The year in review: our music writers’ pick of 2017

Montage by Graeme Bandeira
Montage by Graeme Bandeira
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The music scene in Leeds continues to go from strength and the city’s venues have played host to many memorable gigs in the past 12 months. Our music writers look back on their own favourites and also choose their albums of the year.

TOM NEWTON

Album and Gig of the Year

The Cribs

I probably played it to death in the first week of release. I may have uploaded countless Instagram posts of the record and its many variant releases, however when a new Cribs album arrives everything else goes out of the window.

Seventh album 24/7 Rockstar S***, didn’t need to exist or prove anything. There were no elaborate advertising campaigns, only one physical single released and little to no airplay received. This album was written, produced and released in quick succession as a thank you to the fans and a counterpoint to the gloss and sheen of previous album For All My Sisters.

The album begins with Give Good Time, and continues to do just that with Year Of Hate, Rainbow Ridge and What Have You Done For Me, all glorious trademark Jarman vocals and punchy guitar lines present.

To promote the album, The Cribs played a very intimate gig at Belgrave Music Hall, a scuzzy, sweaty, fists in the air triumph of a set. Drawing heavily from the new album, The Cribs interlaced the material with all the best fan favourite tracks that have rung through the walls of every venue in Leeds for the last 15 years.

Finishing eighth on word of mouth and fan loyalty, The Cribs snuck into the mainstream pop charts with an album that was anything but. The Cribs don’t need to prove detractors wrong, they silenced them once and for all by showing the music industry it is dead at the wheel. For myself, 24/7 Rockstar S*** was not just album of the year, it was the rebirth of the band.

www.thecribs.com

FAITH GLEDHILL

Gig of the year

Avalanche Party at The Lending Room

When it comes to pulling off an indelible live show, few could surpass the pomp and veritable might of Avalanche Party. Music is undoubtedly the great love of my life, and I’ve always found it difficult to tie myself down to any one favorite live act... until now. Taking to the stage as part of Kazoopa Festival, frontman Jordan hangs menacingly over the edge of the stage, often vacating it entirely to weave through the crowd. The performance is a breakneck display of power from start to finish, complete with trenchant instrumentation and searing vocals; I could watch this band every single night and never tire.

www.avalancheparty.com

Album of the year

Wolf Alice – Visions Of A Life

London-based quartet Wolf Alice have taken the bull by the horns when it comes to that infamous difficult second album challenge, and the result is something quite spectacular. From the effervescent instrumental sonority of Heavenward to the searingly punk infused Yuk Foo, Visions Of A Life is intrepid, brave and extraordinarily beautiful from start to finish and combines a variety of genres with fluent dexterity. Impossible to label and even more impossible to forget, the band cast off what is conventional and derivative in favour of something a little more empirical.

wolfalice.co.uk

ANDREW STEEL

Gig of the Year

The Killers at First Direct Arena

Making their First Direct Arena debut, Nevada’s stadium heroes The Killers were always going deliver something bombastic, and so it prevailed. Yet Brandon Flowers and company didn’t just turn out a near-two-hour show of widescreen cinematic grandstanding; instead, they reveled in the finer details, littering their stage with references to Yorkshire and bringing out former Kaiser Chiefs man Nick Hodgson for a rollicking rendition of I Predict a Riot.

With more than a dozen hits stuffed in along the way, dispatched with the punchy aesthetic of a glitterball cannon-blast, this was a consumate, electrifying arena-rock performance – and worth it alone for the technicolour, barnstorming finale of Mr Brightside.

www.thekillersmusic.com

Album of the Year

The National – Sleep Well Beast

Few bands capture lovelorn, desperate emasculation in the way that The National do, but even by their own impressive standards, Sleep Well Beast is a high-water mark. Trading more on electronica barbs than prior, with a looser sense of sonics, it still engineers itself around wolfishly intellectual frontman Matt Berninger’s baritone croon and contemptuous lyricism, propelling the band’s most overt political leanings to the forefront alongside desolation and love. The explosive, visceral Turtleneck is a raving rocker quite unlike anything they’ve ever done, and the motoric, hurting Day I Die grooves forward with their most propulsive hook yet. Utterly fantastic.

americanmary.com

SUSAN DARLINGTON

Gig of the Year

Dream Wife at Headrow House

When Dream Wife asserted, “I am not my body/I am somebody,” at Headrow House in January it was against the backdrop of women’s rallies protesting about Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Eleven months later and the Brighton-Reykjavik trio’s feminist sloganeering sounds prescient of the #MeToo movement. It’s a lyrical anger that they brought to their no frills music by way of a grab bag of popular culture references.

Mashing up the Spice Girls’ ‘Wannabe’ with Blondie-style disco and corrosive new wave guitar, they brought fun to the political landscape. They’ve yet to capture this energy on record but live they were unstoppable.

en-gb.facebook.com/dreamwifedream

Album of the year

Aldous Harding – Party

Aldous Harding subtly redefined her idiosyncratic version of gothic folk on her second album, Party (4AD). Still stark and intense, the New Zealander nonetheless introduced fresh influences to its nine tracks.

Alongside fingerpicked guitar and weather beaten piano there’s now minimal electronics, disconcerting harmonies with Perfume Genius’ Mike Hadreas, and a raft of new vocal characters. Her trademark Nico delivery remains, in which she rolls vowels around her mouth like foreign objects, but she’s also brought a jazz persona and a hint of Parisian café culture.

It’s not an easy listen but it arrests attention and suggests a major talent at the start of her game.

www.aldousharding.com

DUNCAN SEAMAN

Gig of the Year

Hacienda Classical at First Direct Arena

If the novelty of taking 20 or so dancefloor bangers from a bygone era and embellishing them with a live orchestra and a handful of guest vocalists may have worn off a little in 2017, what made this collaboration between three Hacienda stalwarts – Graeme Park, Mike Pickering and Peter Hook – and Manchester Camerata stand out was the sheer joy it was capable of evoking.

From the opening bars of Do You Want It Right Now? to Rowetta inspiring a mass singalong to You Got The Love, this was a two-hour party and a half, performed, as Hook had promised, with heart, soul, passion and enthusiasm. They return to the First Direct Arena with a new set in September 2018. You’d be a fool to miss it.

www.facebook.com/Fac51TheHacienda

Album of the Year

St Vincent – Mass Education

After a decade spent heroically toiling on the art rock fringes, Annie Clark’s self-titled fourth album unexpectedly propelled the singer and guitarist to mainstream consciousness in 2014. Keeping critics onside and winning a Grammy Award at the same time was no mean feat, but following up St Vincent with an even better record, brimming with confidence, quirks and inventiveness, was surely a greater achievement. Songs such as Los Ageless and Pills are contemporary electro-pop/R&B with a subversive edge while the ballads New York and Happy Birthday, Johnny are heartbreaking in their emotional clarity. Where Clark might go from here is anyone’s guess but right now she is at the top of her game and shades strong records from Lorde, Paul Weller and Rhiannon Giddens for this year’s best album.

ilovestvincent.com

KIMBERLEY-MARIE SKLINAR

Gig of the Year

Methyl Ethel at Oporto

Perth Australia’s Methyl Ethel are relative unknowns in the UK albeit appearances at festivals over the UK and Europe this summer. Their slot at Oporto early this year supported the launch of their second album, Everything Is Forgotten, was an intimate show with the chance to get up close and personal with these curious lot before they definitely make it bigger. Heavy basslines and hazy mind-bending lyrics clearly find influence in the delerious Perth heat and featured heavily in their set, and although squeezing into this tiny show in early March, they’re still on my mind come December.

methylethel.com

DAVID HODGSON

Album of the Year

The National – Sleep Well Beast

I’d been dreading having to put into words why The National’s Sleep Well Beast is my album of 2017, pipping Father John Misty’s social commentary Pure Comedy.

Having found The National’s previous six albums relativity impenetrable, admittedly against the wider consensus, the most recent release from the Cincinnati five-piece is lyrically exceptional, a dry and dispassionate discourse of middle age, conveyed through tracks which finally release the band’s constrained previous efforts. First single The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness sets the tone, Turtleneck detonates it and the title track brings it all together. An uplifting, atmospheric and stately masterpiece.

americanmary.com

Gig of the Year

Run the Jewels at O2 Academy Leeds

There have been musically better gigs in 2017, more talented bands, bigger stage shows, but if the defining criteria of the best gig is raw energy, connectively with the crowd and creation of an atmosphere so charged, then nothing outweighed Run the Jewels at the O2 Academy.

Promoting their third album, RTJ set about the venue with an aggressive set, full of wit and charm delivered through downright brutal tracks that, had the venue been any less than packed, would have spun each and every audience member round 180 degrees, such was the force. The engaging US rap duo left Leeds breathless, body clocks adjusted.

runthejewels.com

Apollo Junction at The Wardrobe. Picture: Samuel Payne

Gig review: Apollo Junction at The Wardrobe, Leeds