Jay Som released two great albums in two years, and now there’s a 7” of outtakes from the sessions that resulted in the absolutely unbeatable “Everybody Works.” Both “Pirouette” and “Meet Me Underwater” fit, in terms of quality, with the other songs on that album and have the same kind of energy. “I pray for answers/beneath the moon” Melina Duterte sings, seeking clarity, and then, halfway through, the song leaves the earth and lifts off into space. Incredible.
Big album in every sense. Long, epic songs that swell and subside. A man with a microphone imparting essential info. Attention-getting guitars and drums and bass and synths. A voicemail intro. Inexhaustible energy. POST- feels like a throwback to basement battle-of-the-bands shows, Jets to Brazil, (a little bit of Piebald too, maybe). Catchy songs sung forcefully. Defiance and neck-straining optimism.
2017, what a weird and immiserating year. I felt like I had a hard time paying close attention to music in the same way I have in the past, partly, no doubt, because the world was basically on fire both literally and metaphorically every day, and also because I’m getting older and don’t have the mental energy or acuity to think as intensely about music as I used to. But I was thankful this year, maybe even more so than in years past, for the songs and albums that brought me joy or solace or provided me some distraction.
Anyone looking for better, more comprehensive lists, presented in more coherent ways, would do well to check out the year-end posts by Said the Gramophone, Fluxblog, and Recommended Listen, all of which give great overviews of what was happening in music this year (and will doubtless introduce you to new songs/bands/acts that you may not have heard otherwise).
Here are my favorite songs and albums of 2017, presented in no particular order:
Mount Kimbie – Love What Survives
Photay – Onism
Photay’s Onism is one of my favorite albums of the year. It is endlessly playable. News sounds arranged into new types of songs. Static crackle bent into sheets of fine music. Synthesized animal vocalizations carefully calibrated to harmonize with buzzing radiators. Cosmic background radiation sampled, scrubbed, and used as a foundation for an unfurling and swaggering thing like Off-Piste. I don’t know where these sounds come from, but they’re beautiful and pleasurable. Each song seems like it runs miles deep, there are sounds beneath sounds beneath sounds. Onism feels new, like it’s pushing into a different place. [BUY Onism]
Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder
Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up
Alvvays – Antisocialites
Here is what I wrote about Alvvays’s debut album a couple years ago: Alvvays’s songs grab your interest immediately. And it’s good and fitting to be grateful for that, particularly when there is so much music (now, always) that does little more than float by in the background. Molly Rankin has one of those voices that’s so bright and clear that you can’t ignore it, the kind of voice that you realize in retrospect you’ve been longing to hear.
All of the foregoing continues to be true, and even more true on Antisocialites, the band’s new album. The whole thing is eminently listenable and engrossing. Rankin’s voice seems more present on these songs, whereas on the self-titled there seemed to be at least some layer of separation between her and the listener (compare Plimsoll Punks with Archie, Marry Me and you can hear it: a wall of cushioning haze). This record is filled with magic moments, like this, from Forget About Life: “Did you wanna forget about life/with me tonight/under condominium signs?” a line that, for me, evokes a scene of strong and romantic yearning for elsewhere/otherwise while trapped in hard and pure mundanity and disappointment; Dreams Tonite, a sweet soft juggernaut of awesome beauty; Plimsoll Punks, which feels like it could be an Orange Juice non-album single; the creeping gull-ish squawk of the guitars in Already Gone when Rankin’s singing about the ocean. One of the best albums I’ve heard this year. [BUY Antisocialites]
Jay Som – Everybody Works
Jay Som’s Everybody Works is one of the best albums I’ve heard in 2017. 100% enjoyable from beginning to end. There are the songs that rush, like Take It and 1 Billion Dogs, full of energy and the spirit of Yo La Tengo at their most sprightly; carefully observed songs like The Bus Song, Baybee, and One More Time, Please (which has what sounds like a beautiful little piano move that reminds me of early Microphones tracks); and songs like (BedHead) and For Light that are slow and striking and elegiac. This is an album packed with ideas and awesome melodies and it all flies by so fast. So many good lines too–one that just popped into my head, from Remain, “Our pinkie promises/were never meant for this.”
Everybody Works is that rare type of album that’s both immediately rewarding and stands up to repeated and intense listening. I’ve been listening to the album once a day or more for the past month and a half and I’m still finding new things about it that I love. This album definitely deserves a ton of attention. [BUY Everybody Works]
Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Colin Stetson – All This I Do For Glory
Colin Stetson’s new album, All This I Do For Glory, is an incredible album, and I mean that in the most literal sense: that I cannot believe that music like this exists. The new music seems like a distillation of his aesthetic and his technique, the songs feel sharp and willful and hard and yearning, somehow approaching a limit. When I saw him in concert some time in the fall of 2013, I was awed by what he did alone on stage. From way back in the crowd where I was, his silhouette suggested something more like a volunteer firefighter wrestling a humongous piece of plumbing pipe, but he produced unearthly sounds. All This I Do For Glory is a tremendous achievement, I think that’s fair to say, but not one that everyone will admire, I guess; for me, there’s a lot there, the album is spectacular and I listened to it maybe twice a day for a month. It is absorbing. There’s no one making music quite like this: haunting, urgent, vivid, human, wild. One of the best albums of the year so far. [BUY All This I Do For Glory]
Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins
Waxahatchee – Out in the Storm
Bing & Ruth – No Home of the Mind
Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
Do Make Say Think – Stubborn Persistent Illusions
Spoon – Hot Thoughts
LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
Ellen Arkbro – For Organ and Brass
Hand Habits – Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void)
I like a song as offering, which feels like the case with Hand Habits’ “yr heart.” Song as an extension, an evolution, of something that maybe started as a private message, a poem left on the kitchen table, a little note in the bathroom. This is one of those songs; your understanding of it unfolds as you spend more and more time with it. Gentle and understated at the beginning, the music gradually expands and deepens as the song progresses. Staggeringly beautiful. Just like with Hand Habits’ excellent LP (Wildly Humble (Before the Void)), the songs on the single sneak up on you–all of a sudden, you realize you’ve had these melodies stuck in your head for days. [BUY YR HEART]
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers
The Clientele – Music for the Age of Miracles
The Clientele’s Music for the Age of Miracles is definitely one of my top three or four favorite records this year. I guess it’s not so unbelievable that a band that had a run of classic albums emerged after a long hiatus, suddenly, to drop another great album. Music for the Age of Miracles belongs with Suburban Light, the Violet Hour, and Strange Geometry as one of the band’s masterpieces. This album is packed with incredible lyrics and melodies from start to finish. Alasdair MacLean works magic with a short deck of lyrical fixations: stars, night, wet streets, autumn, headlights, lamps, trees (cypresses, elms) & leaves, and longing; he shuffles these, combines them with quiet and quotidian observations, and produces song after gorgeous song.
After listening to this band for something like 16 years, I finally got to see them live a couple weeks ago, in Seattle. This band is amazing live–it was just the three of them, MacLean, James Hornsey (bass), and Mark Keen (drums). The sound they produced was staggering and the live versions of the new songs they played were almost better than the studio versions. MacLean, who seemed to fingerpick basically all the songs, is definitely underrated as a guitarist. They played a good deal of the new album and mixed in a lot of stuff from the older albums as well.
The Age of Miracles is one of the best tracks on the new album, a freakishly beautiful song with lyrics like this: “Always, tonight, I’m coming home/The Pleiades and the Lyre/Over the cranes, the harbor lanes/The world will end in fire.” There’s something there, and elsewhere–something elegiac and haunted in this album that I think captures a lot of what has felt very prominent this year: a sense that things are emptying out, things are disappearing, things are ending. [BUY Music for the Age of Miracles]
Floating Points – Reflections-Mojave Desert
Los Campesinos! – Sick Scenes
Dmitry Evgrafov – Comprehension of Light
This is all dynamics: delicate and small, then big and audacious; slow, contemplative and calm, until it turns capriciously from one thing to the next. Rootedness is high drama and a beautiful piece of music. It is piano and strings sliding into each other. An overcast day interrupted by shafts of light that break through the low skull-gray sky. Comprehension of Light, by Dmitry Evgrafov, is full of beautiful pieces of music. The album starts off with menace and static and hush, and opens up slowly over the first four tracks. Wandering starts with a friendlier tone, freer and more hospitable (though still down, still grim). From that point Comprehension of Light builds (through digressions, volatility) up to Rootedness, which feels like a kind of climax, and the album dissipates in the vaporous Sattva at the end. This is a great album and such a rich listen. [BUY Comprehension of Light]
Shannon Lay – Living Water
A tidy piece of art. Neat business. Shannon Lay’s Living Water is a great album of voice, guitar (in manifold forms), and strings. With these few simple components, Shannon Lay builds a tiny, quiet world. Living Water is also a supremely autumnal album–I would put it with Archer Prewitt’s White Sky or something like Gravenhurst’s Flashlight Seasons–it has that feel of early sunsets, chilly air, transition. So many of the songs on the album contain surprises: a cache of violin notes here, a burst of electric guitar there, a sudden change in direction. What a sweet voice and what a pleasant diversion. It’s nice to get lost in someone else’s world for a while. [BUY Living Water]
King Krule – The OOZ
NHK yx Koyxen – Exit Entrance
Kelela – Take Me Apart
CCFX – CCFX EP
Gabe Hascall – Trying To Find Out If I’m Lost
I’ve written about Gabe Hascall quite a few times before (here and here on the new blog, plus a couple other times back when this was a sub-domain of another blog). The dude is a consummate songwriter and he’s been releasing great music for a long time now, though it’s been a few years since his last solo album, Love It All. Earlier this year, Hascall put out a sort of odds-and-ends collections called @@@@@, which was filled with fascinating sketches and catchy experiments, much of it along the same lines as what he did on Love It All and some of it recalling Slowreader (his band with Rory Phillips, also his bandmate in The Impossibles). @@@@@ is 35 songs long, so it’s pretty packed and maybe best to digest over several sittings, but it was a good sign–after a couple years of silence, it was clear that Hascall had been busy.
At the beginning of August, he released Trying To Find Out If I’m Lost, which is a polished and tight collection of 13 songs. It’s similar in many ways to Love It All, though it also feels like it’s a refinement of that album’s aesthetic. These are like get-in-and-get-out songs, with most of them coming in at two or two-and-a-half minutes long, all super-catchy. I don’t know if Hascall can write a melody that isn’t memorable or engaging in some way. Synths, a little guitar here and there, simulated drums, and that great voice. It reminds me, in a weird way, of some of Stephen Merritt’s late-90s stuff, like the first 6ths album specifically. Trying to Find Out If I’m Lost is a great album, start to finish. It has a kind of low-key brilliance–all these songs keep getting stuck in my head. [BUY Trying To Find Out If I’m Lost]
Ted Leo – The Hanged Man
Japanese Breakfast – Soft Sounds from Another Planet
Angel Olsen – Phases
Midland – Fabriclive 94
Syd – Fin
Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me
Makaya McCraven – Highly Rare
You might think, like I did when I first heard this song, that this is music as building, as construction; music as hammering, welding, concrete-pouring, cutting, binding. But it’s all a little less solid and defined than that. Above & Beyond has a thick and kinetic rhythm track that fluctuates and shapeshifts over the course of the song. Over that, a sax delivers an argument, calm and elegant at first, then with increasing passion and vehemence (because you weren’t listening before, you didn’t get it). It’s thrilling how you can’t quite get a handle on it. Above & Beyond is incredible, as is everything on Makaya McCraven’s newest album, Highly Rare. [BUY Highly Rare]
Davy Kehoe – Short Passing Game
Ricardo Villalobos – Empirical House
Jlin – Black Origami
Also, because I never got around to it, here’s the list from last year too, also in no discernible order. I started writing about some of these, but then never finished (which is probably why I didn’t post it):
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Schoolboy Q – Blank Face
Angel Olsen – My Woman
Pinegrove – Cardinal
Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered.
Paradis – Recto Verso
Nicolas Jaar – Sirens
Bon Iver – 22, A Million
Avalanches – Wildflower
Cymbals Eat Guitars – Pretty Years
Aphex Twin – Cheetah EP
Okkervil River – Away
The Range – Potential
Kaytranada – 99%
Tim Hecker – Love Streams
Jessy Lanza – Oh No
Into It. Over It. – Standards
Islands – Charm Offensive/Should I Remain Here at Sea?
The Hotelier – Goodness
Preoccupations – Preoccupations
Gold Panda – Good Luck and Do Your Best
Wolf Parade – EP 4
Rival Consoles – Night Melody
Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
The Field – The Follower