Best Albums of 2017

In the 70s music critics had an edge on the fans – if Richard Meltzer is to be believed, they got free records, invites to parties studded with stars, drugs and other party favours. In 2017 it is becoming increasingly common to not get sent the biggest new releases at all, never mind before they come out. (I note the dry irony in Taylor Swift’s album cover art appropriating newspaper logo fonts – several critics I know still haven’t received the promo.) In the mid 2000s I used to keep stacks of CDs in my desk, ordered by release date. When you opened the drawer, they stared back at you – imploringly, for less known artists, and reproachfully for the big names. Now digital promos from the majorspo arrive in dribs and drabs, sometimes expiring before you have a chance to hit ‘Play’ on track one. You can hear practically everything on demand via streaming, which is not new, but for me the landscape has finally flattened into a featureless horizon – your access is limited only by your time management. Everything is available, and everything is passing you by.

The effect on my listening is two-fold: I focus on genres I know I like, because there’s no force pushing me to engage with pop – it isn’t playing in the bars I go to, it doesn’t cross my twitter feed, I never hear commercial radio. (Pour one out for the major label marketers.) But I also feel perpetually behind, listening to records only once or twice because there’s an endless supply of new records being pushed by my genre outlets of choice (media content farms and ever-scrolling social feeds) and the FOMO is real, y’all.

So aside from the emergence of two new sounds, ‘weightless’ beat-deprived grime and dusty electro-ish drum machine industrial funk I’m dubbing CabVoltCore – neither of which I’ve seen trend pieces about so I’ve just guessed they exist – my listening this year roamed in a vast but fenced-in auditory landscape. And really, aside from the FOMO, it’s all good. I don’t miss what I don’t know exists (or don’t put at the top of a playlist). For what I didn’t miss, read on.

1. Jlin - Black Origami (Planet Mu)

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I really liked Jlin's debut, but I was a little suspicious of it being named The Wire's disc of the year - arriving amid the explosion of footwork at the time it seemed more like they wanted to celebrate the idea of experimenting with its rhythms than the actual result. Now I think they were just more perceptive than me - Black Origami is not conceptually that different from 2015's Dark Energy but it hit me like a bolt of lightning, maybe not coincidentally because the micro-bubble in radically strange footwork albums seems to have burst. With the field now largely to herself, Jlin's vision comes across as truly her own - a haunted landscape of reptilian hihats and shakers snapping menacingly over sand-blasted vocal snippets. If David Lynch remade Dune this would be the perfect soundtrack, all alien tones and martial snares conjuring a frightening yet fascinatingly unique planet ruled by huge worms. I don't know what worms sound like but they're in here somewhere, I'm sure of it.


The List

*** Not on Spotify

1. Jlin – Black Origami (Planet Mu)
2. Kendrick Lamar – Damn. (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope)
3. *Sinjin Hawke – First Opus (Fractal Fantasy)
4. Floating Points – Reflections – Mojave Desert (Luaka Bop)
5. Richard H Kirk – Dasein (Intone)
6. Eric Copeland – Goofballs (DFA)
7. Peverelist – Tessellations (Livity Sound)
8. Gnod – Just Say No To The Psycho Right Wing Capitalist Fascist Industrial Death Machine (Rocket)
9. Fjaak – Fjaak (Monkeytown)
10. Errorsmith – Superlative Fatigue (Pan)

11. Pissed Jeans – Why Love Now (Sub Pop)
12. Ekoplekz – Bioprodukt (Planet Mu)
13. Blondes – Warmth (R&S)
14. Wolf Eyes – Strange Days II (Lower Floor)
15. Kingdom – Tears In The Club (Fade To Mind)
16. Claude Speeed – Infinity Ultra (Planet Mu)
17. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory (Artium/Blacksmith/Def Jam)
18. Sampha – Process (Young Turks/XL)
19. Delia Gonzalez – Horse Follows Darkness (DFA)
20. Bjorn Torske and Prins Thomas – Square One (Smalltown Supersound)

21. Yo Gotti and Mike Will Made It – Gotti Made-It (Gotti Made-It/EMPIRE)
22. Queens Of The Stone Age – Villains (Matador)
23. Mura Masa – Mura Masa (Polydor/Interscope/Downtown/Anchor Point)
24. *Drake – More Life (OVO Sound/Young Money Entertainment/Cash Money/Republic)
25. The Mole – De La Planet (Maybe Tomorrow)
26. Future – HNDRXX (Epic/A1 Recordings/Freebandz Entertainment)
27. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream (DFA/Columbia)
28. ***Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe – Kulthan (Latency)
29. Farbror Resande Mac – Farbror Resande Mac (Horisontal Mambo)
30. Kelela – Take Me Apart (Warp)

31. Sherwood and Pinch – Man Vs. Sofa (On-U Sound)
32. Dizzee Rascal – Raskit (Dirtee Stank/Island)
33. Joakim – Samurai (Tigersushi/Because)
34. Gas – Narkopop (Kompakt)
35. Clap! Clap! – A Thousand Skies (Black Acre)
36. *Egyptrixx – Pure, Beyond Reproach (Halocine Trance)
37. *Daphni – FabricLive 93 (Fabric)
38. Sote – Sacred Horror In Design (Opal Tapes)
39. Tyler The Creator – Flower Boy (Columbia)
40. *Jacques Greene – Feel Infinite (Arts & Crafts)

41. Special Request – FabricLive 91 (Fabric)
42. *Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers (Constellation)
43. ***Craig Taborn and Ikue Mori – Highsmith (Tzadik)
44. Circle – Terminal (Southern Lord)
45. Oneohtrix Point Never – Good Time sndtrk (Warp)
46. Ikonika – Distractions (Hyperdub)
47. ***Weightless Vol 1 (Different Circles)
48. ***Weightless Vol 2 (Different Circles)
49. The Horrors – V (Wolf Tone)
50. ***Jay-Z – 4:44 (Roc Nation)

Godspeed wins Polaris, or why Canada makes me blindingly angry sometimes

Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Photo: Eva Vermandel

Godspeed You! Black Emperor are exactly the kind of band the world needs, but Canada especially. Nobody needs another vaguely folky gaggle of troubadours singing oblique art school lyrical dribblings over lilting melodies or worse, reheated 70s boogie rock (sorry, most of indie music). Godspeed may not be your cup of lemon tea but their latest record, Allelujah! Don’t Bend, Ascend is steeped in drones and minimalism, krautrock-y repetition and face-melting noise that’s in perilously short supply anywhere, but particularly here, where government funding helps the mediocre and the excellent in equal measure, thus guaranteeing a larger crop of both. So Godspeed didn’t just accept their Polaris win by smiling and nodding while biting their tongues, as their mothers might have wanted them to do. So fucking what? THEY’RE A ROCK BAND.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love my country, its natural beauty and its warm-hearted people. Even when some hacks that I don’t particularly like win Polaris (sorry, Patrick Watson and Arcade Fire and Karkwa), just seeing the whole thing makes me get a little misty. And Godspeed’s little post-Polaris-win tantrum is pretty juvenile as these things go – oh my god, an awards show is a waste of money? Call the Surete! – particularly the slamming of the car company sponsorship, given that Toyota’s Scion is one of the brands moving into the electric vehicle space; their iQ EV is already being rolled out for car sharing programs and fleets in places like the University of California at Irvine, not to mention that Scion’s fleet are pretty fuel efficient as these things go anyways. It’s not like it was the Polaris Music Prize Brought To You By The 2013 Cadillac Escalade. And the fact that it was a glitzy spectacle is unfortunate but necessary to guarantee the participation of the broader music industry, and make the whole thing happen. Maybe I’m biased because I’m on the jury, but I think the world is a better place because Polaris exists.

But Godpseed’s little rant is by far the least annoying thing about this episode. People are already lining up to bitch about how ungrateful they are for using the opportunity to make a statement, which is utterly mind-blowing when you think about awards shows in general. Marlon Brando was applauded for using his Godfather Oscar win to bring attention to the plight of the Native Americans. Michael Moore slammed George W. Bush when Bowling for Columbine won. Russell Brand cracked Nazi jokes about Hugo Boss at the GQ awards. Sure, plenty of people didn’t like what they said, but really, does anyone think the problem with getting political at awards shows is that it’s ungrateful? In America and the U.K. stuff like this is seen as part of the whole maddening shebang. They take it in stride, for the most part. (Miley Cyrus twerking is a whole different story – nobody thought that was a political statement, except maybe some shrill Jezebel contributors.)

Instead our punditocracy is gearing up to slam them for not being 100% politically consistent because they’re on the Nine Inch Nails megalith of a tour. Jesus H. Tapdancing Christ, rock band breaks own rules! Stop the presses! The whole reaction is pathetic and sad, not to mention stereotypically Canadian. When Jarvis Cocker mooned Michael Jackson at the Brits in 96, people took it for what it was – rock star acts daft, makes headlines. Godspeed are being equally daft, but instead of complaining that they’re not being polite and well-behaved Tim Hortons-sipping Canucks, we might want to ask whether the world is a more interesting place with bands like them in it.