Nordic Music Review Favourite Albums 2017
A list such as this is always going to be a matter of personal opinion, and we deliberately call it our 'Favourite' Albums list for a reason. Other opinions are available, and there are some 'obvious' omissions, so feel to drop us a line to tell us what you liked, what we missed and what we maybe shouldn't have included. Thanks for reading this and we will try to bring you the best of Nordic music in 2018. Best wishes to everyone for the New Year.
25. Novocaine - 'Swept Away'
Influenced by a diverse number of rock genres, Novocaine have an ability to write big rock melodies accompanied by this huge instrumental sound that will please those who like classic, progressive and post rock styles. For me they're at the best when they 'go large' instrumentally in that post rock style, and when they get it right as in 'Paradox', it is both blistering and hugely enjoyable.
24. Black Dough - Freaky Family
We like to cover a diverse set of genres, and in Black Dough we were delighted to come across a band not afraid to experiment around the edges of mainstream rock, taking influences from bands such as The Breeders, but putting their own distinct mark on it. It undoubtedly takes some listening to, but you'll get drawn into the mesmerizing beats and howling vocals. With unconventional songwriting structures and some dark visions expressed through the music, Black Dough created a weighty album, with highlights tracks such as 'Constant Contact' and the mammoth 'The Well'.
23 Juha Kujanpää - Kultasiipi (Goldwing)
We’ve done our very best to review a wide range of different styles of music this year, and Finnish composer Juha Kujanpää released an extraordinary instrumental based album called 'Kultasiipi' combining Nordic Folk, modern classical and some rock influences towards the end of the year. Some of the tracks such as ‘Impromptu’ are just the most beautiful compositions and positively compare with the likes of Max Richter and Arvo Part. This is well worth its inclusion in our favourite albums list.
23. Simen Mitlid - Everything Stays the Same
Norwegian songwriter Simen Mitlid released his album in September, with songs well constructed and intricately written with different shades of darkness and light, and always with finely judged instrumentation which demonstrate subtlety as well as some richly textured sections. Simen Mitlid is a songwriter with a lovely natural ability to write expressive and thoughtful songs and 'Everything is the Same' was a real success.
22 Katzenjammer - 'Rockland'
Not forgetting we’re a review site aimed, in the first instance, at increasing awareness of Nordic music in the UK, we almost always get a really great reaction when we point people in the direction of Katzenjammer, and their album ‘Rockland’, released back in January (I think dates may have varied across countries), is packed full of outrageous tunes, whilst their live shows in the UK have been excellent, and great fun too.
22. Line Bogh - 'Like Fire Like Fire'
This is an album which has really grown across the last few months. It's a an album written in very much a personal style, softly written songs with gentle melodies and her distinct vocals carrying the tracks forward. But it just has this lovely warmth, and Line Bogh's vocals are compelling throughout. 'Yellow Moon' remains an obvious highlight, as is 'Airplanes'.
21 Susanne Sundfor - 'Ten Love Songs'
Susanne Sundfor’s album ‘Ten Love Songs’ has appeared in many peoples ‘Album of the Year’ lists, and this was another excellent release from the Norwegian artist, with a diverse album based around a very simple theme.
21. Lowly - Heba
We wrote about this briefly back in Match, and it is an album that has also continued to grow. The band from Denmark released an impressive debut, that mixes atmospheric instrumental and vocals with innovative rhythms, and they feel like a band with a wealth of creative ideas at their fingertips. For those looking for good examples of the latest 'Nordic' sounds, I often point them in the direction of 'Lowly', and in tracks such as 'Deer Eyes' and 'Prepare the Lake' they really hit the mark.
20 Mew - '+ ='
Danish band ‘Mew’ followed up their No More Stories…. (etc)’ Album with a simpler titled release called +=, and its a triumphant return which is big, bold and full of confidence. Their live shows in the UK were very well received and they sneaked back at the end of the year to do 2 in London too.
20. Death Machine - Cacoon
This was an album which was released back in April, but that we only came across much later. Behind 'Death Machine' is the musician Jesper Mogensen, who started the project back in 2013, and Cocoon' is a beautifully written and stylish album, that takes influences from folk and synth artists from the 80's. The songs are melancholy and intimate, at times spiritual sounding in their vocal quality and delivery, and ultimately the album is uplifting. Highlights include 'Disco Blues', 'Under the Pillow' and the expressive 'When you Sleep'.
19. Circumnavigate - 'When World Collide'
This was released very late in the year, and it is an ambitious album from the British / Norwegian band who demonstrate this lovely musicality in everything that they do, from the subtle piano touches to the wonderful trumpet contributions. We have always loved the way that they infuse ideas from across genres, particularly the jazz touches, and this album is full of gorgeous moments. Not an album to listen to as you rush around on your daily routine, just chill, relax and enjoy the beautiful instrumentation and vocals. Highlights include 'Under Water' and 'Secret'.
18. Strange Hellos - Chromatic
For those of you that looking for the latest guitar / shoegaze style band, look no further than Strange Hellos from Norway, their album 'Chromatic' is packed full of blissful guitars, dreamy guitars and the vocals, courtesy of Birgitta Alida, are a strength throughout. There are so many highlights, jangly pop led 'Is It Me' through to the brilliant 'We Are Trouble', and the acoustic led 'Albert' shows a different side to their songwriting too. We've mentioned this band a few times and are delighted to include 'Chromatic' in our favourite album lists.
17. Black Dog Howl – Psalm
It’s great to be able to include this on our Albums of the Year, as it is undoubtedly a real favourite but it also helps demonstrate the diversity of styles of music that is out there. Gothic Americana is probably not everyone's ‘go to’ music style, but take a listen to ‘Black Dog Howls’ interpretation of the genre, packed full of catchy tunes and expressive lyrics, its difficult not to like the duo.
16. Ilkka Arola - From the Depths of the Earth
This a fascinating and brilliantly performed album by the Finnish jazz trumpeter, and irrespective of your normal music tastes we really hope that everyone has given this album a chance. It cleverly fuses such a variety of world music influences, from Middle-Eastern sounds to Afro-American rhythms, and the best place to start is opening track 'Qlanadia', which is a pretty extraordinary composition. But actually it's the contribution made by all musicians on the album which make this music so special, and this is a really recommended release.
15. Jaakko Aukusti - Mountain
This was possibly our first detailed album review of 2017, and the Finnish musician conjured up a distinct and original sounding album, packed full of big tunes and clever rythyms. There are some really good tracks throughout, from the opener 'Oasis' right through to the excellent concluding track 'Turmoil'. Jaakko Aukusti is a musical inventor, who loves to come up with complex and entertaining musical ideas, and the album is simply great fun. If you have time check out some of his live performances on YouTube too.
14. Bjork - 'Utopia'
As always so much has already been written about this album, to me 'Utopia' a far more 'accessible' album than her previous release, An exploration of 'Utopia' it is her most weighty album to date, 71 minutes and 14 tracks long. But once you get inside it, there is beauty, emotion and an extraordinary range of musical textures and sounds. No doubt there will be disagreements about the position on our list but...
13. The Sleeplings - Elusive Lights of the Long-Forgotten
I think its expected that there’s a few ‘hidden gem’ style bands / albums end up on our Favourite lists , and we’re delighted to include Danish band The Sleeplings on our list for 2017. ‘Elusive Lights of the Long-forgotten’ has progressive rock influences no doubt, but actually the key to its success to me is the fact that it simply has great melodies and guitar contributions, and it always sound like a band who are having great fun writing their songs. Similarly to The Stillwalkers in 2015 this is an album which hasn’t received that much attention, but those who have reviewed it have been very positive.
12. Koria Kitten Riot – ‘Songs of Hope and Science’
There is no doubting that Koria Kitten Riot remain a real favourite at Nordic Music Review (even if Santa didn’t bring me the vinyl edition of the album which was on my list), and ‘Songs of Hope and Science’ is such a well written album, full of easy lilting 60’s influenced style tunes, with lyrics in particular that hit the mark – observant, thoughtful and often darkly comic. This is a band who have so much to offer, and all of their albums remain essential listening.
11. Susanne Sundfor – 'Music For People in Trouble'
This is an album which has really grown on me, and which I really think everyone will like. Stripped back from her previous album, based mainly around guitar and piano, the songs allow Sundford beautiful voice to shine through, and there are some genuine ‘goosebump’ moments in tracks such as . Delighted to include this, not because we feel it ought to be there, but because it is genuinely a ‘favourite’ album.
10 Ari - 'Fræ'
This is undoubtedly 'our' type of music, independent multi-instrumentalist Ari Gudmundsson utilises both electronic and acoustic instruments to create a varied album with melodies and songs to sing around the house. Highlights of the album include the passionate 'Hinnin og haf' and the outstanding 'Auga uppotsins', and this is definitely an album I've kept coming back to across the year. Part of a trilogy of albums, we're looking forward to the follow up.
9 Astrid Swan - 'From the Bed and Beyond'
We wrote about Astrid Swan earlier this year, but never formally completed a 'full' album review, and there was a reason for that - I honestly found it simply too powerful to write about, for reasons I wont explain but you would all understand. It was written during the long road to recovery after being diagnosed with breast cancer, and tracks such as 'Song of Fear' are so strong, poignant and personal that it is impossible not to be affected. I keep coming back to the album, and ultimately I have found it uplifting, even if it has been difficult at times. 'From the Bed and Beyond' is an astonishing achievement.
8 Frisk Frugt - 'Den Europæiske Spejlbue'
Frisk Frugt's album ‘Den Europæiske Spejlbue‘ is utterly outstanding, brilliantly conceived and totally original. To many I realise it's probably a bit overly complex and even indecipherable, but to me there is so much in this release that I have remained entertained all year. It's also Kavus Torabi’s (Knifeworld, Cardiacs) Album of the Year, and he really does know what he’s talking about.
8 Water Boogie System - 'Year of Silver''
I really love Water Boogie System, even if their album 'Year of Silver' will be an acquired taste to some. From the instrumental theme in 'Herne Hill', to the complex 'But Why' to the gorgeous 'Hear me out', this is an album packed full of ideas, and performed by brilliant musicians who take their influences from across the rock and jazz sectors. In the midst of it all they're able to throw in extraordinary quirky tracks such as 'Hunting Song' too, and the more I've listened to the album, the more I've really appreciated just how darn clever the whole thing is.
7 Mammut – 'Kinder Versions'
This is a beast of an album, dark at times, but consistently rewarding and . I guess if I was to recommend one Icelandic band which demonstrated the strength of the nations musicv it would probably be Mammut – not afraid to show their infleunces but strike their own distinct course too, ‘Kinder Versions’ has a number of really strong tracks – with ‘Breathe into Me’ and being particular highlights.
6. ONBC - 'Travelmate'
This is another band we have no hesitation in recommending when we're asked for the latest Nordic sounds. 'Travelmate' is a really substantial album, with plenty of really strong tracks. There is no doubt that the style, 90's indie shoegaze / dream pop influenced songs, with big tunes and soft blissful vocals fits right into the type of music we like at Nordic Music Review, and the middle and latter tracks of this album are particularly strong. This is an excellent release from the Danish band previously known as the 'Oliver North Boys Choir'
5. TELLER - 'Strive Recess Echo'
Hurrah, a proper Post Rock album in our top 5, and this is a blisteringly good listen from Swedish band 'TELLER', with epic overblown 10 minute long tracks, with huge musical themes. But listen to for the subtle contributions from both cello and trumpet. Highlights include the particularly excellent 'The Wary and Watchful'. This is an album which took 4 years to create, and you can tell, it has that precision in the detail. This is just great to put on really loud and indulge yourself completely.
4. JFDR - 'Brazil'
We featured Pascal Pinon in our 2016 Albums of the year, and it's probably no surprise that JFDR, the solo creation of Jófríður Ákadóttir is included in our 2017 listings. This is a beautiful album, minimalist in its approach, and poetic in its delivery. There are so many tracks that stand out, from the opening 'White Sun', to the atmospheric 'Instant Patience' and the extraordinary 'Anything Goes', this is an album that will be on so many peoples favourite albums of the year. Jófríður Ákadóttirn is an incredible talent, and every project she's involved with offers something so special.
3. The School Book Depository - 'The School Book Depository'
I admit for the first week of listening I thought this might be a ‘guilty pleasure’, but this is just such a good album, packed full of brilliant tunes and incisive lyrics, which will really keep you thinking. It is such an eclectic mix of songs too, with no attempt to maintain a define style / genre. From the hip hop inspired to the gorgeous ‘Airport Aprons’, manages to consistently hit the mark, and everybody should listen to concluding track ‘treadmill heaven’.
2. Delay Trees - Let Go
Sadly this has turned out to be Delay Trees final release, but what a wonderful way to go. 'Let Go' is indie pop genius, an album just so full of great tunes, and it has a charm and soft melancholy that makes it so easy to identify with. As we wrote at the time, it is as perfect an Indie guitar album as you'll get, with jangly guitars, lovely melodies and some blissful instrumental sections. Clearly it is so sad that they've called it a day, but we look forward with patient anticipation to further Rami Vierula releases, and Delay Tress have left behind such a lovely legacy in this album, and it's been such a privilege to have been able to write about them.
1. Major Parkinson - 'Blackbox'.
'Blackbox' is monumental. It is both extraordinary in scale, and extraordinary in delivery - with astoundingly conceived rhythms, wondrous melodies and astonishing musical performances throughout from the collective of musicians and singers. It has so much in it, so much amazing detail, that you can listen again and again, and you'll always discover new intricacies, and new favourite moments.
'Isabel...' and the extraordinary 'Baseball' stand out, but it is truly a remarkable composition both lyrically and musically throughout.
An interview with Major Parkinson will follow on January 2nd!!