Wow, what a year 2017 has been for music! It’s also been a particularly big year for us at Brightonsfinest too. We started the year by making the much needed office move from Hove to the heart of Brighton’s bustling North Laine area. Round about the same time this spring we launched our Radio Show on Brighton’s Juice 107.2 station, which has grown to become hugely popular and featured many interviews with incredible artists. The show runs from Monday-Thursday, 9-11pm, with a focus on new music and interviews. You can listen back to archived shows HERE, listen live HERE or tune in on 107.2FM, if you’re local. Our label is bustling too, having just released the second in our compilation series: Brightonsfinest Volume 2 has hit the record shops just in time for Christmas, following excellent vinyl releases from The Fiction Aisle and Los Albertos, earlier in the year. We’ve also been getting busy over on YouTube, where you can listen back to the best interviews from our radio show, and enjoy our video interviews, with recent artists including Royal Blood, Wolf Alice and Ghostpoet.
That’s enough trumpet blowing from us. Back in June we ran the first part of our ‘Best of the Year’ review, covering the first six months. Now it’s time to have a look at what our writers see as the highlights of the last six months. We asked everyone to pick their favourite album and live show of the second half of the year, and also a favourite album that we didn’t review – we can never manage to cover every release, especially not in a bumper year like this, so we find it’s always good to pick out the best of the rest. Scroll down below to see what the Brightonsfinest team think are the best bits out of all the great music we’ve been enjoying over the last six months of the year!
A true trailblazer for women in rock, Chrissie Hynde has been making remarkable music for 40 years now. Tonight she again demonstrated what an incredible singer/songwriter she has been, and still is. For sure, this evening was almost all about the hits a-plenty there have been. All good ones, too. Proper pop songs with an edge. From the time (basically anytime up to the last few years) when singles really mattered and were often the best tracks; ‘Back on the Chain Gang’, ‘I’ll Stand By You’, ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’, ‘Talk of the Town’ et al were accompanied by lesser known songs from their extensive back catalogue, as well as a few more recent numbers, which showcased Hynde’s continuing flair for a knowing lyric, keen melody and dynamic songcraft nous. This was a masterclass from one of the greats.
This year has been marked by an explosion of politically aware music. A result of the confluence of trouble and strife in the Middle East, America, the UK and elsewhere, it was barely more apparent than on Nadine Shah’s third album. A self-termed ‘second generation immigrant’ of Norwegian and Pakistani stock, Shah’s experiences of both racism and abuse, married to a keen eye on world affairs informed the lyrics of Holiday Destination, while her co-conspirator Ben Hillier largely drove the music along a decidedly post-punk path. The result is a dark, brooding yet sometimes strangely uplifting groove-based album.
Favourite Album Missed: Weaves – Wide Open
Toronto band Weaves released their self-titled debut album just last year making an immediate impact in their country. Weaves was shortlisted for both their native Juno Award for Alternative Album of the Year and the 2017 Polaris Music Prize. Wide Open is their second album and it’s an equally stunning and inventive indie-rock piece. They’ve also grown in ambition, whilst their sound has become more expansive and pop-friendly, but remaining uproarious. Fronted by Jasmyn Burke’s punk-meets-new wave vocal, and the guitar work of Morgan Waters, they touch upon glam, 80s new wave synth, Talking Heads and even throat singing, via their duet with fellow Canadian Tanya Tagaq. It positively soars above almost everything else in the world of indie guitar music, their skilful, sometimes cerebral approach managing to come across as one big anarchic party. Weaves are wild!
This was a special night and a surprising one at that. I took my mum down to see the gig with me, because she’d been a huge fan of Perrett’s old band The Only Ones when I was still knee high to a grasshopper. I’d become quite interested in them too, when I was learning to play guitar and figuring out what kind of music I was going to be into, I hit a rich vein with some of the 80s new wave and punk groups whose 7”s were stacked up by the record player. I was looking forward to hearing ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ sung by that inimitable voice, what I got was a phenomenal band performing a set of fantastic, mostly new, music. It turned out to be quite an emotional night, in that triumph-over-adversity and family love sort-of way. Perrett has been fully drug-free for a couple of years now, enabling him to recruit his sons and write some amazing songs for his new record, How The West Was Won. To be honest this would have been a strong contender for favourite album missed, but it was just outside our remit, having been released in June. It’s marvellous though, so check it out and go see them live next year, well worth it.
For me it has been a really strong second half of the year for albums, with extremely close runner-ups from Grizzly Bear and local artist Dog In The Snow. My yardstick for albums these days, as I churn through so many more in a year since I started writing for Brightonsfinest, is staying power. Since reviewing Masseduction, back at the start of October, I’m still listening to it regularly, and still trying to figure it out. My journey with St. Vincent began with her third album, Strange Mercy, and from there I went backwards to her earliest releases. 2014’s St. Vincent album didn’t really deliver, for me, on the promise of its first single, ‘Digital Witness’. Then Masseduction came along this year, blowing both albums out of the water. It’s strong in two different ways simultaneously, it has these hulking, electronic groove machines, thet Prince would have been in love with, contrasted with sparser jazzy ballads. Annie’s voice has never sounded more arresting, high blown emotion and cool cold seduction sounding equally at home coming from her lips. High concepts and high contrast like this can be hard to pull-off, this record could easily have been a mess, but it’s not. It’s a triumph which I’m sure I’ll be enjoying in years to come.
Favourite Album Missed: Paul Draper – Spooky Action
There were some weird forces at play when Mansun released their last great single, ‘I Can Only Disappoint U’. The album it inhabited was such a major let-down for me, I wasn’t even paying attention when they split-up. Mansun’s second album, Six, is one of my favourite all-time releases though, and certainly one of the most underrated and misunderstood records of the 90s. When I heard that main singer-songwriter, Paul Draper, was finally going to bring out a solo album which had been teased for years, I was excited but sceptical: the long shadow of disappointment still hanging over his work for me. On reflection I gave the early single short shrift and ultimately decided to pass on the album. It was only when, accompanied by a couple of old friends, and fellow Six fanatics, I went to see the live show at Scala in September that the penny dropped. Spooky Action is an absolutely brilliant record, it’s a real grower. It is quite heavily produced, there’s a lot going on, so it perhaps takes a bit of time to truly appreciate it, but the songs are absolutely fantastic and once you find yourself attuned to the production style it becomes addictive. As a result I’ve already bought my tickets for Draper’s solo show at The Haunt in February, where he’ll be playing Mansun’s debut, Attack Of The Grey Lantern, in its entirety. At this point though it’s the Spooky Action set I’m really looking forward to!
A bit of a cheat, as I photographed this rather than reviewed it – but I’m having it as my gig of the second half. Knowing the backstory behind Skeleton Tree, the first night of the UK tour was always going to be an emotional watch but I was utterly unprepared for what was to come. Nick Cave somehow turned an arena show into an intimate night, a concert that became like a spiritual awakening. Working through the entire back-catalogue of The Bad Seeds, it was a night that will live with me forever. Cave’s pained solemnity during ‘Distant Sky’ utterly broke me – I’m not ashamed to admit that I was one of many, many people quietly sobbing during one of the most heart-rending performances that I have ever seen.
This was special – a powerful piece of work that engaged the brain as much as it thrilled the senses. After they wrote and recorded the soundtrack to Swiss Army Man, Andy Hull and Robert McDowell continued with cinematic vibes with this concept piece that invokes feelings of joy, sadness and awe as the story unfolds. It’s an album that rewards repeated listens as the layers are peeled back, and the intricacies and themes are slowly revealed like a work of great literature. Far from being too cerebral for its own good, it also carries a punch with its dynamic performances and earworm hooks. It’s an album I’ve returned to over and over again, and will continue to over the years to come I’m sure.
Favourite Album Missed: Jamie Lenman – Devolver
I can’t believe that we didn’t review this! A great slab of alternative rock from the former Reuben frontman, Devolver is an invigorating experience that grabs you by the scruff of the neck but never becomes a one-note album – the craft of Lenman’s songwriting continues to develop in ever-intriguing ways. Biting in some places, witty in others, this was one of the best rock albums of the year – I can’t wait for his show at The Haunt early next year!
This wasn’t even a question for me. My evening with Benjamin Clementine at the Brighton Dome acted as the most sublime climax to 2017 I could have possibly imagined. Benjamin is a master of his art and has truly created something beautiful within his sound, brutally raw lyricism accompanied with an even more divine vocal range makes him one of the most enticing artists on the planet.
I Tell A Fly is one of the most eclectic, bizarre and confusing releases of the year. Equally, though, it is one of the most moving, real and passionate. Benjamin truly is a spectacular artist in his own right and is singlehandedly defying the norms of music in the most extravagant manner possible.
When I saw that Arcane Roots were returning with a follow up to their 2013 album, that was all I needed to hear! After listening to ‘Off The Floor’ for the first time, I already knew that this album was going to be unquestionably powerful, riff-heavy and full of the colourful charisma that drew me to the band in the first place.
Not a single track on Melancholia Hymns slacks and the journey through the album sends you into various states of genuine awe. Notes which hit with the punch of a double decker bus are collided with transient instrumentals which create a truly euphoric ambience for an hour of pure musical bliss. Melancholia Hymns definitely has something for everyone so if you’re looking for something which will leave a lasting impression, Arcane Roots have you covered.
Favourite Album Missed: Ghouls – Run
It’s always refreshing to find a sound which feels familiar but simultaneously grabs your attention and intrigue, for myself Ghouls have mastered this with their second record, Run. Pop-punk and bouncy summer tracks are what this band thrive off, but it is their incredible use of brass instrumentals which provide the crunchy edge which keeps them feeling fresh.
Tracks such as ‘Salt’, ‘Seasonal Affective’ and the infectious ‘Facebook Friend’ all embody everything which makes this genre such a fun one to explore, the instrumentals may hit hard, but the vocals and fantastic lyricism from Ben Goold make this album truly something special. From personal experience I can also tell you that seeing these guys in the live environment only improves their sound and they always put on a show which makes you leave with a smile.
Following their epic headlining of The East Wing venue for this year’s The Great Escape Festival, I made it a priority to watch The Districts again. The alternative rockers possess the ability to make anything sound epic, as they turn venues into one large hotbed of euphoria. If coming-of-age album A Flourish and a Spoil hinted at the band’s forward-thinking signatures, then the new tracks featured on Popular Manipulations are the culmination of that and they transfer marvellously into a live setting. Whilst the tame Monday night crowd weren’t as inebriated as the late night TGE audience, the Philadelphia-based four-piece’s sheer energy and enthusiasm ignited the gig, which lasted just over an hour. Each cathartic sonic exploration was met with eager appreciation from the room, with the band’s defining energy feeding back onto the floor. At their essence, The Districts make life-affirming rock music, bursting with energy that cuts through the darkness of existence – they did exactly this in September to prove they’re one of the most interesting indie-rock acts around today.
Whereas This Is Happening felt like a production aimed at displaying his penchant for disco, American Dream is a mixture of LCD’s many varied styles, whilst still feeling absolutely seamless as a body of work. Murphy has a message about his country to convey and new sonic explorations to reconnoitre. Fans of the band’s slow burning, motorik anthems such as ‘Get Innocuous!’, ‘One Touch’ and ‘You Wanted A Hit’ will be happy, with a large majority of the ten tracks following a progressive simple framework. Opener ‘Oh Baby’ being a perfect example of this. It’s a six-minute song with a skeletal beginning, confessional lyrics and an elevated upsurge that sounds quintessentially LCD. American Dream is a beautifully produced, masterfully realised album that cements Murphy’s position as one of the finest, most obscure songwriters of his generation.
Favourite Album Missed: Kasabian – For Crying Out Loud
Kasabian’s simplified sixth album is packed with big tunes and almost guilty pleasures, with massive melodies that make an instant impact. Principal songwriter Serge Pizzorno wrote the whole thing in just six weeks in a bid to give the album a sense of urgency and the result is a solid LP which may not adhere them to new fans but instead cements their position at the top of festival bills and rock’s top table.
Yellow Days has had an excellent year. From the release of his wonderful debut “project” Is Everything Okay in Your World? (which almost was my album of the half-year) to his debut sell-out tour. It’s his show at The Joker that has stuck with me longest. At just 18 years of age, his audience retention, confidence and performance was just captivating and alluring to watch. Songs such as ‘I Believe in Love’, ‘Hurt in Love’ and ‘Holding On’ all sounded superb and his musical euphony is exceptional in what was virtually a neo-soul gig. He’s already got the core fanbase to go far and it seemed like watching a future star from the first note of his guitar.
Usually what factors in my favourite records of the year is something that takes me completely by surprise. Shamir’s sophomoric effort did exactly that. I was aware, and indeed, a fan of Shamir’s first record Ratchet. It was a party record, with his androgynous vocal style making it unique. Revelations, however, is a lot more of a sombre affair that came after a mental breakdown. It’s personal, it’s relevant and it’s easily the most striking record that I keep coming back to. Recorded in his bedroom, it focuses on millennials, mental health and whitewashing in the media. It’s superb, and not enough people heard it.
Favourite Album Missed: Mura Masa – Mura Masa
There’s been a whole heap of fantastic debut albums this year. None more so than Mura Masa’s titular record. Essentially a celebration of the multiculturalism of London, he brings a tonne of friends along for one of the biggest party albums of the year. The likes of Charli XCX, A$AP Rocky and Christine and the Queens turn up, but it’s final song, ‘Blu’, featuring his hero Damon Albarn, that is the best song on the record. Fundamentally a passing of the baton from one electronic/trip-hop legend to the other, it’s a melancholic love song about being young and overpowered by the hustle and bustle of the big city.
On reflection seeing Sleaford Mods wasn’t just one of the best gigs I’d seen this year but it’s up there with the best gigs I’ve ever been to. Everything about the show was a triumph. A truly good show will have you wanting to relive it for weeks on end and I’ve been bleeding all of their albums and EPs dry since. Sleafords are a band that make other bands seem irrelevant, once you’ve had it, nothing else will ever compare or even seem as genuine. I think the reason people latch onto them is that sense of authenticity that you just don’t get anywhere else. They are a spring in the Salt Flats. People take pride in seeing them in the smallest possible venue. This is something I don’t get. There will be nothing as thrilling as seeing a single man giving it all he has through a microphone in a space like the Dome. The fact that they are the most stripped down group going, playing some massive venues, is spine tingling.
I was very late to the party with this album but at least I got there. Prince of Tears is an album that’s full of emotional grit and detail. It’s like scraping the gunk from your finger nails, it’s deep and dark with so much going on. There’s a simmering anger on the album, something that never fully boils over but it’s definitely present. Despite this description it’s still an incredibly joyous listen. The vocal and its delivery is what gives the dirt, the music behind it gives it an urban-sounding beauty. It’s having shades of light and dark but thrown at you simultaneously. Once you peel back the seal on this album it just keeps on giving. It’s an album that keeps showing a new side with each listen. Prince of Tears really struck a chord with me and I’ve listened to it no end since discovering it.
Favourite Album Missed: Duds – Of a Nature or Degree
I remember before they came to Brighton some friends of mine almost bludgeoned me into going to see Duds live. They were ecstatic about this band and knew I would be as well. Before the show, I’d put on their debut Of a Nature or Degree and I remember thinking it was special. It wasn’t an instant hit though. It’s an album which is chaotic and weird, enough to start you off and pique an interest and just enough to keep coming back again. It’s like a piece of organised chaos, something that sounds like so much hanging on tiny threads. It’s almost brittle in texture. It’s an album that Mark E. Smith may have conceived whilst driving off a cliff. Its mess makes sense and it is a genuinely brilliant album. Duds have a sound specific to them and they’re the most exciting-sounding band I’ve heard in a long time. They’ve taken the sound of post-punk and applied it in a way that’s unique to them. It’s one of the best releases of the year by far – sadly I think it will be one of the most overlooked ones as well.
Of course, this isn’t strictly speaking the one that BF covered – however the London gig showed as much force as the Brighton show, I’m sure, and asserted the band as a brazen live energy and the true epitome of rock’n’roll. New tracks showed promise – ‘Bandung Hum’, ‘Haunt’ and ’Ninth Configuration’ being the particular standouts, all of which suggest that January 12 will bring a brutal new artillery for a band already strapped with plenty of big songs – but the band’s back catalogue is where they truly bare all. ’Stop’, ’Six Barrel Shotgun’ and ‘666 Conducer’ – it’s hard to see past this band being one of the greatest on the planet. From catching them live for the first time five years ago, I’ve never seen anyone that quite surpasses their live force. In Brixton’s O2 Academy, it really reached new heights too.
A toss up between Teen Daze and the potty mouth of Baxter Dury; it must be handed to Canada’s Teen Daze though, aka Jamison Isaak. I put this album on after returning from a two week jaunt around California, feeling slightly blue in the fog of North London after my time away – Themes For A New Earth was a welcoming light at the end of jet lag’s miserable tunnel. The album is buoyed with expansive soundscapes, vast oceans of electronics, subtle ethereal sampling and tentative strings. The album feels astonishingly natural and grounding, improved more so with the imagery it conjures – a great addition to 2017’s collection.
Favourite Album Missed: Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band – Adiós Señor Pussycat
It was actually after speaking to Bill Ryder-Jones, formally of The Coral, at last year’s Green Door Store show that my attention was first turned onto Michael Head. Bill told me that his favourite artist was a fellow Liverpudlian – one who would turn out to be a certain Michael Head. I hold my hands up though – after previously listening to him, I never quite got it; therefore when a Guardian feature between their ex-music editor and Michael Head surfaced in mid-September surrounding Head’s forthcoming release, the comically titled Adiós Señor Pussycat, I was skeptical but gave his music another chance. It was arguably the best second chance I’ve ever handed. Rich with glittering textures, witty lyricism and that somewhat archetypal 80s/90s Mersey sound – The La’s, Cast, etc – the album is a spurring bolt of optimism through the year’s autumnal gloom. Must hear tracks sit with the likes of ‘Picasso’, ‘Workin’ Family’ and the slightly Beach Boys-esque ‘Rumer’.
This wasn’t exactly a gig, which is a big reason for my choosing this. Gogo Penguin resurrected their original score to cult film Koyaanisqatsi for one night in Brighton, in the gorgeous setting of the Dome. To see the band play their excellent soundtrack so perfectly was as impressive as it was enjoyable, and effectively an hour of original songs I’d never heard from the band. I was also introduced to a fantastic film, so what’s not to love?
Sumney’s stunning debut album, conceptually as well as sonically, is made up of seemingly endless layers. Not only is it a langourously pleasurable stride into what, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll call post-folk, but there’s a satisfying depth to its narrative explorations. Romantic relationships fall under Sumney’s looking glass and are ruthlessly and honestly dissected – as is the author himself.
Favourite Album Missed: Curtis Harding – Face Your Fear
Harding’s first album, Soul Power, changed the way I thought about soul music. While clearly drawing on the traditions of soul, his sound and image positioned him more in the realms of punk – not two genres I’d thought could have any crossover at all. His second album is more of the same: beautiful ambiguity, but refined and a little more thoughtful. I didn’t have the time to review it, which I sorely regret now.