Well hello. Another year comes to an end and another music column emerges. Getting time to not only write this but to actually listen to music this year was a little trickier, mainly because of a little baby who came to live in our house and keep us busy. Lucky for me, the little dude loves dancing and can keep up with my eclectic tastes. Dancing around the kitchen to a new Nine Inch Nails EP with a baby is a pretty classic moment in year 1 of raising a kid.
So 2017. What a great year for music. This was the hardest list yet since I had to eliminate albums that I really loved a ton just to whittle it down. However, I made a Spotify playlist with songs from a whole ton of albums that didn’t make the cut if you want to hear all kinds of cool stuff. It’s here:
OK, let’s get to it.
I never really paid much attention to this band before this year. I heard some tunes from the last record but didn’t think much about them. This album is a totally different story. The production, song writing, performance, everything is just so spot on. Its anchored by some amazing songs like Holding On and Up All Night, but its the long psych tinged jams that really keep me coming back to it. A song like Pain has enough hooks for a whole album, but they manage to find space to take the song to a new high in the last minute just to put an amazing punctuation mark on it. I listened to this record more than any other this year and its my fave of the bunch.
There’s almost always a slump when a band comes off a first record which has been road tested, played a million times, tightened up in all the right places, and generally worked on for a long time. The second one doesn’t get the same kind of love since the band is trying to capitalize on their new fame and success and usually suffers creatively. Not so here. The second album by Algiers is far and away superior to their initial effort in every way. The songs are better, the singer sounds more in control, the production is outstanding. I felt like the first album’s pastiche of ‘soul vocals meets Brooklyn rock’ was a little trite but in this second album they have found the best way to merge the two and almost every song is worth listening to. The title track alone is worth the price of admission.
I’ve been a fan of this band for a while and they showed up on a previous list a few years ago with their album ‘Coal’. Malina takes what Leprous does best, off kilter rhythms, anthemic choruses and haunting bridges, and doesn’t mess with it. They present these 11 songs as a supremely confident band working in a space that is all their own. The Freddy Mercury-esque vocals are now front and center, no more screaming from frontman Einer Solberg. They also seems less inclined to go full on metal in these tunes, a choice which I find more experimental and interesting than most ‘progressive’ metal bands. I love drumming along to these songs on my legs.
Man was I so ready to hate this album. The last Pumpkins record really left me with a feeling that I was done following Billy’s musical inclinations. His brand of rock no longer feels contemporary or interesting to me, which is sad since he still remains my teenage rock and roll hero. Plus he decided to call himself William Patrick on this one which seemed like an incredible douchebag move. When songs started trickling out on Spotify, I listened tentatively, finding reasons to not like them. “His vocals are too loud in the mix”, “It sounds like he doesn’t really know how to play piano” and etc. Why did I keep listening to them?! Eventually I got over myself and realized that this is just a great collection of songs from a guy with nothing left to prove. I give a lot of credit to Rick Rubin who produced this and told Billy to keep it stripped down. Katie and I saw him play these live and it was the most fun I’ve seen him have in a long time. He’s turning into a sort of Neil Young type figure and I think this late in his career, its a great direction.
I don’t listen to that much metal these days, I think having a kid tamed that part of me a bit, despite there being three ‘metal’ albums on this list. It still has its place for me though, especially when the album is as honest and unpretentious as this one. Well maybe a little pretentious, especially the amazing spoken word part at the start of ‘The Old Ones Are With Us’, but the Weaver brothers are just so good at this shit that it really gets me every time. Live, this album really blew me away and I love listening to it on vinyl. I can imagine the barn these guys record in and it all seems to come alive. Def my fave black metal record of the year.
If you need an album for a late night listen while driving through the woods, look no further. This band has been making music for a long time, but I feel that this is their strongest effort yet. Having vocals makes a big difference in the overall tone of the tunes which is still squarely aimed at the dark noir jazz of Angelo Badalamenti. And man, is this dark! I think Katie asked if we were listening to a horror movie soundtrack when I had this on in the car one time.
After a long absence Karin Dreijer surprise released a new Fever Ray album in November. The first NSFW videos came out and pointed the direction this project was taking and I was like, ‘Let’s do this. I am down for your psycho lesbian sex dungeon techno’. The reality is that this is still very much a Fever Ray album, songs like ‘Mustn’t Hurry’ could easily have been found on the first FR album, but by the end she has pointed the listener in a totally new direction. One that is definitely not afraid to talk about sex and lust and coming out as queer after you’ve been married and had two kids. These albums are always a journey and while some of it is about as abrasive as music gets, she always includes enough moments of beauty and melody to keep you coming back.
I think I might be late to this bandwagon, but I found the CAS album late in the year and have not stopped listening to it. I like it in the morning with coffee, I like it in the afternoon with the kiddo and I like it late at night when we’re winding down. Even Katie knows the lyrics to some of these songs. I feel like this is a marriage between Mazzy Star and The XX in that every song has a similar chill vibe but as a whole piece its a very comforting and enveloping 40 minutes. Not much else to say here, just give it a listen.
The 90s resurrection continues unabated this year, with more reunions, more reissues, more tours etc. I never listened to Slowdive back in the day, but I’m glad they decided to get back together and record this album. Its got great melodies, awesome production and a definite 90s meets modern feel. Good driving music.
Holy shit what a fun record to listen to. This is a super group composed of dudes from Converge and Cave In and they make these 3 minute barn burner rock tunes that are just exciting and technically amazing. They don’t take themselves too seriously, look at the cover, and have more energy than most ‘hard rock’ bands. It helps that the drummer is an absolute beast and can do pretty much anything on a kit. Listen to it at the gym and watch your heart rate go through the roof.
I know I usually do 10 albums but its my list and I can do what I want. I had to include this album because its just so damn good and it felt wrong leaving it off. This is an experimental electronic / orchestral album about a journey to the stars. Paul Haile and I would have called this OSS back in the day but now we are old and mature and don’t do drugs. This is a great soundtrack to an imaginary film. Someone should put some visuals to this because I think it would be great.