2017 end of year favourites

23 12 2017

I haven’t done this for a few years, but here are my favourite music, tv and film releases from 2017.

Top 5 new albums

In no particular order:

Paul Draper — Spooky Action

Spooky Action from former Mansun mainman Paul Draper is a strong debut album. The songs are ambitious, a mix of new wave and alternative with a slight hint of prog. Whilst the album has hints of Drapers old band, it does not trade off nostalgia.

Tracks such as Don’t Poke The Bear and Friends Make The Worst Enemies are angry and highlight Paul Drapers powerful vocals. Jealousy Is A Powerful Emotion breaks new sonic ground for Draper, and is an album highlight.

The contribution of Catherine AD aka The Anchoress  to Spooky Action is noticeable and welcome.

Tim Bowness – Lost In The Ghost Light

2017 saw the release of the Tim’s 4th solo album, and my favourite to date. You can read my full review here.

The most progressive sounding release so far from the no-man vocalist, the album has a concept built around the onstage and backstage reflections of a fictional ‘classic’ Rock musician in the twilight of his career.

My favourite track on the album is one of my most played songs of the year, the haunting Nowhere Good To Go.

CousteauX – by CousteauX

The comeback of the year for me. Rising from the ashes of the late 90s band Cousteau, CousteauX take the Bowie-esque vocals of Liam McKahey and the razor sharp song-writing of Davey Ray Moor to new levels. Whilst retaining the charm of the original band, CousteauX have added a much more powerful and darker hue to their new songs.

Read my full review here.

Fader — First Light

A real surprise this one. The album crept up on me after two or three listens and it has remained a favourite throughout the year. Fader are Neil Arthur (Blancmange) and Benge (John Foxx & The Maths / Gazelle Twin).

First Light is a very low-fi electronic album containing one of my favourite songs of the year in Launderette. Apparently a “very British take on the solitary mood of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks”, this brooding, pulsating piece of electronica is timeless.

Read my full review here.

Hannah Peel – Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia

A mostly instrumental album, Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia has picked up new fans as the year has progressed. One for fans of Mike Oldfield, John Foxx and Jean Michel Jarre, its a very moving album. The mixture of synths and a (real) brass band works surprisingly well, and Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia is one of those albums that you should listen to in one sitting, in the correctly sequenced order. Turn off your shuffle!

Read my full review here.

Honourable mentions

Other albums that I have loved in 2017

My favourite progressive album of the year was White Willow – Future Hopes. Dropping the metal leanings of earlier albums, and adding a wonderfully colourful warm palette, Future Hopes is a synth lovers dream. My favourite track on the album is the gentle Silver And Gold. Read my full review here.

Destroyer – ken was released quite late in 2017, and is still seeping into my heart. Destroyer are definitely a marmite band – but I’m a huge fan. ken feels like a love song to the electronica of bands such as New Order. Just listen to the way the synths sweep in on opening track Sky’s Grey. An album for fans who enjoy uneasy listening!

Atone by White Moth Black Butterfly is a very commercial progressive / pop album from members of the bands TesseracT and Skyharbor. Delicate vocals (reminding me of the late George Michael at times) sit atop sweeping orchestral decorated songs.

There are some really strong performances and clever production touches to this fine album. At times I am also reminded of This Mortal Coil in some of the arrangements and reverb-heavy keyboard treatments.

Atone is on its way to becoming one of my favourite albums of the year.

The first album from Cigarettes After Sex might only have one gear – a slow gear – but I have grown to really love this album. I adore the guitar sound – sort of like The Cure mixed with I’m In Love With A German Film Star. The lyrics are intriguing, if slightly pervy and the Twin Peaks vibe makes for a rewarding listen.

Favourite re-issues

David Bowie’s A New Career In A New Town (1977 – 1982) covers my favourite Bowie era (the “Berlin” trilogy). Apart from the dreadful error with the Heroes album (I’m still waiting for my replacement disc, record company grrrr) I’m happy with this box-set. Its great having the Moroder version of Cat People (Putting Out Fire) and the full Baal EP on CD, plus the Tony Visconti re-mix of Lodger is fascinating and very different from the original.

The 30th anniversary re-issue of Scalywag Jaz by Thomas Lang brings all the associated tracks from the period, plus live recordings and a couple of new songs, into one package. Its a great value, definitive release for one of the finest albums of the 80s.

Read my full review here.

I also think the remaster of Tango In The Night by Fleetwood Mac deserves a mention at this point. The deluxe version includes some fascinating (high quality) demos, 12″ mixes plus the main album has never sounded so good. Big Love from me for this 2017 reissue. I’m so sorry.

TV and Film

My favourite film in 2017 (although the film was released in 2016 I caught it on bluray this year) was Nocturnal Animals.  Produced and directed by Tom Ford, and starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon, this psychological thriller kept me in a state of unease until the very end of the film.

The TV event of the year for me was by far Twin Peaks: The Return or as it is billed on the bluray, Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series. I was a fan of the original series when it aired on TV in 1990, then fell in love with it again watching the series on its DVD re-issue many years later. I had high hopes for the new series, but after the initial nostalgia fuelled first few minutes, it was clear that Twin Peaks: The Return was going to surpass the original.

It wasn’t perfect, but then neither is life. There were entire sections and episodes that frustrated and baffled, but they were out-weighed by the visceral brutality of some of the characters (new and old) and their actions. This new series took me to places both wonderful and strange, and if this is the end of the Twin Peaks story, I’m so happy that we got to witness the return.

Episode 8 – watched in the early hours (the time it was broadcast in the UK), was one of the most mind-blowing experiences I have ever had. I simply could not believe what I was watching, and I went to work shortly afterwards with a mixture of euphoria and confusion.

As well as the bluray of The Return, there are also two fascinating books from Mark Frost (The Secret History of Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier) to help fill in the blanks and the missing years. What a fine way to spend your Christmas vouchers!

My other favourite TV series of 2017 was HBO’s Big Little Lies. The series starred Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Zoe Kravitz and Laura Dern, and kept the dark, brutal secret that rumbled through the entire series out of sight to the very end.

Finally, my favourite TV re-issue from 2017 was the blu-ray of Hammer House of Horror: The Complete Series.  The high definition remaster of the ITV series from 1980 features 13 spine-tingling stories starring Peter Cushing, Diana Dors, Denholm Elliott and Brian Cox.

Here’s to a great year of music, film and TV in 2018.





CousteauX – by CousteauX

22 07 2017

CousteauxCousteau were a London-based band who released three albums between 1999 and 2005. Their most well-known song was The Last Good Day of the Year from their debut album. After success in the UK, Italy and the US, the band went their separate ways in 2006. Singer Liam McKahey reunited with song-writer Davey Ray Moor in 2015 as CousteauX, and they release their first album in over 10 years in September 2017.

CousteauX opens with Memory is a Weapon, and instantly the years roll away. This is the music of the debut album with added pathos and a much richer, fuller production. I loved Liam’s two solo album’s, but team him up with Davey Ray Moor and something magical happens. The yearning backing vocals and simple piano motif over the insistent bass-line delivers a powerful and direct opening.

This Might Be Love rides on a bluesey acoustic guitar riff and a meandering synth line. One of the darker songs on the album, it has a real Americana feel to it, and breaks new ground for the band.

Track 3 is my favourite song on the album. Burma features an emotional acoustic bass and piano line, and for the first time I can really see the Bowie comparison with Liam’s vocals. Think Wild is The Wind and Bowie’s rich baritone from the Station To Station era. Burma is a song with wonderfully evocative lyrics, and one of Liam’s finest vocals.

“Go my love steady, just be upstairs ready, my angel”

I’m sure this will soon become a fan favourite. The arrangement evolves in an unforced and natural way as the song progresses.

After the beauty of Burma comes the darkness of The Innermost Light. A sleazy, razor-sharp performance that features Carl Barat (The Libertines / Dirty Pretty
Things), The Innermost Light is a future spaghetti western theme tune in the waiting. It makes you want to kick open the bar door and spit in the sawdust. Or maybe that’s just me.

Maybe You is a less tense affair. Arriving at the mid-point of the album, Maybe You is the sort of stripped back ballad that the band deliver so well. The upright bass is phenomenal, and reminds me of the playing of Danny Thompson and his work with John Martyn.

Portobello Serenade has the feel of a 1950s / 60s Soho, with its hazy jazz percussion and trumpet. Thin Red Lines switches the tempo up a gear and shifts forward a few decades, with an almost glam-rock / T-Rex feel to the jagged guitars and soulful backing vocals.

“Only the mystery remains”

Shelter is an oddity on the album but oh what a lovely oddity! It’s almost the bands take on modern r ‘n’ b production. A minimal programmed drum pattern on top of Art of Noise (Moments In Love) like backing vocals and a lovely Rhodes piano melody explores new territory for the band. I look forward to more experimentation like this on future CousteauX albums.

cousteaux band

The penultimate track, Seasons Of You is the nearest we get to the classic Cousteau sound of old. Its a joyful, breezy track that lifts the mood before the album’s closing song, the mean and goddamn moody as hell F***ing In Joy and Sorrow.

“I’m in love but I’m grieving”

The hi-hat and toms percussion that underpin a stark organ / guitar backdrop propels the brutally honest and direct lyric of lust, hurt and regret.

This is music made for the night. Switch off the lights, pour yourself some whisky on the rocks and let the music take over.

As a long-time fan of the band, who I have only seen live once (a memorable, packed and sweaty early 90s gig in Blackheath) – I was intrigued as to what a modern day Cousteau would bring us. I’m overjoyed to report that the core of what made this band so special is still intact. *That* voice and the quality song-writing and performances, combined with a brave stretching of the bands template, mean that the 2017 version known as CousteauX has delivered an emotionally satisfying and stylistically varied album that stands up to repeated listening. At times, its far from easy listening, but stick with it and you will find so much to savour in these deep, rich and often dark songs.

Welcome back Cousteaux. You have been missed, stay around a little longer this time….

Cousteaux is released on 1 September 2017.

Order the Cousteaux CD from Amazon

Order the Cousteaux vinyl LP from Amazon








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