Albums of 2017: Deputy Editor’s Pick

Perhaps I’m reading too much into it – as writers, it is our job to stretch cogent narratives across increasingly cracked and disparate landscapes – but my top ten feels subdued this year. For the most part, these are albums defined by their restorative properties, where global anxieties are conveyed through sighs and whispers rather than shouts. It won’t stay that way for long.

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Live Report: Budapest Showcase Hub 2017

 

Each time I return from Budapest, through no fault but my own, the bright corridors of Bristol or Amsterdam Schiphol alert me to an unscheduled lightness; I have left something behind. Invariably it’s an assortment of the same items: keys, wallet, heart, cash, sense of direction, preconceived notions of both popular and alternative music as an exclusively Anglophonic affair that extends as far as Scandinavia before offering diminishing returns as soon as one ventures further south or east. Upon my visit to Budapest Showcase Hub (or BUSH) 2017, the extraordinary sophomore to last year’s debut event, I am pleased to report that I am now only bereft of the final four items on that list.

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Ghosts of Urban Decay: DiS Meets Andrew Wasylyk

 

I think it’s a cloudy day in Hawkhill, though it’s hard to tell. A slow, hazy brightness envelops the landscape. In the middle distance there stands a grey stone building, roof long since gutted, an old tree looming over its derelict frame in defiance. Everything here is charcoal-grey and silent. I’ve never been to this place. But I’m staring at Joseph McKenzie’s black and white photograph of the area, taken from his 1966 collection Dundee – A City In Transition, and I can hear a piano arpeggio charting its course around the edges of the frame.

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Gregg Kowalsky – L’Orange, L’Orange

Like magical realism, the key signifiers of ambience are invariably opaque: as a genre, it thrives on ambiguity, haze, distortion, the ‘undecidable’, the inversion of assumed values. Light, where permitted, may only be dusky or twilit, carved out in anaemic shards of an otherwise pitch-black or cobalt totality. It may not be bright or, heaven forbid, sunny. It should not conjure Miami or California. Beyond all else, the ambient record denotes the absence of certainty, a precious world outside our own built from spiderwebs and choral loops. With L’Orange, L’OrangeGregg Kowalsky compromises all our prose about misty forests and abandoned skyscrapers. It is incandescent.

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Cults – Offering

By the time the Manhattan duo had released their debut album, the continued existence of Cults already felt like a survival fight. While breakout hit and 2011 ubiquity “Go Outside” gambolled through its four minutes with the insouciant, no-fucks breeziness of its contemporaries (Sleigh Bells‘ “Rill Rill”, Chairlift‘s “Bruises”), it also revealed glimpses of a heaviness that no glockenspiel could carry. Above all, they faced the dread fate of creating a cute hit: moving on from it. Now on their third album, Offering finds the band exploring the scope of their natural ballast with some of their darkest songs to date, while simultaneously sounding freer than ever; no longer one-hit wonders, theirs proves to be a robust kind of levity.

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This Will Be The Last Time: DiS Meets Chuck

 

Each generation is obsessed with the idea of legacy, the cultural artefacts it will box up and leave pristine in memoriam, but few have failed quite so abjectly to achieve it as ours. Following a correlative spike in nostalgia, we’ve been forced to watch a succession of rose-tinted discographies – including both Pavement and Smashing Pumpkins, though no word on a ‘Range Life’ duet yet – jacked open and stripped for parts, cobbled together in a grotesque, wrinkled parody of the nineties. Charles Griffin Gibson, AKA New York-based DIY indie rocker CHUCK, hasn’t settled any expensive lawsuits with his work, but he still knows when to call it a day.

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Storming, Thundering, Lightning: The Elemental Properties of Zola Jesus

 

 

 

 

 

 

Earlier in the year, Nika Roza Danilova was working on a new piece of music while a thunderstorm raged outside. The artist, who has just released her fifth album as Zola Jesus, has often been described in terms more befitting a mage or sorcerer: critics talk of her exorcising demons, casting spells, illuminating the nighttime that her songs invariably arrive cloaked in. On that night, it appears she channelled the elements in a more literal fashion.

“I don’t know, maybe you know more about physics and electricity than me,” she offers, incorrectly. “But I was in my house, and it was storming, thundering, lightning outside, and I was working on this piece. So I leaned over and I touched my desk, and all of a sudden my whole body got this jolt of electricity. It didn’t even just course through me, it was like my brain got shocked.” After the year she’s had, and the fulminating qualities of new record ‘Okovi’, it feels like a prescient moment.

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Kedr Livanskiy – Ariadna

Mistress of the labyrinth, bride of Dionysus, goddess of mazes, paths, snakes, fertility, passion and wine, the legend of Ariadne is built on the twin pillars of ecstasy and uncertainty. Kedr Livanskiy, the musical alias of Moscow-based singer and producer Yana Kedrina, treads a similar path: her debut ‘Ariadna’ carries a thread that runs from the Romantic poets of the 1790s to the nascent electronic scene of 1990s Russia. Much like the Greek heroine, Kedrina’s ability to incorporate these strands into her music doesn’t prevent her from occasionally losing the way.

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Widowspeak – Expect the Best

The great marvel of the past is how malleable its shape becomes in the hands of both artists and revisionists, abrading the old guard, chipping away at stubborn monoliths until they give out, easy as sand through the fingers. Brooklyn’s own Widowspeak are riddled with ghosts, hovering between each breath, every reverb-soaked gesture. HBO’s stylish adaptation of Westworld provides several useful pointers, particularly for art that wears its former lives on its sleeves and especially for those who — on perhaps a cruder, more literal level — provide an artificial American frontier as the graveyard for their own hauntology.

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