[sic] Magazine

Albums of 2017 – Paul Lockett

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1. Melanie de BiasioLilies

A real delight, this one. Her live show is one of the tiny handful I’ve been to in recent years where the entire crowd listens intently in sheer silence – mesmerised even. The album is Melanie de Biasio’s third – and it’s arguably her best. Feeling like a major step forward from 2013’s ‘No Deal’, we should have known that it promised much following the statement of intent in the form of the earlier ‘Blackened Cities’ EP upon its release in mid-2016.

‘Lilies’ blurs the lines between jazz, electronica and rock – and somehow manages to joins the dots between Talk Talk’s final two albums. The album closer ‘And My Heart Goes On’ is a standout highlight which confirms Melanie de Biasio’s status as a modern-day trailblazer.

You need this album in your life.

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2. The War On DrugsA Deeper Understanding

I must admit to only recently discovering The War On Drugs – but they have very quickly escalated to becoming one of my favourite listens. During the few moments when previous album ‘Lost In The Dream’ is not spinning in my stereo (it’s been a regular ‘hit’ in the household), ‘A Deeper Understanding’ is receiving airtime instead. Part of the attraction is the instantly welcoming production which possesses the ability to wrap the music around you like a warm blanket. I don’t think that moulds are being broken here, but it just sounds so damned good. There’s a fusion of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, New Radicals and The Go-Betweens. There are no standout tracks – they’re all standout tracks.

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3. SlowdiveSlowdive

Who would have thought that these shoegaze bands would not just return – but also release new albums which are as good if not better than their god-like albums from their original incarnation? I’m still to figure out quite what happened to awake My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, RIDE and Lush from their slumber – but many of us are delighted that whatever it was, it doesn’t matter, we’re just happy that something did. ‘Slowdive’ delivers eight new songs including the gorgeous ‘Sugar For The Pill’. Any initial preconceptions of ‘But will it be any good?’ are very quickly banished – and you suddenly release that this album is up there with their very best work.

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4. Grizzly BearPainted Ruins

Grizzly Bear have the ability to divide music fans – I know of nobody, for instance, who sits on the fence and pronounces that Grizzly Bear are simply ‘okay’. Maybe it’s because of their use of otherworldly chord structures and also their ability to move into minor keys so easily. People who didn’t enjoy 2009 album ‘Veckatimest’ or ‘Shields’ (from 2013) are likely to find precious little to get excited about here, but for everybody else Grizzly Bear take us on a journey which is simply entrancing. At times an uneasy listen, it takes us on untrodden paths – particularly on ‘Mourning Sound’, ‘Neighbors’ and ‘Aquarian’.

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5. The NationalSleep Well Beast

The National feel like the American equivalent of Elbow, Bury’s finest, in so much as they spent the best part of a decade pretty much warming up – but the vast majority of people didn’t have a clue who they are. Then, in May 2010, they released their fifth album ‘High Violet’ on 4AD Records and suddenly everybody started taking notice – and for good reason – ‘High Violet’ is an incredible listen. ‘Sleep Well Beast’ certainly kicks off with the same intentions – ‘Nobody Else Will Be There’ and ‘Day I Die’ are both stunning songs which promise much. ‘Sleep Well Beast’ doesn’t quite reach the heady highs of some of its predecessors, but it’s an intriguing listen nonetheless – and there’s really nobody who sounds like vocalist Matt Berninger.

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6. RIDEWeather Diaries

Another shoegaze record in the Top 10? When it’s this good, then why not? I’m a huge RIDE fan – but even I was sceptical when I heard that a new album was on the way – mainly due to feeling a tinge of disappointment with their third and fourth albums upon their release in the 90s. ‘Weather Diaries’ comfortably beats both both of those and arguably even knocks ‘Going Blank Again’ into third place – and let’s not forget that album contains the mighty ‘Leave Them All Behind’. There are too many highlights – but start off with ‘Cali’ with its summery harmonies, ‘Charm Assault’ which is classic RIDE, and ‘All I Want’ which one of the best slabs of 3 minute epics I’ve heard in a good while. ‘Integration Tape’ demonstrates that RIDE aren’t afraid to experiment, while live shows confirm them as one of the best live acts around in 2017.

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7. PumarosaThe Witch

An interesting hot-pot of songs, this one. It neatly collates the early singles ‘Priestess’ and ‘Honey’ while introducing a number of new tracks – including the excellent ‘My Gruesome Loving Friend’ and “Lions’ Den”. Like fellow contempories Wolf Alice, they’re not afraid to run with an idea if it sounds good, despite it not necessarily sounding like a typical ‘Pumarosa’ song. This is good news, for we’re thereby the lucky recipients of a wide selection of sounds. As a result, each song on the album sounds fresh and different than its predecessors. They’re a very convincing live act – if you can catch them while they’re still playing smaller venues, you owe it to yourself to see them, for it’s only a matter of time before they break through.

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8. Mahatma X A Mobtown Suite Vol. 1

If any album in 2017 is hard to nail down, it’s this one. Firstly, it sounds great – there are some deep dub vibes across several tracks, while other songs sound like they’re being baked under the possible influence of chemicals. Part random, part explorative, part “let’s plug in these instruments and see what happens”, it’s an intriguing listen. You’ll either love or hate the lack of continuity – how the album takes us from one track to another where the songs sound not just disconnected but almost as if they were recorded by different artists. The music, however, speaks for itself – the blissed-out musings of a late night basement session which delivers chill-out vibes so laid back that they’re almost horizontal.

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9. Olan MillOrient

Olan Mill is actually just one guy – Alex Smalley – though you honestly wouldn’t think it from listening to the expansive sound on ‘Orient’. It’s an album which has actually been released not just once, but twice in 2017 – by two different record labels. The first was cassette & digital, then along came a separate CD release later in the year. This is good news, for it’s an absolutely thrilling listen. Fans of post-classical, Fluid Audio, Bing & Ruth, Nils Frahm, Max Richter et al will simply wonder how they allowed this album to pass them by. Tracks such as ‘Molanret’, ‘Alve’ and ‘Anthoe’ just deserve to be heard. Smalley has released numerous albums under the moniker Olan Mill on various labels and I’m yet to understand how more people aren’t aware of his material.

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10. MUTEMATHPlay Dead

For readers outside of the States, here’s another name you probably won’t have heard of. It’s also likely the most ‘pop’ album here on this list. MUTEMATH have actually been together since around 2002. Based in New Orleans, ‘Play Dead’ is actually their fifth album – it’s also easily their most commercial recording. The guitar-led tracks which dominated their early work have given way to more synth & vocal-led tracks but that doesn’t make the songs any less interesting. In fact, tracks such as ‘Break The Fever’, ‘Hit Parade’ and ‘Achilles Heel’ are arguably amongst their best work.

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