The Best Of 2017

It’s time for my usual yearly rummage through my favourite music from the past year. As always, I have had great fun going through all the albums and singles that I liked and putting them together in a playlist on Spotify. Hopefully there might be some music in there that you like too.

Have a listen for yourself:

That’ll keep you at it for 11 hours and 4 minutes apparently.

Highlights

There are a few things from 2017 that are worth singling out.

Neil Finn – Out Of Silence

For as long as I can remember I have been a huge fan of Neil Finn. Whether it be Crowded House, Split Enz or his solo work, there has always been something about his music and lyrics that have always connected with me on a very emotional level. I was a big fan of his last album, Dizzy Heights, so was delighted when I heard that he was recording a new album. He wasn’t just going to recorded it in the usual fashion either, he had decided to live stream a session on YouTube each week for four weeks, all building towards the final session which would see the whole album recorded, complete with orchestra, choir, band and piano in one evening.

Watching these sessions each week was one of my favourite things that happened all year. Each week there were guests who pitched up in person or via Skype to join in with the songs, or just have a chat. There were lots of interested old songs played, plenty of requests, a few cover versions and several run-throughs of the new songs too. The atmosphere was so warm, friendly and welcoming, it was such a pleasure to watch and listen to these wonderful musicians having a great deal of fun. I come from a musical family and whenever there is a gathering of some sort, it doesn’t take too long for the guitars to come out and for people to start singing. This whole experience reminded me very much of this, but without the anxiety of trying to remember the chords to Here Comes The Sun.

This all built towards the final mammoth session during which the whole album was recorded. It was quite something to witness and I actually found the whole experience quite emotional. It helped of course that the songs were so beautiful. It’s Neil’s best collection of songs for I don’t know how long. Using the same instrumentation for each song gives the album a wonderful cohesion and really feels like a moment in time was captured.

I really recommend checking out these sessions on YouTube, they really are something. You can find them here: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3 and finally the whole album being recorded in Week 4.


Lorde – Melodrama

Sometimes an artists appears and you just know that they have that special something. When Lorde’s first album came out I thought it was amazing and I’ve pretty much loved everything she has done since then, especially what she did on the The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 soundtrack. For her second album, I was really excited to see she was working with Jack Antonoff from Bleachers and Fun. He seems to be very much the producer in demand at the moment and I’ve really enjoyed the work he has done with St. Vincent, Taylor SwiftSara Bareilles and Tegan & Sara. I was also really pleased to see it was a collaboration that covered the whole album, rather than being a jukebox album recorded with a multitude of produces with the best (often most commercial) tracks being selected at the end. Working together across a whole album gives it a cohesive sound and often leads down some more interested and experimental directions, which sometimes are the best bits.

Anyway, the album came out and it’s brilliant. I haven’t stopped playing it all year and have been recommending it to all and sundry throughout the year. Here performance at Glastonbury was fantastic too. Can’t wait to see what she does next.


Groundhog Day The Musical (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

I was lucky enough to see Groundhog Day – The Musical when it ran at The Old Vic in London for a limited six week run in 2016. I’m a huge fan of Tim Minchin and have previously written about how amazing Matilda his last musical is, not to mention his comedy standup and songs. So I was really excited by the prospect of Groundhog Day opening on Broadway in 2017, not least because it would hopefully mean that there would be a cast recording, and indeed there was.

Groundhog Day has always been a fascinating film to me. Obviously it is very funny indeed and Bill Murray‘s performance is amazing, but there is also something deeper and darker going on. The musical version goes into this more and shows more of the the emotional side of what is happening to Phil Connors as he is trapped in the seemingly never-ending purgatory of whatever it is that has made this happen to him. After all, this is a story that sees a man repeatedly try to commit suicide over and over again in an effort to escape the reality of what is happening to him.

There is also an interesting experience watching actors sing about being trapped having to repeat the same things over and over again each day. I’m sure they loved that.

Groundhog Day is touching, laugh out loud funny, stupid and romantic. Unfortunately its run in New York is now over. Despite great reviews and a devoted fan base, it didn’t seem to find its audience there. Perhaps people are too hung up on the film and weren’t prepared to give another take on the story a fair crack of the whip (despite the musical book being written by Danny Rubin, who also wrote the film). I hope that there is a silver lining and it means it will be coming back to London. I’ll be first in the queue to get tickets.


Rae Morris – Do It

I love this song and love the video too. I first came across it because Popjustice said it included the best surprised firework ‘explosionface’ ever and I knew I had to check that out. I do like a bit of infectious pop and this fits the bill very nicely. I seem to like it more and more each time I play it and believe me when I tell you, that has been a lot of times. I’ve been a fan ever since she sang with Bombay Bicycle Club. Her first album was good and I’m really excited about her second, ‘Someone Out There’ which is due to come out in February 2018. Maybe I’ll just watch the video one more time…


HAIM – Something To Tell You

I was really pleased when this album appeared. It feels like forever since HAIM’s first album came out, which I was a big fan of. If anything I would say that I’m an even bigger fan of this album. The songs are amazing and the production is perfect. HAIM have always has a Rumours era Fleetwood Mac vibe, which is no bad thing and that continues here with their LA vibe and lush harmonies.

However there is also a progression of the sound and things get a little bit more experimental in places, in particular I really love the Phil CollinsI Don’t Care Anymore‘ style drums at the end of  ‘Right Now’.


Alison Moyet – Other

Alison Moyet is one of my all time favourite singers and songwriters, I was delighted to hear she was not only bringing out a new album in 2017, but also going on tour. I really loved her 2013 album, the minutes and was really pleased that she was working with Guy Sigsworth again. Other is a fantastic album, full of incredible electronic instrumentation, which I think suits her voice perfectly. The songs are powerful and her voice sounds better than ever.

I managed to get to see her on tour and it was one of the best gigs I’ve been to for quite a while. Her back catalogue works fantastically well with all the electronics, her voice was flawless and considering I was seeing her in a relatively small venue, the lights and staging were amazing,


Waaktaar & Zoe – World Of Trouble

A-ha are another band that I have been a fan of since I was a kid. I was thought there was something a bit special about them that elevated them above the levels of the other teen-pop synth bands in the 80s and I was delighted as they continued to progress and mature as a band as their career progressed through the 90s and onwards into the 21st century. Looking back now it is clear that one of the things that set them apart (other than Morten’s voice) was the quality of the songwriting. A-ha are a band where each of the band members is a songwriter, however it was usually the songs of guitarist Paul Waaktaar-Savoy that always connected most with me. I have been a big fan of his side project band, Savoy for many years, but I was really intrigued when I saw he was written and recorded a new album with a young singer called Zoe Gnecco.

The album is a great collection of songs and Zoe has a fantastic voice. There is a melancholy running throughout the album, which is pretty standard for anything a-ha related to be honest, but there is also a sense of fun and  excitement. I really love the 60s retro flavour to the guitars and drums and which blend wonderfully with the analogue synths. All of this works very well with Zoe’s voice which has a lovely pure quality to it, but still with plenty of character and warmth.


Elbow – Little Fictions

2017 saw another lovely album from Elbow. Guy Garvey seems to be full of love at the moment and as a result the album contains some beautiful love songs and wonderful imagery. This is the first album made since the departure of drummer Richard Jupp and much as I was sad to seem him go, the result has been that it seems to have freed the band to try some different things like loops and drum machines, which I am very much in favour of. My favourite song on the album is All Disco and I really love the video which is all about what music is, what people like about it and what their favourite songs are (shoutout to the guy that picks Peter Andre’s Flava).

They also teamed up with another of my favourite musicians, John Grant for a special version of the closing track Kindling. Guy and John’s voice work wonderfully together and John will be supporting Elbow on tour in 2018 so I’m really looking forward to hearing it live.

So there we go, that’s 2017 done and dusted. I hope you found something musical or otherwise that moved you in some way during the year. Here’s to great things in 2018, which will hopefully include some more of my own music too.

Stephen.

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