Music primary function is enjoyment, how it makes you feel. I could easily present you with a list of music that impresses, dazzles, challenges, but when it comes down to it, that kind of music may not necessarily be the same as the music that gives you pleasure, music that you want to listen to again and again, that draws you back and lights up your world for a little while.
So, no more best album list, here are the 10 albums that made me most happy in 2017, and not only me. I have added excerpts of both my own and the reviews from other blogs and magazines.
For a playlist of all songs from the 10 albums, click here .
Jens Lekman: Life Will See You Now
Jens Lekman has released a wonderful new album, filled with personal stories shaped as pop songs. This is a surprising collection of mild-mannered tunes, really among the best albums released anywhere this year. Lekman invites us into his everyday world with both melancholy and sunshine in a perfect combination.
Life Will See You Now is a remarkably focused and well-produced record that blends upbeat ’80s influenced pop and disco into Lekman’s established indie pop. You won’t hear likely many other indie pop albums as refined and rich as this anytime soon: it’s full of Easter eggs lyrically and sonically and is evermore listenable because of the strength of its songs.
Tanner Smith, Pop Matters
Randy Newman: Dark Matter
Randy Newman is a master of soundtracks, and who would have believed? The singer behind Short People and other not-so-politically-correct tracks from the 70s and 80s has become a household name in families with children! But I am sure Newman is a true softie at heart, for I know few who can write a better and more heartfelt love song than him. His new album, Dark Matter, is full of them, but also acidly poignant songs about the time we live in. I love both sides of his persona.
Newman’s new album is called Dark Matter, a phrase intended both in the scientific sense and the figurative one—“it’s a dark matter.” He has lost little of his bite and none of his humor. Comfortably into his 70s, with what many would call a very successful career behind him and still time ahead, he seems less interested in polemics than before, less interested in leveraging sentiment with disgust, giving over—ever so slightly—to a softer intention….Smart but never intellectual, given more to the words we use over the words we know, Newman peppers these stories with little references to the Great Migration, climate change (the swells on Willie’s beach keep getting bigger), global politics, and American myth.
Newman has often joked that he would’ve been more successful if he stuck to love songs. Probably true. Personally I can’t begrudge people their escape—the world is a terrible place. But then he writes something like “Wandering Boy.” Tough, tender, mysterious and sad, the song narrates a simple neighborhood party—the kind Newman, who has spent most of his life in the same area of Los Angeles, has been going to since he was a child, through adolescence, multiple marriages and children, the kind that innocently and without fanfare becomes a fulcrum for the vicissitudes of life.
Newman has often put himself in these situations, the voice for characters nobody should have to listen to, curator of moments nobody wants to name. It is a painful, interesting way to be. And if it isn’t love, then what does one call that feeling, and is there any more worth writing about.
Mike Powell, Pitchfork
Susanne Sundfør started out as a singer and pianist. Now she is back behind the piano, and her voice is at the forefront of the songs again, after a period of flirting with other formats (successful flirts, I might add). Music for People in Trouble is a magnificent album with songs with strong emotional cores.
‘I’m as lucky as the moon, on a starry night in June,” sings Sundfør on her album’s acoustic opener. It’s a misleadingly cutesy start…. Inspired by travels around varied political and social landscapes, from North Korea to the Amazon rainforest, there are trickling water sounds, wiry bleeps and animal peeps throughout. Sundfør is startlingly back-to-basics at times – there are even schmaltzy ballad tones – but frequently her straightforward songs derail brilliantly….. Another triumph for Sundfør, who delivers complex, maudlin subjects with lightness and majesty.
Harriet Gibsone, The Guardian
Hugh Coltman: Shadows – The Songs of Nat King Cole & Live at Jazz at Vienne
Hugh Coltman has taken inspiration from one of the greatest crooners of all time, Nat King Cole. Coltman has got the same rasp in his voice as Cole, but I feel he is adding his very own touch both to the songs and to the album. He grew up with these songs; his mother played them over and over again, and although Coltman has done more pop than jazz standards in his career, you can hear this is music that he almost innately understands.
This double CD is my introduction to Hugh Coltman and now that I’ve discovered him I’ll keep my eye out for further releases…. I’ve always loved the music of Nat King Cole. My dad was an enthusiastic fan and our album of Nat’s greatest hits would regularly serenade the local neighbourhood, much to my mother’s annoyance….. Hugh Coltman has a good voice suited to jazz and he does a particularly good job of interpreting Nat King Cole’s songs….
Hugh’s vocal presentation captures the beautiful relaxed and understated delivery of Cole and I found myself forgetting that I wasn’t listening to the originals…. A good album that I’m sure all jazz and Nat King Cole fans will cherish.
Ian Philips, PS News
Father John Misty: Pure Comedy
Father John Misty has done it again. His previous album I named Album of the Year in 2015. I would argue that his new collection is of no lesser quality. There is something truly unique with his voice, with the peculiar choice of stories to tell. Each track is a little symphony, and can take repeated plays, in fact requires repetition.
So what’s (Pure Comedy) like? It’s like Father John Misty – ie totally early 70s Elton John. But where it was the good time boogie of Honky Chateau and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road that dominated last time, now it’s time for the introspection that ended his last album to continue with massive knobs on.
Gone is the smartass lothario, here now sits a man just as smart, but less concerned with his dick and more the dicks he believes we collectively have become. … it works because it’s so astonishingly, genuinely clever. God, art, politics, Ovid, boy bands, patriarchy, technology, mortality, God again… Tillman’s brains are splattered all over this and despite an ever-present narcissism that leaves his navel well and truly excavated, there’s a genuine empathy for the human condition here that makes for the perfect counterpoint to all this admittedly enjoyable misanthropy.
Mike Goldsmith, Record Collector
Dan Clews: While Middle England Mows Its Lawn
Dan Clews was brought out of the shadows by Sir George Martin of Beatles fame. Not that his music reminds me much of the Fab Four, but Clews is no doubt a true troubadour with a genuine English feel, even in the title While Middle England Mows Its Lawn. A remarkable album, so likeable and hummable.
Landscape Folk….Veering from lop-sided Ronnie Lane country-tonk to soothing, MOR folk pearls. His best yet.”
Bob Harris , Mojo
Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie: Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie
I keep thinking, this can’t be a new album? They don’t write and perform songs like this any more? Well, they surely do, and if you used to love the Mac, you’re in luck, for the kings and queens weren’t dead, at least two of them resurrected, and this truly utterly brilliant album came as a result. I have been given ten new sing-a-longs for the car.
Fleetwood Mac’s last masterpiece, Tango in the Night, relied heavily on Buckingham/McVie compositions, with the group’s third great songwriter, Stevie Nicks, generally absent. Now that McVie and Buckingham are back together in the touring Mac band for the first time since 1997, they’ve reunited in the studio for this succinct collection of gentle pop-rockers, familiar yet far more strange and beautiful than 2013’s brittle Fleetwood Mac EP. Buckingham’s spidery guitar shivers through Love Is Here to Stay and slays the solo on Carnival Begin, while McVie’s undimmed gift for melody illuminates every song.
Damien Morris, The Observer
Chris Price: Stop Talking
On of the most amazing new albums of the year is Stop Talking by Chris Price. Not since Harry Nilsson, John Miles and their likes have I heard more astonishing new pop music from a fairly new artist. Price is only 33 years old and have only made a few albums before this. There are virtually no songs on this album that are uninteresting and run-of-the-mill. Together with old hacks like McVie and Buckingham, Chris Price has invigorated pop music in 2017, but being new at the game makes it just that more impressive.
It is always a special (and quite seldom) moment when I finish to listen to a record for the first time and I instantly know this is an exceptional piece of work. Chris Price has achieved this with «Stop Talking». . . a hell of a record and hot candidate for my personal record of the year. It’s highly recommended!
Andy Leschnik, PowerPop Square
Justin Hurwitz: La La Land OST
I can’t remember last time I saw a movie and listened to a soundtrack that made so content, happy, but also a bit melancholic and nostalgic. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling sing so incredibly well together, and the music of Justin Hurwitz is perfectly integrated into this the loveliest of films. It is surprising that music so heavily infused with jazz and swing works so well in a movie for all ages in 2017.
Falling in love has always worked better with a soundtrack….. Chazelle and composer Justin Hurwitz have created a soundtrack of original songs that stand toe to toe with the great movie musicals of the past.
Zack Ruskin, Consequence of Sound
Eliane Elias: Dance of Time
Brazilian Eliane Elias is primarily a jazz pianist, but I adore her oh-so laid back vocal style. Yes, Diane Crall is perhaps the champion of the singing pianist club, but I must admit I like Elias considerably better. Dance of Time is her latest album. I have played and replayed this album throughout most of 2017, and I am still not bored with any of it. It is clever, musically oh so adept, but most of all it makes me feel.
Two years ago, Eliane Elias released Made In Brazil (Concord, 2015) and all it did was win the 2016 Grammy for Best Latin Album. It’s a great album and with Dance of Time, Elias hasn’t repeated a successful formula; she’s perfected it. This is an opulent recording, rich in its authenticity and lavish in its glorious accomplishments….
For nearly an hour Elias, deftly crafts a record that seems like a live performance augmented by a white-hot band of supporting musicians. Dance of Time fills the listener with joy as it soothes one moment on a sexy ballad like «Little Paradise» one moment and irresistibly swaying to «O Pato.»
Recorded in Brazil and produced by Steve Rodby and Marc Johnson, the musical and marital partner to Elias, the idea is to pay homage to 100 years of samba music and it more than delivers on that score.
There is a certain degree of frustration that comes with Dance of Time and that is despite how good it is it will struggle to find the audience and attention it so richly deserves. The sad truth is one would think—one would hope—scoring a Grammy award win would herald an awakening and a rediscovery of Brazilian jazz in general and Elias in particular. That probably won’t happen….
it belongs in the record collection of anyone who loves honest and authentic Brazilian jazz and Dance of Time is as honestly authentic as it gets. Eliane Elias has been one of the genre’s most consistently masterful virtuosos and even when she’s looking back fondly, she is still moving forward confidently. Needless to say this is top shelf material and highly recommended.
Jeff Winbush, All About Jazz
And – as an extra treat, here are previous number ones:
I Awake – Sarah Biasko
The River & The Thread – Roseanne Cash
I Love You, Honeybear – Father John Misty
JOANNE – Lady Gaga
So, that’s it folks. 2017 veers to an end, and we with it. I will be back in 2018 with lots of new, exciting, feel music. So watch this space. Happy new year to all readers and listeners, I really appreciate that you keep reading, keep commenting, keep sharing with others.