Another great year for music and one in which I probably haven't heard or reviewed as much as I would like to have done. Some amazing acts - some old, some new, some rediscovered - have provided some quite brilliant sounds. I've met some of them and, must meet many more of them in the coming year. Social media has provided a comfort and a friend, and also a constant stream of enjoyment. Long may it continue. A few very busy artists appear in the list more than once as I found it difficult to pick one release over the other. So, as usual, a Top 20 proved impossible. As did a Top 30. In the end I whittled it own to a Top 38, which are listed below in no particular order aside from the top three which have stuck out as works of incredible quality from the very first listens. Please take time to scroll down the list and maybe find something you think is amazing, click on the titles to read the reviews.
‘Lucifer The Landlord’ opens with a lovely punchy bassline and driving drums with a basic and simple beat which, sometimes, makes a refreshing change. Kevin’s vocals float around over the top in a sultry, rich soup of masculinity singing about what sounds like a fall from grace for the rich.
‘Maria Come Home’ has some little sampled keyboard sounds reminiscent of Grandaddy but with a funny crossover into Richard Ashcroft and Mercury Rev, leading into an almost dubby bassline. Lovely stuff.
‘Brain Desert’ is a nice contrast to the rest of the tracks so far and sounds a bit like John Martyn might sound if he’d been working with Pearls Before Swine, Nick Drake and Tunng. It’s a mellow trip. The mood is shifted somewhat with ‘Jump’ and it highlights the diversity of this album and the way the songs are constructed, all the while keeping Kevin’s signature vocals and melodies layered over the top of it all. ‘Jump’ has vibes of Tortoise and modern Flaming Lips in it with a nice soft synth bass and electronic drums mashed in with acoustic instruments. FourTet would be proud.
‘17th Century Girl’ starts off as a stripped back acoustic number until it leads into an almost Patrick Watson-meets-Sigur Ros landscape of strings and reverb drenched vocals which is definitely a highlight of the album so far. It leads us nicely into ‘Heartbeat Mind’ which throws in a pounding drum and what sounds like a piano mixed with a synth. The attraction with this album is it sounds like it’s been part-considered and part-improvised, written as it’s being recorded and this gives it a quality hard to find with many commercial albums. A little M83 explosion at the end into the revolving lyric of “you came into my heartbeat mind” is a nice finish to the track.
‘So On’ has a super folk feel to it with the acoustic and vocal intro, again with a slight nod to Nick Drake as it moves into a string accompaniment with some delicate high harmonies settled over the top. It’s all very hypnotic. ‘Velvet Moon’ has some Genesis meets Pink Floyd vibes to it and the female vocals make a nice addition to the track.
Overall ‘So On’ is a nice album with some good ideas and the production on it is nice and comfortable. It isn’t breaking new ground by any means but this doesn’t take away from the fact it is a pleasant adventure, clearly written from the soul and carries some nice weight as an album definitely worth a late-night listen.
Liverpool based singer/songwriter celebrates thirty years of his jazz tinged album.
With his debut album, Thomas Lang was just a heartbeat away from stardom. His chiselled good looks would have seen him grace many a magazine cover and his gentle soothing voice should have featured on many a mainstream radio show. Sadly, it wasn’t to be, as commercial success eluded the release of his debut album Scallywag Jaz but, critical acclaim was and still is bountiful. What made it so wonderful was its seemingly anti-pop content. Sure, we had witnessed pop-jazz before but this was a whole different kettle of fish as it concentrated on a far more mature sound further down the Jazz road.
Co-written and co-produced by David A Hughes (OMD, Dalek I Love You, The Lotus Eaters) and Pete Smith (Squeeze, Del Amitri, The Police), Scallywag Jaz was notable for its inclusion of a cover of the Billy Paul classic Me And Mrs Jones which became somewhat of a ‘Major Tom’ for Lang as the character appears in no less than four titles on this edition. His treatment of the original is nothing short of superb, stunning bass and lazy hazy saxophone compliment a tenor voice which is warm and inviting in the same way that contemporaries like Sade and Alison Moyet gained incredible success from. Addictive and impressive, Me And Mrs Jones is a fine example of a singer with much to offer. Shoelaces (Mrs Jones Part 2) sees the main character encouraged to leave her abusive husband in favour of Lang and is a misty, swinging piece of drama if ever there was once. Vocals echo and disappear into the distance as the track closes and the instrumental Mrs Jones Meets Godzilla and Have You Met Miss Jones? compliment the quartet of tracks influenced by a clearly amazing lady. The later details a chance meeting with the young lady and his clear instant infatuation.
But, Scallywag Jaz is far more than a cover version as can be seen from the thirty-six tracks included on this edition. The album opener, Fingers & Thumbs begins with a piercing piano and a wonderful bass sound sliding unconventionally throughout the album, with torch vocals that hint at what is to come later down the line. Lang is in control instantly and for a young man displayed a talent and gift which was rare to find.
The Happy Man gave Lang a taste, if somewhat limited, of chart success as it crept into the Top 100 singles chart and proved to be one the most commercial tracks. Again, greater success eluded Lang and must have been disheartening as its poppier approach could quite easily have nestled its way on to Radio 1 at the time. Injury showed a darker side and was superb for it and Spirit continued the torch theme that he seemed so comfortable with. Further additions from the package of The Happy Man and the extra tracks from the original release of the album complete disc one.
Disc 2 provides alternative mixes, live versions and two brand new tracks in Scared (a six minute jazzed up affair) and I Believe (a poppy pan-piped radio friendly track). As you’d expect, three versions of The Happy Man grace this disc, the live versions of which form part of nine tracks recorded in Tokyo in 1991 and Liverpool in 2011, and confirm Lang’s ability to perform faultlessly live.
Scallywag Jaz is undoubtedly one of those great albums that seemed to slip through the net and consequently off many music fans radars. This special edition gives the album another chance to prove what a fascinating and enjoyable piece if work it is.
Thanks Paul for humoring me once more by kindly given me the chance to publish my top thirty albums of 2017. This year has once again proven that music is as wonderful and diverse as ever. In my role at LTW I am lucky enough to have the chance to review many great new artists but what I have particularly found pleasing about compiling this list is how many came from other sources (friends, Twitter, radio DJs etc) and only half of this list is made up of albums I have reviewed.
I also discovered whilst compiling the list how many solo artists are included who are in their own way taking their chosen form and bending it into new and exciting territories.
So here you go...my top 30 albums of 2017:
1) Mario Batkovic: Mario Batkovic
2) Colin Stetson: All This I Do For Glory
3) Ore: Belatedly
4) Bjork: Utopia
5) Jaffro: Idea
6) The Fall: New Facts Emerge
7) James Holden & the Animal Spirits: James Holden &
the Animal Spirits
8) Goldie: The Journeyman
9) Clark: Death Peak
10) Richard Dawson: Peasant
11) Andrew Hung: Realisationship
12) Four Tet:New
13) Toydrum: Prevenge OST
14) Perfume Genius: No Shape
15) Jlin: Black Origami
16) Equinox: It's Hard To Be Happy When Your Head Is Full Of
17) Hannah Peel: Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia
Music: the final frontier. These are the voyages of Whooda Thunk. Its eternal mission: to explore strange new sounds, to seek out new beats and new genres, to boldly go where no man has gone before. Based in Kalmar, Sweden, Whooda Thunk is looking to combine his influences in a sound that celebrates his love for music. By finding inspiration in everything from metal-band Korn, electronic artist Aphex Twin, to movies like Donnie Darko, Whooda Thunk manages to make something unpredictable. The debut single, Used To is released tomorrow and we think it's rather fab.