3 Dec 2017

VAPOUR TRAIL! RECORDS OF THE YEAR! 2017!

Hello friends, on top of the morning to you. It is I, Cal Cashin. I have been alive for the whole year, and whilst I was breathing, eating, and shitting, some music came out. Lots of the publications out there are releasing their end of year lists now. Some of them are good. Some of them are not. This is the best one and you should listen to every single album on it.

1. Madonnatron - Madonnatron
Madonnatron are a quartet from the Brixton area, but their sound is more akin to something made by a remote pagan community from the deepest wilderness. Madonnatron utilise howling wiccan harmonies, grizzly organ sounds, and choppy guitars, to make their music sound like a fully formed hex to summon up the darkest spirits. There’s an air of the occult, rural campfire sorcery, to this LP, tracks like Headless Children and Be My Bitch sound simply filthy as the quartet yowl and screech their way to skewered pop euphoria. Indeed, that 8 letter abstract noun is surprisingly prevalent here, as songs like Tron combine the sludgy growls of their guitars with a genuinely heavenly organ sound to brew a potion that blends the beautiful and the ghastly. Quite simply 2017’s most exciting debut album, and indeed my favourite LP of the year.


2. 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.


3. Baxter Dury - Prince of Tears
The album which finally saw Baxter, son of Ian, step out of his father's shadow. A full band collaborate with Dury for the first time, and the rewards are infinite. Each track has a popping bassline, often luscious string arrangements and plentiful wurlitzer organ sounds; all providing the perfect bedding for cockney poet Dury to lay down his tales of love and hate.


4. Black Magick SS - Kaleidoscope Dreams
A stonking clusterfuck of psych, metal and military stomps, the Black Magick SS' Kaleidoscope Dreams is a 27 minute journey into the filthiest realms, into a narcotic underworld. Whilst admittedly, the tasteless and tacky appropriation of the swastika and other Nazi imagery might put people off, but as a gimmick it's played superbly. The whole of this album is haunting, yet transportative, psychedelic, yet grimly bleak. A real feat in shock tactic psychedelia.


5. Algiers - Underside of Power
A throbbing, confrontational record that teems with apathy and anger for it's whole runtime, Franklin James Fisher's voice showcasing its existence as the most powerful weapon in the world that doesn't rely on nuclear power. Algiers' Underside of Power is a tempestuous, thunderous document, that, whilst documenting the depravity and insanity of our times, still hits ecstatic crescendos.


6. Sorry - Home Demo(n)s
To call this a demos compilation seems to be fully understating it. Moreover, this mixtape is a fully formed project that takes the band's lo-fi demos and turns them into a thirty minute multimedia project. Surly, scratchy and vulnerable pop songs that all shimmer through the compilation's thirty minute runtime, it's no wonder this band bagged a record deal with Domino.


7. LCD Soundsystem - American Dream
One of the biggest albums of the year, but of course, one of the best. I'm not going to waste my words trying to decide if this is the best LCD album, but chances are that if I had to choose a #1 it would be American Dream. The sounds and textures on this are amazing, and every track that aims to make you move lands with astonishing success. Tonite has a mangled Powell-meets-Human League groove, snarky lyrics that land every time and that polished astral disco sound that we're all in love with whether we know it or not. Other Voices is absolutely classic LCD, and How Do You Sleep is probably the record's best song; a stomping 9 minute ode to greed and selfishness that features passionate vocals low down in the mix (an underrated James Murphy trope), and the best sounding synth you'll hear all year. A lot - no, too much - has been said of James Murphy's spiritual mentor David Bowie, but on this record, James Murphy proves he is the Luke to Bowie's Yoda/Anakin (delete as appropriate) rather than just another Kit Fisto.


8. LA Witch - LA Witch
Clocking in at little over half an hour, LA Witch's debut album is a filthy, snarling statement of a record. The Los Angeles present in this band's spacious garage rock is not the high life Hollywood of today's cliches, it's the depraved city of Manson and the Hells Angels, of grimey open freeways and a smutty sultry underworld. Washed out, psychedelic guitar lines that sound like a bastardisation of the Brian Jonestown Massacre shrivel up under the sweltering heat of Sade Sanchez's vocals. From the very first sprawls of guitar on Kill My Baby Tonight, the darkness and seduction of this band is all encompassing.


9. 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.


10. Chelsea Wolfe - Hiss Spun
From the demonic image on the cover, to the alluring sense of doom that coasts the tracklist, 'His Spun' is a tragic plummet to hysterical hopelessness. A record in which machine feels the pain of man, Housing riffs that wail in sorrow and entangle themselves with Wolfe’s caws. She shows intense lust for self-obliteration “I Wanna Destroy Myself, then I want it again”.


11. 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?

12. Arca - Arca
Alehrandro Ghersi’s work as Arca exists as an anomaly, his intricate compositions spearheaded with synthetic caterwauling flourishes have always pricked up the ear of the modern day futurist. His music has never bound to static limitations - propulsive and vivacious like a Carrà or a Boccioni painting. On his self-titled Arca encapsulates his sonic extravagancies into an off-kilter yet easily digestible pop record. Perhaps Ghersi’s most complete project, "Arca" does not bare the weighty length and lack of focus of "Mutant" or "Xen" and is bolstered by his operatic vocals that and harrowing Spanish sang words.

Arca

13. King Gizz - Murder of the Universe

The best of four King Gizz albums released this year, which is a statement in itself. The gimmick for this record is the narrative, the wacky three part tale that brews whilst the septet race through their most bloodthirsty, psychotic garage rock since their first couple of records. The first third sees Leah Senior's icy rhyming couplets dispersed minutely throughout the 15 raging minutes of the Altered Beast suite, whilst the second part is a post modern battle between fictional baddies "the Balrog" and the "Lord of Lightning". The band turf up old riffs and motifs and weave them amongst venomous new jams. The third act of this scourge rock opera, a freakish spoken word tale embedded with the robotic vocals of a cyborg, called Han-Tyumi, who just wants to be able to vomit like a real boy. Wacky, yes, but the wackiness is what propels King Gizz far above their contemporaries.

14. 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.

15. Lingua Ignota - All Bitches Die
One of two albums released by the Lincoln-based industrial musician Kristin Hayter (Lingua Ignota), the aptly titled All Bitches Die is a cacophony of carnage. The project is a telling memoir of the domestic violence Hayter has previously been victim to, sonically illustrated with the unlikely combination of death industrial and modern classical. Emotional intensity reigns throughout from the rage fuelled puce screams it opens with, to the very final lyric “my rapist lies beside me.”

The Moonlandingz

16. 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.

17. Laurel Halo - Dust
Laurel Halo's Dust is at face value neon electro pop, but it's freakish jazz infused back half begs to differ. The project is topsy turvy contorted and at times beautiful. Bringing in the talents of Julia Holter and hyperdub associate Klein, Laurel Halo crafts a world of majestic uncertainty.

18. Pharmakon - Contact
It only takes a lengthy stare into the sea of sweaty fingers immersing Pharmakon’s face on the cover, to grasp a thematic gage of her volatile third record. Lust for touch and emotional manipulation are explored however, Contact’s lyrics are barely digestible above the gnarly zaps and explosions of power electronics. Instead Pharmakon molds music for the inferno through mechanical onslaught and ear torture porn in what is perhaps the most terrifying project of 2017.

19. Kirin J Callinan - Bravado
Australian singer songwriter  and grandiose showman Kirin J Callinan is something of an enigma, an intersection of a swashbuckling macho man and a flamboyant drag performer. His sophomore album is a miscellaneous collection of tracks parodying and at times homaging everything from EDM to Radio 2 rock. With guest features from Connan Mockasin, Alex Cameron and Weyes Blood. The record is sexy, sleazy, facetious and at times flat-out strange.Embedded in tongue and cheek irony, Bravado is as ostentatious as the character who conceived it.

20. Alex Cameron - Forced Witness
On this album, Alex Cameron reaches his true potential; the otherworldly creep he calls his alter ego makes his perverse mark atop effortlessly catchy synth pop tracks. When the music is at its prettiest, the lyrics are at their ugliest; "I'm a man on a mission, you're a stripper out of luck" sounds atop Runnin' Outta Luck, the most infectious pop song of this year. You won't hear an album that's this dark and this summery at the same time, and so Cameron's second solo album stands as an anomaly.

Shit and Shine

21. Dälek - Endangered Philosophies
Of the many artists to label themselves "industrial" hip hop, Dälek shine brightest of all. The New Jersey group have been making invasive, filthy hip hop on and off since the nineties, but show no signs of slowing down. Far better than Death Grips, far better than Run The Jewels, far better than a kick in the teeth.

22. Melkbelly - Nothing Valley
A noise pop proposition that's as playful as it is invasive, this is a record that sounds exactly like its excellent cover art.

23. Moon Duo - Occult Architecture vol. 1 & 2
The magick powers of Ripley Johnson of Moon Duo and Wooden Shjips fame have been the focal point of the 2010's most exciting wave of psychedelia. On these two albums, he exorcises the fuzz demons with his darkest (vol. 1) and lightest (vol. 2) works to date.

24. Omar Souleyman - From Syria With Love
One of the most singular artists of his generation, Omar Souleyman needs no introduction. On From Syria With Love, Omar is at his most accessible and ready for the dancefloor.

25. Omni - Multitask
Angular post-punk, the joy that comes in spurts from Omni's debut isn't so much the melodies, but the grooves they lock into are truly mind expanding. One of the best groups that fit under the post-punk label at the moment.

Moon Duo

26. Wiley - The Godfather 
Grime's elder statesman proves he truly is [album title] here, a collection of beats so incessantly good that you can forgive lyrics like "can't go fishing if you've not got rods". You can use a net, Wiley.

27. Ride - Weather Diaries
Ride and Slowdive both released their first album since the mid nineties in 2017, and while it's not a competition, if it was, Ride would have won hands down. A collection of stunning tracks that capture their eternal youthful energy and perennial ability to pen down a great lick.

28. Las Cobras - Temporal
An often beautiful and seldom dissatisfying record, the debut album by Uruguay's premiere musical couple is a delight. Psychedelic textures and Spacemen 3 grooves, this is the year's most underrated psych record.

29 Yucky Duster - Duster's Lament
"We Talked a lot about gentrification". If you like your indie bands monotone, sarcastic, disinterested and American then this Yucky Duster disc is for you.

30. Oxbow - Thin Black Duke
This record is a pop noir, rich in narrative for the titular Thin Black Duke to spin his complex musical web around. A metal band making a jazz infused singer songwriter album, this is truly a delight of a record.

Oxbow

31. Protomartyr - Relatives in Descent
Protomartyr sound like The Fall. If The Fall had been birthed into the urbane wasteland of Detroit. A lot has been made of the sense of place prevalent in the Michigan city.

32. AKPRINCESS47 - Glitterdrone
The South London Electronic scene's answer to Yakubu, Glitterdrone sees the LDN producer dealing out waves and waves of fizzling electronic grooves, not unlike a less detestable version of SOPHIE or GFOTY.

33. Pixx - Age of Anxiety
The South London music scene's most obvious pop sensation to be released this luscious record earlier this year, with Waterslides and Romance being especially choice cuts.

34. Flat Worms - Flat Worms
Meaty, furious garage rock, an off shoot of the Oh Sees with all the character and drive still in tact.

35. Guerilla Toss - GT Ultra
Spacey synth pop and quirky dramatism, GT Ultra is DFA's best this year.

Pixx

36. Sparks - Hippopotamus
It's baffling that after consistently releasing albums for nearly 50 years, Sparks are still among the most bizarre sounding pop outfits in the world. Edith Piaf Said It Better is the prize cut of a stellar album.

37. Ariel Pink - Dedicated to Bobby Jameson
Ariel Pink. Back in form. At last.

38. Sleaford Mods - English Tapas
Every album this band do is gold, with the prevailing themes on this one being seemingly; the acid house generation, where are they now? The dysphoria of a generation that once dreamed of a Utopic future are stuck in the greyness of now. Sleaford Mods are the belligerent spokesman of that generation. Are they happy about this? Are they fuck.

39. Yossarians - Fabric of Time
Very much in the same vane as Nick Cave's Henry's Dream, this Manchester post punk band lend influence an apparent influence from gipsy punk and no wave to make for one of the years best guitar albums.

40. GAS - Narkopop
A searching, wooded affair from the biggest name in ambient techno making his first album in nearly two decades.

Sparks

41. Mick Harvey - Intoxicated Man
A seductive album of Serge Gainsbourg translations, nothing this year has sounded quite as sexy as this 50-something ex-Bad Seed half whispering the poetry that makes up his cover of Cargo Cult.

42. Chastity Belt - I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone 
A more expansive second album from Seattle's Chastity Belt, one of the best and coolest jangle pop groups about. If all indie music sounded like this, the world would be less bad.

43. Pan Daijing - Lack
Berlin based Pan Daijing delivers an unsettling delve into the darkest parts of the human brain.

44. Black Lips - Satan's Art Or God's Graffiti
The Black Lips are back with their first one in a few years, and it sounds like they've been doing nothing but smoking opium and listening to the Fat White Family since. This, of course, wholly benefits the band in ways unimaginable. 5 stars.

45. Circle - Terminal 
A fucking batshit rock album, these Finnish geezers make the most solid pastiche of Detroit rock, and stretch it out with all their Scandanavian foibles. Banger of a record.

Chastity Belt

46. GNOD - Just Say No
A filthy rock 'n' roll record, this album deals out an early Swans type brand of post-punk that is every bit as much of a statement as the red and black sleeve that the disc comes in.

47. King Gizz - Polygondwanaland
Latest King Gizz album, and a scorching psych record underneath the gimmicks. It doesn't get better than the first track, Crumbling Castle, a ten minute wonder of a song, but the rest is more than solid. This band can do no wrong.

48. Thundercat - Drunk
This album wasn't as good as I expected but it's still pretty fucking solid. The best performer on Jools this year with the best album cover of the decade, this record deserves a spot on the list.

49. EMA - Exile in the Outer Ring
Punk rock for Donald Trump's America, the excellently produced scuzz rock of Erika M. Anderson is both furious and caustic. Thunderous, rapturous, a top class record.

50. Kelly Lee Owens - Kelly Lee Owens
Perhaps not quite as good as her phenomenal live shows, the debut from the Welsh producer gets all the kudos it deserves.

EMA
Keep your eyes on the skies for more of Vapour Trail's crucial end of year content. If you type Madonnatron into that there Vapour Trail search bar you can read an interview we did with the composers of our album of the year.

(Words: Cal Cashin, with help from Aimee Armstrong and Eden Tizard)