Monday, 13 February 2017
Welcome back to The Ephemeric's 2017 Hot List. I hope you enjoyed last week's entry covering the essential theatre in 2017. This week we will be having a look at the most exciting new music due for release in the coming year.
2016 will be remembered as an exceptional year of music. It says everything that major releases from big names such as The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Radiohead weren't even the highlights of the year. Instead, the best moments came from unlikely sources, none more unlikely than the near-mythical return of The Avalanches, releasing their miraculous sophomore album Wildflower out of nowhere after 16 years in production. Elsewhere, Michael Kiwanuka followed up his excellent debut with an even better second album that cemented his place as one of the absolute top songwriters of today. Strong releases from The 1975 and The Last Shadow Puppets, along with exciting debuts from Christine and the Queens and The Lemon Twigs, topped off a really excellent year across the board for music.
This year looks like it might be even more memorable, headlined by several mega-sized comebacks including The Killers, Arcade Fire, and Gorillaz, while old favourites like The xx and Fleet Foxes are also set to return. Add to that some unusually high profile debut acts and there is much to be excited about in 2017. Often, the music Hot List is the hardest to put together, but this year it practically writes itself. So here's our list of the top albums to keep an eye on in 2017, starting with number 15:
15. "Pure Comedy" by Father John Misty
We'll start with Father John Misty, the former Fleet Foxes band member, whose last album has transformed this solo side project into the hot thing in indie folk. This year he returns with a new album, Pure Comedy.
Those who know Fleet Foxes have a pretty good idea of what to expect: soulful folk with a lyrically dark tint. His last album produced some fine tracks, most notably True Affection and Chateau Lobby #4. The lead single from his latest album Real Love Baby suggests a lighter, more optimistic tone for this one.
Now a bona fide star in his own right, there's a lot more buzz about Pure Comedy, and promises to be one of the bigger releases of the year. Expect it to release early April.
Release Date: 7 April, 2017
14. Anteros (New band)
Anteros are one of those up and coming acts that have been floating around for a few years, having previously featured in such industry bellwethers as the BBC Sound of the year shortlist, and almost making the cut right here on the Hot List this time last year.
The appeal is clear from the first listen, these are very fine purveyors of exciting indie pop music. Even though there's no album yet, you can get a decent idea of their style from the singles they have released, including Anteros and Breakfast. Solid, radio friendly fare, it's easy to see why they are so hotly tipped for mainstream success.
A few more singles and EPs to their name in 2016, and now the buzz has started for a full studio album, expected to drop sometime in 2017.
Release Date: TBA 2017
French alternative rock band Phoenix has been around for a number of years now, but it wasn't until recently with the successful releases of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix and Bankrupt that they broke into the mainstream.
Now the band is returning with a much anticipated, as yet unnamed, follow up, due to arrive sometime in 2017. Little is known so far, but the band recently updated all their social media with a new, mysterious placeholder image, while they have confirmed tour dates throughout 2017, their first since 2014. There's something coming for sure.
No new songs have been revealed, but if they can match the quality of previous hits such as Lisztomania then we can all live happily ever after.
Release Date: TBA 2017
12. "Plural" by Electric Guest
A previous alumnus of our very own Hot List, Electric Guest made waves with their debut album five years ago, Mondo. Part of the reason for that was undeniably the presence of industry kingmaker Danger Mouse on the production team.
The result was smoother than a glass of fine scotch, with wonderful, confidently composed tracks like Troubleman and Awake. Flawless, disco-infused pop with enough freshness to stand out in a crowded genre.
The follow up, Plural, does not appear to have Danger Mouse involved, and the band looks to be doubling down on disco, if first single Dear to Me is anything to go by. A little cheesy? Sure, but undeniably fun. That second album follow up to a successful debut is always a tough step, let's see how they handle it.
Release Date: 17 February, 2017
11. "Process" by Sampha (New band)
Another one that's been hotly tipped for a few years now, originally appearing in many of the big publications' hot tips for 2015, almost making this very Hot List as far back in 2014. Now Sampha finally has a debut album due, Process.
For the uninitiated, Without is the song that started off all the hype a few years back. It typifies the artist to a tee, sonically adventurous and deftly crafted R&B pop. His newer tracks, like Timmy's Prayer carry on in the same manner, but indicate a refining of the songwriter's signature style.
Releasing in early February (which may or may not be in the past depending on when this blog is posted), this will certainly be an early one to watch and a prominent release of 2017.
Release Date: 3 February, 2017
10. "Dirty Projectors" by Dirty Projectors
Continuing in an experimental vein, here's Dirty Projectors, a band of unquestionable musical brilliance, albeit one of mercurial execution.
Frontman David Longstreth has been described as a molecular gastronomist of music, with a musical style that is so unwaveringly bold, that his experiments land wide of the mark just as often as they hit it dead on. When the music works though, it can be spectacular. Previous work ranges dramatically from meandering pop odysseys of Bitte Orca to more simple folk stylings in Swing Lo Magellan. This is a band that likes to keep their fans guessing.
The new eponymous album is due in February. If lead single Keep Your Name is anything to go by, we're in for another sharp turn into the strange and wonderful.
Release Date: 24 February, 2017
9. Declan McKenna (New band)
Declan McKenna is possibly one of the hottest young artists in pop music right now, widely featured in the "one to watch" lists of the industry's most influential pundits, with expectations high ahead of his first full studio album.
Despite still being a teenager, he already has a number of widely praised hit singles to his name, including Isombard, Paracetamol, and Brazil. Solid tracks which display a songwriting confidence well beyond his tender age.
The first album should be due in 2017, with recording having been completed through much of 2016, and an expected release of May. James Ford, producer for bands such as Arctic Monkeys, Depeche Mode and Florence and the Machine is producing, an indication perhaps of where the record label sees McKenna headed in terms of stardom potential. Big one to watch.
Release Date: May 2017
8. Parcels (New band)
Another 2017 debut, Parcels delight in the kind of rapturous 70s throwback electronic pop that has earned them plaudits and comparisons with the likes of Daft Punk and Destroyer.
A few wonderfully smooth singles and EPs have yielded an impressive start, with Older and Gamesofluck particular standouts so far. A visually striking live performance style has also helped garner attention from the industry, and there's plenty of buzz surrounding their planned tours later in the year.
Now the debut studio album is in production and what we have seen bodes well. I'm expecting this one towards the end of 2017.
Release Date: TBA 2017
7. "Under Stars" by Amy Macdonald
The return of an old favourite is always exciting, and Amy Macdonald has earned that status. Storming onto the scene at the incredible young age of 17 with brilliant songs like This is the Life, Slow it Down, and Mr. Rock and Roll, Amy is surely one of the great songwriting talents of her generation.
She has only gone from strength to strength since then, and returns with a new album Under Stars in 2017, her first studio album since 2012. So far only one track has been revealed, the gorgeous acoustic track Down by the Water.
I'm very excited for this one, if the rest of the album has the quality of its first single, then this could well be one of the albums of 2017.
Release Date: 17 February, 2017
6. "I See You" the xx
London's Mercury Prize winning three-piece outfit The xx are back in the studio, with their third studio album, I See You due for release in January 2017 (almost certainly the past by now).
Of course the last time we heard from the band was in the form of frontman Jamie xx's award winning solo debut two years back. The xx themselves have an wonderful track record of fine music including singles Islands and VCR.
If new lead single On Hold is anything to go by, the band are taking their trademark low-fi style into adventurous new places, I personally can't wait to see what they come up with. This clearly is a band with the capacity to mix things up creatively. Whatever happens, no doubt this will be one of the big releases of 2017.
Release Date: 13 January, 2017
5. The Japanese House (New band)
The last of our 2017 debutants, The Japanese House have been drumming up a huge amount of hype over the past year or so, and find themselves prime contenders among many pundits' picks for 2017.
Theirs is a well defined sound, dreamy, layered synth pop with melancholy vocals. They've produced some really quite stunning work so far, songs that manage to be powerful and delicate at the same time. Check out Clean and Face Like Thunder for a little taste of what they're about. Fantastic stuff that makes them our pick of the newcomers for this year.
The word is that a debut album will be coming before year end, and if that's the case then that makes them a very exciting one to watch for 2017.
Release Date: TBA 2017
Damon Albarn is undoubtedly music royalty for his work he has done solo and with Blur, but it's arguably his side project Gorillaz which has garnered the most widespread success.
This time last year Gorillaz announced their return, and their plans for a new album, now expected to be released in 2017. "Phase 4" of the Gorillaz project as it were. Beyond this, details are thin at the moment, with the exception of the audacious Hallelujah Money, a track which may or may not even be on the upcoming album (supposedly it's a one off like Doncamatic). Whatever the case, if the final product is half as good as the group's previous album Plastic Beach then we're in for a treat.
Gorillaz of course are known for their eclectic mix of styles, from hip hop to dance, and plenty more besides. Best known for tracks like 19-2000, Feel Good Inc, and On Melancholy Hill. But this is only the tip of the iceberg, and I await with real interest to see what crazy machinations Albarn and co come up with this time.
Release Date: Summer 2017
3. "Ylajali" by Fleet Foxes
Now we get to the real highlights, three albums that were simply impossible to rank in order. Eventually, after much soul-searching, Fleet Foxes have taken third place, with their upcoming album Ylajali.
Fleet Foxes are a folk rock band that simply everyone should listen to, like Mumford and Sons, but with songs that are actually good. Their debut album, particularly lead single White Winter Hymnal, demonstrated that they could write wonderful music. But it was their follow up, the stunning Helplessness Blues, that showed they could write songs with as much intellect as any of the masters. Same beautiful music, but with the soul and poetry of an early Simon & Garfunkel.
So naturally after a six year hiatus, I'm pretty excited by the prospect of a third album. Supposedly it will arrive by the fall of this year. If it's half as good as their last album then we're talking about an album of the year contender.
Release Date: Fall 2017
2. The Killers
Everyone knows The Killers. Their hits include such classics as Mr. Brightside, All These Things I've Done, and Human, among many others. But despite their prominence in modern pop music, there are some who would say that their star has been on the wane in recent years, and they have not released an album now since 2012.
At the same time, frontman Brandon Flowers is fresh from his successful sophomore solo album in 2015, prompting speculation as to whether the group would even return at all, or if he would spend more time pursuing his own career.
The band will hope to set this right in 2017 with their fifth studio album now confirmed to be in production, and a release date tentatively set for summer 2017. Despite the mediocrity of their last album, Battleborn, this is news that should excite music fans everywhere. Flowers remains one of the most creative songwriters in the business, and despite his efforts is always at his best when contrasted by the more grounded notes of his band.
I'm looking forward to this one. A new album from the Killers is still very much an event, and while we have yet to hear any of these new songs, their track record gives plenty of reason to be optimistic. The summer release date sounds reasonable to me, it coincides with their touring schedule, so we can assume they'll have something to promote, right?
Release Date: Summer 2017
1. Arcade Fire
But The Ephemeric's most hotly anticipated album for 2017 is the as yet untitled fifth studio album from Arcade Fire. The people who brought us such classics as Wake Up, Rebellion, and Sprawl II.
This band is arguably the most sophisticated in the music business today, and one of the few that can blend commercial appeal with an intellectual depth to which few musicians even aspire. Their last album Reflektor was a Debbie award winner, not to mention a critically acclaimed masterpiece.
Nothing has been revealed yet regarding this newest album, aside from the fact that it's due for release this year. The price of success is high expectation, but frankly we're expecting nothing less than art.
Release Date: TBA 2017
So there you have it folks: The 2017 Hot List. Here's to a fantastic year, and the Hot List will return in 2018!
Monday, 6 February 2017
Welcome back to The Ephemeric's 2017 Hot List. This week we will be having a look at the most exciting theatrical productions coming to the stage in the coming year.
2016 was a year of some very dazzling productions, from Damon Albarn's wild wonder.land, to Tim Minchin's successful adaptation of Groundhog Day to musical. Elsewhere the National Theatre wowed audiences with two of the year's biggest shows, the Threepenny Opera and Amadeus, while the dream team of Sirs Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart helped sell out the Duke of York's production of No Man's Land in record time.
Now I'm a man who enjoys his theatre, but even by usual standards this year is looking exceptionally well stocked with exciting productions. In 2017 we Londoners will once again be spoilt for choice by the world's greatest theatre town. The National once again hogs some of the year's biggest tickets, but the Royal Court is holding its own by bringing one Sam Mendes back to the London stage. Elsewhere the Almeida continues its revitalisation under Rupert Goold with some of the more exciting productions of the year ahead. So here's our list of the top 10 theatrical productions to keep an eye on in 2017, starting with number 10:
10. "Against" by Christopher Shin, at the Almeida
We begin with one of Britain's most promising young film actors, Ben Whishaw, best known for his role in the recent James Bond movies.
His star turn in the Almeida theatre's latest production, Against, sees Whishaw take on the role of an aerospace billionaire in Silicon Valley. Following an epiphany from God, Whishaw sets out to change the world, but violence stands in his way.
Intriguing concept, with a headline grabbing movie star. But probably the most exciting aspect is the direction of Ian Rickson, a director perhaps best recognised for his work on the acclaimed West End hit, Jerusalem.
A topical, 21st Century fable for the world we live in. This collaboration with the Pulitzer Prize nominated writer Christopher Shin has the potential to be something quite special.
9. "Ugly Lies the Bone" by Lindsey Ferrentino, at the National Theatre
The National Theatre's headline act for Spring 2017. Ugly Lies the Bone brings Lindsey Ferrentino's award winning production from New York to the London stage.
A war veteran returns from Afghanistan to her home on the space coast and must come to terms both with the scars of war, and the reality of a home that has changed beyond recognition. Experimenting with groundbreaking virtual reality therapy, she creates a breathtaking new world where she can begin to restore her relationships, her life, and herself.
Rave critical reviews from New York, a highly regarded young writer, and accolades everywhere bode well for this new production. The cast features seasoned theatre and film actors in Buffy Davis and Kate Fleetwood, but the recognisable face for most people will be Kris Marshall of Love Actually fame.
In this age of contrasts between geopolitical instability and the breakthroughs of technology, and the under-reported toll it all takes on those who suffer the worst of it, this is a production that can't help but feel remarkably relevant. This should be one of the big theatre highlights of early 2017.
8. "Hamlet" by William Shakespeare, at the Almeida
Another year, another Hamlet production. This time the Almeida theatre takes a crack at the bard's most famous tragedy, despite the still fresh shadow of the Barbican's recent production looming large.
While the Barbican's production famously starred superstar Benedict Cumberbatch, the Almeida has their own headline grabber in the form of Cumberbatch's Sherlock co-star Andrew Scott, the actor behind that show's Moriarty character. The rest of the cast is equally strong with Juliet Stevenson, Downton Abbey's Jessica Brown Findlay, Angus Wright, and my old school-friend, the up-and-coming Joshua Higgott.
A hugely talented cast and production company, at one of London's most consistent theatres. London has a great tradition of Hamlet productions, and I look forward to seeing the latest.
7. "The Glass Menagerie" by Tennessee Williams, at the Duke of York's Theatre
The classic Tennessee Williams play, The Glass Menagerie, brought to the London stage courtesy of the Duke of York's theatre in the spring of 2017.
Cast includes the Tony award winning Broadway star Cherry Jones, Michael Esper, and Kate O'Flynn, while the behind the scenes crew is stocked with multi-Tony and Olivier award winners including Steven Hoggett, Bob Crowley, and Paul Arditi.
Marshalling all of this into the Duke of York's flagship 2017 production is director John Tiffany, now something of a hot commodity following the success of his Harry Potter and the Cursed Child production last year. It's easy to see why this is being tipped as one of the biggest theatre events of 2017.
6. "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui" by Bertolt Brecht and Bruce Norris, at the Donmar Warehouse
A surprisingly light schedule from Covent Garden's Donmar Warehouse is nevertheless punctuated by a new production of the classic Bertolt Brecht play, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.
Brecht's satirical allegory for the rise of Hitler's Nazi party could not be more relevant given the recent events in world politics, perhaps a little too obviously so. Given the subject matter, the choice of casting comedian Lenny Henry in the starring role seems a bold move, but it is one that has ensured that all tickets have been quickly sold out. We will have to see whether he has the depth to do justice to a more nuanced form of wit.
This one gets started late spring, early summer. Tickets are currently sold out but may become available in limited quantities. Grab some if you can, a show at the Donmar is always worthwhile.
5. "Angels in America" by Tony Kushner, at the National Theatre
Now we're getting to the cream of the crop. Each of this year's top five is an absolute blockbuster of a production and a major event in theatre. First up is Angels in America, the summer tentpole of the National Theatre.
Angels, subtitled "a gay fantasia on national themes", is set in 1980s New York amidst an AIDS crisis, the explosion of mainstream conservatism and deals with issues of life and death, love and sex, heaven and hell. It's another very considered political statement, re-imagining the highly regarded and award winning original text of Tony Kushner with an eye towards modern context.
This promises to be an epic of a production in a literal sense. Split into two separate plays of three hours each, a production and marketing budget to rival a Hollywood film, and starring the Oscar nominated talent of Andrew Garfield. Unsurprisingly tickets are very hard to come by right now.
4. "The Ferryman" by Jez Butterworth, at the Royal Court Theatre
These are all hot tickets, but without doubt the number 1 top seller of 2017 so far is the Royal Court Theatre's production of The Ferryman.
Set in a Derry farmhouse in 1981, the Carney family prepares for a traditional night of feasting and celebration, until preparations are interrupted by the arrival of a mysterious visitor.
So why all the hype? It's simple: Sam Mendes. The superstar Academy Award winning filmmaker is returning to his spiritual home of the London stage, and that's a good reason to get excited. But there's more to appreciate here than just the director. The script comes courtesy of Jez Butterworth, another alumnus of that great Jerusalem production.
Beyond this little is currently known, and a cast has yet to be announced. Previews start in April. Tickets are probably long gone, but many are expecting an extension or even a move to the West End given the show's high demand.
3. "The Kid Stays in the Picture" by Simon McBurney at the Royal Court Theatre
Back to the Royal Court, no mean feat considering the inconsistency of their quality of production in recent years. But here we are for the second time on this list, and with quite a tantalising prospect.
The Kid Stays in the Picture is an adaptation of the autobiography of legendary film producer Robert Evans, and is brought to the stage by writer/director/theatre Complicite legend Simon McBurney.
That alone is enough to make one break out their wallet, but a starring role for the always watchable Danny Huston seals the deal. Who doesn't love a good play about the film industry? And with a team this good behind it, one has to have confidence that they'll do the genre justice.
This one lands in the Spring, March to early April. Busy time of year, but snap it up if you can.
2. "Ink" by James Graham, at the Almeida
A close contender for our top spot, Ink is the latest play from the wonderful writer James Graham, who you might know as the scribe behind This House.
Ink sticks with the political theme, focusing on the story of a young Rupert Murdoch and the events which transpire as he sets out to create what would go on to be the nation's most influential newspaper. Rupert Goold directs. A cast has yet to be announced.
Topical political theatre is tricky to get right, but Graham has exceptional pedigree. This House was an excellent production, whip smart, funny, and strong in its message. If he can bring the same quality to his latest work then this will surely be one of the theatre highlights of the year.
1. "Network" by Lee Hall and Paddy Chayefsky at the National Theatre
And indeed Ink was my top pick for 2017, at least until last week, when Network was announced. See, sometimes being behind schedule on a blog post can have unintended benefits!
Network is, of course, the theatrical adaptation of the classic multi-Academy award winning movie, commonly regarded as one of the great political and mass media satires of all time. With everything going on the world, the timing could not be more perfect.
This is one of those projects that just oozes quality from every point. One of the best production teams in the business from the National Theatre, the highly pedigreed Ivo Van Hove directing, and to top it all off, the great Bryan Cranston in the iconic starring role made famous by the late Peter Finch.
This sounds pretty fantastic, one of the most exciting projects in years. It doesn't start until later on in 2017, beginning in November, and so tickets aren't even on sale yet. You'll want to see this, so keep an eye on those on-sale dates.
So there you have it folks: 2017 in theatre. Tune in next week for our final instalment of the Hot List, covering the essential new music coming up in 2017!