Wendell Berry wrote: “The music, while it lasted, brought a new world into being.” It really is a gift to be treasured; one of the very finest things to enjoy in this life. Here are my Top Thirty albums of Twenty17.
1) U2 – Songs of Experience
All the best U2 albums are growers; the brilliance & genius shines through with each spin. I’ve been living with this record for a few weeks now and I think it is my fave U2 album since Pop. It’s up there with their very best work... so melodic with infectious tunes that you’ll be singing long after the record ends. I think it’s some of Bono’s finest ever songwriting... the vulnerability & emotional intelligence on display in these songs is captivating & makes this record pretty special. Maybe it’s my own journey through illness this last wee while that makes songs like Lights of Home & The Little Things That Give Yourself Away, feel so personal, cathartic & resilient. It’s a big joyful pop rock album and as Bono says the joy here is an act of defiance. Yes it’s brilliant! All of it!
2) Malojian - Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home
Last year Malojian's 'This Is Nowhere' was my album of year. No one could have expected another exceptional record so soon, but Stevie Scullion has gone & done it again! 'Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home' is riding high in the best of this year's list. The record grew out of a project incorporating images from the digital film archive & the music of Malojian. It is a thing of beauty, from the gentle harmonies to moments of beatlesque wonder. Not only is Stevie Scullion's songwriting genius on display, he has also produced this one himself & it sounds amazing. More than anything I love the feel & the vibe of this album... intimate, melancholic, warm & hopeful. Songs to carry you home. Songs that carried me through a summer of hospital stays. Yes, weirdness has rarely sounded this wonderful!
3) Hot Water Music - Light It Up
I simply can't get enough of this record! I love every track, every riff and every soaring chorus! Loud, anthemic and packed with plenty of righteous fury.
4) The Welcome Wagon – Light Up The Stairs
There have been a few albums this year that have carried comfort, light & hope in their words & melodies and this is one of them. It’s a beautiful thing & the world is a better, brighter place with these songs in it.
5) The War On Drugs - A Deeper Understanding
I've been looking forward to this record & it hasn't disappointed! I adore that cosmic, hazy, melancholic sound they create. This is an album that you can get lost in. Immaculate production, outstanding musicianship & beautiful songs of loneliness & loss.
6) Galactic Cowboys - Long Way Back To The Moon
It has been seventeen years since we last heard from the Galactic Cowboys. Purveyors of mighty fine prog metal, they are one of my all time favourite bands. I've hoped that one day they would pump up the space suits once again. Long Way Back To The Moon is a fitting title; it's been a long time... but the original line up is back, and it's been worth the wait. They sound just as good as they did when I first heard their self titled debut back in '91. No other band sounded like them then or since; heavy & melodic with those crunchy riffs and those beatlesque harmonies. Unquestionably the best harmony vocals you'll find in heavy music! The musicianship and virtuosity on display here is impressive and I've always loved the spirituality and the sense of humour expressed in their songs.
7) Robert Plant - Carry Fire
It has been a long time since the golden days & thundering rock of Zep but Robert Plant has always been determined to resist nostalgia and keep moving forward. As a result his last few albums have been his most experimental, creative and rewarding. His voice has aged wondrously! It may no longer soar to the heights of his earlier days, but he now has a lower register that is darker and broodier and perfectly suits these songs. He uses it like an instrument and when he finally unleashes that signature wail it leaves no doubt that the old lion has plenty of roar left! Carry Fire is a slow burn of folk, rock, blues, African & world influenced music, it smoulders rather than blazes and is all the more powerful for it. Yes, Plant is still carrying the fire and producing some of the best work of his career. He also had one of this year’s best gigs when he and the Sensational Space Shifters played the Ulster Hall in Belfast in early December.
8) The Killers – Wonderful Wonderful
Brandon Flowers has one of the best voices in rock music. In truth I’ve loved his solo stuff better than The Killers albums. Battle Born was the first Killers album that I really loved but this one has surpassed it. I think it is their best! There is a real depth to these songs; songs that have come out of challenge and struggle.
9) Public Service Broadcasting - Every Valley
I love this band, they are completely unique and manage to entertain and educate and make them both enthralling. With Every Valley they take us to Wales and chronicle the rise and destruction of the coal mining industry. Using historical sound clips woven together with their musical genius they eschew the politics and tell the human story of a way of life that is now all but gone. A highlight is James Dean Bradfield (from the Manic Street Preachers) on 'Turn No More' and if you aren't moved by the Beaufort Male Choir on album closer 'Take Me Home' then your heart is made out of coal! It's a beautiful, powerful and poignant record capturing the sense of community and the pain and loss suffered in Every Valley.
10) John Moreland - Big Bad Luv
What a voice! He started out in punk rock and is proof again of that raw common ground that punk and folk music share. Midwestern country rock and a stellar set of songs. When John Moreland sings about sorrow, heartache and redemption you can feel it! Thanks to my friend Amy Burtney for introducing me to this album.
11) Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - The Nashville Sound
Isbell possesses one of the finest voices in country/americana music. On this one he is creating his own Nashville sound and rocking a bit harder than on his previous solo records. The songs are personal, autobiographical and deal with the real stuff of life. I think it's his best album yet!
12) Josh Ritter - Gathering
Josh Ritter is a consummate lyricist and he is in fine form on his new record. Backed by The Royal City Band they brew up a gloriously loose soulful sound. Songs of joy, sorrow and hope. He was outstanding when he played Belfast in early December.
13) The Lone Bellow - Walk Into A Storm
Music is a wonderful gift and it can lift your spirits. With their soaring harmonies and gospel infused folk, The Lone Bellow do rousing & uplifting very well indeed. But listen a little closer and you'll find sorrow and darkness at the edges of the songs on their third record. Aptly titled...the storms are gonna come, right? It's inevitable, the thing is to keep moving on, to weather the storm. Because Just like they sing... 'We got a long way to go'. And their upbeat open hearted americana steers these songs away from despair to resilience & perseverance.
14) Chris Stapleton - From A Room Vol. 2
RCA Studio A is the room in the title. That glorious voice had to fill that room and along with a soulful set of songs he made a killer record, simple as that! Gritty and stripped back, you could say they don't make them like this anymore... but Chris Stapleton does he did in fact make two. Vol 1 came out earlier in the year but I think Vol 2 has the edge on it.
15) Mark Lanegan Band - Gargoyle
Another of my fave albums released this year. I love that grizzled baritone of his; it is one of the best & most distinctive voices in rock music. On Gargoyle that voice is bathed in swashes of synth, guitars, loops and electronica textures, it results in one of his best records; dark, brooding, melancholic brilliance.