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Top 10 Albums of 2017

Top 10 Albums of 2017

It seems almost cliche to start out a year-end best-of list with some BS line like "2017 sure was a great year for music yada yada", but to this writer's ears, it wasn't really.

That's not to say there weren't some good albums that came out this year, but let's not pretend that 2017 was a particularly good year for music in the grand scheme of things, especially coming off the heels of all the legitimately good/varied albums that 2016 had to offer.

But, considering that 2017 was a year that most people would like to forget entirely anyway, perhaps it's fitting that it was a somewhat forgettable year in music as well. Again, it's not so much that it was a bad year in music, as there were definitely a fair share of good/decent albums that came to fruition, but there was also a distinct lack of truly great albums in 2017 (not to mention some really disappointing albums from the likes of Beck and Marilyn Manson to boot).  Just as an example, the trendy pick for album of the year is a rap album that would have barely passed for above average if it were released in the 90s (sorry Kendrick), and my personal pick for album of the year is admittedly nothing particularly special (and is not surprisingly largely absent from virtually all "best-of" lists I have come across to date).

But, to quote Primus "they can't all be zingers", so just because there were no real great albums in 2017 doesn't mean there weren't plenty of other generally above average/good albums that aren't worth your time. So in that spirit, let's take a look at a few honorable mentions that you may have missed and might be worth a listen or two (or more) depending on your tastes/tolerance for averageness:

 

Honorable Mention #1 - The Desaturating Seven - Primus 

 

Speaking of Primus, this is the first LP (although it feels like an EP being that it's only 7 songs) of original material the band has released since 2011, and overall it's a fairly satisfactory offering. It's like a quick sampler for Primus fans to wet your proverbial appetite, nothing more, nothing less.

 

Honorable Mention #2 - Love/Life - Plasmalab

 

A new indie band that sounds like a rawer/harsher version of Sonic Youth. Dingy and kind of sexy:

 

Honorable Mention #3 - Feed the Rats - Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs

 

 

That's right kids, this band's name is Pigs 7 fucking times, which is all the more amusing considering there are only 3 songs on this album (although two of them clock in over the 15 minute mark). These guys give Electric Wizard a run for their money with their swampy and thick groovy doom. Kind of sounds like what would happen if Lemmy came back from the dead and fronted Black Sabbath. Intrigued? You should be. Worth a listen for fans of riff-tastic doom-metal:

 

Honorable Mention #4 - Plum - Wand

 

Every time I listen to Wand I feel like I'm listening to Ty Segall-lite. Or Diet Segall. So while Wand turns in another pretty decent psych-rock album here, Plum still feels a little too derivative to me personally. That said, plenty to like here for fans of psych-rock nonetheless, just nothing particularly special to these ears:

 

Honorable Mention #5 - Endangered Philosophies - Dälek

 

While everyone is busy hyping up Kendrick (he's good, but he's not that good), I'd much rather listen to Dälek's harder-edged, more underground/brooding sound personally:

 

#10 - Brutalism - IDLES

OK now on the official Top 10. IDLES are the UK's answer to Pissed Jeans and METZ, but in fairness, they have their own distinctly bleak sound. And while there are some pretty powerful, loud, and hostile jams to be found here, it's that undercurrent of bleakness and unpleasantness that tends to keep this album from rising out of the psychological gutter. It's hard to put my finger on it, but listening to this album in it's entirely is a bit of a bummer, but I suppose that's kind of the point. Overall, IDLES are a compelling punk-rock band with an abrasive sound (often with sneering topical subject matter to boot) so they're generally right up my alley in spite of their somewhat oppressive sound. 

 

#9 - Orc - Oh Sees

Given the sheer volume of albums John Dwyer has produced over the years, it was only a matter of time until a quantity over quality problem game to fruition. That said, the 1st half of Orc finds the band in top form and sports an almost proto-metal sound to it (i.e. "Animated Violence"), but the back-half of the album is essentially a snooze-fest that sounds entirely phoned-in and borderline tedious to listen to. So despite the high-quality nature of the 1st half, the back-half only serves to weigh the album down on the whole, making Orc a pretty uneven offering and probably their least good album since 2011's Castlemania. 

 

#8 - Fried Shallots (EP) - Ty Segall

 

If I'm being honest, I might like Fried Shallots more than Ty's self-titled album released earlier this year, but it's hard to say it's an overall better album given that it's just a 20 minute EP with 6 songs on it. But those 6 songs are indicative of the album title in that they're like a light, tasty, quick meal that really hits the spot. Good stuff as usual from Mr. Segall (short and sweet as this album is).

 

#7 - Subordination - Institute

This is a downright dirty, nasty, ripping little punk-rock record that is coated with the type of contempt, grime, and disgust that characterizes the dystopian state of 2017 almost perfectly. This is an ugly and raw record with a healthy fuck-you attitude. It sounds like a disorienting night out in a dingy divey punk-rock bar. It's sounds like being really pissed, drunk, and hungover and disgusted with the state of the world all at the same time. So in other words, it could be the definitive record for 2017. Like a 2017 version of Dammed Dammed Dammed. Good shit. Recommended volume level: high.

 

#6 - Villains - Queens of the Stone Age

 

Although this is probably my least favorite QOTSA record, it's still a QOTSA record, which means that it is a cut above the rest broadly speaking. The Mark Ronson influence is subtle at best, and actually adds some interesting new dynamics to the band's sound. My main complaint with Villains is that it doesn't actually take enough chances though, and all too often comes across as just another pedestrian QOTSA record (granted with a little extra "flair"...but perhaps not enough "oomph!"). A quality record overall, but here's hoping their next one is an improvement.

  

#5 - Ty Segall - Ty Segall

Similar to his fellow psych-rock kindred spirit John Dwyer, Ty Segall somewhat runs into a quantity over quality situation on his self-titled album. Although that's not technically true considering everything found here is pure quality, but it all just sounds a tad underwhelming coming on the heels of his brilliant Emotional Mugger LP released last year (not to mention a borderline great GOGGS album...and Fuzz II in 2015...and Manipulator in 2014...but I digress)This is Segall's "back-to-basics" album, and that's exactly what it sounds like. It's a good psych-tinged garage-rock record that doesn't take many chances, isn't particularly emphatic, or very ambitious, it's just steady-as-she-goes so to speak. It all goes down pretty smooth, and given that it doesn't have any bad songs on it, would have to call this one a solidly good record (despite the fact it's probably his least good album since 2013's Sleeper). Petty complaints really. Segall's winning streak continues.

 

#4 - Strange Peace - METZ

Along with Institute, METZ's Strange Peace also does a good job of capturing the aural angst and disillusionment that characterizes the dystopian state of the world in 2017. The band pivots to a subtly more cerebral/restrained sound on Strange Peace, with a couple of dingy ambient-tinged pieces that add to the album's generally brooding atmosphere. But for the most part, METZ's patented brand of noisy sludge-punk remains powerfully intact here, as the band definitely lays down some downright vicious riffs and pounding drums as only they can on songs like "Mess of Wires" and "Drained Lake". Checkout the clickable link above for my full review/deeper dive.

 

#3 - Add Violence (EP) - Nine Inch Nails

 

Oddly enough (considering my NIN fandom) I was originally mildly underwhelmed with this EP, but it has been steadily growing on me throughout the back-half of 2017 (which probably has to do with shortening days/colder weather, but, I digress). Even though this is just a 5 song EP that barely clocks in over 27 minutes (with a major assist from a 7+ minute noise-outro on "The Background World"), it is a compelling listening experience nonetheless. Not to beat a dead horse, but 2017 has been an incredibly fucked up year on the national/international stage. Between the infuriating rise of white nationalism, daily assaults on basic facts and the free press/journalism, prospects of a cataclysmic nuclear war, an administration full of contemptuous billionaires laughing all the way to the bank as they exploit the ignorant masses that brought them to power and cause potentially irreparable damage to our environment, education system, and our broader democracy and institutions as a whole...it's enough to make your head explode (and that's not even the half of it). Watching our country rapidly circling the proverbial drain with reckless abandon with each passing day has been an exhausting/anxious experience for most engaged/thoughtful people to say the least, and Add Violence seems to be the perfect soundtrack for the times we're currently in. It's not the first time Trent Reznor has explored dystopian themes in his music (i.e. Year Zero), but never before has the reality of it seemed so very real. We’re living in it, and it’s incredibly disturbing if you think about if for more than 5 seconds at a time. “Less Than” is a topically derisive anthem for 2017 that seems directly aimed at supporters of you know who, “This Isn’t the Place” finds NIN channeling Portishead, but it's the closing track “The Background World” that seems to encapsulate the distressing nature of 2017 best. The 7+ minute feedback-drenched outro loop is the aural equivalent of watching helplessly as society seems to be collapsing in on itself and coming apart at the seams. It’s the soundtrack to staring into the void of all the chaos, belligerence, ignorance, confusion, noise, tribalism, and sheer absurdity that has risen to a fever pitch in 2017. As the feedback loop disintegrates into an unrecognizable wall of chaotic static, it all ends abruptly. What lies beyond the noise is unknown, but here's hoping we have reached rock bottom in 2017 and can start to recover our dignity as a society in 2018. Although as long as a we have a mentally unstable, narcissistic, greedy, reality-TV star demagogue as the President of the United States, that may prove to be wishful thinking. 

 

#2 - A Deeper Understanding - The War On Drugs

 

For whatever reason, aside for a couple of songs, I was initially somewhat disappointed with this record. That probably has to do with the fact that their prior album (Lost in the Dream) is one of the best albums of the decade and would have been nearly impossible to top, so perhaps my expectations were a bit to high for this one. But like a triumphant melodramatic underdog horse galloping it's way ahead in the race, A Deeper Understanding has steadily gotten better to my ears with repeated listens. It might also have to do with the fact The War On Drugs' music is much better suited for the dreary cold weather of November and December as opposed to August when it came out, so I've been much more into it lately because of that. In some ways, A Deeper Understanding is a more well-rounded and even record than it's predecessor (it's less front-loaded, and is generally less dreary to boot), but it is somewhat lacking in the epic highs that made Lost in the Dream such a great album. Sometimes it sounds like Granduciel is really milking the whole melodramatic 80s thing a little too much, but I'd be lying if I said most of these songs don't strike all of those chords almost perfectly. A few songs reach the heights of the best material from Lost in the Dream (i.e. "Holding On" and "Strangest Thing"), and the rest of the material compliments the overall vibe fairly well. Sometimes the songs fall a bit flat, or never quite make an impression, but for the most part, they suit the broader mood of the album well. A good retro album for fans of 80s Dylan/Springsteen. Cheers to dad-rock ;)

 

 

#1 - Temple of I & I - Thievery Corporation

 

This probably isn't even Thievery Corporation's best album (although its my new favorite) and probably seems super random and out of place considering the other albums on this list, but let me try and explain.

Basically this is one of the select few albums this year that I can listen to from front to back without wanting to skip any songs (although the middle third of the album can be slightly tedious if you're not in the right head-space), so it's got that going for it. Also, I happen to be a pretty big fan of dub-reggae music, trip-hop, and old-school hip-hop as well, and Thievery Corporation manage to combine all of those things really well on Temple of I & I.  Some of these songs are positively infectious and are tailor-made for a warm sunny day at the beach in front of a beautiful tropical ocean. I've spoke of "beach zen" before (you know, that transcendent state of becoming one with the beach, ocean, and the sun...usually after a beverage or two), and this album transports you into that frame of mind beautifully.  The dub-reggae vibes on this album run deep (probably because it was recorded in Jamaica), and I'd even go so far to say the actual beats on the album are some of the best I've ever heard from the genre (i.e. "Road Block", "True Sons of Zion", etc.) They will definitely get your head bobbing and put you in a uniquely chilled-out state of mind, which is a beautiful thing if you ask this guy. So you get the point, if you're a fan of trip-hop that's absolutely drenched in dub-reggae overtones (you know legitimately cool music with actual rhythm, flow, swag for days and warm vibes) then it doesn't get much better than Temple of I & I. In an era filled with so much hype, Thievery Corporation went down to Jamaica and recorded one of the straight up coolest albums of the decade. The re-birth of cool? Not quite, but, whatever the case, Temple of I & I is one of the few albums released this year that has no real flaws for what it is, and is solidly enjoyable and incredibly smooth from start to finish. Dig it.

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