End of 2017: A List and Mix by Harry Towell
Irregular Crates and Whitelabrecs owner Harry Towell (Spheruleus) has put together a list of his favourite albums of the year, complete with a mix counting down a track from each as a sort of chart show. Read below for Harry’s summary of the year, click the image above or HERE to check out the mix or scroll to the bottom to see the final 20, complete with links to each record…
“Another year almost over and done with and another end of year chart/mix from me. As usual, I’ve enjoyed a huge variety of music over the course of the year through a more diverse pool of genres than ever before, inclusive of Ambient, Modern Classical, Post Rock, Instrumental Hip-Hop, Folk, Field Recordings, Deep House and Techno.
So as is customary on Irregular Crates, I’ve spent some time whittling my favourite albums down into a ‘best of’ chart, this time a top 20 and have also recorded a mix of my favourite track from each album, presented as a sort of chart-show countdown, similar to last year. It’s counted down by my wife Beth, using the same voice recordings of the numbers from 2016.
What struck me about this year more than anything, was the sheer quality of music out there this year. I’ve got a huge collection of albums that could easily have made this list based on pure quality – not much would look out of place. So I have had a hard time trying to narrow this down to just a top 20 – so I have had to adopt a bit of a mathematic approach by grading each album, looking at the different elements I consider to make up a good record.
So firstly, I used iTunes’ rating system and graded each track of some of the best records I bought this year, out of 5 stars. I then worked out the average ‘star rating’ for each album. I also applied a score out of 5 for that intangible ‘connection’ factor that you feel when you really enjoy a record over time, with repeat listening. It was already interesting here, that some top drawer records I didn’t connect with as well and similarly, some reasonable albums really resonated with me.
I also feel presentation is a part of a successful release, so I then scored each album out of 3 for how it was presented. Things weighting more would be if a label released physically, particularly vinyl and then I’d look at the type of packaging used, whether I liked the artwork etc. Then finally, I looked at the concept and allowed for an extra 2 marks in this area as to whether an album had a strong theme, whether this was carried through strongly and presented well by the label.
So each record could score a maximum of 15 points and I was then able to do away with the headache I experience every year – moving albums up and down the chart depending on my mood on a given day…
Personally, 2017 was a year where I spent a little less time recording than usual but more time on my label Whitelabrecs. With putting these short-run releases together as well as downloading, purchasing and enjoying a lot of music – the year has seen me more immersed in listening to music than ever.
In January, I went on a short winter break to Verona which was a magical time and prior to this, I sort of discovered lo-fi Instrumental Hip-Hop and went absolutely mad for it! I scoured everything under the genre on Bandcamp discoveries and was grabbing all sorts from the last few years. Some of the records were really special around that time, from artists such as Saiko, releases on Radio Juicy, Dezi Belle however, due to my scoring method, not much Hip Hop is featured. This largely has to do with the beat-makers not going too deep into concepts or writing detailed press releases that help me connect with a theme. That said, the chart does include this sound I’ve enjoyed, perhaps best summed up Hentzup’s 1993 album on Dezi Belle. I also enjoyed exotic sounding beat-driven sounds by the likes of Lex De Kalhex (Satori) and Hugo LX (Akegata) with these both feeling produced by well travelled artists.
Modern Classical music seems to be at a real peak at the moment, with the likes of Erased Tapes and 130701 being very much at the forefront of this scene. The former’s material could even be seen in the vinyl section of HMV, with Ben Lukas Boysen and Sebastian Plano’s video-game soundtrack ‘Everything‘ filed amongst the vinyl-resurgent pop releases. It’s everywhere in film music too, whether this be blockbusters or small documentaries; ‘Fiction/Non Fiction‘ is a curation of composer Olivier Alary’s film work – instead of being a simple soundtrack release like Olafur Arnald’s Broadchurch release, this focuses on the composer himself. Also issuing film work, Lost Tribe Sound put out ‘The Sum Of Its Parts‘ by label friend and regular contributor Willliam Ryan Fritch.
Some of the smaller releases however, were particularly impressive with øjeRum’s Needleshaped Silence release on Fluid Audio occupying 2nd in my list, as well as an outstanding debut from Toan on the magnificent Eilean imprint. I also really enjoyed albums by From The Mouth Of The Sun and Sven Laux.
Over the last few years, some of my favourite records have not necessarily been directly rooted in Ambient music, but this year Ambient and Drone is well represented, with 4 of the top 10 records in the list being from this genre.
12k or 12k related artists are responsible for 3 of these, with Taylor Deupree and Marcus Fischer’s collab for Eilean spin off IIKKI Books being an example of sheer quality all-round and in 4th place. Just edging it though was Fischer’s own record for Deupree’s 12k label – Loss. It is the quality of the music as well as the cover artwork and overall concept that really captivates me, as I recall one of my favourite ever Ambient records – Fischer’s Monocoastal, also on 12k.
I also really connected with Heine Christensen’s work as Ghost and Tape, with Vár coming out on Home Normal – the cover artwork is just stunning too! Elsewhere, I also enjoyed the sleepy minimalism of Federico Durand’s La Nina Junco, on 12k.
I’m very partial to Folk, particularly in the warmer months and the stand-out for me was Tara Jane O’Neil’s self-titled, self released album, which I reached for time and time again. I think this would have been much higher up the list if the concept were stronger and perhaps a physical release was made available. There were also a couple of songs that I didn’t enjoy as much but overall, there are some superb tracks which I rate very highly indeed.
Another self-released record that I really enjoyed, but subtly, was Valotihkuu’s Spring and All, an album focusing on field recordings taken over a 5 year period, interspersed by calm melodies, guitar and tape loops.
Then there was The Green Kingdom’s first vinyl excursion on my label of the year, Lost Tribe Sound – a wealth of acoustic sound sources, composed into a beautiful form of instrumental Folk, sounding pristine on wax.
That just leaves the three other records that I enjoyed the most in my top 20 of 2017… Firstly, Mike Cooper’s Raft is a strong record on Room40, intelligently produced by a man into his 70s, an example of what a life-time in experimental music can give you in terms of experience. His chosen theme of solitary ocean travel is mesmerising too. Then there’s Beach Fossils‘ Somersault, the CD I was most likely to play in my car this year, particularly over the course of the summer months…
Lastly then, the long-awaited return of one of my favourite ever artists: The Gentleman Losers. Their new record ‘Permanently Midnight‘ was officially released last week by Grainy Records and today, I’ve received my physical copy. I opted for the photo book, ‘Pictures From The In-Between‘ a fitting collection of urban photography by the brothers and I’m already finding that this is the perfect companion to an evening slumped in an arm-chair listening to the album. The record has great variety, with some use of vocals, strings in places, tired-sounding electronics and percussion too, all spaced and placed perfectly, primed for one hell of a listen, from start to finish…”
“Fresh off the doormat this morning but have been enjoying the mp3s for over a week now. A truly incredible record, so well received after such a wait. Such a variety of sound, technique and detail are woven into this record. A masterpiece”
“This one was put out in the usually lavish packaging you’d expect from Fluid Audio. øjeRum is joined by Aaron Martin in bringing to life a record that had lay dormant for over a decade, an enthralling album which straddles the lines between electronic minimalism and modern classical composition”
“Marcus Fischer turns in his strongest record since Monocoastal on the always consistent 12k and he deals with the theme of Loss, backed up by an excellent cover image to help focus your thoughts on this idea. Beautiful decaying tape-loop aesthetics are aplenty”
“Fischer is involved again, this time collaborating with 12k label boss Taylor Deupree as part of Eilean Recs boutique sub-label IIKKI. It’s on vinyl for starters, and is packaged beautifully – add to that the Icelandic photography of Ester Vonplon and all manner of electro-acoustic instruments and you have something very special indeed…”
“Home Normal have put out some new Ghost and Tape who previously released with Slaapwell a few years back. It’s some of the best Ambient music you’re likely to hear this year and beyond”
“A beautiful, patient record for spring, with field recordings as a focus. Tape loops, guitar sounds and fractured electro acoustic drones very gently add something to the field recordings that makes this one so listenable.”
“A record I couldn’t put down this year, particularly in the summer months as I worked on the garden. Plenty of varied downtempo and jazzy grooves to get stuck into, lots of live sounding instrumentation – not just a Hip-Hop or Beats record”
“I’ve spent years following The Green Kingdom’s releases and it was a delight to get the chance to finally enjoy Mike Cottone’s work on vinyl, courtesy of surely the year’s best label, Lost Tribe Sound”
“Last year I discovered Hugo LX and enjoyed both his Deep House and Downtempo works. Early this year I noticed Akegata came out and have been listening a lot ever since – it’s a record about travel, with Hugo collaborating and recording as he toured the world.”
“One of the best modern Ambient musicians around is the industrious Federico Durand. I’ve always enjoyed his work but this one’s really special – stripped back and simple synth recordings.”
“Eilean have unearthed one of the gems of the year in Toàn and I’ve seen plenty of deserved positive press about this one. Beautiful vinyl-sampled modern composition – a refreshing take on the classical genre and one you’ll enjoy over and over.”
“Surely the most played record in my collection – Tara Jane O’Neil’s self-released, self-titled album is a beautiful set of melancholy Americana/Folk songs.”
“2017 was very much a year of jazzy, lo-fi Hip Hop for me and this is best typified by this massive 27 track record by Hentzup, on one of my favourite German Hip Hop labels Dezi Belle.”
“Erased Tapes have whittled down 4 hours of the music these two composers created for game creator David O’Reilly’s interactive world into an album experience. I bought this one on vinyl and enjoy looking at the items on the front cover as I listen in my studio.”
“Fat Cat offshoot 130701 has a habit of presenting the finest Modern Classical music available and earlier this year a grabbed Olivier Alary’s Fiction/Non-Fiction on vinyl – a beautiful compilation of Olivier’s film and documentary scores.”
“Mike Cooper’s ‘Raft’ on Room40 was a pleasant surprise, having not yet discovered this artist’s work. Mike, 74, presents an excellent record of electro-acoustics, themed around solitary sea travel.”
“Fritch is a regular contributor to Lost Tribe Sound’s impressive catalog and I have much of his work, but this issue of unreleased film scores struck me as some of his best work. The material is typically colourful but there is also a restrain, which is fitting given the album title. Set with a theme of robots to ponder upon as you listen…”
“I have a feeling this record’s likely to feature prominently this year and rightly so – outstanding cinematics from German artist Sven Laux on Dronarivm.”
“The return of this long-standing collaboration between Dag Rosenqvist and Aaron Martin was always going to bring about some excitement. With a beautifully designed heavy-weight card vinyl package by Lost Tribe Sound and some incredibly good recordings, it didn’t disappoint.”
“The sound to many a road trip, including the solitary car journey to my brother’s stag do, this Beach Fossils record was always in my car. Think Lo-Fi Indie/Post Rock, a la Real Estate or Ducktails”