Maybe you’ve noticed, maybe you haven’t, but we’ve taken a bit of a break with Soundcheck Charlie lately while we hone in on exactly what direction we want it to go in. But honestly, what kind of music blog would we be if we didn’t give you a summary of last year’s highlights in list form?
So without further ado–and in no particular order–here’s a roundup of our top 10 best discoveries of 2017…
10 | Gingerlys
For fans of: Alvvays, Star Tropics, Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Someone told me a few months ago that “you can’t always listen to Alvvays, you need to broaden your horizons.” Well, I went up and told that person that I’d already done so, partly by playing the self-titled debut from Brooklyn’s finest pop act Gingerlys, more or less on repeat all autumn. Although I’ll never readily admit that this may not have actually broadened any horizons, at least I found a new favourite band.
9 | The Homesick
For fans of: Preoccupations, Deerhunter, Rats on Rafts
Out of a tiny Dutch town that you’ve likely never heard of, comes a band that you’ll likely hear more and more of in the coming months: The Homesick. This noisy young trio will no doubt hook you with their brand of off-kilter sort-of-pop. Their debut LP Youth Hunt does well to exhibit the experimental musical climate that we’re lucky enough to be living in, wherein a band doesn’t limit themselves to one style, but rather plays around a bit.The Homesick‘s sound possesses the brooding darkness of post-punk, the catchiness of pop melody, the steady rhythmic momentum of kraut, soaring walls of distortion a la MBV, gurgling underwater guitar/vocals effects, and the occasional growl or group shout thrown in for good measure. The result is a varied assortment of seemingly dissimilar elements that work together to form a cohesive (and delightful) whole.
8 | Midwife
For fans of: Jefre-Cantu Ledesma, Grouper, Jessica Bailiff
Under the moniker Midwife, Denver-based artist Madeline Johnston released her part folkgaze, part gaze-of-your-choice album Like Author, Like Daughter in mid-June, and from the first track ‘Song for an Unborn Sun’ we were hooked. America didn’t really have a great 2017 in general, but this LP almost made up for at least half of the stupid Tweets coming from that orange POTUS.
For fans of: Miike Snow, Wild Nothing
Denmark’s Sleep Party People produce the kind of music that quietly invades your headspace, and I mean that in the most positive way. Copenhagen-based band leader Brian Batz writes dreamlike songs that are built upon his beautiful, soft falsetto and a muted, muffled instrumentation that further contributes to the surreal tone. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the band’s fourth studio album, Lingering, marking their first release with Joyful Noise Recordings. Many of the tracks on this LP are meditative in their repetition, but there’s never a sense that things are static, there’s always constant momentum propelled by a steadfast rhythm section. Add to this the fact that the band wear bunny masks during live shows, and it’s pretty clear Sleep Party People are coming to us from some whimsical, otherworldly dimension with great music to share.
6 | The BV’s
For fans of: Jesus and Mary Chain, Slowdive, The Luxembourg Signal
Even though Augsburg-based The BV’s are arguably the best German janglegaze band around, they seem to have a pesky habit of avoiding Berlin while touring. They first revealed themselves to us this past autumn, when they supported the brilliant UK act The Luxembourg Signal on their short European release tour. Nevertheless, The BV’s showcased that their debut album doesn’t only speak from a distance but it also spoke straight to our hearts here in Berlin.
5 | Hater
For fans of: Pale Honey, Alvvays, Japanese Breakfast
Quartet Hater (not to be confused with the 90s Seattle grunge band of the same name) hail from the southern Swedish city of Malmö. If you’re looking for a solidly great indie pop act, look no further. The music they make is bittersweet, with elements like singer Caroline Landahl’s sometimes gravely, El Perro del Mar vocals lending a ever-so-slightly rough edge to otherwise harmless pop melodies; it’s a wonderful mix. Hater released their debut studio album You Tried to much acclaim, after having already garnered the attention and praise of indie legends The Radio Dept., and eventually opening for them on a number of tour dates. I guess you could say they did a lot more than try.
4 | Mikko Joensuu
For fans of: Spacemen 3, Neu, Mickey Newbury
Whatever stereotypes one might know about Finland, it’s always full of brilliant surprises when it comes to music. Mikko Joensuu is a perfect example. Even with the announcement of his Amen trilogy, and subsequent release of Amen 1 and 2 in 2016 on Svart Records, he still somehow managed to slip under our radar. Fast-forward to 2017, however, when we finally discovered ‘There Used To Be A Darkness’ from Amen 2, and from there, found ourselves fully immersed in his work. Spanning a huge range of styles–from the Mickey Newbury-inspired half-country of Amen 1, to Amen 2‘s Spiritualized UK Jesus groove, ending with the kraut/synth sounds on Amen 3–this ambitious project of his has done its part to define a new Nordic sound for us.
3 | Slow Dakota
For fans of: Noah and the Whale, Kishi Bashi
Being an Indiana native with a penchant for the pastoral and philosophical, P.J. Sauerteig–aka Slow Dakota–could easily elicit comparisons to the likes of Sufjan Stevens. Honestly, could you be grouped with better company than that? I stumbled upon Slow Dakota with the stunning ‘Lilac Bush’, and what an introduction that was. This second song on what could be considered his magnum opus, 2016’s The Ascension of Slow Dakota, begins with an entrancing, haunting flute and organ duet that immediately captures the attention of anyone within earshot, then it unfolds into a lush but carefully constructed orchestra of sound, all bolstering a heartening tale of someone ready to put their life to an end but saved by angel dove. It’s arrestingly beautiful, and just one example of the magic of his 19-song third LP. It’s not lighthearted stuff, but you could expect no less from the erudite songwriter, an Ivy Leaguer through and through. Sauerteig is a bit more conservative (relatively speaking) in his approach on the 2017 EP Rumspringa, ditching the spoken word interludes for dance beats, New Order synth lines, Chopin étude-esque piano and chirping birds. Slow Dakota is an all at once folksy experimental synth-baroque pop adventure, and it’s one you’ll probably never want to end.
2 | ShitKid
For fans of: Bikini Kill, Agent Blå, Pale Honey
After discovering DIY wunderkind Shitkid through a recommendation from her friend and fellow Swede (and our hero), Jens Lekman, in a Swedish podcast about a year ago, Åsa Söderqvist (that’s her real name) has been on our radar ever since. In June 2017, we finally saw the release of the Gothenburg native’s debut album Fish, where she perfected her lo-fi take on Riot Grrl punk, paying homage to the icons of her early 90’s childhood.
1 | Big Thief
For fans of: Julian Baker, Mitski, Aldous Harding
I know, we’re a bit late to the game on this one, but we only truly dug into the fantastic Big Thief just last year. Fronted by the captivating and compassionately commanding powerhouse, Adrianne Lenker, this band produces some brilliant songwriting, with a focus on smart melodies and incredibly emotive lyrics. To call their music simply folk likely doesn’t do it justice, but it certainly pulls some inspiration from the genre, albeit with a grittier touch. Their 2017 sophomore release, Capacity, feels darker thematically than their debut, and the storytelling is a vibrant as ever, with Lenker delving into the wealth of challenging yet awe-inspiring life experience that she’s picked up along her seemingly young journey. Big Thief‘s beautiful songs–whether sung in hushed, lilting tones, or played out on a thrashing guitar–will tug at your heartstrings in the deepest sense, and beckon you to feel alongside them.