1. Charlie Fink – Cover My Tracks
Easily, easily my favourite album this year. A quiet, intimate little story telling album, that at places sounds like an extended tribute to Leonard Cohen, but the man can sing and there’s lots of colour. Best are the stories, the lyrics and the rush of images and hope. Unabashedly joyous without being naff, and timeless without sacrificing hooks. I’m still finding new moments of wonder in it every time. The best track is still the first, Firecracker, a simple story, beautifully told, culminating in an image as memorable as anything I’ve ever heard or read.
2. Real Estate – In Mind
Comes in seconds simply due to the number of plays. It’s like Television grew up in a stable family and got some sun. Long blissful jamming matched with long blissful lyrical nonsense. Everything here is serving mood and tone, and they hold it down for a whole album without getting boring. You can hear all the influences but still its own thing. If you like minute-plus intros, you’ll love this album.
3. Elbow – Little Fictions
I’ve always liked Elbow, but as I get older they make more and more sense. Go figure. The band create an inventive, emotional bed for Guy Garvey to be all wise and insightful. And they songs seep in, with incredible hooks, matched with an incredible way that Garvey sees the world. He’s mellowed with age too, and his kitchen sink love songs were the perfect antidote to 2017.
4. Toby Martin – Songs From Northam Avenue
A big change from Toby’s normal inventive pop, he collaborated with a bunch of musicians in Western Sydney to write songs about those suburbs. It leads to a more scrambled, rickety take on Martin’s pop smarts. Far more relaxed and sweet than his previous Love’s Shadow, there are great escapist moments – the single Spring Feeling is a real highlight and doesnt end up where you’d expect.
5. Laura Marling – Semper Femina
Marling continues to be on time – she’s done the Joni Mitchell folk period, and is now two albums into her Joni Mitchell sonic experimental period. This album seems to be a compilation of her last fee years. There’s jazzy songs, intimate acoustic songs and rocking electric songs. She also still sings with the experience of an 80 year old, spinning anachronistic stories about women in strife, and the living of life. Reliable, but let’s hope she mixes it up again.
6. John Kennedy – JFK & The Midlife Crisis
Not sure what I was expecting from a John Kennedy album in 2017, but he has delivered a pleasure of an album. So many of the songs here that sound like they should be radio smashes, with big choruses, and big hooks. His obsession with our place is not lost with plenty of Sydney, almost none more than the wonderful Peter Says, which mentions the Cat Protection Society in Enmore. His voice is sounding particularly great too.
7. Alex Dezen – II
Dezen made my favourite album last year. This doesn’t consistently reach the heights of the last one. It’s still a hopelessly sad album, matched with a more upbeat set, some are truly danceable. Simply put, a couple of duffers on this one, but then also moments of amazing beauty, like New York To Paradise, imagining his mother in heaven and getting her dreams. The themes continue from the last self titled album, and a nice book end. Heartbreaking honesty, without the Ryan Adams type posing, and actual song craft.
8. Paul Kelly – Life Is Fine
Every decade or so, Paul Kelly decides to make a crowd pleaser. And reminds us he can kick pop rock ass, if he only cared to. Life Is Fine is this decade’s collection – so fun, so soulful, so sexy. The first three tracks – Rising Moon, Finally Something Good, Firewood And Candles – are about as great as any Paul Kelly singles. Unlike his contemporaries (Walker, Finn, et all), Kelly has always been more red blooded, and he really lets that part of him shine. Surrounded as usual by a kick ass band, with plenty of Vika And Linda. Album cover of the year too.
9. Jen Cloher – Jen Cloher
Cloher probably knew her new album would be greeted with a big audience, with the success of her label. And in many ways, she has delivered a year one album – restating all the excellent things about her music, uncompromisingly. Restless, repetitive guitars mixed with beautifully thrown away lyrics. It’s less about intimacy, more about big statements. It’s matched with an energy that suggests these songs will be a lot of fun live (the album is incredibly captured).
10. Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott – Crooked Calypso
Three albums in four years, all of them huge chart successes in the UK. Heaton has found a fourth life (after the Housemartins, The Beautiful South and his solo career), and he is revelling in it. Writing for Abbott has brought a sweetness to his songs, and as usual he writes them with more energy and speed than anyone else his age. This album is even more indebted to Northern soul, and the big gospel-ly numbers probably reflect the large rooms they play. He’s still a grumpy old fuck – an unapologetically working class, anti-authoritarian, cynical, bitter bastard. But he makes it sound such fun. The soundtrack to dance with the madness of this year.
Here’s actual music videos from these albums, and 10 other albums/EPs I liked this year.