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“Dolby’s Top 50 Albums of 2017”

I was sitting there and I couldn’t believe it, lost in a drunken stupor. Donald Trump was going to be president. There they were: all the different states he was winning, the red boasting out like the blood that I lusted to be spilled from all these machinated entities, these people ripped of their faith in diplomacy and temperance, these people so worshipping of this pestilent entity of “work,” the one thing that makes people crazier than anything.
Time has passed and Christ, it seems like 2017 is the year in which to the greatest extent ever, I’ve just zoned things out. I have probably drunk more than I ever have in my life, just waiting for that tingling feeling in my head again, when life rocks again, when there’s magic in everything.
The music, though, from this year, while certainly rewarding, has also been humbling. There is not a homogenous POLITICAL message to all of these projects — they’ve reinforced vitally that the human condition is if nothing else composed of plurality, little ramparts and fences we all just jump over in our own lives, in order to he**, to breathe. Here are the nasty men and women who breathed us a little fire, this year.
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Honorable Mention:
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What Moon Things – Someone Who Isn’t Me
Bob Schneider – King Kong
People Like You – Verse
Ikonika – Distractions
Squeeze – The Knowledge
Drake – More Life
Menace Beach – Lemon Memory
Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me
Washed Out – Mister Mellow
Four Tet – New Energy

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50 Girlpool – Power Plant
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Listening to Power Plant truly and properly takes patience, which in a way is refreshing in this rat race age we’re immersed in. They hail from way out West, hardly surprising in light of this, Santa Fe, which is a town known for its artistic flair and Meow Wolf, one of the most buoyantly funded artist cooperatives in America (which is albeit a country not especially known for funding the arts). Listening to Power Plant you will be thrust into a dive back to the deliberate, painstaking days of early grunge, guided meantime by the girls’ beautiful punch for light, expedited twee pop. Power Plant is a well sequenced and glorious staple of rock music today.
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49 Hector Plimmer – Sunshine
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Sunshine would be the breakout LP of IDM’s newest mad scientist — and da**ed of it isn’t the type of music, jazzy and maddeningly atonal, that makes just gawk at the fact that a PERSON actually created this, and not some mad alien straight off of some big interplanetary expedition. It’s electronic music which at least begins to rouse up some of the haunting tension we typically get with a Radiohead or a Grizzly Bear (or probably a real grizzly bear, for that matter).
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48 Mark Mulcahy – The Possum in the Driveway
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The Possum in the Driveway, newest installment from one of Thom Yorke’s favorite songwriters, finds Miracle Legion’s and New Haven, Connecticut’s Mark Mulcahy at perhaps his most reflective, content to croon slowly and in his signature rasp about an overall sense of loss, and of passing off, inherent to this particular segment of his life. “Stuck on Something Else” is one of the lead singles and garnered a slow, image-bleeding type of video, all of which is ironic since much of the lyrics on The Possum in the Driveway deal with drunken nights, and the call for the cessation of action’s necessity.
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47 Lou Canon – Suspicious
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Ya know, I hate to cut to the chase, but we ARE in 2017 here… shouldn’t music be… well… futuristic? With so many bands and IDM artists dishing out work this year that seems more influenced by their own former stuff than any true spacey innovation, we desperately needed a mad sonic scientist like Toronto’s Lou Canon, who, while not afraid to be minimalist, spare and subtle, weaves out these intricate patterns of IDM/ambient intensity, all around the pop appeal of simple desire, the whole time.
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46 Cosgrove – Vol. 1
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Cosgrove is APPARENTLY a band of jazz musicians from Indianapolis, Indiana, right within my little home state there (it’s funny the little pocket jazz collectives that have popped up in my life in recent years such as Asheville’s Rational Discourse). It’s saxaphone-dominated, but then… here’s where we get into the hairy and the fizzy — because the saxaphone doesn’t really DOMINATE the way you get with like a John Coltrane. Overwhelmingly, these songs are soothing, holistic patchworks of essential American music, gentle bongos trotting trustworthily along the vaguely African groove, all the songs packaged conveniently in little four-to-seven-minute nods, all the better with which to exercise true finesse.
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45 Bruce Cockburn – Bone on Bone
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The Bruce Cockburn saga is sort of an enigma because it almost seems like as long as music is around, this guy will be too, oozing on to the wax with a curious and perfectly seasoned amalgamation of various Caucasian American musics (meaning North American, of course, as his mother country is Canada). He resorts to his stale old vocal style on “3 Al Purdy’s” (his stale old vocal style being better than most others’ stale old vocal styles), but the lunch pail blues-rock of “Cafe Society” and the pastoral title track instrumental are particular champions.
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44 Deem Spencer – We Think We Alone
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I think to an extent with urban music, these days, genre itself is diminishing, and the extant result, while often incorporating some rap, some singing and it “Moonflower”’s case an awesome admixture of the two, is just a matter of making your presence felt, of telling your story. (That is to say that all-jazz, all-R&B or all-rap projects tend to anymore just come across as retro.) In this way, the concoction essentially evades analysis, which true to form makes criticism of it hard (yet this is hardly criticism, obviously). Most of the attention paid to Spencer online seems to highlight how this art is strewn from some hard times in his personal life, which in a way seems to demote the very enterprise of scouring these artists’ behind-the-scenes attributes as a way of fabricating a news story in the first place, now does’t it? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be submerged in research as to whether producers “Pip” and “Pip Van Genabeek” are actually the same person (they probly are).
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43 The Shins – Heartworms
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Why do I like Heartworms and not Ti Amo by Phoenix? I mean I guess if you have like no music taste whatsoever, it’s a pretty valid question: each is definitely a turn toward the poppy (yes Phoenix did get even poppier than they already were, which is a scary thought). It’s the little things: the reggae start to “Cherry Hearts,” the phrasing addendum in the chorus later in that song (possibly my favorite track), but most of all just the song “Mildenhall” in general. “Mildenhall” is sort of the tactile anchor of what should have been evident all the while: the undeniable purposefulness of this fifth Shins album illustrating an aural walk through James Mercer’s adolescence which is somehow idyllic without being indulgent, referencing indie heroes The Jesus and Mary Chain who actually also put out an excellent album this year, coincidentally enough.
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42 Rex Brown – Smoke on This…
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Rex Brown was the bassist in Pantera, so when we get to this solo outing of his you’d certainly expect it to be in some way slap-happy, like a Primus type thing with a little more misogyny (if Pantera is any indication, that is). Refreshingly, we really encounter neither of these things — what we do get is one of the guttiest statements of straight-ahead, visceral rock of the entire year by far, like a mastermind frontman channeling the intensity of Alice in Chains and working it through this intricate tapestry of Hives/AC/DC blues riffs. I’ll smoke TO this, Rex Brown. Thanks.
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41 Sparks – Hippopotamus
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Wow, it’s so refreshing to for once hear somebody singing in a British accent who actually… IS BRITISH! Imagine that. And indeed, Sparks, an occult band which has been around since the 1970s, are about as British as you get — the tongue-in-cheek sense of humor with the frequent changes of subject and imagery all around the “Missionary Position” thematic nucleus. For the most part Sparks’ existence has always been predicated on making fun of the world and things in it, but at its heart this is a band of veteran musicians capable of fu**ing with your head with some serious retro goodies at any point.
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40 Guided by Voices – How Do You Spell Heaven
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This was indeed a great year for old bands to come out and just do what they do, whether it was The National, Fleet Foxes, Primus, Blitzen Trapper or these Midwestern stallions, and everything is here from the crisp pop acumen to the sharp sense of humor, always with trippy, psychedelic lyrics belied by a sense of urgency in the chord progressions and song structures themselves.
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39 Japanese Breakfast – Soft Sounds from Another Planet
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For an album as wacky and unpredictable as this is (it seems like Michelle Zauner sautees up about every style of rock music that exists within the first three tracks), the real clincher is just how natural it all sounds, as a sophomore album: unlike The Jesus and Mary Chain who also gave us a drum-machine-abetted cluster of arguably formulaic pop, Zauner’s work is always fresh, eclectic with its influences and racy — truly American, in other words. Or TURNING American, maybe.
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38 Blitzen Trapper – Wild and Reckless
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Similar to how Beck’s album Guero came around full circle to approximating Odelay, I consider Wild and Reckless sort of like a lil’ Furr-junior, for one thing because not since ’08 has this band seemed to have this much FUN making an album. But don’t let the cavalier exterior fool you: this project has some grit too, as in the homicidal “Joanna” and the expressionist, “A Day in the Life”-mimicking “No Man’s Land,” which will leave you most, yes, sodden with the world’s affect, and all that bon moment.
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37 Elephant Stone – Live at the Verge
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I’m not sure why this type of thing is so charming: this throwback to Pains-of-Being-Pure-at-Heart twee-pop in 2017. It could just be that, amidst the litany of such artists including those very Pains, Real Estate and Dignan Porch, it is Elephant Stone putting more IN to this pop-eration (sorry), as well as obviously having the best band name imaginable, honoring the celestial track of the same title by The Stone Roses.
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36 Willowz – Fifth
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Anaheim’s female-led 2000’s punks the Willowz return with something straight out of their tried and true cookie jar: anthemic fuzz-rock for nights of slugging PBR while driving through your hometown. From the way it sounds, Jessica Reynoza’s frontwoman yowl might never dry up, and she’s backed by some great disciplined and structured riffing by Richie James Follin along the way.
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35 Ephrata – Ephrata
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Ephrata is the great debut by the Seattle band which seems to be summoning up more sunshine dream pop than is even possible up there in those dark environs, the real clincher being the incredible stylistic variation between songs, and the band’s ability to make a strong musical statement with an almost ambient level of sound.
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34 Black Lips – Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art?
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With an undeniable sense of urgency, indie rock veterans of 10-odd years Black Lips clamor in straight out of Seattle and unleash a blues-punk dynamo of Cole Alexander screaming straight into your heart, demarcated gracefully from other punk also-rans like Fu**ed up and Titus Andronicus in that these songs move along, less sodden with forced self-importance and more like they existed as equal, intense camps in Alexander’s mind, now made permanent.
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33 Prawn – Run
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On their third full-length, New Jersey sextet Prawn (I’m as confused as to why they have six members as you are) serve up another feast of straight-ahead punk rock a la Fu**ed up and Titus Andronicus. What’s sets this stuff apart then? Well Tony Clark is actually singing! He isn’t afraid of melody, or poetry either for that matter: a couple of his lyrics read respectively “Letting go all those ancient quotes”; “I’m re-reading my own thesis”, holistically self-examining, commenting on the natural dead ends which meet all of us in this world of technology. It’s inspiring emo fittingly released in the year in which Incubus toured with Jimmy Eat World (Kyle Burns not having quite Mike Einziger’s pedal onslaught, mind you).
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32 Doktra – Pagans
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Here again we have sort of like a Michigan-football-under-Lloyd-Carr type act (sorry, this is one of my favorite stupid analogies) — you know what’s coming, but can you stop it? I mean I am a fan of Doktra, but you could tell me “Doktra are a huge Don Caballero ripoff” and I’d probably just nod by head in solemn corroboration. But da** it, they’re from Indiana, so I like ‘em better. Actually, the guitar sound does go a TAD deeper here, even so as to approximate Metallica’s thrash and sludge tactics, and also Doktra are less prone to stupid song titles than the Dons (but then who isn’t).
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31 Cloud Nothings – Life without Sound
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When this album came out, it was my favorite of the year. Well, god da** has this been a crazy year, in music as well (it released in late January, for the record), and it’s possible that the Cleveland gang of ear-drum-assaulters are getting the stick here just a tad… and I hate rivalries, but give ‘em credit for as indie veterans coming through with some high-octane crank where Real Estate couldn’t.
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30 Downtown Boys – Cost of Living
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Just to get this out there, I’m probably not going to make some theoretical explanation for why this is good music. It’s PUNK, through and through. It will appeal to you if you like crazy sh**, which, judging my TV and movies lately, should be juuuuust about everybody.
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29 Clap! Clap! – A Thousand Skies
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Clap! Clap! is a DJ from Italy, but my next guess was going to be New York, ‘cause this music is just so da** IMMEDIATE, oozing the kind of glossy faux-brightness (see Battles’ “gloss drop,” etc.) that the Big Apple seems to fume out like its lungs were full of it, seeing it of course as an extremely precious, non-renewable resource.
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28 Primus – The Desaturating Seven
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This is your brain on Primus… and god da** if The Desaturating Seven isn’t like the most self-emulating LP of all time. Indeed, it is the very same band lineup as it was back in their golden bratty days of Frizzle Fry, Sailing the Seas of Cheese and Pork Soda, now come full circle into sadistic expressionism. The Desaturating Seven is a concise but expansive statement in alternative rock implicitly likening the current ruling American class to the fictional beasties featured in the 1970s children’s book The Rainbow Goblins.
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27 Clark – Death Peak
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Let’s just slap Clark with the felonious tag of most unpredictable IDM arbiter these days — I don’t think anyone expected this foray into visceral intensity a la the drum-and-bass-tinged “Hoova” and “Slap Drones.” And yeah, a lot of it is a nod to Actress, very much like New Energy strutted as, in many spots. So original, though, is that LA DJ, that there ends up being a lot of fecund energy within that realm to draw from, all the more commendable for forming such an astonishing contrast against this album’s more common cocaine crushers.
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26 Snowgoons – Goon Bap
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If you can ignore how ridiculously ambitious and boorish this project is, in a way (there’s even a song called “The ‘90s are Back”), a simple, crushing boom bap album from a German team with more guest emcees than you can fit in the Hollywood Club, you can settle in to some definite wamping and notice the real kicker — the eclectic styles of all the rappers, the presence of quirky plurality and uniqueness that (once) made hip-hop great in the first place.
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25 Kamasi Washington – Harmony of Difference
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For being the man who spawned Pitchfork’s #10 album of 2015, this was one under-hyped album when it came out: it only dawned on me that the wolverine of contemporary lounge-jazz was doing anything at all when I saw on my Relix Facebook feed that he had a show coming up, December 5 I think it was. Wow, I get drowsy just looking at this show bill. I did get through Harmony of Difference, which essentially plays as a mellower extension of The Epic, without sleeping, but the best part was probably still the “hidden track,” the crazily joyful “Cherokee,” track two on The Epic’s disc three.
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24 Liars – TFCF
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Liars. There is no word in the English language to describe them. Well, now there is a new term: “solo act,” with the other guy having gone (I’m sorry I get so sick of searching for this jacka**’s name). On TFCF, then, which stands for “theme from crying fountain,” Angus Andrew poses for an album cover in a dress, as if he’s lost what essentially amounts to a male lover (the entirely esoteric nature of said guy’s erstwhile musical contributions would certainly seem to indicate as much), so we get beautiful pop melancholia (“No Tree No Branch”) but more importantly a jutting out into general sympathies, “Cred Woes,” which jolts the entire enterprise of rock forward, in sadistic rhythm.
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23 Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder
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Ok, I named The Desaturating Seven as the most self-emulating LP of our times, but here we have probably the second-most: whimsical dream-pop from this Canadian army of gifted side musicians (here we have members of Feist and Metric at work, among others, along with the main frontman Kevin Drew). Well, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Actually, the band even do a remarkable job of COMMENTING on their own sameness over time with “Protest Song,” which you sort of knew would transpire in the wake of Donald Trump: “We’re just the latest on the longest rank and file list / Ever to exist in the history of the protest song”. “Stay Happy” is another standout, also coercive, to boot, as I mentioned in my initial review.
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22 Zeal & Ardor – Devil is Fine
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I am fully enamored with this fresh, crushing Swiss brand of fu**ed metal: all of the songs are full, lush arrangements of piercing noise which, as Noisey pointed out, draw on a revivifying array of genres including hip-hop and blues, along with the usual wall of squall. I’m not sure, but I think he keeps referring to his own musical style, or m.o., as it were, as “American Slave,” because I keep seeing these words everywhere around his promos, yet there’s not a song called that on the album. How could he be so pompous! Well, believe it or not, he pulls it off, the old-fashioned way, with sinewy, indestructible vocal chops, bewildering variety and undeniable inspiration.
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21 The National – Sleep Well Beast
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The centerpiece of Sleep Well Beast, to me, and what sets it apart from the band’s old stuff, is “Turtleneck,” a strange and uncanny satire song jesting at clothing salesmanship. There’s a nervous frenzy to Matt Berninger’s voice which is entirely unexplainable, though undoubtedly the mark of a distinct vision which set the songwriting wheels in motion. The other feather in its DD cap would be “I’ll Still Destroy You,” which forays into electronic beats. Other than that, it’s a National album through and through, which we all know and love, obviously.
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20 Moon Duo – Occult Architecture Vol. 1/Occult Architecture Vol. 2
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Moon Duo is the Portland tandem of Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada and the order of business is thick, fuzzy, tense and endless indie rock, typified perfectly by this dual-album release of 2017 (one in February and one in May). I lumped them together because they’re essentially the same album — one with just longer songs on it. Strangely, the short songs never seem too short and the long songs never seem too long. Only one thing ever seems out of place on this opus of urbane blues-drone. That would, of course, be optimism.
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19 Ghostpoet – Dark Days + Canapes
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I listen to music for free on Spotify. That’s just the way it goes. I’m a ’90s kid with a broken CD player and not a lot of expendable income, what with my semi-idealistic mindset which prevents me from taking mentally deadening jobs of any kind. The most refreshing thing to me about Dark Days + Canapes, along these lines, in this current age of remastered and “bumping” versions of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” (and don’t get me wrong I love the Mac), is that it’s a funk album with one of the most SPARE bass presences you’ve ever heard in your life — it’s the arbiter of doing more with less. In fact, the entire thing sounds like one big constant identity crisis… is it hip-hop? Is it R&B? Is it somebody’s demo? Sometimes in life the questions are as fun as the answers.
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18 Shenandoah Davis – Souvenirs
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The type o’ chica like Shenandoah Davis doesn’t really have a Wikipedia page at all, let alone one for each album, and her Bandcamp page says that Souvenirs is a “breakup album” (which spawns questions in me as to why, given that the lyrical centerpiece seems to be the chorus “Laziness and loneliness are through / Now that I’ve found company in you”, and it’s really disappointing that research about this project inevitably upturns such drivel. It is, after all, an orchestral work of skewed drums, frantic strings, and drum beats which though conventionally patterned I’m still never sure if I’ve heard in my entire life, the entire thing then reminding me a lot of St. Vincent (even aside from her being a lesbian in New York, that is).
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17 Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up
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Having finally gotten to the point where with Helplessness Blues I’ve actually found three or so songs I can even stand (“Lorelai” is certainly beautiful), I was fully at attention for this new project Crack-Up which is obviously and undeniably an expansion from the band’s earlier work, in terms of sheer anatomy. Interestingly enough, the song the band shared initially, “Third of May / Odaigahara,” at least rivals for worst cut on the album, and the simplest, most direct statement of friendship and solidarity at work here (“If You Need to, Keep Time on Me”) makes arguably the strongest impression.
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16 Cults – Offering
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Often times in today’s world of social media-indie it can almost come across as awkward or unfitting if a band writes songs that are really ANTHEMIC — full of riffs, spotted with little nuggets of climax which indicate that a significant realization has been made in the artist’s mind, prior to writing the material at hand. Offering pays off upon repeated listen for how these grandiose bulwarks — “Recovery,” the title track, et. al. — are sporadic, and so not overbearing. In between these big moments, in other words, lie other more unassuming statements which just sort of coat Offering in the band’s deliberate synth-pop style, rather reerecting the entire fort which has just been plundered a second ago.
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15 Wu-Tang Clan – The Saga Continues
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Generally with The Saga Continues, I felt like it was a return to the focus and intensity we had with these guys back in the glory days — Enter the Wu-Tang 36 Chambers, Wu-Tang Forever and The W, and then even when it reminded me of their last album Legendary Weapons that’s not necessarily too bad of a thing either, although when this album falters it’s pretty much in that exact way… well that and Ghostface’s whole “degrees in gynecology” line. Anyway, Redman is an animal… that’s all there is to it.
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14 Mhostly Ghostly – A Faceless Fiction
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This band is about as upstart (only propagated into fame by their local radio station KEXP, as far as I know) and goofy (having gleaned their name from a children’s horror book series) as you get, so the shocker, as anyone would notice, along with the crushing power and purposefulness of this vaguely surf-influenced garage rock album, is the veritable arsenal of effects pedals and histrionics of which guitarist Simon Olander is capable, within these bulbous, often multifarious little epics. Indeed, as I stated in my initial review, it can at times seem, rather than a battle of the bands, a battle WITHIN a band. Feel like reaping some rewards of competition? Thought so.
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13 Ibibio Sound Machine – Uyai
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Remember that “world music” crap you used to hear like 10 years ago? Well it never really went away, it just became good instead of lame — no more cramp-footing around on faux-lugubrious banjoes or harps, just bashing away with some serious beats and croonings. Belied to the name, Eno Williams is actually a woman, a Londoner by way of Nigeria influenced by American funk rock — like the ultimate geographic conduit of consummate black musics.
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12 Rose Cousins – Natural Conclusion
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A cursory glance at the style of Natural Conclusion, the eighth release in total from Canadian singer/songwriter Rose Cousins (which by the way is actually her real name), would tell you it’s like Cat Power. But oh, I’m so glad it’s not actually like Cat Power! I really can’t take any more stories of 10 year old crackhead prostitutes. Rose Cousins’ real victory is that with all the genuineness and throaty moxie she flays off here, this is equally music of spatial breadth, a nice folky Neil Young influence presiding over “Chains” and elsewhere, otherwise giving way to some captivating piano/vox intimacy that will perfectly soundtrack our impending cold season.
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11 Oddisee – The Iceberg
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Somehow hip-hop just got a new gasp of life in 2017 — I guess absence makes the heart grow fonder. Think of this recent wave of Snowgoons, M-Dot and most importantly D.C.’s Oddisee as the Strokes/White Stripes of rap — kicking it old school, literally, not trying to push the form too much but just rejoicing in their ability to fit into it with what they really, all the better for cases of people who actually have something to say.
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10 The Other Guys – The Working Class
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Like Jay-Dee meets The Internet, The Other Guys make urban I.D.M. which is immediately, and buoyantly robust and colorful — think, like, if Actress actually got laid once in a while. With a girl.
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9 Morrissey – Low in High School
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Maturity is a funny thing in music: some people delve for it as if it’s required, and others (or maybe just me) yawn, throw the record into the corner and put on some Travis Morrison singing about his computer spitting out cocaine. Well, 2017 isn’t just any year. Cloaked in fathoms of disguises from the monarchical to the adolescent to the romantic, Morrissey yammers right in here the way only he can: in a croon so awkward it can only be real, offering us worldly perspective, but zoomed-in and small-picture, over and over, all in that strange brashness, that same machismo, that you could have sworn was the undeveloped and urchin. Joe Chiccarelli does a tremendous job with the production here as horns, harpsichord, and even virtuosic drum fills flank these little four-minute vent sessions. And there is Morrissey in his stock picture decked out in a suit, all dressed up and nowhere to go, except for straight into your heart.
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8 St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION
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It’s ST. VINCENT’S BEST ALBUM! Just ask Vinyl Me, Please, those douche bags trying to sell it to you for $25! Well, I wouldn’t go QUITE that far… Strange Mercy is certainly tough to top, but you also won’t find a better dance/pop LP from this year. Also, “Happy Birthday, Johnny,” a spare look at human deterioration in contemporary New York, helps the LP out greatly as a lugubrious mid-album paean, but the snarky wit of “Pills,” to me, surely takes the crown. Let’s just say St. Vincent didn’t get that memo on women being oppressed and not authorized to make cultural statements.
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7 Destroyer – ken
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In ken, we might have the ironic instance of, during a year of a mediocre New Pornographers album (the first ever of such thing, in fact), a former of member of The New Pornographers actually wielding said band as an artistic influence (along with The Stone Roses, sublimely enough), and then, in turn, gathering praise form those very New Pornographers by way of social media (how’s that for refreshing non-spitefulness). ken is full of basic, everyday human sympathies and indeed embodies the sort of ideals we strive for in pop music, and have for sure ever since the Beatles made us love some dude who went by the name of the “nowhere man.”
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6 Jlin – Black Origami
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Every time I listen to Black Origami, it feels like an ominous invitation back into a dark, astonishing world of death and ghosts, where, eerily, the very MOOD of the music always seems to usurp what other artists would try to pass off as a sort of stylistic meal ticket. This is a good thing, obviously, since even IDM and dubstep are becoming elder statesmen of the music world. Black Origami is composed of much of the same sampled gibberish as 2015’s breakthrough Dark Energy from the Gary, Indiana DJ, but it’s less uncomfortable and more playable, a turn similar to the poppiness of Grimes’ last album as compared to her others, the natural move from the solitary and the estranged to the gregarious, with no focus or inspiration lost. In “Kyanite,” we might have our first ever true orchestration of math-I.D.M., Jlin plotting down a pattern composed of beats whose individual roles transcend our current understanding of rhythm, and allow you just to marvel over the sheer complexity, and overall inspiration, behind what she’s doing here.
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5 Cigarettes after Sex – Cigarettes after Sex
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This is this band’s only album. Well, unless you count all the Velvet Underground albums. I still remember first hearing this act. For one thing, I thought they were British. Even more, I thought it was a GIRL singing, for Christ’s sake, and that if they were American they’d definitely be New Yorkers, but it’s actually one Greg Gonzalez from El Paso, Texas (he has no Latino accent, as far as my ears can trace). In a way, this then begs the question as to whether it’s CULTURALLY BALLSY what he’s doing — dispatching from El Paso which while certainly geographically marginal is hardly known for its groundbreaking artistic vanguard (maybe El Paso is like the REAL, non-yuppy Santa Fe), fellow El Paso’s At the Drive-in hardly the emasculated loverboys we hear before us now. I would say it definitely is, although I haven’t heard of him getting any yells of “fa**ot” or being the victim of any property vandalism, or anything like that. Surely, with their big, purposeful, sweeping pop statements, this band has forged a definitive, charged message for other artists to follow (more than that, other El Paso, Latino artists), and maybe the whole time Greg Gonzalez figured it’s like Rainer Maria Rilke said, each of us is truly, unavoidably alone in this life, anyway, somewhat like a certain realization you might incur every time you light up.
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4 The Black Angels – Death Song
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In this long, arduous, painful and often ironically amusing movement away from “indie” music in criticism and toward the sort of sheer reductionism (Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Carly Rae Jepsen) that seems to discourage the very act of having a brain, much less the compunction before the general corporate machine, The Black Angels are something I can still turn to and say I WILL NEVER FULLY UNDERSTAND THESE GUYS, and that’s a good thing. Well, that’s not the exact right terminology. I will never see through them. I will never be able to predict their very next exact move, right down to that almost gaudily chipper album cover for this seemingly obviously career-defining noir epic Death Song (nobody else would have issued that exact cover with those bright colors in a psychedelic pattern and so soothing is it that you don’t even notice at first the irony of the fact that it represents the colors of the American flag).
Part of the “blessing” might be that even though Passover came out in ’06, and it’s really pretty stylistically similar to this new fare, I actually didn’t discover the band until ’14, when I was day-drinking in a west side pub in Asheville, North Carolina. Now, each of the two bands to which I’m about to compare them have the term “black” in them, which might pi** you off (hopefully not as bad as it pi**es ME off): but the methodical, pedal-sodden blues riffing immediately called to mind Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and then in their more concise moments, if not to say necessarily poppy (yeah, this band is never really poppy, something I like about them), I’m like, well boys, your commercial success is directly proportional to your ability to… basically… BE The Black Keys, having come from a more abrasive realm of bluesiness on former tracks and albums to the actually somewhat-anthemic “I’d Kill for Her.” But I don’t think that’s even really one of their aspirations. They have such a cult following even in and out of their nuclear home platform of Austin, Texas. Death Song is nothing more or less than their undeniable definitive statement as a band.
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3 Calvin Harris – Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1
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Wow, ya know, I wasn’t expecting to have read several year-end lists already at the time that I was composing THIS one, but it certainly seems to me that this album is for the most part inconspicuously absent from those little elitism arbitrations we all know and love so well around the globe. And this project, by a Scottish producer enlisting among others Frank Ocean, Pharrell, Katy Perry, Schoolboy Q and Snoop Dogg, has the sort of street cred which would make Paul Oakenfold jealous. Anyway, I can’t remember how I first got tipped off to Funk Wav. Bounces Vol. 1, but I was impressed right away by the jazziness of the beats as well as the whole LP’s seamlessness — the sense that this is indeed the work of one continually efficacious DJ who, while ushering in a veritable gaggle of industry shi**ers-on, still keeps his hand on the knobs with the type of authority that says, THIS IS MY ALBUM. And yes, Snoop Dogg doesn’t even ruin it — his mind is on his money again, and his money is on his mind, except, I’m guessing now, he actually has some?
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2 Sampha – Process
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It’s amazing, after you’ve listened to the orgiastically crafted debut album from Britain’s Sampha, how perfectly his photo on the album’s cover actually typifies what’s going on here — it’s a provider of equally 40 minutes of music and also an ulterior world. So when you say, “Sampha’s really in the zone,” it’s easy to believe, and it’s undeniably clear how the things he’s commenting on in these songs are unreachable in their physical form, though still very distinct in his mind. This has been an uproariously awesome year in music and it took easily one of the toughest, most tenacious diva emcees we’ve ever heard, perhaps THE toughest, to oust this singer/producer who in my opinion can lay claim to being the “black Radiohead,” that is, if he wants it.
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1 Princess Nokia – 1992 Deluxe
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My site gets grittier just by very mention of Princess Nokia, a self-proclaimed and titular “Tomboy” whose debut album 1992 Deluxe blows a veritable crater through our current conception of hip-hop, trap, bit**iness and street austerity. 1992 Deluxe paints the vivid picture of a weed-smoking misfit, hated by the girls and ignored by the boys and too big and awkward to have the finesse for basketball, doling of a sort of stupid album title (but I’ve long since learned to forgive people for things like that), living with a “crazy lady” grandma and of course, facing, every day, the same hopeless future we all do. The girl’s got a silver tongue and wicked rap chops but she doesn’t flaunt it — her delivery is laid back, incredibly refreshing after such ear-drum-assaulting misers as Run the Jewels, Death Grips and Brother Ali. It’s extremely important that everybody listen to this album, for a chiseled lesson in humility. I’m not fu**ing around here.

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