As 2017 draws to a close, it’s time to look back over this year’s releases from musicians old and new. So we’ve gathered together our favourite 20 tracks from the past 12 months or so, and we assure you that it wasn’t an easy choice considering the amount of music we had at our fingertips. Nevertheless, here we go…
Bambro Koyo Ganda (January)
Simon Green, better known by his stage name Bonobo, makes the cut with a track from his Migration album. Innovatively infusing world and electronic music, the end result is a stunning smorgasbord of sound and culture. It’s pulsating, infectious and fresh, with enough atmosphere to transport you to a distant night club with a rural African twist.
Them Changes (February)
It’s a wonder that Thundercat has any time for any personal musical output considering the number of collaborations he’s worked on recently. However, with ‘Them Changes’ we can confirm that his solo work makes up for it in a sensational way. Sampling a drum pattern from The Isley Brothers’ ‘Footsteps in the Dark’, listen to his musical genius splayed all over the top in the form of inescapable hooks, virtuoso bass playing and smooth vocals.
3. Jesca Hoop
Animal Kingdom Chaotic (February)
“Are we all ones and zeros?” laments singer-songwriter Jesca Hoop. In this track she sings of a world where humans are at the mercy of drones. Futuristic, you think? What you actually hear is quite the opposite – and that’s why we love it. Inquisitive, jungle-esque guitar sounds are met with tribal drums, making for an incredibly fun listen throughout.
Jazz is undergoing quite the revolution right now, with more artists daring to blend bass heavy electronica with soulful improvisation. And we think FKJ (or French Kiwi Juice) has crafted the perfect balance representative of both in this track. It’s a sonic journey, taking you through epic saxophone solos and tight instrumentals, all with sleek and innovative production.
Is It Always Binary (March)
Without doubt one of the most rhythmic offerings we’ve heard this year, Soulwax have crafted a gem of a track full of originality here. Nearly all of the first minute is occupied with drums, which gradually build in sonic depth and force into an infectious synth-driven hook. There’s no stopping with this track, turn it up and let your system or headphones do the work.
6. Methyl Ethel
Australian indie-rockers Methyl Ethel have only been around for last few years, and this release is a strong statement of their musical potential. Dream-pop guitars and driving playful bass meet catchy melodic hooks, the latter of which are effortlessly sang by lead singer Jake Webb. They are definitely ones to watch in years to come, too.
7. Alfa Mist
Keep On (March)
If there’s a jazz release you need to listen to this year, it’s this. Where do we begin? Wonderfully recorded, the instruments are given plenty of breathing space in the mix, allowing for the drum kit to narrate the mood with effortless ease, timing and colour in a real standout performance. Add the organic backdrop of the band and this joy ride of a track will cruise by a lot quicker than you think.
8. Natalia Lafourcade
Que He Sacado Con Quererte (May)
Natalia Lafourcade hails from Mexico, and this track is taken from her album Musas, which pays homage to the roots of Latin-American music. However, Lafourcade has given this track a modern makeover from the original sang by Violeta Parra, transforming it into a progressive slow burner. The resulting sound is one of mystery and evocative of rural Latin-America – all enhanced by a wealth of wonderfully recorded Spanish guitars, percussion and strings.
Sugar for the Pill (May)
It’s rare when a band reforms that they live up to their heyday. Over 20 years since their last release, Slowdive have exceeded all expectations and ‘Sugar for the Pill’ is a shining example of this. It’s achingly beautiful shoegaze music – and more. Delicate, texture-shifting, and with plenty of atmosphere, the cascading wall of sound that hits you at around the 3:00 minute mark is a stunning highlight.
10. Floating Points
Kelso Dunes (June)
An enticing blend of field recording, driving post-rock and electronica, Kelso Dunes is part of an album which is undoubtedly Sam Shepherd’s, aka Floating Points, most innovative and experimental offering to date. Recorded entirely in the heart of the Mojave Desert in California, this is raw, untamed music with an innate sense of space throughout.
Where I’m Going (June)
Ska-punk is a genre that has perhaps seen a better light of day. However, punk veterans Rancid are clearly still capable of injecting some energy into the style that 90s radio once embraced. Driven by a spirited rock’n’roll bassline and vivacious drums, coupled with sunny-sounding organ and guitar solos which appear later, ‘Where I’m Going’ shows that the movement is very much alive, you just have to look a bit harder to find it.
12. Cigarettes After Sex
Fans of Mazzy Star will probably be rejoicing at this track from Cigarettes After Sex that hails from their eponymous debut album. Greg Gonzalez’s silky vocals are the perfect complement to the raw, slow and stripped back sound of the band, which when splashed in colourful dream-pop guitar, melt into a vast and spacious soundstage.
13. Bryce Dessner, James McAlister, Nico Muhly, and Sufjan Stevens
Do you fancy a trip to Jupiter? You won’t be disappointed. Sufjan Stevens’s vocoded voice is your tour guide as a wealth of synths, orchestral timbres and futuristic beats accompany you on your breathtaking sonic journey around the planet. However, we advise you to brace yourself for just after the 5-minute mark. Move over, Gustav Holst, here’s a new noteworthy interpretation of our solar system.
2017 has been fruitful year for hip-hop, what with Kendrick Lamar, Tyler, the Creator and Brockhampton all releasing strong records. But this track in particular drew us in. Milo’s poetic lyrical imagery takes you on a trip, one which is sweetly complemented by an instrumental accompaniment that is just as rhythmic as it is abstract in places.
15. The War On Drugs
In Chains (August)
This track is one of many standouts from The War On Drugs’ critically acclaimed 2017 release ‘A Deeper Understanding’. Adam Granduciel’s lyrics depict a crossroads in a relationship, which are sonically accompanied with a paradoxically uplifting and driving rock performance from the rest of the band. Our favourite moment happens at 2:45, where soaring synths defiantly embrace of our singer’s troubles of love.
16. Loney Dear
Loney Dear is the pseudonym of Swedish singer-songwriter Emil Svanängen, who released his album with Society of Sound earlier this year. And if you want atmosphere, look no further. Listen to how the repetitive rhythm of the sinister synths ebb and flow in texture, driving the emotion of Svanängen’s vocals for an epic sonic ride.
17. Shilpa Ray
Morning Terrors Nights of Dread (September)
Have you ever had a night terror? We suspect Shilpa Ray has. But what drew us to this track is its raw production and Ray’s raw vocal delivery towards the end, defying her dulcet yet blasé tones heard earlier. Effortlessly self-combusting all the way to the finish, this is the thunderous sound of a New York band with a voice that needs to be heard.
18. Four Tet
Two Thousand and Seventeen (September)
An aptly titled track, this is electronic music combined with dream-like folk instrumentation, and the resulting sound is truly captivating. Swirling synths, a transfixing melody played on the hammered dulcimer (instrument of the year, everyone) and deep bass all combine for an ethereal listening experience.
I’m So Free (October)
Beck is back, and with his new album, Colours, comes a track which is infectiously anthemic in all of its indie-pop glory. It may be at the mercy of modern compression techniques, but its undeniably catchy hooks, quirky nuances and rousing pre-chorus build up (trust us) make this a welcome return for one of music’s most respected artists.
20. Angel Olsen
Fly On Your Wall (November)
This track may come from a compilation of Olsen’s B sides, but it still stands out nonetheless. The earthy production brings out the languid yet driving rhythm and weight of the drums, bass and guitar. Olsen’s voice sounds ever expressive as a breathtaking instrumental build up brings you into an emotional outpouring worthy to make this playlist.