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Positive Sounds and Negative Space - The Best Music of 2017....

2017 has brought us some mighty fine music. Here's the pick of my favourites and a few thoughts....

I have probably listened to a greater variety of music than ever this year, partly because the majority of my radio listening switched on to BBC 6 Music, giving me the opportunity to listen to a lot of new and up and coming bands that I would have probably not heard otherwise. Artists I had previously had to search out for myself like the War on Drugs, Kurt Vile, and St Vincent are regularly played as well, and with excellent playlists in many of the pubs I regularly visit, with streaming from the likes of Spotify becoming more common rather than relying on the anodyne soundtracks we have become accustomed to, the exposure to great music has been better than ever before.

Sadly, as last year, we lost a number of great musicians. One of them was Tom Petty, whom I had seen at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, on his first tour of the UK in 1977. He was supporting Nils Lofgren with the Heartbreakers, and completely blew him off stage in what to this day is still one of the best gigs I have ever been to. We also lost Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, long-time survivors from the rock and roll era, Walter Becker from Steely Dan, Glen Campbell, Gregg Allman and fellow Allman Brothers Band founder member, Butch Trucks, Chris Cornell from Soundgarden, and Chester Benningfield from Linkin Park, to name just a few.

In terms of live music, I saw plenty during the year, although ironically less around Brighouse than in previous years, where as ever I thoroughly enjoyed The Rainey Street Band, Blood, Sweat, and Beers, Chris Martin and Scott Wainwright, and Nick Hall whenever I saw them. I also enjoyed a number of acts that I saw at The Grayston Unity in Halifax, whilst further afield, I had a couple of enjoyable Sunday teatimes at The Cluny in Newcastle. In fact, one of the best musical days I had in 2017 was chancing upon folk band Devils Water recording a live video at The Dipton Mill Inn near Hexham, early one Sunday afternoon, then seeing the Hat Band performing some excellent blues at The Cluny at teatime, then heading up to the nearby Cumberland Arms, where I ended up in the middle of a folk and roots open mic evening with some excellent local musicians. It was a wonderful day. In terms of gigs I paid to see, I particularly enjoyed Jason Isbell at the Albert Hall in Manchester in October, Mark Lanegan at The Ritz in Manchester in June, and then, 3 days later at the same venue, the Old Crow Medicine Show, who were performing songs from Bob Dylan's 'Blonde on Blonde' to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the album's release. I also enjoyed Jane Weaver at the Brudenell in Leeds and Hookworms at the Hebden Bridge, both in November, and with the recent opening of The Lantern in Halifax, the early signs are that we have another excellent small venue in the local area.

All join in: Open Mic Night at The Cumberland Arms, Newcastle

Now for the Top Albums of 2017(in customary reverse order)....

10. Navigator - Hurray for the Riff Raff

Another excellent album for the band led by Alynda Lee Segarra. Here she goes back to her Puerto Rican roots to tell the story of growing up on the tough streets of the Bronx told through a third-party, the eponymous Navigator. As usual behind the lovely melodies there are some hard stories and imagery. Favourite track: Living in the City

9. Youth Detention - Lee Bains lll and The Glory Fires

This was one of the most energetic albums I heard all year. Driving Southern Rock from Birmingham, Alabama, like a raw version of early Drive By Truckers. The lyrics, often starting off with a sermon-like intro over looped chanting before crashing into the song, tackled many social issues not normally covered by Southern rock bands. Exciting stuff. Favourite track: Crooked Letters

8. Peasant - Richard Dawson
2017 was finally the year when Richard Dawson's own brand of skewed folk was picked up on by a wider audience. Not an immediate easy listen, the album is set in some mythical kingdom way back in the Dark Ages, but once you get used to the Geordie's own distinctive off-kilter musical template it becomes a rewarding and satisfying listen. Favourite track: Ogre

7. Colors - Beck
The one thing that never changes with Beck Hansen is that he always changes. The fact that his last album, 'Morning Phase', had a chilled out pastoral vibe gave no clues to this set of killer hooks and quality pop tunes that stormed its way on to scene in the middle of the year. Being Beck, there is always a twist here and a turn there, which made this a refreshing and invigorating experience on every listen. Favourite track: Dreams

6. Lotta Sea Lice - Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile
Kurt Vile always does chilled, and it was not surprising this intercontinental hook-up with Aussie singer songwriter Courtney Barnett would be anything different. But whilst, love him as you do, Kurt can sometimes get a bit carried away with his musical doodling, this album with Courtney really works as her voice and songs add an extra dimension. The songs are deceptively simple, but it was one of the albums this year that always begged another listen. Favourite track: Continental Breakfast

5. Modern Kosmology - Jane Weaver
This was a grower, gorgeous melodies with some excellent keyboards and solid beats behind Weaver's soaring voice. After being around for several years, this album has been a welcome breakthrough bringing her to an enthusiastic wider audience. Favourite Track: Slow Motion

4. Moonshine Freeze - This Is The Kit
Chilled out contemporary folk from Kate Stables and co. Another set of deceptively simple tunes which creep up on you and draw you into their hidden depths so that before you know it you are humming them all the time. Favourite track: Moonshine Freeze

3. Gargoyle - Mark Lanegan Band
Brooding quality rock from a guy with one of the best growls in the business. Full of excellent songs from rockers to slow builders, this was another artist who managed this year to extend his already strong cult following after years of touring and grafting. Favourite track: Beehive

2. A Deeper Understanding - The War On Drugs
I love every single album by Adam Granduciel's The War On Drugs. Each has its own style, but ultimately it has that distinctive War On Drugs sound: soaring guitar, driving rhythms, and cracking tunes. This album was a belter, more reflective and mellow than its 2014 predecessor, 'Lost In The Dream', but almost hitting the heights of that classic. Favourite track: Nothing To Find

1. American Dream - LCD Soundsystem
Ever since James Murphy decided to call it a day with LCD Soundsystem a few years back, there has been a gap for their relentless pounding beats, cracking tunes, and Murphy's distinctive delivery style, ranging from the laconic to the pleading and all points in between. A gap that was filled this year when after persistent rumours this album hit the scene. And it was crammed with fantastic tracks: from the melodic, almost reflective title track to the insistent 'Call the Police. A brilliant return, an album that was better than anyone dared hope. Favourite track: I Used To

Top Tracks of 2017

1. Negative Space - Hookworms
Quite simply, the best tune of the year by far from this Leeds/Halifax electronic outfit in a year of cracking music. Breathtaking, euphoric, awesome, uplifting....

2. Brand New Day - Surfing Magazines
3. I Used To - LCD Soundsystem
4. Edith Piaf(said it better than me) - Sparks
5. Dreams - Beck
6. Slow Motion - Jane Weaver
7. Ogre - Richard Dawson
8. Beehive - Mark Lanegan
9. Love You So Bad - Ezra Furman
10. UBU - Methyl Ethyl

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