The Top 100 Albums Of 2017
I can’t believe I finished this before the end of the year. Seriously, I’ve been so busy both with work and socially that I worried I would not have this done before the new year. I ask that you please bear with me (or excuse me?), as I rushed my way through a lot of the mini-reviews you’re about to read. I was dog-sitting this week, which required me to stop and start repeatedly as I was either playing with the pup or taking him on a walk or trying to make sure he didn’t die on my watch. I’ve been swamped at work as I’m doing to job of two people this week (so I couldn’t re-listen to some of these albums as much as I’d like). I feel like this list is the result of 15 different writing sessions, and in all likelihood I used the same descriptions multiple times, maybe even on two albums in a row.
For some reason — perhaps guilt over not posting as frequently as I would have liked in 2017 — I felt the need to write something about ALL 100 albums this year. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before. The end result is that I’m feeling super self-conscious about my decision. Hopefully not all the blurbs read like, “Do you like X? You’ll love Y!” or “If (genre) is your thing, you’ll totally dig this!” To any artists who read this and feel like I didn’t pay enough attention / couldn’t be bothered to flesh out a more coherent review, I’m sorry. I seriously had so much fun putting this together, and I really like — maybe even love — all 100 albums on this list.
That said, let’s talk about this list. In terms of labels, there are a few interesting notes to make. Sacred Bones continues to KILL IT with four entries on this list. Gilead Media, TRL, and also had four releases crack this year’s list. Profound Lore managed to score three in the top 16, and Sargent House had 3 in the top 40. Kudos to those labels. Keep it up in 2018, k?
Lastly, don’t even thinking about pointing out any typos. I don’t want to hear it. I’m tired and I want to go to bed.
#. Artist – Title (Label)
100. Thunderon – Thunderon (Self-Released) – Congratulations, Ian. You made it. Or more accurately, your band made it. If you haven’t heard the debut 3-song EP from Thunderon, you should check it out here. And yes, I know I’m biased, but even if I didn’t know this was Ian’s band I’d recommend it! Keep up the great work.
99. Ted Leo – The Hanged Man (Self-Released) – I never listened to the collaboration with Aimee Man, so as far as I’m concerned the last Ted Leo record came out seven years ago. And while The Hanged Man might not be as good as Shake The Sheets or or Hearts Of Oak, it’s a brutally honest, expertly crafted set of songs. Was there a more gut-wrenching pop/rock song in 2017 than “Let’s Stay On The Moon?”
98. Converge – Dusk In Us (Epitaph) – Admittedly I am quite late to the Converge party. But when I was in Vegas for Psycho Las Vegas there were waaaaay too many people wearing Converge shirts for me not to wonder if I was missing out on something. Their sound is more hardcore than I typically like, but it’s well tempered by math-y rhythms and the occasional slowed-down dirge. Those changes of pace (like the title track) allow my ears to reset in between blasts of energy, resulting in a more palatable and enjoyable listening experience.
97. Laurel Halo – Dust (Hyperdub) – If you discovered Laurel Halo’s music via Quarantine (my #11 Album Of 2012) you might have had a similar initial reaction to Dust: too dance-y. Luckily, the more I’ve listened to it, the more I’ve connected with the experimental tracks like “Koinos.” When I’m simply trying to wrap my head around a piece of music, far too much attention is required to worry about whether or not I’m listening to pop music.
96. Children Of Alice – Children Of Alice (Warp) – I suppose technically this is a compilation. As I’ve never heard any of these tunes before (sorry, I’m not into collecting weird limited-edition comp tapes), they’re all new to me. Children Of Alice is post-Broadcast James Cargill and Roj Stevens with Julian House (The Focus Group), so if you dug the Broadcast/Focus Group record you’re definitely going to dig this one.
95. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice (Matador) – I don’t know Courtney Barnett, but I love me some Kurt Vile. It’s pretty hard not to feel blissed-out when Vile is doing his languid, hazy pop thing. Barnett’s voice and playing style meshes well with the quaintness of Vile’s, and the result is quite pleasing. It’s probably one of the softer, more precious entries on this list. If you liked Smoke Ring For My Halo and Walkin’ On A Pretty Daze you’ll enjoy it.
94. Xiu Xiu – FORGET (Polyvinyl) – Jamie Stewart has come a long way since “Fabulous Muscles” and his cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” As a follow-up to his Plays The Music Of Twin Peaks, FORGET practically throttles you with its random bursts of energy. As much as I liked that album from last year, I’m glad Stewart is back to his weird, artsy, frenetic ways.
93. Endless Boogie – Vibe Killer (No Quarter) – One could argue that this is the most concise and focused album Endless Boogie has made to date. And it’s still 65 minutes long and contains just a handful of chord changes. Dirty blues riffs punctuated by grizzled vocals and competent drum work result in the group’s best album since 2008’s Focus Level.
92. Bardo Pond – Under The Pines (Fire) – In recent years most of what I’ve heard from Bardo Pond has been covers. They had a series of 12” releases that included interpretations of “Maggot Brain,” “Here Come The Warm Jets,” and “In Every Dream Home A Heartache.” So it was rather refreshing to hear a new full-length, and especially one that – much like 2003’s On The Ellipse – makes evident how awesome these guys and gal are when they’re on top of their game.
91. Rapoon – Un Flic (Klanggalerie) – Robin Storey (Zoviet France) has had a long and storied career making unique abstract/experimental ambient music. And, yet, he’s never quite recorded anything (to my knowledge) as kraut-y or kosmiche as Un Flic. It recalls the Kluster records on Schwann, and for the first time in Rapoon history (again, I think) live drums are utilized. It’s definitely a unique record for Storey, and I highly recommend it if you’re new to Rapoon.
90. Evan Caminiti – Toxic City Music (Dust Editions) – Do you enjoy the splintery synth compositions of solo records? Do you enjoy the incorporation of real world field recordings into electronic music? Good. Then you’ll enjoy this record as much as I do. I kind of miss Barn Owl, but as long as Caminiti keeps releasing shit like Toxic City Music I’ll survive without it.
89. The Focus Group – Stop-Motion Happening (Ghost Box) – If you’ve got severe ADD you’re going to love the new Focus Group record. The average track is about two minutes long, and all of them together create a fractured collage of noises happy, confusing, sad and trippy.
88. Six Organs Of Admittance – Burning The Threshold (Drag City) – Not a lot of risks are taken by Ben Chasny on this record, but that’s fine by me. This is about as “normal” as he’s sounded in a long time, recalling the joys of records like School Of The Flower and The Sun Awakens.
87. Trevor de Brauw – Uptown (The Flenser) – I wasn’t sure what to expect from de Brauw on his first solo record. Would it be as riff-heavy as Pelican, or would it be a departure? I was happy to discover the latter to be true. These are some seriously gorgeous textural guitar pieces, layer upon layer of sound can be either built to a crescendo or peeled apart until nothing remains. It’s reminiscent of Noveller, Rhys Chatham, or Glenn Branca.
86. Tiny Vipers – Laughter (Ba Da Bing!) – Man, has it really been almost a decade since Life On Earth? Since then pretty much all I’ve heard from Jesy Fortino was her collab with Liz Harris in 2012 (Mirroring – Foreign Body). If you enjoyed the acoustic guitars and strong voice of Fortino’s early recordings, abandon all hope. One of the starkest transitions she’s made on Laughter is the subsitution of synths for guitar, and her vocals are buried so deep in the mix you’ll be struggling to make out a single word. I for one welcome the change, but if you’re expecting a follow-up to Life On Earth you might be disappointed.
85. Mark McGuire – Ideas Of Beginnings (Vin Du Select Qualitite) – As sure as I write this list every year, there’s going to be a Mark McGuire record (or two!), a John Elliott record and a Steve Hauschildt record. Why? Because I want another fucking Emeralds record, that’s why! Ugh. Guys… I miss Emeralds.
84. Zola Jesus – Okovi (Sacred Bones) – My favorite record yet from Nika Roza Danilova’s is also probably her least experimental. Intensely personal, dramatic, and full of srong goth-pop melodies, it’s certainly one of the more accessible albums on this list. If you’re having a hard time getting into any of the records I’m recommending, this might be a good place to start. [Listen to “Doma“]
83. Benoit Pioulard – Lignin Poise (Beacon Sound) – Expansive and wonderfully textured drones are prevalent on Lignin Poise. Sometimes I think I want Pioulard to return to the glory days (IMHO Precis and Temper), but then I listen to whatever his new album is and am happy to hear him reinvent himself.
82. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Polygondwanaland (Self-Released) – How the fuck does this band keep doing this? They managed to release something like five records this year, and pretty much all of them COULD have made this list. I just happen to think Polygondwanaland is the best of the bunch (even if they all kinda sound the same). That they encouraged fans to take this free download and disseminate it how THEY seem fit (be it by producing their own vinyl, CDs, or tapes) is awesome.
81. Wolf Eyes – Undertow (Lower Floor Music) – I feel like it’s been a long time since Wolf Eyes has appeared on one of these lists. The last one I really dug and listened to regularly was No Answer-Lower Floors. I’d say this one is kinda similar in that it’s actually listenable. Trust me, I can get down with the Burned Mind-style noise, but Dread and Slicer and Dead Hills have always been my favorites. This is more closely aligned with the latter, and for me it ranks among the most palatable and enjoyable albums I’ve heard from them.
80. Part Chimp – IV (Rock Action) – It’s been way too long since I’ve heard from Part Chimp. Thriller (2009) was okay, but I Am Come and Cup are absolute monsters. Rarely does a band so bombastic also sound so fun. You might have your eardrums shattered listening to Part Chimp, but you can also kind of boogie to it? A monolithic, melodic maelstrom. How’s that for a shitty writerly description?
79. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 3 (Run The Jewels, Inc.) – It’s fuckin’ Run The Jewels – what am I going to tell you about this album that 90 other publications haven’t already said? I like it. It wasn’t the best hip hop album of the year but I liked it enough to include it here. End of story.
78. Max Richter – Out Of The Dark Room (Milan) – Maybe this counts as a reissue/compilation, maybe it doesn’t. It’s a collection of compositions for film, but other than Waltz With Bashir I’ve never even heard of any of these films so…it’s new to me. And I make the rules around here. Do you like Richter’s ambient neo-classical style? Did you like that piece “On The Nature Of Daylight” from the movie Arrival? Then you’ll apprecaite Out Of The Dark Room.
77. Ride – Weather Diaries (Wichita) – I always get scared when a band I love announces they’re releasing a new album after X number of years of inactivity. Remember when the Pixies came out with Indie Cindy? Remember that Dismemberment Plan album (I don’t even remember the title!)? Comebacks don’t always go well. Thankfully this year both Ride and Slowdive returned with excellent batches of new songs. Even if you don’t think it’s as good as I do…hey, at least it’s better than Tarantula.
76. William Basinski – A Shadow In Time (Temporary Residence Limited) – The title track is as good as anything he’s composed since 92982 or El Camino Real, and was inspiring enough that I went back and listened to all the Disintegration Loops again because I’d forgotten how inspiring and beautiful and haunting he can be. The ‘A’ side is lightyears ahead of the ‘B’ side here, but the latter sounds like it would be better suited for the Disintegration Loops series. Put ‘em together and you’ve got one hell of a combo.
75. Do Make Say Think – Stubborn Persistent Illusions (Constellation) – The two-guitar/two-drum attack of DMST is back after, what, almost a decade without any activity? SPI (That’s what I’m gonna call it starting now) is the best DMST has sounded since You, You’re A History In Rust. If you liked that record (and those that predate it) you’ll dig this one.
74. Ulver – The Assassination Of Julius Ceasar (House Of Mythology) – I feel like this was a divisive album, with some people loving it and some people absolutely hated it. And, you know, for good reason. At times it sounds like Depeche Mode, Prince, one song kind of sounds like Adele’s James Bond theme, and then there’s all kinds of weird glitchy nightmare club music creeping in…it’s a fascinating listen, which makes it a worthwhile listen. Hey, remember Bergtatt? Those were good times…
73. Haunting Depths – Death’s Sacred Fire (GoatowaRex) – Seriously intense black metal, with the kind of vocals I dig, more guttural than necrotic. Described elsewhere as “supreme black metal art for the satanic elite.”
72. Colour Haze – In Her Garden (Elektrohasch Schallplatten) – It wasn’t until the second track of this album, “Black Lilly” kicked in that I realized how much I missed Colour Haze. Their brand of stoner prog/psych never ceases to amaze me, and that this band can still sound fresh and space-y and fuzzed out after 10+ studio albums in almost 20 years is a testament to just how talented they are. [Listen to “Black Lily“]
71. Omar Souleyman – To Syria, With Love (Mad Decent) – I’m super stoked that Souleyman broke free from his old record label, as Swan Fungus refuses to acknowledge or promote said label after being threatened by its “owner” some years ago. You are all now free to enjoy his hypnotic compositions, including these new tech-y ones that kind of blow up the sound you might be accustomed to if you enjoyed his albums [REDACTED] and [REDACTED].
70. Follakzoid feat. J Spaceman – London Sessions (Sacred Bones) – The last Folkazoid record (III) ranked #9 on my 2015 year-end list. J. Spacemen ranks just a hair below Leonard Cohen on my all-time list of favorite musicians. How could I *not* enjoy this collaborative effort – featuring live-to-tape versions of two songs from III – between the two? If they’d recorded more than two songs together (or created some unique, new tunes together) this thing would be waaaay higher on the list. I’ve still probably listened to it a hundred times this year. Check it out.
69. Less Art – Strangled Light (Gilead Media) – What’s not to love about a “supergroup” featuring members of Thrice, Curl Up And Die, and Kowloon Walled City? Basically this group is the baseball-themed hardcore band Puig Destroyer plus another guitarist (Ed Breckenridge of Thrice), minus the baseball. The end result is a refreshing blast of creativity that sounds like everything from Kowloon to early Mogwai to Fugazi. Highly, highly recommended.
68. White Hills – Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey) – I’ve kinda fallen off the White Hills train in the years since Frying On This Rock, but this new one sounds like fuckin’ Cab Volt (only with sick guitar solos), which is unique enough that my attention has returned to Dave W. and Co..
67. Cavernlight – We Cup Our Hands And Drink From The Stream Of Our Ache (Gilead Media) – The combo of doom and drone makes for a shockingly strong follow-up to Corporeal, the cassette only debut from Cavernlight. This was an Ian recommendation that took me longer to get into than usual, but after giving it several listens I started to appreciate the experimentation instead of thinking it was a disjointed, jumbled mess. What’s the opposite of purification? Putrefaction? That’s kind of how I’d describe the build up and resulting destruction of melodies on this record. [Listen to “To Wallow In The Filth That Dwells Where Despair Is Born“]
66. Dvne – Ahseran (Wasted State) – I literally had no idea who Dvne was until I read that they were announced as one of the first bands scheduled to play Psycho Las Vegas in 2018. They basically do the repetitive riff thing that bands like Elephant Tree do, but somehow it still sounds really cool and wholly unique. If I go to Psycho next year I’ll be sure to check ‘em out.
65. Lawrence English – Cruel Optimism (Room40) – Every single review I read of Cruel Optimism upon its release referred to the album as “protest music,” so I’m not going to do that here. Instead I’ll just let you know that if you like your ambient music with a sense of foreboding, you’ll find yourself pleasantly ill-at-ease with this one. [Listen to “Pillar Of Cloud“]
64. Ufomammut – 8 (Neurot) – Remember when I used to always describe Ufomammut as “The Italian Boris?” It feels weird to say that now, as Boris went through that weird j-pop phase, and Ufomammut has rarely strayed from their space-doom roots. I don’t know how they keep doing it, but this is every bit as good as Ecate, which was probably their best record to date. Crushing.
63. Chihei Hatakeyama – Mirage (Room40) – Wow, until right now I had no idea this and the Lawrence English album were on the same label. Good for you, Room40! I wanted to put Void XIV and Void XIII on this list also, but had to settle for just one Hatakeyama release. Put on Mirage and bliss out.
62. Library Tapes – Komorebi (1631 Recordings) – Five parts, sequenced out of order, beautiful and mournful and hopeful sometimes all at once. Library Tapes continues along the path forged with Alone In The Bright Lights Of A Shattered Life, never sounding repetitive or predictable. Familiar? Yes. Routine? Never. [Listen to “Komorebi Pt. 1“]
61. Grails – Chalice Hymnal (Temporary Residence Limited) – I wasn’t too stoked about this one even though I pre-ordered it, probably because in the six years since Deep Politics I forgot how good Grails could be. Once it showed up on my doorstep, I played it incessantly for about a week, becoming full enraptured by it. It’s at times motorik, theatrical, ambient, and powerful. I’m sorry I ever doubted you.
60. Julia Holter – In The Same Room (Domino) – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every Julia Holter album I’ve heard since Ekstasis (#40 on my best of 2012 list) and especially liked Loud City Song (#25 on my best of 2013 list) so of course I’m going to champion an album that includes live recordings of a few songs from that record.
59. Mark McGuire – Vision Upon Purpose (Self-Released) – Remember when I took the opportunity to write about another Mark McGuire record from this year by saying I miss Emeralds? Ditto.
58. Electric Wizard – Wizard Bloody Wizard (Witchfinder) – Of course Electric Wizard wins the tongue-in-cheek album title of the year award. At least I hope it’s tongue-in-cheek? It has to be, right? RIGHT?!
57. Leyland Kirby – We, So Tired Of All The Darkness In Our Lives (Self-Released) – Kirby is responsible for some of the most moving ambient records I’ve heard ever since AQ turned me on in the late ‘00s. I like the little note on Bandcamp: “The music here is free for you to download or to pay for. It’s your call. It’s not free because I place no value on this work. It’s free because I mean it.”
56. Celer – In The End You’ll Just Disappear (Two Acorns) – Only 11 releases in 2017 for Celer? Seems like a slow year for Will Long. Created or an installation to be played on 3 speakers in a triangular shape facing the center of the room, with one speaker playing a low-end cut, one playing a mid-end cut and one playing a high-end cut. I haven’t tried to replicate this at home, but then again I never did the Zaireeka thing either so my ability to commit to music that requires me to actively do something in order to hear it is lacking. What I HAVE done is listened to it through headphones many times and dug it. So…there’s that.
55. Future – FUTURE (Freebandz Entertainment) – Everyone has HNDRXX near the top of their lists this year and I kind of think FUTURE is almost as good. “Mask Off” is the best Future track since DS2, and it alone is worth the cost of admission. Hell, I don’t even mind that there’s an Arcade Fire sample (from “Owl” on “Might As Well”) on this record. Remember when we all thought DS3 was gonna drop right after he released two full albums back-to-back this year? Sigh.
54. Public Service Broadcasting – Every Valley (Play It Again Sam) – My friend Andy introduced me to PSB around the time The Race For Space came out, and it pretty much blew my mind. The scope here is more narrow but the results are no less enthralling. This is a band that needs to be heard, and most definitely needs to be seen live in order to full grasp their insanity/brilliance. I mean…come on.
53. Behind The Shadow Drops – H A R M O N I C (Temporary Residence Limited) – Damn, halfway through this list and I’m realizing that TRL kind of killed it this year. Between Grails, Basinski, Mogwai, and now a solo project from Taka Goto (Mono)…they had a really great year. Super cinematic, moody, and very emotive. Recommended if you enjoy the scores of John Murphy or Clint Mansell.
52. Justin Walter – Unseen Forces (Kranky) – Super pastoral sounding analog synth manifestations that smear together like watercolor dreams. Perfect for a late-night opiate-induced slow dance. [Listen to “Isotope“]
51. Young Thug – Beautiful Thugger Girls (Atlantic) – Mix tapes can count towards this list, right? Because Young Thug probably offered the best one this year, pulling in talent like Future, Quavo and Snoop to make guest appearances. Great melodies, stellar songwriting, great flow. What more could one ask for?
50. Deradoorian – Eternal Recurrence (Anticon) – Okay so I’ve included compilations, compilations of soundtrack work, mix tapes, and now an EP on my list this year. Clearly my rules for inclusion here have changed. Nevertheless, I absolutely love Angel Deradoorian, and her new recordings are the best she’s committed to tape since 2009’s Mind Raft EP. [Listen to “Love Arise“]
49. Angel Olsen – Phases (Jagjaguwar) – Okay so I’ve included compilations, compilations of soundtrack work, mix tapes, an EP, and now a collection of B-sides/demos and covers. Look, I liked what I liked this year and not everything has to be a proper studio album! Did you like Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness? For me it’s the best album she’s ever released. And, call Phases a proper studio album or not, it is at this point my second favorite release of hers. Take from that what you will. It is most excellent. [Listen to “Fly On Your Wall“]
48. Aiden Baker / Simon Goff / Thor Harris – Noplace (Gizeh) – No Swan Fungus Top 100 is complete without an entry from Aiden Baker. And although this isn’t a solo release (the only one he had this year that wasn’t a collaboration was Aberration, which was CDr/tape only) it’s the best of anything he contributed in 2017.
47. Solstafir – Berdeyminn (Season Of Mist) – The best Solstafir yet. It’s heavier on the prog and ambient elements, which makes me want to use the phrase “blackgaze.” Have I done that before? I feel like I have. Anyway, it’s the most apt description I can think of at the moment. It’s a wonderfully meditative, strongly emotional, gorgeously dark album.
46. Gucci Mane – Droptopwop (Atlantic) – Sure, it was download only, but so what? It’s everything we love about Gucci. He’s a wordsmith, a comedian, and a top-notch rapper. Those three elements are often at play simultaneously on these tracks, which makes it a real joy to listen to.
45. Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – On The Echoing Green (Mexican Summer) – It’s weird to see a release from Jefre that sounds so…poppy. This is probably the most overtly melodic record I can remember him making. A Year With 13 Moons had a lot of kind of lighter pieces but they were still a bit gauzy and weird. None of them felt this overtly playful and free-spirited before. [Listen to “Tenderness“]
44. Lana Del Rey – Lust For Life (Interscope) – Compared to other mainstream records you’ll find on the charts this is one of the best to come out this year. In terms of Lana’s ouevre I’d rank this closer to Born To Die in terms of quality than I would the brilliant, career-defining masterpiece that was Ultraviolence. You know what? Fuck it. Me trying to write about an artist like Lana Del Rey just doesn’t work well. Let’s move on. [Listen to “Lust For Life“]
43. Ghost Bath – Starmourner (Nuclear Blast) – Relative to Moonlover, I find that on the new album from Ghost Bath the sound is more fleshed out, the pace is quicker, and the journey from start to finish is more dynamic, which makes for a more enjoyable listening experience. One can only hope that whatever comes next for these guys, they build off the successes of Starmourner and continue to create something that is indelible and unique sounding. [Listen to “Ambrosial“]
42. Dynfari – The Four Doors Of The Mind (Code666) – Ian was trying to explain this record to me the other day. He mentioned how it’s based on a book by Patrick Rothfuss called “The Name Of The Wind.” I think “A Song Of Ice And Fire” is as close as I’ve ever gotten to the fantasy genre, but The Four Doors Of The Mind is good enough that I’m considering purchasing Rothfuss’ book just to try to figure out what the fuck these Icelandic black metal weirdos are going on about.
41. Couch Slut – Contempt (Gilead Media) – Like a crustier, more-discomforting Jesus Lizard, Couch Slut make ugly noise in the best possible way. At times they remind me of Oxbow, at other times Today Is The Day. Music and vocals alike are unrelentingly dark, lurid, even violent. If you’ve ever felt a surge of seasickness listening to David Yow or Eugene Robinson wail over their bandmates but also kind of wanted to explore that sickness further…Megan Ostrosits and Couch Slut is definitely for you.
40. Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked At Me (P.W. Elverum & Sun, Ltd.) – I feel like I overlook Phil Elverum every single year, then he puts out a record, I stumble across it and suddenly remember how fucking great he is. This is exactly what happened back in June when I was trying to formulate my “Top 10 Albums Of 2017…So Far” list. I noticed he’d put out a new album, listened to it and LOVED it, but didn’t include it on the list because I’d only really gone through it once or twice. He’s an unmistakably masterful songwriter. This is a harrowing – and at times tough – listen, but it is so totally worth it.
39. Mutoid Man – War Moans (Sargent House) – Why yes, metal CAN be fun! In spite of the doom and sludge and riffs, Mutoid Man is having fun and it’s infectious as all hell. “Blow / Blow me / Blow me a kiss / Blow me a kiss of death” is probably the most overtly silly moment on the record, but it’s also quintessential Mutoid Man. It’s the kind of shit that will make housewives glad they skipped seeing Thunder From Down Under once Mutoid Man finally lands their own Vegas Strip residency.
38. (Sandy) Alex G – Rocket (Domino) – Speaking of Mount Eerie/Phil Elverum/Microphones, Rocket (the new one from Alex G) kind of reminds me of The Glow, Pt. 2 at times. If you liked that record, or if you like the later (better produced) Elliott Smith records you’ll probably love this one. I was a late arrival to Alex’s music and only discovered him upon being handed Beach Music by an old co-worker. I’ve gotta remind myself to go back and listen to the four or five records that predate it. [Listen to “Poison Root“]
37. Slowdive – Slowdive (Dead Oceans) – I’m such a skeptic. I’m such a pessimist. I heard Slowdive was recording a new album and I assumed it would be garbage. So what if it’s 22 years later? Why shouldn’t they be able to replicate the brilliance of their first three records? Even though I saw them live a few years ago and they sounded incredible, I was skeptical about this new album. Maybe I was just hoping to be shocked? Maybe I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much? Whatever the case may be, Slowdive is outstanding. It fits together perfectly with their previous releases. It’s loud and beautiful and even boasts some of the best harmonies they’ve ever put to tape. I know I joked earlier about how terrible the Pixies reunion record was. This is the complete opposite of that.
36. Aldous Harding – Party (4AD) – I forget what I was talking about with my friend Andy when he recommended Party to me, but I’m so glad I wrote down Aldous Harding’s name so I could check out the album. At moments you could swear you’re listening to PJ Harvey, Vashti Bunyan or Kirstin Hersh. Vocal/lyrical nuances aside, Party never DOESN’T sound like the perfect 4AD album.
35. Future – HNDRXX (Epic) – One night last year I found myself at a party enjoying a wonderfully candy-like bottle of Churchill’s Vintage Port (1997). It was my night cap after many hours spent 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. The host of the party decided to close things down by playing Future’s DS2. I’d never heard it before, had never heard of the artist before, but from the first strains of “Thought It Was A Drought” I was hooked. Flash forward to February of 2017, when FUTURE and 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, “Mask Off,” but HNDRXX is the more complete, better record. Anticipate seeing both of these ranked quite high on my year-end list.
34. Boris – Dear (Sargent House) – I’ve spilled more Internet ink on Boris than maybe any other band in the history of this blog, so all I’ll say is thank GOD they got away from the J-pop shit and recorded a proper Boris album for Sargent House. Now maybe I can go see them live and not have to worry about them sucking. [Listen to “The Power“]
33. Noveller – A Pink Sunset For No One (Fire) – Two years ago, Noveller’s Fantastic Planet sounded like a bit of a departure from the texturally rich, sweeping drones of her earlier records. The guitars sounded less like guitars, which as a fan was both exhilarating and unsettling, in the best possible way. Two years later, A Pink Sunset For No One takes that approach to new heights, sounding more majestic and dreamlike than ever before. I’d say “Where can she go from here?” but she’ll just put out a new album in a year or two that confounds and amazes me all over again.
32. Elder – Reflections Of A Floating World (Armageddon Shop) – Another Ian recommendation. When I first listened to this record I was at work clicking around the web, and everyone was name-checking Khemmis and Pallbearer when trying to describe their sound. I’d rather not compare, but I think it’s disingenuous to do so when this record is way more on the psychedelic end of the spectrum than metal. The instrumental passages remind me a lot of Earthless, although those guys haven’t implemented a beautiful string arrangement like the one Elder incorporates into the coda of “The Falling Veil.” Yeah. Don’t think about comparisons. Just turn this on and zone out. It’s brilliant.
31. Johnny Jewel – Windswept (Italians Do It Better) – Did you enjoy Twin Peaks: The Return? Did you enjoy the music? I for one loved it, and went so far as to purchase both the vinyl releases that followed the culmination of the show. The Limited Event Series Soundtrack was fine, mixing Badalamenti’s score with other pieces of music from the film. The songs recorded “Live at the Roadhouse” were better. But best of all was a related release from Johnny Jewel of Chromatics. It features music from the new season of Twin Peaks and music inspired by The Return. It’s outstanding, and for anyone who misses the show and finds themselves searching for MORE Twin Peaks to consume, I highly recommend this album.
30. Goya – Harvester Of Bongloads (Opoponax) – One of my biggest regrets from this past summer’s Psycho Las Vegas was not driving out a day early to catch Goya at the pool party. There’s not much to say here other than if you like Sabbath, Electric Wizard or any kind of stoner/doom metal, you’re gonna want to hear this.
29. Mogwai – Every Country’s Sun (Temporary Residence Limited) – Atomic was really good, but Every Country’s Sun is even better. I’m so glad they seem to be fully embracing synths now. Or, I should say, the synths on this record sound better than they did during the albums between Hardcore Will Never Die and Rave Tapes. TRL has four albums in my Top 100 this year. When that happens, all seems right in the world. [Listen to “Coolverine“]
28. Chelsea Wolfe – Hiss Spun (Sargent House) – I was not a fan of these songs when I heard them live at Psycho Las Vegas, but was pleasantly surprised to hear they sound WAY better on the album. Even as Chelsea tries to make her sound more extreme, she sounds more and more radio-friendly with each successive record. I kind of wish she’d go back to the lower-fi grit of The Grime And The Glow, but I still think she’s brilliant and can’t NOT recommend all of her albums. [Listen to “Vex“]
27. Pillorian – Obsidian Arc (Eisenwald Tonschmiede) – Agalloch might be gone, but their spirit lives on in Pillorian, guitarist/vocalist John Haughm’s new group. I actually find it to be a bit…harder (?) compared to Agalloch records, with less acoustic breaks and more fiery anger and darkness. [Listen to “A Stygian Pyre“]
26. Yellow Eyes – Immersion Trench Reverie (Gilead Media) – Ever since Ian recommended I check out Sick With Bloom, I’ve been awaiting a new Yellow Eyes record. I never would have predicted that Immersion Trench Reverie (sounds like a Butthole Surfers album title, no?) would incorporate more pastoral elements and a wider breadth of emotions. It’s a fantastic records that exemplifies a maturity in sound that many US black metal bands tend to eschew. I can’t wait to see where Yellow Eyes goes from here.
25. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory (Def Jam) – Why the fuck is this barely 30 minutes long. I could easily endure double the music, and quite frankly most of the times this year I’ve listened to Big Fish Theory I’ve done so twice, in back-to-back fashion. It’s so fucking good and breezy it demands a second listen every single time.
24. Esmerine – Mechanics Of Dominion (Constellation) – I’ve always LIKED Esmerine, but I’ve never really LOVED Esmerine. Until this year’s Mechanics Of Dominion. It’s a beautiful record, an intense records, and easily the best they’ve ever released. Chamber music done right can be a truly magical listening experience, and this record – perfectly executed as it is – achieves just that. [Listen to “La Plume Des Armes“]
23. Pharmakon – Contact (Sacred Bones) – Like a drill boring its way through your skull, Margaret Chardiet just keeps going, continuing the aural assault she started with her first proper full-length, 2013’s Abandon. She pummels, she scorches, she screams and shreds. On an unrelated/related note, Sacred Bones just keeps killing it. Four more albums in my top 100 this year, including 2 in the top 25. [Listen to “Transmission“]
22. James Holden & The Animal Spirits – The Animal Spirits (Border Community) – Like a cross between spiritual jazz and dance music, this shit is capable of making you drop to your knees OR drop it low. Maybe both? [Listen to “Spinning Dance“]
21. Cloakroom – Time Well (Relapse) – I *liked* Further Out, but Time Well is even better. I know their sounds is SUPER ‘90s, but they’re heavier and shoegaze-ier than Acetone, or Red House Painters, or Hum, or any of the bands I kind of get glimpses of in Cloakroom’s songs. And, you know, who doesn’t love a good guitar solo? Pinebender used to remind me all the time that it was okay to throw a sick guitar solo in the middle of your muddy, sludgy, 38bpm rock song. Cloakroom also gets that. If you still like melodies and solos to go along with crushing riffs, try this one out. [Listen to “Gone But Not Entirely“]
20. The Flight Of Sleipnir – Skadi (Eisenwald Tonschmiede) – Atmospheric metal that at times pummels you, at times soothes you, and even manages to sprinkle in some sporadic stoner vibes! Skadi has it all. In spite of its melange of styles there is a welcome consistency from one song to the next. This is a cohesive album bookended by killer black tunes, with a lot of unique experimentation in between. Highly, highly recommended.
19. Julien Baker – Turn Out The Lights (Matador) – This has probably been the most shocking record of the year because from on the whole it’s one of the most moving collections of songs I heard in ages. There’s a forcefulness and assuredness in these tunes that was lacking on 2015’s Sprained Ankle. Sometimes when a songwriter goes out on a limb and really bears their soul, the results inevitably come across as cliche. In baring HER soul, Baker not only manages to avoid those trappings, her anxieties and fears and pain and optimism challenge you the listener to confront your own issues. The result is a daring, challenging album, and also one of the most rewarding listening experiences of the year. Does any of that that make sense? I hope it makes sense.
18. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. (Top Dawg Entertainment) – 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 who mostly listened to rap and EDM. I don’t have to tell you how good Kendrick is, To Pimp A Butterfly was literally everyone who gets paid to write about music’s album of the year a few years ago. Is DAMN. just as good? Well, no. Even if it’s only close to as good, it’s still miles ahead of the rest of the pack. Well…actually…keep reading.
17. Godspeed You Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers (Constellation) – It’s fucking Godspeed. Need I say more?
16. Sannhet – So Numb (Profound Lore) – In the span of three albums, Sannhet has managed to go from, “Oh. I don’t think I like this band” to “Hey, this is pretty good!” to “Holy shit where the fuck did THIS come from?!” I have to imagine this is the best (or most seamless) mixture of post-rock and metal on any album in 2017. It hits emotional peaks that were completely nonexistent on their first two records. One can only hope that this is the start of a run of equally awesome records, because every time I’ve listened to So Numb I’ve found myself craving MORE each time it ends. [Listen to “Indigo Illusion“]
15. Vattnet – Vattnet (New Damage) – Vattnet was basically this year’s Astronoid. I know that’s a lazy thing to write, but it’s kind of true. These songs check pretty much all the same boxes in the genre-defying melodic emo-prog-metal hybrid that Astronoid hit out of the park last year. It’s not as good as Astronoid, but I sure found myself listening to Vattnet A LOT this year, especially on morning runs and while pounding beers and feeling sorry for myself late at night. What can I say? I guess I’ve always been a bit of a sap. If you liked my Astronoid recommendation last year, check this one out. [Listen to “Spun“]
14. Wolves In The Throne Room – Thrice Woven (Artemisia) – Easily their best work since 2011’s Celestial Lineage, Thrice Woven finds WITTR mixing black metal with atmospherics – but less than 2014’s Celestite – with way better results. This record is full of densely-layered, expansive compositions that pummel you while still offering glimpses of elegance and beauty. When I saw them at Psycho Las Vegas this summer I was shocked at how different the experience was compared to the first time I saw them in LA at Relax Bar ten years ago. It might not have been as terrifying as that first show, but sonically they have evolved to a point where I think I prefer this incarnation of the band to that of the Two Hunters era. #HotTake
13. 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” 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 sound would fit in perfectly with the Psycho Las Vegas lineup. Alas, King Diamond is currently 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.
12. Planning For Burial – Beneath The House (The Flenser) – I’m pretty sure if you look at my Last.fm profile 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 my office. More than a few times I’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. Also now there’s a version that features audio from a cassette dub that was buried for two months in a garden and then sat baking in the sun on a dashboard for five months. Bonkers. [Listen to “Warmth Of You“]
11. Oxbow – Thin Black Duke (Hydra Head) – “Giddy” is the word that best describes how I felt as the first notes of “Cold And Well-Lit Place” — the first track on Thin Black Duke — rang out one morning last month. It’s been ten years since 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 gorgeous 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“]
10. 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, which hit me like a goddamned anvil. To me, at least, The New Year felt like a labored (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 means to be alive. Honestly, it sounded to me like the band’s swan song. Just about two months ago I awoke to Snow one morning when it was least expected (see what I did there?). My first listen passed almost without notice, so familiar was 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 “Snow“]
09. Braveyoung – Misery And Pride (The Flenser) – Before hearing this record all I knew of Braveyoung was their collaboration with The Body years ago. The album with the wonderful cover of Exuma’s “Visitor” at the end. When I received an email from The Flenser announcing 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 with Misery And Pride. [Listen to “The Good King Will Punish You“]
08. Squalus – The Great Fish (Translation Loss) – This one was a recommendation from my buddy Mike, and holy SHIT am I glad he turned me onto Squalus. I’ve never really been a Giant Squid fan, but it took maybe two minutes for me to realize that The Great Fish was going to be one of my favorite albums of the year. It manages to be quirky and doom-y and sludgy in a way that is both refreshing (musically) and giddying (concept-wise). I’m a huge fucking nerd. Any time I can enjoy a record on both an instrumental and a brainy level I’m going to connect with it way more intensely than I would an album I just enjoy hearing. The immense songs, the wild tonal creativity and booming bass will rattle your speakers, but it’s the wink-wink nudge-nudge Jaws references and odd lyrical/vocal twists that really captivate me. If you enjoyed the quirkiness of Giant Squid, or just like to mix your metal with some heady silly weirdness, this is the one for you. [Listen to “Flesh, Bone, And Rubber“]
07. 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 as Foundations Of Burden showed marked growth compared to Sorrow And Extinction, so too does 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.
06. 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 have far eclipsed the highest highs of Benjamin John Power’s other project. [Listen to “The Rat“]
05. Ben Frost – The Centre Cannot Hold (Mute) – What a fucking year for Ben Frost. His work on Series 2 of Fortitude was just as outstanding as Series 1. He recorded a killer EP with Steve Albini, he contributed music to my favorite Netflix binge of the year (Dark), and he released a full-length — The Centre Cannot Hold — that might just be the best of the bunch. Other than J. Spaceman and Spiritualized, I think — I really think — that if you asked me to pick a single musician who I think is creating the most unique and exciting music around right now, it would be Ben Frost. It makes me so happy to see him scoring TV shows and films while still putting out world class studio albums. The dude deserves every kind word, every accolade and every hat tip he gets for his work. Simply put: it’s that good. [Listen to “Threshhold Of Faith“]
04. Myrkur – Mareridt (Relapse) – I was expecting to be blown away by Cult Of Luna and Julie Christmas at Psycho Las Vegas. I was not expecting the highlight of my weekend to be Myrkur. Her performance absolutely floored me, and I swear that had nothing to do with the various substances in my system when she took the stage. I’d listened to M once or twice and thought it was cool, but something about the new material she played that day (songs off the then-unreleased Mareridt) stuck to me. She has a singularly beautiful voice, which she compliments with a harrowing guttural growl perfectly. She blends Scandinavian folk with chilling, brutal black metal seamlessly. I only hope that the black metal elements aren’t pushed to the background on albums to come. She doesn’t have to chase the mainstream success of “softer” peers like Chelsea Wolfe. She’s doing just fine in the realm where M and Mareridt reside. [Listen to “Elleskudt“]
03. Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper (Profound Lore) – How the fuck do these guys keep getting better? Seriously? One 83-minute track that is at once heavy and heartbreaking, heavy and hypnotic and full of despair. Even though it leaked online (and then the Bandcamp went live) before the vinyl arrived at my doorstep, I refused to listen to it before I had the tangible object in hand. With a band like Bell Witch, I want the firs time I hear something new to be under optimal circumstances. And so on the day that Mirror Reaper arrived at my doorstep, I spun those four sides (titled As / Above / So / Below) twice in a row. The next day, and the next weekend, I listened to it again and again, trying to wrap my head around it and finding some new passage or moment I loved with each successive spin. To say it’s just an outstanding, triumphant effort would be an understatement. Mirror Reaper is as good as doom gets.
02. Spirit Adrift – Curse Of Conception (20 Buck Spin) – The most cohesive, coherent heavy metal/doom record of the year was also one of my favorite albums of the year. I actually had this ranked #1 until about five minutes ago, when my brain got the best of my gut and forced me to swap out Spirit Adrift for Migos in the #1 spot. I could go back and forth all night but I want to get this published, but for all intents and purposes I had TWO favorite records this year. Spirit Adrift’s second full-length is an absolute stunner. It’s as good if not better than anything Pallbearer, Khemmis, or Windhand have released in the past few years because there’s a complexity to it that isn’t always present on those other bands’ records. Sure, there are the hallmark elements of doom, heavy metal, ambient, thrash and prog that are evident on lots of similar releases, but here they are blended together in such a technically precise (I don’t want to use the word “perfect”) way the result is masterful. It’s not hyperbole, this is a transcendent metal record that I *hope* will inspire the other bands I just name-checked to take the genre even further. Spirit Adrift just raised the bar, and I’m excited to see who might come along and raise it next. [Listen to “Earthbound“]
01. Migos – Culture (Quality Control Music) – I know. 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 randomly shouted “xany!” or “perky!” at them to understand how deeply 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 quit 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 with Culture. It’s 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 called Migos 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“]
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