Cambridge Audio's Best Albums of 2017
The team at CA HQ pick choose their favourite album releases of the year.
2017 has been the maddest year since… Well, 2016! So thankfully there’s been stacks of amazing new releases to pump through the office hi-fi systems throughout the year. We asked the team to pick their stand out album of 2017. As always, prepare for an eclectic mix!
Wow! That’s a great song! Who is that? Blimey, that’s a great album! It rocks; fresh, retro, funky synths, banging percussion and really catchy tunes. It works on the radio and excels through a pair of headphones or a quality system. It’s eccentric, eclectic, moody, dance rock. A healthy, tasty NutriBullet of the last 4 decades of popular music. It would make a brilliant sci-fi soundtrack... Unique and slightly odd, but all the better for that. So, where’ve they come from? Have they really been around for 20 years? Why’ve I never heard of them before? Why didn’t anyone tell me? This is their 9th album?! Ok, well after Hot Thoughts there’s another 8 great records to discover then! Do I have to talk you into it? Stuart George, MD.
Murphy made a spectacle of saying they would never make a performance out of the band’s retirement again, but here they are in almost a victory lap formation and the music has to be good in order to not be seen as a sellout cashing in on the band’s historical success and underground like cult following. Take album opener “Oh Baby” and the album takes off from here. In fact, as we’ve been showing off some new technologies for 2018 at shows we’ve used this track as a demo and if we can get the audiophiles toes tapping then you know it’s a classic track. Gregg Chopper, Director of the Americas.
Phil Elverum, the mind behind Mount Eerie, lost his wife, Geneviève Castrée, to pancreatic cancer in 2016 and created A Crow Looked at Me to undertake and document the grieving process. In the album’s liner notes, he claimed the death removed any craving for privacy in his music. Instead, he wanted his latest output to serve as a megaphone, amplifying the volume of his love for Geneviève for everyone to hear. When Elverum sings, his words are simple, raw, and confrontational about death’s looming presence and love for his wife. As a listener, you learn every tiny detail of his coping, from where he decided to distribute her ashes to when he finally closed the window in the room where she passed. His slow guitar strumming and fingerpicking serve as a peaceful foundation for Elvrum to unravel and reveal music’s amazing power to heal. To add, he recorded the album using Geneviève’s instruments in the same room where she took her last breath. In a sense, that dedication allows her to have a voice on A Crow Looked at Me along with the memories and love that inspired Elverum to pen such a special album. Sam Willett, Marketing.
This year we saw the comeback of John Mayer with ‘The Search for Everything’. The album arrived in two waves early on in the year before the full album release in April. Not being particularly a fan of the selection of singles that came out, this album has one of the best songs I’ve heard from Mayer, which I have no doubt will become classics in his repertoire. From the first wave ‘Moving On And Getting Over’ instantly got me with its groove and unmistakably guitar work. From the second wave ‘Still Feel Like Your Man’ - which was also released as a single is probably one of the catchiest songs from the album, although it was ‘Helpless’ the one that I liked the most; this shows once again Mayer’s talent to blend pop and blues seamlessly. Finally, when the full album was released it was ‘Rosie’, a song which could have easily been a J.J. Cale classic, the one that for me is the highlight of the album. I can easily listen to this in its entirety without feeling the need to skip a single track! Luis Bernado, Engineering.
After four years of random tour dates and the odd single release, we’ve finally been graced with a second Jamie Lenman album. Where the 2013 album ‘Muscle Memory’ showed the peak of his writing prowess at extreme ends of the musical spectrum (side one metal, the other filled with folk/acoustic music), Devolver is a much more refined and focused record that still flirts with his eccentricity and diverse list of influences. “Rock and Roll is all about the fresh and new, why would you do something someone else did do?” asks Lenman on one of the singles ‘Hell in a Fast Car’ and to be fair, it’s a pretty good way to sum up the album. It’s a clever and catchy rock album with plenty of layers to get stuck into. Liam Ruane, Marketing.
Before this came out, it had been a while since I’d been this obsessed with an album and band. There isn't a single track on 'Guppy' I'd skip, and more than half the songs on the album are single-worthy. There are a lot of throwback 90s-00s indie pop rock bands floating around these days, but these guys do it best. Lyrically this album is the right combination of funny, aggressive, and poignant; musically it's catchy with just enough of an edge to make you nod your head rather than roll your eyes. I’ve been able to see them live twice, and their shows are awesome not just because the music rocks, but because you can see in them the excitement of a young band that’s just starting to bust out in a big way. Everything about this band is fun, and for me that’s what music should be. Kiel Nowakowski, Customer Support
Although an unusual selection for album of the year, I find my thumbs keep going back to The Gritterman on my uncomfortably long train ride into the office. The mix between audiobook and album feels natural, I don't at any point wish The Gritterman (the only character, read by Paul Whitehouse) would say his piece and disappear, taking me back to Orlando Week's enchanting vocals. The lyrics are pretty standard stuff for Weeks, he possesses a talent for saying everything with but a handful of words. What could be seen as a pretty depressing narrative is reshaped into a semi-festive story about finding ones feet and striving to do what you love. Nestled in the background is a certain nostalgia that digs up old memories of my grandparents - perhaps this is where I find such comfort in the album. The book has been advertised as a children's book, but don't let that stop you - Toy Story was sold as a 'kid's film'! Musically, the album doesn't offer vast soundscapes with multiple instruments. But what is there, is more than enough, it fills the space and creates a perfect platform to convey the emotion of the story. Harry Powell, Marketing.
In a time when the term ‘bedroom pop’ is often thrown about without any real meaning; Everybody Works is a perfect example of why this genre should be celebrated. In an album where every part is played and produced by Melina Duterte (With her first official album under the moniker Jay Som), it is thanks to this genre, and style of recording, that we can tap in and fully connect with Melina’s reflective style of songwriting. Duterte has effortlessly managed to blend the main elements of bedroom pop such as the lo-fi, dreamy shoegaze sound with an R&B inspired backing. Standout tracks include ‘The Bus Song’ and ‘Remain’ where one of Duterte’s main pop influences, Carly Rae Jepsen, really shows within the recurring catchy choruses. Melina has described her music as “Headphone music” and you can see why, as you really need to immerse yourself in the music to appreciate the intricacies and intimate emotions that Melina has crafted into each song. Nathan Hynes, Customer Support.
When the Shins returned in 2012 after a five-year hiatus, their new line-up came with a new sound. At the time James Mercer described the decision to rework the line-up as an ‘aesthetic vision’, with Port of Morrow deviating from what had been established over the past three albums. Heartworms, which follows another five-year break, is a refinement of that sound. For those that miss the old Shins, solace may be found in the reworked (dubbed ‘flipped’) versions of ‘Cherry Hearts’ and ‘Name for You’ that have been released in recent months which hark back to their early 00s stylings. Sam Bolton, Marketing.
With their debut “Can’t Dance, Won’t Steal, Need Some Help” Holy Family caught my attention completely passively. I don’t remember ever seeking them out, or receiving a recommendation, but somehow this relatively obscure Gothenburg based band ended up in my music library and found their way onto shuffle, becoming one of my most listened to artists of the past 3 years. The prospect of a follow-up was extremely exciting, especially when twinned with production from Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes. Their first release had a satisfying rich distorted glue running throughout the album, whereas Values feels much more intentional in its sound. Songs balance darker tones against light, dense heady thickness against huge spacious delays and travel everywhere in between, crafting an incredible sonic journey. The track that drew me in “There Completely” does this perfectly by layering loops of dance percussion with a minor to major melodic flip and stacks of super intense vocal takes. Harry Parsons, Engineering.
I eagerly awaited the 2017 release by the Foo Fighters, after what I personally found to be a disappointing previous album in ‘Sonic Highways’. The first single ‘Run’, which I admit took a little while to grow on me but has recently become one of my favourites, with a fast pace and heavy style, it now feels like classic Foos. ‘The Sky Is A Neighbourhood’ I loved instantly and is, by far, a stand-out track on the album being almost anthem in nature and quite different from most other Foo Fighters songs. Other tracks also stand out for different reasons, such as ‘La Dee Da’, ‘Arrows’, and ‘Sunday Rain’ each with their own individual style yet still quintessentially Foos. You can here many influences on the album from bands like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd and the album even features guest performances from artists such as Paul McCartney (drums on ‘Sunday Rain’) and Justin Timberlake (backing vocals on ‘Make It Right’). The band have always tried to make albums that are possible to play live with the line-up they have, but decided with ‘Concrete and Gold’ to go all out and see what they could do, and the result sounds massive! Sam Meredith, Engineering.
Bicep’s debut album is a hugely satisfying callback to early 90’s dance music, with a crisp analogue sound running throughout that feels almost Orbitalesque at times. This isn’t a record focused solely on homage, however. Where other artists - Drums of Death, Jamie XX - have found themselves veering toward parody, Bicep have taken their influences and delivered something that’s bang(ing) up to date. Don’t be fooled by the apparent simplicity of song structure at work here! Whilst many of the tracks may seem simple or repetitive upon initial listen, they quickly sculpt themselves into something far more aurally addictive. 'Vale' teases some delicious breakbeats alongside its lazy, drifting synths and splendidly plump bassline. ‘Rain’ is made for playing loud, driving on an empty motorway at night, gliding over smooth tarmac at speed. And, quite frankly, if you’re not grinning from ear to ear at the sublime rising cadence of ‘Aura’ you may just want to seek medical attention. Mark Whiteman, Marketing.
Honourable Mentions: Manchester Orchestra – A Black Mile To The Surface, Woob – Tokyo Run, The National – Sleep Well Beast, Slowdive – Slowdive, Grandaddy – Last Place
Did any of these top your 2017 list? Are we completely wrong and missed off the best record of the year? Make sure you tell us in the comments below.