My Best Albums of 2017 - George Seabrook
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Unintentionally, not a single artist on my list is from Britain. And only one is from outside of North America. It's a reflection perhaps, of how consumed my anxieties and anger has been by the age of President Trump, that I've also simply chosen to briefly forget (where I can) that the UK is simultaneously hurtling towards a cliff edge in so many ways. Maybe because the U.S. feels more distant, yet its music never does - whether in circles of critics or artists, converations find a way to turn towards America. And whilst few of these albums are directly about politics, they and so many other great offerings from this year foudn themselves on repeat because they represented more than escape from our darkest timeline. These artists' and their frankly stunning music have this year brought sincerity, vulnerability, optimism, the deliriously mad, the surprisingly nuanced, and an entire Dulux warehouse's explosion worth of colour, in an effort to both reflect the changed world, and improve our understanding of it. So, without further ado: Smidley – Smidley Named after a beloved but since departed pet Labrador, Smidley’s eponymous debut record sees Conor Murphy (the frontman of emo-rock band Foxing) lighten up. Relatively at least - the stories still have a devastating punch to them, not least the power pop of ‘Dead Retrievers’. Yet there's so much playfulness on display, from the title-repeating chorus of ‘Fuck This’, to the bright instrumentation and succinct structuring. It's an album that both romanticises Murphy’s past bad trips and extensive drug consumption in ‘Hell', and acknowledges that those pleasures are certainly not to his benefit, with ‘Milkshakes' softly delivered refrain “I love every moment that I'm fucked up”. Yet Murphy’s frankness with struggles of addiction arrives often in metaphorical terms, so whatever catharsis you can get from the opener’s wistful trumpet-backed chorus “If this was Hell, let me sink into it” gets to be your own. Valerie June – The Order Of Time Through loosely told stories of love and intergenerational familial strife, the Tennessee singer Valerie June maps a history of music in America. Her effortlessly overwhelming melodies and arrangements on her sophomore album span folk, blues, gospel, country, and soul – that last one in large part thanks to her incredible voice. Practically no other album by a country artist this year has more ambition in their music, and none pull it off with such ease. And yes, her songs are lyrically loose, with an all-encompassing breadth stemming from a lack of specificity. Normally that might be a downside, yet ‘If And’ ‘s beautifully structured musings on family and love are innately dependent on it, and it’s one of the most heart-wrenchingly beautiful songs of the year. Rostam – Half-Light Making his solo debut after years of behind-the-scenes and band work, most notably with the New York indie rock group Vampire Weekend, Rostam Batmanglij’s debut is one of the wildest, most irrepressibly colourful albums of 2017. The clattering drums of ‘Bike Dream’, along with the fizzy fuzz of synths matches how Rostam delivers the lines – propelled as if out of a cannon, he ponders “Where could I go? What could I do/Put in the state, my lips and eyes give me away/And now there’s nothing, I can say no”. The album hurtles back and forth between serene ballads (‘Half-Light’), grooving pop songs (‘Rudy’), and the impossibly chaotic (‘Don’t Let It Get To You’). Nothing is done by half measures. Rostam pulled the whole rainbow down and crammed it into this album, and it refuses to do anything but bounce you off the walls. Jay Som – Everybody Works Recorded and produced entirely within her bedroom, Melina Duterte’s second album shows what that specific house-bound breed of Pop music that’s become so popular on the indie scene can do. It’s another genre-spanning record, yes, but it’s shocking how well she bridges different elements of Pop and Rock sub-genres, as well as stranger atmospheric stylings of tracks like ‘(Bedhead)’ and ‘For Light’, all from within her own home. There’s a spaced-out drive to ‘Baybee’, with it’s collision of synths and sparkly guitars, while the darker power chords that opened the track continue in the background, like a flaw in the system – coincidentally mirroring the gradual rot of the relationship she’s singing about: “If I leave you alone/When you don’t feel right/I know we’ll sink for sure”. And stand out track ‘The Bus Song’ is almost certainly the year’s most yearning song that also concerns public transport. Ryan Adams – Prisoner Perhaps it’s a sign of the “swings and roundabouts” of any creative industry or pursuit, but the fact that Ryan Adams’ 2017 follow-up to his 2015 cover album of Taylor Swift’s 1989 is one of the most painful, and paradoxically replayable break-up albums is fairly remarkable.
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