Music | Bittles’ Magazine: The music column from the end of the world
As we’ve started our journey into 2018 it seems only fitting to look back and pay tribute to the great music which excited our ears over the past year. While it seemed as if most of the world went mad in 2017, there was at least a constant supply of great new music which made getting out of bed and engaging with humanity seem worthwhile. By JOHN BITTLES
The following ten albums helped keep me sane over the previous twelve months, showing that life was worth living and that right wing populism hadn’t completely taken over. We’ve got fuzzed-out guitar pop, widescreen indie, electronic punk funk, drifting ambiance, groove-heavy house, and lots more.
So, before Donald Trump causes another controversy we had better begin…
Party by Aldous Harding
Released back in May, Auckland’s Aldous Harding’s debut album with indie powerhouse 4AD is a thing of rare beauty. Painfully intimate lyrics are accompanied by the sparsest of instrumentation on a record which utilizes depth and space to create something touching and unique.
The frugal use of piano, drums, guitar and just a hint of synthesizers work perfectly to allow the singer’s voice room to both breath and soar. In a record of highlights, songs such as Imagining My Man, the title track and The World Is Looking For You merge folk melodies with dark, reflective lyrics to form an album I found myself returning to time and time again.
Key track: Imagining My Man.
Where Are We Going? By Octo Octa
After a string of great releases for labels such as Running Back, Love Notes and 100% Silk Maya Bouldry-Morrison arrived on the excellent Honey Soundsystem Records last summer with the deep house grooves of her fantastic new LP.
Sounding like a melting pot of influences from New York, Berlin, Chicago, London and more, the album’s nine tracks come across as fun filled, politically charged commands to dance. Where Are We Going? Pt. 1 is light and airy, On Your Lips has a deep echo-drenched groove, No More Pain (Promises To A Younger Self) is a DJ Sprinkles-style dance floor bomb, while Adrift is a spine-chilling take on 90s trance. Key track: On Your Lips.
Weaving Genres by Hector Romero
2017 was undeniably an excellent year for the commercial DJ mix. Top efforts from Steffi, Call Super, Kerri Chandler and Michael Mayer showed how this often maligned format is in rude health. Pick of the bunch is the sublime house of Hector Romero’s debut mix CD.
Released in April on long-running label Nervous Records, the New York artist took everything great about dance music and blended it into one fantastic set. With contributions from the likes of Louie Vega, Joi Cardwell, David Morales and Teddy Douglas, Weaving Genres is, quite simply, one of the best DJ sets to be found.
Key track: Robert Clivilles Feat. Kimberly Davis ・ Set Me Free (David Morales Remix).
Stranger In The Alps by Phoebe Bridgers
Featuring a voice that could melt the stoniest of hearts, LA artist Phoebe Bridgers‚ debut LP is a record which envelopes the listener in a warm, consoling hug. Soft and reflective, the album’s eleven tracks are beautifully intimate, detailing relationships, bitter breakups, their fallout and more.
With Phoebe’s soft vocals taking centre stage throughout, Stranger In The Alps is a lush, gentle album which packs a hell of an emotional punch. Full of haunting tales of loneliness and heartbreak, the record showcases a singer-songwriter who isn’t afraid of taking chances and who actually has something to say.
Key track: Motion Sickness.
Modern Species by DJ Sports
A unique blending of Larry Heard-style deep house and UK breakbeats help make Milan Zaks debut LP on Firecracker one of 2017’s stand-out LPs. Truly inspired, tracks flit from B12 style electronica to euphoric junglist riddims with ease.
Best known for his releases on labels such as 2 Bit Crew and Regelbau, his debut solo album has seen the up-and-coming producer drastically raise his game. Sounding a little like LTJ Bukem creating a beautiful lovechild with Galcher Lustwerk, Modern Species may be almost impossible to categorize, but it’s very easy to love.
Key Track: For Real For You.
Morningside by Fazerdaze
Released back in May, Auckland artist Amelia Murray followed 2014’s well received self-titled EP with the dazed guitar shuffle of her debut album.
Infused with three minute pop songs which use just the right amount of reverb and fuzz to create a string of aural moments which sound gloriously fucked-up even as they set up home in your brain, the record is as good as anything I heard last year. Impressively diverse, songs such as Lucky Girl, Little Uneasy and Take It Slow merge stoner melodies with killer choruses to form a record which will get some of us a little misty eyed recalling a time when pop music was actually good.
Key track: Misread.
New Energy by Four Tet
There are people out there who think all electronic music is merely a succession of bleeps and beats. To these poor unfortunate fools I have been handing out copies of Kieran Hebden’s latest opus to convince them of the errors of their ways. Startlingly beautiful from beginning to end, New Energy is an album of soaring melodies, soft ambiance and the gentlest of house beats.
Covering the light electronic pulse of Two Thousand And Seventeen, the trip hop/trance masterpiece which is Planet and the technoid groove of SW9 9SL, New Energy is a record which will cause even the stoniest of hearts to flutter in delight.
Key track: Two Thousand And Seventeen.
Bicep by Bicep
Belfast duo Andy Ferguson and Matt McBriar have been a fixture in house and techno circles since first entering our lives with their celebrated Feel My Bicep blog. 2017 saw the pair refine and refocus their production talents with the melody-led swoon of their debut LP.
Bicep first hit the shops in September, and successfully melded 90s progressive house and shuffling IDM with a winning pop nous to create an album more than worthy of our love. From the Sasha-esque breakbeats of Glue to the soaring trance of Opal, the album fits together beautifully.
Key track: Opal.
Cigarettes After Sex by Cigarettes After Sex
Sounding as if they should be the house band in some David Lynch bar scene, Texas group Cigarettes After Sex craft a sound which merges pop, indie and ambiance with aplomb.
With lead singer Greg Gonzalez’s androgynous vocals backed by spectral guitars, hushed drums and a generous amount of space the band’s debut album is a thing of sonic wonder. The perfect accompaniment to those long, lonely nights when it seems no one gives a damn that you are alive, Cigarettes After Sex’s first album knows what it’s like to feel dejected and alone. And, is all the better for it!
Key track: John Wayne.
American Dream by LCD Soundsystem
The cynic in me really wanted to hate this LP. It was only a few years ago that James Murphy and co had announced their intention to split. We had the farewell tour, the documentary, and the accompanying CD of the final concert. Then, after what seemed the shortest of gaps, we found out that LCD Soundsystem had reformed.
Yet, what could have been a simple cash in turned out to be the band’s best album yet. From the lovelorn Oh Baby to the punk funk stomp of Call The Police, American Dream is a deeply personal record which sees the band fully focused and re-energised. It really is that good.
Key track: I Used To.