Favorite Albums of 2017

Well, dear readers, it's safe to assume that the final two months of 2017 were not very kind to me. I caught the flu twice within the same month, both in the middle of a holiday weekend. Last week was a complete blur to me as the combination, of fever, chills, headache, stomach ache and overall weakness hit me like a ton of bricks. My hope was to get my list of favorite albums of 2017 completed sometime last week, but clearly that was a pipe dream constructed with leaky pipes. 2017 has been an interesting year for music. While there weren't many records that really resonated with me, there were a few outliers that stood head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. I'm going to share the list of my favorites for the year, but please keep in mind that this is far from a definitive list. Considering that I didn't come across much blues, jazz, soul and country music throughout the year, this list will mostly feature rock, acoustic, hip-hop, international and experimental music.

1) Kendrick Lamar- Damn

Let's get the most obvious one out of the way. After releasing a record like To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar could have recited the ingredients from the back of a cereal box, and his faithful fan base would lean on every word as if their life depended on it. While an imperfect record at times, Damn is absolutely revelatory in it's ability to capture the essence of mainstream hip-hop while hitting us over the head with deep, meaningful lyrics that beg repeated listens. I think it's safe to say that if you're able to allow a major rock star like Bono to sully the proceedings with one of his overly sappy vocal contributions, and he doesn't completely ruin the song, the stars are definitely aligned in your favor. While Damn isn't quite the album that To Pimp a Butterfly was, it's still an excellent addition to the discography of one of this generation's most talented and creative lyricists.

Pride and Fear

2)  Anna St Louis- First Songs

I only just discovered this fantastic little record within the last couple months, after hearing practically every DJ at WFMU rave about it on their radio shows. This is such a small record that it was only released on a limited run of cassettes, and I believe is sold out. I supposed that this would fall under the acoustic singer-songwriter genre, but this identifier doesn't really scratch the surface of the music contained here. St Louis has a soothing voice with just enough grit to keep and hold your interest for the duration, and the backing instrumentation is subtle but sure-footed.  At just under 30 minutes, it's the perfect length to completely digest along with your morning coffee on a rainy Sunday afternoon. This is one of those records that snuck up on me by the year's end, and was quickly imprinted on my brain.

Wind Up and Keep Walking

3)  Ty Segall- S-T

At this point, it's probably fairly easy to deduce that if Segall releases an album during the calendar year, it will most likely be on my year-end list. This is a return to form of sorts, blending the melodic mastery of Goodbye Bread with the soft and loud dynamics of Twins and Emotional Mugger to create a perfect distillation of Segall's career within the context of one album.  The country-fried "Talkin'" and the glam-styled"Orange Color Queen" feature some of Segall's best melodies since Melted, the breakneck pace and inventive musicianship of "Thank You Mr. K" will leave you gasping for air and the epic "Warm Hands" is a sure-fire set closer.  I was starting to worry that Segall was moving too far outside the realm of his strengths on the last two records, and was secretly hoping for a return to the sound that he captured on Goodbye Bread.  Thankfully, my prayers have been answered. With another album set to be released at the end of January, Segall doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

Warm Hands (Freedom Returned) and Orange Color Queen

4) Spectre Folk- Vol.4

This was another happy surprise that I discovered towards the end of the year.With such a trippy album cover, you wouldn't be blamed for imagining that the music on this record was of the psychedelic variety. While this is mostly correct, I would compare the sound of Spectre Folk to Dinosaur Jr. or Spacemen 3. At close to eleven minutes, the opening track, "Begin the Mothership," is a stunning, slow-burn track that catches fire with an electrifying guitar solo at about the five minute point. It sets the tone for the rest of the record to be whatever it wants to be: slow, trippy, mellow, fast and driving. The musicianship is amazing, and the band never really lets up except for a meditative track with banjo called "Rainbows". Overall, it's an endlessly creative record that leaves plenty of space for experimentation while maintaining a decidedly heavy rock sound.

Begin the Mothership and Golden Gooj

5) Jonwayne- Rap Album Two

It's a shame that I read over fifty best-of lists, and not one of them featured this fantastic record. Jonwayne, not to be confused with the legendary actor, has been one of the most prominent lyricists to emerge from the hip-hop underground in quite some time. Most people look at the cover, and have a predisposed idea of what he might sound like: long-haired white boy trying to meld hip-hop music with rock. They of course wouldn't be even close with that assessment, but that goes without saying. If you close your eyes and listen to the record, it will take you to places that you've never been. Certain songs like the contemplative, heartfelt "Out of Sight" and "Afraid of Us" are perfect examples of the levels of insight that Jonwayne has gained throughout years of unrequited love, disappointment, addiction and pain. With so much hip-hop being about fashion, money and the ladies, it's refreshing to hear someone who actually has something to say. He lays it all out there for the listener on this one, and you owe it to yourself to give this record a chance.

Out of Sight and Afraid of Us

6) Gunn- Truscinski Duo- Bay Head

When Steve Gunn and John Truscinski collaborate, good things happen. You wouldn't think that two musicians could make such a racket, but on Bay Head they manage a perfect balance between controlled dynamics and full-on intensity. The opening track is the perfect song to gradually get your attention while the slow-burn dynamics of "Seagull for Chuck Berry" are absolutely entrancing. You can tell that there is a fault line that's about to break as the drums gradually build in tempo, and then Gunn's explosive guitar solo sets the track on fire, leaving only shards of glass and detritus in its wake. There are a few mellow tunes in the middle of the record, but this one is mostly heavy with the guitar taking center stage. If you're looking for something that is quality rock and roll with no vocals to get in the way, look no further.

Seagull for Chuck Berry and Gunter

7) Omni- Multi-Task

The brash, exciting, power-packed pop music found on Omni's second record is mostly missing from music nowadays. You know what I'm talking about! That intense pop-punk that was perfected by bands like Wire and Gang of Four back in the heyday of punk music. Omni has a firm grasp on what they want to do, and they don't waste one second on this record. They start the proceedings with the instantly catchy melodies on the chorus to "Southbound Station"combined with complex drums and guitar lines. Next, is the phenomenal "Equestrian" with it's start-and-stop dynamics, Devo-like vocals and earworm melodies. Other standout tracks include the angular post punk inflected "Tuxedo Blues, " the extremely infectious "Supermoon" and the raucous "Date Night".  What's amazing about this record is that it clocks in at just 28 minutes, but every song seems epic in its own right.

Southbound Station and Equestrian

8) Big Walnuts Yonder- S-T  

If there ever was an experimental super group, this is it. The band consists of Mike Watt (Minutemen, Firehose) on bass and vocals, Nels Cline (Wilco) on guitar, Greg Saunier (Deeerhoof) on drums and Nick Reinhart (Tera Melos) on guitar/vocals. Considering the musicians involved, the results are about what I would have expected. Caution is thrown into the wind, and no stone is left unturned. There are off-kilter vocals, experimental soundscapes, scattershot drumming and rubbery bass lines in almost every song. You can also tell that they were having lots of fun while making this record, as there are lots of squeaks and squawks, caterwauling guitar and drum assaults and even the occasional guffaw. While the epic "Flare Star Phantom" takes awhile to get going, it really leaves the stratosphere once it does at about the 3 1/2 minute mark. Cline plays a blindingly fast guitar solo while the drummer is playing so hard that it sounds like he's about to fall off his stool. Watt gets a great vocal turn on the frenetic "I Got Marty Feldman Eyes", while "Raise the Drawbridges?" sounds like punk-metal that has gone through a blender. If you're looking for something a little bit different, you can't go wrong with this record.

Flare Start Phantom and I Got Marty Feldman Eyes

9) Beaches- Second of Spring


I have been awaiting the follow-up to Beaches phenomenal She Beats with bated breath, and it's finally here.  The band definitely pulls out all the stops this time around with a 17 track, 75 minute juggernaut of a record. It runs the gamut from motorik kraut to dirgey instrumentals; from melodic pop nuggets to angular rock. I don't think that I would ever say this, but there's almost too much of a good thing here. They probably could have split this up into two releases, but they probably felt like they wanted to give their fans the most bang for their buck. Who can argue with this kind of logic?  Standout tracks include "Turning", "Be", "Arrow", and "When You're Gone", but there are so many moods and tempos throughout that you will probably have your own favorite tracks to call your own. These girls really know how to write songs, and they have created a record that will stand the test of time.

September and Arrow

10) Mountain Movers-S-T

With a band name that's practically ungoogleable, I kind of get the impression that the band members could care less if they ever get popular. I would have never heard of them this year if it hadn't been for the fantastic Raven Sings the Blues blog, so I am grateful to them. It's pretty ambitious for a band's opening song to be fourteen minutes long, but even more so when there are only six songs on the record. The aforementioned track "I Could Really See Things" slowly builds into a cacophonous squall that could practically singe your nose hairs. I wouldn't call these guitar solos necessarily, but the focus is on the wall of guitars and pummeling drums. After the epic opening track, the second track starts out with a much more mellow vibe, only to have another face melting solo by Kryssi Battelene emerge in the middle of the track. The next song sounds like it's going to be an epic kraut-rock track, only to fade after a paltry twenty seconds. Then, "Angels Don't Worry" continues with the heavy vibe as brain-busting guitars and drums practically set your head on fire. The band closes this intense set with a picture-perfect pop song and an epic kraut-rock track with ping-ponging guitars and an insistent rhythm. In a year that had a shortage of really great rock records, this one stands out against the rest of the pack.

I Could Really See Things and Angels Don't Worry

Honorable mentions

1) Brokeback- Illinois River Valley Blues
2) Causa Sui- Vibraciones Doradas
3) Oh Sees- Orc
4) Damaged Bug- Bunker Funk
5) Noura Mint Seymali- Arbina
6) Mythic Sunship - Land Between Rivers
7) Kacey and Clayton- The Siren's Song
8) Juana Molina- Halo
9) The Surfing Magazines S-T
10) Mdou Moctar- Sousoume Tamachek

I would love to hear your lists or what you think of the music on this list. Please drop me a line in the comments!

Happy New Year!


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