Review of the Year: 2017

Every year at about this time we ask our writers to look back over the past 12 months in order to write a personal summary of the year in music. We’ve already had our ‘Best of the Year’ lists, covering the first six months and the last six months, but this is different. Rather than only covering the best things that happened, this is the place where we look at trends in music and the general overall feeling the year has left us with. Scanning through the submissions it’s interesting to note that many of us ended 2017 not on a high, or a low, but with a resounding ‘meh’!

Perhaps, in a year dominated by the Trump tweets a number of us mentioned, we are all feeling a sort of current affairs fatigue that’s been colouring our impressions. Maybe 2017 simply pulled its punches towards the end, leaving the real highlights somewhat buried in our memories. If you ended the year in something of a musical malaise I’d highly recommend reading this, as all of us found, upon reflection, that there were many more things to be joyful about than we’d initially thought. As we prepare to enter another year of musical delights let’s see what our writers found most special, and, in some cases, most infuriating last year.

Read our reviews from Jeff Hemmings, Adam Kidd, Jamie Macmillan, Ben Walker, Liam McMillen, Chris Middleton, Jonski Mason and Dan White

Not nearly as heavy on the big name deaths, 2017 will be remembered more for those who made exceptional music, than for those whose back catalogue will be revisited thanks to passing away.

For sure, we’ll miss trailblazers such as Chuck Berry, Malcolm Young, Walter Becker and Fats Domino, iconic rock’n’rollers Glen Campbell, Gregg Allman and Tom Petty, and heart-throb David Cassidy. We’ve also been mourning those way too young to die such as Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, Those Darlins’ Jesse Zazu and Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell. Yet if there is one good thing to come of death, it is the chance to remember and re-visit past achievements.

However, and without trying to put too fine a point on it, the lack of truly earth shattering deaths (Bowie, Prince) helped to not detract from those making and releasing exceptional music last year. 2017 proved to be a very fine year, without there being a truly year-defining release. Perhaps that is what is to be expected in this day and age, as the music industry and those who buy and listen to music continue to fragment and coalesce into newer and smaller micro-movements of taste and fashion. The clock will not turn back in this respect, but it is something to both appreciate and celebrate. Why? Because there is so much innovation going on in music at the moment. The ability to make hugely memorable songs via melodies is being supplanted by innovation, in terms of genre fusing, and sound craft. Much like the late 60s heyday and post-punk eras, the rule book is literally being kicked around the room. There are, after all, no real barriers to music. It’s all in your head, man. You can hear this on album releases by the likes of Moses Sumney, Kendrick Lamar, King Krule, Stormzy, The Staves & yMusic, SZA, Richard Dawson, Lankum, and alt-J, all truly innovative works that defied easy categorisation.

There were also some fantastic releases from The Big Moon, Royal Blood, Laura Marling, Phoebe Bridgers, The War on Drugs, LCD Soundsystem, Spoon, Aldous Harding, The Horrors, Nadine Shah, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Nick Mulvey, all innovative and fresh in their own ways.

The album as an art form continued to make some kind of resurgence. A remarkable achievement in the face of the evidence, which seems to suggest that people are listening less and less to an album from beginning to end, rather cherrypicking their favourite moments, and adding to playlists. Yes, vinyl sales continued to rise, but even more so did streaming and the inexorable rise of Spotify, Apple Music et al. But artists as a whole continued to decide that the album format was their preferred method of presenting their work, and making their artistic statements. The public, it seems, generally agreed, with album sales as a whole rising significantly last year.

On the gigging front, Brighton was once again blessed, with The Great Escape again delivering a very high quality festival of new music, from around the globe. Love Supreme also cemented its place as one of the best festivals in the country, and the city was host to thousands of great gigs, my personal highlights being The Pretenders, Richard Dawson, Lost Horizons, alt-J and the truly legendary Kraftwerk.

All in all, a wonderfully diverse and eclectic year for new music.

Jeff Hemmings

It has been an interesting year of music, but when is it not interesting? For a lot of us 2016 was the year of death: Bowie, Prince, Cohen and more passed away, giving us the sense of a shifting of the old guard, to the point that I felt certain at the end of last year that my year ahead was destined to be full of fresh discoveries. Looking back that hasn’t been the case at all! As the old guard retires they are replaced with a new old guard. As I sift back through the reviews I wrote in 2017 I keep finding that I’ve been living in my comfort zone, or, perhaps, my area of expertise. It’s been a busy year for British bands who started out in the 90s, whose débuts were lapped up by my generation of teenagers. Most of it has been status quo box-ticking, but some surpassed expectations. For example, I did not expect to find myself still listening to albums by Mansun’s Paul Draper and Echobelly months after their release.

There’s a new establishment forming in America too, from indie-rock acts who piqued my interest during the last two decades. Arcade Fire, St Vincent, Grizzly Bear, The National and Fleet Foxes have all had new albums. Some of them have been amazing (St Vincent) others shockingly weak (Arcade Fire) but most managed to kind of scrape through. Once innovators now delivering solid records on major labels. Are we seeing the birth of a new middle-of-the-road, perhaps?

I’m not really complaining about it being a dull year of music. Instead, I’m complaining about being lured into the comforting blanket of the familiar. Like a lot of music fans out there I’ve been spending less time appreciating the new and the now, and more time steeped in nostalgic sounds, whether they’re revived or new takes on old themes. It’s a climate that’s difficult for fresh, original talent to thrive in, I fear, where middle-aged comebacks, posthumous reissues and bloody Ed Sheeran dominate the market.

My favourite new music this year was predominantly home-grown – Other States and Dog In The Snow both got the hairs on the back of my neck sticking up in quite different ways, and they’re both emerging from Brighton. I didn’t compile the track-list for Brightonsfinest Volume 2, and so I found it a great reminder, and insight into new music from the UK and, actually, a bit of a kick up the bum to make more effort discovering new gems from the local and national scenes this year.

America stole my heart this year though, really. When I look at what I’ve been obsessively listening to it’s mostly American and dominated first and foremost by Father John Misty. Pure Comedy has been a real game changer for me, marrying comfortably familiar ballad-writing with challenging lyrical dissections of modern life and human nature. Seeing him live at Brighton Dome woke me up to his previous album, I Love You, Honeybear and now I’m so hooked it’s an effort to listen to anyone else! Thankfully I hear there’s a new album in 2018…

Adam Kidd

As certain an event as Jools Holland stumbling around the Hootenanny set, every new year brings a horde of music writers adamant that the previous year was either stellar or stinking. As always, the truth lies somewhere in between. Ignoring for a moment the turmoil of a world that somehow continues to be led by someone seemingly intent on tweeting us all into extinction (because frankly, he’s depressing), the music world showed that there are a host of exciting acts waiting to sweep away the old order.

Most exciting artist of 2017 for me was without question IDLES, who were at the forefront of a DIY movement that ignored traditional methods of getting their music out there. With no label, and no massive PR machine behind them, their debut Brutalism was by far the album of the year for me. The combination of Joe Talbot’s witty lyrics and feral vocals meshed perfectly with some of the most exciting and visceral punk sounds of this or any other year, and live they are like uncaged beasts. The way that they have simply progressed from a show at Sticky Mike’s in front of 20 people to a huge support slot with Foo Fighters at The O2 will show every band that it is possible to succeed on your own terms and still hold true to your ethos. Big shout out too to The Big Moon, who gatecrashed the Mercury party with their well-deserved nomination for Love in the 4th Dimension – the best Britpop album since the days of Blur, Pulp, Sleeper and the gang. With most of that era’s bands back on the road again, the quartet of Juliette, Soph, Celia and Fern left them all in the shade with that stunning debut and a couple of superb Brighton gigs.

Gig-wise, we were spoiled all year long in Brighton, with some of the biggest stars coming through town as well as some of the brightest newcomers. The last few months of the year in particular were insane – Royal Blood, Gorillaz, Blondie, Liam Gallagher, Michael Kiwanuka, Wolf Alice, Enter Shikari all within the space of a few weeks. Kiwanuka’s set was a particular highlight, I was blown away by the magnitude of his performance. Fully prepared for his soulful voice, I was woefully underprepared for just how good a guitarist he is – and his touring band were sensational. It’s hard to pick between that and the insanity of The Flaming Lips at Brighton Dome for my favourite gig moments. Confetti guns, unicorns, giant inflatable balls, cartoon characters on-stage – all within the first couple of songs.

We also had a storming (and stormy) Great Escape with a number of superb eye-opening sets. My first view of HMLTD will live long in my memory, as will the madness of Slaves’ End of the Pier show. Another highlight was the grime tent on Wild Life’s first day. There was an incredible rush seeing the likes of J Hus, JME, AJ Tracey and Wiley each raising the bar, and the sheer energy coming from that tent was one of the best moments of my musical summer. However, at the major national festivals, there was a clear need for a new wave of headliners with the same old acts in top spot. 2017 had Radiohead, Muse, Kasabian, the Foos, Ed Sheeran, System Of A Down, Aerosmith, JAY-Z, Mumford & Sons, Eminem and P!nk head up the biggest British festivals. All great acts in their own way, but all very… safe (kudos to Latitude for giving The 1975 their opening night slot though). Move out of the way guys (and with only a few exceptions, it was all white guys) – time for Kendrick, Stormzy, Wolf Alice, The xx and the rest to take over. Let’s hope that 2018 is the year that they do.

Jamie Macmillan

2017. Where to start? With last year being labelled the year of countless celebrity deaths, its hard to imagine anything worse? Yet 2017 has somehow managed to make many of us wish back to the ‘Good ‘Ol Days of 2016’. The number of atrocities, despicable behaviour and stupid uses of Twitter *Cough Trump Cough* that have occurred this year have certainly marked it as one which will go down in history for all the wrong reasons.

From a musical and personal perspective though, 2017 has brought into my life a far more optimistic picture and is a year which I will look back on with a great level of enjoyment. The year brought me into contact with countless levels of talent which I now couldn’t imagine life without. Breakthroughs from Pale Waves, Blaenavon and Ghostpoet, to name just a few, have all put out tracks and phenomenal live shows which have made the year that little bit easier. All three deserve the spotlight they’re being given and are more than worthy of your time.

A few of my personal favourite bands made long-awaited returns, to hear the blissfulness of Arcane Roots again, a band who I remember being blown away at when I was 14 during their set in the tiniest of venues, is something that I won’t be forgetting while Neck Deep showed us once again that pop-punk wasn’t just a one trick pony of 2012.

This year also introduced me to a new side of Brighton which I hadn’t seen before, the festival season. My god, don’t we do it well?! This year’s The Great Escape was hands down one of the best weekends of my life and something which I can’t wait to get stuck into again when the weather gets warmer. To see so much talent packed into such a small space in the UK is fantastic, the electric buzz around the city is truly something that I’ve not experienced anywhere else in the world. Likewise, I attended my first Pride Festival and was able to fully embrace the Brightonian spirit, as well as catching some incredible performances from Fickle Friends and a mesmerising set from Years & Years.

So yes, on a global/political scale, 2017 may have not been too spectacular but, for myself, it’s a year which I will be able to look back on fondly as one which has brought me that little bit closer to music, made me appreciate the sheer quality of so many rising bands and, most of all, kept my love for music thriving more than ever.

Ben Walker

It’s almost beginning to sound like a cliche, but we live in tumultuous times. The British political world is at its most bitter, gruesome and unbalanced since the days of Thatcher, Donald Trump appears to be doing his best to declare nuclear war using poor English on social media, as well as a lot of our heroes sadly displaying their monstrous side. Of course, though, in the dark there are often light moments. Creativity is really at the forefront of this, and such, we’ve been gifted with some truly awesome musical moments this year. First and foremost we saw the returns of indie legends The National, LCD Soundsystem and Sparks all release fascinating albums.

Crucially, the outlook of the musical spectrum is looking increasingly brighter and brighter with a tremendous amount of terrific debut albums. Certainly, Sampha was the brightest spark with his debut record, Process, three years in the making, rightfully winning the Mercury Music Prize. Additionally, the likes of SZA climbed to the top of the pop music mountain with her excellent, earworm-heavy record Ctrl, while Declan McKenna already seems to have reached the potential touted by many critics a couple of years ago with the anthemic What Do You Think About the Car?

In terms of gigs, there were many that had music fans salivating. Radiohead returned to their rightful place as Pyramid Stage headliners, while grime had a brilliant year at the festivals with Skepta headlining Wireless and Stormzy selling out his captivating live tour in seconds. For me, though, it was the return of Britpop heroes that provided me with some of my finest 2017 live memories. Gorillaz, headed by Damon Albarn, put on their own festival in Margate with some of the greatest R’n’B and rap artists around. In one day I was lucky enough to see De La Soul, Vince Staples, Kano and the world’s greatest virtual band. Likewise, their show at the Brighton Centre later on in the year turned the 5,000 capacity venue into a carnival. It was at the Brighton Centre, too, where another highlight was held. From the other side of the Britpop war, Liam Gallagher, fresh off his debut solo record, As You Were, tore the roof off with new songs and Oasis classics.

Another focal point for 2017 for me has been the sheer volume of excellent female artists. Two of my favourite records and gigs of the year came from Jane Weaver and Aldous Harding, while Lorde’s Melodrama could stake its place for the greatest pop record of the century. Furthermore, St Vincent’s Masseduction was one of the most exciting, diverse and beautifully crafted of the year.

Lastly, a little note to all the fantastic Brighton bands that I and my colleagues have the honour of seeing perform and grow both live and on record. 2017 was an exciting year for both Black Honey and Tigercub, who continue to develop into the most exciting bands across the country. Of course, Royal Blood returned with triumphant shows at both Concorde 2 and the Brighton Centre. It was also a great year for the new bands, with Strange Cages, Fruity Water and Drip Gloss all looking like they’re set to have a wonderful 2018. Let’s hope 2018 is just as exciting and astonishing as 2017.
Liam McMillen

On reflection, 2017 had a lot going for it musically, more so than it initially seemed to me anyway. I think the majority of my favourite releases from last year are ones that were completely unexpected, I’ve found this every year. Even editing this piece I’m remembering more and more great albums from the past 12 months. This isn’t a rundown of everything I’ve simply listened to, this is the stuff which I think is exceptional and which really stood out to me when looking back on the music of last year.

I’m guilty of sticking in my comfort zone a lot of the time. I’ve always loved indie music and all the tangents that go with it. Girl Ray‘s debut Earl Grey is an immediate choice to go for and one I’ve returned to again and again. There isn’t really anything bad you can say about this album. It either clicks with you or it doesn’t but it’s an album which seems to have resonated with a lot of people.

Albums by Happyness, Chastity Belt and Fake Laugh were all highlights for me. I’ve discovered Jen Cloher this year and haven’t looked back. Her self-titled album is reminds me of bands like Hole and Sonic Youth. It has the same level of shade to it and tons and tons of hooks. It wears its influences on its sleeve and you can very clearly hear the music she loves in there. That being said, it has its own identity outside of these comparisons. She’s clearly a big fan of shoegaze and grunge however the album doesn’t sound like either, it just has those ingredients.

A. Savage‘s solo debut Thawing Dawn is an album that becomes better the more you invest in it. It isn’t one that’s instantly gripping, unlike the Daniele Luppi and Parquet Courts collaboration Milano which grabbed me instantly. It’s a charming and humble record and an overall rewarding listen. It’s another side to what we already perceive about Andrew Savage and you really get a sense of him opening up on Thawing Dawn. There’s a huge country influence on the album that takes the centre stage and the punk influences bleed in, instead of the other way around.

2017 has also had some rougher and more abrasive listens which, if you fight your way through them, become some of the best releases of the year. There are my favourites which came from Sleaford Mods, who also put on my show of the year at Brighton Dome. Their album English Tapas sees Sleafords pulling away from their previous releases and experimenting and reshaping their sound as something else. It didn’t release immediate singles but it cements itself as a turning point for the band and keeps them solidified as one of the most relevant bands today.

In a similar vein Baxter Dury‘s Prince of Tears is an instant smash. There are tracks that are immediately captivating like opening single ‘Miami’. There’s a harsh reality type feel to the album but there’s also a nostalgic side to it which sees Baxter Dury reflect on his own past. Had I found it sooner I would’ve made ‘Oi’ one of my songs of the year. Both Prince of Tears and English Tapas speak a truth that is genuine to the artist and it shows. They are both genuine sparks of authenticity which don’t wear thin. I’ve enjoyed both albums repeatedly and they still sound as fresh as the first listen.

Tyler the Creator, Vince Staples and Brockhampton have all released outstanding albums this year. A special nod towards Brockhampton for releasing three albums all of which are great in their own right (their second album Saturation II also has my album cover of the year). My highlight has to be Open Mike Eagle‘s Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, an album which is clever, dark, witty and atmospheric. There’s an almost comic book feel to the album which is what made it stand out to me. It’s a concept album about the Robert Taylor Homes housing projects that Open Mike Eagle grew up in. The way each song changes is very much like the panels of a comic book and their moods are clear and strong. Overall it’s one of my favourite releases of the year and it’s easily my favourite album from Open Mike Eagle.

Being objective, the strongest release of 2017 has to go to Duds. In my eyes they’ve done something truly unique. They’ve taken the sounds of post-punk and run wild with it. It’s an album which sounds like it’s held together with sellotape. It’s got the charm of a flea market and I only mean that as a compliment. In all the chaos there are great melodies and some very complex songwriting. Of a Nature or a Degree didn’t seem to have much weight behind it in terms of hype or promotion which has led to it being overlooked for many album of the year countdowns but it’s an absolutely fantastic album. Duds have been around for a while and they’re now selling out shows all over the place and their fanbase is swelling up. They are a band to watch and considering how strong their debut is, I can’t wait to hear what they bring out next.

Chris Middleton

2017 was quite a seminal year for Brightonsfinest with the launch of the radio show, more writers coming onboard, a return to video interviews and many changes to the website. This all kept me quite busy in the office and, along with other things, meant I did not get out to as many concerts as I’ve done over the last few years. Though, some of the few I did see were outstanding.

The year got off to a good start with me reviewing what would become some of my favourite albums of the year. Starting with The Physics House BandMercury Fountain, who I also caught at The Haunt for a mesmerizing concert. Fischer-Z Building Bridges, who have returned to form and returned to touring the UK again for the first time in decades. Dreadzone Dread Times is the album I returned to the most over the year and my favourite album of all over the year. Other notable albums would be Brightonsfinest Volume 2 which despite being our own release and not all the bands are my genre, I really enjoyed listening to.

One band that really stood out for me was Sløtface who I caught at The Great Escape and later in the year at The Hope & Ruin. Their debut album Try Not To Freak Out is another of my favourites of the year. Another highlight of The Great Escape was catching Dog In The Snow at The Windmill pub, an unusual venue for an unusual band.

Best showman of the year I saw had to be Gary Numan at Brighton Dome, so much energy and an amazing concert all round. Also at the Dome I saw Suzanne Vega who had the perfect mix of classic tunes and funny interludes about her life throughout. A totally enjoyable night. On the heavier side of things METZ and The XCERTS both at The Haunt got their crowds whipped up into a frenzy with their high energy performances.

My main exposure to live music was via the local festivals with this being the first year I had a pass for the full Great Escape Festival experience. What an experience it was too. Including seeing Cosima perform in the i360 pod overlooking the Brighton skyline. Sam Walker and The Hundredth Anniversary really worked well in St. Mary’s Church and Molly were a nice surprise find who I caught at Queens Hotel. While Wild Life Festival was as impressive as ever with Chaka Khan, Bonzai, Tom Misch and Mura Masa putting on entertaining sets. Funk The Format Festival was a mixed bag, the sun was out and it was hot and perfect weather for a festival. Outstanding performances from Alice Russell and Kudu Blue but a bit of a slow motion car crash for the Goldie set, as it all seemed a bit unprepared.

At The Edge Of The Sea Festival is always one of my favourites. You never quite know what to expect but it’s always good. With Flowers, Jade Inland and of course The Wedding Present stealing the show. The year ended with a new pop-up festival called Winter Festival at One Church. Put together by SOTONES featuring some bands I know and love like Moulettes, Sam Walker and Eliza Jaye, along with a few new ones including Avital Raz and Ed J Hicks, who both put on spellbinding performances.

All in all 2017 was a very good year for music in my opinion.

Jonski Mason

Finally through the mist and fog that 2017 seemed to bring, it’s time to look back over a year of ups and downs in the world of music. Personally, I’ve enjoyed a number of old heads returning with stellar albums, continued development from some of the industry’s best and innovation from some of the brightest up-and-comers.

As a firm hip-hop head I was sceptical initially when I heard the return of Jay-Z (or rather Shawn Carter now) was imminent, following a number of forgettable albums in recent times and very little that had matched his seminal ‘96 release Reasonable Doubt.

However, his return with 4:44 was an astonishing surprise as Hova cut the crap and dealt with his issues head-on. Delving into his personal relationship with Kanye West as well as issues of infidelity, race and politics, Jigga redefined himself with this record, laying bare a fragility we’ve never seen so openly from him before. There were also triumphant returns by the likes of Brother Ali, Wu Tang Clang, Drake and Action Bronson, though, the lack of creativity on Eminem’s Revival was deeply disappointing in a year that has seen so many hip-hop greats return in style.

My album of the year, however, belongs to the current king of hip-hop, Kendrick Lamar. Following the incredible works of Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City and the more experimental To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick returned in 2017 with the explosive DAMN, a visceral, more in-your-face record than its predecessor.

Everything with Kendrick goes deeper than first thought, even down to the bold nature of the album’s all-caps title. From the strength and intensity of ‘DNA’ to his growth to ultra stardom in ‘HUMBLE’ to the soul-baring ‘FEAR’, this is another masterpiece from one of the genre’s greatest to ever do it, King Kendrick. Meanwhile, it’s been exciting to see innovation come in the form of Tyler, the Creator’s Flower Boy, Sampha’s Process and Vic Mensa’s The Autobiography.

Outside of the world of hip-hop and r’n’b, I was a massive fan of Vulfpeck’s new album Mr Finish Line, which brought a summer feel to the back end of 2017, while Chronixx’s Chronology was an uplifting listen from beginning to end.

I wasn’t able to make it to as many gigs as I’d have liked this year but some of my highlights on the live scene included Brother Ali’s spellbinding and deeply personal show at The Haunt along with Fazerdaze’s light and lively performance at Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar in October.

Looking back, it’s been a far more prosperous year than I thought when I initially sat down to write this review. If 2018 can match the quality that came out last year, then we’re in for a real treat.

Daniel White