13 Jul 2017

2017: The Best Records Of This Here Year So Far

Salutations dear friends, the halfway point of this year means that our little blog is now three years old. A lot of things have happened since then, but with a world that - despite the rise of Corbyn's Labour Party - seems bleaker by the day, maybe it's best to focus on the strictly musical things. From the exciting crop of new bands emerging in the capital, to Nick Cave reaching the peak of his powers, and Europe seeming alive with the most exciting psych music we've heard in a while, there's lots to celebrate. Here is our - that is me, Cal, alongside other Vapour Trail writers' - favourite albums of the year so far. Due to the fact that I'm working a lot over Summer, I haven't had the time to do this earlier, or write out a fleshed out description for each album, but there's so much great records that you should go through 'em all one by one. Without further ado...

1. Ibibio Sound Machine - Uyai
A joyous fusion of afrobeat, funk and LCD-style dance music, Ibibio Sound Machine have well and truly come into their own with their incredible second album Uyai. The London-via-Nigeria band's music is so rich with grooves that entwine with jagged synth lines, whilst frontwoman Eno Williams' vocal cries breathe even more life into their invigorating sonic elixir. From the get go of the descending wah-wah-wah of the synthesiser and the emphatic horns that fill up the infectious groove of Give Me A Reason, every second of Uyai stands out on what is truly the most exhilarating release of the year so far. A record that uses its constant, explicit political awareness not to delve in the miasma of how fucked up everything is, but find joy and empowerment within music; the album takes its name from the Ibibio (the native language of South-East Nigeria) for "beauty", and that's just what the band have achieved here.

2. Richard Dawson - Peasant
Peasant is a record that heaves and aches, swarms and stumbles. What's thrilling is that rarely when listening to music do we find that its familiarity is through sounds entirely non musical, yet throughout Peasant, what truly springs to mind is creaking floorboards, elastic bands snapping, and wave meeting rock face - as oppose to a bog standard set of conservative influences. The most audacious album yet from Newcastle's finest, is a kaleidoscopic venture, tacking stock of England's long lost past to reveal pertinent truths about the need for community. However, the album is never restricted by its theme, eschewing realism, instead opting for a language somehow both vivid and lysergic. Musically there are echoes of form shattering mavericks such as Beefheart or Robert Wyatt, yet realistically, Dawson's opaque mutation of folk is largely without any logical precedent. You'll hear many albums perhaps unwisely labelled masterpiece this year, but honestly Peasant is just that.

3. The Moonlandingz - Interplanetary Class Classics
Although their conception may be fictional, The Moonlandingz' impact has been anything but. A synth-heavy 'ouija-pop' group formed a couple of years ago, this Fat Whites/Eccentronic Research Council side project has garnered critical praise in a way that their mother groups haven't quite yet managed.  From the garish stomp of Vessels, through Black Hanz's krautabilly swagger and the baritone on Glory Hole, every track is a standout, each one rich in character. Lias Saoudi's performance is amazing, and throughout the synth lines are amazing; a gnostic, white knuckle ride through space told by some of this planet's most jilted raconteurs.

4. Shit and Shine - Total Shit
Sharing that same fucked in the 'ed humour as Aaron Dilloway or The Butthole Surfers, Shit and Shine succeed in maniacally obliterating all the conventions that stand in their way. Released on the label home to all things prickly - Powell's Diagonal - Total Shit is effectively a two finger assault to all conservative notions of good taste, gleefully puncturing the heart of each genre they touch upon, leaving them in a state of wheezing desperation. Here, the musical veterans truly run amok, pummelling through techno, noise-rock, disco, and an assortment of odd samples - notably snippets of Michael Jackson on Dodge Pot, and questions of what exactly is the most unique thing Van Halen bring to rock and roll, on Excess, Laziness, Egotism. Aside from featuring some superbly jagged techno bangers like Chklt shk, brilliant track titles such as Stop Saying Awesome, and consistently deranged genre hopping; the album is simply a stubborn, obtuse but also wholly enjoyable listen, akin to repeatedly stubbing your toe or jamming your hand in an electrical socket, but you know... fun... really fucking fun.

5. 10,000 Russos - Distress Distress
A distilation of psychedelia that is the antithesis of and antidote to bland lovey dovey Blossoms-style psych-pop that's all the rage on Radio 1, 10,000 Russos are a Portugese band that offer up one of the most guttural psych albums of recent times. It's as if 50 years after psychedelia washed over Britain like a warm bath, giving music a new technicolour palette and eventually leading to a 'Summer of Love', this band of psychedelic hellraisers are here to instil darkness on everyone that they touch. There's nothing wrong with this though; Russos' music is satisfying, confrontational, and mesmeric in a way that you can't quite comprehend; they're a brilliant band, and this is a brilliant album. Mind you, if ever a time in recent history called for a band to do this, now is certainly the time, isn't it?

The incredible Las Cobras, whose debut is at number 20
6. Lorde - Melodrama
7. Algiers - The Underside of Power
8. Laurel Halo - Dust
9. Wiley - The Godfather
10. GNOD - Just Say No To The Psycho Right-Wing Capitalist Fascist Industrial Death Machine 
11. Yossarians - Fabric of Time
12. Oxbow - Thin Black Duke
13. King Gizz - Murder of the Universe
14. Davy Kehoe - Short Passing Game
15. Arca - Arca
16. Jlin - Black Origami
17. Tinariwen - Elwan
18. Shackleton - Sferic Ghost Transmits
19. LIFE - Popular Music
20. Las Cobras - Temporal
21. Pharmakon - Contact
22. Black Lips - Satan's Art or God's Graffiti
23. Aaron Dilloway - The Gag File
24. The Caretaker - Everywhere At The End of Time, vol. 2
25. Kiran J. Callinan - Bravado
26. Flowers Must Die - Kompost
27. Ride - Weather Diaries
28. Mick Harvey - Intoxicated Man
29. Sleaford Mods - English Tapas
30. Jane Weaver - Modern Kosmology
31. Konrad Sprenger - Stack Music
32. Daniel O'Sullivan - Veld
33. Kelly Lee Owens - Kelly Lee Owens
34. SZA - Ctrl
35. Bill Orcutt - Bill Orcutt
36. Thundercat - Drunk
37. Slowdive - Slowdive
38. Colin Stetson - All This I Do For Glory
39. The Big Moon - Love In The Fourth Dimension 
40. Cigarettes After Sex - Cigarettes After Sex

(Words: Cal Cashin and Eden Tizard)