Happy New Year. Surely, 2017 can only be better than 2016. But who knows at the moment? What’s for sure is that music will always be a comfort. In that spirit, highly anticipated 2017 releases include confirmed albums from Elbow, Fleet Foxes, Foxygen, Grandaddy, Grizzly Bear, Horse Thief, Nadia Reid, Nikki Lane, Real Estate, Ryan Adams, The Shins, Son Volt, Strand of Oaks, and Sun Kil Moon. And then there’s always the H-LM wish list. This year, it includes Adrian Crowley, Alela Diane, Anaïs Mitchell, Bill Callahan, David Vandervelde, Feist, Field Report, Fionn Regan, First Aid Kit, Israel Nash, Jason Isbell, Jim White, Laura Veirs, Lewis & Clarke, Noah Gunderson, and Phosphorescent. Mind you, some of these artists were on my wish list this time last year. So, fingers are tightly crossed. Whatever happens, let’s start the new year with some good news. Word is in that Kramies is recording new demos. I can’t wait to hear the end result. In the meantime, here’s Kramies (feat. Jason Lytle) with ‘Clocks Were All Broken’.

Over the next four days, I am revealing my top 20 albums of the year. It’s in something approaching reverse order. Here’s part 1.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away

Push_the_Sky_Away

In some utopian community somewhere, small children are being taught Nick Cave. They will emerge as highly erudite, yet slightly worrying human beings. They will talk to you in a language you understand, but which has so many words to read in between that your head soon starts to spin and won’t stop. The magnificent ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ is on the exam paper this year.

Villagers – {Awayland}

villagers-awayland-artwork-620x620

Meanwhile the B stream are studying Villagers. It’s no easy module. Far more words. And just as many abstruse allusions. But plenty of great songs to keep you going. Fair play to Conor O’Brien, {Awayland} was no ‘Becoming A Jackal’ part 2. Something special was lost, but much was gained in return. The difficult third album will be a true test.

Ducktails – The Flower Lane

ducktails-the-flower

A Real Estate side project, Ducktails exceeded expectations. Whereas so many of the year’s bands aped the worst of mid-1980s, pre-Smiths, syntho-pop, Ducktails succeeded in persuading you that there was some good music in that era. There wasn’t, but Ducktails will do just fine, thanks. ‘Under Cover’ promised to be one of the best songs of the year and it didn’t disappoint.

Foxygen – We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic

comedysoundtrack.11183v9

It was a difficult year for Foxygen. But if this ends up being their one and only album together, then it will still have been worth it. Derivative? Check. Inspirational lyrics? Hardly. Good fun? Unquestionably. And great tunes? In abundance. Solo efforts from band members later in the year were underwhelming. So, let’s hope the guys kiss and make up and deliver another equally memorable album sometime soon.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II

homepage_large.cfadf244

Great shuffly, yet psychy sounds from one of New Zealand’s finest exports. (Oh, and Portland OR’s too). They pulled off the same trick as Foxygen, by producing an album that sounded ultra-retro, but that was full of contemporary hooks. Most of the album was mid-tempo, but they showed they could rock out when they wanted to. More power to UMO.

Foxygen – We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic

comedysoundtrack.11183v9

It’s always summer somewhere. This could be Foxygen’s motto. In the depths of a northern-hemisphere winter, Foxygen have released a blast of warm air and all-embracing sunshine. Nothing could be more welcome. More laid back than Ty Segall, Ariel Pink or Darwin Deez, Foxygen indulge themselves in 37 minutes of slacker psych. The influences are there for all to hear. ‘San Francisco’ is the west coast cousin of Village Green or Arthur-era Kinks. The title track is a missing mid-60s gem by The Rolling Stones. The chorus from ‘On Blue Mountain’ doesn’t so much resemble ‘Suspicious Minds’ as pass itself off as its long-lost twin brother come back to claim some of the copyright. In some hands, all of these influences would generate a soon-forgotten pastiche of an album. Here, though, they live side-by-side in the same song, in the same verse, sometimes in the same line as original Foxygen material. And that’s because each track is buzzing with ideas. So, even if the chorus on ‘On Blue Mountain’ does sound suspiciously like a well-known Elvis song, none of the rest of the track does. It’s three, four, five songs in one. It’s a lot to take in. And that’s the very beauty of the album. You keep desperately wishing, hoping, imploring them to give each song more structure, to make it cohere. But it’s the looseness, the agglomeration of ideas that makes it such a compelling listen. Maybe one day Foxygen will be a stadium band, belting out beautifully crafted and utterly boring sing-along anthems. Maybe they’ll end up like The Darkness, a parody of a band lost in a sea of influences. Maybe, though, they’ll continue to walk the fine line between imitation and innovation.

Foxygen Jagjaguwar site

Pitchfork review

Aquarium Drunkard review

Paste review

Consequence of Sound review

Drowned In Sound review

Irish Times review by Tony Clayton-Lea

The Line of Best Fit review

The Quietus review