Music

The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness

I’ve made a lovely little (long) Spotify playlist of all the artists/tracks listed.

WARNING: This is a text heavy post – no pictures to speak of. Don’t want to get in trubs with the copyright police. 

The system only dreams in total darkness. Sounds like a line from Philip K Dick’s ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ or Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, where they meet Blaine the pain. (If you haven’t read either, I highly recommend you do. Whilst Blade Runner is a GREAT film, The Dark Tower isn’t, and neither do the books justice.)

This isn’t a post about books though. I thought it would be nice to look back at what was brilliant about music in 2017. Some great bands resurfaced with new albums (Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Beck) and I also discovered a boot-full of bands whom I’d never heard of.

None of this would be possible without the (ringing endorsement to follow) help of Spotify. I’ve been a paid up subscriber for a couple of years now and whilst there are many pitfalls for artists (which I don’t want to get into here), I genuinely think that it’s brilliant for music to be much more accessible through one regular payment rather than buying hundreds of albums. I use it as a ‘try before you buy’ service too, and always buy the albums of bands I genuinely enjoy listening to. Hell, I’d pay more for Spotify, I use it every day.

I have tried to quantify what makes each song/band/album qualify for this list, but it’s quite impossible. Sometimes I can put it into words, sometimes I can’t. I like songs because they have a catchy melody or a tune you can’t sit still to, or the words mean something. Most of the time that doesn’t matter. I’ve learnt that you can like a song just because. It took me a long time to learn that. You don’t need to justify it to anyone. Hell, Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You is a cracking tune. Doesn’t mean I’m his biggest fan. Galway Girl is terrible. But not everybody thinks that, so I don’t want to force my opinions on anyone. Having perused the list once more, it turns out I’m still very much into American Indie/Garage Rock. No surprises there!

So, here are the songs I’ve loved of 2017, and albums. I’m looking forward to what 2018 has to bring. (New Turin Brakes, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Eels, The Decemberists for a start.)

Songs I loved in 2017. (Note, they might not have necessarily been released in 2017!)

Everything Now – Arcade Fire

This is a brilliant song. Especially with the Coca-Cola song woven in underneath. I can’t sit still when I hear it.

The System only Sleeps in Total Darkness – The National

The first single of the new album and it’s a winner for me. Edgier and with added guitar solos!

Hometown – Hypoluxo

When I first heard this song I thought it was another side project from Matt Berninger of The National! Turns out it’s not even remotely related, and after about 50 repeated listens it turns out it sounds nothing like him. I love the hook in this song, it’s uplifting, yet slightly sad at the same time. Like returning to where you grew up and looking out on the vista. Something slightly beautiful, but melancholic all at once. If you know the Peak District at all, the vista I’m imagining right now is climbing to Millstone Edge and looking across Surprise View towards Mam Tor. You know it.

Two High – Moon Taxi

This song is a belter. It does sound a little bit like an Avicii number, and should totally be remixed into a dance tune. However, when the brass kicks in, it doesn’t half make me smile.

The Nightclub Artiste – Moonface

This is such a lovely dreamy song and makes me think of super dingy nightclubs. Everybody has done something dodgy in a nightclub. Just entering Corporation in Sheffield counts.

I Want to Tell You About What I Want – Robyn Hitchcock

The lyrics in this song are brilliant. Hitchcock sounds slightly ‘snidey’ (yeah I know, not a word, but you understand what I mean) like he’s silently judging you and the world around him. Skiddily bop bop.

Ohio – Damien Jurado

The remix of this song also sounds like it should be an Avicii number. Maybe I’m a fan of Avicii? It’s a lovely song from 1999, and anything by Jurado is great. Particularly Visions of Us on the Land. Particularly QACHINA on that album.

Teddy I’m Ready – Ezra Furman

I fully expected not to like Ezra Furman, but this song, and subsequent listens to his other stuff has proved me wrong. I love this one, it’s slightly anthemic, and fun to sing along to.

Waiting Honey – El Pino and the Volunteers

Running Home to You – Bee Caves

Dirty Hound – Cicada Rhythm

Whalebones – Man Man

Airplanes – Local Natives

Only for You – Heartless Bastards

Mont Blanc – Quiet Hollers

As the World Caves In – Matt Maltese

Morning Star – Cass McCombs (this song has the best line… “what’s it like, to shit in space”

River – Akron/Family

The above songs were all found from various pre-loaded Spotify playlists – think ‘Lost In the Woods’ ‘Mellow Dinner’ types. They were all added to a personal playlist upon one listen whilst working. So I wasn’t even paying attention to the actual song content, just something about them made me want to listen further, and again. Also, two of the above 10 are about the end of the world, which seemed apt last year. (Mont Blanc & As the World Caves In).

Happy Family – Sundara Karma

I tried to listen to the rest of Sundara Karma’s album, as there seemed to be a bit of a buzz about them on the ‘music scene’. Needless to say, for me, this is the only good track on the album. I didn’t really give it that much time, but I’ve come to the realisation that as with books and films and tv shows if they don’t grab me instantly and distract my attention from cooking or other such things then I won’t waste my time with it.

Satisfaction – The Bay Rays

These guys are great! Proper UK updated Indie rock with swagger. Reminds me of Tokyo in Huddersfield. These would have gone down a storm on NME Tuesdays!

Bubblegum – Confidence Man

I only listened to this because Stuart Maconie said it was his track of the year and I’d never heard it, and then I became slightly obsessed with it. I don’t even think it’s that great, it’s just gets stuck in your head and never leaves, barely decaying over time. Much like bubblegum really!

Feel It Still – Portugal. The Man

Much like the rest of the world (and even Dubai 92) I love this song SO MUCH. I don’t think I need to write anything else about it.

Wandering Aengus – Johnny Flynn

I’d sort of forgotten about Johnny Flynn since seeing him briefly at Latitude in 2008 and being obsessed with Tickle Me Pink. Then he wrote the theme tune to The Detectorists, was in Lovesick (which I have just binge watched – who knew you could base an entire three series TV show around a bloke remembering who he gave Chlamydia to over a seven-year period. Genius.

Demon in Profile – Har Mar Superstar

He’s back! With a tune that sounds like the 80’s! EDIT: Because it is! It’s an Afghan Whigs cover! I knew I’d heard it before somewhere. I hadn’t even thought about Mr Superstar since seeing him in a white vest and tracky bottoms at Glastonbury 2003. This is a belter though.

I Don’t Know – BadBadNotGood

I started listening to BadBadNotGood after Jamie Cullum talked about them on his BBC Radio 2 show. This tune is particularly stand out, not least because vocals are provided by Samuel T Herring of Future Islands, which instantly boosts a song in my opinion.

Wind Up Bird – Heartless Bastards

I’m not sure how these guys ended up on here twice. I’ve not been that enthralled by much else they’ve done, however this track and Only For You are amazing, and were obviously added without much thought (I was probably supposed to be working at the time!)

Shark Smile – Big Thief

This song bowls along brilliantly, with lovely lyrics. Any song that has a woo in it is fine by me.

Plastic Soul – Mondo Cozmo

The sample used in this song has taken me down a rabbit hole this afternoon!

  1. I knew it, but didn’t know I knew it. Some serious Googling finally shed some light.
  2. It’s Piece of My Heart – Erma Franklin. You know. Aretha’s big sister. No? Me either.
  3. I didn’t know that Janis Joplin’s version was a cover.
  4. I didn’t know Aretha had a big sister. I’ve lost an hour to reading about the Franklin’s now.
  5. Bert Berns wanted Van Morrison to record Piece of My Heart. That would have been something. I digress.

Telephone – Sinkane

This is an absolute tune. I don’t need to say anything else.

People Everywhere (Still Alive) – Khurangbin

So is this. Khurangbin are great.

Sunsetz – Cigarettes After Sex

This song (and subsequent album) are super chill. Almost shoegaze, but not quite, nice on a summer’s day. Which is every day, in Dubai.

Star Roving – Slowdive

I never listened to these guys first time around, but with the return of shoegaze they have returned and this song is awesome. Maybe I’ll have a shoegaze phase and dig out my My Bloody Valentine CDs… hmm.

Albums released in 2017 that I darned tootin’ loved.

The National – Sleep Well Beast

LCD Soundsystem – American Dream

Beck – Colours

Hannah Peel – Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia

Feist – Pleasure

Nick Mulvey – Wake Up Now

QOTSA – Villains

Francois & the Atlas Mountains – Solid Mirage

Tom Hickox – Monsters in the Deep

Dan Auerbach – Waiting on a Song

Flo Morrissey & Matthew E White – Gentlewoman, Ruby Man

Arcade Fire – Everything Now

The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

Elbow – Little Fictions

Grandaddy – Last Place

The Allergies – Push On

Chilly Gonzales & Jarvis Cocker – Room 29

Laura Marling – Semper Femina

Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up

Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins

Perfume Genius – No Shape

Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

Matt Berry – Night Terrors

Alt-J – Relaxer

British Sea Power – Let the Dancers Inherit the Party

The Shins – Heartworms

Benjamin Booker – Witness

Johnny Flynn – Sillion

Mac DeMarco – This Old Dog

Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice

Andrew Bird – Echolocations: River

Future Islands – The Far Field

Nadine Shah – Holiday Destination

Warhaus – Warhaus

The Districts – Popular Manipulations

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – The French Press

Real Estate – In Mind

The Big Moon – Love in the 4th Dimension

I’m going to leave those as a list, as discussing albums is hard work, and if I’d been savvier (Grammarly is telling me that’s a word…) I’d have reviewed them as I listened to them. However, I only decided to write this on the cusp of 2018, so maybe next years review will be more comprehensive. Just know that they are all cracking albums, and are very much in the vein of all music I like. If you don’t know them already.

Other artists/bands discovered in 2017 not mentioned in previous lists…

The Sheepdogs

The Shouting Matches

BROS

JJ Grey & Mofro

The Donkeys

I had a massive blues/Americana phase in the early summer of 2017 and discovered a whole sleuth of artists I knew nothing about. The Sheepdogs are fantastic (produced by Patrick Carney from The Black Keys), BROS are part of The Sheepdogs, The Shouting Matches are Bon Iver (not quite, Justin Vernon at least *swoon*) and all subsequent indie rock, garage rock, psychedelia are cracking bands. I look forward to hearing more from them all.

LP

I read an article about Laura Pergolizzi (I can’t remember what it was published in, or what it was about, but I remember it made me want to listen to her music!) Then she cropped up on Jools Holland’s Later programme as a replacement for Jamiroquai and she’s great.

Haley Bonar

Hurray for the Riff Raff

Jane Weaver

Rose Elinor Dougall

Aldous Harding

Girl Ray

Alvvays

Ham Sandwich

I’m very particular about female vocals, I don’t know why. They have to be interesting, maybe quirky, or just have some damn good songs to sing. All of the above fit into one or more of those categories, and have made it onto my list of good women wot sing. Previous women to grace this list include Feist, Laura Marling, Kimya Dawson, Joanna Newsom, La Roux (she was damn good at Latitude 2015), Of Monsters & Men, Nadine Shah, The Big Moon, Lana del Rey, Courtney Barnett – you get the gist. It doesn’t mean other women aren’t good singers, it’s just, they don’t sit so well with me. (Probably a deep-rooted jealousy bubbling under my skin.) It also amuses me that I like a band called Ham Sandwich, as this was all I ate for lunch between 1995 and 2005 until I finally became a vegetarian.

L.A Salami

Just genius. Like a folky Bloc Party. BBC 6 Music are blasting the socks off Generation (L)ost at the moment. Get it listened to. Anyone who sings about Nazi’s gets my vote. (Not like that.)

Offa Rex

If it contains Colin Meloy I’m 100% in, every time. If it’s with folk singer Olivia Chaney, well, even better.

Baby Dayliner

I started listening to Baby Dayliner after Matt Berninger said he was a massive influence on The National. I love listening to artists that have influenced what I currently listened to. Starsailor can be blamed for my small Tim Buckley phase in 2004.

Elvis Perkins

Cerys Matthews played While You Were Sleeping on her 6 Music show, and I instantly had to hear it again. Sometimes there’s something about just guitar and vocals to tell a damn good story (think The Tallest Man on Earth/Mountain Goats – ok very different artists but you get my drift) that just wins again and again and again.

Mary Lattimore

Wawa by the Ocean is a TUNE. As is the rest of her work.

Bonus mentions

From beautiful melodic melodies to bouncy London rock, to folk stories, to psychedelic New York, all the below are worth a listen.

A Winged Victory for the Sullen

Man & the Echo

Patch & the Giant

Car Seat Headrest

She Drew the Gun

The Lemon Twigs

The Head and the Heart

Kevin Morby

Photo by Mark Solarski on Unsplash

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