Hello, Again, Hello. I just dropped in to…I don’t know. Come to think of it I’m not sure why I’ve chosen today to drop in and pen a new post. Oh, right. Now I remember!
While in the shower this morning I realized the month of June is almostÂ over. And I’ve forgotten to share my favorite albums of the year with you.Â So, inÂ lieu of a mix tape todayÂ Iâ€™m going to share tracks from what I believe are the best new releases of 2017. Iâ€™ve compiled similar lists in years past. I like the mid-yearÂ review because itÂ gives me a chance toÂ gatherÂ notes and studyÂ my listening habits from January to June.Â Half of 2017 is behind us. Itâ€™s never too early to start thinking about Decemberâ€™s annual Year-End list of the 100 best albums. Sometimes thereâ€™s a lot of upheaval in the top ten between June and December, and sometimes they stay nearly identical. Who knows how itâ€™ll go this year.
Here we go!
The Top Ten Albums Of 2017 (January â€“ June)
10.Â Pallbearer – Heartless (Profound Lore) – I sat with this record for a good long while when it arrived on my doorstep back in March. Not only because I’m a huge Pallbearer fan, but because it caught me at a time when anything even remotely related to a concept like “heart” (or lack thereof) was going to connect with me on a personal level. When thrust into a situation where you’re struggling to figure out your own place in the world, of course it helps to have a new album to spin that — according to its makers — “concentrates its power on a grim reality…our lives, our homes and our world are all plumbing the depths of utter darkness.” Just asÂ Foundations Of Burden showed marked growth compared toÂ Sorrow And Extinction, so too doesÂ Heartless differentiate itself from its predecessor. It’s way more ambitious and way more progressive than the band’s earlier records. It’ll be fascinating to see where the band goes from here. [Listen to “Heartless“]Â
09. Future – HNDRXX (Epic) – One night last year I found myself at a party enjoyingÂ a wonderfully candy-like bottle of Churchill’s Vintage Port (1997). It was myÂ night cap after many hoursÂ spentÂ imbibing beer and bourbon. My eyes were starting to glaze over. I wasn’t sure whether or not my sober sister wanted to kill me as I continually delayed our departure. TheÂ host of the party decided to close things down by playing Future’sÂ DS2. I’d never heard it before, had never heard of the artist before, but from the first strains ofÂ “Thought It Was A Drought” I was hooked. Flash forward to February of 2017, whenÂ FUTURE andÂ HNDRXX were released a week apart. What a time to be alive! Two Future albums in one week! The self-titled record boasts the best song,Â “Mask Off,” butÂ HNDRXX is the more complete, better record. Anticipate seeing both of these ranked quite high on my year-end list. [Listen to “Use Me“]
08. Blanck Mass – World Eater (Sacred Bones) – Almost without fail these days I can trust whatever Sacred Bones pushes on me. The new Pharmakon record is great. The Uniform album is terrifying. The collaboration between Follakzoid and J. Spaceman is perfect. Blanck Mass kept me awake and charged during many early morning commutes during the first few months of the year. Every time I listen to it I enjoy it more. “Rhesus Negative” might be the most awe-inspiring, powerful things I’ve heard so far in 2017. I loved the first Fuck Buttons record and liked the third one, but the last two Blanck Mass records haveÂ far eclipsed the highest highs of Benjamin John Power’sÂ other project.Â [Listen to “Rhesus Negative“]
07. King Woman – Created In The Image Of Suffering (Relapse) – Forgive me for overlooking King Woman, but there are so many bands whose names start with “King”Â it’s hard to keep up with all the new ones. “King” in 2017 is what “Wolf” was in 2005. Nevertheless, the gauzy, heavy, shoegaze-y doom of King Woman was a welcome discovery in the final days of my previous job. I feel like this soundÂ would fit in perfectly with the Psycho Las Vegas lineup. Alas, King Diamond is currentlyÂ the only “King” band on the schedule. Anyway, I don’t quite know what Kristina Esfandiari is singing about on this record, but…you know…so I can’t parse her words as easily as I could other artists. I just know I like it. A lot. [listen to “The Hierophant“]
06.Â The New Year – Snow (Undertow) – It’s been almost a decade since the last New Year album. 2008 saw the release of the band’s third album, whichÂ hit me like a goddamned anvil. To me, at least, The New Year feltÂ like a laboredÂ (in that quintessentially New-Yearian way) meditation on life and death. In the wake of close friends’ deaths, Matt and Bubba seemed to be ruminating on what it means to be alive. The lyrics read like an attempt to reconcile competing thoughts about what it meansÂ to be alive. Honestly, it sounded to me like the band’s swan song. Just about two months ago I awoke toÂ SnowÂ one morning whenÂ it was least expected (see what I did there?). My first listen passed almost without notice, so familiar wasÂ the sweeping, sparse instrumentation and quiet vocals. It was only on repeated listens that I fell in love with so many tracks. The meticulous, muted guitar strings driving the rhythm of the title track, for example. The circular guitars on “Recent History” that lend a sense of urgency to Matt’s lyrics. It’s familiar, but different — exactly what makes the brothers’ records so brilliant. [Listen to “Recent History“]Â
05. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. (Top Dawg Entertainment) -Â If you’re reading this list, and you’ve made it this far, you’re probably asking yourself, “Why the fuck is he listening to so much rap?” The short answer is, because the first four months of this year I spent working with a clientele that crossed over into that world, and also I was stuck in an office with a bunch of young 20-somethings whoÂ mostly listened to rap and EDM. I don’t have to tell you how good Kendrick is,Â To Pimp A Butterfly was literally everyone who gets paid to write about music’s album of the year a few years ago. IsÂ DAMN.Â just as good? Well, no. Even if it’s onlyÂ close to asÂ good, it’s still milesÂ ahead of the rest of the pack. Well…actually…keep reading.
04.Â Oxbow – Thin Black Duke (Hydra Head) – “Giddy” is the word that best describes how I felt as the first notesÂ of “Cold And Well-Lit Place” — the first track onÂ Thin Black Duke —Â rang outÂ one morning last month. It’s been ten years sinceÂ The Narcotic Story, and Oxbow sound just as challenging, frightening, and beautiful as ever. You can try to make sense of what Eugene is singing if you want, or seek out the repeated kernels that twist and morph and expand throughout the course of the record. Me? I’m just, like, on my own little island falling in love the production. Swelling strings, pianos, triumphant horn blasts, it’s the most tear-jerkingly gorgeousÂ nightmare Oxbow has ever put to tape. No, I have no fucking clue what any of it means, but I love it! [Listen to “Ecce Homo“]
03.Â Braveyoung – Misery And Pride (The Flenser) – Before hearing this record all I knew of Braveyoung wasÂ their collaboration with The Body years ago. The album with the wonderful cover of Exuma’sÂ “Visitor” at the end. When I received anÂ email from The Flenser announcingÂ Misery And Pride I was immediately stoked. And then a short while later I got to hear the record for the first time…and…jesus christ was it the most depressing thing I’d heard in a while. Try not to laugh, I think I almost cried the first time I heard “The Good King Will Punish You.” It comes at the end of such an emotional ride it pretty much just leaves you laying stunned, searching for breath, wondering what the hell you just experienced. Granted I was a little stoned at the time. Even so, for anyone who has ever been heartbroken, for all the doomsayers of 2017, familiarize yourselves withÂ Misery And Pride. [Listen to “The Good King Will Punish You“]
02. Planning For Burial – Beneath The House (The Flenser) – I’m pretty sure if you look at my Last.fm profileÂ Below The House will rank among my favorite listens of 2017. YES I STILL USE LAST.FM GET OVER IT. Ahem. Anyway…I can think of just a couple titles I might have played more than it to date. When I was disenchanted with work at the time of its release I would play it daily either on the commute to or from myÂ office. More than a few times Iâ€™d lay on the couch at night drunk, letting the LP spin on and on. It was an immersive listening experience and became almost meditative after a while. Then after setting it aside for a month or so I saw Thom live and the intensity of his performance set me right back to listening to it regularly. So fucking good. [Listen to “Warmth Of You“]
01. Migos – Culture (Quality Control Music) – I know.Â I KNOW. “Not him too!” You’re probably saying. Alas, all you have to do is ask my friends how many times this year I’ve randomlyÂ shouted “xany!” or “perky!” at them to understand how deeplyÂ Culture has ingrained itself in my brain. After hearing my buddy Reinita hype Migos repeatedly for a year or two, then hearing all the kids at the agency chat about them, I finally decided to give this record a shot — jokingly — while driving up to Santa Rosa. It was right after I quitÂ my job. To listen to Migos alone in a car speeding north on I-5 was to thumb my nose at my former co-workers. And then something weird happened. I kind-of sort-of fell in love withÂ Culture. It’sÂ fucking catchy as hell, in a staggering way. It’s literally change my syntax, as I will now sometimes find myself punctuating a silent moment with a friend with “skrt!” for no fucking reason whatsoever. Hell, Donald Glover calledÂ MigosÂ the Beatles of this generation. If you’re as out-of-touch with the mainstream as I am, maybe that’ll inspire you to give it a shot? Who knows, it might just change your year. [Listen to “Brown Paper Bag“]
What are you listening to — and loving — so far in 2017? Let me know in the comments.