2017 was a big year for music, and many of the usual suspects who dominate the charts year on year didn’t let up. Some new faces also exploded onto the scene, and into the mainstream public consciousness. However, amongst the many, many artists who don’t receive that level of public attention, some incredible work was produced again in the year just passed. In the hope of introducing you to these more obscure gems (and some are very, very obscure), three of us here have contributed just a few of our favourite albums of 2017 that flew somewhat under the radar.
Aimee Mann – Mental Illness – SuperEgo
Aimee Mann has had a glittering career which has included a Grammy Award win, playing for the Obamas at the White House, and even an Academy Award nomination. Yet, it would be fair to say she has never reached the level of fame that a supreme talent such as hers deserves. There is of course the argument she wouldn’t want such a level of celebrity, and probably with good reason. None of this changes the fact that Mann is one of the most bewitching, beguiling songwriters of her time. This has never been clearer than on Mental Illness, her most melancholic album to date.
Hauntingly beautiful, her latest offering is a stripped back and heartfelt collection of songs that matches its elegant despair with its lyrical sophistication and invention. As with all of Mann’s work, it has received a great critical response. It is now crying out for a larger audience.
Song to seek: Patient Zero
Trevor Sensor – Andy Warhol’s Dream – Jagjaguwar
Without wanting to come across all Nostradamus, I predict that years from now we will all regard Trevor Sensor as one of the, albeit more alternative, voices of his generation. As a voice, his is certainly distinctive. His scratchy, throaty, primal vocals rips through this, his debut album, in exhilarating fashion. Yet, his cracking storm of a voice doesn’t detract from, or undermine, his lyrical dexterity or flamboyance. Sensor’s skill as a wordsmith is immediately obvious. Given that, it’s hard to believe he was born in 1994.
Comparing him to a young Bob Dylan should feel excessive, yet remarkably, I feel comfortable doing so and am not the first. Sensor’s is a precocious talent, such that we can only expect big things as he matures ever more as a musician.
Song to seek: Starborne Eyes
Public Service Broadcasting – Every Valley – Test Card Recording
Public Service Broadcasting are an alternative rock duo based in London, who are probably most remarkable for their almost total reliance on archive recordings for vocals. At times their music is as much documentary as it is rock n’ roll.
Following albums on the Second World War, the BBC (a nod to the band’s name), and the Space Race, the art rock trio Public Service Broadcasting turned their attention to the Welsh Valleys for their third full-length album.
This album looks at the rise of the coal industry in Wales, and the devastating and inspiring consequences of its collapse. As with their previous work it relies heavily for its vocals on recorded speech, with a couple of exceptions, notably the full male choir who sing the stirring final track ‘Take Me Home’.
My personal favourites on this album are ‘They Gave Me a Lamp’, and ‘Mother of the Village’, but as with all PSB albums, it’s one to be enjoyed from start to finish.
Song to seek: They Gave me a Lamp
Italia 90 – Italia 90 EP – Self released
If 2017 was the year when ideals of the late 80s returned to politics, then it was also the year they returned to music. In their debut EP, Italia 90 bring the fiery anger of post-punk to bear on 2017’s hottest topics, from capitalism to fascism via mobile reassurance units. Guitars screech, drums crash and a man drones on and then shouts gruffly. It’s perfect.
This EP is only 5 tracks long so there’s probably no need to pick favourites – but ‘Competition’ is the clear standout. It’s a track that builds with uneasy menace as each layer builds upon the last – which we wouldn’t dare to suggest mirrors the system they critique in any way. The refrain, delivered again and again with increasing frustration, sums up the band’s view of a system that offers, “freedom to choose, freedom to lose.”
There don’t appear to be any plans for a full-length release to build on this stunning debut as yet. We can’t wait for it when it comes though.
Song to seek: Competition
Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness – Ba Da Bing!
I’ve managed to listen to this album on a loop for some time now. Byrne has a completely effortless voice that just sort of…exists out from her? I don’t know how to put it, it’s just the kindest sound; really solemn. Her voice is breezy, layered over lapping waves and acoustic guitars that gradually take on a pleasing electronic throb. I loved it. It sneaked up on me.
Song to seek: Sea as it Glides
The xx – I See You – Young Turks
Beautiful album artwork! Didn’t realise how much I’d played this one, especially over the summer. It might be my favourite record we’ve had yet from The xx, and is a great cousin to Jamie xx’s In Colour. A great balance of dance-able pop and melancholy electronica that fits a variety of moods. Too cool for school.
Song to seek: On Hold (for that sweet, sweet Hall & Oates sample)
Goldfrapp – Silver Eye – Mute Records
This one has scored many wine-based evenings at home. I like Goldfrapp a lot and so much of this record rotates on shuffle. To the extent that it feels like it’s been part of her back catalogue for years. All breathy vocals and Röyksopp-y beats. It’s dark and brooding and doesn’t fight for your attention at all – I’m very keen!
Song to seek: Anymore
The three of us collaborated on this post together to ensure a broader spread of tastes and genres. Therefore, we hope that you discovered something that appealed to you. In any case, we cannot understate the potential joys of scratching further beneath the surface, and diving deeper into the world of music to discover little known artists who might just blow your mind. On our part, we cannot wait to see what lesser-known masterpieces 2018 throws our way.
Also published on Medium.