While ear-scraping raggaeton and the meh return of Sam Smith dominate the singles charts, there’s been plenty of decent new music this month. (Incidentally, Sam Smith’s new single is called Too Good At Goodbyes. A few years ago, David Arnold and Don Black wrote a potential James Bond theme called No Good About Goodbye which was recorded by Shirley Bassey on her 2009 album The Performance. Of course, Smith recorded the most recent Bond theme (the highly mediocre Writing’s On The Wall). Coincidence? I’m just saying).
With a voice half-way between Cher and Claire Maguire, Betsy is one of this year’s best new artists. Her single Waiting is one of the best pop records of 2017 so far and her self-titled debut album finally arrived last week. At times weird and orchestral, at times sounding like early 90s Lisa Stansfield, its a very fine collection of songs.
Five albums from American and Canadian indie/rock bands have arrived in the last few weeks, and all have their highlights. I’m yet to be entirely convinced by Arcade Fire‘s Everything Now despite the brilliance of the lead single and one or two other tracks. Perhaps it needs more listens, as does the Fleet Foxes‘ Crack-Up which is beautiful in places but harder to get in to than their previous work.
A much better album is A Deeper Understanding, The War On Drugs‘ follow-up to 2014’s Lost In The Dream. I adore this record from start to finish, particularly singles Pain and the beautiful Strangest Thing. Despite not being entirely sure on first listen I’m also really enjoying The National‘s Sleep Well Beast. I really liked their two lead singles (Guilty Party and Carin At The Liquor Store) and while at first I thought the rest of the album didn’t measure up, it’s growing on me enormously.
It’s also mentioning Wonderful, Wonderful, the fifth studio album from The Killers. It’s their best selection of songs in years and while it doesn’t mark any musical departure, the likes of Rut and Have All The Songs Been Written? are terrific.
I have long thought that Dua Lipa was a cut above most of the pop dross currently hanging around the top 40, and she has finally got a real breakthrough with number one single New Rules. It’s actually one of the weakest songs on her debut album, which is a decent pop record and features the brilliant Be The One (but not, sadly, the excellent Martin Garrix duet Scared To Be Lonely).
The Scandinavians are pretty adept at making decent pop and another good record that arrived in September was Lovers, the debut album from Anna of the North. It’s a simple, pop record with some pretty sparse production but it’s really likeable and Anna Lotterud is quite a talent.
(While we’re talking Norwegian pop, the brilliant Donkeyboy have a brand new single out. Kaleidoscope never quite hits the heights of some of their previous releases, but is a decent pop tune nonetheless.)
I’ve been a fan of Canadian popstrel Lights for years and her new album Skin & Earth is a really great collection of power pop (try Savage). OMD are legends and while I’m not sure new album The Punishment of Luxury is quite up there with English Electric and History of Modern it’s still a superior piece of synth pop (I like The View From Here very much).
Perhaps the biggest surprise this month is Jake Bugg‘s fourth album. I have hitherto not been even a small fan of his work, but this dreamy slice of 70s West Coast is really quite engaging and Hearts That Strain is, by some distance, the best thing he has done.
You may have thought that they had given up years ago but Starsailor are back with a new record and single FIA is really quite something. Featuring a falsetto vocal from frontman James Walsh, the lyrics get a little clichéd towards the end but until then it’s a really great track.
Occasionally a song comes along from an artist you’re not a huge fan of that really turns out to be quite something. I’m not entirely sure what made me listen to Sara Bareilles‘ new single If I Dare and all I know about it is that it’s from the new Battle of the Sexes movie. It’s a haunting, powerful ballad with a really unusual structure and I have to say I absolutely love love love it.
And finally, while we’re on the subject of movies, the one soundtrack I’ve come back to more than once in the last couple of months is Daniel Hart‘s terrific work for A Ghost Story. It’s a haunting film with a terrific soundtrack, and includes I Get Overwhelmed by Dark Rooms (which was used in the trailer).
Other new bands to have a look at are Skinny Living (Why? is terrific), Sloes (listen to Where To Start) and The Howl and the Hum, whose Godmanchester Chinese Bridge is one of my favourite guitar singles of 2017 so far.
Another roundup to come soon. What’s been on your radar this month?