Our albums of the year revealed!
Music For People In Trouble
After having become a Scandinavian dance-pop star with 2015’s Ten Love Songs, Sundfør took an unexpected turn for her fifth solo album. Reconnecting with the folkier textures of her early career, Music For People In Trouble also showcased a mournful sense of theatre, with stark piano settings that aligned her to the work of a notable duetting partner on the album, John Grant. A key role in the BBC Proms’ Scott Walker tribute confirmed a new, critically-garlanded phase of an intriguing career.
PARADISE OF BACHELORS
British folk’s fully-qualified survivor celebrated an ornery half-century in the game with one of his best albums in decades: a full band electric set, cooked up with a bunch of young American fans led by Steve Gunn. “I’m constantly amazed that these Americans bothered to find out about me,” Chapman told Uncut. “All my American friends came out with great records last year – William Tyler, Hiss Golden Messenger, Nathan Bowles, Steve… It seems like it’s my turn now.”
KAITLYN AURELIA SMITH
A cosmic New Age record about the life cycle, inspired in part by David Attenborough? That was the latest album by Smith, a Californian master of vintage modular synth the Buchla Music Easel. Like the work of Björk and 2015’s Album Of The Year winner, Julia Holter, The Kid was at once experimental and surprisingly accessible; imbued with a very organic sense of wonder, in spite of the retro-futuristic tools with which it was constructed.
HISS GOLDEN MESSENGER
Swiftly following up 2016’s Heart Like A Levee, MC Taylor’s latest was an urgent testament of metaphysical defiance in the wake of the year’s myriad global anxieties. A strong sense of community – both of musicians and of fans – fuelled these rousing folk-soul songs, plus a belief in the social usefulness of music in dark times. “If it’s up to me,” as Taylor sang in “Harder Rain”, “A little love would go a long way.”
Named after the Staple Singers’ anthem, Giddens’ second solo album was designed, she told Uncut, “to show different aspects of African-American experience, from a long time ago to not that long ago.” A commanding singer with folk, theatrical and gospel chops aplenty, the former Carolina Chocolate Drop imbued new songs with the gravity of traditionals, and highlighted old injustices that were still, scandalously, relevant in 2017.
Powering towards his 70th birthday, the eternally questing Plant and his Sensational Shape Shifters continued to map spiritual affinities between Celtic mysticism, American roots, North African trance, West Country trip-hop and more. The attitude and delivery may have evolved over the last 50 years, but Plant’s knack for a heroic posture remained potent – as did his sentimental streak, represented by a duet on “Bluebirds Over The Mountains” with Chrissie Hynde.
All American Made
No hanging around for Margo Price, insurgent queen of Nashville’s awkward squad. On her swift second album, the no-bullshit country star shipped out to Sam Phillips’ studio to dabble in Memphis soul, corralled Willie Nelson for a duet and even found time to rage articulately about the pay gap, the music business (“Cocaine Cowboys”!) and the serial hypocrisies of American foreign policy, dating back to her Reagan-era childhood. “I anticipate backlash,” she said, characteristically undaunted.
A quieter year for New American Primitives, perhaps, with honourable mentions to House And Land, James Elkington, Bill Mackay and the Gunn-Truscinski Duo. But Oakland’s Johnson epitomised and transcended the adventurous spirit of the scene, Balsams being a solo pedal steel record with an ambient bent that made it as close to Daniel Lanois’ work on Eno’s Apollo Soundtracks as it did any notional folk tradition.
If anyone found Segall’s 2016 album, Emotional Mugger, something of a Devo infatuated misstep, the garage rock maven’s second self-titled album was a reassuring retrenchment, of sorts. As with 2012’s Slaughterhouse, the vibe often suggested The Beatles turning up on Sub Pop in the late ‘80s, though an expanded, virtuosic band (including Emmett “Cairo Gang” Kelly and Ryley Walker/Mark Kozelek sideman, Ben Boye) also pushed affairs towards the odd jazz-tinged freakout,
Written, as usual, on the road, Marling’s sixth album was a typically wise, elegant discursion on the theme of “what truly liberates women and what doesn’t.” Virgil and Rilke were referenced but, as ever, the gifted singer-songwriter carried her erudition lightly. Meanwhile, a broadening range and the innovations of producer Blake Mills (also behind the fine Perfume Genius album) brought a stealthy funk to tracks like the outstanding “Soothing”.