This final End of Year list of the decade reads like a microcosm of the chaos of the nine years which went before it. Here there are pop albums made by underground musicians who can’t have expected anyone near a chart to hear them, R&B records made by rappers, pop records by rock bands and a million experiments in sound: from an album made of the sampled sounds of pieces of plastic to bluegrass revival. We are now in a place where it doesn’t seem absurd to place bandcamp sweethearts next to house DJs and chart-topping millionaires because we all listen to music on platforms which have them just a click apart anyway.
We leave the decade with new icons whose names are scattered throughout this list: musicians like Blood Orange, Tyler The Creator, FKA Twigs, Danny Brown and Charli XCX who we simply hadn’t heard of ten years ago, and the behind-the-scenes revolutionaries like the producers of PC-Music who started the decade pastiching commercial music from their bedrooms and ended it writing the genuine commercial hits of today, reshaping the sound of chart music for the better. We also leave this year with new stars, from Billie Eilish to Little Simz and Floating Points, who we may well be speaking of in the same terms in ten years time. We celebrated the 80th anniversary of Blue Note records (which the header of this year’s list pays tribute to) while passed icons Miles Davis, Prince, Leonard Cohen and Arthur Russell had works unearthed which added to the depth of their legacies. We lost a few heroes too: João Gilberto, Scott Walker, David Berman, Kieth Flint and Bushwick Bill being just a few names among many. Many of the narratives which have emerged around music journalism are represented here, from the burgeoning London jazz scene, the reggaeton revolution and the grime takeover, but some of the most telling stories are not: the unstoppable ‘Old Town Road’ for example was a history maker specifically because it has nothing to do with albums. Most of all though, music is a perpetual provider of hope – giving voice to the forgotten, allowing the ideas of the future to be taken for a spin, providing resilience in the face of tyrannical forces, or simply daily reassurance from songwriters who capture the essence of what’s means to be alive and – in clubs, gigs and living rooms – make the living fun.
This list was compiled by a music fan with nothing better to do, based only the albums I managed to hear this year, featuring bias and ignorance of critical consensus. It is instead based solely on the music which impacted us, and which we enjoyed and listened to the most. From top to bottom, we consider all of these albums to be produced by incredibly talented individuals whose music this year will provide pleasure and inspiration for many more to come.
In a year which has heaped upon us a depressing deluge of exposés of revered figures in our popular culture, from Michael Jackson to Rolf Harris (okay, not always that revered either…) there are few of us music fans who haven’t been touched by the dilemma of separating art from the artist. In music especially, it has become impossible to ignore that fact that some songs which have formed the soundtracks to some of the best days of our lives were made by humans whose actions we abhor. In the last week, many Morrissey fans may have found themselves struggling to listen to his new LP over a different moral quandary, thanks to his appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon wearing that badge.
At least the medium, sound, was always innocent in all this: there are no liberal chords and fascist riffs. Imagine that you come across a 1970s flamenco album on a spurious random internet blog, you download the ZIP file and find that it touches you deeply. You don’t speak Spanish, but the music is joyous and you want to share that joy, by hijacking playlists at parties and sending a link to your mother. Then, years later, you make the mistake of sharing your little find with a Spanish-speaking friend, who is shocked to find you endorsing an old album with lyrics which can be best described as rampantly fascist. You are horrified, but what are you meant to do? It’s too late, you’re already in. You may loathe the politics, but nothing has inherently changed about the music itself. Continue reading “#MeToo in Indie Music, and the Pinegrove Example”→
In a decade when more art is released in a month than could be considered properly in a lifetime, and every song recorded in the past century is just a quick Google away, our ideas of originality are changing. Once true uniqueness – the conquest for the unseen and unheard – was one of the first aspirations of art, but now it’s all laid bare: every source of inspiration, every melody borrowed from an unknown artist from the other side of the world or remembered in a dream. In 2017, Robert Shore’s book Beg, Steal and Borrow helped to shatter the myth of originality in art, and even more-so remove the stigma of weaving your influences together to make something new: a newfound embrace of artistic copying and pasting.
In the art world, it was the 20th Century fashion for collages which put originality on the back-burner, by stitching together other works from across mediums (as if a millennium of painters copying Greek statues shouldn’t have done that already). Hip-hop’s sonic collages did the same for music, with producers digging crates in order to find samples and create a hot beat.
Dance-Punk may be a genre you haven’t heard of before. That might well be due to the fact it’s not a genre, and what? That doesn’t even make sense? Dance. Punk? What does the rebellious grime of punk have to do with the glamorous strut of disco, or worse, Diplo? But it is also, undeniably, a thing. Inconcrete and still the subject of much debate, yes: but the music the term is used to define stretches across two of the most iconic eras of popular music. It thrived in the New York punk underground of the late 1970s, and saw an even grimier revival at the start of the 21st century, where bands like The Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs became pin-ups for a new generation. Dance-Punk also contains some of the most confident and potent music ever laid to wax, in the form of the Talking Heads, LCD Soundsystem and New Order.
The fact that most of its finest music was produced in two distinct periods of time, and the specificity of its New York-roots, have left Dance-Punk cocooned as a “scene”: a concept so alien to anyone who started seriously listening to music after the release of the iPhone that it might as well come etched on a scroll. The musicianship is undeniable, but exploring it can feel more like embarking on an archaeological dig. These songs and albums are enduring though: a thrilling melting-pot of ideas which span funk, punk, dance, disco, synth-pop and acid-house, producing some of the finest grooves ever recorded, all with an attitude more capital-P Punk than the so-called ‘political’ bands whose names ended upon on MasterCards.