Late, as usual, but here, finally, are my favourite things of an interesting 2017. Contrary to convention there are no star ratings, no marks out 10 and things are not listed in any particular order. Feel free to agree or disagree, or even to comment about your own favourite things.
Honourable mentions for John Moreland, Nadine Shah, The National, Jesca Hoop, The Horrors, Grandaddy, John Bramwell and for sheer weirdness, The Moonlandingz. For those interested in a bit of Dutch music, then check out emerging Dutch star ‘Luwten’ on YouTube.
Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
With what first appears to be a sprawling album of mid-tempo piano ballads, Father John Misty seemingly belongs to a different era. But an album of melody packed songs assessing the modern world and the human condition is as cutting edge and up to date as they come. How can you not like an album that includes a song titled ‘Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution’ (see the attached video I shot from his Utrecht gig in November).
Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett – Lotta Sea Lice
Stoner Rock king Vile meets spiky Australian lyricist Barnett, and they complement each other perfectly to produce an album of dreamy, hazy Americana. Containing old songs, new songs and carefully chosen cover versions, it’s a Cd that becomes warmer and more satisfying with each listen. ‘Over Everything’ may the most delicious song recorded last year. In my eyes, Kurt Vile can do no wrong.
Jane Weaver – Modern Kosmology
A 20 year career on the margins, garnering critical acclaim but little else, may now be coming to an end for Weaver. Her 9th album is a beautiful patchwork of hypnotic electronica, psych and folk. As good an album as you’ll hear all year, it would be immensely satisfying if it lead to some long overdue success.
Aldous Harding – Party
Described as ‘gothic folk’ – whatever that means – Harding’s 2nd album showcases her arresting and sometimes haunting voice, a voice that sits over sparse instrumentation and sometimes positively scary lyrics. Dark, poignant and a great discovery for 2017. Definitely New Zealand’s premier ‘gothic folk’ star.
The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
The formula may have changed little since 2014’s ‘Lost in the Dream’, but if I could write songs this good I wouldn’t change a thing. Long, meandering guitar songs that keep the dial firmly on the border of the 70’s/80’s, it positively demands that you jump in the car, put this on the stereo and drive somewhere, anywhere, and if you don’t have car then buy one, it’s that good.
Slowdive – Slowdive
After waiting 20 years, being told that shoegazing pioneers Slowdive had reformed, and were recording new material, filled me with both excitement and trepidation. Thankfully my worries were misplaced as they’ve made a corker of an album. Containing opulent soundscapes and guitars, overlaid by breathy vocals, it’s a compelling argument for bands to re-form. Shoegazing as a genre may have been much mocked, but for introverts like me it may be the perfect genre.
Mark Lanegan – Gargoyle
With his grizzled baritone voice, Mark Lanegan has always been an acquired taste. His latest effort contains krautrock synths and rhythms, and baselines reminiscent of Joy Division. Darkness and brooding miserabilism at its best.
Yanis Varoufakis – And the Weak Suffer What They Must
Varoufakis’s consummate account of Europe’s economic rise and then spectacular fall during the financial crash of 2008, and how the weakest people in the weakest nations suffered the most. It’s real rage against the machine stuff, showing how the elites and the wealthy have been pissing all over the rest of us for far too long. He’s the current rock star of anti-austerity politics and economics and I’ll be devouring his latest 2 volumes shortly.
Graham Swift – Last Orders
My continuing attempts to catch up on Booker prize winners that I’ve missed, this year it was the turn of 1996 winner ‘Last Orders’. It’s a story dealing with how the immediate aftermath of someone’s death affects family and friends. It recounts the journey of the ashes of Jack Dodd through the eyes of his friends as they travel to Margate to scatter those ashes in the sea. A story of life and friendship that may have been a controversial winner in 1996, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Haruki Murakami – Men Without Women
Having always been partial to a well written short story, Muakami’s new collection, his first for more than a decade, details stories of men, who through a variety of circumstances find themselves alone, and their yearning to connect. Well written, accessible and a great introduction to Murakami’s work.
Manchester by the Sea
Casey Affleck returns to his hometown after his brother’s heart attack, forcing him to unexpectedly become guardian to his nephew. But it also forces him to confront a horrible and almost unmentionable mistake in his past, a mistake that drove him away many years previous. A film about loss and grief that is sometimes heartbreaking to watch, but a also about hope and redemption as Affleck sets about rebuilding his life through his rekindled relationship with his nephew. A slow burning masterpiece of a film.
Line of Duty
For the 3rd time in 4 years I’m banging on about the same show. Although there were slim pickings on the idiot lantern last year, this show would grace many a ‘best of’ list in any year. Series 4 of the police corruption drama contained more repugnant characters, more duplicitous behaviour and more back-stabbing than a Tory party leadership contest. Each series satisfyingly concludes the case in question, but leaves the possibility of it being part of much wider corruption hanging deliciously in the air. Even after four series of nervous exhaustion and shocking revelations, series 5 can’t come soon enough.
No, it isn’t the name of a Dutch band you’ve never heard of, but rather the name of a venue you’ve never heard of, in Utrecht. It deserves much wider recognition and is why, rather than choose an individual gig, I’ve chosen to nominate a venue for providing the gigs I’ve so enjoyed. It provides 5 concert halls of varying sizes in the same venue, most of which are full nearly every night of the week. On the night I saw Mogwai generate a huge wall of sound, the Dutch Philharmonic Orchestra played in the hall below, and African desert blues, courtesy of Songhoy Blues, played in the hall above. The roster of acts provides enough variety to satisfy the most eclectic of tastes.
This year I’ve seen superb gigs by Steve Mason; Lambchop; Israel Nash; Grizzly Bear (see attached video I shot at their Utrecht gig); Mogwai; Father John Misty; Fleet Foxes; Weyes Blood and John Bramwell. It’s a venue that has rightly won favour with both audiences and artists alike, and shows the arts are alive and kicking here. Utrecht, give yourself a large pat on the back.
So, overall, 2017 was another excellent year. Much peace and love to everybody for 2018.