A wild understatement: 2017, for many, has been something of a mixed year. Those discussions are well-trod, so I’ll focus on what I can add about myself: I fell deeper into the gender hole, for better or worse. I watched a budding relationship blossom into a deep and healthy one. I also deliberately made a process around music: 365 albums, write a tiny blurb about each one, once a day, or more. So in a year in which I deliberately tried to expand my horizons, what’d I end up listening to?
A lot of great new stuff!…and also a lot of weird prog stuff and earnest singer-songwriter material like I usually do. Oops. As is basically true every year: a lot of good music happened this year!
So, without further ado:
The Convenient Playlist
Igorrr’s music is practically tailor-made for me: it’s about twelve genres at any given time, it’s aggressive and technical when it wants to be, quiet and introspective when it doesn’t, and in both cases, there’s a whole lot of thematically-appropriate screaming.
Houmous showed up in one of my partners’ lists on here already, and was shortlisted by a different partner, so suffice it to say that this absolute clusterfuck of a song, with its 7+11+7/16 time signature and chiptune/rooster break and blast beats mixed with French screaming is basically the theme for my love life.
Or…something. Don’t think about it too much: Savage Sinusoid was a killer album and this is the killer-est track from it.
Truth Is A Beautiful Thing was recommended to me by a fellow SALSAzen, and I went into it actually expecting a bunch of great house music because of where the recommendation was coming from. (That would have also been fine!) What I got instead was an aching and plaintive album about all of the people in vocalist Hannah Reid’s life, and as it turns out, I’m totally into that. Who’d’ve thought?
Non Believer is the standout track on this album to me: the harmonies are incredible, the vocals soar over the rest of the arrangement in just the right mix, and at the end of the day, any track gets half a bonus point if it includes some Hide and Seek-style extremely-processed vocal harmonies. I’ll be writing more about this album later, but this is the best track on an album that took me greatly by surprise, and it’ll be in rotation for a while.
This track, or Daveed Diggs Raps But Every Time There’s A Robot Voice He Raps Faster, is the best afrofuturist mermaid rap of 2017.
I could just stop there, but let’s go on: clipping. didn’t release an album in 2017, but their 2016 album Splendor and Misery was on my top-ten list from last year, and was even nominated for a Hugo, which isn’t exactly common for music of any kind. They’re continuing the extremely intricate hip-hop concept track thing here, complete with intricate meta-musical stuff you can dig into if you’re an ARG person or just like your music to come with puzzles to solve as you listen. Can’t wait to see what this band does in 2018.
Considering the NEXT track on this list, it feels odd that this is the blurb that I’m most tempted to write in all caps.
I mean, come on. The first burst of strings here immediately puts me in “oh shit, it’s go time” mode, and just try to tell me you can listen to those drums and the vocalist’s ululation and not feel like going and punching the nearest enemy army or something. INTENSITY!!
Archspire’s 2017 release Relentless Mutation is legitimate tech-death perfection. I’m not actually sure that the drummer for this band isn’t violating multiple laws of the universe by playing that fast and that consistently. A comment on a review of this album described them as “the band no one anywhere has the balls to cover”, and it’s pretty easy to see why: every moment on this album is performed by musicians at the absolute top of their game in their genre.
Unrelated: “gravity blast” is a really cool term for a drum technique.
Whoa, did you hear that sound? That cracking sound was an incredible amount of tonal whiplash. Neat.
Bridgers wins the award that I just made up for gut-punchiest first line of 2017: “I’m singing at a funeral tomorrow for a kid a year older than me.” 2017, in general, has been the year for albums that I absolutely love but don’t particularly envision myself throwing on on repeat (A Crow Looked At Me, Turn Out the Lights), and Bridgers’ Stranger in the Alps is no different. Listening to this makes me sad, but it’s a good sad; the sad of realizing that, by this point in my life, almost everyone I know around my age has buried a friend. We’ve made it through, not unaffected, but transformed, and Phoebe Bridgers has captured all of those emotions in my pick for most emotional track of 2017.
Truth is the title track and culmination of Harmony of Difference, the new Kamasi Washington album and upcoming handheld Castlevania title.
It should be no surprise that I’m a fan of overlong jazz epics: Snarky Puppy’s Lingus made it onto last year’s list, Jaga Jazzist’s Toccata onto one a few years ago, so hey, here we go again! This is the perfect closing track to this album: it’s almost as long as the rest of the album combined, it’s the only non-instrumental track, and it recapitulates the themes of the other five tracks perfectly. If you’re going to listen to this, it’s probably worth setting aside the half-hour to just play the whole EP, but this isn’t an album list, so throw this on and go on a long trip with me.
(cw: more death)
Look, it’s another earnest and introspective ballad about processing trauma. It’s almost like there’s a thing going on here, huh?
There’s not actually too much more to say about this other than that Process is a strong candidate for best debut album of 2017. Sampha’s turned his own grieving into art, and crafted an album that’s both deeply personal and also generally applicable for others who might have lost someone close.
Lyrically, Midwestern States is the song on this list that I’m most likely to have written myself: it’s a summary of my entire post-college depression years in three minutes. I don’t care where we go, but we have to go somewhere, because it can’t be here, this place is awful. We can crash with friends, I’m sure, but let’s do something and start over, right now.
Musically, this is everything I’d want from pop-punk, a genre I haven’t exactly explored extensively since the years in which I was really, really, REALLY into Mae. I’ve belted this chorus in my car a strictly unhealthy number of times, and it never gets old, and probably won’t get old for a long time yet.
Rennen, the album, is the album that would be at the top of my albums list based solely on play count. However, it also came out in early January, so it had a slight advantage.
Still, there’s something to be said for the fact that I knew in January that a track from this album would end up on this list: had Savage Sinusoid come out in January, I might have played it more, but a lot of the tracks here haven’t left rotation for an entire year.
Also, his voice is absolutely beautiful, and basically every track is in the perfect range for me to sing along with poorly. That falsetto is just so tempting, y’know? Go ahead, you can sing along poorly too! I absolve you.
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