding firm of Cracknell, Stanley & Wiggs turned their gaze on the outer suburbs of London for their ninth LP. In a year when such dormitory towns became synonymous with Brexit sentiment, Saint Etienne found a deeper and more sympathetic understanding; one that memorialised their Home Counties roots, without ever being nostalgic for a little England that probably never existed.
Like his similarly productive acolytes King Gizzard, John Dwyer managed three albums in 2017, beginning with an electro-punk solo set as Damaged Bug and ending with chamber pop under the new OCS brand name. In between, he released what he claimed would be the last Oh Sees album, one final triumph of hypnotic garage ramalam, interspersed with jazzier and quasi-ambient passages that testified to Dwyer’s ever-expanding artistic range.
2017 saw the underground agitators on unfamiliar new stages – not least supporting The Stone Roses at Wembley Stadium. Their music, though, stayed just as uncompromising and antagonistic towards the mainstream. English Tapas (a pub meal of “half a scotch egg, a cup of chips, a bit of pickle,” Jason Williamson told Uncut) continued their vital mission: social critique in which the grimness came accompanied by rabble-rousing power electronics and a scabrous wit.
A somewhat less aggressive take on electronic music than Sleaford Mods, Narkopop and Brian Eno’s Reflections were the key ambient albums of 2017. Wolfgang Vogt’s return to his feted Gas project for the first time in 17 years was not always an easy listen, however, its looming clouds of orchestrated noise often more unnerving than meditative. One to file alongside the Tim Hecker albums feted so passionately by Uncut in recent years.