2017 Advent Calandar

The music writers look back at some of the best albums of the year

Yesterday’s Gone

Ben Loyle Carner casts a strikingly idiosyncratic shadow in the South London hip hop scene with his debut album Yesterday’s Gone which offers a refreshingly testimonial and intimate contribution when placed in parallel with his more quintessential American hip hop counterparts. Carner’s subtly nuanced refrain arguably borders on the brink of spoken word poetry as opposed to traditional hip hop. Carner marries a delicately intimate style with the impressively slick jazz fills and piano progressions that feature most notably in tracks ‘Mean it in the Morning’ and ‘Florence’. These examples are strongly reminiscent of hip hop greats including A Tribe Called Quest and Wu Tang-Clan; the comparison of Carner’s work alongside such skilled writing Yesterday’s Gone lie in the production; rhythmically crisp verses are combined with the candid grittiness of home recording. This is particularly striking in bonus snippet ‘Swear’ wherein Carner captures tender interactions with his mother, beckoning us ever further into the honest backdrop of this sophisticated anecdotal debut. Carner succeeds in presenting a stunningly refined and beautifully constructed debut, full of depth, introspection and style. With bags of potential at just 23 and a Mercury prize nomination under his belt, Carner undeniably cuts himself as a rising star in the British hip hop scene.

Review by Helen States.

 

Oczy mlody

Flaming Lips’ album simultaneously inspires a sense of childlike wonder and terrifies you to the core. While the band is best explained to confused-looking friends as psychedelic rock, rock is absent on this record, replaced by airy electronica and manufactured drum beats. Gone are the jangly guitar riffs and ballad-like choruses while synth wobbles and droning bass tones take centre stage. It revels in weirdness. Coyne joins Reggie Watts to plan a party with unicorns and “day glow strippers/Ones from the Amazon” to an ominously minimalistic backing track on ‘There Should Be Unicorns’. The party is followed by the almost-instrumental ‘Nigdy Nie (Never No)’ which delivers subtle but soothing vocalisations and magical synth melodies, interrupted by gut-punching blasts of bass. What follows is a wonderful bass riff that descends into brilliant funk/electronica fusion, before returning to the stripped-back sound that defines the album. Its relaxed feel is its greatest strength. The album sounds like Christopher Robin dropping acid and sailing a rowboat across the stars – one last time – in a good way.

Review by Sam Bright.

 

Always Ascending

Franz Ferdinand bring their original sound into 2017, but with new band members on keyboard and guitar. These new arrivals could be the reason for the new sounds on offer. The recently-released titular track of their upcoming album, Always Ascending, includes elements of their previous work, especially feeling like a throwback to 2005. The cleaner vocals contribute to a new style for Franz Ferdinand, but their fast, well defined dance beats are unmistakeable. This 2017 single gives us a glimpse of the album due to release in February 2018; this track forecasts the top notch indie music that we’ve been waiting for since the band’s last album was released in 2015. This is a new era for Franz Ferdinand.

Review by Beth Colquhoun.

 

Low in High School

This LP is a superb continuation of Morrissey’s career, strengthening his reputation for witty, literate and popular melodies that were the soundtrack to a generation. Morrissey’s ability to submerge a political message in catchy beats is carried forward from his past albums and does not fail to disappoint. This is especially true for the first single on the album, ‘Spent the Day in Bed’, which contains political undertones concerning the news, and those in positions of power and influence. However, as the album progresses past the first few tracks, a new wave of electro ballads create too overt and hard hitting a political message. The most obvious political messages, in the track ‘Israel’, prove to be a challenge for the most obsessive Morrissey fan. Although this has got to be expected from such a political voice; the music within the album is very experimental but mostly makes for great listening and a fun little bop if the context is denied.

Review by Beth Colquhoun.

Humanz

Gorillaz made a welcome return this year, kicking off Phase Four of Albarn’s multimedia project. On my first listen, the inaugural single ‘Hallelujah Money’ left me feeling uneasy. The track is an on-the-nose criticism of the then-recent election of Donald Trump, by the endlessly talented Benjamin Clementine, to the sound of gospel choirs and space-age beeps. I was left thinking, “Wow, that was no Clint Eastwood. Sad!” However, once the album released, I realised it sits right at home, and is just a small part of a bigger overall picture. The whole album takes us along with Albarn and his star-studded cast on a 20-track exploration of genre-spanning madness, and makes you appreciate just how well Gorillaz keeps up with the industry all while throwing some serious shade. Stand-outs include ‘Momentz’ and ‘Andromeda’, both reminiscent of the classic head-bopping floor-fillers we know and love.

It’s not just more of the same though; tracks like ‘Saturnz Barz’ bring an entirely different vibe. Creepy trip-hop serves as the stage for Jamaican artist Popcaan, with familiar back-up singing from Gorillaz’s “frontman” 2D. Expect everything from party tunes to trance-like techno, and plenty of curveballs in-between. As is expected from Albarn, the album has a massive range of collaborators. Returning partners De La Soul contribute to ‘Momentz’, as well as a pleasantly surprising appearance from Rag’n’Bone Man on the deluxe version track ‘The Apprentice’. The guest stars are far too numerous to name, but they bring an astonishing amount of individuality to each and every track, and the ultimate result of this is an awesome album full of character and panache.

Review by Sam Bright

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