Our albums of the year revealed!
How can a truly democratic band work cohesively when its four members disperse across a nation? That was the challenge faced by Grizzly Bear, once quintessentially of New York, on their fifth and long-awaited album. Painted Ruins, nevertheless, turned out to be an object lesson in creative collaboration: stealthy chamber-pop, meticulously pieced together by Messrs Droste, Rossen, Taylor and Bear, where the songs accumulated emotional heft with each listen.
Music For The Age Of Miracles
A late-career high from one of London’s most underrated bands. The stop-start career of Alasdair MacLean’s Clientele began in the early ‘90s, gradually attracting more acclaim in the States than in the Britain they captured so poetically in song. Their eighth album again revolved around a delicate beat group vibe, augmented this time by an old friend and his santoor; an Indian hammered dulcimer that brought yet more chiming resonance to already jangling affairs.
If Lorde’s breakout hit, “Royals” (2013), raised an arch eyebrow at the excesses of the pop world, her second album found the young New Zealander subverting the business from within. Grand Kate Bush-like ballads (check “Writer In The Dark”, especially) manoeuvred alongside vibrant party crescendos, coalescing into a conceptual pop masterpiece very nearly a match for the more indie-friendly St Vincent’s Masseduction (the two shared a producer, Jack Antonoff).
The uncanny, looping music of Argentine Molina has long been a discreet pleasure for the lucky few who’ve stumbled upon it. Her seventh album, however, found her uprooted from her lush Buenos Aires garden to an Arizona studio, and in the process gathering a little more of the acclaim she’s deserved for years. Imagine a Tropicalia take on Animal Collective at their most electronically adjusted, and you’re close to the distinct and shimmering effect of Halo.
Weaver’s two-decade career on the margins of British indie gained new momentum in 2014 with the release of The Silver Globe, an entrancing patchwork of retro-electronica, psych and folk. The follow-up, Modern Kosmology, built on that, locating a kind of pagan, Anglicised Krautrock state, where fine tunes were never lost amidst all the retro fittings. It confirmed Weaver as the natural successor to the tragically lost Trish Keenan and Broadcast.
JOSHUA ABRAMS & NATURAL INFORMATION SOCIETY
A new label dedicated to ambitious music on the jazz/post-rock/global interface, Tak:til this year gave a belated UK release to one of Uncut’s favourite 2016 albums, by 75 Dollar Bill. They were joined by this Chicago ensemble, who drew on the city’s rich tradition of free and inventive music to create trancey, ecstatic pieces anchored by Abrams’ work on the guimbri – a three stringed lute used in gnawa rituals – in lieu of a bass.
Not Even Happiness
An exceptional year for female singer-songwriters began in January with the release of Byrne’s second album, a document of solo travel – years when she “crossed the country and carried no key” – that eventually brought this unadorned talent back to her childhood home in Buffalo, upstate New York. Like many of her contemporaries in this list, Byrne specialised in a kind of spectral folk music untethered from tradition; comparisons with Angel Olsen, even Joni Mitchell, were keen, and apt.
FATHER JOHN MISTY
The title, perhaps, was a joke. But as with so much of Josh Tillman’s work, the lines between satire and heartfelt confession were constantly shifting on this third album in his FJM guise. No other 2017 artist proved so divisive, as Tillman’s determined perversities flourished in the mainstream. Still, even the detractors had to admire his craftsmanship, and how his epic barbed narratives could be accommodated as gorgeous piano ballads that recalled peak Elton and Nilsson.
How The West Was Won
“I feel full of life,” Perrett told Uncut, on the eve of the year’s most heartening comeback. At 65, the former Only One finally put a messy life and sporadic career in order. He recruited his children as backing band, and wrote a batch of spindly new songs that were as rueful and unsparing about his own former addictions as they were about contemporary celebrity culture. At heart, though, was an epic love story, a tribute to his wife and partner of 48 years.
Shoegazing had become a ridiculed genre at the time of Slowdive’s split in 1995, but two subsequent decades have given this most ethereal of indie subsets a deserved cultural cachet. Like My Bloody Valentine’s mbv in 2013, the Reading band’s reunion album was the perfect articulation of that gauzy aesthetic; so much so, in fact, that the effects-laden washes of sound came together into what might well have been the best work of their entire career.