// by Ollie Webb //
Personally, 2017 was a rocky, uneven road of ups and downs. When those downs were university work-related, I found solace in music.
When work increased, so did my efforts to procrastinate as I would turn a blind eye to the impending doom of deadlines and find complete escapism in a world of grungey, indie rock sounds from the likes of Mac DeMarco and Cigarettes After Sex. My mind would wander and cause me to re-evaluate my life’s current path; I would envisage a parallel universe where I dropped out of university, got 7 different piercings and started a world-renowned indie rock band. Here are the songs that helped inspire this totally unrealistic vision throughout 2017:
1. Chamber of Reflection – Mac DeMarco
While this record was not released in 2017 and was actually a part of Mac DeMarco’s 2014 album ‘Salad Days’, it became a staple for my solitude evening listening sessions. This is apt, since the song is focused on isolation. I discovered the song through a friend at the beginning of the year and was instantly hooked on its synth-dripping, unsteady feel. DeMarco swaps his usual tuneful guitar for disconcerting synths and a slower tempo, which parallels the downbeat mood of the song. ‘Chamber of Reflection’ has coincidentally become a standout piece not only for me but the majority of his fanbase.
2. Each Time You Fall in Love – Cigarettes After Sex
Cigarettes After Sex is one of those bands that has found their niche and stuck with
it. Their self-titled debut 2017 album is musically consistent, with not much deviation from their signature airy, elusive, dream-pop sound. ‘Each Time You Fall in Love’, however, is particularly interesting. The softness of lead singer Greg Gonzalez’s vocals juxtaposes the hard-hitting, poignant theme of the pain and memories of past relationships. The lyrics in this track are more spiteful and accusatory than the remainder of the album (‘She took you for a ride in summer baby / Lost all your money to her’), as if a warning of the risks involved with falling in love.
3. The Louvre – Lorde
It’s no surprise that a track from Lorde’s critically acclaimed 2017 album ‘Melodrama’ makes this list, even if it isn’t strictly alternative rock. It is safe to say that Lorde captures emotion like no other of her age in the music industry. This is the driving force behind her ability to avoid falling into the predicted ‘sophomore slump’. While tracks from her debut album feature darker themes, ‘The Louvre’ allows Lorde to be the passionate, playful teenager she has been at heart, as she explores a relationship which she deems worthy to hang in the Louvre (but at the back…still the Louvre).
4. Walking Away – Haim
Haim are not known for unembellished production – just take guitar-heavy ‘The Wire’ as an example. ‘Walking Away’ is personally the most captivating track from their 2017 album release due to its understated, delicate, beat and melody. Unlike ‘Want You Back’, which showcases a punching chorus that is so unmistakable that it could play as the credits of any film, ‘Walking Away’ has a much less distinctive chorus. It somewhat melts into the verses, with featherweight vocals which eventually develop into the signature, layered Haim harmonies we know and love.
5. Holy Smoke – Palace
‘Holy Smoke’ is an extremely vulnerable track off this London-based band’s debut album, encompassing the emotions associated with the moments after the loss of a loved one. The drum-heavy rises and falls in the pre-chorus allow the listener to be built up, then dropped at the last second, until they are hit with the piercing, “I’ve seen holy smoke out of the window” which the band describes as the necessary opening of a window to let the soul escape. It’s one of Palace’s most affecting songs to date, and singer Leo Wyndham’s velvety vocals only compliment the impactful message.
6. Don’t Delete the Kisses – Wolf Alice
This is one of the least Wolf Alice-type songs the band have released. The bubbly, synthy track perfectly exhibits how versatile they can be. ‘Don’t Delete the Kisses’ is a love story, but without the almost mandatory happy ending. It is instead a raw, realistic and non-cliché account of falling in love. The lead singer begins recounting her experience of being in love through rose-coloured lenses, but soon becomes consumed by paranoia and fear. Elle Rowsell chooses to express this through ineloquent spoken ramblings, as if the listener assumes the role of the singer’s lover, and she is getting everything off her chest. The choruses are the few times we hear Rowsell sing comprising solely of “What if it is not meant for me? / Love” for the first two, with the last showing her emotions come to a head with “Me and you were meant to be / In love”. (This review doesn’t encompass the dreadful version with Charli XCX – imagine my disappointment when I found that the product of two of my favourite artists is merely an autotuned mess!)
7. Adeline – alt-J
2017 saw the release of alt-J’s most sombre album to date. ‘RELAXER’ was met with moderately mixed reviews as the band dialled back their iconic unorthodox lyrics and experimental instrumental arrangements, attempting to broaden their scope. The disparity in the tracks that shone in the album, and the number of tracks that missed the mark is sizeable. Nevertheless, the highlight for me is ‘Adeline’, which masterfully combines multi-layered melody with classically trained instrumentals and symphonic textures. The song begins with a simple acoustic guitar arrangement, which coalesces into a sweeping, haunting echo chamber of highly edited vocals which imitate the Tasmanian devil on which the song is centred.
Now that 2018 has well and truly begun, perhaps I will discover more songs this year that will finally give me the impetus to abandon all my responsibilities and jump headfirst into the world of music. Or maybe I will continue to be pragmatic and allow this dream to remain solely as a figment of my imagination for another year – only time will tell.