2017 was a pretty eventful year for us. Wake the Deaf entered a cosy little chrysalis in the spring, emerging as Various Small Flames a little while later. Despite the upheaval (and seemingly endless tinkering with the new site), we still had time to check out some really good music. So much so, it was hard to select our very favourite albums, but in the spirit of the season, here’s a list of the 20 that stood out to us, in no particular order.

Big Thief – Capacity

Saddle Creek
big thief capacity artwork

“[Lenker’s vocals] unfurl like a magician’s silk scarves, a perpetual unravelling shaped by a poetic, negentropic logic. [It] is as though the meaning is summoned from the words themselves, something in the syllabic arrangement dragging stories and emotions into our world from somewhere else entirely. Lenker’s gift is her ability to recognise the strange, innate forces within language, surrender to them, and present them back to us with a crystal-clear clarity.”


Wild Pink – S/T

Tiny Engines

Wild Pink album artwork

“Ross feels like a narrator dropped into an ongoing narrative, not fully aware of the beginning or end, or even any coherent context, yet haunted by profound sensations of sadness, fear and guilt—an unshakeable, existential dread that suggests we’re going to pay for how this story is panning out. Wild Pink haven’t come to us amidst this chaos with magic cures or quick-fix solutions, but they’ve come to us nonetheless. Right now, that’s probably the most valuable and noble thing any of us can do.”


The Wooden Sky – Swimming in Strange Waters

Chelsea Records / Nevado Music

wooden sky swimming in strange waters album cover

“The Wooden Sky are making music with emotion, intelligence and integrity, songs in which you can both lose and find yourself, and perhaps even connect with the plight of others. We’re all trying to survive strange waters to some degree, and the record’s intent on illuminating this fact—both appreciating your constant kicking beneath the surface, and imploring you to help those that may be tiring, or entering even rougher seas.”


Vagabon – Infinite Worlds

Father/Daughter Records

Vagabon Infinite Worlds artwork

“This is the sort of music that makes you feel part of a something, it does reflect a big sad and confused gang spread out all over the world, and we should be connected by shared experience and a sneaky feeling that life is worth living. However, to mark Infinite Worlds as simply sad or lonely falls into to the very trap of binarism that the album spends so much time fighting. Yes, it’s mournful but joyous too. It’s bedroom pop and indie rock and experimental ambient. It’s immensely personal and broadly relatable. It’s Vagabon, though only as it sounds right now.”


Protomartyr – Relatives of Descent


protomartyr relatives in descent

“Casey returns to his own struggles with the irony of being an artist in such a world, where to not speak against the absurdity of the system is to become complicit, yet knowing those very absurdities render his words meaningless. Rather than give up, or persevere nobly, Casey twists his art into the shape of this double-bind, using self-deprecation to cover any hint of naivety. “I have a backlog of so-called prophets,” a character tells a Messiah-like oracle near the beginning of the [final song]. “You are of a multitude.” The preacher insists he witnesses truth, to which the first character reacts with genuine confusion and interest. “The truth?” he asks. “What is it?””


Julia Lucille – Chthonic

Keeled Scales

“Part folk, part dream pop, part something else entirely, her music combines equal parts delicacy and foreboding with an impressive patience and emotional intensity […] concerned with the underworld, more specifically descending into as a mode of growth and rebirth (a la Persephone), and [showing] off the interplay between shadow and light that constitutes the record’s aesthetic.”


Friendship – Shock Out Of Season

Orindal Records

Friendship Shock out of Season album art“In many ways, Friendship are in a Bardo of their own, caught between how life has been and could be, unsure how and when, if ever, they might pass into the next part. Shock Out of Season is concerned with finding this exit, figuring out some act or combination of words that allow passage into the next life. Or maybe it’s about making peace with the current space, acknowledging that perhaps true communication is impossible, and that trying to live with this understanding might be the most sympathetic and empathetic path available to us.”


Real Life Buildings – Significant Weather

Lauren Records

Real Life Buildings significant weather album art
“Real Life Buildings capture both the quiet minutiae of day to day living—the soft feeling you get in an empty room with just a ticking clock and raindrops on the window pane for company—and the exhilarating rush of joy that is still sometimes possible. It’s music that, despite its anxiety and concern, still sees that silvery sheen of magic in the mundane, a fun indie rock record and a lesson in paying attention to what’s going on both inside and outside your head.”


Distant Reader – Home Power

Lily Tapes & Discs

distant reader home power album art overgrown chair“Distant Reader weav[es] a dense web of not just personal reflections, but reflections on the lives of those he cares about. Home Power is a deep record, one that withstands, even requires, a lot of thought and rumination, but after repeated listens the key points of empathy and kindness begin to resonate deeply. It’s a reminder that we’re all able to help ourselves and each other, and that we will be better people for both.”


Alex Napping – Mise En Place

Father/Daughter Records / Sports Day Records

alex napping mise en place album art

“Less like a chronicle of a disintegrating relationship than the beginning of a process of self-examination, of moving forward, of weighing things up day-by-day and acting accordingly […] On Mise En Place, Alex Napping somehow manage to marry the immediacy of good pop songs with a slow-burning complexity, proving that meaningful songs can still be fun, and that great pop songs need not be a simple shallow sugar rush.”


Craig Finn – We All Want The Same Things

Partisan Records

Craig Finn We all want the same things album art

“There’s a danger that pushing everything through the Trumpian prism collapses some of the intricacies and nuances of art. After all, The Donald is a product of the disaffection Finn is exploring here, not the cause. The problem is deeper and more complex than any government-related trouble, and Finn is too wise to offer much in the way of an answer. Instead, he suggests we shift the focus of our questions. Because We All Want the Same Things is an album about relationships, but not in the usual sense. Not the transcendental, star-aligned love of Billboard hits and Hollywood flicks but coupling based on common needs. Not life-changing answers but life-preserving strategies. Luckily, in the hands of Craig Finn, this version of ‘romance’ feels somehow more fulfilling, the opposite of cynical, for better or for worse, genuinely human. Perhaps the revolution in the conclusion isn’t some violent revolt or epiphanic break, rather a gradual yet constant commitment to challenging our own expectations. To stop wanting too much for ourselves and to start being sympathetic to others. A comeback story, of sorts.”


The Courtneys – II

Flying Nun Records

The Courtneys II album art pink swirl

“There’s something joyfully nostalgic [about II]…the aural equivalent of the era it borrows from musically. It’s wrapped up in the warm fuzzy tape hiss of the late 80s / early 90s, that period of endless possibility, where everything was colourful and exciting and came with a free toy.”


Pleasure Systems – Antumbra Pull

Antiquated Future Records

Pleasure Systems antumbra pull cover art“Essentially a collection of love songs. Each track is pure and sincere and deceptively rich, each created within its own little world, or perhaps conjuring a snapshot of a particular time/place in our own. The positive outlook never seems like some near-forgotten memory. It’s as if Sondermann is using Pleasure Systems to focus all of the hope and love into a beam which is aimed at the shadow, a beam which might not make the problem go away, but can at least be used as a formidable weapon in the forthcoming struggle.”


Midwife – Like Author, Like Daughter

Whited Sepulchre

midwife like author like daughter album art“On Like Author, Like Daughter, Midwife have made an album of dualities…both powerfully elemental and somehow intangible, the unrestrained power of nature versus the invisible waves that surround us, emotionally pure messages coded in digital distortion. This duality goes for the atmosphere too. It’s impossible to pack the album away into an explicit genre or emotion, somehow conveying the whole spectrum, swelling triumph and crushing defeat, bright white hope and oil-black despair. But, ultimately, almost unbelievably, the message is positive. Even during the moments where the music sounds like the apocalypse, a tangible, sonic manifestation of loneliness and despair, Johnston provides a thread to hold on to, a reminder that the human spirit is the one thing that can, and will, endure.”


Black Belt Eagle Scout – Mother Of My Children


Black Belt Eagle Scout mother of my children cover art

“For all the difficulty and heartache that clearly went into it’s creation, Mother of My Children ultimately feels like Black Belt Eagle Scout making a clarion call, a proud statement that is intended to encourage other queer people of colour to use art as a source of strength, self-knowledge and empowerment. But it’s more than just an artistic statement. The album has both focus and depth, exploring themes directly with its lyrics and more indirectly with the atmosphere it conjures.”


CHUCK – Franenstein Songs For the Grocery Store

Audio Antihero

CHUCK Frankenstein Songs for the Grocery Store album cover

Frankenstein Songs for the Grocery Store finds CHUCK doing what he does best, making songs that are catchy and funny and unashamedly “pop” and all undoubtedly good fun. But there’s always that something else to his songs too, something that’s harder to put a finger on, a nod to the vacuum at the centre of our 21st century consumerist culture.”


Half Gringa – Gruñona


Half Gringa Gruñona

“Unpick[ing] the knots and tangles that have developed through[out] life, both retracing steps and forging ahead to discover something closer to [an] authentic self […] Gruñona is a journey without a clear destination, a question without an answer. An attempt to map identity not to achieve some clear-cut conclusion but rather in the hope of better understanding how history and culture and personal beliefs shape the people we are and were, the people we will be.”


Meursault – I Will Kill Again

Song, By Toad Records

meursault i will kill again cover art ghost

“This is an album full of ghosts, both literal and metaphoric, from the disembodied voices that sometimes interrupt the broadcast, to Pennycook’s characters themselves, all coalescing to create a grand sense of melancholy […] but [the final song] see a sense of advancement, a suggestion that the ghosts might finally be confined to the past, where they belong.”


Adult Mom – Soft Spots

Tiny Engines

adult mom soft spots album cover peaches in jar

Soft Spots finds Adult Mom with a new sense of self-assurance. These songs contain genuine hurt but also genuine hope, the narrator finally in possession of the bravery necessary to open up to people. It’s hard to think of a more fitting illustration of the album than the pickled pink peaches on the cover art. Yes, the fruits may get bruised if the jar is opened, but how else would anyone know how soft and sweet they are?”


Bea Troxel – The Way That It Feels


“The album is an introspective one, based around big questions of where the narrator wants to be and what kind of life they want to live. In that way, it feels like a re-evaluation, the bright and hopeful result of much thought and worry […] The Way That It Feels hits a nice balance between the weighty and the not. It’s an album as poetic and pretty as it is serious and sincere, and marks Bea Troxel as a name to watch among contemporary folk musicians.”