My Favorite Albums of 2017
2017 was a pretty whack year for new music, but there were some real gems.
Kauf – Regrowth
Probably my album of the year, but that bias comes from the salivatingly long wait for its arrival. Kauf’s music occupies a certain nexus of unconventional pop, sophisticated dance, and provocative lyrics that blend into a package of resonant, meditative, danceable, mix-tape-worthy tracks. Sophisticated, yes, but more importantly: addictingly repeatable.
If you only listen to one thing, make it “Through the Yard”.
Tender – Modern Addiction
Fine-boned synth pop that layers persuasive vocals onto melodramatic arrangments and boxes it all into well-tread pop structures. There are few bold statements, but plenty of color, textures and emotion that suggests this debut album is only a hint of the potential.
Com Truise – Iteration
If your heart is warmed by the synthwave trend, you know Com Truise, perhaps the most musically articulate artist dwelling in the neon-diode-joystick vibe. Where his last album was the soundtrack to every memory ever made in 1983, Iteration is a more refined outing with far sharper details; a soundtrack to the movie about the nostalgia of 1983. But the core of Com Truise remains: expressive humanism through a purely electronic medium.
Ryuichi Sakamoto – async
This difficult ambient-experimental album plows a glowing path through a field of darkness, effortlessly weaving bright organic notes with dissonant layers of noise and off-tone electronics. Melodramatic, yes, but immaculately conceived.
Here’s the opening track, “Andata”.
Nick Hoppner – Work
House music done right. Nothing innovative, but every beat, synth stab and sample locks into eminently addictive grooves. Worthy of both headphones and club systems.
Hugh – Love, Hugh
Straight-up British pop whose hooks bend around a savory and sweet blend of male and female vocals. Every song is a character until itself, with little sonic plot twists and tension that illuminate the depth of thinking (and, perhaps, bittersweet stories) behind the songwriting. It’s danceable, but also thinkable.
Here’s “Go”, the lead single, which captures the emotional groove this record locks into.
Various – Magnatron 2.0
Speaking of synthwave, this is pretty much the apex. You either get on the train and dance til dawn or run away as fast as possible. This comp just kills it. Here’s just one sample:
Daniel Pemberton – King Author: Legend of the Sword (soundtrack)
Daniel Permberton has created an utterly unique folk-tribal-industrial onslaught that pounds and dodges across a spectrum of grit, shadow, hope and revenge. The surgical sound design, innovative sampling and layers of percussion as dense as the atmospheres of Jupiter are so shockingly fresh that it’s almost impossible not to listen with jaws dropped. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is the most interesting soundtracked soundtrack since Tron: Legacy.
Spend three minutes on “Growing Up in Londinium” and grok it.
Yazz Ahmed – La Saboteuse
Jazz is, almost by definition, a process of invention and iteration. The most memorable performances and performers are never capable of rehashing — it’s always a drive to fill a sonic hole only they can hear. Yazz Ahmed has created a near-perfect articulation of her vision: a blend of her elegant trumpet work, layers of Middle Eastern percussion, touches of electronics as delicate as saffron, and an unrepentant boldness in melody. It is fresh, persistent and as relevant as ever.
Anticipated albums that fell short
The National – Sleep Well Beast. Technically accomplished with beautiful moments but not nearly the tour de force of the previous three records. My biggest let-down.
Shigeto – The New Monday. Interesting, even slightly innovative house/hip-hop, but light years short of the hype.
Slowdive – Slowdive. Boring.