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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Interview: EMA explores the boundaries of the outer ring

 

In September 2015, the Washington Post ran a feature called ‘An American Void’. It follows the day-to-day lives of the Meek family, who occasionally housed Dylann Roof in the days and weeks before he walked into Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and shot dead nine black attendees, an act he had hoped would spark a race war. What was most captivating about Stephanie McCrummen’s story was its focus on the peripheries of the event, the sheer ordinariness of the lives that orbited Roof’s.

This proved to be one of several cultural and political backdrops that informed Erika M. Anderson’s concept of ‘the outer ring’, the economic dead space outlined on her third album as EMAExile in the Outer Ring. (Enormously articulate and well-read, Anderson lights up when I ask her about literary influences and confesses she’s been meaning to compile a ‘reading list’ to accompany the record.) Her definition for the Quietus seemed succinct enough: “It’s the estuary between where the people who are being forced out of the cities, due to being economically disadvantaged, meet with the people who having to leave the countryside in order to get jobs.”

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Sea Change Festival 2017 @ Totnes, 24-26/08/17

As a young man growing up in Torquay, the neighbouring town of Totnes seemed like a strange kind of heaven. It was full of anarchists, hippies, socialists, crystal healers, vegans; I pilfered their book shops for esoteric publications by all of the above, picked up tomes by Terence McKenna, read the words of men pushing for an intersectional approach to psychedelics, the Abrahamic religions, and the alien civilisations who, I am led to believe, introduced both.

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Everything Everything are lost in A Fever Dream

In the seven years since Everything Everything hatched their jabbering debut Man Alive, a record that seemed destined to be filed alongside Fenech Soler and Ou Est Le Swimming Pool as curios of the period, a lot has changed. Its follow-up Arc put down a marker that they could do more than simply yelp and writhe, binding the band’s more staccato movements into something positively elegant. By the time we reached 2015’s Get to Heaven, the band were unstoppable; like an athlete at the apex of their game, their genius felt effortless, performatively cut through with cute feints and bravado. Returning with fourth album A Fever Dream, how could the Manchester four-piece possibly fail to score?

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Waxahatchee makes her voice heard on Out in the Storm

There’s a pivotal scene that closes out the first season of Spaced, the cult TV debut of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and director Edgar Wright, in which Tim has an epiphany waiting for his ex-girlfriend to arrive at the bar. “It’s like walking in on yourself, you know? Like, ‘What are you doing?’ That’s how I felt tonight feeling my heart miss a beat every time the door opened. ‘What the fuck are you doing?’” On her fourth album as WaxahatcheeOut in the Storm, Katie Crutchfield’s natural introspection transcends navel-gazing to place distance between herself and a toxic relationship, and the effect is both vituperative and life-affirming: in its most brutally honest scenes, we catch the Alabama native walking in on herself.

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Interview: Escaping together with Nite Jewel

 

At the height of last summer – that woozy July that ushered in May’s tenure, heat that withered the pound like grapes on a vine – the Guardian published a thinkpiece by the writer Frank Cottrell Boyce. Still basking in the glow of co-writing the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony with Danny Boyle, his article took aim at various contemporary malaises: Brexit, cuts to library and arts funding, East London. But what grabbed me above all was this:

“Innovation comes from those who are happy to embark on a course of action without quite knowing where it will lead, without doing a feasibility study, without fear of failure or too much hope of reward. The engine of innovation is reckless generosity.”

Unscheduled, the sentiment returned to me talking to Ramona Gonzalez, AKA Nite Jewel. It seemed a perfect fit for her attitude, her ideas, the spirit of autonomous creativity that burns through her like ethanol.

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Perfume Genius and the redemptive spirit of No Shape

In the music video for “Slip Away”, the first single taken from the new Perfume Genius album, Mike Hadreas runs through a slideshow of soft-focus fantasies, away from a cast of hapless villains, towards an implied happy ending. Like a dream, the detail is somehow both blurred and crudely exaggerated; the antagonists’ faces are painted in caricature, and overcome by Hadreas dashing through the exploding set, hand in hand with his fairytale bride. Most of all, for an artist who dealt nothing but shade on 2014’s comeback “Queen” – all vicious contours and slicked-back hair, lips frozen in a permanent sneer at American heteronormativity – “Slip Away” presents a palette that is warm, dynamic, and deliriously playful. It’s the story of No Shape.

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Diet Cig bottle power pop lightning on Swear I’m Good At This

Did it occur to you to stop for a moment and think about what all this might be doing to the kids? Do you even know where you left them? Like a beleaguered prime minister, we’ve abandoned them in the pub, forced to make their own way between the fruit machines and the soothing baritone of Jeff Stelling. And guess what? They know all about Article 50, and the attempted repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and now they’re drinking, smoking, reading Dick Hebdige, and having sex in the back of trucks with boys who share their first name. On Swear I’m Good At This, upstate New York duo Diet Cig have effortlessly captured the zeitgeist in half an hour of adrenaline-fuelled power pop, bottling a lightning I’d forgotten could still strike.

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Pure Comedy and the infuriating charm of Father John Misty

You don’t need me to tell you this, but I’ll say it anyway: Father John Misty is kind of a dick. He fancies himself a loveable provocateur on Pure Comedy, singing about having sex with Taylor Swift on live TV and then recoiling in horror at the suggestion that it might have been, you know, a little provocative. He was supposedly tripping on acid during that performance, as he was for his car-crash interview with Radcliffe & Maconie, and he’s keen for you to know it. What a rock star! What a modern day Tim Leary! And of course, he hates “the intersectional-virtue-warrior style of music writing” that us modern scribes peddle, ruining whatever politically incorrect lark he imagines himself to be peddling instead.

How tempting it would be, then, to dismantle his 80-minute treatise on the globalised world with the kind of withering gallows humour he evidently deems himself to have mastered. To tear it apart, to denounce the whole thing as a pretentious, self-serving footnote in the annals of rock history. But I can’t do it. Some writers have compared him to David Foster Wallace’s portrayal in The End of the Tour, but my mind wanders instead to John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity, finally listening to the demo tape handed to him by the obnoxious little punks on the street. Because, hand on furrowed brow, we must face the unwanted truth: Pure Comedy is a hot, brash, unbridled success.

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