Here is the best music we heard in the past year. Most, but not all, was released in 2017.
Top 14 (in random order)
Leon Russell, “Best of Leon Russell” (1976) – Pulled out of a dollar bin somewhere as one of those artists I’ve always intended to get into, Leon Russell’s best caught me from the first note with a swampy bounce not unlike a real life Dr. Teeth & The Electric Mayhem.
Jessie Ware, “Glasshouse” (2017) – Regaining her footing after a hit-and-miss sophomore record, Ware’s latest reminds me of nothing more than classic-era Mariah Carey (though obviously with her own voice shining through). The songs are very good and simply produced, with layers of background vocals fulfilling the roles of synths, guitars, and horns, placing the spotlight squarely on her pipes as they span from a whisper to full belt.
Prince and the Revolution, “Purple Rain Deluxe” (2017) – There’s a very good double LP’s worth of previously unreleased material in this reissue, like getting a brand new Prince album in 2017. Various edits and mixes of the original Purple Rain material and a DVD round out an excellent deluxe edition.
Wode, “Servants of the Countercosmos” (2017) – Manchester melodic black metallers Wode get a bit proggy on “Servants…” but not in a weedely-wee sort of way. It’s in the atmosphere and the musical choices; here’s hoping they continue to stake out new sonic territory, and so much the better for us if they do it at their current pace. https://wode.bandcamp.com/album/servants-of-the-countercosmos
The People’s Punk Band, “The People’s Punk Band” (2017) – I don’t think this record has gotten enough local love; it’s smart, it’s angry, and it sounds great. https://peoplespunkband.bandcamp.com/album/the-peoples-punk-band-ppb
Moon Coven, “Moon Coven” (2016) – In the best way, this is RIYL/FFO Uncle Acid and Black Mountain. There’s something to be said for almost endlessly re-playable classic doom. https://mooncoven.bandcamp.com/album/moon-coven-3
Radiohead, “NOTOK” (2017) – The remastered “OK Computer” sounds great except for being a little loud to my taste; the collection of b-sides and unreleased tracks “NOTOK” effectively gives us a new late-90s Radiohead LP in 2017, which is an amazing gift.
Blood Diamond, “Saviours” (2016) – These Dutch thrashers released one of my most-played albums of the year, a forging-together of melody and hellish riffs that stands up to close listening or accompanies work, recreation, or anything else as-needed. https://blooddiamondrocks.bandcamp.com/album/saviours
Ka, “Honor Killed The Samurai” (2016) – Creating minimalist post-boom-bap is an avocation for Ka, one of Brooklyn’s (and the world’s) most distinct rappers. I picked up a bunch of his older stuff this year, too. Just know he doesn’t make it to the post office every day. http://brownsvilleka.com/
Howling Giant, “Black Hole Space Wizard: Parts 1 & 2” (2016, 2017) – Taken together these EPs form an epic listen with one foot in trad/proto metal (those organs!) and one in space. I can’t wait to hear what this group comes up with next; hopefully a record, or even a double. They’ve got that kind of potential. https://howlinggiant.bandcamp.com/album/black-hole-space-wizard-part-2
Cosmic Ground, “Live” (2017) – “Live” under-sells this album; it’s an entirely new Cosmic Ground LP (five long pieces) that covers both classic and fresh territory in the realm of ambient, krautrock, and sequenced jams. https://cosmicground.bandcamp.com/album/cosmic-ground-live
Elder, “Reflections of a Floating World” (2017) – As Elder continues to push into their own kind of heavy prog, I have to admit I haven’t fully absorbed their latest record yet. And that’s part of what makes them a great listen; their songs have both immediacy, and incredible depth to explore. https://beholdtheelder.bandcamp.com/album/reflections-of-a-floating-world
Battalion of Cloudships, “Hollow Parallels / Isolation Variations / Acceptance Live/Long Variations” (2016 / 2014 / 2013) – This ambient master is one of Lawrence, KS’ own and I occasionally buy whiskey from him. An LP is rumored to be finished and being shopped around to local labels. https://bigpharmarecords.bandcamp.com/album/hollow-parallels
Mastodon, “Emperor of Sand” (2017) – Mastodon successfully re-incorporate the excursions and experiments of their last two albums with their classic prog-thrash, firing on all cylinders from start to finish. There’s not much else to say; this record is pure catharsis to play, including the theme of losing a family member to cancer.
The War On Drugs “A Deeper Understanding” (2017)
Sufjan Stevens, “Planetarium” (2017)
Spoon, “Hot Thoughts” (2017)
Vokonis, “The Sunken Djinn” (2017)
Pallbearer, “Heartless” (2017)
The New Pornographers, “Whiteout Conditions” (2017)
Hyborian, “Hyborian: Vol. 1” (2017)
HAIM, “Something to Tell You” (2017)
The Afghan Whigs, “In Spades” (2017)
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith & Suzanne Ciani, “FRKWYS Vol. 13: Sunergy” (2016)