❉ Stephen T Porter picks his favourite tracks of 2017.
Remember when John Peel used to guide you towards all your end of year ‘alternative music’ needs via the Festive 50?
Well, he hasn’t been around for the longest of times, NME is like something you’d line the budgie’s cage with these days and as for Radio 6 (daytime), Jesus…
So here I am to guide you through my (not the, but they’re pretty much indistinguishable) top 20 tracks of 2017.
You may have read leather trouser-sporting, first-class-seat-for-m’cowboy-hat-purchasing, sexist, rock buffoon Bono claiming the following:
What a twat.
Nearly everything I’ve seen or heard this year that’s been good in music had been female-dominated. I don’t know what it is about men-only bands and their gigs; in nearly all cases they just seem wrong. Put the most gender-neutral blokes together on a stage with the traditional guitars/bass and drums set up and they just start playing with themselves.
Anyway, you may be a pop expert or novice; some of the tracks I’m suggesting here may be part of the fabric of your musical life already, but for most of them, you’ll say (if you have any soul) f*** me, that’s lovely/brilliant.
So without further ado, and with due regard to my contention that all the good music of the year has been made by women, let’s start with a man.
20. Boy Pablo – ‘Yeah’
A Hispanic-nomenclatured Norwegian singer (and his band) who sounds like Pete Wiley.
What’s not to like? (As you young folk are wont to say.)
A great single.
19. U.S. Girls – ‘Mad as Hell’
The frankly appallingly-named U.S. Girls is really just the working title of artist Meghan Remy; this is superb, and the sort of brilliant, soulful girly pop to make U2 singer Boner (see what I did there?) spin in his leather kecks. The influences come thick and fast with this song, but it’s Phil Spector (I know, sorry) and Lynsey de Paul’s forgotten, but fantastic Wall-of-Sound homage/pastiche/rip-off 1974 minor hit ‘Ooh, I Do’ (no, YOU YouTube it) that it reminds me of most:
18. Lindstrom – ‘Tensions’
A lovely slice of Norwegian-Italo-house-electro-dance-motorik-disco. Or something.
17. Moon Duo – ‘Creepin’
More fabulous, motorik rhythms and a great song from a somewhat dodgy album:
16. Insecure Men – ‘Subaru Nights’
I’m sure there’s a suave, Radio 2 (of the early eighties) styled movement going on. Clearly influenced by Minnesota’s Dent May’s (see below) lilting lounge pop, the Saul Adamczewski-led duo’s debut keeps reminding me of about ten other songs. At once.
But I can’t think of any of them at this moment. Maybe you can:
15. Yumi Zouma – ‘Persephone’
Sounds nothingy at first, and then creeps up on you when you’re unawares; a bit like I’d imagine John Redwood would (remember that joke about Edward Woodward in the bath?), only in a good way:
14. School of Seven Bells – ‘Bye Bye Bye’
Bit of a cheat, this one; well, a lot of a cheat, really; re-issued as part of the soundtrack of Netflix’s controversial, but very moving teen saga 13 Reasons Why, this is just one of my favourite songs ever, and the sad, sad story of this band is even more upsetting than the lonely death of Hannah Baker in ’13 Reasons’:
13. Gary Numan – ‘Ghost Nation’
I’ve always felt sorry for Gary Webb – ever since the days of his press-savaging (sorry) in the late 70s, THAT Bowie Lodger track and after reading his genuinely good autobiography ‘Praying to the Aliens’. I’m sure being a millionaire rock star cushions the buffets of life somewhat, but still…
Gary sings the usual nonsense that he sings about, but it’s that ‘industrial’ sound, the vaguely Arabic influences and the frankly smashing chorus that raise this album (‘Savage’) opener into ‘almost great’ territory and a barnstorming live favourite.
If you like that sort of thing.
12. Japanese Breakfast – ‘Diving Women’
When I booked the tickets for her gig, I was actually thinking I was going to see not-a-million-miles -out-of-the-same-ballpark indie band The Japanese House. American Michelle Zauner’s band are better though, and this seems like it’s been beamed in from another (and much nicer) planet:
11. Trailer Trash Tracys – ‘Eden Machine’
Lovely, angelic harmony pop from the capital’s oddly-named duo, and there comes a time (three minutes and five seconds in) where I thought ‘This is a fabulous James Bond opening-titles song; far better than that musical turd emitted by Sam Smith for the last disappointing Bond film’.
I’m full of thoughts like that, me.
10. Lowly – ‘Mornings’
From Aarhus (“In the middle of our street!”) in Denmark, Lowly write/sing in such a lyrical beautiful English that it makes you weep some more for Brexit. I saw them in a tiny pub venue in Manchester in early summer and just stood there, transfixed from start to finish.
A brilliant band, and an eerie, beautiful single from their decent album, Heba:
9. Zuzu – ‘What You Want’
Liverpool ‘songstress’ (listen to the song; no parochial bias) delivers the sort of lyric Avril Lavigne could only have dreamed of writing in her ‘pomp’. Zuzu sang this during a solo supporting performance at the start of this month in another tiny Liverpool venue. There were about three of us listening, whilst the rest of the miniscule audience waited for the lads’ band and drunk themselves stupid.
A pity, as –
“Call me – her name – one more time
And I swear to God
I’ll eat you alive.”
…is almost my favourite lyric of the year.
8. Beach Fossils – ‘Sugar’
The only all-male band in the list (I hope Gary Numan doesn’t split up), ‘Somersault’ was my favourite album for the longest time in 2017, but then wasn’t.
Delicate, yearning indie for sensitive souls like me and a reminder of a time when I used to like The Stone Roses.
7. White Room – ‘Cable-Built Dreamland’
No idea of what this is about, but a fabulous single based on a tremendous rising chord sequence and an equally tremendous glam rock/anthemic, one-platform-shoe-stomping big chorus.
6. Wolf Alice – ‘Planet Hunter’
As a very old ex-punk rocker, I should run a mile from this, All (most) About Eve dreampop warbling. But it’s that old fashioned word lovely.
A staggeringly good live act, and almost the best album of the year.
Sometimes (but not for long) you (I) wish to be eighteen again:
5. Lorde – ‘Green Light’
At last, Lorde comes up with the goods. A great album, a brilliant single (this) and pretty decent live show. A Bowie favourite artiste, it was such a pity that her version of ‘Life on Mars’ at the BRITS just….wasn’t very good.
Possibly the loudest crowd reaction I’ve heard since Leeds scored a late winner against Everton at Elland Road in the early nineties.
Green Light is wonderful, infectious pop:
4. Dent May – ‘Dream 4 Me’
This is the one album and artist that seems to have eluded pretty much everyone. Imagine a young man with Randy Newman’s lyrical gifts – and unlike Randy, doesn’t get on your (Disco) tits after about thirty seconds, has the pop sensibilities of just about everyone who was good at that sort of thing (Brian Wilson/Tim Wheeler/Chrissie Hynde), and you’ve got Dent May.
Across the Multiverse is the second-best album of the year and if there were ‘hit singles’ of the old-school variety, Dent May’s album would have at least six.
And every time I have to take the long walk to board the Merseyrail (Miseryrail) train in the pissing rain, I think of Dent’s wonderful, pretentious lyric:
“I wandered streets to rid my head
Of looming existential dread,”
And I feel ever-so-slightly better.
4. Tove Lo – ‘Disco Tits’
Prurient, terrible ‘aren’t I edgy and rude?’ lyrics, but the best-sounding, purely musical track of the year. Urgent-sounding, soulful and suggesting a world away from its naughty subject matter.
I would have liked to have added this to our post-Christmas dinner playlist, but a man with my responsibilities and miserable demeanour just can’t sing along to:
“I sweat from head to toe,
I’m soaked through all my clothes
I’m fully charged,
Nipples are hard –
Ready to go.”
Not with Nana’s picture looking down at me from the upright piano, I can’t.
3. Nite Jewel – ‘2 Good to 2 Be True’
I think I’ve loved with this track since the day it came out, and I’ve played it every day since.
Absolutely magical, and the album ‘Real High’ is good, too.
2. Just Joans – ‘Steal the Keys (1996 Tears)’
A brilliant single from a patchy album. Motherwell’s The Just Joans are perhaps the most Scottish-sounding band in the history of pop. They make The Proclaimers sound ENGLISH.
Steal the Keys is a song about the yearning for a better life in a better place and has my favourite lyric of the year:
This place is full of thugs
And petty vandals
It’s like Deliverance
Without the banjos;
I long to see the bright lights
Far from these endless, shite nights…”
1. St Vincent – ‘Pills’/’Happy Birthday, Johnny’
Not a double header by any chance, but I couldn’t split them. And I know that should make The Just Joans number three, but it’s too late now. A bit of a populist choice, admittedly, but every hyperbole about St Vincent is true. She is the true inheritor of David Bowie’s art and vision and spirit.
Her live performance was almost a religious experience (especially after being in work for twelve hours and after two hours sleep) and Masseduction has to be the album of the year.
Having said that, Pills is a game of two halves. The first section could have been sung by Bruce Forsyth (try it – it’s great!) with its Tove Lo-style saucy lyrics (“Pills to fuck”, indeed – stop it now, Annie), but then the song slows down – Blackstar style) and there’s this amazing long coda which sounds like nothing on earth – but the best pop singer on earth.
And Happy Birthday, Johnny? The best song of the year and should have been the Christmas Number One.
So – as Barry Norman probably didn’t say – there you have it.
I can’t tell you if any of these songs were big on the radio because I only listen to Radio 3 these days. I’ve seen one or two polls (in Krakow, mainly, but some in Katowice), but my Top 20 was finalised before I looked at anything. (The Just Joans a last and high ‘new entry’!)
These are just some of my favourite songs of the year. You might like different genres and probably think my selection is a pile of old crap.
But it’s mine.
The best thing about having access to the internet and streaming channels is that you can now you can be your own DJ and publisher with access to pretty much whatever you want.
I missed out on so many albums and so much music as a teenager because I either couldn’t afford it, or John Peel Show apart, I had limited access to the sort of esoteric bands and artists that I know I would have liked had I been able to hear then.
Remember Life of Brian’s “You don’t NEED leaders” speech? Well if you do, go off, do a bit of research and ‘curate’ your own music.
Don’t let anyone tell you that “music is rubbish nowadays”. These people are always – without exception – stupid. And male. And they like ‘The Stones’. And Dylan.
This has been my favourite year in, well…. years!
To slightly change a catchphrase from Robocop – that other film about Jesus – “Good music is where you find it.”
Go find it.