It is that time of year again to compile the year's best in one small post. Let the High Fidelity style inner-arguement commence. Rather than designing a numbered ranking system, we've opted for organising each of the records by writer. Hope you enjoy!
GIRL RAY / EARL GREY
Raw and riddled with heartbreak and naivety, Earl Grey should channel something in everybody. Singer Poppy Hankin quivers fervent melodies over a groovy, foregrounded bassline. Swooning guitars are cradled by euphonic backing vocals in Beach Boys-esque harmonies.
Released earlier this year on Moshi Moshi records, this record grows with every listen. Classics such as 'Trouble', 'Stupid Things' and 'Preacher' are immediate standouts, but over time the delicate 'Monday Tuesday', or 'Earl Grey (Stuck in a Groove)' will prevail. A stunning debut album.
ALVVAYS / ANTISOCIALITES
There is something inherently likeable about Alvvays. Their 2014 eponymous debut soundtracked many an indie-kid's summer; blasting out 'Archie Marry Me' whilst strolling in the July sun is a guaranteed pick-me-up. September of 2017 saw the release of the band's sophomore album, Antisocialites, handling the more delicate issue of heartbreak. From the animated tracks such as 'Plimsoll Punks' and 'Your Type' to slower, gentler tracks such as 'Already Gone', the record still holds that geniality very much characteristic of Alvvays.
SANDY (ALEX G) / ROCKET
He’s a bit a legend now, Alex G. The bedroom-pop star has released seven albums and a load of EPs during his rise from Bandcamp, unknown to major record label stars. Rocket, the latest record to come from this tirelessly prolific artist via Domino Records, has the production values you would expect from an artist whose success as earnt him an international audience. Despite this there is an authenticity to the songs. You can still imagine the Philadelphia based songwriter recording these tracks in his room circa 2010.
From folky beginnings Rocket fluctuates, bending between genres almost constantly. ‘Witch’ delves into slow tempo bass covered with a sprinkling of cymbals and guitar before the bass turns electronic. ‘Brick’ is a ruckus before ‘Sportstar’ lulls us in synth-pop glory. Rocket is an album that has everything. ‘Guilty’ is a great closer. It’s all just bloody good.
ORO SWIMMING HOUR / PENROSE WINOA
After seven years in the business, Art Is Hard are a label you can trust. They’ve supported a whole host of recent DIY icons from Joanna Gruesome and Birdskulls to Flamingods, whose debut album was the first LP the label released. Oliver Wilde, an artist whose lo-fi pop has not been short of recognition over the last five years, is another name to trust. Add the talents of Nicholas Stevenson of Lucky Shivers, a children’s book illustrator by day, and you’re onto a winner.
Penrose Winoa is exactly that. 16 nuggets of Freak Folk brilliance, whatever ‘Freak Folk’ is? My favoured genre of 2017 according to Spotify, no doubt thanks to my persistent streaming of this very album and that of Alex G (above). Highlights include but are not limited to Martial Arts Washing Cars and Kellar. This album is like a chilled night in with your mates. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been so hooked at uni miles away from my town childhood friends.
CRUMBS / MIND YR MANNERS
Music that bounces. In 2016 Omni shot out of the blocks with their debut album, a fast-paced hopper of an album. This year DUDS’ erratic brand of post punk exploded, leading Marc Riley to describe them as hid “second favourite band”. At the back end of ’16 another of Marc’s favourites were recording their own bounding debut. Mind Yr Manners is Crumbs first fun-filled offering.
Packed with puns like 'Chaka Can’t' and 'Ciggy Stardust', the album is built on a foundation of the wandering bass of Jamie Wilson and concrete drums of Gem Prout the record drives forward with electric energy. Stuart Alexander’s guitar skims across the tracks perfectly accompanying the punk vocals of Ruth Gilmore. Crumbs are one of the most entertaining bands in Leeds. I can’t wait to see what’s next.
FAZERDAZE / MORNINGSIDE
I found myself coming back to Morningside over and over this year; it's got a great flow, one you listen to from start to finish every time rather than picking individual songs. It's the product of New Zealand's Amelia Murray, and was recorded mostly out of her bedroom. ‘Lucky Girl’ is a standout song and is coupled with a gorgeous video. Filmed in grainy 16mm, it's a perfect lens through which to view the album. For a debut LP, it's incredibly polished and perfectly produced, edging on the border of lo-fi but retaining a bright charm. Subtle tempo and tonal shifts manage to keep things from getting too one-dimensional and stale.
HER'S / SONGS OF HER'S
They like to pretend it's not really an album, but I want to include it in my albums of the year. So with that being said, this is a ridiculously fun album that demands repeat listening. Best friends Stephen Fitzpatrick and Audun Laading really bring out a sense of personality in their music, it's honest and endearing. It's also incredibly catchy. Refreshingly bright and crisp riffs feature over a simple drum machine beat, rounded off by Laading's tight bass licks. Put all that together with crooner-style vocals, and you have a sound which is uniquely Her's. Inevitable comparisons with dreampop/janglepop bands occur, but this is a record that stands out from a packed field.
THE WAR ON DRUGS / A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING
Lost In The Dream was the soundtrack to my summer of 2014. I listened to those tracks endlessly as I traversed through my first summer job, a breakup which wasn't exactly mutual and England failing in another World Cup. That period of my life will always be bookmarked by Lost In The Dream. Adam Granduciel's music has such an effect on many people, and so with this new album, The War On Drugs had big shoes to fill. I certainly found A Deeper Understanding worth the three-year wait. It doesn't require much description, in many ways the album can serve as a continuation, or part II, to its predecessor, which is to say it is an extraordinary piece of art. I look forward to spending more time with it over the next few months and years.
JEN CLOHER / JEN CLOHER
This is a long, sprawling album in which Cloher ventures onto much deeper tones in her song-writing, coming together in a strikingly personal and open record. Themes range from anger with reviewers, separation from girlfriend Courtney Barnett thanks to life on tour, and living LGBTQ in Australia (which somehow only just passed same-sex marriage by referendum). This is by no means her debut album, but there is a reason it is this album which is self-titled. And through all the politics, pain and anger represented in the lyrics, the emotion never spirals out of control thanks to smart song construction. Cloher thrives in controlled chaos, toying with the line between order and anarchy. Clocking in at 50 minutes in only 11 songs, this is her magnum opus.
SNAPPED ANKLES / COME PLAY THE TREES
Come Play the Trees is the debut LP from east London’s self-styled forest folk, Snapped Ankles. Formed in 2011, these wild men fertilised London with cacophonous warehouse parties and performance art. The trees have now signed with Leeds’ Leaf Label (of course!) and have managed to bring you a taste of their Bacchanalian revelry in nine uproarious songs. The tribal rhythm of 'Hanging with the Moon' gives you a taste of their trademark log synths, leading into 'I Want my Minutes Back', which drives you into another frenzied dimension with its rolling krautrock bass. From their name to their bizarre chaotic stage presence, Snapped Ankles are a blitzkrieg on the senses – all six! - and with Come Play the Trees they have miraculously transformed their ritualistic maelstrom of noise into a magnetically appealing album. If you are looking for release from the grinding banality of 21st century life, buy this album and allow yourself the indulgence of the primaeval exuberance of the soul, brought to you by Snapped Ankles. You deserve it.
NABIHAH IQBAL / WEIGHTING OF THE HEART
Released on December 1st, Nabihah Iqbal’s debut almost missed out on my end of year list. However Weighting Of The Heart, whose title is inspired by Ancient Egypt, really is a case of good things come to those who wait. In keeping with the album’s namesake, the British-Asian DJ and producer perfectly balances post-punk, electronia and new wave. The result is a clear amalgamation of her influences, drawing on early New Order’s synths, Slowdive’s airy vocals, and Joy Division’s dissonant guitar lines. Nodding to such legends whilst also trying to maintain your own identity is a tricky formula to get right for any artist let alone one just stepping out, but for Ibqal, Weighing Of The Heart comes together in perfect equilibrium.
ARCA / ARCA
After two releases spent hiding behind grotesque distortion, his self-titled third album eventually found him caving in to the romance that had always danced behind Arca’s music. Singing in his native Spanish, Bjork’s current bud smashes baroque chamber pop into industrial electronic, creating a sound that only Arca can occupy. A void between genres opened up for Arca, and never allows the album to stay still - it’s constantly moving and rewriting itself, listen after listen. Teasing healing from pain and dragging beauty from horror, the 12 tracks finally united two halves of the artist that had been split since childhood. As a result, listeners ride an uncomfortable ecstasy and linger longer in Arca’s own intimate space in music than ever before, relishing in haunting voice and intoxicating strings.
VIEWFINDER / BORN TICKING
Gorgeously sprawling and constantly unfolding, spilling forth further delights, Born Ticking seamlessly marries manicured DIY country-rock with lovingly written post-rock instrumentals and spoken-word Talking Heads experiments with slacker-synth paeans. Originally written as a self-taught exercise - the man behind it all, Joel Burton, returned home after the breakup of his noise-rock band and set out to relearn the basics of songwriting, away from previous distortion-ridden projects - it’s still surprisingly cohesive and littered with lyrical knockouts (‘there’s a limit to forgiveness, and I found mine in her reflection’). An album to get lost in at any time of day, there’s no use resisting: best give yourself up to the bigger picture and let Burton find focus instead.
THE BIG MOON / LOVE IN THE 4TH DIMENSION
With their seamless chemistry, celestial charm and undeniable virtuosity, The Big Moon are the band every girl wants to be part of. Live, they bounce about the stage together in unimpeded bliss, their wavy garms rippling under the reverb of genius riffs while their smiles stretch from ear to ear. This exhilarating energy and uninhibited delight is encapsulated perfectly within their debut album, Love in the 4th Dimension.
You catch yourself smiling as The Big Moon’s signature soundscape crashes through your headphones, each song gorgeously composed and refreshingly original. With landfill indie plaguing the scene and unimaginative rip-off artists somehow snaking their way to the top, The Big Moon are a bright, formidable light.
The album is pure quality from start to finish, and oozes with character. It’s a cheeky wink down the barrel of a gun, a food fight at a sophisticated dinner party and, most importantly, an album that deserves to be blasted through speakers for countless years to come.
Stand Out Track: ‘Love in the 4th Dimension’ because it perfectly articulates that unexplainable feeling of falling in love.
LOYLE CARNER / YESTERDAY'S GONE
With his debut album Yesterday’s Gone, Carner offers an irresistible invitation into his deepest thoughts, evoking endless introspection and reflection with charming lyricism and candid vulnerability. Plus, his flow is unreal.
Light and shade work smoothly together throughout the whole album. Breezy track ‘Damselfly’ saunters by with carefree guitar hooks from Tom Misch, which are peppered with Carner’s sincere vulnerability, sharp wit and raw honesty, establishing the tone of the album perfectly. With its synthesis of laid-back hip-hop, jazz chords, gospel samples and subtle grime influences, Yesterday’s Gone transcends style and genre and plays testimony to Carner’s originality and authenticity.
‘Florence’ is an understated yet stand-out track. It’s an exquisitely charming tribute to the little sister Carner’s always wanted. It’s family that binds the album together. A wonderfully touching feature on ‘Sun of Jean’ is Carner’s mum reciting a poem she wrote, expressing her unconditional love and admiration for her “scribble of a boy”. She’s immensely proud, and so she bloody should be. Deeply personal and authentic, this refreshing debut delivers beautifully raw honesty that is hard to find anywhere else.
Stand Out Track: ‘Mrs C’ because it makes me cry every time.
JLIN / BLACK ORIGAMI
Hailing from Chicago, Jlin released her sophomore album bathed in disorientating rhythms. Jlin has always stood apart from your average Teklife footwork, and this album cements her unique place in modern dance music. Her vast, extensive knowledge from both Native American and Kenyan polyrhythms shines through in this album, especially on tracks such as 'Kyanite'. The production is bare but intricate, allowing listeners to hone in on the magnificent composition. The features include Holly Herndon, Dope Saint Jude and William Basinski. If you think dance music needs someone to wipe off the dust and start thinking outside genres and borders, Jerrilynn Patton is your girl.
KINGDOM / TEARS IN THE CLUB
Kingdom affirms himself as a key player in Los-Angeles label Fade to Mind. His production lends itself to the queer house and techno which most would think of for fade to mind with the vogue house style intro 'Back it up' before blossoming into his post-internet utopia of future R&B. This album has a ridiculously star-studded feature list, from Grammy-nominated SZA to The Internet’s Syd. In his interview with out.com, Kingdom describes it as a ventilation of his inner femininity, but this is far beyond self-indulgent production. With crafted synth-work and his vogue house musical ancestry shining through, Kingdom creates R&B with queer aesthetics of freeness and futurism and with consistently incredible vocal performances throughout.
KELELA / TAKE ME APART
Armed with a production list that would make anyone weep with excitement, Kelela channels her vulnerability as empowerment in her stunning debut Take Me Apart. Her frank and emotional performances teamed with her incredible vocal range and energy create a future R&B album which is truly unmissable. With beats from Kingdom, Bok Bok and Arca plus executive production from the likes of Arca and Jam City, Kelela hosts a space for the most talented queer electronic producers from around the world to compliment her voice and the result is a creative piece like no other. With incredibly danceable cuts like 'Blue Light' and 'LMK' to emotional ballads like 'Bluff' (featuring my favourite synth of the year – chilling post-spacial reverb on the lead synth) this album has something for everybody, including you!