Photo credit: Bruce Wang.
Graham Duff is a screenwriter, actor, producer and show-runner. His TV series include The Nightmare Worlds of HG Wells, Ideal, Hebburn and Dr. Terrible’s House of Horrible. He’s also published writings on left field music and contemporary art. His forthcoming book Foreground Music is a personal history of the live music scene in the United Kingdom. Here are Graham’s picks for the best albums of 2017.
20. Emmanuel - Rave Culture
An immediate yet artfully crafted album of energised machine music, courtesy of Italy’s Emmanuel (full name Emmanuel Beddewela). On the tensely pulsing “Chainreaction” Emmanuel seems to be mining the same seam as France’s Gesaffelstein. But when he adorns the otherwise sleek and gleaming rhythm with strange lopsided percussive fills, they transform the track into a thing of sublime strangeness. Beddewela’s attention to detail ensures, the whole album is as imaginative as it is thrilling. And if “Conductor” powers along like Jeff Mills at his most optimistic, elsewhere, tracks such as “Ultratribe” and “Killer Floor” operate as dark darts of full tilt 21st century techno.
19. The Dials - That Was The Future
No one could accuse The Dials of hiding their influences. Their sound is a glorious mix of late 60s pop-psych, fuzzed up guitars and funky 70s style keyboard and synth lines. Yet this is no exercise in homage. What sets The Dials apart is both the standard of their songwriting and Joe Allenby and Rich Parrish’s perfectly judged vocal melodies. Songs such as the genuinely funky “Cuckoo Stone” or the Spencer Davis Group style strut of “The Nark,” display an effortless cool. The band’s previous releases hinted at something great, but That Was The Future comes straight out and delivers it.
18. Akatombo - Short Fuse
Under his Akatombo alias, Paul T. Kirk has been releasing beautifully judged albums of stark, grainy hip hop inflected electronica since 2003’s Trace Elements. In 2015, Kirk’s life threatening health problems fed directly into his album Sometime, Never. That was a set cloaked in claustrophobic dread. But with Short Fuse, Kirk seems to have reached a position of bruised grace. He still fashions skanking rhythms of a mean and distorted aspect. But it feels like he’s able to let in a little more light than before. And the album frequently ups the pace, with tracks such as “George Kaplan” and “Solitude in Numbers” driven by a propulsive kinetic energy.
17. The Courtneys - II
Vancouver all girl trio The Courtneys are exponents of a catchy harmonic new wave pop, whilst also being home to some very gnarly guitar textures. Their sound is fat and driving, and, on “Minnesota,” Courtney Garvin’s guitar manages to sound like an overdriven keyboard. Vocalist Jen Twynn Payne is also the band’s drummer and she keeps the rhythms lean and uncluttered. The highlight is the closing “Frankie,” where Twynn Payne’s sad autumnal vocal melody is kept in motion by a precise motorik groove. There may be trace elements of Sonic Youth or Joy Zipper in their sound, but over the spread of this album, The Courtneys create their own distinct world.
16. Vukovar - Puritan
Vukovar are a band with feet in several camps. Opening track “Ubermensch” strides into view like an epic Walker Brothers ballad seen through the prism of post punk. On the other hand, S.S.S.” comes across like early Cure remixed by a space age King Tubby. Stand outs include the seesawing “Once More For The Puritan,” where Rick Clarke’s vocals are complemented by the sweet, clear tones of Elizabeth Mcnally. Elsewhere “This Moment Severed” could almost be an out take from Joy Division’s “Closer.” Puritan is an album of genuine poetry and exciting textures, beautifully underpinned by Buddy Preston’s richly detailed drum patterns.
15. Huoratron - XXVI Crimes Of Love
Foregrounding the strictest of electronic rhythms and thick burred chips of 8-bit noise, Huoratron (aka Aku Raski) is a Finnish electro house artist whose high impact dynamics connect directly with the body. A number of these tracks have already seen the light of day on earlier EPs, but they sit neatly next to newer pieces such as “Autocannibalism,” where sheets of detuned synth and twitchy glitched out rhythms collide with fragments of a drum and bass session. Much more suited to the dance floor, than domestic listening, there are nevertheless moments where headphone listening reveals astonishing feats of programming.
The rest of the list after the jump…