OK, so I think I've sat with the albums of 2017 for long enough now to make the necessary judgement calls. 2017 was the year that came after the one before, and if anyone tries to tell you different, MURDER THEM. People have been banging on about how shit 2017 was… and they're not wrong… but hey, did everyone forget about 2016? This was just more of the same but at least we had some idea of what to expect. Oh, and Prince and Bowie didn't die in 2017, so on that basis alone it must be better than 2016.
See? Things are looking up!
In 2017, [MORON REDACTED] was sworn in as the 45th President of the good ol' US of States, article 50, WannaCry, Ariana Grande concert bombing, London Bridge attack, Grenfell Tower disaster, Petya, hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, the Orlando nightclub terrorist shooting (yes, homegrown white arseholes with guns are terrorists, get with the fucking program USA), Mogadishu truck bomb… ehhhhh. Got bleak?
See? Bright side!
Those no longer pining but passing on included Miguel Ferrer, Gordon Kaye, John Hurt, Richard Hatch, Larry Coryell, Hudson sir… he's Hicks, Chuck Berry, Allan Holdsworth, Powers Boothe, Chris Cornell, Roger Moore, Gregg Allman, Peter Sallis, Batman, Hat Cabbage, Nelsan Ellis, Glen Campbell, Brucey, Jerry Lewis, Tobe Hooper, Harry Dean Stanton, Hugh Hefner, Tom Petty, Fats Domino, Malcolm Young and Charles Manson.
Musically speaking, it was a cracker, and the longer-than-usual shortlist reflects that. Onwards…
OK, so you probably have to be at least a mild nerd to know about JoCo, but that's fine, I am a huge nerd and proud. I first heard his sublime nerd-anthem "Code Monkey" back in about 2007 or so, and from there discovered his splendid homegrown lo-fi comedy rock stylings to be most pleasing. He then took a long hiatus, but two bestselling videogame theme tunes ("Still Alive" and "Want You Gone" from Portal 1 and 2 respectively) didn't hurt his music career any, though I kind of lost touch with what he was up to. Out of the blue I checked him out, and discovered Solid State – a dystopian future concept album about the internet, trolls, AI and humanity. Deep. Anyhow, forget all that, get this – it's fab. Top track: "Don't Feed the Trolls"
No, neither had I until recently. But if you take K from Korn, X from King's X and M from Lynch Mob, you get KXM - which is Ray Luzier (drums), dUg Pinnick (vocals and bass) and George Lynch (guitars) respectively. This is their second album and it's bloody great. Pinnick and Lynch are on sparkling form, and Luzier stands out by a country thumb as being one of the most interesting drummers I've heard in a while. That sentence sucked – this album does not. Top track: "Calypso"
Yes, it’s His Holiness John Mitchell again, with the second album from his solo project Lonely Robot. This time out John explores themes relating to consciousness, the continuum of being and the nocturnal machinations of the old grey cells, all the while weaving his proggy magic and delivering persistent hooks and crackling guitar-work as he goes. Lovely stuff. Top track: "Sigma"
I became aware of this wunderserb not long after discovering the likes of Plini and Sithu Aye, and David is with no shadow of a doubt an absolutely phenome-fucking-nal musician, but I have found his previous output a highly mixed kettle of ferrets, to put it mildly. It's all been incredibly well executed and produced, I just found that about 30% of it I plain didn't like. Hey ho, it'd be a boring life if we were all the same, n'est-ce pas? Anyway, this album ticks all my instru-shred boxes and has a lovely lush production to it. Get it down you. Top track: "Living Room"
I'm a big fan of Johnny Lee Miller, and the CBS show "Elementary" in which he plays a modern day Sherlock Holmes in New York, with the splendid Lucy Liu as Watson. As a number of these US procedurals are wont to do, a number of episodes like to ram home the emotional content of the final scenes with choice music. That's fine, everybody does it. Occasionally though, one of these closing tracks leaps out as being worthy of further investigation, and so it was with "All We Do" by Oh Wonder from their eponymous debut album. In fact, so taken was I that I immediately bought that album and the followup, Ultralife. If quality alt-pop is your thing, you should check them out. I did. Top track: "High On Humans"
Well now. We've all been there, some of us many times. "Oh look, another prog supergroup… let me guess who's on dru… yep, of course it's Mike Portnoy. Had to be. Well, the last four or five didn't really work did they, so maybe I'll sit this one out too…" I know, I said something very similar, but the rest of the roster just seemed too good for this to fail. Derek Sherinian on keys, Billy Sheehan on bass, Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal on guitars and the mighty mighty Jeff Scott Soto on vocals. No weak links there, you would think. Well guess what, you'd be right – this is TOTAL BELTER. Check out this video if you don't believe me. See? Top track: "Coming Home"
Those boys from Weybridge return with their fifth studio album, and they just get better and better. I heard a criticism levelled at this album, along the lines of "There aren't any standout tracks, there's nothing like "Loverboy" on there". Well, what I would say to that is that the band's songwriting has matured over the course of their career and while there may not be anything as instantly attention-grabbingly poppy or catchy as some previous singles sticking out here, what you do get is ten great songs and an album positively oozing re-listen appeal. Great work. Top track: "Give"
I first became aware of Jakub Zytecki around the time I discovered those other guys – Plini, Sithu, Micic - but did not dig his full-length solo album Wishful Lotus Proof. I did register him as a totally fucking blinding guitar player, but just wasn't into the tunes. A bit later I checked out his band Disperse, and while they have a very interesting and unique sound, I'm not sure it's for me. Splendid, then, that JZ released two EPs in 2017 - this one and another called Feather Bed. They're both wonderful from start to finish, lo-fi sounds and smooth production with nifty guitar chops nestled within, but this one just edges it for me. Nice. Top track: "As You Are"
And the winners are…
I couldn’t separate the top two for this year - so it’s another tie!
These boys are the simply the best thing to happen to rock music in some time. Much has been made of the similarity between the band's sound and that of early Led Zeppelin, and rightly so. When I first put this album on I thought to myself "Hang on a minute, did I put Led Zeppelin II in there by mistake?".
But you know what, it doesn't matter one jot. Even Robert Plant has given them his blessing, and you should too. They're not just ripping off Zep, this is at most homage and it's done so bloody well that it's easy to ignore, since the songs are so good, and my fucking lord, Josh Kiszka's voice…
So forget about Zeppelin if you can, and listen to this with open ears, in your own time, and in your own trousers. You will find that far from being a rehash of something long gone, Greta Van Fleet are a breath of fresh mountain air, bringing new life to a wheezing "classic rock" genre.
Top tracks: "Talk on the Street", "Edge of Darkness", "Black Smoke Rising"
We are blessed to live in the era of Steven Wilson. Whether you are a fan of Porcupine Tree or not (and if you're anything like me – and I know I am – you are) the man's impact on British prog music is undeniable. A disgustingly talented multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, producer, engineer, lyricist, all-round musical demigod and apparently a very nice chap to boot, Steven has also worked with acts like Opeth, King Crimson, Pendulum, Jethro Tull, Yes, Marillion, Tears for Fears and even Marillion over the last three decades, and the chances are that you've heard some of his work even if you don't know it.
It shames me to note that this is the only SW solo album I possess, despite all the rave reviews I saw of the predecessors Hand. Cannot. Erase and The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories), though rest assured I intend to rectify that at my very earliest.
Wilson says that this album was inspired by the prog-pop albums of his youth such as Peter Gabriel's So and Kate Bush's Hounds of Love, and indeed this is not a prog rock album in the vein of his Porcupine Tree work, and would happily sit on the same shelf as those two previously mentioned works.
It is a gorgeous album, this, and while not every single track is a perfect ten, overall it's indispensable stuff.
FUN FACT: Steven Wilson's home studio "No Man's Land" is ten minutes walk from my house. I passed it last night on the way home from the pub. So there you go.
Top tracks: "Pariah", "The Same Asylum as Before", "To the Bone"
Turkey of the Year
It pains me to say it because I love George Lynch, but this is fucking horseshit. I wish I could unlisten to it. Scroll back up to KXM and get some good Lynch down your soundtubes.