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

*Canadian
*** 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)

Field Day: Day 1

Field Day Sat

London’s Victoria Park never looked finer than when it played host to a very solid lineup of electronica artists, many of whom I had never seen before. Read on, intrepid festival-watchers (and forgive my camera-phone pix).

Gerd Janson

Epic beard, epic sound, limited crowd. But a few bongos and some spacey disco edits don’t go astray at 2 in the afternoon. Also notable: he was spinning vinyl. However I suspect he was really looking forward to his set at the after-party. Not that we were spared the smoke machine.

Gerd Janson

James Holden live

I feel reasonably convinced that James Holden’s modular synth wizardry is already the best thing I will see all festival. It didn’t start out that way. Nothing sends chills down the spine of a grizzled jazz vet like walking into the dance tent to the sound of an auto sax player jamming to a “funky” beat played by a drummer in a bad hat, with a bit of synth squall unintelligibly roaring in the background. Horrible memories of fusion gone rancid soon left, replaced by some Deutsch rock throb, with Holden’s eurorack setup unleashing a full band’s worth of noise, arpegiatted melody caught in an infinite regression and the sax player actually fitting in for once. (He’ll be kicked out of the overplayers’ union, I’m sure.)

James Holden 1

Even a laptop malfunction that sent Holden scurrying backstage seemed to fold comfortably into the show, like a long drum solo that builds anticipation for the inevitable roaring finale. Holden was a pro through it all, grinning boyishly as the crowd clapped their encouragement. So far, so very very fucking good, Field Day.
James Holden 2

Omar Souleyman

I admit that my scheduling was a bit short on the hedonistic fun-o-meter but Omar Souleyman made up for it. Dec ked out in traditional Bedouin garb and sunglasses, despite the dark tent, Souleyman and his keyboardist – an adept synth performer, putting plenty of melody and feeling into his playing via some expertly controlled pitch bends and octave popping – got the party started.

Omar Souleyman 1

Omar Souleyman 2

The lack of a band wasn’t really an issue; Souleyman worked the stage like a pro, measuring every gesture to elicit the maximum crowd impact. And the tunes from his latest, Wenu Wenu, went down like a shandy on a hot day. (I noted the albums producer Four Tet getting down to the rhythm at side stage. Along with what I think was his mum? Cyuute.)

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Oneohtrix Point Never

There’s that inevitable exodus of all the hot girls whenever someone like Daniel Lopatin announces his presence by emitting a volley of unconscionable noise. Amazingly, his set survived, and perhaps even thrived, thanks to his inventive textures, able Veejay providing flickering echoes of David Lynch-esque landscapes and freak 3D-rendered creatures being distended and torn before our eyes. There’s also his mastery of extreme volume – at times it.felt like a noise show and an ambient set flipping in and out of focus like two TV stations jockeying for the same frequency. And it was a lot more fun than I’m making it sound. Seriously, I would say Lopatin is doing for melody what Apex Twin did for drums, if it didnt make me sound like a pretentious asshole. (Too late.)

Oneohtri Point Never

Blood Orange

Dev Hynes can sing. He can also play guitar, damn well, and his band is formidable. But be honest – it’s all a bit Terence Trent D’Arby, isn’t it?

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Evian Christ

After a quick chorizo sandwich and a not so quick queue for a Red Stripe, the train arrived at the set of this very talented, very young, and mercifully very American dj. I say mercifully because I hadn’t realized how much I needed to hear some cussing over trap beats (it had been several days) until that handsome white-t-clad gent started rapping along to a storming Weezy verse and I suddenly felt the bass hit me somewhere in the back of my throat. He showed some dexterity by dropping a couple of his own, distinctly hard and dry riddims, such that I saw the women in front of me convulse slightly. But when he dropped a fresh Young Chop beat there were right back with him. Sweaty trap party, yes please.

Evian Christ

Todd Terje

I was promised a live set, dammit, and all I got was this not lousy DJ set with cuts from his album (“Delorean Dynamite”) as well as some tasty disco selections. But where were the cascading keyboards, the odd-timed drum freak outs, the interminable bass solos? Nowhere to be found. Maybe Danny Brown had borrowed them. Few spinners are as adept at reading the crowd as Terje, and fewer still have crates as deep, which made his set pleasurable despite the crowded environs and the tilt towards deep house. If anyone’s going to go there, Terje is uniquely placed to do it, and while I was slightly sore about the lack of a live PA I can’t complain about the conflagration of fine sexy ladies in the RA tent that he brought. When in Field Day, do as the girls with the flowery dresses do.

Todd Terje

Until tomorrow, Vic Park…

Crowd Shot

EM15: A Day By Day Guide To The Festival

Comrades! Let us now praise the glorious union of Montreal’s MUTEK and Elektra festivals in EM15, whose roster of gigs between Tuesday May 27 and Sunday June 1 is so good, mine eyes can barely stand to look at it. Mostly because I can’t go this year. But for those who can, let me assist you in choosing from among the 85 (!!) performances. Why? Because it’s basically this site in festival form. From Ricardo Villalobos to Pinch to Shackleton to Oneohtrix Point Never to Lee Bannon to Jonas Reinhardt to Tim Hecker to Move D (the latter four of which I didn’t even get to in the festival preview that follows), the artists at this year’s fest are in my opinion among the best that ever did it.

Check out the festival preview below; full passes and some of the individual shows appear to be sold out, but many gigs and several of the packages are available.

 

Best of the Blogs – Sep 13-20

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A roundup of the best streams and downloads percolating through the blogosphere this week

Nine Inch Nails – Find My Way (Oneohtrix Point Never remix)

Props where props are due: not only are Nine Inch Nails making some of their best music since The Downward Spiral, Trent Reznor tapped Oneohtrix Point Never for an opening slot on the tour – sure to drive some audience members nuts – he also tapped him for this remix. Who needs a beat when you’ve got spiralling, noisy arpeggiated synths and an almost obsessive attention to details like the processing on the disembodied voice that creeps in half way through? There are enough neck-snapping-around moments in here to make drums seem like they’d be an unnecessary distraction.

The Field – Cupid’s Head

Axel Willner a.k.a. The Field is gunning for the title of Best Home-Listening-Techno producer in the world with his latest album, Cupid’s Head (due out on Kompakt on Sept. 30) and the title track earns the hyperbole. A stuttering beat, a vocal sample Willner wrings the maximum character out of and a characteristically ecstatic string line combine like Voltron into a rough beast that minimal’s forefathers couldn’t have conceived of.

Danny Brown – Dip

“Like Lieutenant Dan, I’m rolling.” “I keep feeling like I’m gon faint, but fuck that nigga gimme that drink.” “It’s obvious we got some problems so bitch let’s kill that pain.” “I’m grinding on yo bitch while I’m grindin on my teeth.” What is it about Detroit rappers (Eminem I’m looking in your direction) that they make wallowing in shameless drug fiendery sound like fun? (Peep my preview of DB’s new disc.)

Young Chop f Juicy J – I Ain’t Gotta Say Shit

It might be weird to call a throbbing monster of a beat ‘subtle’, but this Juicy J showcase from 19-year-old upstart producer Young Chop (via his debut album, Precious) has a spooky top layer of smoke and texture above the beat. A mournful organ lick and a chant add atmosphere to Juicy J’s stone-faced thuggin’ and damn if it doesn’t send chills up your spine.

Joe – Slope

All hail Hesssle Audio for bringing us new releases by Pearson Sound and the mysterious Joe. The latter – an anonymous North Londonder of some repute – comes with a gem of a 12-inch; “Maximum Busy Muscle” starts with a belligerently wobbly groove and turns into a real banger, complete with big farty horn blasts, while “Slope” has tuned toms rumbling around in the basement while droning strings carry the mood as it morphs into a hard-hitting tech workout. And is it me or does the opening sample in this tune sound like Chewbacca?