Beck is at his best when he’s a cultural magpie. It was through picking shiny things from hip hop that he created Odelay and here he’s bringing stuff back to his nest from further afield. Vocal melody from Phoenix in Seventh Heaven, a bit of Elliott Smith in Dear Life, some Santigold ska in No Distraction and lashings of electro-pop elsewhere all of which covered in crystal clear pop production. This is dancefloor Beck and he’s never been better.
Aussie Alex Lahey writes confessional and engaging lyrics over catchy-as-hell power-pop. Like a more accessible and less stoned Courtney Barnett, ILYLAB delivers on the promise of her early singles. It’s all puppy love, nights out and student life and it’s pretty damn endearing.
Paul Woolford has been turning heads with his remix work over the last few years and belief Systems is his second album. 2 hours long, the first half is wall to wall bangers, touching on techno, breaks, and jungle all imbued with in vogue callbacks to 90s rave culture. The second half is his “please give me soundtrack work” CV. Its Hans Zimmer-isms don’t really work here but there’s so much quality in part one, all is forgiven.
Four Tet is in rude health in 2017. His remixes staddle genres and never let up in quality and his albums always thrill. After 2015’s sublime diversion into Indian music Morning/Evening, New Energy is like a ‘story so far’ summary of his discography. There’s the folktronica with which he first made his name alongside techno but all at Hebden’s slower tempos.
It’s been a long long time since John Peel dubbed Clarke ‘the baron of techno’ and yet this is only his third album. The Desecration of Desire is a gothic techno odyssey that uses guest vocalists to add to its atmosphere but the star here is the beats. Even when straying into post-punk this is techno at heart.
Canadian punk rockers Metz were one of those bands whose sound I’ve admired but this is the first album where they have the songs to match. Or to put it another way, they’ve included some harmonies amongst the noise and re all the better for it. If Only Strange Peace weren’t so front-loaded it could be a contender for album of the year.
UNKLE have always left me scratching my head. The first album was just Shadow writing and performing with guests while James Lavelle did what exactly? Made phone calls to guest artists? Played with Star Wars figures? Made the tea? Since then, Lavelle has stretched himself further and is no longer just an entrepreneurial muse. His creative contribution to music seems to be some kind of mobile brainstorming workshop - finding talented people and knocking ideas about. Whatever it is he does, it seems to finally be working. The Road avoids the usual pitfalls of a curated collab album. The artists are appropriate to the material and meet Lavelle half way and there’s a consistency in vision and sound that moves between genres without sounding like a compilation. It is one of two albums to successfully use Mark Lanegan, a singer whose lightning is rarely captured in his guest appearances.
I like Soulwax, but I’ve often wished they would just admit that they’re better at electronic music than they are at being an indie band. Their best album is still Nite Versions which is just dance versions of their previous album. This album is them meeting me halfway. This album is synth heaven. The songs are decent enough but my god the sound. This is easily the best sounding record of the year. Everything from the analogue synths to the drums (live but produced into the same electronic sound as everything else) to the vocals is perfectly layered.
It could have gone either way for Lorde. Early fame can disorientate talent, and can lead artists into collaboration with big names and old ideas, but Lorde utterly retains her identity here as a leader, not a follower. She also hasn’t made the mistake of thinking that we all want to hear about new RICH AND FAMOUS problems (hello The Weeknd) and still sings about issues her fans can relate to. Lorde’s stock-in-trade is her emotional honesty. Sometimes it’s poetic, sometimes clunky and indulgent but isn’t that how self-reflection and self-pity is?