John Preston gives us his top 10 albums of the year.
10. Sarah Jaffe Bad Bady
Very nearly completely ignored, Sarah Jaffe’s fourth album may be the one that got away but you shouldn’t let it escape your attention. From her earlier indie direction that led to a more synth dominated soundscape, Bad Baby sees Jaffe fully succumbing to a more refined and detailed electro-pop genre with a string section providing grace and quiet drama. The quality of the songwriting and the exquisite production are what sets this album apart from the competition. The record’s melodies can be soothing, inward-looking or quietly euphoric, whatever Jaffe intended you to feel with these intimate songs she has more than achieved her goal.
9. Charlotte Gainsbourg Rest
This record marks a few firsts for Charlotte Gainsbourg. Where before she took the role as a muse to many other male songwriters, Rest is almost entirely self-written. It is also predominantly French language sung as opposed to English as before and both of these decisions indicate a confidence that Gainsbourg has found regarding her own abilities as a singer. Neither of these decisions hampers the quality Gainsbourg has established with her previous pop releases with Rest being the most assured and surprising of the lot. For an album that has a central theme of grief, Rest frequently sounds joyful and a throw back to disco’s early years, to merge the two is an ambitious objective but Gainsbourg pulls it off effortlessly with her now signature elegant,quiet power.
8. Charli XCX Pop 2
Charli XCX has already a few incarnations during her relatively short pop career. But in many ways has gone back to the beginning when she was experimenting with Brooke Candy, who also features on Pop 2, and giving away mix-tapes. Electronic RnB and synth pop are clearly a magnet to her but Charli XCX subverts both of these and makes music that is melodic but disorientating, accessible but frequently standoffish. She has stuck to PC music for her second mix-tape of 2017 and is making it do things her way rather than coming across as generic, anonymous featured artist which has used to repetition now within the genre. Pop 2 is a new kind of pop record and Charli has never been better leading the revolution.
7. The New Pornographers
Canadian supergroup The New Pornographers take their experiences from the last 24 hours, week or a year and pack them into 4 minute pop-operas. That this does not impact on the immediacy and sharp clarity of the songs featured on their seventh album is testament to their collective song-writing skills and spareness of sentimentality. Whiteout Conditions sees the likes of the divine Neko Case and Carl Newman set against synths, Krautrock and special effects. It is their most pop-centric album to date and one that beautiful harmonies and unpredictable melodic diversions, often in the same song, supply the humanity against the machines. A scorching blast when you need it the most.
6. Goldfrapp Silver Eye
Goldfrapp don’t get the credit they deserve, their influence on pop music over the last 15 years has been tremendous but their own sound has become unique to them. The pattern for the duo has been to release alternate pop-folk or synth-pop albums, 2013’s Tales of Us definitely fell into the former category so Silver Eye was going to be a return the twisted electro bangers of Strict Machine and Ride A White Horse, and it kind of was. But more than anything else, Alison Goldfrapp and William Gregory’s seventh album ran more like a greatest hits combining both sides of the group and a few we’d never heard before. It was a big, beautiful record and a forceful return.
5. Lorde Melodrama
It almost seemed as Lorde may have waited too long before releasing the follow up to Pure Heroine, something La Roux fell victim to a couple of years back with her excellent sophomore album, Trouble In Paradise. Consumers of pop music are less loyal than they were but Lorde proved that a wait can still be worth it and Melodrama was declared a triumph when in finally arrived in June. While it lacked one big song that tapped into the public consciousness like her debut did, and that actually had two, this album is more cohesive, diverse and ultimately satisfying. Lorde is right at the start of her career and knows exactly how she wants to sound, listening to the results this is an exciting prospect indeed.
4. Sophia Kennedy Sophia Kennedy
Hamburg based singer- songwriter Sophia Kennedy’s magical debut doesn’t sound like anything else I’ve heard this year. Her voice is deep and rhythmically attuned to the twisting melodies and often surreal lyrics that make up sings like William By the Windowsill and Kimono Hill. There is an aspect of her work that is rooted in a kind oftheatrical musicality and wordy loftiness reminiscent of artists such as Nellie McKay, Regina Spektor and Sparks but Kennedy’s work is more connected to dance music albeit inventively interpreted. House music, trip-hop, boas nova, chamber pop and cabaret are all wonderfully constructed to fill the most unexpected corners; Sophia Kennedy is one to watch.
3. Wolf Alice Visions of A Life
Sometimes when I listen to this album, and I’ve listened to it a lot, I have to check what exactly it is I’m playing, It’s not that Wolf Alice have an undistinguished identify, in fact it’s hard to name one other UK who sound like them, it’s more that they cover some many different genres so artfully that it’s easy to forget how much they are capable of. Brit pop, Xenomania mid-noughties girl bands, episodic indie guitar, electro ballads and noise rock should not make sense on one record but Wolf Alice have such sonic poise, wit and a knack for sublime melodies that wonderfully surpassed all of my expectations.
2. Lana Del Rey Lust For Life
Certainly Lust For Life is the album of Lana Del Rey’s surprisingly prolific career so far. It seems as though less people might be listening than they were though and if that’s the case then she is being cheated. Seemingly broken into three acts, there is Lana doing Lana and wonderfully too, Lana raging against the Trump machine and now refusing to associate with the American flag which has been omnipresent since Video Games, and ending with Lana singing about Elizabeth Grant. Silly, soulful, deep and dark Lana Del Rey is making music that few would have expected and has revealed herself to be a real, one-off super star.
1. St. Vincent MASSEDUCTION
Annie Clark made a decision with MASSEDUCTION that seemed an inevitable but also somewhat risky choice – to go full pop. She worked with Jack Antonoff who has become the go-to producer for predominantly female artists that want creative production of their emotionally-packed, sometimes vengeful and often vulnerable imaginings (see Lorde and the 2017-model Taylor Swift ), but what could his collaboration with St Vincent possibly add to her already astonishing vision? Not that much actually. There is a fizzy, manic quality to the songs including the production which is tight but more full than before and the electro-pop of Los Ageless, Pills and Boys and Sugarboy is indeed far more instant and commercial than her previous work.
But MASSEDUCTION still sounds very like a St Vincent record, you could never confuse it with Taylor’s for example, and the very high standards we’ve come to expect from the artist are easily met here. Guitars crash and burn and burn so more and suicide is decided against because love is an alternative. The fact that Annie Clark has confirmed that the album is autobiographical is what ultimately sets this album apart from her others though. Her critique of contemporary culture and experiences within it as a suddenly tabloid-famous person are gossipy, sardonic, heartbreaking and open. St Vincent is the alternative pop star that we all need to get through these often unbelievable times, the mirror she holds up might be cracked but thankfully there are still some visible chinks of something resembling hope.