Sunday, 24 December 2017

The Best Of 2017 - part 1

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And we thought 2016 was bad! At the start of last year's countdown, I echoed the prevailing sentiment that the previous 12 months hadn't been great - and neither had music. Well, 2017 has given 2016 a run for its money on many levels. Still, even in a world gone mad there's been good music and I've scraped together 100 of my favourite songs to count down as usual at this time of year, so let's get going...

Our musical tour starts in Finland with yellow-haired former Idols contestant Alma, who's been pretty busy the past year combining her own releases like "Chasing Highs" with featured spots on tracks by Sub Focus (which just missed my top 100), Martin Solveig and Charli XCX. This remix of "Chasing Highs" was done by Roosevelt, who made my year-end top 5 in 2016 and will pop up again this year with his own music.

They placed two songs in my top 10 for 2013 (including annual chart-topper "Lost And Not Found"), but it was looking like Chase & Status weren't going to come anywhere close to living up to that with fourth album Tribe. The four singles the duo released in 2016 ahead of the album did nothing for me, but they got back on track with this less drum and bass-y tune featuring Mercury Music Prize-nominated band Blossoms. We'll see Chase & Status again in the final part of the countdown - will it be in this year's top 10?

Here's another female performer with a number of solo and featured (most notably on Kygo's "Stay") credits to her name. American Maty (short for Madeline) Noyes wrote "Say It To My Face" about being so used to toxic relationships that she didn't quite know how to handle a healthy one.

The musicians and producers behind this mysterious Swedish dance act might keep a low profile, but what Stockholm Noir lack in personnel details, they make up for by having one of the most descriptive names in music. The dark and brooding electronica released by the group is the musical equivalent of Scandi crime series like The Killing and The Bridge - unsettling but compelling. More from them shortly... 

It's a welcome back to my year-end top 100 to both Avicii (who last featured in 2012) and Rita Ora (who was a featured singer on two tracks in my 2015 top 100). The best thing the Swedish DJ/producer has released in some time, "Lonely Together" was also part of a return to form for Rita, whose career as lead artist got back on track in 2017, as we'll see further into this countdown.

Since they triumphed on the British version of The X Factor in 2011, Little Mix have enjoyed an incredibly consistent run on the UK chart, with 12 top 10 hits and no official single charting lower than number 16. As far as I've been concerned, however, the girl group have never bettered their first post-winner's single release, "Wings", which almost topped my year-end chart for 2012, and haven't returned to my annual top 100 since then... until now. A Stormzy-less version of "Power" appeared on the original release of their fourth album, Glory Days, but it was spruced up with the added rap when it became the fourth single.

British singer/songwriter Ronika (real name: Veronica Sampson) released her second album, Lose My Cool, in 2017. Among the genre-blending tracks was this synth funk highlight.

No, not a cover of the Bananarama classic, but a brand new song by American singer Daniella Mason. A childhood friend of Jonas Brothers, Daniella started out as a songwriter, and contributed to songs on Nick Jonas' previous two albums.

Sia must surely be the hardest-working woman in music. In the past year and a bit, she's released singles from four films (Lion, The Eagle Huntress, Wonder Woman and My Little Pony: The Movie), performed on tracks by Zayn and Stargate, put out a Christmas album and lifted this fourth single from the This Is Acting album - and that's just the songs she recorded herself. The energetic "Move Your Body" was written with Shakira in mind, but when she passed on the song, Sia recorded it herself.

Here's another alumus from the BRIT school - 22-year-old Hannah Rodgers, whose stage name, Pixx, was her grandmother's nickname. With its quirky verses and out-and-out pop chorus, "Waterslides" sounds like the sort of song you would have heard in 1982 performed by Toto Coelo, Altered Images or The Belle Stars, but with more of a polished sheen.

I never got into iamamiwhoami, the multimedia project from Swedish singer Jonna Lee and producer Claes Björklund, although it clearly generated plenty of interest in the blogosphere. I am right onboard Jonna's latest incarnation, ionnalee, however. Moody synthpop single "Gone" will appear on the album Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten, which is due in early 2018.

Their name might spell out Arizona, but this American electronic rock three-piece are actually from New Jersey. This version of "Cross My Mind" featured guest vocals from American singer Kiiara (of "Gold" fame), who also popped up on Linkin Park's "Heavy" in 2017.

The first solo male artist to make this list is a teen singer from Norway who got his break by appearing on reality series The Stream, which sounds kind of like The Voice but with a representative (including M2M's Marion Raven and the singer of personal favourite Donkeyboy) from the three major record labels, Sony, Warner and Universal, acting as mentors. Adrees didn't win the competition, which uses Spotify streams to determine advancement through the series, but did come out with a deal and this pop gem.

Making the first of two appearances on this list is British singer Sinead Harnett, who's been plugging away over the past few years, releasing solo work and performing guest vocals for all the right people (Rudimental, Disclosure, Snakehips) without ever featuring on any big hits. "Unconditional" is her most recent solo effort and we'll see her on someone else's single in Part 2.

Another of the string of singles released by Stockholm Noir in 2017, "Boy Like A Girl" features Danish singer Ofelia on vocals and, while not as clubby as "Island", it's just as atmospheric and evocative. And no, we're still not done with them yet...

Here Little Mix are again with a song that was added to Glory Days when it was repackaged as the Platinum Edition towards the end of 2017. Not an official single, "Is Your Love Enough?" was certainly good enough to have been one.

The single that got the ball rolling for Stockholm Noir, "Hopeless Dreams" features a vocal that's kind of reminiscent of Beyoncé (think "Sweet Dreams") but is actually performed by Australian singer/songwriter/former Scarlett Belle member Hayley Aitken. She's come a long way from singing for me and a handful of other teen press journalists in the Jive Australia boardroom back in 2001!

Here's another Australian singer who's found doors opening up for her around the world - and in Starley's case, it's been a long time coming, as I discovered when I interviewed her for new magazine Women In Pop earlier this year. "Call On Me" was inspired by the fact that she almost gave up on her music career and, after initially being released in mid-2016, became a worldwide hit after it was remixed by fellow Aussie Ryan Riback.

They might sound like any number of British pop pairs from Pet Shop Boys and Climie Fisher to Born Stranger and Hurts, but overalls-sporting duo joan hail from Arkansas. Debut single "Take Me On" made no secret of their '80s and '90s influences, combining them with a modern synthpop sheen.

Here's another American pop duo, but one that's been around a bit longer than joan - in fact Powers just missed a place in my top 100 for 2014 with their featured role on "Classic" by Knocks. "Heavy" was taken from Alpha, the debut album from Crista Ru and Mike Del Rio, who's also known for co-writing and producing "Into The Blue" by Kylie Minogue.

In Part 2: the return of two of my favourite acts of the 2010s, plus a superstar collaboration few would have predicted a few years earlier.

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1 comment:

  1. Totally agree about the quality of music this year - it was definitely the worst in memory for me. Good to see Stockholm Noir making your chart (one of my favourites), and Adrees as well.