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 2

Aaaand it’s time for Day 2 of Field Dayapalooza. (Still can’t believe they rejected my name suggestion. Assholes.)

Temples

Temples

I don’t think I’ve seen a band who look more like they were put together by a committee to revive classic rock since maybe The Black Crowes. Hey everybody it’s the next Kula Shaker!

Nguzunguzu

The number of levels on which it was fabulous to hear the Ha dance blaring across the field would break your calculator. That makes it hard to describe why Nguzunguzu’s set was a bit disappointing. Sure, there was enough bass to put a hole up in yo neck, and you’d have to have a broken leg to keep yourself from getting down to beats like his. But my suspicions about some of these Night Slugs style drum workouts was confirmed by his (and his unnamed co-dj’s) set: it’s too dry. Tracky tracks are fine if you’re fucking with them and bringing different sounds into the mix, but if you basically just play them straight, the crowd don’t quite know what to do. It’s like some sort of interminable intro to them. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for them, but that place is probably not a dance tent on a very rock-oriented day of a festival. (Top t-shirts: 1. Pixies. 2. The Smiths. 3. The Brian Jonestown Massacre. WTF, I know.) Anyways, after a valiant head-nodding effort, I made my excuses and left.

Nzungunzu 1

The Horrors

So, I was wrong. The Horrors’ new album is a stadium rock masterpiece. I just had to hear it in a stadium sized space to understand. There’s something about that epic sweep that feels particularly earned when it matches the space, and Faris Badwan is one of the most magisterial front men of the modern era. Honestly I don’t have the vocabulary to describe how epic their set was. Look at the pictures, amuse yourself at the tightness of Faris’ pants, but otherwise I got nothing for ya. You had to be there.

Faris 1

Horrors 1

Horrors 2

Future Islands

I had no idea that Future Islands were a) American and b) basically a synth pop act fronted by Glenn Danzig. The singer cut a very Rollins-like figure, flexing in his black t-shirt like a hardcore singer who wandered into the wrong rehearsal studio by mistake. And yet, it kind of worked; cuts like “Caesar” couldn’t have been pulled off by the likes of Morrissey, at least not without the influence of steroids injected straight into his jugular as a pre-show ritual. Maybe not the most conventional approach to the genre, but not unwelcome, either.

Future Islands 1

Future Islands 2

Pixies

I’m biased because I saw them with Kim Deal earlier in their reunion cycle, but it felt very much like the kind of headliner choice where the promoter knew they needed a name to close the show, and they didn’t especially care which one. The vibe was of a band taking the money and running, possibly aided by the preponderance of hits (“Wave of Mutilation,” “Velouria,” “Debaser,” “Bone Machine” etc) and the new stuff felt half-hearted at best. It was a bit like watching Simpsons reruns: pleasant, nostalgic but not worth staying up late for.

Pixies 1

Pixies 2

Until next time, sports fans.

fairground

LPs: Hercules & Love Affair get bitchy, The Horrors take speed + Future, Jakob Skott

herculesloveaffair

Hercules and Love Affair
The Feast of the Broken Heart
Moshi Moshi

I’m trying to think of a more spine-tingling sound than the bit in Hercules and Love Affair’s “That’s Not Me” when a vocal stab from Gustaph launches off into the ionosphere on a rocket made of echo. Nope, can’t do it. The new Hercules album is less an album than a collection of singles; to complain about that is like complaining that a box of doughnuts isn’t a cake. The amazing thing is that they’ve managed to make a set of tunes that are sufficiently weird and different from each other that it doesn’t suffer from the track-y-ness that some dance albums – especially house albums – suffer. “The Light” is thick and intense, with Krystle Warren giving a smouldering performance, while the single “Do You Feel The Same?” rides a perfect bit of moody 303 bass to a pulse-quickening chorus. And if you don’t totally love the throwbackness of the old-movie-dialog-snippets on “5.43 to Freedom” (“shit-kicker! Or a clever girl!… no, she’s a hippie! A communist! Probably a speed freak!”) then you need to explore your inner bitch.

jakobskott

Jakob Skott
Amor Fati
El Paraiso

The number one complaint lobbed at Krautrock/kosmiche-style music is that, with the lack of harmonic and rhythmic invention and the focus on subtle change, it’s boring. The number two complaint about Krautrock/kosmiche-style music is that it’s repetitive, which is another way of saying that it’s boring. This, I’m afraid, is inevitable; arguably, it’s actually the whole point of a certain influential school of minimalism that strives to reach beyond linear structure; in other words, it’s supposed to be boring. Part of why I find Causa Sui drummer Jakob Skott’s Amor Fati so fascinating is that, for an instrumental record that fits firmly in the Kraut school in terms of repetition and harmonic simplicity, it’s still really active, ie. not boring. “Araucaria Fire” has three notes in it and it’s 8 minutes long. And yet, the swirl of distended synth squeals and Skott’s fairly virtuosic drumming are easy to nod along with. Neither is it jam-band-ish, which was my fear; the bits that are active are in the foggy middle-distance, while the most in-your-face bits are the repetitive ones. It’s an amazing formula that feels like a worthy successor to another drummer’s masterpiece, Harald Grosskopf’s Synthesist, if Synthesist had a title track that veered into Sabbath-y doom rock for a few thrilling minutes.

horros-lumi

The Horrors
Luminous
XL/Beggars Group Canada

I have a soft spot for painfully slow music, eg. screwed & chopped music, certain trip-hop (Tricky, Massive Attack, Portished and basically nothing else in that fetid dumpster of a subgenre), this mix, etc. After the hypnotically languid Skying, The Horrors have jacked up the BPMs slightly on Luminous and I have to admit, as arbitrary as it sounds, I’m not as into it. I have been known to complain about such things – the most hate-mail I ever got was for a live review of LCD Soundsystem where I lamented their playing all of Sound of Silver like it was being run through a tape-deck set to high-speed dubbing – but seriously, the absolute brilliance of their syrupy proto-shoegaze textures are somewhat less effective when you can’t linger on them. Though props for the MBV-jacking “Jealous Sun” and the gently loping “So Now You Know.” More to come after I see them live this summer…

future-honest-deluxe-cover

Future
Honest
Epic/Sony

Rappers, stop putting Andre 3000 on your albums. I was thoroughly enjoying Future’s frothy new disc – he even holds his own with Pusha T on “Move That Dope” – until I got to “Benz Friendz (Whatchutola)” and had to listen to it four times to absorb every syllable. Just go listen, I’ll wait. Dre did it to Unk on the “Walk It Out” remix – “see, to me, your white tee, looks more like a nightgown / make your momma proud, take that thing two sizes down.” Now how you gonna be Unk after that? How you gonna wave a chain around and mumble just like every other rapper? Even Future, who admittedly has a pretty good thing going with his plaintive Auto-Tune croak, and who fits into Mike Will Made It’s production snugly like a rim into a tire, sounds like a dumb-ass talking about his money after Dre’s anti-car-fetish screed, ending with “I will ride my fuckin’ bike, or walk.” BURRRRRRN.

Of course, the balance is righted by Kanye’s verse on “I Won,” though when I say “verse” I really mean “horrifying Mad Libs word-association that had to have been written by a not-very-enthused intern.” “You the number one trophy wife / so it’s only right you live the trophy life”  AAAAAAARGHGHGGHHU02u450tf3djqwofhewfefw.!@@$!@#! *kicks monitor over, skulks off*