The Fire Note wouldn’t be possible without the talented writers that share their educated thoughts and true enjoyment of music with our readers. The time and commitment that goes into writing consistently is appreciated by TFN and taken for granted by everyone else!
Our official year end Top 50 is coming soon but clearly everyone has different tastes and ideas when naming the best album released in 2017. Thanks again to all our contributors!
If you want to be on this list next year send us an email. We are always up for some new voices if you think you have what it takes!
Okay, starting at the bottom, my list for the best albums of 2017, here goes:
25. Roger Waters, Is This The Life We Really Want? (Columbia)
Elections have consequences… that’s a phrase I hear almost daily. And one of the unexpected outcomes of the election of President Trump is he return of Roger Waters, the chief composer and voice in some of Pink Floyd’s most compelling works, in his first solo album in 25 years, and one of the biggest stadium tours of the summer of 2017, “Us + Them” with Waters aiming the venom of his new and older material at the current administration. We had a lot of musical activism throughout the year, from Prophets of Rage, Todd Rundgren, and most of our late-night comedians roused to new heights by Trump’s leadership priorities and style fodder for each new broadcast, but Waters’ musical reproach was unrelenting, yet artful and poignant. Without voices of sanity, this would have been a much harder year than it turned out to be.
24. Waxahatchee, Out In The Storm (Merge)
2017 was a great year for women in music… St. Vincent, Lydia Loveless, Kesha, Mavis, Sharon Jones, This Is Kit, Feist, Aimee Mann, Rhiannon Giddens all had solid, if not great releases. Katie Crutchfield’s band Waxahatchee (named for a Creek in Alabama) was this year’s strong revelation, carrying echoes of Julie Hatfield and Liz Phair. Bold guitars and a strong voice together with compelling pop/rock songs… it’s keeper.
23. Ty Segall, Ty Segall (Drag City)
In a year where keyboards, synths, loops and studio acumen seemed to dominate music across genres, be they pop, rock and indie efforts, I have more often than not clamored for loud, artfully played electric guitar. I will not go quietly into that good night. So, aside from listening to all my old favorites – from Clapton and Allman Bros. to Wilco and 77’s – I have found great solace in this new album guitarist Ty Segall, which was artfully produced by Steve Albini, best remembered for his work with Nirvana. Segall follows all the obvious guitar hero rock star heroes, contributes his own unique take, and the songs are solid enough in the classic rock vein to carry the weight of his more edgy soloing. It’s a treat for these guitar hungry ears.
22. Portugal. The Man, Woodstock (Atlantic)
This album from Portland modern rock borrows its name from the original rock festival, and includes a bit of Ritchie Haven’s ad libbed chant, “Freedom” in the opening track. Of course, the band’s ever-present single, “Feel It Still,” has been omnipresent throughout the year, but as ear-worms go, I’m not complaining. The album reveals this 5-piece band’s innovative approach throughout, mixing traditional instrumentation with all the studio tricks of the trade to produce a compelling blend of unique sounds, with a very accessible pop feel.
21. Spoon, Hot Thoughts (Matador)
I think it might have been about the 999th time that I heard “Hot Thoughts,” okay maybe it was the second time, it occurred to me that Austin band Spoon were modern rock’s answer to Steely Dan. Admittedly, they’re missing the jazz-influenced lead guitar solos, but that comparison works in lots of other ways, and at least to me it’s a compliment. Of course, in the current sexual harassment crisis titles like “Do I Have to Talk You Into It,” “First Caress” and “Can I Sit Next to You,” sound a little racier and daring than they did when the disc first surfaced back in the Spring. There’s a lot more keyboards here than on the last one, which I admit missing a bit, but this album has been a reliably enjoyable treat throughout much of the year.
20. Grizzly Bear, Painted Ruins (RCA)
Grizzly Bear first crossed my musical radar when they were reported as opening for a Radiohead tour in 2008, and then released their third album, Veckatimest, to critical acclaim. Chances are if they’d been quicker in following up their 2012 album, Shields, we’d no longer be referring to them as “indie rock.” But here, they returned after a five-year absence, with another compelling collection of experimental rock that mixes styles and influences in a way that feels completely unique to their combined efforts, from their strong vocal harmonies, to the band’s robust compositional interests. “Mourning Sound” earned the band immediate attention on alternative satellite radio, and the album more than lives up to one’s highest expectations.
19. The National, Sleep Well Beast (4AD)
There’s an austere, even stark, literate yet distant quality to Cincinnati band The National’s music that doesn’t make it immediately accessible, but there are satisfying pay offs like the amazing hook in “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” that gives these thoroughly modern compositions an emotional connection. Other songs, especially “Day I Die” and “Walk It Back,” feel more immediate, but the punchier rhythm on the former hides the more challenging lyrics of loss and anticipation, while the heaviness in the second holds a mirror up to political and social life in our country. This is art rock for the coming new age, a compelling piece of music to say the least.
18. Todd Rundgren, White Night (Cleopatra)
Now I’ve been a card-carrying member of the “In Todd We Trust” club since I came across Something/Anything in 1972 when I was 15 years old, so it’s no surprise to find Rundgren on my best of the year list just about any time he gets around to make a full-length album. I would argue, though, that White Knight is a superior effort from an artist and producer that has made some of the best, and most popular (although definitely not the same thing) albums in rock history. Of course, “Tin Foil Hat,” a duet with Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, got most of the attention, since it’s a no holds barred take down of President Trump’s love of conspiracy theories. But Rundgren collaborates not only with some classic rock friends like Joe Walsh, Daryl Hall, and Joe Satriani, but also with Trent Reznor, Euro-soul artist Robyn, and includes rap with KK Watson and Dam-Funk, and Moe Berg. While I miss his guitar playing, on this keyboard, synth and loop dominated record, the songwriting and sounds are first class, yet again.
17. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile, Lotta Sea Lice (Matador)
The coming together of Australian singer songwriter Courtney Barnett, who made a pretty impressive splash with her 2015 debut (Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit), and singer songwriter Kurt Vile, formerly guitar player for The War On Drugs, feels so natural, comfortable and unassuming, that you might suspect it was effortless. Their similar styles of speak/singing their lyrics in almost too relaxed a way, might tempt you to overlook the smart use of language in their songs, and the great guitar songs that show up in track after track. While all the songs feature the duo singing in duet, they write separately, and also cover one of the album’s strongest songs, “Fear Is Like a Forest,” written by Barnett’s romantic partner Jen Cloher, and a fun song by Belly’s Tanya Donnelly, “Untogether.” A lovely project that leaves me hoping they continue to work together.
16. Kesha, Rainbow (Kemosabe/RCA)
As the title suggests, Kesha’s return is a resurrection story, complete with a heroine narrative where she overcomes a wicked Svengali, only to win on her own terms. While she’s played down her hip-hop party anthems, in favor of pop songs, she’s still delivering plenty of attitude (and explicit language) even on songs that celebrate her spiritual side. This is solid songwriting, and her voice rings true, carrying the rich emotions with musical power, and importantly authenticity. Add in two songs with the Eagles of Death Metal, an appearance of the Dap-King Horns, and a country weeper duet with Dolly Parton, and you’re on to something special. But what lifts Rainbow above the rest of the pop pack is Kesha’ self-deprecating sense of humor at times, while still affirming her own brand of kick-ass feminism and self-reliance. Pity to kid whose parents bought a “safe” version with the stronger language censored, it wouldn’t make any sense at all.
15. Cheap Trick, We’re All Right (Big Machine)
I have given up entirely on chasing the Next Big Thing. Everybody’s got one good idea, it takes talent, will and effort to shape that idea into something people can appreciate and care about. Everybody thinks they can write music reviews, and I’m sure anyone willing to make the effort can write a solid, smart and attentive review with cute phrases and creative word choices. But show me a writer who can still capture my imagination without succumbing to lowest common denominator clichés after writing 1000 reviews, and I’ll know you’re on to something. There’s something to be said for longevity, for staying with your original vision, and the drive to keep doing what you love doing long after that early gloss of interest has faded. You could make the argument that Cheap Trick could have stopped recording after Cheap Trick at Budokan, and could still be traveling the retro circuit replaying “I Want You to Want Me” and “Surrender” until the cows come home. Obviously, guitarist Rick Nielson and singer Robin Zander, both in their 60s, are not ready to call it quits, and We’re All Right is a great rock album with solid vocal hooks and great guitar playing from start to finish. They rock here as hard as they ever did, they haven’t mellowed a lick. Respect.
14. Steve Earle & The Dukes, So You Wannabe An Outlaw (Warner Bros.)
I had to overcome a country music blind-spot over the years, like back when Uncle Tupelo started covering traditional artists and not just The Stooges. And then of course, Emmylou Harris, I mean, what kind of fool do you have to be to not love Emmylou Harris? The first time I saw Steve Earle he was opening for Los Lobos, and his country roots were buried deep in his band’s rock & roll attitude and serious musical chops. As I kept listening, and followed this great songwriter back to his early roots, and mentor Townes Van Zandt, another Uncle Tupelo connection, I dropped the pretense and started listening to the good country music, which you can spot wherever you see the names Earle, Harris, Cash, Nelson, Jennings, Haggard, Clark, Buddy Miller, Lucinda Williams, and more. This one is another fine album chock full of great songs, embracing his outlaw country bona fides with aplomb. It’s a winner.
13. The Mountain Goats, Goths (Merge)
Singer-songwriter John Darnielle is the kind of quirky that makes my appreciation of his writing a complete no brainer. His writing is literate, clever and funny in a sad way, or is that sad in a funny way. In the past he’s written entire albums of songs based on some of the most obscure, awkward, and even strange verses of scripture in the Bible (The Life of the World to Come), the band’s last album, Beat the Champ) celebrates the world of pro wrestling, and here his vivid imagination is brought into focus by the music of 80’s bands like Sisters of Mercy, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Cure, and of course The Smiths, and the people like him who loved them. The music is accessible folk rock, with solid melodies that can carry the weight of Darnielle’s lovely lyrics. You just gotta love an artist with high “Unicorn Tolerance,” it’s the right thing to do.
12. Filthy Friends, Invitation (Kill Rock Stars)
When Corin Tucker sings “holding on to the past won’t make it repeat/time to get up, I think you’re in my seat,” in the opening track of the Filthy Friends debut, she and her veteran rocker band-mates – Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey and Bill Rieflin who toured with R.E.M. – have every reason to leave the past behind them. Besides their own past work, you can hear echoes or tributes to bands like Television, The Pixies, Pretenders, and others. Welcome to the new golden age of alternative rock & roll.
11. Lo Tom, Lo Tom (Barsuk)
The coming together of David Bazan and Tim Walsh of Pedro the Lion and Jason Martin and Trey Many of Starflyer 59, on the 8 songs of this debut, feels so natural and organic, so simple and obvious, that you have to wonder why they haven’t been making this music for a long time, and why they haven’t made more of it. Solid, unpretentious, straight-forward, melodic guitar rock this good is becoming an endangered species, so let’s work to save them from extinction.
10. Robert Plant, Carry Fire, (Nonesuch)
There’s something courageous and charming about the fact that Robert Plant has refused (so far) to cash in on a Led Zeppelin tour and hit the road making Rolling Stones and U2 money. Now, if he breaks down and does that tour, I’ll be looking at the second mortgage option to purchase good seats just like every other classic rocker in my age group, but I love that Plant’s more interested in making new music and reinventing his Zep rockers in a more organic, acoustic formation with his band the Sensational Shape Shifters, with whom he creates rootsy, Americana folk, country, rock & gospel, with a subtle jam band vibe. And his voice is still a thing of wonder at 69 years of age.
9. Bruce Cockburn, Bone on Bone (True North)
It’s been 6 years since we’ve heard new music from the Canadian (currently living in San Francisco) folk/rock/world music singer-songwriter guitarist, so it is pleasure to hear this artful poet/musician return with such an energetic and fun album. His singing voice, at 72, feels bold if ragged, and his creativity and sense of humor remain evident in “Stab at Matter” and “Al Purdy’s.” His world class acoustic finger-picking can be heard on the instrumental title track, and his renewed comfort with the spiritual finds its way into “40 Years in the Wilderness,” “Jesus Train” and “12 Gates to the City.”
8. U2, Songs of Experience (Interscope)
The whole first week this album was available, people all over the internet were having lengthy discussions of the Irish rockers’ artistic viability, and the status of this latest project in their lengthy career, and more often than not I find myself defending the band’s continued evolution, and not just because they’ve been a favorite of mine since the early 80’s when I first heard “I Will Follow.” So, since I’m long past the idea of appearing cool, I’ll just admit that the more I hear that corny pop rock single “You’re the Best Thing About Me,” from the opening crunchy guitar chords, to Bono’s admission that “shooting off my mouth/that’s another great thing about me,” the more I’m enjoying it. And it’s far from the best thing on this album. To be honest, I wanted more Achtung noise of the band this time around, so I’m drawn to both “The Blackout” and “Red Flag Day,” but “Summer of Love” and “The Little Things That Give You Away” maybe two of their best songs in quite a while… but hey, I liked Songs of Innocence a lot too.
7. The New Pornographers, Whiteout Conditions (Concord)
Each album from the Vancouver artist’s collective that is The New Pornographers, which brings together Carl Newman, Neko Case, and a bunch of other players with their own projects and side-bands, is a power-pop delight, and Whiteout Conditions, with its high energy embrace of fun Euro-beat techno-pop.
6. Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound (Southeastern)
Surely the title of Isbell’s sixth studio album is intended to be ironic, given the state of modern commercial country music, of which I’m no fan. But Isbell is all about the songwriting, and again and again here he rises far above expectations with creative imagery, honest-to-life story-telling, and a poignant point of view that we need more of in the current culture wars and political divisions. “Molotov” and “If We Were Vampires” are two of the most creative takes on a love song concept that you’ll hear in any year. And, “White Man’s World” takes a “woke” look at privilege, while “Hope the High Road” and “Something to Love” close out the album with hopeful anthems in a world that could use a few of those. Oh, and musically the band rocks when they want to, and they can play it sweet, sad, and lonesome when that’s what the lyrics require.
5. Manchester Orchestra, A Black Mile to the Surface (Loma Vista)
With this fifth studio album, the Atlanta-based, Manchester Orchestra has continued to mature, creating lush cinematic musical settings for Andy Hull’s character studies that seem to center around the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment that is located a mile deep under the town of Lead, South Dakota. This is artful, alternative rock, and one of the strongest albums of the year.
4. The War On Drugs, A Deeper Understanding (Atlantic)
While the lush musical landscapes and soaring guitar melodies of Adam Granduciel and friends seem to recall an earlier time, the 80’s perhaps. Often striking an ethereal, even transcendent vibe, TWoD’s combined musicianship made this one of the most beautiful, and satisfying listens of the year.
3. Afghan Whigs, In Spades (Sub Pop)
I admit I’ve always been a sucker for Greg Dulli; three of my favorite albums in the 90’s were Gentlemen, Black Love, and 1965 by the Afghan Whigs. His mix of hard rock textures, post-punk attitude, and a deep appreciation of R&B creates compelling, often emotionally rich music, and In Spades is no exception. While guitars can dominate the sound, the occasional violin, cello and piano bring unexpected textures to the fore in a most pleasing way.
2. Queens of the Stone Age, Villains (Matador)
With all the “rock is dead” chatter, and the resurgence of synths/keyboards in pop music, I find myself craving guitar rock all the more for its cultural decline, and no CD rock me as intensely or a consistently this year than this one. The rhythms are more upbeat, and the attitude more aggressive than on the previous outing, …Like Clockwork. Josh Hommes & Co. feel more lose, and playful, even on scary, dark rockers like “Head Like a Haunted House” and “The Evil Has Landed,” and on the disc’s big single “The Way You Used to Do,” they hit an irresistible groove that I wanted to keep returning to.
And, my No. 1 album of 2017:
St. Vincent, Masseduction (Loma Vista)
in 2017, there wasn’t a more artistically interesting and musically satisfying work than Masseduction by St. Vincent, aka Annie Clark. There’s a strong performance artist quality to her work which takes the critical pulse of modern culture in a way reminiscent of Laurie Anderson, but with uncanny pop sensibilities that shine through songs like “Los Ageless, “Sugarboy” and the title track. But it’s her artful musicality and capacity to bring diverse approaches to her craft, noteworthy here on “Happy Birthday, Johnny,” “New York,” and the album’s haunted closing suite, “Slow Disco / Smoking Section,” that put her in the league alongside David Byrne, David Bowie and Beck.
1. The Machine That Made Us Flotation by Toy Warning: 13 years between their debut and sophomore releases was an excessively long wait, but damn, it was worth it. It is a strange, wondrous and a beautifully compelling album. Joyous and heartbreaking all at once. LIYL: Grandaddy, Sparklehorse, Neutral Milk Hotel.
2. A Hairshirt of Purpose by Pile: Most bands would have peaked after releasing a record like Dripping, but Pile just keeps churning out some of the best rock music of this decade. If this album is not in your top five albums of 2017, you should probably reevaluate your taste in music. LIYL: Pixies, Jesus Lizard, Pavement
3. All Aboard by Washer: One of the best post-grunge albums of 2017. Brooklyn duo, Kieran McShane and Mike Quigley, expand and improve their sound with this excellent sophomore effort. Massive hooks and endlessly catchy. LIYL: Grass is Green, Big Ups, Pile, Bad History Month.
4. Farnham by Baked: An absolute delight from beginning to end. It is equal parts heavy, fuzzy, striped-down, emotional, desolate, warm and ceaselessly charming. LIYL: Silver Jews, Swirlies, 90’s era Sub Pop bands.
5. Uncontrollable Salvation by Pardoner: A fantastic blend of fuzzy power noise slathered with skewed guitars, impeccable pop moments and an abundance of shoegaze noise. LIYL: Swirlies, Polvo, Sonic Youth.
6. Make Mine Tuesday by Rick Rude: Make Mine Tuesday is a stunning debut album that is sure to make people who love Built to Spill swoon. LIYL: Built to Spill, Heartless Bastards, The Pauses.
7. The Universe and Me by Tobin Sprout: Tobin Sprout’s return with his first solo record since 2010 is a real treasure and was well worth the wait. LIYL: Guided By Voices, Eyesinweasel, The Beatles
8. August by Cake by Guided by Voices: Uncle Bob and company take the Cake with this release. The contributions from the other band members helped make this album diverse and even more memorable. LIYL: The Replacements, Cheap Trick, The Who
9. One by Dove Lady: One is a wildly unpredictable debut album. This DC duo will assail your senses with some caustic bursts of noise rock infused with moments of post-hardcore, experimental jazz and even some R&B. LIYL: Slint, Fugazi, Chavez, Pixies.
10. Clean Feeling by PLAX: This Austin-based quasi-punk band may have released the best indie-punk/hardcore album of 2017. Twitchy and heavy in perfect doses. LIYL: Spray Paint, OBN IIIs, Skeleton and Sweet Talk.
11. Ignite the Rest by R. Ring: Kelley Deal and Mike Montgomery join forces for their debut LP. It is so good that I have quit whining about wanting another Breeders LP…almost. LIYL: Breeders, The Amps.
12. Pleasure Suck by The Spirit of the Beehive: This album emits a warm druggy vibe that is part slacker rock, lo-fi DIY and psychedelic sensation all rolled into one. LIYL: Midlake, Enon, Pavement
13. Dichotomy Desaturated by CFM: Charles Francis Moothart continues to branch out on his second solo LP. Dichotomy Desaturated is all about mind-expanding riffs and creating an exhilarating blend of garage/stoner/punk rock. LIYL: Meatbodies, Ty Segall, Fuzz.
14. Slap Bass Hunks by Christian Fitness: Slap Bass Hunks is another slice of edgy, post-hardcore heaven. Gritty production weaved in with Falkous’ biting and wry wit. LIYL: Future of the Left, Mclusky
15. Brutalism by Idles: More angry post-hardcore music from the UK. This band really rips into the state of things. LIYL: Sleaford Mods, Christian Fitness, Future of the Left.
16. Alice by Meatbodies: Chad Ubovich (Fuzz, Mikal Cronin) Kevin Boog and Patrick Nolan have created a thoroughly entertaining, fuzzed out album that blends bits of 70’s era Pink Floyd with heavy garage rock. LIYL: Ty Segall, Wand, Fuzz Mikal Cronin.
17. Occult Architecture, Vol. 1 by Moon Duo: Moon Duo have a heavy psychedelic krautrock sound that is layered with clever flourishes of synth and rhythmic drumming. LIYL: Wooden Shjips
18. Last Place by Grandaddy: Jason Lytle and the gang return and feel like they never left. A warm and charming LP. Grandaddy is just good for your soul. LIYL: Jason Lytle, Sparklehorse
19. Twitching in Time by Elf Power: One of the more resilient acts from the fabled Elephant Six Collective, Elf Power is still making incredible music. Their blend of psychedelic power pop remains timeless and always welcome. LIYL: The Elephant 6 Collective.
20. Thawing Dawn by A. Savage: Andrew Savage of Parquet Courts released a fine solo album this year. A nice slice of crooning, Americana rock. LIYL: Parquet Courts, Teenage Cool Kids
21. How Do You Spell Heaven Guided By Voices: The second release for GBV in 2017. Uncle Bob still has plenty of hits left in the tank. Looking forward to more in 2018! LIYL: Robert Pollard
22. Shame Spiral USA Nails: Heavy noise rock from the UK. Relentless music for people who do not mind some bracing music. LIYL: Future of the Left, Running, Christian Fitness
23. Last Laugh by Circus Devils: If this is the last Circus Devils LP we ever get, Pollard and Tobias ended things on a high note. Do the Nixon is a new American classic. LIYL: Pollard, GBV.
24. I’m Even Younger Now Graham Repulski: Lo-fi auteur Graham Repulski follows up 2016’s triple album release with a concise slab of psychedelic noise rock. The results are as jarring as they are accessible. LIYL: GBV, Robert Pollard
25. Self-Checkout by Telepathic: Some catchy and wonderful psychedelic punk from Philadelphia. LIYL: Superchunk
Honorable Mentions/Odds and Ends: Contributors Contributors; Mythical Motors Running the Shine; Smug Brothers Disco Maroon; King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard Flying Microtonal Banana; Big Heet On A Wire; Rectangle Creep Is Taking Drugs; Daniele Luppi & Parquet Courts Milano; Pissed Jeans Why Love Now ; Ty Segall Self-Titled; Spare Snare Unicorn; Bad History Month Dead and Loving It; Birds of Avalon Operator’s Midnight; Dove Lady E (EP); SLEEPiES Melt To You (EP); Exploding In Sound Records Live at Shea Stadium (Live Comp); Grandaddy Under the Western Freeway (Reissue); Future of the Left Live at the Garage (Live) and Graham Repulski The Photographer is Upset (EP) and a slew of Honey Radar singles.
1. Craig Finn, We All Want The Same Things: Craig Finn’s colorful third solo record is as much as a sonic evolution as it is a perfect annunciation of the messages and themes Finn has spent two decades working to articulate. Released at the peak of our cultural outrage and societal dysfunction, it’s an anachronistically human record that unfolds in stark, plain-spoken beauty, cutting though the frustrations of modern American living and making our collective desperation seem warm, familiar and temporary — or at least survivable. Hell, with songs like these, anything’s survivable.
2. The Menzingers, After The Party: After The Party is a career achievement that blends Sprinsteenian storytelling, AC/DC guitars and genuine lyrical reflection on aging, identity and the loneliness of the punk lifestyle. Songs like “Charlie’s Army,” “Lookers” and “Thick as Thieves” invite memories of joyous, glorious old school rock and roll, effortlessly weaving together instantly-memorable guitar licks, poppy choruses and compelling stories. The record is filled with with an infectious sense of fun rarely found on punk releases today.
3. Sorority Noise, You’re Not As______As You Think: With the band’s tension and contradictions proudly on full display, and with enough reflective content to connect with thousands of new fans, You’re Not As______As You Think raises the exact questions Sorority Noise ought to be raising at this point in their career: Is it possible to have this much fun while feeling this sad? Is it possible to feel this alive while so consumed with death? On You’re Not As ______ As You Think, the only answer is “Of course.”
4. The National, Sleep Well Beast: For the persnickety few those who’ve been willing to nitpick the Brooklyn indie rockers’ sterling discography, “doesn’t use enough electronic elements” hasn’t been among the usual criticisms. But nonetheless, and to a surprisingly successful effect, Matt Berninger and co. sprinkle bleeps and bloops all over their solitudinous seventh record to deliver a listening experience as cold, quiet and lonesome as the cabin that dominates its cover art.
5. Richard Edwards, Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset: On his first solo record, Richard Edwards proves himself a quiet master of the songwriting craft, penning wistful, longing melody after melody. Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset is an independent, singular work of anguish and vulnerability; Richard Edwards has been to hell and back, this accomplished release chronicles his torment in painstaking, lilting detail.
6. Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile, Lotta Sea Lice: One of the most genuinely pleasant surprises of the year, Lotta Sea Lice is an indie rock dream, loaded with jangly guitars and warm, friendly harmonies. The sweet adorability to Barnett and Vile’s lazy, giggly chemistry makes Lotta Sea Lice utterly irresistible.
7. Lorde, Melodrama: Lorde’s sophomore act is exquisite and original; a moody, groovy New Wave dance record that explores youth and young womanhood with fearless vulnerability.
8. Brand New, Science Fiction: Science Fiction is haunting and solemn; rather than menace listeners with blistering yelps and screaming guitars, Lacey and company opt to spread out their message across lush, polished soundscapes and let them soak in over the course of the record. It’s both a fitting return and a near-perfect ending.
9. Sean Rowe, New Lore: If not for Sean Rowe’s voice, the most effective, emotionally-loaded moments of New Lore would the record’s well-placed moments of silence. Composed mostly with quiet guitars, delicate pianos and minimal percussion, the songs of New Lore breathe in these instances, inviting moments of melancholy, contemplation and somber reflection. Sean Rowe makes a strong, dramatic and innovative entry into the alt-folk genre and continues to solidify his position as one of its most talented songwriters.
10. Queen Moo, Mean Well: Clocking in at just under thirty minutes, Mean Well, the second full-length release from Connecticut band Queen Moo, reinvents rock ‘n’ roll in ways you didn’t know you needed. The four piece accomplishes the admirable–and previously unfathomable–feat of balancing no-holds-barred rock with obscure jazz and big band influences without breaking a sweat or cracking under their own artistic heft.
1. Protomartyr – Relatives In Descent
2. Slowdive – Slowdive
3. King Krule – The OOZ
4. (Sandy) Alex G – Rocket
5. The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
6. Guided By Voices – August By Cake
7. Pile – A Hair Shirt Of Purpose
8. Ty Segall – Ty Segall
9. The National – Sleep Well Beast
10. Jay Som – Everybody Works
11. Needles//Pins – Good Night, Tomorrow
12. Kelley Stoltz – Que Aura
13. OMNI – Multi-task
14. METZ – Strange Peace
15. Lost Balloons – Hey Summer
20. Six Organs of Admittance – Burning The Threshold
19. Mastodon – Emperor of Sand
18. Feral Ohms – Feral Ohms
17. Pile – A Hair Shirt of Purpose
16. Zola Jesus – Okovi
15. The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
14. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Polygondwanaland
13. The Black Angels – Death Songs
12. Ty Segall – Ty Segall
11. Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up
10. Once And Future Band – Once And Future Band
8. Pissed Jeans – Why Love Now
7. Elder – Reflections of a Floating World
6. CFM – Dichotomy Desaturated
5. The National – Sleep Well Beast
4. ORB – Naturality
3. Japanese Breakfast – Soft Sounds From Another Planet
2. Julien Baker – Turn Out The Lights
1. Richard Edwards – Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset
1. Guided By Voices-How Do You Spell Heaven, August By Cake
2. The Afghan Whigs-In Spades
3. Ron Gallo-Heavy Meta
4. The Stevens-Good
5. Elder-Reflections of a Floating World
6. Grandaddy-Last Place
7. Spinning Coin-Permo
8. Lost Balloons-Hey Summer
9. The Bats-The Deep Set
10. Deep State-Thought Garden
11. LCD Soundsystem-American Dream
12. Cende-#1 Hit Single
13. The Dream Syndicate-How Did I find Myself Here?
14. Ty Segall- Ty Segall
15. Cairo Gang-Untouchable
17. Bash & Pop-Anything Could Happen
18. Old 97’s-Graveyard Whistling
20. Tobin Sprout-The Universe and Me
22. The Rubs-Impossible Dream
24. Rick Rude-Make Mine Tuesday
25. Washer-All Aboard
1) Guided By Voices “How Do You Spell Heaven”
2) Broken Social Scene “Hug Of Thunder”
3) Deerhoof “Mountain Moves”
4) Grizzly Bear “Painted Ruins”
5) Liars “TFCF”
6) The National “Sleep Well Beast”
7) King Gizzrd & The Lizard Wizard “Murder Of The Universe”
8) Flotation Toy Warning “The Machine That Made Us”
9) The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die “Always Foreign”
10) Godspeed You! Black Emperor “Luciferian Towers”
11) The Mountain Goats “Goths”
12) Waxahatchee “Out In The Storm”
13) Wolf Parade “Cry Cry Cry”
14) Do Make Say Think “Stubborn Persistent Illusions”
15) St. Vincent “Masseducation”
16) Stars “These Is No Love In Flourescent Light”
17) Guided By Voices “August By Cake”
18) Temples “Volcano”
19) Fleet Foxes “Crack-Up”
20) Sparks “Hippopotamus”
Top 15 “New Music” Releases
1. Guided by Voices – August By Cake
2. Tobin Sprout – The Universe And Me
3. Lo Tom – S/T
4. Iron & Wine – Beast Epic
5. Guided by Voices – How Do You Spell Heaven
6. Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up
7. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers
8. V/A – Soul Slabs vol. 1
9. Circus Devils – Laughs Last
10. St. Vincent – Masseduction
11. The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
12. Robert Plant – Carry Fire
13. Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, & James McAlister – Planetarium
14. R. Ring – Ignite The Rest
15. Roger Waters – Is This The Life We Really Want?
Honorable Mentions: Brian Eno – Reflection, Bob Dylan – Triplicate, The National – Sleep Well Beast, Father John Misty – Pure Comedy, Ride – Weather Diaries, Chomper – Medicine Mountain, Ty Segall – S/T, Once & Future Band – S/T
Top 10 Archival & Reissue Releases:
1. Bob Dylan – Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series vol. 13 (box set)
2. King Crimson – Sailors’ Tales (box set)
3. Grateful Dead – May 1977: Get Shown The Light (box set)
4. V/A – Brown Acid: The Fourth Trip & The Fifth Trip
5. The Beach Boys – 1967: Sunshine Tomorrow
6. V/A – Transparent Days: West Coast Nuggets
7. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Lovely Creatures (box set)
8. Chris Bell – The Complete Chris Bell (box set)
9. V/A – Wayfaring Strangers: Acid Nightmares
10. Can – The Singles
Honorable Mentions: The Creation – Action Painting, V/A – Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs Present: English Weather, Grateful Dead – Dave’s Picks vol. 21, Grateful Dead – Dave’s Picks vol. 23, V/A – Seafaring Strangers: Private Yacht
LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
The reunion album to end all reunion albums. James Murphy reconvenes his beloved LCD Soundsystem project and the results are that of a grisled beast, the dark computer chip. Paranoia, intended and deliberate doom that you could still shake your ass too. This is what 2017 sounded like.
Big Thief – Capacity
The songwriter of the year for me. When I saw Big Thief live this summer at Pickathon, lead singer songwriter Adrianne Lenker was so inward, it was hard for her to project the usual persona of performance. Her songs come from a dark and personal place, fiction and fact blending and twisting. A more varied outing than their debut, Masterpiece, the songs on Capacity grind their way down into the deep tissue of our muscles.
Kendrick Lamar – Damn
The way the album folds on itself, with bits of narrative cut up and split through the 12 tracks on Damn, Kendrick reaches new heights of storytelling and mood that culminates in the masterful track Duckworth.
Kevin Morby – City Music
These songs appear lightweight and fun when one first hears this, but with Morby’s deadpan delivery, there’s an unease about this record that really stuck to me. It was hard to not be enthralled by the simple pleasures of Morby’s City Music.
Waxahatchee – Out in the Storm
Fourth album from Katie Crutchfield broadens her sound a bit, in this unflinchingly defiant record, driving songs about all the things she’s going through. She’s been on a roll lately, with each release showing more of her strengths as a songwriter, this summer I simply couldn’t stop listening.
The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
The arrangements haven’t changed much, but where 2014’s Lost in the Dream was a standard edition car, 2017’s A Deeper Understanding is a luxury model.
Alvvays – Antisocialites
The love affair starts the first time you put on ‘In Undertow’, the opening track on their sophomore release, Antisocialites. The kind of song you could hear everyday for the rest of your life, and on this second album, they find the perfect balance between sweet vocals and arrangements that support their ever-expanding vision. It’s a classic sound that relies on the chirp of old country music, the sweet vocal spot of Kirsty Maccoll and Tanya Donnelly. It’s timeless.
Bonny Doon – Bonny Doon
Heard about this from a friend who’s a music publicist, and there it so much Bonny Doon draw from on their debut. It’s a lazy summer afternoon of a record, perfect for lying in a hammock by the river. “What time is it in Portland?” became an instant favorite.
Samphia – Process
Piano and vocals that sound like cracked open R & B because that’s what it is. It’s highly spiritual stripped down music, as intensely uplifting as it is jaw droppingly gorgeous.
Ryan Adams – Prisoner
The guy might get a bit of stick for being more style than substance, but on his upteenth album, Ryan Adams explores the divorce process and offers up 12 more songs that show what a wellspring of inspiration he’s operating with. There’s a yearning to these tracks, they go in deep and describe the way he felt about his recent divorce, and sonically he has never sounded as assured as he does here.
Sandy (Alex G.) – Rocket
An album that came straight out of left field, a record to fall in love with, for sure. Folk meets lo fi experimental which could be a mess if it was in less skillful hands, but Sandy (Alex G.) delivers one of the albums of the year, it’s sheer unpredictability will have you reaching for the repeat button.
Fleet Foxes – The Crack Up
There’s so much to digest on the Fleet Foxes third album, you’d be forgiven if you gave it an initial pass, but stick around and you’ll be privy to the expansive gorgeous harmonies that haunted their first two albums. LIke before but deeper, longer and stronger.
Slowdive – Slowdive
Slowdive pick up not quite where they left off with 1998’s Pygmalion, but instead opt for the sound of the band smack dab between 1991’s Just for a Day and 1993’s Souvlaki, and what’s amazing is how well they pull off the classic sound. Its as if the band went back in time and turned left where before they turned right. It’s sublime.
Bjork – Utopia
The Icelandic wonder returns to a more joyous, ebullient sound on a record about dating and falling in love.
Elbow – Little Fictions
From start to finish, their best album. Lead singer Guy Garvey’s voice is a joy to behold.
Julien Baker – Turn out the Lights
The Parson Red Heads – Blurred Harmony
On Blurred Harmony, Portland, OR’s Parson Red Heads try on several styles and manage to add fresh insight into a variety of sounds. One spin and you’ll be convinced.
The Afghan Whigs – In Spades
It took seeing them play songs of this album live to convince me that this album was one of the best of the year. Even without their recently deceased guitarist David Rossiter, Greg Dulli has once again made some of the best music of his career out of tragic events.
The National – Sleep Well Beast
Shout Out Louds – Ease My Mind
1) The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
2) Perfume Genius – No Shape
3) Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder
4) Thundercat – Drunk
5) Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
6) The xx – I See You
7) Girlpool – Powerplant
8) The New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions
9) Laura Marling – Semper Femina
10) Spoon – Hot Thoughts
11) Waxahatchee – Out in the Storm
12) Cage the Elephant – Unpeeled
These albums would have probably made the list but I didn’t spend more time with them:
Hurray for the Riff Raff
- Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – “She’s There” [Video] - March 31, 2020
- Kedama: The Complete Collection (3LP Aqua, Gold, Mint | Limited Copies) - February 17, 2020
- This Pine Box: The Way Out (Fall Swirl Vinyl | 100 Copies) - January 4, 2019