I decided to start my first blog post of the year with a topic that’s usually saved for November / December … a ‘best albums of the year’ list. To be honest, I started writing this one in December and left it in a half-finished state when I went on holiday. 2017 was a busy year for me with some major life changes, so I didn’t put enough time aside to discover new music and properly listen to many albums that I really should have paid attention to. Because of this, I’m putting a disclaimer on my list:
This is definitely not a definitive list. It is not ranked in any particular order. It is just a few of the tracks that I enjoyed this year and a few great soundtrack / musical score moments.
LCD Soundsystem – Oh Baby
Five years after their ‘farewell concert’ at Madison Square Garden, which can be seen in the fantastic doco film Shut Up and Play the Hits, James Murphy returned in 2017 with LCD Soundsystem’s fourth album American Dream. I have some mixed feelings about the album as a whole (good, but not great), but I absolutely love the opening track ‘Oh Baby’, a melancholic yet hopeful break-up song filled with beautiful shimmering synths.
Alvvays – Dreams Tonite
I have a soft spot for a good dream pop tune, and one of my favourites this year was ‘Dream Tonite’ from Canadian pop band Alvvays. David Lynch should have booked this band for the Roadhouse in the limited series return of Twin Peaks! Simple, beautiful, addictive. I’ve had this track on repeat!
Anthonie Tonnon – Two Free Hands
One of my favourite New Zealand musicians Anthonie Tonnon has released a new song Two Free Hands in late 2017, mostly likely to be featured on an upcoming album sometime in 2018. This song showcases a new direction for Tonnon, ditching the guitar for the synth. If this song is a sign of things to come, I can’t wait to hear his follow up to his brilliant solo album Successor.
Land of Talk – Loving
Canadian musician Elizabeth Powell and her band Land of Talk released their first album in seven years, Life After Youth. I remember hearing some of their earlier tracks when I was the music programmer for Contact FM – I really liked her songwriting and I loved her guitar work. This new album doesn’t disappoint.
Cloud Nothings – Things Are Right With You
I’ve been a fan of Cloud Nothings since I first listened to their Steve Albini-recorded album Attack on Memory in 2012. Singer / songwriter Dylan Baldi always has a knack at writing great power-pop tunes. As his music moved towards more a grittier sound, he still finds way to inject his music with a catchy hook. My favourite track of their latest album Life Without Sound is Things Are Right With You, but I prefer this live performance to the studio recording.
James Holden & The Animal Spirits – Each Moment Like The First
This was a random track I stumbled across thanks to Spotify’s discovery weekly mixtapes. I’m not familiar with any of James Holden’s previous trance music but I love this musical blend of the synthetic and the organic. If you like Caribou or Bonobo, this track might be for you.
Trouble – Snake Eyes
One of my favourite TV series of 2017 was the return of Twin Peaks. Each episode of the show finishes with a live performance at the iconic Roadhouse tavern, featuring an eclectic mix of musicians and bands including Nine Inch Nails, Chromatics and Sharon Van Etten. My favourite performance was the sleasy, bluesy Snake Eyes, featuring David Lynch’s son Riley on guitar. I can’t think of a better track for the introduction of one of the nastiest new characters in the Twin Peaks universe – Richard Horne. Absolutely love the menacing tenor saxophone solo!
Moka Efti Orchestra – Böser Zwilling
Another one of my favourite TV series of 2017 was the German production Babylon Berlin. Set in late 1920s Berlin during the turbulent Weimar Republic era, this crime drama has a fantastic soundtrack that blends perfectly captures the zeitgeist. I liked that the soundtrack had a modern take on the jazz of the era – the soundtrack incorporates ‘newer’ instruments that were invented since, such as the electric bass, alongside the standard instrumentation of the 1920s, including lots of glorious clarinet solos. This series is a must-watch, and the soundtrack is a must listen!
Bonobo – No Reason
2017’s Migration isn’t my favourite Bonobo album, but it has some amazing stand-out tracks like No Reason – a collaboration with Nick Murphy. The album version is great, but I have a soft spot for this live version with another frequent Bonobo collaborator, Szjerdene. It captures everything I love about Simon Green’s minimalist live instrument form of electronica.
Mogwai – Party In The Dark
The Scottish post-rock instrumentalists Mogwai released their ninth album in 2017. While the album is a bit of a mixed bag, I love the single Party in the Dark. An upbeat, uplifting pop-ish major-key rock track is probably not the first thing you think of when you see the name ‘Mogwai’, but they do this exceptionally well.
Grizzly Bear – Four Cypresses
It was tough to pick a favourite from the latest Grizzly Bear album but I had to go with Four Cypresses. The track that perfectly captures what I love about the band – the chord sequences, the lush instrumentation, the vocal melodies, their signature music production that feels spacious but always packs a punch when it needs to.
I can’t help but go full audio-production nerd whenever I hear Grizzly Bear. “Damn that’s a nice guitar tone!”, “that snare drum sounds amazing!” etc.
Sneaky Feelings – Don’t Come Down
I had to finish off my list with a local favourite of mine. 2017 was the year that Sneaky Feelings reformed and released an album of new material for the first time in about 30 years. It was hard to pick a favourite but I went with Don’t Come Down, one of the first Sneaky Feelings songs that are co-written by Matthew Bannister and David Pine. I love both Matthew’s and David’s songs for quite different reasons, and it is great to see them co-writing together on music. Hopefully it won’t be another 30 years until we hear more music from this fantastic New Zealand band!