I See You
The XX might have patented a shy, minimalist take on dance music that became a ubiquitous British sound over the past decade. But there was always a chance, not least as their imitators multiplied, that it would become a creative cul-de-sac. Hence this more expansive, brighter third album, which expanded the trio’s remit – Hall & Oates samples! – and shook off some of the goth cobwebs, without losing any of their understated charm.
MICHAEL HEAD AND THE RED ELASTIC BAND
Adios Senor Pussycat
While the bandnames – The Pale Fountains, Shack, The Strands – changed over the last four decades, much about Mick Head’s music remained heroically consistent. His first album in 11 years was another beauty, all hallucinatory social realism and ringing jangles in the great tradition of The Byrds and Love. Another useful piece of evidence, in fact, to argue that this Liverpool street poet is one of the era’s finest British singer-songwriters.
It’s All Right Between Us As It Is
Last spotted collaborating with Todd Rundgren on 2015’s Runddans, Hans-Peter Lindstrøm’s fourth solo album showcased the Norwegian maestro’s ability to keep stretching the parameters of electro-disco. Amidst the pop bangers and prog extrapolations of techno, there was also a creepy extra dimension manifested on “Bungl (Like A Ghost)”. Jenny Hval, whose own Blood Bitch featured prominently in the 2016 Uncut Albums Of The Year list, provided the necessarily uncanny vocals.
Very much following the trajectory of their old friends Tame Impala (whose Kevin Parker produced The Weather), Perth’s Pond moved away from heavier jams towards a shinier kind of pop music for their seventh and most successful album. The psychedelic otherness remained, though, not least on the two-part epic “Edge Of The World”, which tackled Australian colonial privilege while channelling the apocalyptic grandeur of Diamond Dogs.
BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE
Hug Of Thunder
CITY SLANG A good year for the extended Broken Social Scene family also saw Feist’s Pleasure charting in our Top 75. Bigger plaudits, though, were directed to BSS themselves, as Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning and their myriad collaborators reconvened for a first album in seven years. As the title suggested, a rousing communitarian spirit dominated – and one whose warmth contrasted sharply with the ironies attempted in 2017 by the most famous of BSS’ descendants, Arcade Fire.
Another North American indie-rock institution, whose admirable singularity and persistence paid dividends in 2017. The Austin quartet’s ninth, co-produced by Dave Fridmann, was again remarkable for refining Spoon’s long-nurtured USPs: concision, groove and unwavering focus. Notable too, though, was a poignant influence coming more than ever to the fore. As Britt Daniel told Uncut, “Bowie is, to put it bluntly, the guy I’ve ripped off the most.”
JAKE XERXES FUSSELL
What In The Natural World
PARADISE OF BACHELORS At once scholarly and swinging, Fussell’s second album was a roistering investigation of the traditions of the South-Eastern States. The son of folklorists, Fussell’s song selections were compelling: Child Ballads, Duke Ellington tunes, an obscure, absurdist country blues called “Have You Ever Seen Peaches Growing On A Sweet Potato Vine?” Easygoing virtuosity – co-conspirators included Nathan Salsburg and Nathan Bowles – and an idiosyncratic character ensured, too, that everything felt much more like a party than a historical re-enactment.
TRIO DA KALI & KRONOS QUARTET
As Africa Express’ take on “In C” and the chamber recitals of Toumani Diabaté proved, traditional Malian music and Western classical traditions can make serendipitous bedfellows. The latest evidence came on Ladilikan, twinning as it did the ever-adventurous Kronos strings with a group led by the extraordinary singer, Hawa Diabaté. Amidst harmonious culture clashes, Diabaté even added gospel hues to her griot technique – never more so than on the title track, her radical rewrite of an old Mahalia Jackson tune.
A formidable jazz bassist, Stephen ‘Thundercat’ Bruner is also an eclectic collaborator. One of his old associates, Kendrick Lamar, turned up on this slick, freaky and inventive display of virtuosity, as did Pharrell Williams, electronica auteur Flying Lotus and Bruner’s actual cat. Surreal pride of place, though, went to Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, honeyed tones intact, on the outstanding soft-rock jam, “Let Me Show You”.
Back from hiatus at Columbia University, Robin Pecknold reactivated Fleet Foxes; now, an open-hearted corrective to the antics of their former drummer, Father John Misty. Time away had not dimmed Pecknold’s ear for a ravishing harmony. It had, though, widened his scope and ambition, as multi-part songs – play “I Am All That I Need/Arroyo Seco/Thumbprint Scar”! – were augmented by all manner of filigree esoterica. Unabashedly earnest, not a little pretentious and still quite, quite lovely.