Album of the Year 2017: #17 Angelo Badalamenti – Twin Peaks S3 Soundtrack

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The return of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks was far and away the strangest thing to happen in 2017. Trump’s election? Forget that. Go and watch episode eight of the new season – ‘Gotta Light?’ – then tell me you’ve seen anything more perplexing, terrifying and brilliant since the beginning of January.

It wasn’t for everyone, no doubt. Season three was challenging right from the get go, with an experimental and bizarre first episode that I’m sure turned many off. I wasn’t convinced at first, either, but as the show went on I began to realize the genius behind its disjointed and jarring transitions, its flatly sinister tone and mysterious side stories with no obvious purpose.

It was also absolutely hilarious at times, in a way that Lynch very often doesn’t get credit for. How about the scene where Jerry is taking a drug-addled stroll through the forest and then hallucinates that his foot is talking to him? The brilliant five-minute cameo of Michael Cera as ridiculous cool-guy Wally Brando? The countless moments of slapstick brilliance with Dougie, AKA Mr Jackpot?

Season three was an enigma, full of hilarity in horror in equal measure. And a large part of its mystique comes from Angelo Badalamenti’s incredible soundtrack, much as was the case in the show’s first two seasons. Twin Peaks has some of the most instantly recognizable and iconic TV themes of all time, no question – the sweeping nostalgia of the title theme, the sinister and lovesick ‘Laura Palmer’s Theme’, the whimsical ‘Audrey’s Dance’…

These classics make their way on to the soundtrack of season three, too, but they sit alongside new pieces from Badalamenti, as well a couple of contributions from other musicians who are favourites of Lynch. Chromatic’s Johnny Jewel offers up the sultry and spellbinding ‘Windswept (reprise)’, while Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki’s horrifying ‘Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima’ sets every nerve on edge.

Badalamenti’s new pieces range from chilling (‘Dark Mood Woods’) to mystical (‘The Fireman’), to rapturous (‘Night’). He wrings drama from every note and chord of these ambient songs, all of which are relatively simple in composition and yet infinitely evocative. And he manages to bring them all together into a cohesive project alongside existing music from his own back catalogue, and that of his guest musicians.

Twin Peaks (Limited Event Series Soundtrack) is its own self-contained world, and that is just about the highest praise that can be heaped upon a soundtrack. Listening to it brings back strong memories of the show’s distant and recent past, but it is also evocative enough to suggest so many more scenes – perhaps even alternate realities – within the show’s dazzlingly strange universe. Grab yourself some coffee and a donut, put some wood on the fire, and stick this on your speakers. You won’t regret it.

Album of the Year 2017: #18 Jay-Z – 4:44

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Is there any living rapper with a more successful and storied career than Jay-Z? Any rapper who has built so large an empire and yet remained, unlike a Dr Dre, musically relevant even to this day? I can’t think of one if there is – the man known as Shawn Carter has been one of the biggest names in music for close to thirty years, and 4:44 is the introspective late-career rap album that draws a line under all those achievements.

It’s a humble, often low key and very personal album, in which Jay addresses the infidelity rumours surrounding his marriage, reflects on his business acumen, and muses on fatherhood. His rapping is mellow and revealing, sometimes bordering on spoken word as he pulls back the curtain on his hustler persona.

Hova makes a couple of appearances – on the braggadocious reggae bounce of ‘Bam’ and the nostalgic ‘Marcy Me’. But by and large this is a Shawn Carter album – conversational, real, and apologetic. On the album’s title track, over a soulful beat, he speaks directly to his wife: ‘I apologise, often womanise / Took for my child to be born to see through a woman’s eyes’.

That frankness can be found in nearly every song on 4:44. Opener ‘Kill Jay-Z’ finds him addressing the critics and listeners who condemned his infidelity, and wrote off his music career: ‘How can we know if we can trust Jay-Z?’ He takes all the criticism in stride, and makes no attempt to defend himself, just resolves to correct as many mistakes as he can: ‘You gotta do better, boy you owe it to Blue’.

In ‘The Story of OJ’ he takes on the history of racism over a jazz-bar piano slide. In ‘Smile’ he raps about coming to terms with and loving yourself, revealing his mother’s struggles coming out as a lesbian. And in closer ‘Legacy’, which features a voice recording of his five-year old daughter, he muses on how the money he has made will affect his children’s lives.

It’s unexpected stuff from the rap game’s most exuberant hustler, and a far cry from ‘Big Pimpin’ or Reasonable Doubt. But it’s brilliant, and it makes for one of his best albums yet in combination with the fantastic production work by No I.D, who handled every single track. These ten songs are soulful, spacious, and feature some excellent sample work to boot.

It’s often said that hip-hop is a young man’s game, but 4:44 provides a blueprint for longevity. Unlike Hov’s last Blueprint, this one strips away all the persona and egotism, leaving behind nothing but passion, emotion and vulnerability. These qualities are a rare find in hip-hop, but it is them that set 4:44 apart as one of the best albums of 2017.

 

 

Album of the Year 2017: #19 Slowdive – Slowdive

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Shoegaze innovators Slowdive returned with a fantastic self-titled album in 2017, delivering another helping of blissful, intergalactic dream-pop. Their return more than lived up to the enormous legacy of the genre they helped pioneer, and comfortably blew all imitators out of the water.

The eight songs of Slowdive are laced in a sugary film of reverb, with each carefully placed chord, rhythm and note sounding out as if in an enormous echo chamber. The album feels spacious to the extreme, limitless even: the soupy production effortlessly fuses guitars and keyboards together into one almost indistinguishable whole, to wonderful effect. Slowdive envelops the ears in a way few albums do.

Which isn’t to say that the record is mellow, by any means – songs like ‘Star Roving’ and ‘Go Get It’ are among the loudest the band has ever recorded. The former builds a driving space-rock groove from multi-tracked guitars and harmonized vocals, while the latter feels a bit post-rock with an interesting quiet/loud dynamic, as whisper-quiet verses erupt into a huge chorus: ‘I wanna see it / I wanna feel it’

For a band who hadn’t released any new music in over twenty years, Slowdive came back sounding full of confidence in 2017. Their new record was meticulous and panoramic: as delicate as a spider’s web, but as eternal as a galaxy. And certainly among the best of the year.

Album of the Year 2017: #20 Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights

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On ‘Shadowboxing’, the fourth track from Julien Baker’s Turn Out the Lights, she sings: ‘There’s a comforting failure / Singing too loud in church / Screaming my fears into speakers / Until I collapse or burst’. These lines get right to the heart of what makes her second album so special – Turn Out the Lights understands the redemptive power of music, and comforting failure is exactly the feeling I get from it.

Across these eleven tracks, Julien airs out her fears and insecurities with intimate confidence, tackling the subject of depression and mental illness. She does so in a manner that is both sensitive and raw, like an open wound in the process of healing. The mood is sombre, but never without even the smallest glimmer of hope, and it is this that gives the album its cathartic power.

On ‘Hurt Less’, a simple and gorgeous piano ballad, Julien recounts how her depression became at one point so bad that she stopped wearing seatbelts while driving, and would fantasize about crashing through the windscreen: ‘I didn’t see the point / In trying to save myself’. But as the piano chords pick up power and a building violin brings the song to a climax, a shred of hope is found: ‘This year I started wearing safety belts / When I’m driving…’

It’s these small lyrical details that really set Turn Out the Lights apart. At no point does it fall back on tired metaphors and general gloom. At every step, Julien finds poetry in moments of day to day existence, like when a hole in her apartment’s drywall teaches her to ‘get used to the gaps’. Or how about this lovely line from ‘Appointments’: ‘Nothing turns out like I pictured it / Maybe the emptiness is just a lesson in canvasses’.

Musically, Turn Out the Lights is not a particularly adventurous record – Julien employs piano and guitar with heavy use of loop medals and reverb in most songs, some of which feature guest musicians on saxophone and strings. But the melodies are the sort that get immovably lodged in your brain, and Julien’s voice brings each one to life – even those that fixate heavily on death. Her singing is delicate but commanding, immediately grabbing the ear and positively pouring out emotion.

Turn Out the Lights is a painful listen at times, but always a rewarding one. It reminds us to never stop looking for that tiny glimmer of hope in the darkness, whether we find it in religion, love, or – in music.

 

Album of the Year 2017: Honourable Mentions #2

Here’s #35 – #21 of my album of the year, rounding off the honourable mentions before we get into the top 20. From here on out, every album gets its own dedicated post so stay tuned 🙂

#35 Tyler The Creator – Flower Boy
Genre: Hip-hop

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Flower Boy was an unexpected development for Tyler the Creator, who made his name with some of this decade’s most obnoxious and controversial hip-hop. In it, he came out as gay and produced a suite of 14 heartfelt, honest songs that were a far cry from ‘Bitch Suck Dick’ or ‘Kill People, Burn Shit, Fuck School’. There was a heavy debt owed to funk and soul, particularly Stevie Wonder, but still plenty of space for bangers like ‘Who Dat Boy’ and ‘I Aint Got Time!’. Easily the most pleasant surprise of 2017.

 

#34 Godflesh – Post Self
Genre: Industrial Metal

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I wasn’t too sure what to expect from a new record by Godflesh, who were pioneers of industrial metal in the late 80s/early 90s – I’d only heard their classic Streetcleaner, which was approaching 30 years old at this point. So Post Self was a real surprise: the level of ferocity still on show from the band is staggering, and the size of the sound has increased exponentially. The thunderous drum beats are slow and plodding, but with a groove that makes them almost hip-hop, and the enveloping basslines are colossal. Post Self feels cyberpunk as shit, and is the kind of music I imagine a far-future drug dealer listening to while selling illegal bio-implants out the back of a beat up hovercar.

 

#33 Max Richter – Three Worlds: Music from Woolf Works
Genre: Neo-classical

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Max Richter is my favourite modern-day classical composer, and Virginia Woolf one of my favourite writers of all time. So it was a pretty sweet coincidence earlier this year to learn that the man had just released the soundtrack to a ballet based on three Virginia Woolf novels. I haven’t seen the ballet because I’m not rich (or Russian), but the music is beautiful – sweeping minimalist compositions of strings and piano, interspersed with both real recordings of Virginia Woolf, and actors reading her words. The stunning final track opens with a reading of Woolf’s suicide note set to the breaking of waves (she drowned herself in a river near her home), which segways into a twenty-minute oceanic swell of strings and voice that is truly awe-inspiring.

 

#32 Joey Bada$$ – All-Amerikkkan Bada$$
Genre: Conscious Hip-hopImage result for all amerikkkan

2017 has seen lots of political music, particularly in the United States. Trump’s election understandably left people with a whole lot to say, and has been a hot topic in hip-hop as well. But very few navigated the murky waters of the ‘State of the Nation’ album better than Joey Badass, whose latest record was a clear-eyed, soulful, and very personal take on America in 2017. It had silky-smooth rallying songs like ‘For My People’, but also barn-burning riot starters like ‘Rockabye Baby’ and ‘Ring the Alarm’.

 

#31 The Horrors – V
Genre: Neo-psychedelia

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The Horrors’ V is a fantastic slice of British neo-psychedelia – funky, tightly written and drawing from a wide range of influences. ‘Press Enter to Exit’ is full of slow-motion dub reggae beats, ‘Weighed Down’ is a psychedelic ballad that recalls Screamadelica, while closer ‘Something to Remember Me By’ has an airy, deep house groove. The Horrors look far afield for ideas, but they make it all work in a cohesive record that sits among the year’s best.

 

#30 Oddisee – The Iceberg
Genre: Conscious Hip-hop

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Sudanese-born MC Oddisee is surely one of the most underrated rappers out there. The man has been putting out albums almost every single year for a while now, usually entirely self-produced, and always of a very high quality. His music brings a strong jazz/funk influence to the table, and his ear for sampling is impeccable. Lyrically he is phenomenal, switching up flows at will as he raps about a broad range of topics. On The Iceberg, he ranges over materialism, racism, mental illness and love, always with an introspective eye and a talent for storytelling.

 

#29 William Basinski – A Shadow in Time
Genre: Ambient, Drone

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William Basinski’s A Shadow in Time, much like his most famous work The Disintegration Loops, is an ambient record obsessed with death and decay, and the ways it can be expressed through music. The first of its two twenty minute tracks is a mournful elegy to David Bowie – a gloomy drone of echoing keyboards and haunted saxophones that is both chilling and beautiful. The second is lighter, but still sinister and of mysterious origin. Taken as a whole, the album becomes one giant, hypnotizing pattern, circling overhead like a vulture.

 

#28 King Krule – The OOZ
Genre: Art Pop, Psychedelic Hip-Hop, Post-Punk, ???

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King Krule’s The OOZ is one of the harder records to describe on this list – it’s a unique blend of trippy hip-hop, moody art pop and post-punk that doesn’t sound like anything else released in 2017. Archie Marshall’s brooding baritone howls, croons and whispers its way through a lengthy album that deals with love, loneliness and urban isolation. It’s a record that’s very London, both in the thick accent of its creator but also in the constant references to tube stations, nightlife, lonely streetlights and bars. The OOZ is mysterious and poetic, an aimless wander through dark city streets that is ripe for getting lost in.

 

#27 Angles 9 – Disappeared Behind the Sun
Genre: Experimental Jazz

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Angles 9 are a nine-strong collective of Scandinavian jazz musicians, and Disappeared Behind the Sun is the most batshit insane jazz music I’ve heard in years. The band have five different brass players who all play at the same time – two sax, one cornet, a trumpet, and a trombone – and they frequently shift in and out of unison. The effect is huge and bombastic, often building to enormous, stomping climaxes that are reminiscent of Coltrane’s Ascension, which is still the pinnacle of experimental noisy jazz fuckery. A simple, groovy rhythm and piano section help keep two feet on the ground.

 

#26 Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell Live
Genre: Folk, Indie Folk

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Sufjan Steven’s Carrie & Lowell was impressive enough by itself – a confessional record that wrung cathartic beauty from emotional trauma. But Suffy returned for a victory lap in 2017 with Carrie & Lowell Live, which re-imagined the quiet folk songs as lavish stadium fillers. Passages of solo banjo strumming became panoramic synth washes, losing none of their intimacy while quadrupling in size. Few artists could turn something so personal and distressing into something so collectively joyful, and even fewer could top it all off with a cover of ‘Hotline Bling’. Marvellous.

 

#25 James Holden – The Animal Spirits
Genre: Progressive electronic, Techno

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James Holden has a talent for making electronic music with a mystical edge, and The Animal Spirits is perhaps his best record yet. It sounds like techno as played by tiny magical pixies in an enchanted forest, full of twinkling synth melodies, warping keyboards, and raucous saxophones. The album seems to inhabit its own world, and listening to it feels like getting pleasantly lost inside a very strange, unfamiliar place. It has its loud moments, too: tracks like ‘Thunder Moon Gathering’ and ‘Pass Through the Fire’ are very atmospheric but build to big, eye-widening climaxes.

 

#24 Rina Sawayama – RINA EP
Genre: Pop

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Another of the year’s most fascinating new artists, Rina Sawayama is a Japanese London-born singer whose debut EP contained some of the most progressive pop music of 2017. At times it was very futuristic, looking towards trap/alternative R&B, while other moments embraced the sugary-sweet melodies of J-pop or a 2000s-era style of pop that recalled Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera. Rina and producer Clarence Clarity combined all these different styles into a cohesive pop record, and put together some of the catchiest goddamn songs of the year with ‘Ordinary Superstar’ and ‘Alterlife’. The lyrics, meanwhile, were hypermodern: they dealt with romance in the age of technology, and how the internet affects love and relationships in 2017.

 

#23 Ryuichi Sakamoto – async
Genre: Ambient, Neo-Classical

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Japanese pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto has been releasing music for around forty years now, and is something of a legend in experimental music circles. I’ve always found him interesting if a bit impenetrable up until this point, but async is as good an entrance point as any. There are gorgeous, melancholy ambient tunes like the mournful organ of opener ‘andata’, or the dreamy ‘solari’. And then there are strange but alluring songs like ‘walker’, which is nothing but the recorded sound of somebody walking through a forest set to a few plaintive piano chords and the sound of crunching twigs. Taken as a whole the album is somewhat perplexing, but always hypnotically pretty.

 

#22 Converge – The Dusk In Us
Genre: Metalcore, Hardcore Punk

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Metalcore veterans Converge returned with another fantastic album in 2017, breathing fresh life into their aggressive fusion of hardcore punk and metal. The Dusk In Us was absolutely savage, moving at faster than light speed with pummelling drums and acrobatic guitar work. Jacob Bannon’s guttural howls were as horrifying as ever, but there were moments of real beauty in between the chaos, where he reflected on marriage and fatherhood: ‘When I held you for the first time, I knew I had to survive…’. The title track, meanwhile, pursued a slower, post-rock inspired sound to wonderful effect, feeling like a moment of immaculate calm inside a furious sonic hurricane.

 

#21 Kamasi Washington – Harmony of Difference EP
Genre: Spiritual Jazz

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Kamasi Washington’s magnificent 2015 album The Epic took me some time to appreciate, simply by virtue of being three discs and three hours long. But on Harmony of Difference, Washington condensed his plentiful jazz talents down into one thirty minute EP, which is much more digestible. The record offers up several takes on the same fantastic theme, taking a brief detour through Latin jazz, before arriving at the magnificent ‘Truth’, a 13-minute mini epic that sits among the year’s best tracks. As the choral vocals swell behind Washington’s colossal saxophone and the drums reach a thunderous climax, it’s hard not to feel like you’re being carried off to heaven on the wings of angels. Awesome, in the trust sense of the word.

Album of the Year 2017 – Honourable Mentions #1

Hello everyone. It’s the first day of December, and that means it’s time for me to get started on what’s become an annual event at The Wooden Man – the rundown of my favourite albums of the year. I’ve listened to a whole lot of music in 2017, as always, and this list is going to consist of the 50 albums (and EPs) that I loved.

My top 20 will each get a dedicated post, and I’ll try my best to keep to my schedule of one each day, to finish before the year is out. But to kick things off, we’re going to run down the list of honourable mentions: the 30 albums that I still loved, but didn’t quite make it into my top 20. All of these albums are fantastic, and I would thoroughly recommend you check out any that sound interesting.

#50 Brockhampton – Saturation II
Genre: Hip-hop, R&B

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2017’s most hyped new artist was Brockhampton, an alternative hip-hop collective from California calling themselves a boy band, who became an overnight sensation with their breakout album Saturation. True to the name, the group released a second album just months later which was, to my ears, their strongest. Psychedelic, personal, fresh, and full of emerging talent.

 

#49 Alvvays – Antisocialites
Genre: Indie Pop, Twee Pop

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A genre that I usually steer well clear of, but Antisocialites is the exception. This album is full of gorgeous, wistful pop tunes and playful indie rock in equal measure, breezing past the ears like flowers on spring wind. At 31 minutes, Antisocialites is certainly short and sweet, but it never falls into the trap of being too sweet, like so many other indie pop albums.

 

#48 Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
Genre: Hip-hop, Electronic

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An unexpected left-turn from one of the bigger names in mainstream hip-hop, whose latest album was influenced by house music and UK garage. Somehow it worked, and ended up being one of the most interesting mainstream hip-hop records of the year. Compact, danceable rave-rap, with plenty of big singles to boot. I WAS UP LATE NITE BALLIN

 

#47 Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness
Genre: Folk

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Not Even Happiness is the sort of wandering, lonely folk music, very much in the vein of Joni Mitchell, that I’ve always had a soft spot for. Julie Byrne’s voice is low and mystical, her guitar playing simple but very beautiful. The lyrics, while occasionally slipping into cafe-wanderlust cliché, are also very moving: ‘To me the cities howl / But I know you call it home / I was made for the green / Made to be alone…’

 

#46 The xx – I See You
Genre: UK Bass, Pop

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A convergence of the moody indie pop of The XX’s first album with the vibrant bass music of Jamie XX’s solo material. While I See You was a bit of an uneven album, the highlights were glorious: the triumphant horn sample on ‘Dangerous’, the wistful ‘Say Something Loving’, and the slinky ‘Replica’. I have very fond memories of listening to this album while running along the bank of the Brisbane river in February, and putting it on always takes me back to the water, the city lights, the clear night air…beautiful.

 

#45 Various Artists – Mono No Aware
Genre: Ambient

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Mono No Aware is a collection of ambient music from artists on the PAN record label, who I’d never heard of before but, on this evidence, seem to be at the forefront of the genre in 2017. These 16 soundscapes are by turns nostalgic, sinister, and futuristic – some provide gorgeous backdrops of luscious synths and the sound of falling rain, while others are more like the inner workings of sentient androids. Intriguing.

 

#44 Amenra – Mass VI
Genre: Sludge Metal, Post-Rock

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A blast of atmospheric Belgian sludge metal as beautiful as it is menacing, much like its album cover – a photograph of a dead swan spread out majestically across a black table. Mass VI roars with throat-shredding fury, but the sweeping production and harmonious guitars make it all strangely pretty, as do the interludes of French poetry which break up the carnage.

 

#43 Fleet Foxes – Crack Up
Genre: Indie Folk

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Six years after their last album, Fleet Foxes returned with another lavish, immaculately produced indie folk opus. Though the template hadn’t changed much, the songwriting remained impeccable and the mood was one of euphoric, summery bliss. Some light sprinklings of electronics and psychedelia brought a bit of variety to mix, while Robin Pecknold’s harmonized vocals remained as spine-tingling as ever.

 

#42 Sampha – Process
Genre: Alternative R&B

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Sampha’s Process was a blueprint for progressive R&B  in 2017 – a symphonic blend of organic and synthetic sounds, all bent around Sampha’s delicate, emotive voice. The way tracks like ‘Plastic 100c’ and ‘Reverse Faults’ combine futuristic trap percussion with harps, guitars and keyboards is truly eye-widening at moments, and serves as an unexpected backdrop for some very personal lyrics about grief and loss. As a side note, when I reviewed this album back in February I TOTALLY predicted it would win the Mercury Prize, and it did. So I’m the best music critic on the internet, basically.

 

#41 Blanck Mass – World Eater
Genre: Electro-Industrial

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The scariest album of 2017 is undoubtedly Blanck Mass’ World Eater, a twisted cacophony of electro-industrial noise that is as groovy as it is evil. The seven tracks within are full of coiled up, serpentine rhythms, sour synthesizers and huge trunk-knocking bass: it could almost be club music, but only if the club in question was a BDSM club exclusively for vampires and werewolfs. Fuck yeah.

 

#40 Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins
Genre: Neo-psychedelia, Psychedelic Rockhttps://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/51/Grizzly-bear-paintedruins-cover.jpg

Grizzly Bear’s latest album found them departing somewhat from their indie rock / chamber pop roots and jumping head first into neo-psychedelia, making another very solid album in the process. Painted Ruins is kaleidoscopic and woozy, moving at a cough-syrupy pace but erupting into occasional bursts of psychedelic noise.

 

#39 Kelela – Take Me Apart
Genre: Alternative R&B, Hip-Hop

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Another record at the cutting edge of alt-R&B, Kelela’s Take Me Apart was the sexiest album I heard all year. Each of the 14 tracks here were spacious, bassy, and full of detail, owing much to the production efforts of Arca and Jam City. I’ve often found Arca’s productions a bit messy, but on Take Me Apart Kelela’s powerful voice holds them together into a cohesive and confident album.

 

#38 Billy Woods – Known Unknowns
Genre: Abstract Hip-Hop, Experimental Hip-Hop

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Billy Woods is one of hip-hops biggest enigmas – a pot-smoking urban prophet who has never revealed his face and conducts no interviews, but emerges from his mysterious hole every couple of years to bless us with a new album. Known Unknowns is villainous post-internet boom-bap, and just try to wrap your head around the lyrics: ‘Head on swivel, prosthetic hand on pistol / Ham on griddle, ribbons of gristle / Found me in the woods – fire low, roach little / Eyes aglow, mouth full of riddles’

 

#37 Lorde – Melodrama
Genre: Pop

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Lorde emerged as a full-blown pop star in 2017 off the back of her huge single ‘Green Light’ and its accompanying music video, which was one of the year’s best. But she proved herself to be far more than a one-hit wonder with the full-length Melodrama, which mined a rich vein of bass and house music to become the boldest and most exciting pop album to come out of the mainstream this year. Full of huge anthems and youthful energy, Melodrama exudes a confidence beyond its years.

 

#36 The National – Sleep Well Beast
Genre: Indie Rock

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The National have been making wonderfully sombre indie rock albums for the best part of the 21st century now, and Sleep Well Beast is no exception. It features some of the bands most melancholy ballads alongside their loudest songs yet, like the stomping, Nick-Cave-style ‘Turtleneck’. Sleep Well Beast is a comforting kind of sadness, a bittersweet album that wraps around you like a warm blanket.

On Sexual Predators and the Business of Shame

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Hello everyone. Before starting this article, which is going to be very serious, I’d just like to take a second to acknowledge that I recently hit 1000 views for 2017 on The Wooden Man, which has been a life goal I’ve been aspiring to for a while now. My aim was to reach that number before the end of the year, and I’ve hit it without even starting 2017’s Album of the Year, which is amazing. So thank you for reading, everyone.

1.) The Power of Celebrity

Now, as I’m sure anyone who has been following the news will have noticed, there have been several stories of high-profile sexual abuse, misconduct and harassment in mainstream media outlets and beyond over the past few weeks. First there was the Weinstein scandal, then the allegations against Kevin Spacey, who tried to deflect child abuse claims by coming out as bisexual.

Then there was Louis CK, and George Takei. And then, a week before me and my brother had tickets to see them live in the O2 Brixton, emo/rock band Brand New cancelled all upcoming shows following accusations of sexual misconduct against lead singer Jesse Lacey. Lacey admitted via a Facebook post he had manipulated women and cheated in the past, while ignoring (though clearly not denying) claims he solicited nude pictures from a fifteen year old girl.

That one was a particularly tough pill to swallow. Brand New were a band I, like many other people, was emotionally invested in. But listening to their music now makes me incredibly uncomfortable – lyrics that used to read as generalized relationship melodrama are now pretty plainly the confessions of an emotional abuser. Take these, from the anthemic ‘Me vs Maradona vs Elvis’, which I’m sure thousands of teenagers have belted out in their bedrooms:

‘I got desperate desires and unadmirable plans / My tongue will taste of gin and malicious intent / Bring you back to the bar get you out of the cold / My sober straight face gets you out of your clothes … You laugh at every word trying hard to be cute / I almost feel sorry for what I’m gonna do’

Perhaps we were being wilfully ignorant. If I’m honest, I knew listening to ‘Me vs Maradona vs Elvis’ that the song carried undertones of emotional if not sexual abuse, certainly a heavy dose of power and manipulation. But it’s easy to ignore when it comes from someone you admire, and that’s precisely the attitude that has enabled these men to do the things they have done, whether it was Lacey, Weinstein, Spacey, or anyone else.

The tidal wave of allegations that have been levelled against countless men in the last few weeks are a sign that sexual harassment and assault are far more widespread that many of us would dare admit, and are a chilling reminder of how celebrities can abuse the very real power we all collectively grant them.

 

2.) The Business of Shame

At the same time, the way these stories are being reported concerns me. I feel that the conversation surrounding these issues has shifted from a measured and very important discussion to a blind witch-hunt, and that respectable publications are sinking to tabloid tactics, throwing as many bodies as possible onto a funeral pyre of public shame while we all rub our hands with malicious joy.

Before I go any further, I want to share a screenshot I took from the frontpage of msn.com about two months ago, before any of the sexual misconduct stories broke. I was trying to log into Outlook and was stopped in my tracks by the page below, which struck me as hilarious and disgusting in equal measure:

msn ss

SLAMMED. Three of four top stories describe how different people are being SLAMMED, either for their appearance or their political views. Another two stories below describe people who are furious about things, while the rest are cheap attempts at provocation (Dec on holiday, the Grenfell lady). If it wasn’t already disgustingly apparent, shame and fury are the language of tabloid journalism.

But the wider media world is well versed in that language, too. In the days after the Jesse Lacey story broke, I checked the News section of music website Pitchfork regularly, and every single time I did I found a new story of sexual misconduct or harassment. That isn’t an exaggeration. Here are six separate stories in which people have been accused of sexual misconduct, and one in which Morrisey gets publicly shamed for defending Kevin Spacey:

https://pitchfork.com/news/russell-simmons-accused-of-sexually-assaulting-a-minor/

https://pitchfork.com/news/fyf-fest-founder-sean-carlson-accused-of-sexual-assault/

https://pitchfork.com/news/pinegrove-cancel-tour-after-accusation-of-sexual-coercion-against-frontman-evan-stephens-hall/

https://pitchfork.com/news/morrissey-defends-kevin-spacey-questions-accusers-motives/

https://pitchfork.com/news/backstreet-boys-nick-carter-accused-of-rape/

https://pitchfork.com/news/the-gaslamp-killer-sues-over-rape-allegations/

The story about Backstreet Boys’ Nick Carter is about twenty minutes old as of my writing this – I checked in with Pitchfork once more before finishing this article and found yet another sexual misconduct story. Two of the above stories are regarding people I’ve never even heard of, but am presumably still supposed to be outraged about. And the last one is crucial, because it details an accusation of sexual misconduct which as of writing is unverified and currently being settled in court, but which led to The Gaslamp Killer being dropped from his label and event organizer.

Now, please don’t think for a second that I’m defending the actions, proven or alleged, of any of these men. Of course I am not. Any form of sexual misconduct, anything non-consensual in any way, is deplorable and disgusting. But many publications are walking a thin line at the moment, and a lot of unverified information is being thrown around just to add fuel to the fire of this story.

And here’s something else important to think about: the front page of msn.com is full of ads. Those ads are paid for by businesses that are literally cashing in on public outrage. Likewise, Pitchfork are making money every single time anyone clicks one of the links above, and the fact that all these stories have risen to the top of the front page suggests that many people are.

Public shame is a business, one which is very cleverly able to hide its dubious motives behind a veil of righteous indignation. Yes, it is a good thing that these stories come to light if they make people step back and realize the extent of sexual misconduct. But ask yourself – do you really think publications like Pitchfork, even the BBC, are primarily pushing these stories because of a social justice agenda? Or is it because scandal sells, and sexual misconduct is a huge views driver?

I think it is the latter, and I’d like to suggest people take a step back to think about WHY they are outraged, WHO they are really outraged at, and WHICH corporations are making money from that outrage.

PS please don’t publicly shame me for writing this

The Wooden Man