Another year deep into pursuing my Before They Die concert list meant hunting down another batch of classic artists (Bettye Lavette, Bon Jovi, Deep Purple, Elvis Costello, k.d. lang, Nazareth, Neil Diamond) as well as reunited acts I never thought I’d get to see live (Crash Vegas, Front 242, Midnight Oil, Northern Pikes, X).
While this was wonderful for my concert diary, it left me further adrift than ever from the contemporary music critic zeitgeist when it came to 2017 albums. I never heard the Jlin or SZA records, Vince Staples and LCD Soundsystem have done better in the past, The National, The xx and Father John Misty didn’t move me at all, and I’m starting to suspect everyone has been tricked by St. Vincent.
That said, as always, there remained a lot of good music to consume this year.
While rock music, or at least what a lot of mainstream music outlets consider “rock” music is increasingly terrible, the rich underground realm of rawk-to-hard rock remains ripping and vibrant, perhaps moreso because of its underdog status. I gave a lot of time this year to records from Mothership, Bloodclot, Danko Jones, Dead Quiet, Municipal Waste and Ruby The Hatchet. There are a lot of bands out there who still know how to rock. Don’t accept knock-offs.
I has some interesting bubbling under records this year, too. The duet covers record from Flo Morrissey and Matthew E. White was pretty compelling and almost made my top ten until I realized I didn’t like any of the White-fronted songs. In somewhat similar circumstances, I realized I really only liked two or three songs from each of the Kendrick Lamar and Kacy & Clayton records, which kept them bubbling under.
In another thematic group, the Charlotte Gainsbourg was a surprising mood piece that had a hold on me for awhile. Her album sonically complimented a pair of dance records from Quebec by Le Couleur and Marie Davidson that absolutely would have made my 2017 list if they hadn’t been released in October 2016, making them just too far out of the ’17 window for me to feel comfortable including them.
While all these albums were great, the ones below I enjoyed even more.
Here’s my official Top 10 album list for 2017:
10) Michael Nau — The Load
To put how I came to appreciate The Load in context one has to first understand how I consume new music. One of the ways is to put new albums on my phone to listen to when I walk to work each day. At one point this fall I had The Load in rotation along with a Pop Goes The ’70s box set full of hit songs from that era. When I punched through these songs on random I could almost not tell the difference between the Nau songs and the deeper cuts from the 70s box. That’s not to say The Load is some anachronistic retro project so much as it’s one that the best moments — “Diamond Anyway,” “Big Wind No Sail” — have a timeless quality that pushes them above something simply in the now.
Listen to “Big Wind, No Sail”
9) The Dears — Times Infinity Volume Two
Sometimes I over-correct for my loyalties. The Dears are probably the band I’ve seen perform most live, they probably officially qualify as “friends” (in 20+ years of doing this I only have about a dozen proper musician friends), and in general I consider them musically above reproach. The result of this often means I’m particularly tough on The Dears when it comes to exercises like year-end lists and such. After all, if they’re friends, that’s a strong bias against rational analysis. But fuck all that. Times Infinity Volume Two is a quality record. Sure it’s a little less turbulent and dramatic than those early Dears albums everyone loves, but “Guns Or Knives,” “All The Hail Marys” and “Taking It To The Grave” ably match anything the band has done in the past.
Listen to “Guns Or Knives”
8) Doom Side Of The Moon — Doom Side Of The Moon
The best part about Doom Side Of The Moon’s stoner rock reimagining of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon isn’t the actual recording (which is a fine, slightly beefed up, and very faithful series of covers), it’s the perspective it brought. I abandoned Dark Side Of The Moon long ago, a casualty of classic rock radio overplaying and relentless anniversary edition reissues making me reflexively turn elsewhere. What these things did was cause me to ignore the actual thematic and conceptual quality of Dark Side‘s songs. “Money,” “Time,” “Us And Them,” those are all deep, brilliant songs, and it took someone else doing them for me to truly realize this. Propelled in part by this record I ended up going on a bit of a Pink Floyd jag this year. I checked out the righteous Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, and I spent a whole lot of time with The Early Years 1965-1972 box set. A lot of that journey can be attributed to a dude from The Sword and his buddies deciding they needed to record a heavier version of “Brain Damage.”
7) RF Shannon — Jaguar Palace
When I initially tweaked to Jaguar Palace it was because I thought it sounded like an early album from The Verve mixed in with some On The Beach-era Neil Young and maybe some Calexico. None of that has changed and it remains a wicked, dry desert heat of a trip.
6) The Black Angels — Death Song
The Black Angels are probably to 2017 what Jane’s Addiction were to 1990 what with the band’s festival/community building in the psych rock scene being comparable to the coming together of tribes Perry Farrell created in the alt era. That’s all noble stuff, but sometimes it means we take for granted the most important attribute of The Black Angels — the music. Death Song refines the band’s sound somewhat. There are a few less trance rock rumbles made for highway driving and less time travel indignations about the Vietnam War and Nixon and whatever, but the core of what makes The Black Angels great, the shimmering textures and dark menace of songs like “Estimate” and “Comanche Moon” remains.
Watch “Half Believing”
5) Run The Jewels — RTJ3
I know Run The Jewels appeal to me because of an age thing. Run The Jewels are old (like me). And they still rap (remember that?). With rhymes and lyrics and insightful observations and such. How they’ve managed to trick the kids into liking them in genre that, with a few exceptions, has been reduced to grunting, dumb catchphrases and Soundcloud beats that make no sense, is beyond me. But I’m there for ’em.
Watch “Legend Has It”
4) Tennis — Yours Conditionally
The last thing I expected from 2017 was to be thoroughly enamoured by Tennis’ Yours Conditionally. And yet, here we are. Yours Conditionally wonderfully navigates Fleetwood Mac-ian pop and girl group soul with a savvy and groove that’s hard to turn away from. Highlights: “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar,” “Modern Woman,” “Baby Don’t Believe.”
Watch “Modern Woman”
3) The Horrors — V
The Horrors continue their inscrutable ways on V. Are they goth? Electro? Brit pop? Psych? New wave? I don’t know. But what I do know is that whatever it is it’s mighty compelling. “Press Enter To Exit,” “Point Of No Reply” and the oddly buoyant “Something To Remember Me By” rise above the moodier moments on the rest of the album.
Watch “Something To Remember Me By”
2) King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard — Flying Microtonal Banana
2017 was the year my deep name-based bias against King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard was broken and it was all because of Flying Microtonal Banana. Sure, the band released something like 18 other concept albums/sonic exercises this year, but it was this album that struck me the hardest. Feature track “Rattlesnake” has the best groove of any rock song this year, “Billabong Valley” is an exotic adventure, and “Open Water,” a rather dark jam about drowning, could be the perfect theme song for speed boat racing if nobody paid close attention to the lyrics.
1) Land Of Talk — Life After Youth
Life After Youth was the only album I kept on my phone for the entire year, a rare feat considering how quickly I churn through records when listening that way. One of the great joys I took from LOT leader Elizabeth Powell’s new album was in not knowing what the record was about. I didn’t read any interviews or liner notes or lyric sheets, but just dove in. I knew it was a bit of a comeback album, seven years on from her last record. And I knew that “life,” with all its chaotic speed bumps, was the reason why it took so long to become a reality. But beyond that it was a blank slate. What I found were layers of intrigue. In not knowing exactly what the songs were about, I was able to form my own narratives, contemplate my own plots behind these songs and the whole listening experience felt like a throwback to a simpler time.
Oddly, there’s no single song or couple of songs I can point to and go this makes the album. “Heartcore” is certainly compelling indie romance rock, “What Was I Thinking” has a universal life lesson quality, and iTunes says I listened to “This Time” 26 times. These could all represent highlight moments, but it’s really more about the whole. What Powell has created is a musical meditation on life which reveals something new each and every listen.
Watch “This Time”
Other album lists…
2016 Top Ten — Daniel Romano‘s Mosey is #1
2015 Top Ten — SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart is #1
2014 Top Ten — Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There is #1
2013 Top Ten — M.I.A.’s Matangi is #1
2012 Top Ten — Dirty Ghosts’ Metal Moon is #1
2011 Top Ten — Timber Timbre’s Creep On Creepin’ On is #1
2010 Top Ten — The Black Angels’ Phosphene Dream is #1
2009 Top Ten — Gallows’ Grey Britain is #1
2008 Top Ten — Portishead’s Third is #1
2007 Top Ten — Joel Plaskett Emergency’s Ashtray Rock is #1
2006 Top Ten — My Brightest Diamond’s Bring Me The Workhorse is #1
2005 Top Ten — Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Howl is #1
2004 Top Ten — Morrissey’s You Are The Quarry is #1
2003 Top Ten — The Dears’ No Cities Left is #1
2002 Top Ten — Archive’s You All Look The Same To Me is #1
2001 Top Ten — Gord Downie’s Coke Machine Glow is #1
2000 Top Ten — Songs: Ohia’s The Lioness is #1
1999 Top Ten — The Boo Radleys’ Kingsize is #1
1998 Top Ten — Baxter’s Baxter is #1
1996 Top Ten — Tricky’s Maxinquaye is #1