Artrock. Plain ol’ pop. And a bunch of other stuff in between, above, below and surrounding these categories. The year of 2017 AD possibly wasn’t one of the overall most cheerful throughout human history (though probably preferable to, say, 1350, 1914 or 1939). But music was alive, in spite of or maybe because of all discomfort and absurdities going around globally. Well, you know. You were here. Presumably on the same planet during the same period. Anyway, here are some examples of artistic endeavours that helped make life more satisfying and even provide inspiration and hope for the future. Imagine that!
1. Barock Project ”Detachment”. Poor Italians. No World Cup coming up this summer… Once upon a time Germanic tribes supposedly contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire and this past fall one of those tribes (my own, to be precise) kicked Gli Azzurri out of competition for the most prestigious prize the world of sport has to offer. Yes, needless to say, Soccer is what really counts. Still, a bunch of Italians happened to produce my favourite album of 2017. Conceptual, powerful and subtle all in one memorable effort.
2. Bent Knee ”Land Animal”. Young and obnoxious artrock with a temper and gunpowder on its sleeve. I’ve been an admirer since the ”Shiny Eyed Babies” album a few years ago, and this here is almost precisely equally great.
3. Beatrix Players ”Magnified”. A trio of trained, disciplined ladies take us back in time, sometimes seemingly to another dimension. Sparse, carefully selected instrumentation and arrangements, strikingly tasteful and nuanced. Music as painter of images.
4. Steven Wilson ”To the Bone”. Former Porcupine Tree frontman with a persistent following decided to lighten things up a little, relatively speaking. As usual, he delivered space and depth but also one or another shockingly catchy pop tune, such as ”Permanating”.
5. Loney Dear ”Loney Dear”. One of Sweden’s most consistently praised musical mystics keeps gliding along on a wave of some surreal magic… Whatever it is. Now with the backing of Peter Gabriel’s record label if I’m not mistaken.
6. Father John Misty ”Pure Comedy”. Tales of life in a beguiling ballad format. Not exactly exaggerated optimism all over, but would that be prudent in these times? Father John nevertheless manages to infuse an energy and wry smiles into his brand of melancholy meandering and sometimes it’s just plain irresistible.
7. Residente ”Residente”. A journey. For real. Some sort of fascination with DNA sets Mr René Juan Pérez Joglar from Puerto Rico off on a quest around the world, searching for every influence that’s fit to include on one album. Intriguing, exciting and soul-stirring. And…
8. Cobalt Chapel ”Cobalt Chapel”. Back to Medieval Times! Or something like that, although with access to electronics. Not sure if I’m able to accurately describe this in a satisfying way. You just have to find out for yourself.
9. Blondie ”Pollinator”. ”Fun” is the title of one of the songs. And they certainly seems to have fun, these former legends whom I actually feared had left us for greener pastures or bluer skies.
10. Paramore ”After Laughter”. More pop in the best sense of the word. Somewhat inspired by 1980’s polyrhythmic pop, I think I read somewhere.
11. Kaipa ”Children of the Sounds”. Swedish veterans that really parked their vehicle sometime back in the 1970’s and yet manages to avoid the moss covering it all at this point. This sounds more or less like they always do, but to my mind they’re always welcome when they decide to release something new.
12. Arcade Fire ”Everything Now”. Dance! Take a break and contemplate existence. And… dance! And so on. What’s not to like?
13. Robert Plant ”Carry Fire”. Old and stubborn, though probably even wise. And still curious! That old Led Zeppeliner who constantly seems to discover something new from the planet’s musical flora.
14. Steve Hackett ”The Night Siren”. Another stubborn old guy who refuses to retire. The most prolific former Genesis member still wrings whatever he can muster out of his guitar, and it still sounds relevant, with dreamlike qualities and massive soundscapes.
15. Benny Andersson ”Piano”. Those melodies sounds familiar, don’t they? From ABBA, ”Chess” and other eras in the life of a Swedish keyboard virtuoso. Now scaled down to just… Piano. Simple but sometimes simply transcendent.
Honourable mentions, some of which has been personal favourites for a long time and in other cases just showed on my radar in the last stretch of 2017. Still keep discovering stuff, the way it should be, you know:
Temples ”Volcano”, Kansas ”The Prelude Implicit”, Roger Waters ”Is This the Life We Really Want?”, Danay Suárez ”Palabras manuales” , Beck ”Colors”, The Killers ”Wonderful Wonderful”, Oumou Sangaré ”Mogoya”, Sparks ”Hippopotamus”, Nad Sylvan ”The Bride Said No”, Gizmodrome ”Gizmodrome”, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith ”The Kid”, Lizz Wright ”Grace”, Europe ”Walk the Earth”, The Mute Gods ”Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth”, Ninet Tayeb ”Paper Parachutes”, Café Tacuba ”Jei Beibi”, Luiza Lian ”Oyá tiempo”, Ibeyi ”Ash”, Natalia Lafourcade ”Musas”, Café Tacuba ”Jei Beibi”, Derek Webb ”Fingers Crossed”…
As usual, I ought to mention a few sources from where I got suggestions on new things to discover, or known quantities ripe for rediscovery. Such as Rolling Stone, Paste Magazine, Relevant Podcast, NPR, Song Exploder Podcast… And others. Also, most of this music is available on Spotify – probably also on other streaming platforms. Go discover!