Review Of 2017
From Words
posted on December 17th, 2017

Here are my favourites of the year.

Whilte you read, I made a Best Of 2017 SPOTIFY PLAYLIST including tracks from favourite albums and songs (as long as they’re on Spotify, so no Ben Marwood ‘Safe Mode’ or Jay-Z ffs).

ALBUMS
For the past three years I’ve written that albums are getting better and better. In 2017 I think it has flattened off, at least for a bit. The year still threw up a pile of brilliant releases though; music is still in a very fertile, fascinating place. I haven’t included much grime but that genre beginning to impact USA hip hop and R&B could be a seismic. One bright note is lyric-writing: it feels as if the tide is turning back towards specificity and storytelling in mainstream song. Ultra-basic (dumb as shit) what I call ‘universalist’ lyrics are (slightly) less prevalent. Politics (soft and hard) is back, too, across all genres, though the press hasn’t really noticed. Also, this list has moved around a lot, even in the past few days, I’ve been re-listening and juggling stuff.

1. Lorde – Melodrama

2. The Young’uns – Strangers

3. Yorkston / Thorne / Khan – Neuk Wight Delhi All-Stars

4. This Is The Kit – Moonshine Freeze

5. Stormzy – Gang Signs & Prayer

6. Hurray For The Riff Raff – The Navigator

7. Deerful – Peach

8. Jen Cloher – Jen Cloher

9. Julien Baker – Turn Out The Lights

10. Nadine Khouri – The Salted Air

11. Co-Pilgrim – Moon Lagoon

12. Taylor Swift – Reputation

13. Neil McSweeney – A Coat Worth Wearing

14. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

15. Lianne Hall – The Caretaker

16. Jon Boden – Afterglow

17. Connect_icut – Rage Coma

18. Kiran Leonard – Derevaun Seraun

19. Lankum – Between the Earth and Sky

20. Trio Da Kali & Kronos Quartet – Ladilikan

Honourable mentions: other records I gave 8.0+ out of 10… SZA – Ctrl, Wolf Alice – Visions Of A Life, Seamus Fogerty – The Curious Hand, Ben Marwood – Get Found, Tom Williams – All Change, Kendrick Lamar – Damn, Horsetail – Under Heaven, Tom McRae – Oh! The World, Ah! The World, Manrán – An Da La, Rhiannon Giddens – Freedom Highway, Stick In The Wheel – Follow Them True (would be higher if I I’d had more chances to listen), Nick Parker – Besta Venya, Lana Del Ray – Lust For Life, Jay-Z – 4:44, Sleaford Mods – English Tapas, St Vincent – Masseduction, Sampha – Process, The Horrors – V, Laura Marling – Semper Femina.

SONGS
I’m surprised by how out-and-out pop this list is. Not many folkie songs (apart from Young’uns) – or heavy/indie rock songs (apart from a Converge b-side) – got anywhere near the top this year.

1. Lorde – Green Light

2. Young’uns – Dark Water

3. Charli XCX – Boys

4. Converge – Eve

5. Craig Finn – God In Chicago

6. Taylor Swift – New Year’s Day

7. This Is The Kit – Moonshine Freeze

8. Hans Zimmer, Jacob Shea, David Fleming – The Blue Planet

9. St Vincent – New York

10. Lorde – Liability

11. Ben Marwood – Safe Mode

12. Dirty Projectors – Cool Your Heart feat. Dawn Richard

13. Kesha – Praying

14. Grace Petrie – Done Deal

15. Jamie Lenman – Hardbeat

16. Taylor Swift – Call It What You Want

17. Dua Lipa – New Rules

18. Aldous Harding – Imagining My Man
19. Muna – I Know A Place

20. Selena Gomez – Bad Liar

Honourable mentions: Ezra Furman – Love You So Bad, Royal Thunder – The Sinking Chair, Neil Mcsweeney – Land of Cockaigne, Young’uns – Be The Man, Swedemason – Paul McCartney Rabbit Hole, Xcerts – Feels Like Falling In Love and Hold On To Your Heart, Katy Perry – Chained To The Rhythm, Nothing More – Go To War

GIGS (WATCHED)
In terms of pure enjoyment, 2017 smashed last year for gigs. My best three gigs of 2016 wouldn’t make the Top 5 below. But the twist to that is, several of these shows are old-school veterans, or reforms, so I’m clearly recapturing some thrill that I don’t get now. Fondas at #1 had elements of that, though they were better than I’d ever seen them. Senseless Things was classic reform – the sheer buzz of hearing those wondrous songs ripped out again, while Half Man Half Biscuit (who I’ve not seen before I don’t think) were beautifully uncompromising, right down to the lack of any discernible lighting change as the band walked on (and how remarkably shitfaced I got courtesy Evan and Sean). Aside from those, my taste veered away from guitars, with electronic and experimental stuff (and a jazz jam night, sorry Reuben) giving me the most joy this year.

1. Fonda 500 at Truck Festival, Oxfordshire

2. Half Man Half Biscuit at The Assembly Hall, Worthing

3. Flying Lotus at Mauerpark, Berlin

4. Senseless Things at Shepherds Bush Empire, London

5. Jon Boden at The Komedia, Brighton

6. Saturday night at North Gate Jazz Co-op, Chiangmai, Thailand

7. Lianne Hall at Campfire Live, Brighton

8. Dear Everyone at Cambridge Unitarian Church (unplugged) & Brighton Komedia (plugged)

9. Jolie Holland & Samantha Parton at The Komedia, Brighton

10. Hurtling at Truck Festival, Oxfordshire & Green Door Store, Brighton

11. Deerful at Wales Goes Pop! Cardiff and Campfire Live, Brighton

12. Dorian Concept at Mauerpark, Berlin

13. El Morgan & The Divers at The Hope & Ruin, Brighton

14. Roxanne de Bastion at Cambridge Folk Festival

15. Thundercat at Mauerpark, Berlin

16. Ben Marwood, Non Canon, Helen Chambers at The Brunswick, Hove

17. Belshazzar’s Feast at Cambridge Folk Festival

18. Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls at Cambridge Folk Festival & Lost Evenings

19. Fear Of Men at Wales Goes Pop

20. Co-Pilgrim at Truck Festival, Oxfordshire

Honourable mentions, all live sets I gave 7.5+ out of 10 (told you it was a great year)…
Sharon Lewis at Big Green Party II, Steve Mason at May Day Solidarity Festival, Kelly Kemp at the Hope, the little bit I saw of Seán McGowan at the Railway (still haven’t seen anything like a full set), Chrissy Barnacle and Lovers Turn To Monsters at Glasgow Glad Café, (who both deserved more of my attention but I was running the door), Matt Edible at Truck, Pog at Big Green Party II, Dave Burland at May Day Solidary Festival, Chloe Hawes at the Anthony Burgess Centre, Jeff Jepson at Noa Bakehouse, Isle Of Man, The Boy Least Likely To at Wales Goes Pop, Warsaw Radio at Big Green Party II, Robb Johnson at May Day Solidarity Festival.

GIGS (PLAYED)
I knew back in January that I’d stop playing this year, which radically changed how I felt about each gig (like working your notice period). Also, I only played 36 shows, which is ridiculously low for me (in 2016 I played 75 shows and that was my lowest for 15 years). The upshot is, the gigs up at the top of this year’s chart are from a smaller pot, yet feel like the best shows of my life. Was a fabulous way to go out.

The usual note about this category: it’s not about gig size, or ‘coolness’, or even how well I performed, or even the audience (though that does impact it): it is solely about how much I enjoy being onstage. This is subjective even in a normal year but these ‘farewell’ shows skewed that like crazy.

1. Lexington, London – final farewell show

2. Café Kino, Bristol – solo ‘Best Of’ concert

3. Railway Inn, Winchester – farewell show

4. Courtyard Theatre, London – farewell show

5. Prem Amphitheatre, Mae Rim, Thailand – solo concert

6. The Wild Boar, Warwick – solo ‘Best Of’ concert

7. Truck Festival, Oxfordshire – Hoodrats show

8. in-class singing with Mary Cooper and EY2, Prem School, Mae Rim, Thailand

9. Anthony Burgess Centre, Manchester – solo ‘Best Of’ concert

10. The Komedia, Brighton – solo ‘Best Of’ concert

11. Cambridge Folk Festival – A.A. Milne show

12. May Day Solidarity Festival, Barnsley – solo set

13. Noa Bakehouse, Douglas, Isle Of Man – farewell show

14. Cafe Kino, Glasgow – farewell show

15. Unitarian Church, Cambridge – solo ‘Best Of’ concert

16. All Hallows Church, Leeds – solo ‘Best Of’ concert

17. Jai Thep Festival, Thailand – ropey solo afternoon set in blazing sun

18. Town Hall Arts, Trowbridge – solo ‘Best Of’ concert

19. Simon and Daeng’s house, Thailand – short campfire set

20. The Old Market, Hove – just ‘M1 Song’ with drone at Wilder Stories podcast

 

MUSIC ON SMALL SCREENS

1. Kate Tempest does ‘Europe Is Lost’ on Jimmy Fallon

2. Arianne Grande and friends at One Love Manchester

3. Sturgill Simpson – ‘Call To Arms’ on SNL

4. Hurray For The Riff Raff on Later and full set live on KEXP

5. Lady Gaga Superbowl halftime show

6. Glastonbury Festival on the BBC iPlayer

7. Neil McSweeney – ‘Land of Cockaigne’ Hudson Session

8. Songhoy Blues at the 6Music Festival

9. Aldous Harding on Later

10. Beyoncé at the Grammys

 

FILMS
My best year watching films for a decade, I finally felt like I saw enough films in the year to justify doing this chart. As usual a nod of gratitude to Simon and Mark’s film show.

Note: I’m publishing this before watching Star Wars, which I’ll see Tuesday night. If it makes the Top 20, I’ll add it but increase the list to a Top 21, so Sing Street doesn’t vanish.

1. Moonlight

2. 120 Beats Per Minute

3. The Red Turtle

4. The Handmaiden

5. Dunkirk

6. The Salesman

7. James Baldwin: I Am Not Your Negro

8. Free Fire

9. The Death Of Stalin

10. Hunt For The Wilderpeople

11. Paddington 2

12. Lion

13. Thor Ragnarok

14. Wonder Woman

15. Blade Runner 2049

16. Hell Or High Water

17. Captain Fantastic

18. Hidden Figures

19. Okja

20. Sing Street

TV
I’m surprised how few of the serious TV critics are crediting Rick & Morty’s jawdropping penis-in-a-blender of a third season in their charts. I don’t think we’ve ever seen such perfect imaginative nihilism on screen in any form. I don’t think Master Of None is ‘better’ television per se; it clung to my #1 spot because I was so moved by (and laughed so much through) several episodes (especially the outstanding masterpiece Thanksgiving ep that won Lena Waithe the first ever comedy writing Emmy for an African-American woman), whereas most Rick & Morty episodes end with an overpowering sense of aghast horror at appalling truth.

1. Master Of None

2. Rick & Morty

3. Ken Burns: The Vietnam War

4. The OA

5. Taboo

6. Halt & Catch Fire

7. Blue Planet 2

8. Chef’s Table – season 3 episode 1 – Jeong Kwan

9. The Americans

10. American Vandal

11. The Good Place

12. Sense8

13. Stranger Things

14. Chris Packham’s autism documentary

15. Alias Grace (only five episodes in)

16. Chef’s Table – season 2 episodes with Grant Achatz, Enrique Olvera and Gaggan Anand

17. Line Of Duty

18. Cunk on Comic Relief

19. Transparent

20. Glow

(haven’t yet watched Ozark, or The Crown season 2)

NEW BOOKS
Earlier this year Jim Bob stung me by casually mentioning he “didn’t think I read books” – and ever since then I’ve been reading as many as possible to prove to myself that I already did. He was probably right though; I realise I’ve read loads more than a usual year and 80% of these books I read since summer.

1. N. K. Jemisin – The Broken Earth Trilogy (all three books)

2. Benjamin Myers – The Gallows Pole

3. Ta-Nehisi Coates – We Were Eight Years In Power

4. Martin Shaw – Scatterlings

5. Yaa Gyasi – Homegoing

6. Naomi Alderman – The Power

7. MJ Hibbett – Storm House

8. Jessica Abel – Out On The Wire

9. Michael Lewis – The Undoing Project

10. Fiona Mozley – Elmet

Honourable mentions: Douglas Murphy – Nincompoopolis, Charlamagne Tha God – #BlackPrivilege, Dark Mountain #11, Paul Kingsnorth – Confessions Of A Recovering Environmentalist, Morris & Hazeley – The Ladybird Books For Grownups.

 

OLDER BOOKS

1. Peter Dickinson – The Changes Trilogy

2. Martin Shaw – A Branch From The Lightning Tree *

3. Lewis Hyde – Trickster Makes This World

4. Susan Cooper – The Dark Is Rising Sequence

5. Mark Fisher – Capitalist Realism

6. Yuval Noah Harari – Sapiens *

7. Rae Spoon & Ivan Coyote – Gender Failure *

8. John Le Carré – A Perfect Spy

9. Beverley Nichols – The Tree That Sat Down

10. Ivan Illich – Tools For Conviviality *

* read for the first time, the rest are re-reads

 

VISUAL ART
We’re going to the Basquiat tomorrow, so I’ll add him onto the list if he makes it in…

1. Derek Jarman’s garden at Prospect Cottage, Dungeness

2. Soul Of A Nation – Art In The Age Of Black Power at Tate Modern, London

3. Treehugger (VR experience) at The Old Market, Hove

4. Museum der Dinge (The Museum Of Things), Berlin

5. John Akomfrah – The Unfinished Conversation at Tate Modern, London

6. Ten Meter Tower (short film)

7. Eric Drass – Migration Patterns at Dynamite Gallery, Brighton

8. Gluck: Art & Identity at Brighton Museum

9. Norman Parker surreal paintings at Hundred Monkeys, Glastonbury

10. Gem Fletcher’s Instagram feed

 

RADIO / PODCASTS

1. West Wing Weekly

2. Longform Podcast

3. Kermode & Mayo Film Show

4. Slate Gabfest

5. Slate Culture Gabfest

6. Mostly Lit

7. Adam Buxton podcast

8. In Our Time

9. Make Out With Him

10. Home Front

11. SongExploder

12. Intercepted

13. Watling Street

14. Desert Island Discs

15. Trumpcast

16. Slate XX Gabfest

17. Another Round

18. Vitriola

19. Fresh Air

20. Whistlestop

Honourable mention: NYT – The Daily; WTF with Marc Maron’s Springsteen interview was the only WTF episode I listened to in 2017 but it was in my top 3 favourite individual podcast episodes; also the guests on Spotify’s We Need To Talk About… are often terrific and conversations are great but I struggle with Jolyon’s upbeat daytime hosting style. Jon Boden’s Singing At The End Of The World four part series discussing his album Afterglow for Hudson Records would also be in my list because Jon was brilliant and funny – but I made it, so obviously it’s not eligible!

 

LIVE NON-MUSIC

1. Theatre de Complicite: The Encounter – Simon McBurney at the Barbican, London

2. Stewart Lee – Content Provider at Brighton Dome

3. Dougald Hine’s ‘Art Of The Impossible’ round tables at Newspeak House, London

4. Mostly Lit Podcast at SO Live Festival, London

5. Maya Goodfellow on the Black Panthers at The World Transformed, Brighton

6. Charlie Peverett interviews Paul Macauley & Tamsin Bishton, in my house, Brighton

7. Another Round Podcast with Susan Wokoma at SO Live Festival, London

8. George Monbiot at The World Transformed, Brighton

9. Attila The Stockbroker at May Day Solidarity Festival, Barnsley

10. Jo Neary at Caroline Of Brunswick, Brighton

 

ESSAYS, BLOGGING, POETRY, SHARED THOUGHT

1. David Wallis Wells – The Uninhabitable Earth, New York magazine 

2. Ta-Nehisi Coates – The First White President, The Atlantic

3. Carole Cadwalladr – The Great British Brexit Robbery, The Guardian

4. Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah – A Most American Terrorist, The Making Of Dylann Roof, GQ

5. Aidan Strangeman’s poem (on Facebook) for Repeal The 8th

6. Sam Knight – Operation London Bridge, on what happens when The Queen dies, The Guardian

7. Joel Morris’ personal Facebook feed.

8. Stephen Metcalf – Neoliberalism, the idea that swallowed the world, The Guardian

9. June Thomas on the song ‘Sailing By’ and the film I, Daniel Blake, Slate

10. Rebecca Solnit – The Loneliness Of Donald Trump, Literary Hub

11. Jesse Newton’s Facebook post about Roomba and dog poo

12. Sarah Crowder – My Gut Feelings In Budapest – A Travel Diary, Parts 1-3, Gut Feelings

13. Katherina Grace Thomas – Nina Simone In Liberia, Guernica

14. Dana Stevens – Watching Louis CK’s New Movie And Saying Goodbye, Slate

15. N J Stallard – Chris Kraus, After Kathy Acker A Biography, Reviewed, Manchester Review

 

FOOD

1. David’s Kitchen, Chiangmai (gnocchi, pumpkin soup)

2. Restaurant Bastard, Kreuzberg, Berlin (scrambled egg, honey, goat’s cheese)

3. H&D Chay, Neuköln, Berlin (vegan Vietnamese duck in mango red curry)

4. Immain Vegetarian and Bike Café, Chiangmai (vegetarian Thai lunch)

5. Gallery Seescape and SS1254372 Cafe, Chiangmai (brunch)

6. Milgi, Cardiff (nut roast)

7. Lizzie Betts / Yolk Catering Pop-Up at Rust, Brighton (dinner)

8. Starfish & Coffee, Brighton (avocado, poached egg brunch)

9. Baan Suan, Mae Rim, Thailand (tapas-style Thai)

10. The Sussex Yeoman, Brighton (vegetarian roast)

11. River Cottage Canteen, Winchester (squash soup, vegetarian option)

12. The Rose & Portcullis, Butleigh (goat’s cheese stack and chips)

13. Seerose, Sudstern, Berlin (vegetarian buffet-style lunches, pasta, vegetables, salads)

14. Carlito Burrito, Brighton (Mexican street food)

15. Terre A Terre, Brighton (classic vegetarian)

16. Baby Burrito, Berlin (Mexican vegetarian street food)

17. Anchan, Chiangmai (exceptional Thai vegetarian)

18. Krapood, Hauy Sai, Thailand (dinner)

19. Croco Pizza, Chiangmai (vegetarian pizza)

20. Moksha, Brighton (avocado, poached egg, best hash browns in Brighton)

Honourable mention for the barbecue and miracle berries at Simon & Daeng’s house in Thailand, plus the cheesecake at Five Elephant in Berlin, which almost triggered a whole new ‘dessert’ section.

COFFEEHOUSES
Mea culpa: I’ve royally screwed up my entire COFFEE / DRINKS section. I meticulously bought coffee beans from all over the place, saved the bags (so many I’ve made a big frame of them for my attic) then lost the file with all my notes in, so I have no idea which beans were the great ones. I’m also left with a list of coffee shops I loved but can’t connect those to the cups that I preferred most. Wrekt! So here’s a non-numbered list of places I loved:

Bonanza Coffee Heroes, Berlin
Twin Pines, Brighton
Kiez Rösterei, Berlin
Coffee@33, Brighton
Door & Rivet, Bristol (thank you Kat Dolan)
Five Elephant, Berlin
Grindsmith, Manchester
Small Batch, Brighton
Kilau, Aberdeen
Sala Café, Mae Rim, Thailand
Companion Coffee, Berlin
Restr8to, Chiangmai
The Visit, Mitte Berlin
Silo, Berlin
Camon Coffee, Berlin (nod for crazy lavender iced coffee)

…and I’ll keep my coffee notes better organised in 2018.

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