Steve’s Top 10 Albums of 2017

It has to be a good year when the likes of Elbow, Sleaford Mods, The War on Drugs, Lorde and Kendrick didn’t make the top 10. Anyways in no particular order:

10: Baxter Dury – Prince of Tears.

I don’t think you know who I am…..

I would have picked this solely for the opening track ‘Miami’ which has a killer bass and drum loop groove, and Baxter like his old man adopts a comic persona with a dirty mouth. However, there is plenty more to recommend this album, his co-conspirator Madelaine Hart holds her own on songs like Porcelain Boy ‘you’re just a lonely motherfucker’ and we also get Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson helping out on ‘Almond Milk’.

Baxter shows us another side with more tender break up songs particularly with ‘Mungo’, ‘Wanna’ and the title track ‘Prince of Tears’ elsewhere he gets soppy thinking about an old mate on ‘OI’ ‘I hope you survived somehow and didn’t turn into a total cunt, which is possible’.

With earlier albums Baxter has become more popular in France than he is in Britain, even mentioned as the next Serge Gainsbourg. Sadly in Britain the comparison is always with his late father Ian, ‘Prince of Tears’ could hopefully see him walk out of that shadow.

He is the Urban Goose alright…..

9: The Clientele – Music for the Age of Miracles

‘Tea at the Refractory, then fingers start to freeze, and the nights draw in and we drift like smoke.’ Constellations Echo Lanes

Typical of The Clientele; after a seven year absence in which I imagined that they had split for good, the autumn descended and ‘Music for the Age of Miracles’ wafted through the ether as mysteriously as the band themselves. Since then it’s become the soundtrack of my morning walks along misty fields and tow paths.

Aladstair MacLean’s voice is a perfect blend of Al Stewart, John Lennon and The Dream Academy’s Nick Laird-Clowes (ask the parents pop kids!) and his songs of nature and the changing seasons have a melancholy beauty. Lunar Days captures an autumnal spirit coupled with the hint of oncoming menace; ‘this is the year that the monster will come’. We get his often used spoken narrative on The Museum of Fog where the narrator meets the Phantom who recreates an adolescent memories and Falling Asleep which is the most beautiful song I have heard all year.

This is an album I will drop on the arrival of spring and then wrap myself up in once again as leaves start to fall.

8: Hurray for the Riff Raff – The Navigator.

As well as having the best name for a band, Hurray for the Riff Raff have also shrugged off the Americana of 2014’s Small Town Heroes into something very different. Don’t get too put off by the thought of a concept album tag, The Navigator is Alynda Segarra’s narrative of a restless young Puerto Rican woman from New York who sets out ‘ready for the world’. In the America of 2017 she finds indifference –‘you couldn’t pick me out in a crowd’ intolerance – ‘Now all the politicians, They just flap their mouths, They say we’ll build a wall to keep them out’, before finally emerging from the transience embracing her Puerto Rican/ Caribbean roots with a stoical shout of ‘Pa’lante!’ Go forward.

The Music ranges from Marc Ribot style guitar on ‘Rican Beach’, ‘Living in the City’ which initially bounces along like a Sheryl Crow song but the lyrics quickly turn as dark as vinyl: ‘Gypsy bit the dust, You know the shit he had – it was poisoned, You know now everybody wants, Just a taste of what we sold him’. Finally the spiritual ‘Navigator’ opening track is spat back as a stomping tango. I’m already looking forward to where her stories take us next.

7: St. Vincent – Masseduction

Annie Clark (St Vincent) sets her stall out on the cover of Masseduction by mooning the potential listener -she never makes it an easy listen and that’s why I like her so much. She can move from being a total hornbag on the album title track to “Young Lover,” a song about an OD found in a bathtub, which itself is almost an answer song to the earlier track ‘Pills’ detailing dependence in everyday life.

She writes the best ballad of the year with ‘Happy Birthday Johnny’ a New Year’s Eve toast to a junkie friend and almost tops it with ‘New York’ where she pines for the loss of “the only motherfucker in the city who” could handle her. It doesn’t lack humour either ‘Saviour’ a dirty disco groove which sees her on the wrong end of a sexual relationship ‘Dress me in leather, Oh, that’s a little better, But that’s still not it, None of this shit fits’.

The album is a beautiful mix of synth pop, ballads and often visceral lyric writing. All Hail St Vincent.

6: LCD Soundsystem – American Dream

In 2011 James Murphy very publicly called time for LCD Soundsystem after three albums with a final concert at Madison Square Garden. Six years later after a change of heart, he gets the band back together to make their best album to date.

James has never been shy in paying homage to influences and on American Dream we get the Kraftwerk synth-inspired beauty of ‘Oh Baby’ the albums opener before heading into the David Byrne/Talking Heads funk of ‘Other Voices’. Elsewhere we get ‘I Want to’ which could grace any New Order record.

Influences aside, his subjects are still concerned with aging, death and disillusionment but married to a glorious electro-groove.

5: Thundercat – Drunk

And down a Rabbit Hole we go as Thundercat slaps on his bass and leads us on a stoned adventure with a soundtrack of the best in funk, soul, hip-hop and soft rock. It’s a playful sound as he yawns, farts and even Meows on ‘A Fans Mail’ and it sounds at its best when played on sun dripping days with a cold one in your hand. His masterstroke (and what grabbed my attention) was getting the god-like Michael McDonald AND Kenny Loggins together for a duet on ‘Show You The Way ’.

It’s cool to be a cat, even a pissed one.

4: Stone Foundation – Street Rituals

British Soul sometimes throws up the unlikeliest of heroes; In the 70’s a bunch of un-Average White Scots bought their own brand of funk to fill our dancehalls ,this was later picked up by the likes of red haired-Mancunian’s, Funky Dreads and one half of Wham. In 2017 Stone Foundation a band who would happily describe themselves as not exactly in the first flush of youth, have released the soul album of the year.

They found help from Paul Weller who having heard ‘Beverley’ from their excellent A Life Unlimited album, and invited the band to his Black Barn Studios to produce. The collaboration sees Weller handling laid back Mod-Jazz vocals on ‘Your Balloon is Rising ’ and dueting with singer Neil Jones on most of the album’s songs. Weller’s kudos also managed to coax as appearances from legends William Bell and Bettye LaVette, LaVette just knocks it out on ‘Season’ Of Change’ with Bell adding class to ‘Strange People’ and Weller gets as near to his Style Council days on ‘The Limit of a Man, the album’s highlight.

But don’t think that the band are being swamped by helping hands they received, Jones and Co hold their own and put on the best live shows I have seen this year. Look out for their gigs and be prepared to dance all night.

3: The Silver Seas – Moonlight Road

This album was dropped onto Sound Cloud on Christmas Day with a total absence of fanfares and immediately knocked the Future Island’s The Far Field out of my Top 10.

Moonlight Road has the Sliver Seas trying to write in the hardest of disciplines – the perfect pop song and happy to report that they have succeeded. Daniel Tashian & Co have created a collection of songs that the likes of Taylor Swift should be fighting for the opportunity to cover. The album’s opener; ‘Good Sign’ bounces along with swagger and confidence and the standard doesn’t drop for 11 tracks. Three slower tempo songs ‘Neon’ , ‘Even when You’re Wrong’ and the title track ‘Moonlight Road’ has a more tender melancholic feel, the rest will have your feet tapping on the first play.

In the USA of 2017 where Ed Sheeran gets the plaudits for his song writing capabilities perhaps they should be looking a lot closer to home.

(If you want to know more about The Silver Seas, make sure to listen to Steve’s great ‘Soundcheck’ show about their album Château Revenge! – Dave)

2: Jane Weaver- Modern Kosmology

Another Giant step from 2014’s The Silver Globe and this sees Jane’s folky vocals layered over psychy, EDM, space rock. Tracks like ‘The Architect’ with its swooping keyboard riffs typify what a true delight this album is. Slower numbers like the blissful ‘Did You See Butterflies’ with ringing guitar hooks puts the listener into a trance that they wouldn’t care to wake from.

1: Paul Weller – A Kind Revolution

I hate the Modfather. I’m talking about the label here and not the man it’s attached to, it’s too lazy and smacks of anachronism. Perhaps a more apt moniker for 2017 would be polymath or ‘Paulymath’ if you are desperate for a pun. While most of his contemporaries are slogging the same old tunes around the ever decreasing circuit or rehashing their back catalogue (the Anarchy Arias anyone?) 2017 has seen Paul release an excellent soundtrack album for the Jawbone movie, produce and co-write for Stone Foundation as well as complete his own solo project. Oh and did I mention the Ethiopian funk EP?

A Kind Revolution as it’s name suggests has songs of compassion, hope and rebirth. Paul’s has had a fascination with the English Pastoral going back to ‘Tales of The Riverbank’ in his Jam days. We get the ‘Cranes are Back’ a soaring ballad of Nature and this is counterpointed with new directions such as space Rock of ‘Nova’ and the haunting ‘Midnight and the Ghosts of Hopper’ in which he wanders through the artists landscape.

He chooses his guests well: P.P. Arnold and Madeline Bell give an Ikettes backing to the stomping ‘Woo Se Mamma’, he coaxes Robert Wyatt out of retirement to add his brand of abstract vocals and trumpet on ‘She Moves With The Fayre’ but its Boy George who steals the show on ‘One Tear’ showing his vocals are still as sweet and strong and delivering the manifesto I don’t want your kind of gods That divide us.

This is Paul Weller’s 13th solo album and he’s already half finished his next one (working Title True Meanings) but A Kind Revolution is his best since Wild Wood.

Reviews by Steve (co-host of 60 Minutes With)