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The 2017 Round-Up: Albums of the year (10)

slowdive

Slowdive – s/t

In which English shoegaze pioneers return after a 22 (!) year absence sounding just as blissful, if a little more careworn. Opener Slomo is the most perfect welcome back into their comforting, luscious world, as it patiently unfurls in gorgeous fashion. From there on in, Slowdive sound confident in the strength of their songs, with No Longer Making Time a particular standout for me.

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The 2017 Round-Up: Albums of the year (9)

callsuper

Call Super – Arpo

I’m really glad I gave this album a chance. Listening to snatches of it, or even individual tracks, such as low-key lead ‘single’ I Look Like I Look In A Tinfoil Mirror, doesn’t allow it to reveal its potency. Taken as a whole, preferably on headphones, it is a thoroughly beguiling experience. Call Super has a very individual, intricate and abstract style, mixing very synthetic digital sounds with fluttering and droning woodwind (clarinet in particular). He produces sound beautifully, everything delicately curated to create a fascinating, absorbing overall effect.

The 2017 Round-Up: Albums of the year (8)

blanckmass

Blanck Mass – World Eater

If there can be such a thing as ‘heavy rock’, then this is ‘heavy electronica.’ Like 2015’s equally brilliant Dumb Flesh, the grotesque cover prepares you for an unforgiving assault on the senses (well, on the hearing, at least). However, it both cases what actually transpires is far more welcoming (in relative terms) and nuanced. Having been prepared for a horror film you realise you’re actually watching a thriller. He isn’t repeating the same old tricks, either; this moves on from Dumb Flesh showing both (even) greater intensity (Rhesus Negative) and tranquility (Please).

The 2017 Round-Up: Albums of the year (7)

mastodon

Mastodon – Emperor of Sand

…and now for something completely different! Those that know Mastodon, particularly their later period, will know what to expect of this. For those that don’t, one look at the ridiculous cover art will set the ball rolling. This is progressive heavy metal, folks. Mastodon manage a remarkable balancing act: their whole schtick could easily dismissed as a joke if it weren’t for their astonishing technical and compositional ability. They pull off these mind-bending concept albums with a knowing twinkle in their eye: yeah, it’s crazy, but who cares? Just enjoy the thundering rollercoaster of riffs, solos, time signature changes and memorable tunes.

The 2017 Round-Up: Albums of the year (6)

coldharbourstores

Coldharbourstores – Wilderness

I am really surprised this didn’t get more (any?) exposure this year (or last … it’s not entirely clear when it was released). The fingerprints of Bark Psychosis‘s Graham Sutton are all over this, as producer and band member. It bears favourable comparison with his two excellent albums under the Bark Psychosis moniker, with queasy harmonies and inventive, ever-shifting instrumental work that is both real and synthetic. The singer reminds me of both Annie Clark (St Vincent) and Beth Gibbons of Portishead, adding an intimate aspect to overall sound. A brilliant, original album that deserved wider acclaim.

The 2017 Round-Up: Albums of the year (5)

hug_of_thunder_broken_social_scene

Broken Social Scene – Hug Of Thunder

In these dark and depressing times it was great to have Broken Social Scene back after a 7 year break. They sound as politically energised as ever, and embrace their ‘collective’ side with multiple different singers and styles. I really want to believe them when they sing, on the album’s penultimate track, “things’ll get better, ’cause they can’t get worse.” If Broken Social Scene were in charge, that would surely be true.

The 2017 Round-Up: Albums of the year (4)

elder

Elder – Reflections Of A Floating World

This was one of those nice surprises – a cover that caught my eye, on a listening post in Rough Trade. It’s pretty intense, mostly instrumental, psychedelic progressive rock. The tracks are long and meandering, with crushingly heavy guitar riffs; it seethes like the alien ocean on its cover. It really encourages the listener to untether themselves from traditional song structures and just go with the flow. As this Stereogum review puts it quite nicely, “If the focus is anywhere, it’s on DiSalvo’s guitar, which is always doing blazingly triumphant hero-ball stuff. … But more than that, there is no focus. The way the album is recorded, everything fades into a single thundering blur. It’s like violent ambient music…

The 2017 Round-Up: Albums of the year (3)

twod

The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

Whilst this doesn’t quite hit the highs of 2014’s Lost In The Dream, the craftsmanship and assiduous attention to detail is still very much present. Again it’s a welcome throwback to era of the Great Rock Album, with songs both huge in scope and personal in sentiment. Much has been made of Thinking Of A Place as the album’s 11-minute centrepiece but the highlight for me is Pain, which further showcases Adam Granduciel‘s stunning guitar soloing, so unflashy and so emotionally resonant.

The 2017 Round-Up: Albums of the year (2)

Cavern-Of-Anti-Matter-Void-Beats-Invocation-Trex

Cavern of Anti-Matter – Void Beats / Invocation Trex

My token not-released-this-year entry. I picked this up right at the tail end of 2016 after I had already finished my list. I’m really struggling to describe it! It’s an epic album of mostly instrumental synthesiser, live drums and drum machines. The tracks are often loose and jammy, with a motorik rhythm section. The synthesisers seem to be sequenced (triggered by automated patterns) as much as played live, and the sounds used are often bold and resonant, with plenty of reverb and harmonics. Bradford Cox of Deerhunter sings on the short and good but slightly out of place liquid gate.

I also picked up Cavern of Anti-Matter‘s reissued debut album, Blood Drums, which is also excellent but not quite as ambitious or fully-realised as this one.

 

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